Thursday, January 28, 2010

Burning Alive: The Sentinel Wars by Shannon K. Butcher

Burning Alive (Sentinel Wars, #1) Burning Alive by Shannon K. Butcher

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Burning Alive was a book that pulled me in from the beginning. For that, I definitely give it points. I liked the storyline about Sentinels and their war against the Senestryn, a race of demons. The origins of the Sentinels are fascinating to me. There is an element of the futuristic, teamed with the ancient in their conception and their millenias-long war with the Senestryn. It had me thinking of Flash Gordon--and the various races that Flash encounters when he goes to Space in Dr. Zarkoff's rocket--for some reason. Don't ask! Humorous aside: I kept thinking about Sinestro, who is an arch-nemesis of Green Lantern from the DC Comics Universe. Anyone else make that connection? I do have to say that Ms. Butcher charted a course along familiar ground, but somehow made this story interesting and distinct from the other series, in my opinion. As I read, I could definitely see how she was influenced by other writers that I enjoy, but I don't feel that she was trying to copy them. As my sister likes to say, "There is nothing new under the sun." But what I appreciate is seeing an author take a familiar concept and give it a new approach or new life. I feel that Ms. Butcher did that.

I really liked the aspect of the warriors pining for their mate, and how they have the tattoo of a tree on their chest that grows as they age, and eventually starts to die, unless they find a mate. The leaves on the tree die and fall off, and the closer they get to the tree being completely denuded of leaves, the closer they are to their souls dying. I thought that was pretty interesting. I liked the fact that the warrior is full of energy and his mate taps that energy and uses it to fight the Senestryn in tandem with him. Very cool. I love a strong, powerful warrior who longs for a true love. Sigh! I felt so bad for all the warriors who will die, never finding their mate, since most of the Sentinel women were killed. I hope that more women will be found. The hope will keep me reading this series.

The characters in this story drew me in, and I cared about them. Maybe too much. It broke my heart when a character I fell in love with died horribly. I almost threw my book across the room. I rarely do that. I felt intense pain, and disbelief. Part of me still wants to believe that it's not the truth. The circumstances of the death really cast a pall over this story. I had trouble caring about Drake and Helen's romance, knowing that this person was dead. But at the same time, I think it showed the cost of this war. The scene in which Drake shows Helen the Hall of the Fallen, in which the sword of the dead warrior is hung in remembrance, was very profound. I felt the awe and the anguish at seeing how very many swords hung there. It added to my grief that I felt at the beloved character's death.

As I said, I wanted to find someone to blame for this person's death. It is easy for me to blame Helen, because she flaked at a crucial moment, her lifelong fear such a burden that she couldn't come through and tap her power to defeat the demon in time. It was a dilemma for me. I could see that Helen was just human, full of frailties and flaws. How many times have I failed someone who counted on me? More than I wanted to. Fortunately, it hasn't cost anyone a life, but poor Helen has that on her conscience. Although she will go on to fight in the war at Drake's side, basking in his love, I think she'll always feel grief that she couldn't save this person. The grief I share. I think that the reasons behind this courage-crippling vision of burning to death were not explained as well as I like. I hope that this will be explored further in the next books.

Drake and Helen's romance was good. They had good chemistry, with some steamy love scenes. I liked that Helen was an average girl with a normal, perhaps too-curvy figure, but Drake thought she was the sexiest woman alive. I liked the powerful chemistry between them when they met. I did want things to work out for them, although I was still depressed about the death of that person I was in love with. I admit, I'm more intrigued to see what will happen with Zack and Lexie than I was drawn into Helen and Drake's romance. Why is the first in the series always the least compelling? To keep us reading! I'm wondering what's going to happen with Logan. Will he find a mate as well? More questions than I have time to list in this review.

The cast of secondary characters has caught my interest, and I look forward to reading more about them. I'd like to see where this war with the Senestryn will go. I think that Ms. Butcher will continue to add dimensions to this interesting series she had created. I just hope she doesn't get me to fall in love with anymore characters and then kill them off. I don't think my heart can stand it.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Second-Best Bride by Sara Wood

Second-Best Bride by Sara Wood

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The whole storyline of this book can be summed up in two lines:

"He loves me. He loves me not."
"She loves me. She loves me not."

Interestingly, most of the book takes place on the morning of the wedding between Claire and Luke, who goes by the nickname of Trader. Claire gets a massive case of cold feet, when she comes to realize that Luke doesn't seem to love her. It doesn't help that she has a so-called friend telling her things that feed into her insecurity about Luke's feelings for her.

And then there's the fact that she finds out that Trader is blackmailing her father. She think's Trader is after her dowry from her father. Is Trader a fortune hunter? But then, Trader does things that seem so devoted and shows he has feelings for her. What's a girl to do? Her father is leaning on her to marry Trader, to bail his butt out for his illegal activities. Is she willing to marry a man who doesn't love her to save a father who wasn't there for her, who cheated and ran out of her mother?

It's hard to figure out how Trader feels for Claire for some parts of the book. He's hard towards her in some moments, and loving in others. Is he hurt at her rejection and lack of belief in him? Does he think she's the gold digger? Things are not helped by his childhood friend, Phoenix, who's very possessive of him. And she's gorgeous and sophisticated in a way that Claire never will be.

This is one of those books where you are constantly trying to figure out what the hero's motives are. And what's the deal with Phoenix? I didn't trust her from the beginning. I'm glad that Claire wized up and realized that Phoenix didn't have good intentions.

This was not bad for a "Saturday morning in bed" read. Quick and involving. I like the others I've read by Sara Wood more. Still, it's a solid three star read.

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Bad Blood by LA Banks

Bad Blood (Crimson Moon, Book 1) Bad Blood by L.A. Banks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

LA Banks succeeded in restoring my faith in her as an urban fantasy writer with this book. I read the first two Vampire Huntress Legends books, and I was very disappointed with the execution. I didn't feel that the first outing of an African American lead vampire hunter went very well. Thankfully, I had different thoughts about the first in the Crimson Moon series.

There were times where I wasn't sure I would like the direction that Banks took with this story. But then, her writing (which is very polished and without flaw) diverted me into paths that made me fascinated and almost excited to keep reading. My fear of being let down hung in a pall over me as I read this book. I was almost determined not to like it, afraid to have myself be disappointed again. That's why this book earning a four star rating is significant.

I like a lot of books, but at the same time, I'm rather demanding on what I read. I don't like certain elements thrown into a book without rhyme or reason. I want things to make sense. I want my time spent reading to be of value. I want to feel that the writer took the time to write a story that she or he cared about. If she or he does not care about the story, why should I? It's clear that Ms. Banks really did invest herself in this series. And the results turned out very well.
Bad Blood has a strong lead in Sasha Trudeau. She is a competent soldier, who is very good at taking care of herself and solving problems. That's what I look for in an urban fantasy heroine. I liked that she's just one of the guys, but feminine at the same time. She is devoted to her team, they are her friends and family. Events in this book unfold to destroy her unit, and her grief is palpable to the reader. Her path in the world has not been easy, and she goes through even more heartbreak in this book. She earned my admiration for her strength and for her humanity. I thought Sasha's origins were quite interesting, giving this story a high tech/almost futuristic vibe in that sense.

The plot of this story centers heavily on the aspect of lycanthropy being in part a viral disease that turns humans into rampaging beasts, completely out of control, and hungry for human flesh. As the story continues, it becomes clear that this not representative of all werewolves. There are natural werewolves, who are in control of their wolves, and who are good, and hunt the demon-infected werewolves. That's where Max Hunter and Shogun come in. Max Hunter is the alpha of the Shadow Wolves, part of the Ute Native American tribe. They are werewolves who can hide in shadow and use shadows to travel. I found this to be a very fascinating element (and something new for me as a werewolf fiction fan). Shogun is the alpha of another tribe of wolves, who makes contact with Sasha on a mission in North Korea, revealing that what she knows about wolves is all wrong.

From their very first scenes together, it's clear that Max Hunter is destined to have a very strong connection with Sasha, and this is revealed in a very steamy, erotically intense way. Their scenes together make you want to reach for a large glass of something cold. There was some serious chemistry between Sasha and Max, making this story read more like a paranormal romance, in certain scenes. I think that their relationship will make this series even more worth continuing.

On the negative side, I do have to say that Sasha came off as being a little hard-shelled in her behavior towards Max Hunter. It was clear from the begining that their attraction was extremely intense and hard to resist, and going with it, went against the grain for Sasha. However, this is a woman who herself said she was used to be a sex buddy, booty call, casual friend that you take to bed, and it felt good to be someone of value, someone treasured by another person. Max cherished, respected and valued her. He saw her as an equal from the beginning. He didn't treat her merely as a possession or sex object, disposable or otherwise. But when Max got possessive with her, she threw a fit. Come on! This is an alpha wolf--that's how they are. He made it very clear that she was his mate in his mind. Max was a man who was rejected by women because of the taint of his heritage. For him to find a woman of his own was a tremendous thing. Even still, when he wanted to bond with her fully as a mate, he didn't try force her, or press her for a commitment. It hurt him deeply that she couldn't give the same for him, but he was willing to give her time. Despite that, he couldn't help feeing possessive, especially if she was treating him as her mate in all but name. She took it as a personal affront, like he was saying she would sleep with any random guy to get info. It wasn't like that at all. It was about his primal feelings towards her. Just like the attraction between them was primal, and she was more than willing to go with that. That annoyed me about her. I will freely admit, I am not fond of hardened heroines. Something just rubs me the wrong way with them. Nothing wrong with being tough and in charge, having self-control, and being no one's pushover. But when they get where they are so callous about emotions, that's a pet peeve to me. I admired her honesty with Max, but I think she needed to really get where he was coming from a little more, since he was doing the same for her.

This was really the only issue I had with Sasha. But I'm a little worried what's going to happen in the next book. A clear that there's an attraction to Shogun as well. She's more or less 'lightly committed' to Max. Is she going to get with this other guy too? If so, I will be very disappointed, especially in the light of how much ground was laid building the relationship with Max. I really dislike when the heroine is going between two men. I don't mind if there's a flirtation, but since it's very clear that Max is deeply in love with Sasha, I will not be a happy camper if Sasha 'cheats' with Shogun.

The military vibe was working for me, mostly. I love characters who are soliders, warriors, or military. I especially like when the heroine is a badass warrior. Sasha's definitely that. It looks like she'll be running her own unit, so that's going to be really cool to see where her mission takes her yet.

I hope the storyline expands past the search for the demon-infected werewolves. Ms. Banks already introduced other creatures into this book, and very well, in fact. I look forward to seeing the vampires, werewolves, faery, wizards, etc. The vamps that show up, do a good job at trying to steal the show. They are seductive, sexual, and devious, with their own agenda. They have presence. I think it will be interesting to see more of the vampires as this series progresses. I can't wait to see what Ms. Banks does with the fae.

As you can see, I got involved with this story. Even though I was a reluctant reader, afraid of being hurt again. I have to give Ms. Banks kudos for that. I was glad that she left out a lot of the urban vibe that she used in the Huntress books (it does nothing for me), and told a story I could get involved in. The action scenes were intense, and the magical elements were very vivid. I loved the parts when Sasha and Max called their wolf. Very well done. It's icing on the cake to see the main characters of African-American/Native American ethnicity. We could use some ethnic diversity in the urban fantasy.

If you're like me, and felt let down with the Vampire Huntress books, give Bad Blood a try. I think you might like it. I'm happy to say that I believe this series has a lot of potential, and I hope I continue to enjoy it.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Touch the Dark by Karen Chance

Touch the Dark (Cassandra Palmer, #1) Touch the Dark by Karen Chance

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
This is a really hard book to rate. It's very good, but at the same time, I had some serious issues reading it. Let's talk about some of my issues first (get the bad news out of the way first):

1. It seemed very cramped. What I mean by this is, action scene would flow into action scene. It was hard to keep up and catch my breath. I needed a departure between these to get my bearings.
2. I really think that there needed to be more dialogue. It would have flowed better. The narrative style was too explanatory, instead of using dialogue and character action to show what was going on. I think she really needed to use, 'she said' and 'he said' more, because I got lost trying to figure out who was talking.
3. I often felt confused because of scenes changing somewhat abruptly. That made it hard to keep up.
4. Some of the Senate political discussions were a little dry at times.

Good things:

1. This story felt unique and different. I have read quite a bit of urban fantasy, and this didn't seem like a rehash to me. It's a very good idea, having the heroine be such a powerful seer. In general, I'm not fond of the heroine being the focus of desire of all the men in a book. But I liked how Karen Chance textured this book so that the motivations were more rich, instead of it just being about sexual attraction or admiration. I definitely have to give her credit. It's my hope that it doesn't become a sexual free-for-all like another series I once enjoyed but kicked to the curb.
2. The action was fantastic. There were a lot of high octane moments where the characters had to fight for their lives. I love good action, and Ms. Chance didn't pull her punches. This book really had a cinematic feel that I never fail to find appealing in a good urban fantasy novel. There was a lot of violence, but this is a violent world. It fit very well with the storyline.
3.I loved Ms. Chance's different use of magic in this story--it really caught my interest. I like how the vampires, war mages, seers, and were all come together to make this book so rich.
4.The main characters have engrossed me, so that I want to keep reading. I'd like to see where things go with Mircea in his pursuit of Cassie. What's the deal with Pritkin? Why is he so intense? are questions I want to keep reading to get answers to. Louis-Cesare, quite an enigma. The men are attractive, but they are more than eye candy. Each one is different with distinct elements to his personality. More please. Lastly, Cassie. She's young and somewhat clueless in this story. But she has some emotional strength that makes her a good protagonist. She's not a Mary Sue, but a character I want to follow to see how she evolves over time.

Definitely, this book has some downpoints that made it hard to read. Yet, I wanted to keep reading, even though I had to keep putting it down and taking breaks. I wasn't disappointed with Karen Chance's first effort. On the contrary, I was impressed. This book is something unique and establishes her place in the world of urban fantasy. Bring on more Cassie Palmer adventures!

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Bride for His Majesty's Pleasure by Penny Jordan

A Bride for His Majesty's Pleasure (Mills & Boon Modern) (Modern Romance) A Bride for His Majesty's Pleasure by Penny Jordan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Man, I got so excited when I read the blurb for this book. Sadly, I was a bit blah about it. This is not a bad book. It's pretty good in fact, but it failed to come to life for me. I felt like there was way too much internal dialog, and too little action. Don't get me wrong, I love being inside the character's head, but I needed to have some 'doing' to go with it.

There were some parts I really liked. Such as the delayed wedding night. "Phew!" I guess he showed her what to do with her passionless sex to create the needed male heir. I also liked how he refused to have her bow down and kiss his feet at the wedding, as expected (I almost threw up in mouth on that part when she was supposed to that). My opinion of him was pretty good, but it went up significantly after that. I liked how their values were very similar although they didn't realize it at the time of the marriage.
Overall, I think Ms. Jordan (a long time favorite author in this line, although not as much now) did a great job with the royalty/arranged marriage theme, but this book needed to 'pop' more. I refuse to believe that it takes a jerk hero for these books to knock your socks off. So I hope that more authors in this line can use a 21st century man, but bring that "Wow" factor to these books. Nice book, all in all.

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The Desert King's Bejewelled Bride by Sabrina Phillips

The Desert King's Bejewelled Bride (Presents Extra) The Desert King's Bejewelled Bride by Sabrina Philips

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book has all the good ingredients to start a five alarm fire. But some reason, it was just a good, warm fire to heat smores on instead. I'm not quite sure why this book only ended up a good read for me. The story is intense in its own way. Two people who met when they were younger, connected in a magical time under the desert sky, but things ended badly. When they meet again, the spark was there. So why didn't I feel the fire? I'm not sure.

I felt like I was watching a news report of the whirlwind romance between this couple, instead of being front and center. I admit this: I love Harlequin Presents because I love the drama and the passion in these books. These books should be larger than life. When you read them, you don't want to be thinking about your grocery list or things you should be doing instead of reading that book. If I read one that can do this, that makes me feel the fire, than the book has succeeded. When I read it and think, "That was pretty good, but not great. I wasn't moved," then I feel something was lost in the translation. In all honesty, didn't feel that these characters quite came to life for me, which is a bit disappointing.

I think that Sabrina Phillips has a good future ahead in this line, but I hope that she is able to do more showing and painting a vivid picture that a reader cannot resist. As it stands, this is powerful stuff: a love that never died, even if there is anger and bitterness left behind. But things never seemed to ignite for me. If I wasn't the type to want to be pulled into the book, face-fowards, I would probably have given this five stars. As it is, this one's a 3.5/5.0 book.

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Marriage on the Rebound by Michelle Reid

Marriage on the Rebound (Harlequin Presents, No 1973) Marriage on the Rebound by Michelle Reid

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
One cannot imagine how devastating it would be to find yourself left at the altar. That's what happens to Shaan in this book. And the person who delivers the news is the man who thought Shaan was unsuitable as his brother's bride, Rafe Danvers. Yet Rafe is there to pick up the pieces, and support this jilted bride. Surprised isn't the word for how Shaan feels when Rafe suggests she marry him instead. But she says yes.

This is a slightly older Harlequin Presents, with the mood and the content that really makes these books pop when used effectively. Rafe is one of those heroes that comes off as slightly domineering, but for some reason it works. I think it worked for me because I could see that caring was behind his bossy ways. He is the type of hero that's all man, despite being a businessman type. You wonder how Shaan could fall for his brother, who is like a paler shadow of Rafe, lacking many of Rafe's good qualities. Yet, it's about proximity. But now is the time for Rafe to show he is the right man for Shaan. And he does quite the job.

Of course, there is the misunderstanding, as always. Shaan ends up seeing Rafe making goo goo eyes at Madeline, the woman that Piers jilts her for. But all is not as it seems. This book reminded me that I really like Michelle Reid's books. They are intense and emotional. You get involved, and in the hours you spend reading the book, you don't want to put it down. I can't say this is my favorite of hers. That would be Price Of A Bride. But this was a very good book, and it will go on my keeper shelf. I found Rafe irresistible, in all his bossy ways. He reminded me of fellow HP writer, Susan Napier's heroes, whom I go gaga over. Although he's a good few years older than Shaan, I think he is the right man for her. He knows how to keep her happy and would move mountains to do just that. But he will challenge her to be her best. And he loves her so much. Who can resist that in a hero?

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The Oilman's Baby by Michelle Celmer

The Oilman's Baby Bargain (Silhouette Desire) The Oilman's Baby Bargain by Michelle Celmer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'm happy to say that really enjoyed the second book in the new Texas Cattleman's Club series from Silhouette Desire. I was very disappointed in Taming the Texas Tycoon, which is about Mitch's brother. I had one bit of confusion when I started reading this book. The blurb called the hero Wyatt, but his name is Mitch in the book. That gave me pause, but I decided to soldier on.

I really liked Alexis. She was a 'poor little rich girl,' and I'm not being mean or sarcastic. Literally, she was raised in a gilded cage, with the gold on the outside. Her father controlled practically every aspect of her life. He went so far as to forbid her from learning to drive, and she hadn't even gotten any sex education, other than romance novels. Her only friend was her paid assistant, carefully vetted by her controlling father. So it made sense that she fell hard for Mitch, when he was wining and dining her on behalf of her fiance, his brother Lance. I forgot to mention that her father told her she was marrying Lance, and she didn't get a choice in the matter. He raised her for two intentions: a good marriage, and grandsons. She was criticized for everything she did, and made to feel less than worthy. It's no wonder that she does show some moments of low self-esteem, and feels a sense of inadequacy. So marrying Lance was a foregone conclusion, in her desire to win her father's approval. And she would have gone through with it, although the few days and the last night with Mitch convinced her she was in love with him. Before she knew, she was tumbling into bed with him. The next morning, he tells her the best night of her life was a mistake. So save her own face, she told him she had allowed him to seduce her to get back at Lance, to rub his face in the fact that she had given her virginity to his brother. Of course, Mitch decides she just like his mom, a gold digger who runs off and abandons her family to an abusive father. Needless to say, things don't end well between them.

Flash forward three months. Alexis finds out she's pregnant, and has no idea what to do, despite the fact that Mitch used a condom (except for a few minutes in the middle of the night). Lance broke off his marriage for business engagement to Alexis and elopes with his secretary. Alexis' father is furious. Mitch goes and asks for one more chance to earn his support, since he's a powerful senator who can help the brothers gain oil rights all over Texas. The senator says he'll still support the brothers if Mitch marries his daughter. But she has to agree this time. Alexis gets a call from Mitch, who's asking for her to marry him strictly as a marriage of convenience. Although Alexis still isn't over what Mitch did, she agrees for the sake of her baby, sure that her father would throw her out and take the baby away if she was unmarried when she had it.

The rest of the book shows this couple coming to realize that they didn't really see other for who they are. Like the first book, I felt that I got a much more clear perception of Alexis than I did Mitch (heroine than the hero). However, I still came to like him, despite the fact that he was somewhat callous towards Alexis initially, trying to treat her like the gold digger he thought was, and determined she would show her true colors. Yet, Alexis was so endearing, in her attempts to cook for the first time, do housewifery things, seducing her husband, and lounging topless by the pool. She's fairly inept at most of the things she tries, but her heart is so good and earnest, Mitch finds he can't hold back from his wife, even knowing she's bound to betray him. Things get even more complicated when Mitch finds out she's pregnant and believes it's his brother's child. I did admire that he was more than willing to raise his brother's child, and make a commitment to it, even though he really didn't have to. But I was probably just slightly less offended than Alexis when he assumed she went from his bed to his brother's. Really, who does that?

I'm a huge fan of the marriage of convenience storyline. Throw in a pregnancy, and it's even more enjoyable. I think Ms. Celmer really did a good job with these themes. On the downside, I feel like there is not enough room in these short books to develop the ancillary characters, and at times, I feel that a deeper portrayal of the main characters would be desirable. I wanted to see more of Mitch's angst about his abusive father and the scars his mother leaving gave him. That's probably my main issue, and why this isn't a five star read. The sensual moments were well-written, the attraction between Alexis and Mitch vividly coming off the page. I enjoyed reading about them getting to know each other, and how they both ended up getting more involved with each other than their wary hearts intended. Despite the brevity, this book was very well executed, and I rooted Alexis to get what she wanted, Mitch's heart. Thankfully, the big dumb lug got a clue.

If you want a quick, appetizing romance read, I recommend picking up The Oilman's Baby Bargain. It was a nice way to spend a few hours being a bum on one of this reader's rare days off.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Soulless by Gail Carriger

Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate #1) Soulless by Gail Carriger

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Ms. Carriger, congratulations! This was a great ride. I can honestly say that I laughed myself silly reading this book. This is one of those books that will probably embarrass you if you read it in public. You have been warned! This is the first novel that I've read that managed to cleverly and gently satirize the conventions of historical romance, and it was done in a manner that was utterly irresistible. I have not read any Wodehouse, but I imagine I will like him very much, if he is indeed an influence on this author's writing.

Not only did I enjoy the humor, I thought the characters were beyond interesting. Alexia is one of those heroines that will stand out in the reader's mind. She's intelligent, gutsy, fierce, yet ladylike and admirable. Although she has moments where she's down on herself (she seemed unable to accept that Lord Maccon was interested in her, but it totally made sense to me), she manages to be remarkably comfortable in her own skin. I believe that this is a big part of her appeal to Lord Maccon. Alexia is an alpha woman that I really like. She doesn't come on too strong, and she knows her limits. Throwing her weight around is not a tactic that she resorts to. But if you try something, she will make sure you know it's not happening. I liked that she was a woman of her times, in that she was strong, intelligent, and passionate; yet, she possessed the morals and understandings of what was appropriate in her society. Alexia's ability felt very novel to me. I especially liked how she used it when she interacted with the supernatural people in her life, especially Lord Maccon. There's a really good part where Alexia has to get up close and person with a naked Lord Maccon to keep him from changing back into a wolf. And they sure do take advantage of that moment. Naked Lord Maccon, up close and personal, who could blame a girl?

Ah, let's talk about Lord Maccon. Three words: To Die For! I loved him. Not too surprising, since I happen to adore, big, sexy, Scottish werewolves. But it's the whole package with him. I like that he's rough around the edges. Smooth operators bore me. The unpolished, fierce heroes, they get me everytime. Ooh, he had me reading this book furiously to get to the next scenes with he and Alexia. I loved all his scenes, in human and in werewolf form.

Alexia and Lord Maccon had awesome chemistry. This is not really a romance novel, so the reader must keep this in mind. Soulless is more of a fantasy with a very strong romance. If you take that into consideration and enjoy the ride, the romantic moments will be a pleasant surprise on top of the humor and the fantastic elements. Having said that, I loved all the smootchy/getting personal scenes. This book has that element of Victorian romance that I just love. The whole "we are passionately carried away, but this is really improper and I hope we don't get caught" theme really works for me. I loved how they couldn't seem to keep their hands off each other. Very appealing! Alexia and Lord Maccon are going on my favorite couples list. No doubt about it.

Now to the fantasy/steampunk elements. I thought Ms. Carriger did a great job. Initially, I had to get used to the writing style. Like I said earlier, I haven't read too many satirical-styled stories. I had to realize that I couldn't take things too seriously. Once I got into that mode, I was good. This book is an interesting hybrid in that it's definitely a humorous story, but there are some edgy, dark elements, as well. The automaton was pretty darn creepy. I immediately started thinking about golems when it was first introduced. I liked how she took the golem folklore and gave it a steampunk twist. I could completely understand why Alexia found it so repulsive. It was alive, but so opposite from what a living being might be. I liked the adventure aspects. This book made me think of the old school adventure storytellers like Jules Verne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Edgar Rice Burroughs, although this book doesn't stray far from the drawing rooms and polite environs of London and its suburbs. I could easily imagine Ms. Carriger writing a ripping, neo-pulp adventure yarn. If she does, sign me up! I hope she has a Roxton-esque hero if she does. Hint, Hint. I definitely think this would make a great movie (in the right hands).

Steampunk is a new, but beloved genre for me. When it comes to technical and mechanical devices, I have no imagination. So I have to give it to Ms. Carriger for writing these aspects very well. I had a very good visual picture of the steam-driven, clockwork technology in my head while I was reading. Yet, she didn't overdo it so that I was more focused on trying to picture these devices and not focused on the story.

Vampires and werewolves are the main supernatural beasties in this story. They are very politically and socially-organized, to the degree that they have advisors to the queen herself. I admit, I really had to focus on this aspect, needing to reread a few paragraphs to really gain an understanding of the social structure of the two supernatural groups. But it was time well spent. I liked reading about the social dynamics of the vampire society, divided up into hives, each with a Queen vampire (she's the only one who can make new vamps), and having human servants called drones. Lord Akeldama, Alexia's flamboyant friend who happens to be a very powerful vampire, was a hoot. His fashion sense was outrageous, and he kept me laughing. On the werewolf side, I was enamored with Professor Lyall, the competent, extremely intelligent beta to the Alpha werewolf, Lord Maccon, Earl of Woolsey. I hope to see a lot more of Prof. Lyall. The werewolf pack dynamics were especially interesting to me, werewolf lover that I am. I absolutely love the werewolf salute given to Alexia at the end of this book. I was practically clapping. I think you could see that the vamps and weres were very integrated into society, and a huge part of the governmental workings of the author's concept of Great Britain of the 19th Century. It really gives a different perspective on the British Empire.

Man, this was a great read. If you're coming from a romance or a contemporary urban fantasy background, this book will take you out of your comfort zones, but it's so worth it. Hang in there until you get used to the flow of the language (it's very 19th century), and relax and enjoy the witty humor (it's very funny). You will have a great time. Don't forget to bring your tricked-out parasol and glassicals, just in case.

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Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Darkest Night by Gena Showalter

The Darkest Night (Lords of the Underworld,  #1) The Darkest Night by Gena Showalter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Well, I finally started the much lauded Lords of the Underworld series. I was happy with this book. However, it does have some issues with it that I felt detracted from it as a stellar read. I felt like there was a roughness in some of the writing. I have a theory about this. I think that the publishers really put a lot of pressure on the paranormal writers to put out a series quickly. This takes time away from the authors that they need to polish each book so that it can be at its best. I felt like scenes jumped around a lot, and some things got left out, so I had to go back and reread scenes. It also felt like a set-up book. The mythology was a little more vague that I wanted it to be. It refers to the Greek gods as "The Greeks" and the Titans as "The Titans." Who are they? I wanted to know more about them. I was left with big questions unanswered. Perhaps this will be revealed as the book progresses. I just wanted to see some of this information get integrated into this book. There were some things I didn't like about the setup, like the Hunters. I'm not sure that they are formidable enough enemies. Maybe this series will come to show that there is a more dangerous menace for the Lords.

Okay, you are probably asking why this is a four star book, having said all this? I'll talk about that after I get the issues off my chest. Don't get me wrong. I love these paranormal series, but I wish that as much energy went into the first book, so that the quality is consistent. It's really hard when you try to recommend books to people, but you have to say, "But don't give up if you don't care for the first book." I hate when that happens, because then that person thinks, "Hmm. What's up with her taste in books?" Not that I think that, mind you. But you worry your friend will think that.

Okay, let's talk about the positives with this book. I loved the concept of these warriors who have been cursed by being inhabited by ancient demons that were released from Pandora's Box. Yes, the Pandora's Box of Greek Mythology. Pretty darn awesome premise. And the execution is very good so far, minus the issues I expressed above. The characters were interesting and I wanted to learn more about them. Each warrior stands out from the other. I already feel emotionally engaged with the Lords, and I want to see that happy resolution for each of them. I think Gena Showalter's imagination is really apparent in the characters she creates, and the storylines. She's really funny, too. I like the way the Lords interacted. What can I say? I'm a big fan of the group of guys who live together and fight together. They're friends, most of the time, but sometimes they can be antagonistic with each other. But at the end of the day, they would die for each other.

Ashlyn was adorable. Not just that. She was pretty courageous. Some might consider her too sweet, but I like sweet heroines. I thought she was a perfect match for tortured Maddox. I like how drawn she was to him from the beginning. He made the voices stop, but she was very attracted to him, and almost was the pursuer in this book. Maddox was a good hero. You liked him and felt for him. I think how he suffered was pretty awful. I don't think the dark elements are as dark as they can be in a paranormal romance, but I can't quibble about that. I know there are darker series that I can read for that. And at the end of the day, I love the sweetness of Gena Showalter's stories. I really want to smile when I finish reading them. I loved the end of this book. It was so satisfying that I read the last page again.

The steam factor is higher than her prior books. And she did well with that. The love scenes are hot and explosive, but they are loving. The best combination. You want the couple to be together. I loved all their scenes together and the way their attraction unfolds. There were parts that made me sigh, and other parts that made me want to fan myself because the scenes were hot.

This is a good book that will give you some enjoyable hours of entertainment, and you'll definitely want to keep reading the series. And if you're kind of iffy about this one, don't give up on this series, or the author (Grin).

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Dark Hunger by Sara Reinke

Dark Hunger (The Brethren #2) Dark Hunger by Sara Reinke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I am sitting here trying to deal with the fact that this book ends on a cliffhanger from deepest pit of Hades. Why??? I cry in agony! And why would the publisher end Sara Reinke's contract and leave the third book unpublished? It's evil!

Dark Hunger picks up after Dark Thirst ends. This book is about Brandon's (the hero from Dark Thirst) sister, Tessa. Tessa has ran away from her husband, pregnant with her husband's baby. She wants a better life for her baby than she knows it will have with a mother who is the sixth, and lowest wife of a cruel man, living in a house ran by his evil first wife. Brandon, his love Lina, Lina's ex-partner Rene, and Tessa go on the road to find their way to California, and to escape the Elders, the killing machines that the Brethren send after rogue vampires. Tessa and Rene aren't exactly friends when their trip starts. In fact, they flagrantly dislike each other. Rene sees spoiled princess when he looks at Tessa, and Tessa sees lazy playboy when she looks at Rene. Not exactly what you would expect to turn into a love match. But it does.

This might be a romance, but it's also very dark and gritty. In fact, Reinke's vampires are probably the darkest I've seen yet in vampire romance. They are monsters in human form. I thought I would hate Tessa for the rest of the book after she rips a poor, helpless vagrant man's throat out to feed on his blood. At the time, her bloodlust got the best of her. The Brethen think of humans as lower than cattle. They feel that humans are only useful to do the menial tasks on their Kentucky farm, and for feeding on in their horrible acts of Bloodlust. So in all fairness, Tessa doesn't really know any better. Although I was horrified at first, it didn't take long to begin to see Tessa as a sympathetic character. As for Rene, well I liked him from the first time we met in Dark Thirst. He is a good person. He has done some less than admirable things, and he commits an act in this book that really made me unhappy with him, but he does it for the reasons he believes are right. Sigh.

I loved Rene's tenderness towards Tessa. He's a real gentlemen, even though Tessa has a hard facade that would make her a very annoying person to travel with. Thankfully, he soon comes to realize that Tessa hides her fear and vulnerability behind that facade. As Brandon learned to withdraw into himself to escape from the cruelty of the Brethren, Tessa forms a hard shell around herself for her own survival. Rene breaks through that shell to the sweet girl inside, causing her to fall in love with him. He does this by showing her tender concern (even taking a bullet to protect her) when all she's gotten from people around her was cruelty for years. I really loved their tender moments together, how they seemed to connect physically and emotionally. They were two lost souls who found each other. I guess the fact that Tessa is married when she and Rene get together should bother me. It didn't. Probably because the frame of reference is so different from real life, it's hard to put my moral beliefs into this story. Also Tessa's husband is a low-life creep who treated her like dirt, and he's got five other wives, as well. Still, I feel it fair to post this warning for any reader who doesn't like adultery in her/his romance books. To be honest, there so much other dark stuff going on, you really don't have the time or energy to fixate on that aspect.

I liked seeing Brandon and Tessa reconnect. They are twins who were very close growing up, but grew apart when Tessa was married to Martin Davenant, part of a family who hates and resists the dominant Noble house. The schism that forms between them is due to the heavy emotional burdens that they both carry and try to hide from each other. I was glad that they were able to rekindle their familial connection and closeness in this story.

Dark Hunger is one of those books that simply sucks you in, and you don't want to put it down. The characters are very real and you feel for them. Rene is a man who is tortured by his past and what he lost. He dearly wants to have a future full of hope, and sees that Tessa and her baby could be his future. Tessa feels a longing to love and be loved by a good man like Rene, and to make a home for her beloved baby. How could you not feel for them? Of course, Brandon is as adorable and as sweet as ever. I just want to hug him. I despised Brandon and Tessa's whole family, and most of the Brethen. I think they are soulless monsters, for the most part, even though Reinke's concept of vampires is more realistic than most. You wonder how they could breed such a gentle, loving person like Brandon. Tessa has some of the darker traits of the Brethren, but her love for her unborn child, her devotion to Brandon, and her desire for Rene to think well of her endows her with a humanity that most of the other Brethren lack. As before, I felt like Lina's character doesn't really come to life as well as Rene, Brandon, and Tessa, but I do like her, and I am happy to see that she and Brandon are still together and in love.

I would say this was a really great follow up to Dark Thirst. I fell head over heels for Rene, finding him a hero that stands out in my mind, for and despite his flaws and his good heart. Tessa was a heroine you could grow to like as you realized she did have a good heart, but had to get away from the Brethren to become the woman she was meant to be. But even before that, she had a strength and a fortitude that was admirable when considering the circumstances she faced. I think this book is a very good dark urban fantasy, emphasis on dark. There are some fairly gritty moments and some brutal scenes of violence, but any vampire fan could more than handle the violence, in my opinion. As I said, these vampires are really nasty. It's hard to feel much sympathy for them (other than Brandon, Tessa, and Rene, a half-vampire).

I am pretty upset that this book ended the way it did. It wouldn't bother me if the publishers hadn't pulled the third installment. Just evil! I hope that I can get an electronic copy of the third book, because I have to know how things end from this point. Update: Ms. Reinke contacted me to let me know that this book is available in electronic and print form from Double Dragon Publishing. The link should be in blurb description for this book on Goodreads. I know I'll picking Dark Passion up next to see where Ms. Reinke takes this fascinating series.

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Monday, January 04, 2010

Street Game by Christine Feehan

Street Game (GhostWalkers, #8) Street Game by Christine Feehan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
To express my powerful feelings for the GhostWalker series, I would like to borrow the words from Oliver by its namesake: "May I have some more please?" Street Game takes the GhostWalker series to a different level, but captures everything that I loved about the preceeding books. I love how this series is so intricate, with different storylines that intersect. There are familiar things here that continue to light my fire for this series, but this story is also unique as Mack McKinley and Jaimie Fielding get closure on their past relationship.

Street Game focuses on the Urban Warfare team led by Mack McKinley. He loves his job and what he does. He even loves the enhancements that Whitney's program has given him. This is slightly different from the heroes in the prior books, because they generally felt betrayed that their bodies had been manipulated in such a fashion. Mack takes it all in stride, enthusiastic that his enhancement enable him to do what he does best, fighting the bad guys and protecting his country.

Mack is very much an alpha hero. In fact, he almost comes off as nearly unlikeable at times. He is the macho type, not one to express his feelings unless it involves putting his fist into something, giving orders to his men (and girlfriend), and expecting them to be followed, or having a bout of energetic sex with his girlfriend. He is blown away when Jaimie leaves him. He tells himself that she'll come back, because she needs him much more than he needs her. However, he finds that to be far from the case. Jaimie was his everything, and every day without her is like a gaping hole in his life. When a mission leads him to Jaimie's doorstep, he's determined to get her back, still baffled that she left him.

I said that Mack nearly was hard to like at times. Well, this would be be the case without Ms. Feehan's masterful handling of him. Hugely surprising to this GhostWalker fan, but Mack is probably the most alpha hero yet in this series. He is aggressive and intensely male, take charge, and used to giving orders. At first, it's hard to see his vulnerabilities, because he's quite adept at keeping that part of himself concealed. He's not a man who likes feeling helpless or wounded, and doesn't know how to express himself emotionally. Being in control is crucial for him. Before, this was something that Jaimie was used to. Mack was the one who kept their self-formed family together. They met when Jaimie was an eight year old genius who was already in high school, and Mack took care of her from the very beginning, protecting her from bullies and watching over her, along with the rest of the guys and girl they grew up with in their Chicago neighborhood. Over time, their relationship became a romantic one. For as long as he could remember, Jaimie was his, to protect, to watch over, and to come home to, loving the fire that they had together. Mack always admired Jaimie's intelligence, and was proud of her, but he didn't like her expressing doubts about the GhostWalker program, especially on a botched mission, and his way of dealing with it turned out to be the last straw for Jaimie.

Jaimie never stopped loving Mack, although she knew they couldn't be together, because they were too different, and she didn't like the violence of what their GhostWalker abilities allowed them to do. She didn't trust their superiors when they went into a mission that could have led to the death of some of their team members. When she tried to express her doubts about it, Mack doesn't listen. Instead he dismisses her concerns. She's devastated that he doesn't trust her or take what she's saying seriously, and knows that she has to leave him. Two years later, Jaimie has made a new life for herself, but plans to set up her business so she can take care of her brothers. She knows she can't be with Mack any more that way, but she still cares about him. When Mack and his team end up on her doorstep, she isn't surprised, knowing that she's being set up to be taken out because of the information she had recovered about the conspiracy behind the GhostWalker experimentation.

This book delves further into the conspiracies behind the GhostWalker program, going above and beyond Whitney to the power players that have ties with the White House. Jaimie is a thinking woman's heroine. Her phenomenal brain and analytical skills are used to follow the trails of information to find out who is setting up the GhostWalker teams and why. This installment of the series flows seamlessly into the other books, although the only returning characters are peripheral ones, or characters we only got an intriguing glimpse of in past books. Instead, we meet a whole new group of men, who managed to claim their place in my heart. What I love about this series is that each book makes me want more.

Christine Feehan really knows how to write characters that you become attached to, and yearn to read about. You see their flaws and their pain, and you want them to be happy. This book challenged me, because men like Mack tend to rub me the wrong way. I'm not a big fan of chest-thumping type men. But I was allowed to peel back the layers to see that Mack is a simple, yet complex man who takes his responsibilities very seriously. He has to be brash and confident, because he takes the lives of his team as a powerful responsibility. His way of taking care of others is leading and protecting them. For him, his feelings for Jaimie couldn't be described with mere words. Yet, Mack had to learn that Jaimie needed more from him that he was giving her. He thought that she saw his devotion and adoration, but she felt as though her only place in his life was as his hero-worshipping, cheerleading, brainy, and nurturing girlfriend.

This book has some moments that really strike me with their emotional intensity. These moments show the profound nature of the feelings between the characters. My favorite is when Mack is finally able to express into words just how much he loves Jaimie. I love how that scene is written, and how unexpected it was. She's blown away by it, and so am I. You know that Mack will never be the type to say the three words all the time, and freely, but it's more than clear how much he does love Jaimie. The steamy sex in this novel is pretty awesome, but the emotions behind it are what really enthrall this reader. You feel the fire between Mack and Jaimie, and the powerful bond between them that goes beyond the bedroom to the deepest parts of their heart and minds.

As usual, I love all the interactions between the GhostWalker team. I already love the new characters introduced in this installment, and look forward to seeing more of them. Each character brings something different to the table. I am impressed with the incredible storyline that Ms. Feehan has created with this series. I love reading about the abilities of the different characters, and how they seem imminently plausible, but fantastic at the same time. The action scenes are well-done, and I feel that this book would appeal to a fan of techno-thrillers as much as paranormal and romantic suspense fans. But what I love about these books is how you get the octane moments, the well-thought out and often mind-boggling plot involving the GhostWalkers, the steamy love scenes, the funny and heartwarming moments, and the three-dimensional characters that you cannot help but love, all fashioned together into a beautiful package. This book ends with the evidence that there are more adventures ahead, as the groundwork is laid to follow up on some important storylines introduced in the preceeding books, and touched on in this installment. And all I can say is, I Can't Wait!!

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Saturday, January 02, 2010

2009 Reading Recap

How many books did you read this year? 179

What were the different genres of books and how many of each did you read?
Historical romance total: 20
• Victorian: 5
• Regency: 8
• Harlequin Historicals: 9
• Traditional Regency: 1
• Scottish: 3
• Western: 3
• Historical Paranormal: 2
• Medieval: 7
• Love Inspired Historical: 1 (Inspirational Romance: 1)
Contemporary category romance: 30
• Harlequin Presents: 18
• Harlequin Romance: 7
• Silhouette Romance: 3
• Silhouette Desire: 8
Contemporary Romantic Suspense: 4
Paranormal Romance: 52 (most read in a category) Contemporary: 50, Historical: 2 , Silhouette Nocturne: 5
Interracial Romance: 14
Young Adult: 11 (2 Romance, rest horror or fantasy)
Children’s Books: 2 (horror/fantasy)

Various Themes
• Vampire: 25
• Witch: 10
• Wizard/Sorceror/Warlock: 3
• Faery: 7
• Werewolf: 13
• Mythology:
• Greek Mythology: 2
• Norse Mythology: 1
• Demon: 7
• Inspirational Fiction: 1
• Urban Fantasy: 8
• Fantasy: 12
• Horror: 12
• Non-Fiction: 1
• Literary Fiction: 0
• Classic: 2
• Classic Horror: 3

What were the top ten books that you read this year? Arghhh!!! So many good ones. I don’t know if I can list 10. I’ll cheat and just say that all the Ghostwalker books made my best of the year list. Some others:
• Trolling Nights by Savannah J. Frierson
• Lord Loss by Darren Shan
• Taming the Beast by Heather Grothaus
• Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews
• Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
• Tempting Faith by Crystal Hubbard
• Dracula by Bram Stoker
• The Lord and the Scorpion by Shiree McCarver
• Sin’s Doorway and Other Ominous Entrances by Manly Wade Wellman
• Mountain Wild by Stacey Kayne
• Cry No More by Linda Howard
• Wolfsbane and Mistletoe by various authors
• Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
• Lover Avenged by JR Ward
• Fire and Ice by Anne Stuart
• Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
• Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

Were there any books you did not like? Why? I didn’t care for The Sultan’s Bought Bride by Jane Porter (did not like the heroine), and Taming the Texas Tycoon by Katherine Garbera. I thought the hero was a jerk and completely unworthy of the heroine.

What is your top favorite book and why? Probably a tie between Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles, and the Ghostwalker books by Christine Feehan. They both blew me away and were hours of wonderful entertainment. I was blessed to have read so many good books this year. It’s really hard to just pick one.

What are your reading goals for next year? To read more books (try to get to 200 again), to read new genres and new authors. To read off my bookshelves and weed out some books I don’t have to keep.

Did you read any books out of your normal routine? I read more classics this year, and a lot more fantasy (big pat on the back).

Any new genres that you got into this year? What books got you into this type of reading? Fantasy. Some short story anthologies got me interested. Also urban fantasy opened the door for me to immerse myself in pure fantasy again after about 20 plus years away from the genre.

Who is your favorite new author? Christine Feehan. I can’t believe I waited so long to read her. She writes some delicious heroes, and I can say that I haven’t read a heroine by her I didn’t like.
Did you glom any authors this year (meaning: read as many of the author's books you could get your hands on)? Christine Feehan-- I read 23 of her books.

Some other new authors that I enjoyed and want to read more of:
• Simone Elkeles
• Rae Lori
• Michael Moorcock
• Olivia Parker
• Savannah J. Frierson
• Shiree McCarver
• Courtney Milan
• Kat Richardson
• Karen Chance
• Darren Shan
• Patricia Briggs
• Lara Adrian
• Ilona Andrews
• Sheri Lewis Wohl
• Georgette Heyer
• JA Konrath
• Rick Riordan
• Stephenie Meyer

Favorite hero and why? Has this changed? My favorite hero is still Sebastian Ballister, the Marquess of Dain. I have added some new favorites such as Rochester from Jane Eyre and William White from Courtney Milan’s story This Wicked Gift, and Garret Daines from Mountain Wild by Stacey Kayne, and Rehv and John Matthew from the Black Dagger Brotherhood, and also all the Ghostwalkers by Christine Feehan, and Edward Cullen from Twilight, and Timothy Capshaw from Trolling Nights.

Favorite heroine and why? Has this changed? My favorite heroine is still Jessica Trent from Lord of Scoundrels, but I’ve met some really great heroines this year such as the Ghostwalker heroines and Drake sisters from Christine Feehan, and Jane Eyre.

Any authors you decided to 'fire'? Why? No authors got fired this year.

What was the most unique storyline you read in a book this year? Lord Loss was very unique and different. It was story that kept me on my toes.

Any book you liked that you were surprised that you liked? I was surprised at how much Jane Eyre resonated with me. I had heard it was a good book, but I found out how much it truly meant to me.

Any book you expected to love but were disappointed by? Not really.

Favorite couple and why? Did this change? My favorite couple is still Dain and Jessica. But I really like the Ghostwalker couples.

Anything else you want to tell us about your reading this year? I am very happy that I got to read so many good books this year. I hope I read even more next year. And thanks Christine Feehan for giving me many hours of enjoyment during a rough year spent mostly on the road and staying in hotel rooms, with your awesome books!!!

The Heart of Christmas by Mary Balogh, Nicola Cornick, and Courtney Milan

The Heart of Christmas: A Handful of Gold\The Season for Suitors\This Wicked Gift The Heart of Christmas: A Handful of Gold\The Season for Suitors\This Wicked Gift by Mary Balogh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I don't have much to say about the first two stories, except that they were good. Both the Balogh story and the Cornick stories are reformed rake stories (it's fairly clear if you read my reviews that rakes are not my favorite types of heroes by far). I felt that the metamorphosis of Ms. Balogh's rake was a little more convincing. When I read a story about a rake, I really have to be convinced that he has depth, or he's just another one of far too many in historical romance. He's really got to stand out to get my regard. I felt that both rakes did have depth, but the brevity of the Cornick story didn't really allow me to buy into his redemption quite so well. On the other hand, the rake in The Season for Suitors had more reason for why he acted as he did, and he had a tortured past, but I think this story would have been better executed as a longer novella, despite the obvious excellence of Ms. Cornick's writing. Ms. Balogh's story was a reread for me. I liked it the first time, and the second time was just as good. However, I am a bit jaded with the theme, so I can't say I was blown away. I did like Verity quite a bit, and loved the aspects of Christmas, and the effect it had on the participants in this story. For A Handful of Gold by Ms. Balogh, I would give the rating of 4 stars. The Season for Suitors is a 3.5 star story.

The best story in this collection was by newcomer, Courtney Milan, This Wicked Gift. This story was like a refreshing drink on a hot day. I loved everything about this story. Ms. Milan's writing has an intensity and a depth that really enthralled me. It brought to mind some of my favorite historical romance writers who have a facility with the written word, and the beauty with which they employ it, such as Laura Kinsale and Judith Ivory. I believe that Ms. Milan has quite a career ahead of her. There is also the fact that William Q. White utterly seduced me. His intensity, his focus, his obvious feeling for Lavinia. I love that kind of hero. And then there's the fact that he's a working man. There's nothing I love more than a hero who works hard for his money, who pulls himself up by his own bootstraps. Out of all three of the stories, this is the hero that got my attention. I could care less about lazy heroes who have nothing better to do than spend their family's money. What's endearing about that. I'd take a man who made himself from nothing over a man who was born rich and is about nothing, any day of the week. That is not to say that I don't have favored heroes who were born in wealth, but they have to a drive, an inner intensity, to gain my appreciation. William is a man who has made my favorite hero list. His urgent need for Lavinia almost made me cry. He would have done something awful to keep her, but his integrity won out in the end. He made a very wicked proposition to have her for one night, but his reasons for doing it endeared him to me. And his remorse was very obvious and poignant. Lavinia also makes this story stand out. She is a very good person, and an extremely intelligent woman. She is easily as captivated and as in love with William as he is with her. She sees right through his wicked proposal, and takes him up on it for her own reasons. She's a heroine that goes after what she wants (him), and won't give up on it despite the odds against her. As I said above, this story was distinct and refreshing. It showed characters that we don't often get to see have a happy ending in historical romance. They aren't rich or titled. They are working class people, albeit extremely educated. I rooted for them to have their happy ending, hoping that their lives would not be dimmed by the blight of extreme poverty, despite their obvious devotion to each other. Thankfully, Christmas has some blessings in store for this wonderful couple. If you are a fan of historical romance, do yourself a favor and read Courtney Milan. I think you will find a wonderful reading experience when you do. This Wicked Gift earned five stars from this reader.

This was my last Christmas read for 2009, and the last book I read this year. I have to tell you, reading Courtney Milan's story in the last few minutes of 2009 was a great pleasure, and I look forward to spending more time with her (and hopefully more captivating heroes like William) in the new year and years to come.

Overall rating for this collection is 4 stars .

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