Saturday, December 20, 2014

436 (2014 #64). The True Love Quilting Club

by Lori Wilde

This is the second book in the Twilight, Texas, series, set in a mythical small town modeled on my home of Granbury.  In this reunion tale, Sam Cheek and Emma Parks, friends when they were 14, are the lovers.  Emma, then known as Trixie Lynn, lived in Twilight only one year with the man she thought was her distant father, only to learn he is her stepfather.  Her mother left the family long ago to pursue her dreams of stardom.  Trixie has stars in her eyes, too, and at 18 changes her name to Emma and moves to New York City to take up acting.

Twelve years later, down to her last penny and in trouble, she receives an invitation to do a play in Twilight.  Sam has become the town's veterinarian, and he is also a widower with an adopted son from his late wife's first marriage (that man also died).  Sam and Emma are still attracted to each other, but they hesitate to get involved, as they are very different (opposites attract) and Emma is not ready to give up her acting.

Emma is invited to join the local quilting club and help make quilts that will be the backdrops for the play she is performing in.  There are some heartfelt moments in this book as Emma unintentionally helps Charlie come out of his grief-induced silence, in part simply because of her resemblance to his late mother. Emma comes to terms with her own past too as she and Sam learn they complement each other.

I didn't like this book quite as much as the other two I've read in the series, partly because I think very few people meet their one true love at age 14 (so I couldn't relate), and partly because I found Emma to be a bit self-centered and not as likable as other heroines in this series.  However, I LOVED the hero, Steady Sam!  And of course the setting - this time, most of the events occur in the fall in Twilight, instead of spring or Christmastime.

On to the first book in the you can see, you don't have to read the first four in order.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[The e-book was borrowed from and returned to the public library.]

435 (2014 #63). The Welcome Home Garden Club

by Lori Wilde

I got to meet Lori Wilde at a meet-and-greet two weeks ago in my town of Granbury, the inspiration for the fictional town of Twilight, Texas, the setting for this book.  Lori wrote about her visit in USA Today.  I was at the opening reception, and was invited to attend the writer's workshop the next day, where Lori and her editor, Lucia Macro, spoke about "Creating a Sense of Place: Or How to Write a Community-Based Series," and writing (and getting published) romance (and other) novels in general.

One of the things they talked about in the workshop was romance tropes.  A trope is "a common literary or thematic device used in storytelling."  I think the reason I like the Twilight, Texas, series  - besides the fact that I can see bits of Granbury in the setttings - and sometimes the minor characters - is because the trope they have in common is that of  "reunion – our lovers knew each other in the past and generally had some romantic relationship back then."   That's my personal romance story, too, so I can especially relate to these.

The Welcome Home Garden Club is the fourth book in the series, but you don't have to read them in order.  Lori Wilde creatively weaves multiple tropes (which I've italicized) into this reunited lovers story.  Caitlyn Blackthorne Marsh is the daughter of the local judge, who is rather overprotective since his wife died young.  Her high school sweetheart is Gideon Garza, the illegitimate son of the richest man in town and a Hispanic maid (class warfare/wrong side of the tracks).  Gideon burns down his father's barn after his mother's death (when he learned the truth about his parentage), and the judge - Caitlyn's dad - gives him a choice: join the military or go to jail.  So Gideon heads for Iraq and is later reported to be dead (which turns out to be machinations of the judge - forbidden love).

Unbeknownst to Gideon, Caitlyn is pregnant with his child, Danny (secret baby).  She marries another man, but is a widow when the story opens eight years later.  Caitlyn owns the local flower shop and is a member of the garden club.  She's asked to design a romantic victory garden for a state competition.

Gideon's father dies and he returns to his hometown to try to find some closure.  He has scars from the war, both physical (an artificial hand) and emotional.  This tortured hero learns he is his father's secret heir, much to the displeasure of his two half-brothers, one of whom is courting Caitlyn (love triangle).

Caitlyn becomes a woman in peril/damsel in distress when a buried bear trap badly injures her arm while she works on the victory garden, and Gideon moves in to take care of her and be her protector - and get to know his son. He's also hired to restore the historic family heirloom carousel belonging to Caitlyn that is the centerpiece of the garden (and the source of much of the angst with her father), which has been named the Welcome Home Garden to honor returning members of the military.  The romance progresses from there.

I particularly enjoyed the ladies of the garden club (who are also members of the cookie, quilting, knitting, and book clubs - although there's no book about the latter--yet).  Raylene, Christine, and some of the others are starting to feel like old friends, and younger main characters from the first three books in the series, Flynn, Emma, and Sarah, are now members of the club(s) too.

I also LOVED Lori Wilde opening each chapter with the traditional meaning of a particular flower, from the Victorian language of flowers, and then working that particular flower into the chapter in a way often relevant to its meaning.  In an early chapter, she also associates different kinds of teas with the members of the garden club, having Caitlyn observe "how people's choice of tea seemed to reflect their personalities" (page 12).

At the meet-and-greet, Lori gave me a signed copy of her latest Twilight book, so now I have three more to read.  Great series for this time of year, when I'm so busy with holiday preparations and could use some light reading.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[The e-book, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to the public library.]

Sunday, December 07, 2014

434 (2014 #62). The King's Curse

by Philippa Gregory,
read by Bianca Amato

I didn't realize there was going to be a sixth book in Philippa Gregory's Cousins' War series, about the royal women of the War of the Roses.  This book is about Margaret Pole, a first cousin of Elizabeth of York, wife of Henry VII and the subject of the fifth book in the series. The White Princess. Margaret Beaufort, Henry's mother and the subject of the second book in the series, The Red Queen, is also a character in this book.

Despite its length (597 pages in print), and Gregory's ongoing problems with frequent and unnecessary repetition of the full names and titles of characters in conversations (which would not happen in real life), as well as "She shrugs" and "He nods" and variations thereof, I liked this book better than the last two in the series.  Margaret Pole is much more interesting than either Elizabeth of York or Anne Neville (The Kingmaker's Daughter, book four), who were rather passive characters.

Because Margaret Pole lived such a long life (1473-1541), her life also intersects with Henry VIII and his first three wives.  She's especially loyal to Catherine of Aragon and her daughter, Mary Tudor.  Margaret is also a devout Catholic who, along with her three surviving sons, is upset with Henry VIII for his persecution of the Church.  Along with the fact she has royal blood and her sons are potential rivals for the throne, Margaret has more than enough in her life to arouse the suspicions of the king.  She manages to do so, more or less, for her first 65 years.

Gregory's four-page author's note at the end of the book explains some suppositions for her fiction and purports an interesting theory about Henry VIII's degeneration and the loss of so many Tudor babies.  I was also surprised to learn that Margaret Pole was beatified as a martyr for the Catholic Church.

The print version also includes an eight-page bibliography of  five-plus pages, two maps, and two family trees, one at the book's beginning dated 1499 (where the story begins) and another at the end dated 1541 (when the story ends).  I wish the latter had gone ahead and included post 1541 death dates for those still alive when Margaret was executed.  I would have liked to have known how long her three surviving children lived beyond her death, without having to look them up.

The audiobook doesn't have the bibliography, maps, or charts, although they could have been easily added as a PDF file.  The story is told in first-person by Margaret, and is read by South African actress and audiobook veteran Bianca Amato, who also does an excellent job creating a voice for Margaret that ages as she does.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Friday, December 05, 2014

433 (2014 #61). The Valentine's Day Disaster

by Lori Wilde

This novella is actually a good length--192 pages in paperback, although I read the e-book, so I'm not sure if that page total includes the four excerpts and one sneak peak of other books that are in the Kindle edition.  Like the others in the series, it is set in my town of Twilight (Granbury), Texas, with events and settings that actually exist (or happened).

Sesty Snow is an event planner who is running a date-with-a-bachelor fundraising auction, an event "designed to bring additional tourism dollars into Hood County and justify the new lakeside conference center that some gung-ho politico had convinced voters they needed."  (So true!)

"Hunks-in-the-Hood" (known here as Handsome Hunks of Hood County) will benefit Holly's House (known here as Ruth's Place), which provides medical care to needy families in the area.  Sesty has twelve bachelors lined up, but one is no longer available due to an injury.

Who walks in to take his place (as community service for damaging the local judge's half-sister's garish Valentine's Day house decorations)?  None other than injured NASCAR driver Josh Langtree, Sesty's high school sweetheart.

You can figure out where things go from there.  Lori Wilde also incorporated a tornado into the storyline:  "The previous year, a tornado had hit Twilight and lives were lost, and now everyone was edgy when it came to thunderstorms."  Very true for me since Granbury's May 2013 tornado!

This novella seems to stand alone - it's not crucial to have read any other books in the Twilight, Texas series, although doing so probably makes some of the characters and settings feel more familiar.  Thankfully Sheriff Hondo Crouch only has a single brief mention in this book.

Overall - a fun, quick read for Valentine's Day or any other time you want a little romance.

Less than two hours until the meet-and-greet with Lori Wilde - now I feel prepared!

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This e-book was borrowed from and returned to the library.]

Thursday, December 04, 2014

432 (2014 #60). The Christmas Cookie Collection

by Lori Wilde

The Christmas Cookie Collection is an anthology of four brief novellas featuring characters from the Twilight, Texas series.  Each novella is a "Christmas Cookie Chronicle" with the name of the featured character in the title.  All of the stories are occurring in the holiday season a year after the events in The First Love Cookie Club.

The stories, in order, are titled Carrie, Raylene, Christine, and Grace, and that was also the order in which I liked them.  For me, Carrie was a new character, introduced in the first book in the Twilight Texas series, The Sweethearts' Knitting Club, which I have not read.  Carrie owns the town's yarn shop, and her ex-husband Mark (they married when she was 17 and he 19; it was quickly annulled) is back in town.  He's the host of a reality show trying to disprove Twilight's legend about high school sweethearts.  While the story is somewhat predictable, the ending still brought tears to my eyes.  At 101 pages, the story is long enough to feel complete.

Raylene's story is really more about her long-lost daughter, Shannon, and Nate, a regular at Raylene's bar.  This story, the longest of the four at 135 pages, and also rather predictable, does answer some questions raised in The First Love Cookie Club, which I have read. On the other hand, had I NOT read that book first, I don't think I would have appreciated this story as much.

Christine's story, at only 89 pages, needed to be fleshed out more.  Christine, the owner of the Twilight Bakery, was a minor character in The First Love Cookie Club (and apparently barely mentioned in the first two books in the series), and while I appreciated learning more about her, I felt her romance with Eli moved WAY too fast, especially as he was a widower with four children and concerned about how they'd accept a new woman in his life.  The story was also rather straightforward (no real interesting plot twists), and therefore somewhat boring.

With only 46 pages, the last story, Grace, felt very abbreviated.  The two main characters in this story, Flynn and her husband Jesse, are also the main characters in The Sweethearts' Knitting Club, which I haven't read.  If I had read it first, perhaps I would have liked this sweet little tale more.  As it was:  too predictable, and way too thin.

In the case of this book, I think it would be helpful to have read at least the first and third books in the regular series (The Sweethearts' Knitting Club, and The First Love Cookie Club) before reading this book.  I did enjoy the references to places in and near the "real" Twilight (Granbury), Texas, such as the (now defunct) Rinky-Tink's Ice Cream Parlor, Rio Brazos Music Hall (Brazos River Music Review in the book, although it's near Glen Rose and not Jubilee/Weatherford), and the Highway 51 bridge.  Still annoyed that the sheriff is named Hondo Crouch, though.  

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This e-book was borrowed from and returned to the library.]

Sunday, November 30, 2014

431 (2014 #59). The First Love Cookie Club

by Lori Wilde

Normally I don't read romance novels.  However, the author of this book is coming to town this weekend, and my local book club is a (nominal, because we meet at the site) host for a meet and greet for the author and publisher on Friday night.  I thought I should read at least one of Lori Wilde's books before she gets here.

I was pleasantly surprised.

The First Love Cookie Club is the third book in the Twilight, Texas series.  They don't need to be read in order.  What makes this series interesting for me is that Twilight is loosely based on my town of Granbury, Texas.  I wanted to read some of the books to see if I could recognize any of the people, places, or events described.

Lori Wilde did a good job of giving a feel for the town without necessarily being too specific about locations.  We have lots of bed-and-breakfasts similar to the Merry Cherub, we do have a downtown courthouse square (just four blocks west from my home), and the lake is nearby as well (two blocks south).  She specifically mentions Hood County (where we are located) and Highway 377 here; but otherwise, this could be any other small North Texas town on a lake.  That is a plus in my opinion, as many readers can identify with the setting.  Yet the descriptions of places still made me feel this was definitely set in Granbury.  I even think I've seen a house here like the one pictured on the cover of this edition:

The story is set in December, beginning with Twilight's annual Christmas festival with a Dickens theme.  Well, Granbury has its annual Candlelight Tour of (mostly historic) Homes the first weekend of the month, many of the homes are Victorian, and some of the tour guides and carolers dress in Dickens style.  There's a parade (albeit the weekend before) and lots of other holiday events that, once again, are typical of many small Texas towns.

Then there are the people.  I swear the members of the First Love Cookie Club must be modeled on some of the well-known female personalities around town, past and present.

Our lead characters, the main couple, are Sarah Collier (aka Sadie Cool) one-hit-wonder author of a children's book, The Magic Christmas Cookie, and Travis Walker, local bad boy turned game warden and model single dad.  Travis' daughter Jasmine (aka Jazzy) suffers from a life-threatening illness and writes a letter to her favorite author - Sadie - wanting to meet her before she dies.

Sarah doesn't know Jazzy is Travis' daughter, and Travis doesn't know Sadie is really Sarah - who, nine years ago at age 15, interrupted his Christmas Day wedding to Jazzy's mother to tell him the magic "kismet" cookies she and her grandmother bake every Christmas make her dream of her destiny - him.

Despite the corny set-up, I found Sarah and Travis to be well-developed characters.  Sarah, the only child of two successful heart surgeons who have little time for her, now lives in New York City and is rather anti-social.  Travis is an amazingly understanding heartthrob who reminds me a lot of MY husband.  Travis has had a tough life too, losing both of his parents at a young age, and his shotgun wedding wife Crystal leaves him due to her immaturity and inability to deal with Jazzy's illness.

Both Sarah and Crystal have secrets that help explain some of their behavior - Sarah's is hinted at early on.  Another character with a secret is Travis' aunt Raylene.  Her subsequent behavior, however, comes totally out of the blue and isn't really explained in this book.  Supposedly it's explained in a novella, but I felt it was disruptive here.

The only other gripe I have is the name of another minor character - the sheriff, Hondo Crouch. He was a real person (the man who invented Luckenbach, Texas, and a swim coach at various children's camps in Texas until his death in 1976 - I actually met him).  For those of us old enough to remember him, having a character with his name is a bit disconcerting.  I can understand Hondo as a first name for a Texas sheriff character, but I wish Lori Wilde had come up with a different last name.

All in all though, this was a fun, easy, Christmas romance.  I'm off to read The Christmas Cookie Collection (four novellas about members of the First Love Cookie Club, including Raylene) next.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Thursday, November 27, 2014

430 (2014 #58). The Secrets of Inchon

by Eugene Franklin Clark,
introduction and epilogue by Thomas Fleming

My father, a Korean War veteran, loaned me this book some time ago, and I decided to read it when I started working on publishing photos from my dad's military scrapbook on my family history blog.

The Secrets of Inchon is a fascinating first-person account of the undercover espionage occurring before the important Battle of Inchon in the Korean War.  Naval Commander Eugene F. Clark (then a lieutenant), was sent to a nearby island along with two South Korean officers to obtain and transmit information needed for the United Nations assault to retake this South Korean city from the North Koreans.

Clark passed away in 1998, but wrote this account in 1951.  His daughter says her "mom, brother and I were breathlessly awaiting each page of this book as it came off the typewriter in the den of our rented house in Arlington, Virginia in the fall of 1951. We had returned from Japan that summer. We had, of course, not been aware of my Dad's spy missions while we were in Japan."  Although he had a Department of Defense clearance to publish it, Clark never did.  Thomas Fleming wrote an article about Clark in a military history journal in 2000, and Clark's family remembered the manuscript in a safety deposit box and sent it to Fleming, who saw about having it published in 2002.

Clark writes quite well, and gives credit where due to his Korean comrades (given pseudonyms to protect their identity in 1951), including the island villagers and resistance fighters in other locations who aided him.  His narrative is quite readable and exciting.  There is a map (albeit not the best) at the beginning of the book to help with locating the many islands referred to in the story, although a larger map with more detail of the island Clark was operating from (Yonghung-do) would have been helpful.  There are also some black-and-white photos of Clark, his Korean teammates, and the Inchon battle.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This book was loaned to me by my dad and has been returned to him.]