Sunday, September 27, 2009

Safe by Shara Azod and RaeLynn Blue

Safe Safe by Shara Azod & RaeLynn Blue

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This was a very sexy story about a forbidden love between a man and his sister-in-law. Fortunately (that sounds awful to say) the brother is out of the way when this story begins.

Quentin is one intense hero. He had better calm down or he's going to have blood pressure problems. I would classify him is a stalkerific hero, in fact. I really liked this about the story. I also liked that Briony reciprocates his love 100% (although she's a little more even-tempered than he is). This story is more from Quentin's viewpoint, which is fun with a romance, especially when the hero is so far gone like he is. You really get inside his head and see just how much he loves Briony and how most of what he does is about her. It makes his intensity a lot less scary.

The sex scenes are frequent and very descriptive. I could have done without the one scene with a little bit of butt play and discussion of certain acts I really don't like to read about in a romance (thankfully that did not occur in this book). But otherwise, they were pretty spicy in a good way. Quentin sure does like to do a certain kind of oral act on Briony. He does that a lot. The language is pretty raunchy. Not only in the sexual moments, but because we are dealing with law enforcement types and also lowdown criminals who aren't exactly the type to avoid use of profanity.

I liked some of the police procedural aspects as they try to find out who killed the lowlife husband (Quentin hated this guy, even though he was his brother. I can't say I blame him. He does something to his grave that is just wrong, but knowing what an intense guy Quentin is and how badly he wanted to throw his brother a beating for being such a lousy husband and especially when he found out that he sold his wife to pay off a drug debt, I gave Quentin a little slack on that).

I liked that although this was an interracial romance (Briony is Black and Quentin is White), it wasn't a major focus. It was about two people who loved each other deeply, but met each other later than they should have. His brother even gloated to Quentin that he married Briony because he knew that Briony was a woman that Quentin would have wanted for his own. That's cold! I have mad respect for the authors that they did not have Quentin and Briony cheating together while her husband was alive. That's a big turn-off for me.

All and all, this was an enjoyable read, definitely erotic, and I still enjoyed it although I wish it had no butt play or anything along those lines because that is not sexy or appealing to this romance reader at all. I have no desire to read about butt plugs in a love story. While I feel that would be unfair to take a star off just for that, I wasn't enjoying that aspect of this story, but I was glad it was very brief. I'm just saying for any writers or editors out there who want to know what an avid interracial romance fan thinks (hint, hint). Despite that, I would recommend this book to readers who like/tolerate their romance a little steamy.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

No Control by Shannon K. Butcher

No Control No Control by Shannon K. Butcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a solid outing as my first book by Shannon K. Butcher. I know it's probably not fair to her, but I decided to read Ms. Butcher because I just adore the Harry Dresden books by her husband, Jim Butcher. But nepotism can only take a writer so far. And Ms. Butcher has proven that she can stand on her own two feet.

I know I was reading this book with a critical eye (I couldn't help it, because I knew going in that she has some literary relations who in her own words 'taught her how to write'), and I think that she did a great job.

In No Control, we meet two characters who have suffered in ways that most people can be thankful they won't have to. Lana was horribly beaten and tortured at the hands of would-be terrorists, for no real reason other than for them to 'earn their chops' in the terrorism world. Practically every bone in her body was broken by the time they got through with her and were about to kill her. Caleb suffered in some ways that might even be worse, because he had to stand by and watch her be tortured so that he didn't break his cover. It was a matter of the greater good, in this case, saving children from being blown up. Caleb comes through and extracts Lana as soon as he can, but it's not soon enough for either of them. And he sits by her side in the first harrowing days as she lingers on death's edge in the hospital, pushing her to fight to survive.

To start with, this is a compelling storyline. At first, I must admit, I wasn't quite as drawn in as I wanted to be. But I do have to say that I felt the writing was crisp and professional, even from the beginning. As far as character likability, there is not question that I did like and care about both Lana and Caleb. I admired Lana for her strength and grit. At times, she frustrated me the way she pushed Caleb away, because he was there to help her, and as a Delta Force operative, no one was better equipped to deal with the threats she was facing. Yet I tried to look at things from her perspective. She had been living immersed in fear so long, and after her ordeal, it would be very difficult to trust anyone. And the complicated nature of her relationship with Caleb probably made the trust factor even more dicey.

Caleb was a character I loved early on in this book. He is so well-drawn, honorable, but I feel, realistic. He's a warrior and he struggles with his sense of inadequacy that he had to stand by and watch this poor woman suffer. Now his boss has ordered him to push his way back into her life and get answers about what she knows about the terrorist cell that she hadn't told, by any means necessary, even seducing his way into her bed. He started to care for Lana when he sat by her hospital bed, urging her to keep living. I think he probably fell in love with her, although he didn't feel he had the right to. I don't want to romanticize him, but I think that all he wanted to do from the beginning was to take care of Lana, even if he didn't think he could have her for forever. That is always a compelling story for me, the hero who wants nothing but to love and care for his heroine. Also Caleb is described as a big, brawny, hard-bodied man with black hair and eyes. Can I just say yum right now? I think he is definitely my type. For some insane reason, I could picture him with a kilt and nothing else on, a claymore swung over his shoulder. Don't ask.

So the more I read this story, the higher my rating got, although I thought for a while this would top out at a solid three stars. When I went to bed last night, it was 3.5 stars. This morning, I realized this is a four star read. She pulled everything together. The love story was rich, and the attraction between Lana and Caleb was vivid but emotional. The love scenes were steamy and hot, but they didn't give me that 'low-down' vibe that I get nowadays with a lot of contemporary mainstream romances that are trying to push the erotic envelope (This is a matter of personal taste. It may not bother some readers, but sex in a romance should be romantic to me, even if it is at sometimes on the raw side. It shouldn't be tawdry. Personally I have low tolerance for sleazy). Ms. Butcher doesn't use really dirty words for the male and female parts. She uses the proper words and the milder slang for the male part, yet they don't come out sounding clinical. Caleb is a tender, yet intense lover, and I liked that Lana takes the initiative and is fully participating in their lovemaking. I think that Ms. Butcher writes some great love scenes (I couldn't help picturing her going over them with the writer of the great Harry Dresden novels, and I'd start grinning. I'm sorry. I know I need therapy).

I think what pushed me over the edge was how Caleb embraced his love for Lana. He told her he loved her in a romantic moment, and he meant it. It might have been too soon, but he couldn't help loving her. And not just that, he showed his love for her. He would have moved mountains for Lana. Lana was the hesitant one. I liked that Caleb's friend and coworker (and serious ladies' man) Grant advised Caleb that he was moving too soon. Part of me was struggling with Lana rejecting Caleb, because love just makes everything better. But the realist in me who has been wary to commit my emotions to situations, could clearly see why she was hesitant to have an emotional entanglement (although it was clear that she was already emotionally involved).

The suspense plot in this story took a while to come to full flower, but I thought it was well-done and it doesn't let up until the very end. Although I still wonder what the major motivations were of the mastermind terrorist, I can easily chalk it down to being a lowlife and move on.

All in all, this was an excellent book, that slowly but surely hooked me into loving it. I will definitely be adding Ms. Butcher to my roster of authors. And I thank her for reintroducing me to contemporary military romantic suspense, a genre I had drifted away from for the past few years after gorging myself on NAVY SEAL (love those guys) romantic suspense.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Once a Wolf by Susan Krinard

Once a Wolf (Historical Werewolf, #2) Once a Wolf by Susan Krinard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a worthwhile read, but I was torn on the rating. Is it more of a 3-3.5 star book, or a 4 star book? It really is too good to be a 3 star book, although I found the narrative a bit withdrawn at times.

I think there could definitely be a little more dialogue, as this story is heavy on description. Yet at the same time, the story is beautifully-told, showing the wonder of the Southwest, barren at first look, but teaming with life and joy underneath. I was immersed in the simple world of the people of New Mexico, literally tasting their spicy delicious food, hearing the engaging music, and enjoying hearing them speak Spanish in my mind as I read.

The characters in this story are very complex. Each one fights an internal struggle against what she/he truly is, against the monster seemingly lurking inside.

Rowena is an English lady (transplated to New York Knickerbocker society when this story begins) who has determined that she will deny her inner wolf, at great cost to herself. She despises her wolf-nature, and has wrapped herself in an almost impenetrable layer of ice and formidable self-control. She has accepted the arranged marriage that she originally rebelled and fought against, to Cole MacLean, a Texan of great influence, with a sinister reputation that she has tried to ignore. He is the only man who she feels that she can marry. He knows of her wolf, because he has one, and he won the battle over the wolf. She feels she can be his wife, have his children, and never lose control.

However, Rowena is forced in the middle of an ages-long feud between the MacLean and Randall families (going all the way back to Scotland). Tomas Randall is the only survivor of the Randall family and he has become a bandit and outlaw who goes by the name of El Lobo. He tricks Rowena into coming West and essentially kidnaps her, to taunt his blood enemy, Cole MacLean into coming after her so he can get justice for the murder of his mother and father. Part of his vengeance is seducing the icy lady into his bed. Tomas is an appealing hero of depth, with a passionate, fun-loving nature, but also an intensity that makes him an intriguing hero. I never felt like he was the bad guy, although he has no problem seeing himself that way or allowing Rowena to believe he is a bad man.

Rowena finds that Tomas does bring to life the Lady of Fire (as Tomas calls her). She finds it harder and harder to suppress the inner wolf, as Tomas temps and seduces her, but also inspires her loyalty to his cause, and respect for how he takes care of the simple people who have been cheated and uprooted by her conscienceless fiance.

Other complex characters in this story are Weylin, Cole's brother who believes in justice as much as Cole believes that might makes right, Sim Kavanugh, who is Tomas right-hand man, and hates woman, particularly resenting Rowena for making Tomas soft, and the young, gifted Esperanza, who can see into the heart of a person and tell them what their inner desires are.

This book did weave a spell around me. I wanted to finish it, and I enjoyed reading it. However, it was a little wordy at times in its descriptions. However, I loved how she described the characters Changing. I am a big werewolf fiction fan, so I was transfixed by the elemental beauty of the Change as described in this book. I felt sympathy for the characters who denied this very essential part of their nature, but could easily see why Tomas loved and embraced his inner wolf.

Once a Wolf has some beautiful moments to offer me as a reader. It was also a very fine western. I felt a little disappointed at a very important flaw in Tomas' nature that comes to light towards the end, but as in life, no one is perfect and we don't always handle tragedy and adversity as well as we should. As for Rowena, I liked her from the beginning, and my admiration only grew over the course of ths story. It was a wonderful evolution in her character as she learned to embrace the wolf that was part of her essential strength.

Although Once a Wolf is the second in a series, you do not have to read it's predecessor, Touch of the Wolf, first as it really doesn't add anything essential to enjoying this story on its own. This book is a recommended read for those who enjoy werewolf romance and westerns, and a strong, but not annoying or overcompensating heroine. I will definitely read more of Ms. Krinard's books.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sin's Doorway And Other Ominous Entrances: The Selected Stories of Manly Wade Wellman Volume 4

Sin's Doorway & Other Ominous Entrances:The Selected Stories of Manly Wade Wellman, Volume 4 Sin's Doorway & Other Ominous Entrances:The Selected Stories of Manly Wade Wellman, Volume 4 by Manly Wade Wellman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Manly Wade Wellman is a master storyteller that has managed to stay very underrated in the weird fiction/horror/pulp genres. Yet reading his prose is very captivating. There are things that stand out in his writing, and they shine through in this collection of stories:

1)His tendency to have optimistic endings where good prevails over evil. Personally, horror that has evil prevailing has no appeal. I enjoy reading stories where the good guys win. This is usually the case with Wellman's stories. It is true that some of his stories are morality tales where the wrong decision leads to bleak consequences, but that doesn't bother me nearly the way that stories with good people suffering horribly and evil triumphing do. You get the impression that this ill-fated people had many opportunities to abandon the wrong path and get out with their lives intact.

2)His feel for local Southern customs and folklore. Reading his stories is like stepping through a doorway to places where time has stopped. Even in the stories that take place in the 20th century as far up until the mid 50s (at least in this volume), there is a element of the characters having been forgotten by the future, and living their lives the way they have for many years. I love the rather eerie presence of legends that have pervaded the hearts and minds of people of isolated Southern areas that inhabit Wellman's stories. Nothing like knowing that this old man living in a shack in the Appalachian mountains knows how to keep you from having an old witch woman steal your soul, or what songs you don't want to sing to avoid a Behinder getting you. He also takes more prevalent legends and gives them a backstory that has you thinking, 'Well now I know.'

3)His ability to build up suspense and fill his stories with sense of dread that keeps you on your toes. Several time, I was gasping out loud, feeling that anticipation as I saw that the 'thing' was there and the protagonist was in grave danger. There are no cheap thrills, or shock value in his stories. It's a sustained tension that abates when the story meets its rightful conclusion. Yes, there might be some violence in his stories, but it's never gratuitious.

4)The aspect of faith having power to save the person in jeopardy. This is an element I find absolutely necessary in my favorite horror fiction. Although I do enjoy reading some HP Lovecraft, I dislike his feeling of dread and despair. That humans cannot possibly hope for a good resolution because the elements of the dark are so much more powerful, older, and beyond our comprehension, and we will never understand or defeat them. This is nice to read at times, but I get rather jaded with this pessimistic cosmicism and yearn for old fashioned stories where faith still has value. Wellman doesn't try to superimpose his religious beliefs on the reader. But I get the impression that his stories have this element because it's an important part of his psyche, and it flows naturally into his storytelling. I do feel that a nonbeliever can enjoy and find something worthwhile and relevant in his stories.

There are a lot of Civil War stories in here. I'm not much for Civil War fiction, but I found it intriguing the way Wellman took true events of the war and gave them a supernatural explanation and basis. They tend to be told from the Southern side, but that makes sense as Wellman is a Southern writer. At any case, it's an interesting look into the past.

He also has a couple of stories that delve into Native American folklore. They were very well done and did not have those aspects of pulp fiction in which non-whites are betrayed in a derogatory or exploitative manner.

Wellman also have several witchcraft stories. In his stories, there are bad, scary, malevolent witches. Not of the sort that are earth-worshippers, but those who worship the Dark One, and use their powers to bring evil into the world and to destroy others. And they are scary stories.

I started this volume almost a year ago, so I can't remember every story in detail, but there are no stories that I did not enjoy. I thoroughly recommend this to fans of weird fiction, supernatural fiction, dark fantasy, and horror. I hope that many more readers of my generation and beyond are able to discover the rather hidden gems of this great writer.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

To Wed A Wicked Earl by Olivia Parker

To Wed a Wicked Earl To Wed a Wicked Earl by Olivia Parker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I picked this one up as an impulse and was very pleasantly entertained by this story. I loved the aspect of the hero, Lord Rothbury, being in love with Charlotte for six long years. She thought of herself as a wallflower, and was stuck on his best friend, Lord Tristan, who has saved her mother and herself from a carriage accident, for that whole time.

Adam, who is known as Rothbury for this whole book, watched her grow from a skinny young girl into a willowy young woman, admiring her from afar, even loving her bookish, spectacled appearance. You see, he didn't think he was good enough for her. Rothbury comes from a family of degenerate rakes, and was taught to act the same way his whole life. Although rakes are not my favorite heroes, there was heart to this hero, so that I liked him, even from the beginning. He was a rake because he had been taught to be one, and really didn't know any other life.

The plot is rather convoluted, which is strange. It's not exactly as the blurb says. Mainly it's about the interaction between the on the shell young woman, Charlotte, and Rothbury, who wants what he can't have, her. She doesn't realize how in love he is, because she can't imagine why a sophisticated man of the world would want her. Especially since she was was lead on slightly by Lord Tristan, that he would offer for her, but then he offers for another girl instead.

Charlotte approaches Rothbury with the offer of friendship, which was mainly a ploy for the author to have Charlotte and Rothbury interact, which they probably wouldn't have otherwise. What I found refreshing is that Rothbury didn't spend this whole book trying to get Charlotte in bed, and she didn't spend the book chasing or throwing herself at the rake so she could find out 'what it was all about.' I am very sick of this overused storyline in historical romances nowadays, and frankly it irritates me because it's unrealistic that a gently bred young virginal woman of good family would risk her reputation and future that way. Instead it was more of a friends to lovers story, and full of humor and quirkly moments which I found enjoyable. It was also very sweet how Rothbury really loved Charlotte, but wasn't sure how to let her know that, and didn't feel he had the right to. Plus he thought she was still in love/like with Lord Tristan. He saw her in ways that others didn't see. This is a couple you really want to get together instead of being annoyed at them the whole book.

Although there are few love scenes, the passion of their kisses was very well written and made the pages heat up. The love scenes towards the end were not long or graphic, but they were very intense and hot (for this reader). The love and passion that Rothbury shows Charlotte was very appealing. I think that there was some silliness in this story that wasn't needed for plot exposition, but it didn't ruin the story. I really ended up liking this book. It's a lighter read, but it has the emotional elements that I really enjoy. Plus I found this rake to be a lot more moral and honorable than some of the other heroes in this genre (even though he didn't see himself that way).

I will be adding Olivia Parker to my list of authors to buy, because she really succeeded in telling a romance story here that appealed to me, when I was starting to feel that a lot of the new releases were not to my taste.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Lord and the Scorpion

The Lord and the Scorpion The Lord and the Scorpion by Shiree McCarver

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I can definitively say I have never read a romance novel quite like this. Ms. McCarver really accomplished something with this wonderful story. Sauda is a heroine that you will come to admire, will laugh with, and will cry with. Her journey is unforgettable. Ethan is a hero that will steal your heart away. What I really loved about this story was how three-dimensional Sauda and Ethan are. Their love is tangible and poignant. It reaches off the page and into your mind and heart. It doesn't matter that Ethan shouldn't fall in love with a Blackamoor assassin who is clearly not a suitable wife. It doesn't matter that Sauda is a foreigner whose freedom is not her own, and thus shouldn't even consider falling for the golden, beautiful lord. It happens anyway. And the development of this affair is incredible to read. At times, I felt like I would be overwhelmed with despair, knowing in my heart that this couldn't end well, but hoping that Ms. McCarver would manage to pull off the happy ending I craved. Well, we do get our happy ending, but you should read it to see how it unfolds.

Prejudice is an ugly thing. This story shows how a worthy, incredible individual can be judged and maligned for the simple characteristics of being of another faith, dark skin color, and having hair that is curly instead of straight, despite traits that show her to be an excellent person. Her good heart and her sense of honor mean nothing when someone cannot look past what is so different. The great thing about this story is that from the first moment, Ethan looks at the outside and the inside and has a moment of clarity that this is the woman that he loves. His heart had been broken by the loss of his young wife in childbirth and his subsequent slavery in a Turkish prison, in which unspeakable things were done to him. Life means little to him, other than the freedom of sailing the seas, although he knows he will have to eventually marry to ensure his family's earldom secure. When he sees Sauda, it's like he comes alive again. From that point on, he is very focused on having her, in any way he can.

Sauda sees the beautiful Englishman and knows he's not for her. Her life has been nothing but death and discipline. She is a very skilled assassin who has had to seduce men to get close enough to kill. Her heart is merely an organ that pumps blood through her body. Love does not enter into the equation for her life. But love finds her, and a passion that she had never known.

This is a very raw and earthy romance, but at the same time, sublimely beautiful. Set during the Elizabethan period, you are privy to the very raunchy natures of Elizabethans, and not spared some of the less pleasanter aspects of living in the 16th century, but it works very well. It felt so authentic, and Ms. McCarver does a great job with the language and the terminology for this period. It is more than clear that she has done careful research and has a love for this period. As a lifelong reader of historical romances and a woman of color, It was great to see a heroine of color living and finding love within this time period. I was drawn into this story and I felt like I was right there in the late 1500s during Queen Elizabeth's reign.

The love scenes were tender yet vivid and very raw. The powerful chemistry between Sauda and Ethan really blazes in their private moments. There is an element of time slipping away from the starcrossed lovers as Ethan will have to marry soon and Sauda must leave to stay one step ahead of the hunters who want to take her back to her owner. I hated that aspect, but it brought dramatic tension and poignancy to the storyline. I wanted them to run away into the sunset together, but I could see how that would be a selfish thing and not feasible for either of them.

Sauda is very convincing as a formidable female warrior and assassin. She shows the discipline and skill of a woman who was heartlessly trained from the young age of eight to kill and to kill effortlessly. She has no moments that cause a lapse in her credibility as a warrior woman. Yet at the same time, she shows a humanity and a capacity for love that gives her the depth that I want to see in a romance heroine.
She is definitely a great heroine for those readers who like to see a woman who can handle herself.

Although Ethan's friend Lucian annoyed me with his narrow-mindedness for some time in this story, I began to see why he was so fixated on his view of what was good for Ethan (and thinking that Sauda wasn't it). He got my attention and make me anxious to read his story and see him conquered by love in the most unlikely of packages. I also enjoyed seeing the interactions with Thomas, Ethan's younger brother, as well as Sir Nichols, and Mary, Ethan's former nursemaid.

This book took me away and seduced my senses. It kept me guessing, as I truly didn't know how things would end. There was a complexity to this plot that really did challenge my thought processes to see where things would go. The action scenes were well done, mixing swordfighting and martial arts. I loved that you did get to see Sauda show her abilities. Yet you also see that Ethan is a warrior in his own right. I am so glad that I got the opportunity to see this beautiful love story unfold between two people that are so very different, yet are soulmates in every way. Bravo, Ms. McCarver.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Dark Demon by Christine Feehan

Dark Demon (Carpathians, #16) Dark Demon by Christine Feehan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Wow, this book takes the story to another level by introducing the mage storyline. As if the Carpathian series wasn't intricate enough. I found it hard to follow some of the mage aspects, yet I was sucked in. Not only that, Natalya was one seriously kickbutt heroine. She was a total badass with all her weapons. A girl after my own heart. She even has a sword. I just loved how she jumped into the fray, guns blazing, sword swinging, and flinging knives. The part where she fights the shadow warrior in her room at the inn.... Just fantastic. This book would make a great movie!

Vikirnoff, what can I say? I loved him. He was definitely a sexy, manly hero, but he could respect his strong woman, although she wasn't what he envisioned for his mate. Although he got frustrated because she wouldn't sit back and let him protect her, he admired her at the same time. I liked how she saved his life numerous times, and yet he also saved hers. They were a great match. And boy, the chemistry was off the charts. Great love scenes, if I may say so.

I'm a little confused on how things all tie together with Razvan, Xavier, and the master vamps' master plan, but I'm going to keep reading to see where things go with this storyline. I couldn't quit this series if I wanted to. Something about these Carpathians. They are just in my blood (no pun intended).

It was cool to see some of the other Carpathians show up with their lifemates. I haven't read a handful of the books, so my interest was perked in seeing some of the Carpathians I wasn't introduced to. It was totally awesome as all get out how Mikhail went all Highlander (if you watch the show or movies you know what I mean) on the vamps. That was a rocking cool scene. They had a knockdown drag out that really kept me on the edge of my seat. Like I said, I'm totally voting for this one to be made into a movie (by the right director, of course).

I was really glad that I enjoyed this book, since I definitely got intrigued with Vikirnoff from his appearances in Dark Secret and Dark Destiny. He has lived up to my expectations, as Natalya has. She is probably my favorite lifemate now, which is tough to say because I love so many of these ladies.

Great job on this one, Ms. Feehan.

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Parallel Attraction by Deidre Knight

Parallel Attraction (Midnight Warriors, Book 1) Parallel Attraction by Deidre Knight

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I haven't read very much science fiction romance, but this is a good one to read to get into the genre. It was a bit slow in parts, but a very good story all the same.

I fell in love with Jared early on in this book, when he was fourteen years old, in fact. He is everything a king should be: noble, good-hearted, self-sacrificing, strong, intelligent, and of iron-willed. Yet there is also a gentleness to him, a very kind nature. It is very evident why his people and the soldiers in his regiment are so devoted to him. To me he was a worthy leader who inspired the admiration of his people. I love heroes that can be loving and kind without feeling that this destroys their ability to be a tough, strong man. That is why I adore beta heroes so much. Jared isn't a beta hero exactly. He's more of a mix of an alpha and beta, which is a great combination. He is in touch with his feelings, but also a proven warrior. Sigh! Not only that, but he is very tall, strapping, but lean, with black hair and black eyes. I like that Jared has the looks of a Southern Asiatic/Northern African, or a Native American, with deep copper-colored skin, high-cheekbones, and almond-shaped eyes. He sounded totally yummy to me (fanning myself). Ah, I just loved this guy.

Kelsey was also a great heroine. She wasn't one of those, I'll fight my love for the hero because I can't fall in love, it would make me vulnerable types. She gives Jared her heart completely, and even though he doesn't reveal everything at once, she allows her love and trust for him to lead the way. It's refreshing to see a heroine who can be womanly and loving, without having to be prickly and rigid in her sense of self-protection. And with a couple like Jared and Kelsey, it's the best union, because Jared loves her so much, he'd cut his heart out before he'd hurt her. And Kelsey would lay her life down for him, but also retains her sense of self. She had a strength to her, but also a softness, like a live oak tree, which can live for many years and endure the harsh elements, but retains its beauty. She's tall, pale-skinned, and beautiful, but natural-looking, with long, curly-red hair that Jared loved to play with. Kelsey will be a great queen, although she's bound to be confused with learning all the aspects of her husband's dual cultures. (I know I would).

I found this to be a very romantic book, even from the first pages. The love connection between Jared and Kelsey is so intense and passionate. I just sighed my way through this book. I don't think I've seen very many couples who are so in love with each other as Jared and Kelsey are. Their intimate moments were fiery and intense, and the aspects of Jared's dual nature as a King and Royal of two different races play a very important role. There a very strong fated to mated vibe in this story, so for readers who don't care for that, you might find that a turn off. As for me, I love the fated to be mated storyline, so I was a happy camper.

The path of true love doesn't run smooth, so there are some issues that need to be dealt with. Jared's people have been at war with another race bent on genocide for many years, so there is a threat to the king and his chosen lifemate that remains very evident in this story. But the main focus is on the relationship between Kelsey and Jared (which is a good thing).

The cultures introduced into this story can be a bit confusing at times, and it was a little hard to keep up with some of those aspects. But I do have to admire Ms. Knight for creating this intriguing premise, and populating it with complex characters that you become interested in. At times, I felt that the narrative ran too long, and seemed to get where it was going very slowly. It might be the fact that reading science fiction can tend to be dry for me at times. I like fantastical elements much more. It could also be the fact that Knight is a new author for me, and I have to get used to her writing style. For that reason, I couldn't give this book five stars. If the passages that were too wordy had been a little more concise, this easily could have been a five star book.

Despite the dry moments, she didn't really do the 'Star Trek' thing where the science fiction gets way too political and technical and leaves me yawning. Don't get me wrong, I am a serious science fiction movie geek and I consider myself a 'Trekkie', but I like the action to keep moving. I don't get into the sitting around and discussing political factions, philosophy of the future and the interactions between alien races, and technical stuff about how the various machines work. Just lay the foundation for the futuristic world and populate it with interesting characters, and keep the action moving, and I'm a happy sci-fi geek. I think Ms. Knight mostly succeeded with this. She had enough technical, social, and political world-building to make her world credible, but not too bogged down. Just a small issue with the long, drawn-out narratives in this book. So I am definitely signed up to continue this series. I hope to learn more about the worlds at war and their people, and to see Jared's companions, Scott, Thea, and Annika find love and to see this war end. Also I would like to see more of this great couple Jared and Kelsey, whose love story captivated me so much.

For a science fiction romance neophyte, I do recommend Parallel Attraction. I think you will enjoy it, as I did.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Taming Clint Westmoreland by Brenda Jackson

Taming Clint Westmoreland (Silhouette Desire) Taming Clint Westmoreland by Brenda Jackson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It's kind of hard to rate this book because I like some things about it, but at the same time a few things annoyed me. I don't know why I let a fiction book get to me, but sometimes they do.

I think Brenda Jackson is a great writer. She really has a way of bringing a story to life. She writes some amazing chemistry between her characters, and also inspires poignancy in the reader. She doesn't rely on stereotypes, but makes her character realistic, human beings that anyone could relate to regardless of color.

But some reason, she just will not write a hero who is not a playboy. The closest she came was Spencer's Forbidden Passion, but in a way, he had a ladies' man vibe too. I guess it's just me who gets tired of all the romance novel heroes being players and womanizers. They always fight so hard not to fall in love and want their freedom. Personally I don't want a guy who's that afraid of commitment and marriage. For once I'd like to read one where the hero falls stone cold in love and is totally chasing after the reluctant heroine, wanting to spend his life with her. I am so over the playa playa hero (rolls eyes).

The other thing that bothered me is that this couple, Alyssa and Clint were married for five years due to a mix-up where they got married for a case, but the annulment never went through. I find it kind of hard to believe. If it were me and I did not want to be married to someone, I'd want my paperwork so legal that it was almost written in blood. This brings me to my pet peeve. They have basically been cheating on each other for five years. Yes, I know that technically they didn't know they were cheating because they didn't know they were married, but in my mind that's still cheating. And to make matters worse, Alyssa goes as far as making it to her wedding day and no one told her that she couldn't legally marry because she was already married (she was still in the same state). Another implausibility. And there's a line where Clint confronts Alyssa because he sees the announcement in the paper about her being married. Well she couldn't be married to the other guy legally because she was married to you. I was a little baffled by his logic.

The third thing that got under my skin is the fact they were playing around with each other sexually but knew they didn't want to stay married. That seemed pretty dangerous to me. Clint was coming onto Alyssa really hard. She was still a little bit sweet on him since they worked together five years ago. And hadn't been involved with anyone since she discovered her fiance had cheated with her conniving, nasty cousin Kim. I think it was a little unfair on Clint's part, turning on the Westmoreland Bachelor Seducer Who Doesn't Want to Get Married charm. In his mind he had registered that she was fairly inexperienced. I felt a little better about when Alyssa came to the conclusion that she did want a physical relationship although she knew they would part at the end of it.

One thing I liked was how both Clint and Alyssa had somewhat atypical jobs. Clint tamed and saved wild mustangs. Go, Clint. Alyssa was a website designer. Nice. I thought that Alyssa's angst because of her evil Poison Ivy cousin Kim was a nice element building up the characterization of Alyssa. She was sick of being afraid to have anything that might end up destroyed or sabotaged by her jealous cousin. I like how Clint supported her when Kim tried to start something at the function where Kim shows up with Alyssa's ex, Kevin. Oh the other thing that bothered me is why did Alyssa have to have bad sex with her fiance? Couldn't she have had good sex with him, but better sex with Clint ('Cause you know the hero has to be the best sex the heroine ever had. That's an unwritten rule.)?

So with the above issues, that apparently I am the only one in the world who has, I have to take off one star. Having said that, Taming Clint Westmoreland was a good read and it was a very pleasant way to spend a few hours. And it was nice to reunite with the large and growing Westmoreland clan.

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Cry No More by Linda Howard

Cry No More Cry No More by Linda Howard

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It's hard to really say what I think about this story. It starts out so beautiful, showing Milla with her beautiful new baby, and then her life becomes a living hell. Milla is a character that evolves so much over the course of this book. She really is a person who has to rebuild herself from the ground up. You see this evolution occur painstakingly, and then you see her have to go through it again near the end of the book. It's one of those books that I got to the point where I wanted no distractions while I read. I turned the tv off, pulled the covers up over me and immersed myself to see how the conclusion would unfold. And when I finished this book, it was past my bedtime, but I was too keyed up to go to sleep right away. I had to start another lighter book to wind down.

This is definitely a five star book. The power of the story, the utterly believeable and intense nature of its protagonist, Milla, and her counterpart in Diaz really made this book a winner for me. There is some suspense, but really it's a book about a inner journey with an external crusade. Most of the violence is off-screen. I wonder if this was a deliberate move on Howard's part. Would this have been written differently if this was about a man's search for his lost child? I can't say I wanted more violence. I think it was great the way it was written. This is Milla's story, and she owns it. Yet, Diaz has a way of stealing the show without overshadowing Milla.

There was a part of the book where I was asking, why is she showing Milla doing housework, and going through her beauty regimen in such excruciating detail? Then it occurred to me. This woman lost everything. She has to have some sort of normalcy in a life utterly bereft of normalcy. She has dropped everything so that she could find her baby, and that was all she focused on. So she needed the few moments of normalcy in her life to stay sane.

Most people who have read this book talk about how it made them cry. We'll talk about the crying part later. First let's talk about how angry this book made me. I didn't get a headache, but I felt a smoldering rage inside at what Milla (and other women who went unavenged and unresolved in this novel) went through, and why. How could people be so devoid of humanity to do some things that people in this book did? Let's talk about who did it. If I had one wish that this book had shown, it was to see Milla confront the people who were the masterminds behind her son's kidnapping. The actual identities were such that my anger flourished as I read this book. Betrayal of that kind could not be easily, if ever forgiven. Yet we never see her confront anyone involved except the man who stole her baby from her arms, and a lady who took care of the baby for a short time. We never see Milla confront her betrayers. I wonder if Ms. Howard wanted to focus on the most important aspect for Milla, closure.

And then let's talk about Milla's family. I wanted to be angry at her ex-husband, David, but in the end, I felt sorry for him. He didn't have it in him to be with the 'Amazon' as he called Milla. He wasn't a warrior in the sense that Diaz was. He couldn't walk at her side, as Diaz does. But he does support her in the best way he can. Not so for her brother and sister. There is a scene where I wanted to slap the living tar out of Milla's sister, Julia. She comes to pick a fight with Milla when it's clear Milla doesn't have the time or inclination to be around either her brother or sister, when they toss out callous directives like, "Forget him. He's gone." As if that's so easy a thing to do. We don't see how this is resolved either. Again, I felt that Howard wanted to keep a sharp focus on what really mattered, Milla and her resolution of losing her baby.

Diaz is one of the things that kept me reading. I'm sorry if that sounds shallow of me. He was so fascinating to me. He was like the opposite of what many heroes are, and so appealing. He is a social misfit, but in the most intimidating of ways. People are scared to death of the man. He does some questionable things. But deep down, he has a lot of honor. I cannot even call him an antihero. He's a hero that willingly gets his hands dirty instead. If there was a man that was made for Milla, it's him. It was interesting to see Milla deal with her feelings for Diaz. She doesn't understand how she could connect with him on such a deep level, with him being so cold, so remote, so deadly. Well the old Milla certainly could not have. But she wasn't that person anymore. The new Milla needed a man like Diaz, in my opinion.

I didn't think that Diaz was blameless when he betrays Milla. He does something that he shouldn't have. It was wrong. He knew it. But he did it for the right reasons in his mind. He didn't know what Milla would do, and he did what was characteristic of him: dirty to keep things clean in the end. I was very glad that Milla was able to forgive him, because he really did need and want her forgiveness. He needed the connection with her to be human and to have a chance at a normal life.

I think that he showed his love for her unreservedly when he stood by her side when she had to do one of the hardest things any parent could have to do (there are worst things, not too many, though). I loved his caring, consideration, and patience with Milla towards the end of the book, how he watched out for in ways that few people could or would have, without ever being asked. I loved how he knew she was what he wanted and needed, and stayed the course. He was the soulmate for the new Milla. Ah, the man just fascinated me terribly.

I didn't cry until the part that was very hard for Milla occurred. I started crying when she went to see her ex-husband with the news. The interaction between them was brilliantly written because it showed that they would still be happily married and a cohesive whole if their baby hadn't been kidnapped. Yet at the same time, you see that they have gone in different directions and they will never be one whole again. David was the soulmate for the old Milla, who would never exist again. Yet they would always have a bond through their mutual son and their love for him. That was one of the best scenes in this book, in my opinion.

I was glad that we got a great epilogue that showed that Milla would have a good life in the future. I really needed to see that after so many years of her sacrificing, and the cost of what she gave up. It was great to see.

This is one of those books it took forever for me to get around to reading. Honestly, I avoid stories with children being hurt and kidnapped and loved ones suffering. Too real life for me. But Linda Howard managed to make me love this story so much, because Milla is the kind of woman that you cannot help but admire and root for. And Diaz is the kind of hero that is needed in this dark world. One of my all time favorite kinds of heroes, dark with hidden depths of light. Cry No More is without a doubt a wonderful book.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

In the Sheikh's Arms by Sue Swift

In the Sheikh's Arms In the Sheikh's Arms by Sue Swift

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a cute, enjoyable romance. Cami was sassy and lifelike for a heroine. She was a Texas girl that could be walking on the streets of San Antonio, going out Texas two-stepping, or riding her horse in real life. Although Cami was a very young heroine, only nineteen, I didn't find her immature. She was young and had some idealistic views, but she showed maturity when it counted, and definitely met Ray head on.

Rayhan was hot. He was a bit behind in his views about women, 'wanting a pure vessel to carry his seed' although he played the field with unvirtuous American girls that he condemned with this mouth. Men! He did an underhanded thing, deliberately courting his enemy's daughter to get her oil rights, but I believed he manned up in the end and showed his devotion to Cami. It was kind of a complicated situation with her father swindling him. He certainly shouldn't have held onto his need for vengeance for ten years, but there was a part of his heritage, the need to seek vengeance. Funny how men in some of these books always want to use the heroine for said vengeance. And look at me reading these books.

Ray didn't want to admit but he fell fast and hard for Cami. I liked that he showed his commitment to her refusing by taking another wife, when he easily could have. Although Cami would have left him faster than you can drop a hot potato (not that I blame her). Cami showed her maturity and her strength in how she handled the situation with Ray's betrothed (a match made by his interfering brother the King).

This book had some really good sexual tension between Cami and Ray. It was odd how the writer would cut away from the love scenes, though. I've read Silhouette Romances with love scenes (not extremely explicit mind you). But I felt the love play between Cami and Ray was on the more descriptive side, and kind of set you up for some bedroom fireworks (and they were married at the time). Alas, the door closed between the deed was done and opened afterwards. What a shame.

My favorite part was when they were in Ray's home kingdom Adnan. It was a beautiful place, and the atmosphere felt very authentic. I think that Ms. Swift did her research and it showed. I felt like I was there. And what a nice trip it was. I enjoyed seeing the scenes where the family sat down to a casual dinner, and Cami feeds her niece by marriage. It was very nice to read about.

Although In The Sheikh's Arms didn't break any ground as a sheikh romance, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I would definitely recommend it as a fan of the genre, and I am adding it to my keeper shelf.

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