Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bedlam's Edge, Edited by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edgehill

Bedlam's Edge (Bedlam's Bard) Bedlam's Edge by Mercedes Lackey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I will go through and discuss a little about each of the stories, since I was organized this time, and jotted down notes regularly as I read this collection. One comment I have is that this anthology assumes that the reader has read a Bedlam novel before. You can read and enjoy this separately, but you might have to make some assumptions. One very important assumption is what a bard is. I came to the conclusion that a bard is a person who has magical ability tied into their musical (vocal or instrumental) talent. This is a recurring theme in this collection.

Devil Went Down to Georgia by Mercedes Lackey- 5 Stars
--What if the devil was actually an evil faery? That's the essence of this story. Very well done. It had a bit of a Manly Wade Wellman Southern folklore feel (which I love).

Unleaving by India Edgehill - 5 stars
--Two Seelie Elven siblings become captivated by the magic of movies (been there). The brother joins the WWII fight against the Nazis. This story involved me emotionally and made me sad, although it had a slow start.

Old Order by Michael Longcor - 4 stars
--What if a biker gang ran by an Unseelie moved into a small farming community and tried to recruit an Amish boy ready to embark on his rumschpringen (when an eighteen year old Amish teenager goes out to experience the non-Amish world)? Good thing his father has a friend who has been around for a long time and knows all about the Sidhe, personally.

Well-Met by Moonlight by Diana L. Paxon - 5 stars
--Lovely story of an artist on the run from her abusive husband, who hides out in a Renaissance Faire, and gets help from the real deal, a handsome, kind Elf with a personal interest in her.

The World's Full of More Weeping by Rosemary Edgehill - 4.5 stars
--If only the Sidhe were around to protect the children from the predators in real life. The shopping mall is a portal to the Otherworld, and the Sidhe are watching over us. This is seen through the eyes of a so-called lowly security guard.

The Waters and the Wild by Mercedes Lackey - 3.5 stars
--Hmm. This one was okay. Kind of bleak. Interesting, though. About a mine defusing technician who was mentored by a Sidhe folk woman.

The Remover of Difficulties by Ashley McConnell - 5 stars
--Very enjoyable. If only my grandmother could call in a favor with a magical friend to deal with a bad boss for me. Just the right touch of humor and magic, and some Persian culture.

Bright as Diamonds by Barb Caffrey with Michael B. Caffrey - 4 stars
--Unrequited love never fails to stir me. In this case, a bard in training and a Seelie Elf, is in love with his uncle's human consort, who has a very powerful latent talent as a musical Bard. Did you know Las Vegas is Tir Na Og?

Bottle of Djinn by Robert Gellis -- 4.5 stars
--I admit my attention wandered away a few times, but I liked this one. It was like an Ocean's Elven caper-type story, but with a fantastical twist. The desired object is a bottle with a djinn. If the djinn gets out, it spells trouble for the human and Faery worlds.

Red Fiddler by Dave Freer and Eric Flint-- 4 stars
--Pretty good story with a powerful magical person from the land of Faery, Ruairi Mac Faelan (minus the Gaelic punctuation.) I'm not sure if he's exists in folklore or not. I need to look him up. He's a fiddler who serves as a guardian of the door to Faery, and lives in a tree.

Unnatural History by Sarah A. Hoyt-- 5 stars
--Not one, but two, very hunky elven brothers, and a heroine who has a mundane job cataloging junk (for lack of a better word) at the museum of natural history. One of the brothers was encased in stone 2000 years ago by evil Romans and their rogue Elven magicians. Really liked this one.

All That Jazz by Jenn Saint-John-- 4 stars
--Very nice love story with an Elf who is a troubleshooter for his brother and his male human lover, who is a Bard. It was very poignant in the expression of love between the couple who only got two days out of the year to spend together. Had some voodoo stuff also.

Six-Shooter by Ellen Guon-- 4 stars
--I didn't really get an Elven/Faery feel in this one, but it was an interesting concept. When a person commits suicide, the act tears a whole in the fabric of the barrier between our world and a darker one, allowing nasty monsters to get through that devour the souls of suicides. We never get the name of the protagonist, but she is recruited by another suicide monster hunter to join in destroying these creatures.

Mall Elves and How They Grew--
This was more of an explanation of how Mercedes Lackey got into writing urban fantasy. I love to find out what the genesis of a genre is, so that was fun reading. I would love to read more of her urban fantasy collections and novels.

This is was a good collection. It took me a while to get through, because I had trouble keeping my concentration on some of the stories. But it was worth the effort and I did find them very enjoyable. I liked that no two stories were alike. It shows how broad the urban fantasy genre is, even if a similar motif is used, in this case the world of Faery (elves). Recommended for urban fantasy readers who want to try something different from the currently popular books in the genre. Definitely read this if you are a fan of the faery genre or elves (not the Christmas kind, mind you).

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Friday, November 27, 2009

These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer

These Old Shades These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Okay, I am officially a Georgette Heyer reader now. I can see why she is touted as the best of the best when it comes to historical romance. This book was thoroughly enjoyable. I tell you, Avon is a very singular hero. I have read few books with a hero whose dialogue was so expressive, yet ironic at the same time. His wit is so sharp that it could cut diamonds. What's really interesting is that Avon is considered the worst of the worst when it comes to being a debauched rake, yet you never see him looking or acting anything less than elegant. I really admire that Heyer was able to convey this about him without going into his dirty deeds. All that occurs before the book begins. In fact, so much is conveyed and not expressly shown in this story, and done with remarkable skill. I have to say that I read this story, looking to Ms. Heyer to teach me (as a writer) the ability to create powerful dialogue that shows and does not tell. Avon is quite the character. He is definitely a dandy and a fop, wearing bright colors, dripping with lace and jewels, and high-heeled shoes. He even carries a fan that he uses. But he is a man of his time, with a masculinity that is not questionable. And to think we don't have to see him bedhopping to believe in his masculinity!! I thought that Ms. Heyer did a fantastic job in showing Avon's transition from being a cold man with a heart of stone to a loving person. You see this in his manner changing towards friends and family. And you see it in how he interacts with Leonie, who gives him her steadfast, unconditional love from the very beginning.

Avon is bent on revenge, but he exemplifies the saying, "Revenge is a dish best served cold." He waited over twenty years to obtain his revenge on his enemy. When the tool of his revenge stumbles into him on a Paris street, it takes a while for you to see how he/she plays into it. Avon concocts a shallow, bored, remote demeanor that is very misleading. The whole while, he is feeling and seeing everything that goes on around him. He sees right through Leon's facade, realizing that she is a girl. Her unique coloring, Red hair and black eyebrows, immediately brings to mind his worst enemy, Saint-Vire. Yet it takes the reader a little while to put the puzzles together. You are not bored though, as the story unfolds and you get to realize what Avon's plan is. For the lines in this story are so laugh out loud funny, you might want to be careful where you break out this book. I'm sure people thought was I was crazy in the moments I read this story in public, because I would burst out into hilarious laughter. As for the revenge plot, you have to read this book until nearly the very end to see how marvelously and skillfully Avon executes his plan for revenge. I have to say, 'Bravo.' And to be honest, it couldn't have happened to a better person.

One of my favorite characters in this story is Rupert, Avon's younger brother. Why? Because he made me laugh so hard. He had the best lines. I firmly believe that Loretta Chase must have thought of him when she wrote Bertie in Lord of Scoundrels, although Rupert is not nearly as unintelligent as Bertie is portrayed to be. Rupert does a very good job as serving as comic relief in a story that would have been quite dark without these moments of humor. Because of his contribution, I cannot even consider this a dark read. This is also in part to the back and forth dialogue between characters which has the cadence and the humor that endears comedic movies of the 1930s and 40s to this reader and movie buff. The scene with the horse that Rupert 'borrowed' and its livid owner who comes to Avon's home for redress was laugh out loud hilarious. Definitely like a scene from 1940s slapstick comedy at its best. Some of the characters that add to the wonderful atmosphere are Fanny, Avon's sister, Marling, her staid husband, and Hugh, Avon's less staid, but certainly moral friend, who often disproves of Avon's behavior, but is a steadfast friend all the same.

Leonie is a character that I liked, although at times her ingenue nature was a bit much for me. The older I get, the less I really enjoy the very young, vivacious, extremely audacious-mannered heroines. I did not let that lessen my enjoyment of this story, for Leonie is the perfect foil for Avon. This older, very jaded hero needed a very young, sweet heroine with a zest for life. He would not have fallen in love and committed to a happy ending as a happily married man otherwise. In fact, I think his cold heart would have grown colder through the years, probably pushing everyone away who loved him, had it not been for Leonie's advent into his life.

Leonie is the character that everyone loves. I suppose she might be considered a 'Mary Sue' by some, but again, I don't quibble, for this story needed a character like her for it be successful. Also I reject the notion that an old fashioned, feel-good story doesn't have its place in the world. They most certainly do. And at the end of the day, the escapades of this hoyden do make you smile and feel good.

This novel gave me a very good look into 18th century life in France and England, for which I was grateful. It is said that Heyer's book stand up against the most stringent historical accuracy sticklers. She is a testiment to the genre of historical romance, which is always taking hits as being low-brow fiction. I wonder why this has not been made into film, for I feel it would make a wonderful movie. And it has an appeal outside of those readers who enjoy romance.

This book was a joy to read, and it has made me an eager fan of Heyer. I would love to read more of her books, and since I've heard that she had some older, sensible heroine (one of my favorite types in historical romance), I expect to enjoy those books just as much, if not more.

For those romance fans who haven't read Heyer, take it from me. You really should give her a try. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Moonshine by Rob Thurman (Cal Leandros Book #2)

Moonshine (Cal Leandros, #2) Moonshine by Rob Thurman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
After more than a year away from reading Nightlife, I thought my love for this series would be a fluke. I'd read the second book, and the thrill would be gone. Not even close. What a fantastic world Ms. Thurman has created. I don't know how me managed to bring two characters to life that I love so much.

Cal has really come into his own. He's still a major smart-aleck, with some self-hate issues, but he's even more lethal as a warrior, incredibly strong-minded, and fiendishly clever, although so self-deprecating you would think he was useless. I have found that he is starting to sneak up in my affections, although Niko has claimed my heart.

Ah, Niko, would you marry me? I just love this man. Too bad he's not real. He of the razor sharp sword that he wields with deadly precision. His exquisitely neat housekeeping skills. He cooks beautifully. His discipline and calm. The fact that he is more deadly than the Ebola virus. And then there's his love for his younger brother. Who could ask for anything more?

Just reading about these two guys doing really, well nothing, is enough for me. But, thankfully, Ms. Thurman has created a whole new adventure for these fellows. It's a roller-coaster ride from the very beginning. There are moments where the pace slows down for a little bit, to allow the reader to catch her/his breath, but then it's off again. I lost count of the number of times that either Cal or Niko got injured and needed medical attention. Be assured that their adversaries fared worse.

I like what Ms. Thurman did with the werewolf lore, although her weres come off looking not-so-glamorous. And there are plenty of other mythical creatures in this story, adding to the pizazz and overall character of the New York and sundry that Cal and Niko live and fight to stay alive in. This book veres into horrific and dark fantasy territory, which is another thing I like about it. Who knew the modern world could be such a scary place full of beasties that made the fairy tales just that little bit macabre, that you didn't think were real. Well they are, at least in this series.

Niko's relationship with Promise, he and Cal's vampire co-partner in their detective business, has blossomed beautifully. It's pretty obvious how much this tenderhearted, elegant, but deadly when it's necessary vampiress cares for him. Who can blame her? Cal's love life would be looking good if he would let the fair Georgina into his heart. But his fear about what his auphe side would bring to life is causing him to keep her at a distance. But it's apparent to pretty much everyone just how much he cares for his little seer.

Robin Goodfellow, boon companion to the brothers, returns. He keeps things light when necessary, yet kicks butt like it's going out of style. He has connections you like wouldn't believe, aiding in getting very difficult things accomplished, fights at the brothers' side, while flirting with Niko (who he has the hots for, who can blame him?). It's impossible not to love him, morally flexible, pansexual flirt that he is.

Just like Nightlife, this lovely noirish urban fantasy story about Cal and Niko Leandros has established a place in my heart and on my keeper shelf. It makes me want to dive right into the next book in the series, Madhouse, to spend more time with these guys, who I love dearly. You probably noticed that.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

And The Honest Scrap Award Goes To...

My ten blog recipients are:

1. Grain de Beaute:
2. Evy:
3. Barbara:
4. DeSeRt RoSe:
5. Bella FoXX:
6. Arch:
7. dreamwild1985:
8. Sade Jasal:
9. Blodeuedd:
10. Rae Lori:

It turned out to be hard to pick ten, but I did my best. For everyone who has read my little blog and put up with my opinionated eccentricities, I thank you very much. Us readers need to stick together!

I Received an Honest Scrap Award!

Okay, ten honest things about me!

1. I don't believe in premarital sex.
(Wow! That's a big one and not at all related to books!)
2. I love ice cream.
3. I'm crazy about flowers, especially roses. And I prefer them growing on the plants that they bloomed on.
4. I love reading books with happy endings.
5. My sister is my best friend on earth.
6. I love Christmas. It's my favorite holiday, and I get really depressed when it's over.
7. I'm shy!
8. I have a fairly recently-discovered crush on Green Arrow.
9. I spent part of this morning watching "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" and "Khloe and Kourtney Take Miami," and it wasn't too bad.
10. My goal is to own every book Anne Stuart ever published.

Now I have to find 10 other Book Bloggers to pass this award on to.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Green Arrow: Quiver by Kevin Smith, Phil Hester, Ande Parks

Green Arrow: Quiver (Book 1) Green Arrow: Quiver by Kevin Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Well that was an interesting introduction to Oliver Queen in the DC Comics. You might know him as Green Arrow. I got to know him the backhanded way, through watching the Justice League Unlimited, and drooling. I love a guy who is a master at an art. For Oliver Queen, it's archery. And it takes some bravery to walk around wearing a Robin Hood-like costume in modern times.

I like Queen's wit, ably handled by the oh-so witty Kevin Smith. But there was also some real angst and philosophical moments in this story. Queen had lost a lot, and he didn't even know how much. In this graphic novel (ten chapters), Queen has forgotten ten years of his life. I won't tell you why. Suffice it to say it's complicated. You need to read Quiver to discover the whys and wherefore.

I will definitely be reading more Green Arrow. He's moving up the ranks in my list of favorite superheroes. Okay I guess I'll lose some comic book geek cred by saying this, but Oliver Queen aka Green Arrow is hot! He just is. It's so sad when you're drooling over a comic book drawing. I totally was. And he's got great genes because his son, Connor Hawke, is just as hot! He's ripped, very skilled in various ways, and he has a great sense of humor. I don't even mind that he's broke in this book. Billions don't substitute for other qualities. :)

Wow, you do get your money's worth with this graphic novel. It's quite, long. Not that I'm complaining. On the downside, I have to admit that the art was not always to my taste. I loved the way Green Arrow was drawn, but I didn't really like the look of some of the other JL greats, with a few exceptions. I really liked the writing though. I enjoyed all the inside references Mr. Smith threw in (even though I haven't read any JL comics--some I picked up through my study of the characters via Wikipedia and other comic book websites). I liked that there were footnotes for the comic issues that the references came from, as well.

This book has some of everything in it. Do read it, if you're a fan of the Justice League, as some of the pivotal characters show up. Not to mention some of the more interesting characters in the DC Universe, such as Dead Man, Spectre, Etrigan/Jason Blood. I think if you've been introduced to the Justice League via the Cartoon Network show, you'll do just fine, and likely you will feel the need to delve deeper into the DC Universe. I think you will become a fan of Green Arrow, if you weren't already. So.. When are they making a Green Arrow movie? Animated or otherwise??? I'll be waiting, not so patiently.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Tempting Faith by Crystal Hubbard

Tempting Faith (Indigo Love Spectrum) Tempting Faith by Crystal Hubbard

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I remember when I realized I was in love with Keanu Reeves. It was when I watched Point Break. The scene when Keanu is soaking wet, and looking over his shoulder. The water was dripping off his black hair, and made his shirt cling to the taut muscles of his chest and biceps. It was love as only a fifteen year old girl can feel. It was a profound feeling. Yet, I can't imagine how Faith must have felt when she looked at the big screen, and she realized the man she was in love with, the man she lost, was on the big screen. Such is the story behind this wonderful novel.

Ten years ago, Faith and Alex formed a connection in a little town in West Virginia called Booger Hollow. They couldn't have been more different, and not in the obvious way. Alex was dirt poor, considered trailer trash. Faith was the pampered daughter of one of the richest men in town. But they were friends. They were deeply in love. A deadly storm took Alex away from Faith. And her heart with it. But she moved on.

Thus, seeing the very man she loved so very much on the movie screen was a painful moment. To think that Alex wasn't dead at all, but was now Zander Baron, movie star. Faith is in the position to find out what and who Zander really is. To make him face his past. She is a reporter for a celebrity magazine, and asks her editor for his story.

However, when Faith and Alex reconnect, they both realize that the story is nothing compared to the fact that their love never died, but is stronger than ever.

This book is one of those that sinks into you. It makes your stomach hurt as you ponder the incredible gift of true love, but have to face that true love doesn't solve all the problems in the world. Yet, there is the hope that love does conquer all. I felt it so profoundly, I had to put it down at times before I could muster the courage to keep reading. (It sounds silly, but it's so true).

I was prepared to be angry at Faith, thinking she would sell her love for Alex out for her revenge against him, and for a big headline. Thankfully that is not the case. Faith is a character you cannot help but love and like. She's kind, loving, and has not forgotten where she came from. She might have been a rich kid growing up, but she never acted like it. In fact, she one of the few people who gave Alex unconditional love and acceptance. My heart ached for what she suffered, thinking the boy she loved had died.

At the same time, my heart bled for Alex/Zander. If you like tortured heroes, you'll love Alex. It was intensely painful to read the flashbacks and to see how he suffered at the hands of his parents, and at the indifference and scorn of the townspeople. He was beaten and starved by his father, humilated and ignored by his mother. You wonder how people can be so cruel and hateful. I could see why he shook off the dust of that town and never looked back. But he never forgot about Faith. It seems callous at first glance, the way he walked away from her, but you have to look deeper. Faith was an unreachable dream. Faith was way too good for Alex in his mind. He thought he was doing what was best for her.

I feel sad at the ten lost years between Alex and Faith. But then I had to look at it the way I try to look at unfortunate events in real life. If the bad doesn't happen, how can the good happen? Alex needed to build his life and make something of himself. Find the self-confidence and self-worth he needed to know that he was worthy for Faith. That he was worthy period. Her saying it might not have been enough, you see.

This was a beautiful, heartfelt book. Ms. Hubbard shows her incredible, deft skill as a writer in the crafting of this love story. She manages to write a story that will break your heart with the poignant angst of young love lost and pain suffered from the cruelty of humanity, yet make you laugh out loud in other scenes. She ably juxtaposes the lazy rhythms of small-town life against the fast-paced, larger than life happenings of Southern California with all its glamour and glitz.

I used to live in Southern California, and I can testify that Ms. Hubbard captured it so well. The beauty of the mountains, the arid desert, the beautiful surf, the natural loveliness that seduces and captivates you. In sharp contrast to the facade of glitz that is Los Angeles and Hollywood. She made me miss the beauty of the setting of Southern California, but reminded me that I was glad I came back to Texas and the simple good things it had to offer this soul.

I liked that she showed how well Zander and Faith were able to adapt to the environs and the lifestyle of Southern California, but didn't lose their innate sense of what is valuable in life. Had she not done this, I probably would not have enjoyed reading about fancy clothing, expensive wine, and glitzy parties. Yet I did, because it showed how flexible and multi-layered our protagonists are. And at the same time, it made me glad that they both made it out of Booger Hollow and forged lives for themselves.

The most powerful aspect of this story was the strong, intense bond between Faith and Alex/Zander, one that never died, even though life had separated them for ten years. The love scenes are very detailed, almost erotic. But they have a beauty because they show that the attraction between Faith and Alex comes out of their intense love for each other, and the power of them expressing their connection physically.

I like that although there is some conflict between Faith and Alex, it's not so ugly that you feel their love is compromised. They have some issues to work through as Faith wants Zander to remember who he is and embrace the man she fell in love with. Zander wants to let go of the past and the ugliness of it. I could identify with both of them. You can't know who you are, unless you know where you came from. And you can't reach full potential, if you can't put the past into perspective and nullify its ability to cripple your growth. I think that Zander just had to be ready to face who he was in all ways. He needed the right catalyst, and he found it.

I can't say how much I loved this love story. It's very modern in some ways, but timeless at the same time. It reaffirms the power of the bond of love. How two souls can meet and become connected in a way that nothing can sever. People can go out of each other's lives (and live separate from each other), but when they come back together, their love is stronger because it never perished despite the time spent apart, and they have each grown as human beings fully able to realize that love. I'm such a romantic. I know that. I'm glad that Ms. Hubbard is too. This book surely shows that she is. Thanks for writing this fantastic love story, Ms. Hubbard.

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Taming the Beast by Heather Grothaus

Taming the Beast Taming the Beast by Heather Grothaus

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This was a total impulse buy that paid off. I loved this book. It was one of those stories that I couldn't put down, and I was compelled to read, even though I had already started some other books. It couldn't believe how fast I read it, within about four to five hours.

I love medieval romances, so that helped. And I'm a sucker for the broken/scarred/hurt hero. Well, Roderick is all three. He comes back from the Crusades a broken man, although he had lots of baggage before he went there, with a father who did nothing but torment and treat him poorly and had driven his mother to suicide. Thankfully, his good friend that he makes during the Crusades saves his life and gets him medical attention, and the word that his father has died and he must find a bride to keep his land, gives him the strength to fight to get better and to come back to England.

There were times when Roderick descended into self-pity. I suppose this might not work for all readers, but it was realistic. If if a man had always been talked down to and ridiculed by his father, I wouldn't expect him to have the healthiest self-esteem. Yes, he might annoy some readers the way he pushes his son away and doesn't want to let Michaela in, but I loved Roderick from the first page. He's one of those heroes I really wanted to see happy. I could understand why he kept those he loved and who loved him at a distance, feeling he wasn't worthy and would fail them.

I adored Michaela as well. She had some moments of self-interest, but at the same time, I could see why she was motivated in such a fashion. She had been picked on her whole life because of her mother insisting that she had gotten kidnapped by The Wild Hunt. They called her Devil's Child and stuff like that. She was clumsy and tended to trip and run into things. Plus she grew up poor, although very much loved. One night at a party at her overlord's manor, she gets his attention by her bond with his daughter, Elizabeth, who hasn't talked since her mother died. Also her beautiful singing voice makes Michaela stand out. He invites her to come live with them as Elizabeth's companion. Because of this attention she gets from him, she fell in 'love' with her overlord, and he made some gestures like he was going to marry her, but married her arch-nemesis instead, humiliating her. So she decided to marry the Beast, who was the lord over the man who spurned her, a move motivated out of revenge against this man who spurned her, since he won't inherit the properties of Roderick, his cousin.

She goes to his rundown castle, determined to fulfill the required ninety days of residence before the marriage. When she finally sees The Beast, she is instantly attracted to him, scars, limping, and surly demeanor and all. She falls into his beautiful and bright green eyes, and likes his large, sculpted body, despite the fact that it's clear that his leg and arm are crippled. Their dance around each other made this book worth reading. There was an intense attraction between Roderick and Michaela that sparkled off the page. At times, Michaela was very much put into the role of the "Chaser," but it worked for me, because Roderick had never been loved in that way, so it was nice to see someone working for his affections. It was cute how Roderick was somewhat bewildered by his strong feelings for Michaela.

Another thing I loved was the toddler Leo. He was so cute. I just wanted to take him out this story as my own baby. I loved his baby talk, and how loving he was. As Roderick's acknowledged son by a prostitute in the Crusades, he had a big role, since he was Roderick's heir. Also, the interplay with Roderick as he tries to keep his distance out of fear of destroying his son the way his father destroyed him was pivotal in the evolution of this story. Just reading the scenes with this cute little boy made this book so much more enjoyable. I'm so serious. This kid was so adorable. I liked the way Michaela bonded with him and helped improve the relationship between Roderick and his son. Like any baby, Leo loved his father unconditionally, but was somewhat kept at a distance that was somewhat confusing for the toddler. I was glad that this changed significantly over the course of the book.

Hugh was also a great character. His steadfast friendship and aid to Roderick. His love and care for Leo. His flamboyant tastes in clothing. His potty mouth and irreverent humor. His bad advice to Michaela about how to snare Roderick's affections. It gave this book another appealing layer.

There is a thread of the paranormal that runs through this book that intensifies at the climax. I thought it was very interesting, and also unnerving. It was very cool. Now I have to read the short story in Highland Beast, which is about a character who shows up in this story.

I really, really liked this book,and I would highly recommend it to fans of scarred/wounded heroes,and heroines who are determined to get their man, but aren't obnoxious about it. I'm glad I was able to spend a few hours with Roderick, Michaela, cute little Leo, and Hugh, who made me laugh, and also choked me up with his devotion to Roderick. It was time well spent.

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

Elric: The Stealer of Souls by Michael Moorcock

Elric: The Stealer of Souls (Chronicles of the Last Emperor of Melniboné, Vol. 1) Elric: The Stealer of Souls by Michael Moorcock

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
I took a journey into the world of darkness, and I am surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Being me, I tend to embark on new adventures in an atypical fashion. Such is my introduction to sword and sorcery fantasy. I read one Conan story prior to reading Elric: The Stealer of Souls (written by L. Sprague de Camp in an anthology). And I started reading The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane as my first official story written by Robert E. Howard, who is probably one of the founding fathers of this genre (if not the founding father), so it's interesting that one of my first protagonists to read in this genre is more of an anti-Conan. He's not big and muscled. He's slender and physically frail. He cries, he whines, and he does a lot of moping. I'm not really surprised that this worked for me. I love flawed characters in fiction. I love characters with a weakness to them. I think they mirror reality much more than perfect ones do. In my life, I have been haunted by a fear of failure, and I can identify with a character who does feel like he doesn't measure up and sometimes feels like a screw-up, right or wrong. While I don't enjoy depressing literature at all, I like a good genre story that shows a character who is never going to be perfect and get everything right. That's Elric in a nutshell.

A few years ago, I had heard about Elric, and I was intrigued when I read that he was considered the burned-out rock star of heroic fantasy, with his dependence on drugs. Okay, part of me was repulsed at the drug-dependence part. I'm glad I read the story all the same. Elric has had to take herbs because of the inherent frailty of his constitution due to his inherited albinism. That is a minor part of the stories in this book. Really, his more dangerous and much more harrowing dependence is on the vampiric sword Stormbringer. Let me tell you, I never thought I'd hate an inaminate object the way I hate the sword. I imagine poor Elric feels the same way, but fifty-thousand times worse. You see, Stormbringer is evil. It enjoys being used to kill, whether the victim is good or bad. When it kills, it sucks the soul out of its victim, and part of that energy goes to Elric (who uses it to keep his vitality), and part remains in the sword. Stormbring will actually direct itself to deliver killing blows to friends and allies of Elric. Elric is by no means a good person, but he does have friends (and a lover) that he would not wish to betray, and some of the fall to the sword, inadvertently. However, being deprived and away from the sword for a prolonged period brings on a loss of vitality that eventually would be fatal to Elric. Thus he cannot rid himself of this 'hellwrought' blade. Elric has this on his conscience, and also broods the loss of his love and his kingdom. Yes, Elric is very much a brooder.

I found these stories to be very imaginative, and often brutal and dark. The elements of dark sorcery were chilling, yet enthralling. When Elric would say the words of dark spells that were passed down from his sorcerous, maleficient ancestors, my eyes were glued to the page. He encounters dark beasts from a person's imagination or nightmares gone to hell. And he has to fight for his life and that of his friends. I could imagine how vivid some of those scenes would look on a movie screen. Yet I was taken out of my own reality and to the ancient, fallen worlds that Elric travels through. Some of his journeys in this book are motivated by self-interest, and some out of the greater good. However, blood will be shed along the way, both from the virtuous and the wicked.

I like the way Mr. Moorcock mingled some familiar elements of fantasy with things he could have only dreamed up in his mind. I also appreciated the way these stories are a little bit horror, tragic drama, and fantasy all combined together. The tragedy rests in the fact that Elric is a man who is doomed to follow a dark destiny, and being around him too long can be bad for a person's health. One other very much appreciate element is the multiculturalism of his stories. There are characters of various types and races, and they are not described in a way that is bigoted and demeaning, which is common with some of the older pulp fiction (even Mr. Howard, who's writing I admire except for this aspect). There is some degree of philosphy and mysticism that could tend to go over one's head (myself included). I recommend just reading the stories. If you catch some of it, by all means. But a deep understanding of the balance between Law and Chaos is not required to enjoy these stories.

If I could mention a couple of quibbles I had, it would be that women are poorly characterized in these stories. What I mean is they don't come off as being very deep and meaningful. In some of Mr. Moorcock's writing included, he admits to this fact. The women that come in and out of the stories (and Elric's life) serve mainly as plot points. While this is fantasy with a male lead character, I would hope to see a little more depth in the females featured, some of which are quite pivotal in the story and in Elric's development as a character. My other quibble is that the death of some fairly important characters is treated in a somewhat anticlimactic fashion. I realize that in this world, death is an everyday, harsh reality. Yet, I expected there to be a little more pomp and circumstance in the demise of some very important, and somewhat important characters. Those are small issues with the overall writing that I had. Otherwise, I would say that for what it is, this is near perfect storytelling. There is a tendency to be melodramatic, but come on, it's heroic fantasy. Drama is important (in the same way it's a crucial element in Harlequin Presents novels).

Being a neophyte to the sword and sorcery genre (and high fantasy overall, other than some brief forays as a young reader), I may not be the best source of advice. However, I am of the opinion that if you are about to embark on a foray into heroic fantasy, you should read this book. It wasn't boring, although it might be hard to keep up with the odd names and the storylines at times. Personally, I found this to be a book that you read in spurts. This is a collection of short stories and a novella, so it lends itself to that type of reading. In the reading of this story, will find a hero-villain within the pages of this book like no other, one who will keep your interest, inspire pity and sometimes frustration, and one who will linger in you mind long past the point at which you close the book.

Rating 4.5/5.0 Stars

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Resurrection: Scions #1 by Patrice Michelle

Resurrection (Scions, #1) (Vampires) Resurrection by Patrice Michelle

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Thanks so much for writing this book, Ms. Michelle. Finally a Silhouette Nocturne that delivers on the action, the world-building, and the romance to an equal level. If you don't like high octane, action-driven romance, do not read this book. The first 1/4 of the book felt very much like a action/horror/science fiction movie, yet with a very sexy hero, and a heroine who was way out of her depth. I was loving it. It had me thinking of The Terminator, Underworld, and Blade all rolled into one. Maybe a little bit of Blade Runner and Ultraviolet, too. There are some great scenes that really bring these movies to mind in a very visually-stylistic way.

Jachin is a serious bad-ass. This is established from the first scene. I was like, "Aw, yeah." He really reminded me of Blade (except cuter than Wesley Snipes and looking nothing like him or Blade), but the aspects of him being a hard as nails, kickass, hunter-assassin who happened to be a vampire. He is sexy as all get out, and initially has a bit of an attitude (I like my heroes a little grumpy). But I could understand why. He got kicked out by his brethren, was on the run from various people and vampires who wanted him dead, and spent most of his time in a state of borderline starvation for sustenance from blood. Human blood had become poisonous, so he had to take jobs as an assassin to be able to afford to buy specially-processed blood from a scientist to stay alive. I think Ms. Michelle did a great job writing Jachin. There are nuances that sort of reminded me of other paranormal heroes, but at the same time, Jachin really had a unique feel for me. He was one of those heroes you can drool over, but really respect for being tough as nails. I'm as much an action-adventure fan as I am a romance fan, so I love when I can find characters that fill both shoes equally well.

Ariel is not the kickbutt kind of heroine. She's more of a damsel in distress. That's okay. The kicking butt and taking names kind of heroine is great, but it gets stale when every book has that sort of heroine. Initially she was bugging me with her intolerance towards Jachin. But then I had to put myself in her shoes. Shouldn't she hate vampires, since her family was brutally wiped out by them? Shouldn't she be wary and desirous to escape from those who inspired fear in her? She didn't know Jachin, so how could she instantly bond to him and trust him. So, I came to the realization that Ariel is authentic in her initial reactions to Jachin. She is soft and sweet, but she has a fortitude that comes through, considering what she is put through in this book. Talking about beat up and bashed around. Good thing Jachin's saliva is healing. And he's more than willing to lick all her wounds healed, and he discovers her blood is not poisonous like other humans in the process. Ariel comes to play a very pivotal role in this book, and I like that she comes to the conclusion that she has a responsibility in the world that Jachin inhabits, and embraces him and this role. I came to like her very much.

The worldbuilding was intriguing and involving. It is set in the future, which is clear through the technology available. I like how Ms. Michelle established this withough committing the info-dump writing sin. There are enough elements of a futuristic setting to be appreciated, but not so out there that it's distracting.

In this series, vampires were genetically engineered by humans. As with any toy, humans tired of the vamps, and decided to wipe them out. The vampires, called Sanguinas or scions, rebelled and started hunting the humans. But over the years, the humans' blood became poisonous, and the scions had to go into hiding.

The Sanguinas actually created the werewolves, called Lupredas, to hunt for them and to play part in their ancient rituals. Over time, the Lupredas and the Sanguinas became mortal enemies. This part reminded me of Underworld. In this book, the Lupredas play a minor role, although Landon, a Lupreda, is a sometimes ally to Jachin.

There is a bit of inter-breed politics related to Jachin's being ousted from the Sanguinas, and the prophecy that Ariel unwittingly reveals in her book that she wrote about vampires as a sort of therapy. Hearing that Ariel wrote this book about the prophecy is the impetus that causes Jachin to kidnap her to take her back to the Sanguinas leader as his mate to fulfill the prophecy. They are on the run from Sanguinas who want to get her there first, and also from human vampire hunters, called Garroters. The politics part is good for fans of the vampire society type storylines prominent in movies like Blade, the tv show, Kindred: The Embrace, and the Underworld films. But it doesn't drag the storyline down, as this book stays pretty action and romance-oriented.

Which brings me to the romance. You feel the heat between Jachin and Ariel build over time, but in a compelling way, practically from their first scene together. This book has some steamy love scenes that have you turning the pages, but all the interactions between Jachin and Ariel help to show the connection and the chemistry between the pair. It's not long before you're hope that Ariel will start to see Jachin in a different light, and that Jachin will realize that she belongs with him instead of Braeden.

I don't want to give that much away, so I won't prolong this review, but I definitely want to say that book left me completely satisfied. It has great romance, sexy and fiery love scenes, awesome action, and fantastic, creative worldbuilding. I'm definitely a new fan of Patrice Michelle, and I can't wait to read the next books in the series. I'm excited to see if she wrote stories for Mira, Jachin's sweet sister, and Landon. Thanks to my sister for recommending this book. She is very particular about books, so I pay attention when she really likes one (and she's the one that got me into paranormals, which I owe my eternal gratitude to her for doing). I'm glad I did read this. And I am happy that I found another Silhouette Nocturne that I really, really liked. This might be my second favorite (Enemy Lover by Bonnie Vanak is my all time favorite although this book has better action scenes).

I'd give this book 4.5/5.0 stars. Check it out if you're a fan of paranormal romance!

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Dates From Hell by Kim Harrison, Lynsay Sands, Kelley Armstrong, and Lori Handeland

Dates From Hell Dates From Hell by Kim Harrison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I started this one and put it down almost two years ago. I was distinctly disturbed by Ivy's backstory (from the Rachel Morgan books by Kim Harrison), featured in Undead in the Garden of Good and Evil. It was not at all what I'd call a romance. Her relationships with the men in this story were dark, tangled, and unsettling. It's good to have some perspective on Ivy, but I'm afraid I don't have a good opinion of her character right now. Maybe that was the point, and we will see her evolve as she spends more time around the more innocent and sweeter Rachel. This was a beautifully written, but dark, dark story. Kim Harrison is one heck of a writer and she pulls you into the stories that she spins. I'm not into dark and sexual so much, and this story has that edge to it, hence I was a bit turned off. I did love the banshee part. Very cool! Four stars for the quality of the story, even though this one disturbed me.

Attempt #2 Went much better as I finished the Lynsay Sands story. I actually enjoyed The Claire Switch Project, and I didn't expect to like it. I thought it was going to be way too light and fluffy and annoying as Claire used her power to deceive the man she was in love with. Thankfully I was wrong. It just goes to show that you need to be in the mood to read certain books. This reminded me of a screwball comedy from the 80s (which I love). Claire has a unique ability that her friend manipulates her into exploiting to get a little revenge against the jerk who dumped her. Her scientist colleague, Kyle, is the man she's been in love with for over ten years, but afraid to say anything. Well, he asks her out on a date the very night she has to pretend to be her friends famous date (Brad Cruise, get it?). Hilarity and confusion ensues. It was cute and fun, so I ended up giving this one 3.5 stars.

Kelley Armstrong's Chaotic was interesting. The heroine is Hope, a half-chaos demon/half-human. She gets a high from chaotic/violent events that she has tried to channel into helping people working for the Interracial Council. She's on a mundane date (but on the lookout for anything unusual) and she ends up catching jewel-thief and somewhat rogue werewolf, Karl. It turns out that the people that she works for are gunning for Karl in the worse way, although he's not on the wrong side. They are. This reminded me of those beloved 80s action movies I watched too many of, even though I was probably too young for them. I have to admit that the first person didn't really seem to fit the story that well. I think third person would have gone over better. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it. Heck, I'm an easy sell with the werewolf theme, and the on the run theme combined. I also liked Hope's unique ability (if you can call it that) I look forward to reading Private Demon to further explore Hope and Karl. Four stars.

My favorite, hands down, was Dead Man Dating. It was so interesting and unique. Kit is a woman who is being relentlessly hunted by a demon who's looking for a very particular type of woman. Not too many of them found in the modern world, especially in the big city. Thankfully there is a rogue demon hunter (sorry, not Wesley Wyndham-Price) here to save her. Chavez is one sexy demon hunter. I loved the aspect of good versus evil, and finding out how to kill this demon that is gunning for Kit. I firmly believe that Ms. Handeland was inspired by Constantine, and I'm not complaining, since I love that movie and the idea of the comic book it's inspired by (I haven't read them yet, but I will). Being the complete folklore/supernatural nerd that I am, I ate this story up like Mexican food (my favorite). This was such a great story, and it flowed very well, hence the five star rating. Here I am hoping that it ties into the Doomsday Chronicles series that Ms. Handeland has out (which is in the you know what). Sign me up to read about these warrior fighting against the apocalypse.

I am so glad I gave this anthology another chance. I have to thank Mel for inspiring me with her love of Karl Marsten. It really turned out to be a great read, and makes this girl who doesn't date that much pretty happy that she didn't go on any of these dates from hell (Sorry. I can't resist a bad pun).

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Hallowe'en Husbands by Lisa Plumley, Denise Lynn, and Christine Merrill

Hallowe'en Husbands: Marriage At Morrow Creek\Wedding At Warehaven\Master Of Penlowen Hallowe'en Husbands: Marriage At Morrow Creek\Wedding At Warehaven\Master Of Penlowen by Lisa Plumley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a very nice short story collection, with a Halloween theme. By far, my favorite story was Master of Penlowen, which was the last in this book. It was a delightfully gothic romance with a mysterious and somewhat tortured hero, and a sensible, likeable heroine. I loved the ghostly twist in this story, and that Ms. Merrill allows the passion to be expressed in a manner that made sense for a short historical story with a young respectable lady and hero of principles. This story encouraged me to read more of Christine Merrill. Being a big fan of gothic horror, I loved the storyline very much. Ms. Merrill managed to pack a lot into this short story, and created characters I felt for and came to like very much. Despite the short length, they were well-drawn characters with depth that made the story that much more engaging for me.

Wedding at Warehaven was also a good story. I liked the incorporation of the Pagan Saxon rites in the story. There are people who are practicing dark rites at the keep of Warehaven, and FitzHenry is tasked with resolving the issue. He has a choice to marry the unwed witch or burn her at the stake. Fortunately he chooses the former. The heroine of this story was a bit frustrating at times, although I could understand that she was trying to protect her people.

Marriage at Morrow Creek was a good story as well. It had a young woman who's been in love with her father's employee, but gets the encouragement from a ghostly figure at the creek to help her to grab life by the horns and to go after the man she really wants.

The first and the third stories were 3 star reads, but the last story was so great, a five star, that I bumped this collection up to four stars. Reading this collection was a nice way to wrap up the Halloween holiday for this reader.

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The Devouring by Simon Holt

The Devouring The Devouring by Simon Holt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I finished this book with an undecided feeling. It was a good read, and kept my interest. I'm not sure that I enjoyed it that much. A very interesting concept about creatures that take over the body of a person who is absolutely terrified on Sorry Night, which is the night of the Winter Solstice. I heard about this book, and read some positive reviews, and decided to go for it. I have no regrets that I did read it, but I have to say that there were things I could have liked better about this book. The opening was excellent, really unnerving me. I started this book right before bedtime, and I had to read a little bit of a romance book before I turned off the light and went to sleep. It sets the reader up to know this wouldn't be an especially gentle horror story.

When I asked myself what didn't quite ring true to me about this story, I am encouraged to go and analyze it. I didn't dislike the main characters. Reggie was a sympathetic protagonist. She's been forced to grow up too fast, coerced/encouraged by her father to take the role of her mother, who left the family and has not returned. She's only fifteen and she wants to do the normal things that a fifteen year old does, but she is pretty much forced to raise her younger brother, Henry, who is eight, since her father works a demanding construction contracting job (and is emotionally withdrawn). Going into the story, you feel her longing to be 'normal' and to not have the weight of the world on her shoulders. Mixed in is some resentment towards her younger brother, who has gotten more clingy, instead of more independent. This sets the stage for what will happen in this sibling relationship.

Reggie works in a small bookstore that caters towards the horror/gothic tastes. She unpacks a box of books and finds a diary-looking book in the box called The Devouring, which she decides to read, with her best friend Aaron on Sorry Night. She and Aaron expose themselves to their individual worst phobias and chant the mysterious poem at the beginning of the journal. This somehow seems to activate the vour to take her brother's soul, for he is the most frightened in the house. Reggie puts him to bed and he sits in the dark, afraid out of his mind, easy prey for this evil being.

From there this story turns into a 'Bad Seed' kind of narrative, as Henry becomes increasingly not like himself. He becomes cruel and violent, commiting acts that are increasingly disturbing. Reggie doesn't put two and two together at first, which I found annoying. Clearly her brother is not acting normal, and his skin becomes very cold to the touch. It takes too long for her to get a clue, but I was glad that she is scolded by her boss at the bookstore, Eben, for diddling around with this journal, and she didn't know what she was doing.

Reggie has to face her worst fears and delve into the fearscape where her brother's consciousness has been entrapped, in order to get him back and to save him from the Vours. They are after her as well. They thrive on fear, and Reggie has walked a tightrope of being brave (she's a major horror buff) and fighting her real-life fears. I thought this was a good message about not letting your fears control you, and facing the truth instead of avoiding the acceptance of things that you don't want to face and you know you cannot change.

I liked Reggie's buddy, Aaron, who is a bit of a geek, and who shares her love of horror movies, but also has a fascination with serial killers. He is a true friend to her the whole time, and I got the impression he might have a crush on Reggie, although she's fixated on footballer player and popular kid, Quinn. Aaron is in for the long haul, facing danger and his devastating fear of drowning, to help Reggie get her brother's soul back and to vanquish the vour that is controlling his body.

What I didn't particularly care for in this story:

I felt that Reggie and Henry's dad was too one-dimensional. He seemed like a plot point, only coming around to scold Reggie for not doing enough, and to treat Reggie badly when he starts to believe the Un-Henry's lies. He didn't seem all that real to me, and wasn't that loving. Okay, I can acknowledge that he was in a bad place, having lost his wife, and trying to raise his kids without her. But there wasn't enough signs of his love for his kids shining through.

Also I wished there was more closure about their mom disappearing. You don't really get too much information, other than she's gone, and Reggie secretly wished she was dead, rather than face that her mom ran out on her. I would like to understand what was motivating this flight. We know that Reggie was close to her mom, and they had girl talk session in the bathroom when she cut Reggie's hair. That's why I didn't understand what prompted her to leave, and there didn't seem to be any signs that she was fed up, either. The book doesn't really give enough information on this to feel like there's a whole story there, and so I am forced to see the mother as yet another poorly-fleshed out character.

I thought the book was a tad too gruesome. There are some pretty long, detailed scenes describing acts of cruelty or the aftermath that I am not sure how appropriate they would be for a younger audience. I had some issues with them, and I'm 36 years old. I think the author is targeting the young adult audience who loves slasher movies, and these teens wouldn't have a problem with these scenes. I can't fault him on that, but it didn't seem to fit in with the somewhat gothic vours concept. It seemed to go in a 180 degree direction, in fact.

The organic nature of the vours came out of left field, leaving me with more questions. I wasn't quite expecting that. I'm wondering how these pieces fit together, in fact. There is a sequel to this book, but I'm not sure how motivated I am to read it, at this point. I might pick it up later on to get some closure. However, I can't say I was blown away by this story, and felt motivated to commit myself to this series. However, I freely admit it was a great book to read on Halloween, and very suspenseful.

I think Mr. Holt is a very good writer, and has a talent in horror. But unfortunately, this book doesn't get out of B grade territory for me because of the lack of depth with the parents, and also with Henry (I couldn't feel too much for them). Also, there were some parts where Henry is treated rather brutally by his sister and Aaron (because of the vour inside him) that made me squirm. It felt like child abuse (irrational of me, but there you have it). It just needed a little more depth for me to feel more strongly about it. For a basic horror book for teens that doesn't require much emotional commitment or analysis, this is a good one. I just like a little more with my reading.

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