Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Perfect Spring Day (video)


The most glorious April morning on the Rappahannock River in Virginia complete with azure skies, cottony clouds, green landscape, and the sound of the wind and river.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Flaming Joy

"They may as well have called the sun a ball of flaming joy."  ~ Terri Guillemets
Digital photograph by Virginia Hill taken with a BlackBerry 9670 on 2012/04/19. Some Rights Reserved (please see Creative Commons License in the sidebar.)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book Review: The Witness by Nora Roberts

Title: The Witness
Series: Standalone
Author: Nora Roberts
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Published: 04/17/2012
Publisher: Berkley
Genre(s): Romantic Suspense

DESCRIPTION

"Daughter of a cold, controlling mother and an anonymous donor, studious, obedient Elizabeth Fitch finally let loose one night, drinking too much at a nightclub and allowing a strange man’s seductive Russian accent to lure her to a house on Lake Shore Drive.

Twelve years later, the woman now known as Abigail Lowery lives alone on the outskirts of a small town in the Ozarks. A freelance security systems programmer, her own protection is supplemented by a fierce dog and an assortment of firearms. She keeps to herself, saying little, revealing nothing. Unfortunately, that seems to be the quickest way to get attention in a tiny southern town.

The mystery of Abigail Lowery and her sharp mind, secretive nature, and unromantic viewpoints intrigues local police chief Brooks Gleason, on both a personal and professional level. And while he suspects that Abigail needs protection from something, Gleason is accustomed to two-bit troublemakers, not the powerful and dangerous men who are about to have him in their sights.

And Abigail Lowery, who has built a life based on security and self-control, is at risk of losing both"


MY THOUGHTS
 
Five stars is grossly insufficient. Best. Nora. Ever. (Her 200th book!) At this moment having just finished The Witness I'd go so far as to say...Best. Read. Ever. I felt every worthy emotion that can be attributed to time spent within the pages of a book. A book that had everything I look for within it. I don't even care if that makes sense. Best beginning. Best middle. Best possible ending. I feel great empathy, respect, and joy for the characters, Abigail (Elizabeth) and Brooks. I marveled at how wonderfully Nora crafted Elizabeth's tale. Whereby she showed us how this brilliant, literal (reminds me some of Temperance Brennan in the Fox show, Bones), and resourceful girl went from simply staying alive to trusting someone so much she learned how to live. The character introduction and development is fascinating. The curiosity that drives Brooks to seek out Abigail is understandable. Her discomfort in all social situations is palpable, sad, and offers great insight into her strong ability to design a life far exceeding the coldly clinical upbringing she was subjected to. Her gradual acceptance of Brooks, and her eventual love for him makes complete sense. His patience, kindness, honesty, and understanding allows Abigail to remain true to herself while he introduces her to a life of more. More "every day" possibilities - of friendships and family and sharing and love. Ah, yes, he's very special! I've said it many times—Nora writes the best dialogue! Her skills in creating the back-and-forth dynamic conversations between all of her characters blows me away! What they say. The timing. The appreciative vibrations ring through me as I read it. Abigail's literal thinking and Brooks' casual conversation style makes for consistently delicious repartee. They are simply and utterly an enchanting couple!

The description of Abigail's computer skills came across satisfactorily—enough detail to be impressive but not enough to sound ridiculous. The strategic planning and execution leading to the "take down" of the Volkovs and their minions was extremely clever. The "get away" that Abigail devised was dramatic and efficient. The epilogue was as good as it gets in a happily-ever-after ending. Oh, and I adored Abigail and Brooks ever so much more for the way they spoke to Bert. I totally "get" people who talk to their dogs. *purely & joyfully happy*

Sunday, April 8, 2012

When She Listens


Her "Listening" Look, originally uploaded by valeehill.

She hears everything with those beautiful ears. She knows my voice when I'm speaking to her. No matter how sleepy she is her ears turn toward me and her eyes open. Sometimes just for a second before her sleepy takes over again.

The tone which I use is reserved just for her. Her response is my reward and I feel blessed by her regard.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Book Review: The Kingdom by Amanda Stevens

Title: The Kingdom
Series: Graveyard Queen #2
Author: Amanda Stevens
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Published: 03/27/2012
Publisher: Mira
Genre(s): Fantasy, Paranormal Romance

DESCRIPTION

"Deep in the shadowy foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains lies a dying town…

My name is Amelia Gray. They call me The Graveyard Queen. I've been commissioned to restore an old cemetery in Asher Falls, South Carolina, but I'm coming to think I have another purpose here.

Why is there a cemetery at the bottom of Bell Lake? Why am I drawn time and again to a hidden grave I've discovered in the woods? Something is eating away at the soul of this town—this withering kingdom—and it will only be restored if I can uncover the truth."

MY THOUGHTS

I found The Kingdom reasonably compelling but felt the supernatural element was overwhelming. I would rather have been guided through the uncovering of the family secrets more and through the demoniac countryside less.

The first book in this series, The Restorer, was extraordinary! I shall remain optimistic about the third, The Prophet, which is expected later this month.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Book Review: Fifty Shades Trilogy by E.L. James

Title: Fifty Shades of Grey
Series: Fifty Shades Trilogy #1
Author: E.L. James 
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Published: 05/25/2011
Publisher: Vintage
Genre(s): Contemporary Erotic Romance

DESCRIPTION

"When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.

Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.

Erotic, amusing, and deeply moving, the Fifty Shades Trilogy is a tale that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever.

This book is intended for mature audiences."


Title: Fifty Shades Darker
Series: Fifty Shades Trilogy #2
Author: E.L. James 
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Published: 09/13/2011
Publisher: Vintage
Genre(s): Contemporary Erotic Romance

DESCRIPTION

"Daunted by the singular tastes and dark secrets of the beautiful, tormented young entrepreneur Christian Grey, Anastasia Steele has broken off their relationship to start a new career with a Seattle publishing house.

But desire for Christian still dominates her every waking thought, and when he proposes a new arrangement, Anastasia cannot resist. They rekindle their searing sensual affair, and Anastasia learns more about the harrowing past of her damaged, driven and demanding Fifty Shades.

While Christian wrestles with his inner demons, Anastasia must confront the anger and envy of the women who came before her, and make the most important decision of her life.

This book is intended for mature audiences."


Title: Fifty Shades Freed
Series: Fifty Shades Trilogy #3
Author: E.L. James 
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Published: 01/17/2012
Publisher: Vintage
Genre(s): Contemporary Erotic Romance

DESCRIPTION

"When unworldly student Anastasia Steele first encountered the driven and dazzling young entrepreneur Christian Grey it sparked a sensual affair that changed both of their lives irrevocably. Shocked, intrigued, and, ultimately, repelled by Christian’s singular erotic tastes, Ana demands a deeper commitment. Determined to keep her, Christian agrees.

Now, Ana and Christian have it all—love, passion, intimacy, wealth, and a world of possibilities for their future. But Ana knows that loving her Fifty Shades will not be easy, and that being together will pose challenges that neither of them would anticipate. Ana must somehow learn to share Christian’s opulent lifestyle without sacrificing her own identity. And Christian must overcome his compulsion to control as he wrestles with the demons of a tormented past.

Just when it seems that their strength together will eclipse any obstacle, misfortune, malice, and fate conspire to make Ana’s deepest fears turn to reality.

This book is intended for mature audiences."


MY THOUGHTS
 
My current literary obsession started with one article—a little "fluff" piece I read on my iPod early on the morning of March 23. I thought, "hmmmm, sounds intriguing" and I set off to learn more about the books. I noticed very favorable average ratings for all three books via my Goodreads app. I then skimmed through a few positive reviews. Next stop was Amazon where I encountered more positive ratings than negative. As usual, I avoided the dissenting reviews. Next, I visited the author's website—the idea for these books started out as Twilight Fan Fiction entitled Master of the Universe. I'm not interested in knowing what they were, even though, wait for it, I am a devoted Twilight fangirl! (No excuses. No apologies. This is no Twilight in the ratings department mind you. No mam. This is smokin' hot stuff! Ooh la la!) The Fifty Shades books were initially printed on demand by a small Australian publisher, and released as eBooks in 2011 and earlier this year (Fifty Shades Freed). Since first reading them I've done some exploring—I like knowing the facts. The author recently sold the movie rights to Fifty Shades of Grey to Universal Studios and Focus Films for an amount reportedly around five million dollars. The media has already dubbed the books "mommy porn" and some other frivolous terms. I will not be thinking of them in that way. There are already Fifty Shades Reading Groups, Facebook Pages, Pinterest Boards and more. I'm sure before too long there will be endless fan sites and Wikis and tons of merchandise for both the books and upcoming movie(s). That's cool. I already have a Twilight drawer, why not a Fifty Shades drawer?  Hmmm. I'll have to get rid of some clothes for that. ;) For now I have the three eBooks, a Pinterest Board, one magazine, and a vehicle sticker (see below). With the books still fresh in my mind I can recall enough to elicit chuckles, smiles, and tingles. And when I can no longer do that easily enough I can read them again. Woo hoo!

*minor spoilers contained herein*

In one week I devoured all three books. Twice! No matter how enamored I've been of a book I've never turned around and read it immediately upon finishing. Okay, a first! Shall I keep track of the firsts as Christian and Ana do in the books? Maybe not. Are these books for everyone? Certainly not. Are they great fiction? Literature? No. Are they glorified fan fiction? Well, since I was not successful in reading beyond a few paragraphs the handful of times I attempted to read fan fiction I will say this, if I had read any "fanfic" that was this entertaining (yes, that is what these books are—entertaining escapism!) I probably would have read more. Personally, I feel those who will get the most, ahem, pleasure out of these books will be those who are or have been readers of the romance genre. Essentially that is what these books are. Oh, they are scorching, explicit, and descriptive, but still very romantic. Hearts and flowers romantic?  Not at first, but those of us who have read them are in the know about that, aren't we? I've read hundreds of romance books, mostly back in the 90's. I wouldn't consider myself a fan of the sweet, tender romances,  nor have I enjoyed the few I read that dealt with kidnapping, brutality, abuse, etc. So, even though I had previously not read books dealing with bondage and sexual sadism, not once did I find myself terribly horrified over anything that went on between Christian and Ana. That is likely due to the fact that the books are from Ana's point of view. I'm a woman. I think like a woman. I understood Ana's nervousness and hesitation. Her bewildering emotions regarding Christian, who as he confesses to her fairly early on is, "fifty shades of f****d-up." She's a nice young thing. A college student and lover of English Literature. A virgin. Yes, I believe there are 21 year old virgins out there. Although, I think taking her never-been-touched status to include by herself was a bit beyond believable. Oh well. Small detail.

When I say I breezed through these books I mean it. The overall style of writing was straightforward complete with pauses, stammers, and other speech variations that regular people display.  I thought the prose was concisely descriptive. Enough to very effectively set the scene, but not enough to send me into a coma. Ana's inner dialogue (her subconscious and inner goddess) elicited my  inner chuckle numerous times.  I thought including details like Ana's agonizing over how much five million dollars weighs and how large a carrier it would require was noteworthy. I didn't find myself stumbling over the structure or rhythm. This further allowed me to see their story quite vividly. There are phrases repeated a great deal, which I feel is fairly typical of books in the romance genre. And then there's the fact these are the same characters in three long books! Ana's unspoken exclamations, "Holy Crap", "Holy Sh*t", and "Holy F**k" show up frequently, but going from her quiet, sheltered existence to Christian's crazy life...well, I found them acceptable (and often cute).  I adored their sparring emails and that they most often referred to the other by title and surname, i.e. Mr. Grey, Miss Steele, and later, Mrs. Grey. I further appreciated the use of real world elements (places, vehicles, things). Isn't this the way we are in our "non-fictional" lives? I know I am. So, even though the people are fictional they are made more authentic by putting them into places (and vehicles), listening to songs,  and consuming things that exist in the "real" world. Furthering the mood of the books is the music. E.L. James gave Christian and Ana an appreciation of music, and to Christian, a way to express himself through playing the piano. (I recognized shades of the Edward Lewis [Richard Gere] character in Pretty Woman. And did you think of the movie, The Thomas Crown Affair, while Christian and Ana were soaring? I sure did!)  The author's website has detailed playlists for each of the books, which I found very helpful! I'm listening to my Fifty Shades Playlist as I write this.

The character of Christian Grey is a very complex one. He has many sides. I'm not going to try to describe all of his "shades." For the sake of fiction these parts of him are all extreme. That makes for interesting reading, and yes, fantasizing! Would he drive a normal woman crazy? Sh*t, yes! Anastasia Steele is a normal woman and he drives her crazy. She's completely out of her element with him. Who wouldn't be? Hence her need to consult with her subconscious and inner goddess all the time!!!  Christian though, he sees something in her: an unassuming, natural, intelligent, and innocent young woman. He completely disregards the women who see him for his beautiful face or his money, as well as the sexual predators. He is a product of his horrendous childhood and exposure to "Mrs. Robinson." He's made his personal life into a business where he hires Submissives and has them sign non-disclosure agreements and contracts. His loving adoptive parents and siblings know nothing of his alternative lifestyle. He has a conscience. He warns Ana to stay away, but they uncharacteristically proceed. I think he sees Ana as someone (the only one?) who can save him—perhaps as a sort of beacon into the light. Even though he's been diagnosed as a self-loather he is apparently not without hope. So, yes, he is scary, domineering, controlling, curt, driven...but, he has many good qualities: philanthropist, benefactor, generous (but tough) employer, impeccable manners, gorgeous, and ultimately loving. Ana is there to help him see himself in a different light. He is "Fifty Shades" but not all dark. His world of power, money, business, security, and strictly contractual sexual relationships is the polar opposite of Ana's. She, who loves her mother, step-father, friends, and books. Ana, who thought a "playroom" was a place for video games. No, no, no. Not in Christian's world. Emotions are all over the place. This is a highly charged relationship. They are both having to compromise a great deal to remain together. She's all "Vanilla" and he's all "Dom." Together they settle on "kinky f*ckery." (Which will undoubtedly end up as one of the "it" phrases derived from these books!) Through all their ups and downs, their arguments, her tears, his frustration, and lots and lots of sex the not-so-unthinkable happens...unconditional love! And, because these are romance books the happily-ever-after ending happens too! *swoons*

UPDATE: Although I am a devoted fan of classic British (and selective contemporary) romances, thrillers, mysteries, historical fiction, and carefully chosen classics I am particularly enraptured with Christian and Ana's story. My feelings are so intense I have read the trilogy ELEVEN times since March 2012.


My new custom vehicle sticker! *giggle*