Sunday, February 28, 2010

Reluctant Mistress, Blackmaild Wife by Lynne Graham

Reluctant Mistress, Blackmailed Wife (Harlequin Presents) Reluctant Mistress, Blackmailed Wife by Lynne Graham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When I read a Lynne Graham book, I usually shake my head numerous times at the standard plot elements that I am assured will be offered in most of her books. The heroine doesn't think she's very attractive, but the hero is completely fascinated with her, although he doesn't want to be. The hero has devasting appeal that never fails to slay the heroine and break past her defenses, leading to the couple being horizontal within the next five to ten minutes of reading. The hero who doesn't understand why he's in love with the heroine, and is in denial about it, but does just about everything he can to keep her in his bed, and will marry her because he doesn't like the idea of another man having her. (Shaking head).

Having said that, I really liked this book all the same. There is something so comforting about curling up with a good Lynne Graham Harlequin Presents. You know that there's going to be lots of verbal sparring, sexy, intense love scenes, creative declarations of love, and a hero who ends up doing his share of wooing, despite being clueless about his emotions. It's a great way to wind down for me. And, in the case of this book, there are the adorable twin babies, who steal their father's heart by the end of their first meeting together (and mine too). I, for one, cannot resist cute babies in a romance novel. I also like LG's heroines, when they aren't being too ditzy. Katie wasn't a ditzy one. She was very emotionally honest, probably to her detriment at times. But she was strong and intelligent, and a survivor. What's not to like about her? At times, I wish she was a little more resistant to Alexandros' appeal, but Cupid's arrow had bitten her deep. What's a girl to do? Alexandros wasn't really a jerk, although you might think he is, when you learn that he dumped Katie after her declaration of love during their short, but fruitful affair eighteen months ago. He did have some motivations for what he did, when you learn about the burden he was carrying at the time they met. And he was willing to take responsibility for his children, and to believe that he could very well be their father, even before the DNA test insisted on by his lawyer. He was a bit bull-headed about admitting his love, but he was driven to get his woman, which did earn some brownie points. And did I mention the cute babies? Okay, I am one of those people who think babies are cute enough to eat (as the saying goes).

Read this book if you want to enjoy a spicy, quick, interesting, attention-grabbing romance, and you do enjoy the above formula. It's a lot of fun, if you don't take it too seriously, but at the same, have an open mind and go into with an attitude for some hours of good reading entertainment.

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Runaway Ranch by Cynthia Sterling

Runaway Ranch: Titled Texans Runaway Ranch: Titled Texans by Cynthia Sterling

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Runaway Ranch was one of those books that I had no trouble reading and enjoying at all. I started it, and I got sucked right in. There's nothing particularly standout about this story. But it succeeded in being an enjoyable read when I needed one. I especially love the British Hero in the Wild West theme. And Camden is definitely that, but also a clergyman. I liked that he had a sense of honor that caused him to accept responsibility for something that he was not at all guilty of. He could have walked away from pregnant with no husband in sight Caroline, and felt not a moment's remorse. Instead, he allowed her father to think he was the father, and married her. Marrying Caroline ended up being a complication that this young vicar didn't need. He had basically been sent away from England in disgrace because of his involvement in a miner and landowner dispute, and the landowner happened to be his patron. His father, the Earl of Devonshire, was less than impressed with him, and gaining an appointment as a clergyman in Houston was his chance to redeem himself. Instead, he ended married to a pregnant girl, and working for free as a cowpuncher. But the best blessings come in disguise. Unfortunately, he will find himself in another sticky situation when tensions arise between the cowboys and the landowners. Cam was a good guy. He really wanted to do the right thing, but he also had human needs and desires. Caroline chose very wisely when she picked him as her husband.

Caroline didn't speak up when her father assumed the man who was sleeping in his barn was her baby's father, nor when he forces the very attractive young Englishman to marry her at gunpoint. But she couldn't. She had messed up big time, and something inside of her urged her to take hold of this man, as a chance to make things right. Despite these large errors in judgment, and that of chasing after and getting pregnant by an outlaw, Caroline was very likeable. In fact, her flaws made her relatable and human. She really did want what was best for Cam, and felt bad for putting a wrench in his plans. She knew that an earl's son was way too high above her reach, and was ready to let him go, until she fell in love with him. But when it's clear that she's really not the ideal bride for Cam, is she willing to let him go? She shows that she is more than willing to make a sacrifice of love, both for Cam, and her baby.

Runaway Ranch reminds me of my love of westerns. I love the setting, the plot elements, and the conventions of a western historical romance. I think there's a cowgirl living inside of me somewhere, despite growing up in the suburbs. And this book rekindles that excitement to read books in this setting. And the icing on the cake is the Englishman in the Old West. This makes a very pleasant read for me.

I loved the secondary love story between Caroline's uncle Bill, and the new schoolteacher, Estelle, who's hiding a scarlet past. This part really touched me because of the plight that this woman faced in her past, and how she tried to put it behind her, but some people are not eager to forget such things. I liked that Bill loved her for who she was, and she felt the same way for him. Love is accepting a person for who they are, and not holding their past against them.

This story has characters that I got involved with, and cared about. Not only that, it has a good message. We all make mistakes, but we can take measures to make better decisions in the future. Also, our mistakes serve a purpose. We grow from them, and they open doors to opportunities that we never considered that we might have in our lives.

I'm quite sure that the stickler will raise an eyebrow or two at the title errors that were made. Camden, who is the third son of an Earl, is called Lord Worthington. His proper form of address would be Lord Camden Worthington. As his wife, Caroline would be called Lady Camden. But that's nothing to throw the book across the room for, in my opinion. Also, the suspense plot is somewhat embryonic, involving a mentally unstable character from back East, who has designs on Carolyn's baby. But I liked the relationship between Cam and Caroline, and the side love story so much, this didn't really bother me.

For the enjoyable hours I spent reading this book, and the gems of wisdom it provided, I'd give it four stars. I'd recommend it, if you want a very readable western romance with an adorable hero and a sweet heroine.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

The Outback Bridal Rescue by Emma Darcy

The Outback Bridal Rescue (Outback Knights) (Harlequin Presents # 2427) The Outback Bridal Rescue by Emma Darcy

My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars
This was a pleasant surprise for me, as a reader. Emma Darcy is hit and miss for me, when it comes to Harlequin Presents. I often find myself alienated by a romance story that is too modern and overtly sophisticated, and doesn't touch me, when I read her stories. But, that is not the case with The Outback Bridal Rescue.

I like the prominent male point of view with Johnny's character. Johnny was an orphan, who never knew his father, and lost his mother at a very young age. He was abused as a foster child, and learned to keep people happy by turning on the charm. He got himself into trouble at the age of sixteen. As a result, he and two other boys were sent to Patrick Maguire's sheep station in the Outback. This turned out to be a life-changing event for Johnny, as he found a mentor, and honorary father in Patrick. He never forgot what Patrick did for him, and considered the sheep station a home away from home. When he gets word that Patrick died, he's devasted. It turns out that Patrick has left 49% of the financially-ailing sheep station to him in his will. The remaining 51% was left to Megan, Patrick's daughter, who despises him, for all intents and purposes. Yet, Johnny cannot allow that to stop him from doing his part to see that Patrick's legacy doesn't fade. He's determined to get Megan to accept his help, and to work with him to save the sheep station.

Megan fell deeply in love with Johnny as a very young girl. When he fails to be there for a very important moment in her life, she starts to believe that she doesn't matter to him, and the caring treatment she received from him was nothing personal, just part of his usual charm. She grows quite bitter towards him in the intervening years. When she finds out that her father left almost half the station to him, she feels betrayed. She's determined to do what she can to limit his involvement in the station.

This couple butt head initially, but they come to an understanding because of their mutual love for Megan's father and the station. They decide to be friends and to work together. But the night of Patrick's funeral, they ended up being more than that. As a result, Megan ends up pregnant, and Johnny insists on marriage. From this point, the story is about Megan coming to terms with her insecurity about herself and how she can fit in the life of the international celebrity and singer that Johnny has become. Johnny enjoys the fruits of his successes, but he never forgot the lessons that Patrick taught him. Deep down, family is the number one thing for him. He's torn, because he can see how the celebrity life aspects torture Megan, and he's ready to give it all up, for her. I liked that Megan showed some maturity, and was able to get past her insecurities, to encourage Johnny in his career.

As I said above, this was a deep story, with a lot to offer, emotionally. I liked both characters, finding them to be sympathetic. I felt bad for Megan that she was feeling so unwanted and inadequate, although Johnny never saw her as being either. I sympathized with Johnny in his feelings that Megan hated him, but he wasn't sure what he had done to cause her dislike. I wanted them to come to an accord, and to see if they could make things work between them. This story did touch me, and I liked the aspects of Johnny trying to integrate his professional persona with his life with Megan on the sheep station. In the end, he was really trying to find himself, and by the end of the story, he is able to do that. I also liked that Megan came to terms with her insecurity and was able to focus on being the supportive wife that Johnny needed, meeting him halfway, and accepting the love he had for her. This book had a good message about family and finding what you felt you could never have, and about love giving us the ability to compromise for the greater good.

Recommended read. Overall rating: 4.25/5.0 stars.

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The Greek's Innocent Virgin by Lucy Monroe

The Greek's Innocent Virgin (Harlequin Presents, #2464) (Kouros Brothers Duo,  #1) The Greek's Innocent Virgin by Lucy Monroe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It turns out this was an accidental reread for me. But I was drawn into the story enough to keep reading, despite the familiarity of the events.

Lucy Monroe is one of those authors that draws you into her stories. She doesn't go for some fantastic, world-changing writing style. She just tells a story about two people in love. I like that she has a down-to-earth approach as an author. There is something wholesome about her stories, that also appeals to me. I like that the love relationship is the heart of the story, and it's not contrived in the execution.

Sebastian starts out as a bit of a jerk. But he definitely redeems himself in spades, with a little help from his wise and kind-hearted mother. And when he realizes what he lets slip through his fingers, Sebastian moves mountains to get Rachel back. One of the things that appeals to me, is that Rachel is one of those heroines who acts like an intelligent woman. I think that she thought through her decision to be involved in an affair with Sebastian very carefully. She gave her heart to him fully, only to have it broken. And she moves on to go back to her life, wiser for the experience. When Sebastian comes calling, she doesn't fall back into this arms immediately. In my opinion, her reticience to trust him again was wise, and I respected her for it. He treated her abominably, and he had to make up for that before she could give her heart again. Which he does exceedingly well, I must say.

The Greek's Innocent Virgin is one of those modern romances that has enough old-fashioned touches that make it enjoyable for those of us readers who don't really go for the Sex and the City-type romance novel. Yes, ordinary heroines with old-fashioned values can still have their happy ending without abandoning too many of their values in the process. If a reader is of the ordinary/wholesome type, you can get a little bit of identification with your romance read in this story. It's not heavy-handed, but I get the feeling that this story would appeal, if you're looking for this kind of book. If you're not, I think you can still enjoy this story if you want a quick, enjoyable, and romantic read.

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The Brazilian's Blackmailed Bride by Michelle Reid

The Brazilian's Blackmailed Bride (Harlequin Presents) The Brazilian's Blackmailed Bride by Michelle Reid

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If you want an emotionally-intense story in the Harlequin Presents line, I recommend Michelle Reid. She delivers in this story.

First of all, I loved the very prominent point of view of the hero, Anton aka Luis. It's really his story, as he comes to terms with his hidden heritage, and the lost love he never got over. He is a vibrant character, that I admired and wished the best for. I was really impressed with the growth that Ms. Reid managed to show in this story. Anton's journey wasn't easy. It was fraught with emotional baggage and damage, and it took some real courage to face that head on.

Cristina, the heroine, suffered greatly in the intervening six years after her and Anton broke up. She said something truly terrible to Anton to make him leave, and he never got over it. But he had no idea how much anguish she went through alone. I think Cristina showed a lot of strength of character, although part of me wishes she had just been honest with Anton years ago. Because she wasn't, they missed out on six years together, and it turned Anton into a man that he probably wasn't meant to be. But what doesn't kill us makes us stronger.

Michelle Reid knows how to pen a passionate read. This book will scorch your fingers. It's not excessively detailed in the love scenes. But they are written with so much sensuality and vibrancy that they come off as being pretty erotic, in a good way. All the things that couldn't be said between this couple are expressed physically. You know that what they shared is not, and never will be over.

The Brazilian's Blackmailed Bride has a poignancy and a power that touched me when I was reading it. Because of the deft handing of the characters by the author (although the storyline is fairly familiar to this longtime Harlequin Presents reader), I cared about them, and wanted them to be together and to find their happy ending. It's one of those books that feeds into my Harlequin Presents reading addiction. I want to keep reading them, in the hopes that I will find another book that gives me the zing and the enjoyment that this story did. Highly recommended.

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Mr. Strictly Business by Day Leclaire

Mr. Strictly Business (Silhouette Desire) Mr. Strictly Business by Day Leclaire

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
What does a man do when his lover leaves him, and he's never going to get over her? And one day she comes to his office, asking for his help? He makes an offer she can't refuse to get her back. That's what Gabe Piretti does in Mr. Strictly Business. As the saying goes, this story had me at hello.

This was a very good story about love, and how the external and internal influences can break up a couple that truly should have stayed together. Fortunately, the future is not set in stone, and if we really work for something that we long for, we'll get it. Gabe was willing to work to earn Catherine back. He might be a corporate raider, but he's a man with a heart, and he had a lot more sensitivity that he is given credit for. Catherine had her reasons for leaving him. Reasons that were valid and quite heartbreaking. What upset me in this story is that neither of them picked up on what was tearing them apart and acted on it, the first time around. There was some real tragedy in that. But the good news, is that this couple will be stronger than ever now.

Ms. Leclaire is a very good writer. Her romances are enticing and keep my interest. I like and admire her characters, and her stories have some life and poignancy to them. This book definitely shows her strengths as a writer.

There are a few elements and tropes that are somewhat predictable, if you're a keen reader of series romances. But, you probably shouldn't read these if that will bother you too much to enjoy this book. Having said that, I did have some heartburn over 'the evil that men do' apparent in this story.

Mr. Strictly Business has some emotional depth, despite it being a short read. I recommend it to readers of series romance. Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Tempt Me at Twilight by Lisa Kleypas

Tempt Me at Twilight (The Hathaways, #3) Tempt Me at Twilight by Lisa Kleypas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What can I say about this book? After reading the last pages of this novel, at approximately 1 am, I set it down, knowing I couldn't possibly be ready to write a coherent review. Reviews are like soups or dishes with tomatoes and hearty seasonings. They should sit and rest, letting the spices and the tomato paste mingle together, so that the flavor can be maximized. Accordingly, I let myself ruminate in a bovine fashion about what I would write in my review of the latest historical by one of my favorite authors, over the far too short weekend.

First and foremost, Ms. Kleypas wrote yet another wonderful book that cements her place on my keeper and favorite author shelves. Secondly, she took a concept that I thought I was familiar with, but managed to surprise me, and keep me on my toes as I read. I thought I had this story all figured out, by some of the comments from my Goodreads friends, and in romance forum discussions, and my own preconceived notions based on the blurb, and what I know about how Ms. Kleypas writes books. But, I was still surprised.

Harry Rutledge: This is a hero that is very hard to define. At times, frankly, I disliked him. I thought, he's not a nice man. He's very cold, and he's ruthless. But I loved him, at the same time, for being all the things I mentioned. He is definitely a standout for me because of the complexity of his nature. And I loved how Ms. Kleypas was unstinting in showing Harry in the worst light possible. She didn't go the heavy-handed route, in steering us into loving him because he was the hero of the story. And I respect her for that. In fact, I am glad for the naturalistic approach she adopted. Because, as I read this story, the man that Harry is, deep down, the man he wants to be, shows through. And for that, I have to give this author a high five. Harry is a carefully engineered survivor. What he went through in his childhood is not even close to the worst I have read about in fiction. However, for this admitted idealist who believes children should be loved and cherished, valued and tended carefully like the creations of beauty and worth that they are, it was pretty awful for a child to suffer that way. Harry grew up priviledged, but he was neglected in all the ways that count. If that wouldn't make a social maladroit out of a person, I'm not quite sure what would. But, at the same time, Harry managed to make something of himself. He didn't become a shiftless dilettante who did nothing but drinking, fornicating, and spend other people's money. He became a brilliant inventor, businessman, and empire-builder. Even a few of his enemies respected him enough to name their children after him. To be able to do that, I have to respect him. He was a monolith of admantine will, but so vulnerable in some ways, that few were privy to. In truth, only Poppy, that I could perceive, reading this story.

When Harry Met Poppy: We all have defining moments in our lives. Harry had several. But the one that would change the course of his life irrevocably, was when he encountered Poppy. Ever wanted something so very much, the fierce desire for it burns like thirst in a parched throat? That's how Harry wanted Poppy. And that motivated him to do some very lousy things. In his mind, it was okay because Michael Beyning didn't deserve her. I think that he was right about the last part. Beyning didn't deserve a woman that he wouldn't fight for to all the heights and depths of his available resources. He barely even tried for her. And Harry's actions proved that. In medical terms, he performed an elective surgery that was more agressive than needed, but achieved results that no one could argue weren't successful. Yet, there were some significant side effects. For one, Poppy married him with the cold precision of a general going to war, and told him that she would never love him. Not the ideal way to start a marriage. Yet, in Harry's unfathomably analytical mind, he didn't care, because all he needed was her as his wife. The ends justified the means.

What does a man do with a wife? What does a wife do with a husband that didn't fit her expectations of the husband she always wanted? Harry and Poppy had to learn these things. He couldn't put Poppy into a little cubbyhole to take out and amuse himself at his limited leisure. He couldn't wind her up like an automaton. Poppy was a living, breathing, force of nature, that would settle for no less than what she deserved. At times, Poppy came off as immature, in a sense. Hanging onto a fairy tale dream of marriage. But, I had to admire her for sticking to her guns about what she would and would not tolerate from her husband. She needed to do that, because Harry was very used to getting exactly what he wanted, by using the powerful force of his personality, and threats, if necessary. And Poppy did show that she could compromise and surrender in the ways that were important to make a marriage work. It's about meeting each other half-way, and they both had to learn to do that. I liked the dynamic between them, how they danced around each other, getting to know each other as husband and wife. Although the circumstances are purely out of romantic fiction, I think that aspect of marriage is very true to life. A young couple has unrealistic expectations of what they will experience in marriage, and the first year is a wakeup call, as they realize that real life isn't as cut and dried. Marriage takes compromise, time and energy, and lots of communication. You could see this being played out between Poppy and Harry. This is one deeper level that took me by surprise, although, knowing Ms. Kleypas, it probably shouldn't. She writes extremely romantic stories, but there is always some degree of realism in the intricacies of interpersonal relations that play out in her stories. I think she writes married stories very well, but then, she's been married for a long time, so she probably draws on the bank of that experience to develop such a rich narrative.

Family, the Beauty of it: I realize that the Hathaway books aren't high on the list of some of Ms. Kleypas's fans. But, I love this series. It was like going to visit some friends in their family home, and seeing their family interactions, reading this book. So intensely familiar, and heart-warming. I was immersed in the love and the chaos that is the Hathaway family, which is ever-expanding. I got the opportunity to visit with some characters that I easily grew to love in prior books: Cam (he is such a show-stealer), Amelia (the mother hen), Beatrix (how adorable she is with her animals, and her sharply- perceptive understanding of human nature), Kev (intense and forthright, as always), Win (sweet, loving, and peaceful), Leo (who is really coming into his own, has a wonderful sense of humor, and a surprising strength of character that I love), and Catherine Marks (she is shaping up to be a very tortured character who has me very intrigued).

Rounding up my thoughts: Tempt Me at Twilight turned out to be a very satisfying but hard to define read for me. There is something seemingly basic about it, compared to some of Kleypas's other books, but complicated at the same time. This book really is a book about marriage, and about letting the fairy tales go, and embracing the beauty in what is real, and accepting that your destiny doesn't come in the pretty packages that you shop for. Also realizing that the pretty possession that you wanted so bad, comes with a cost, and takes an emotional price in return. I feel that this book presents a deeper message about how your destiny comes exactly the way it's supposed to, although it may take growth on your part, and the partner that fate has decreed for you, to fully realize the potential that is there. As usual, Ms. Kleypas nails the Victorian period with the beauty of an Impressionist painting, not heavy, bold strokes, but with a light, careful, bright, and dreamy touch, that is all the more captivating to me as a reader. The end of this book marks the beginning of the next arc of this story. I am full of some reservations, and fears that my gentle heart is going to face some anguish ahead. I have questions and theories that have been brought to life by the conclusion of this story, if you can call it that. I suppose I will have to remember the adage to all readers of series: Keep Reading. I trust that I will be in for another delightful reading experience if I am able to do exactly that.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

The Werewolf by Clemence Housman

I stumbled across this short story for free on Kindle, and I am very glad that I downloaded and read it. With its period settling and rich language, this story involved me very deeply. It is the story of two brothers: one tall, muscular and handsome; and the other, not handsome at all, slight of build and blessed with the incredible ability to run swiftly over long distances. Sweyn is the beautiful, well-admired brother, and Christian is more than happy to walk meekly in his shadow. But when a beautiful, young, white-haired stranger arrives, she drives a wedge between the brothers. For Christian soon suspects that she is the werewolf he has been tracking, and Sweyn quickly falls in love with this mysterious female who calls herself White Fell, and believes that Christian's ravings are induced by jealous madness. This story inspired a mix of emotions in me, from dread, to anxiety, to deep sadness. It was one of those stories where you are thinking, "This can't end well," when you get to a certain point in reading it. Indeed, the ending is hardly upbeat. But for a story that starts out as one of thrilling suspense and horror, it has a very meaningful message. It's a story about the power of love and sacrifice, and it was very well-done. A great free find on Amazon Kindle. Recommended to fans of classic genre fiction with a deeper, even spiritual message.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Starstruck Hunter by Michelle Lauren

Starstruck Hunter (Celestial Lovers, # 1) Starstruck Hunter by Michelle Lauren

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Starstruck Hunter is a fantastic debut release, one in which I really got immersed while reading. Michelle Lauren shows a creativity that I believe has the potential to bring a new life to paranormal romance. I can say that I've yet to read a book where the heroine is a star, as in celestial body, not a celebrity. And it was very well-done. As a paranormal romance fan, and a fan of fantasy, horror, folklore, and mythology, I really look for an author who can come up with a different concept, or take something very familiar, and claim it as their own. Ms. Lauren has done this with her story. Although this is a short story, I thought the worldbuilding was very clever and vivid. The action scenes were so well-written, I lost myself in the book while reading it. Yes, Ms. Lauren is a very talented writer, indeed. I could easily see this book as a movie, and that's a good sign for this reader.

Another stellar (if you'll forgive the pun) aspect of this story is the hero, Noah. Whoa! What a man. What a sweetie. So hot, so sexy. Yes, I really liked Noah. He might be a revenge-driven ex-con, who is completely broke financially, but he's the kind of man a woman could use as her partner in life. Noah was one of the best things about this story, on top of the wonderful writing, ripe with creative energy. He got a very raw deal, and it seems like his luck is going further south, but his wish upon a star comes true in a very good way, when Miranda almost literally falls into his arms.

Miranda was true to her nature. She was exactly what I would imagine a star to be: innocent in a way that most humans would not be, but also mercurial, elemental in her passions, and stubborn. At times, she frustrated me in how she wanted her way, but her stubborness empowered her to save Noah's life. She was just what this downtrodden and quite tortured man needed.

The only down-side to this book is it was a bit too erotic for my tastes. I really got in the groove of the story-telling, and things went down the extremely descriptive depictions of sexuality that seemed almost intrusive to the rhythm of the narrative. I could not downgrade this book for that, because I feel that as an author, Ms. Lauren is entitled to write the kind of book she likes. My personal preferences are towards a less graphic sexuality when it comes to romance, and for that sensuality to be well-integrated into the story. I think that it fit this story, and I believe that readers who like a very spicy story will eat this up, because it's the best of both worlds: Great paranormal/action plot and hot sex in a nice package. And I have to say, that she does write love scenes very well, for a reader who enjoys erotic storytelling.

This is definitely a five star read, that I would highly recommend to a reader who likes a rich story with vivid characters, excellent writing, and explosive sexuality. Bravo, Ms. Lauren!

Content warning: This story is a hot tamale! Very descriptive sex scenes with one scene of anal digital penetration.

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Come to Me by LaVerne Thompson

Come To Me Come To Me by LaVerne Thompson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Come To Me is a book that asks a reader, "Do you believe in soulmates? In a soul-deep connection in life that leaves you searching until you find the one who makes you whole?" I won't ask you to answer that question, but instead, I will talk about this book.

Come To Me is a quick, but very satisfying read. It's about a man who has had empty, meaningless sexual encounter after sexual encounter. He's searched for something to fill that void inside of himself, in the beds of the wrong women. One day, he hears the voice of a seductive angel on the phone when he calls to complain of an issue with his condo building. A connection is made that very first time he talks to her. He does his player bit, trying to get her to go out with him, unsuccessful, although his mysterious "Jasmine" does flirt back with him. After leaving one last strenous, but unsatisfying bout in a just another woman's bed, he calls her to complain about a car parked in his space, and finally breaks through, getting her to agree with a date. He wants a date so bad that he's willing to fly across the country to see her. From there, it's just the fulfillment of what seems like his destiny.

This is a very romantic book. I am the first to say that I don't really care for modern romance that much, with the uncommitted sex, and the question of whether sexual chemistry leads to love. But I think Ms. Thompson managed to take these sort of premises and really write a story that touched me. Reading this story, I felt a strong connection between Baron and Jasmine that extended far out of the bedroom. I liked that a significant portion of this book was spent with them getting to know each other in ways that didn't involve the physical. Even though they had only talked on the phone for six months, and were just now meeting, I could feel that there was a strong bond between them. The love scenes themselves were romantic and emotional. I liked that Baron was the first one who was willing and able to admit that this was it for him, that he had found his soulmate. It didn't take Jasmine much longer to realize that he was 'the one'. I found the uncertainty about who was going to uproot her/his life to be with the other to be very realistic, and the conclusion they came to, showed their mutual love and regard for each other.

This is my first time reading Ms. Thompson, although I have talked to her and enjoyed our discourse--due to our mutual interest in interracial romance stories. I can say objectively that she has something to offer as a romance writer. She really does know how to pen a story that will make you sigh and feel the romance and the possibilities of love between a man and a woman. If you're looking for a shorter but satisfying read that will remind a jaded romance novel palate of why this genre is your reading material of choice, I recommend Come to Me.

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A Friend and a Lover by Tressie Lockwood

A Friend and A Lover A Friend and A Lover by Tressie Lockwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Very good, short but sweet read. Ms. Lockwood is a talented writer, giving the reader the opportunity to see life through Asia's eyes. Normally, 1st person point-of-view is less than ideal for a romance story, but it worked with this book, because of the fact that it was about Asia coming to terms with her fears of being left by yet another man. I could understand Asia's reluctance to get involved after being dumped by man after man. The reasons that the men were leaving her were shocking, but it totally made sense. I liked Asia, and I felt for her. I think her reactions were realistic, under the circumstances.

This book had an element I don't like: I have never been in agreement with women fighting over men. I think it's demeaning both to the women and the men. A man worth fighting over, would never want his woman to lower herself to do that. And a woman should have enough pride not to go to that level. Just my thoughts, anyway. I liked how it was handled in this story, mostly. I liked that she avoided the "Big Misunderstanding" tactic. The reasons behind Asia's boyfriends breaking up with her had an deep and somewhat disturbing aspect to them, that gave this story a little more depth, although this wasn't delved into as deeply as it could have been. I chalk that down to this being a very short story.

Since I'm a serious Anglophile, Ms. Lockwood gets points for Colin being British. And he really was a sweet, considerate guy. He was sexy and gorgeous, but a very good guy. I could see why Asia fell for him. He was the real deal, willing to commit himself to her and wait for her to be sure of her feelings for him.

I'm not much for the modern relationship deal--happy for now, let's see where this goes, kind of resolution--but it fit with the story and with Asia's issues about trusting herself to another relationship. I wish that Colin had come along before she had such baggage, but it worked out the way it was supposed to, I suppose. Even with this story being about a couple who were having a 'no strings attached' relationship, there was enough emotional connection that I was able to enjoy the story despite that (and I knew it along those lines going into it).

The love scenes were steamy, but not excessively descriptive, and certainly not erotic. So I'd recommend this for a fan of interracial romances who doesn't like erotica. If you'd like a quick, well-written, enjoyable interracial romance, this one's very good. Give it a try.

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Unbound by Lori Devoti

Unbound (Unbound, #1) Unbound by Lori Devoti

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This was a book that I struggled to finish, but it turned out to be a decent read. Below is the bad and the good of Unbound:

The bad:
*The premise was somewhat interesting, and I loved the incorporation of Norse mythology. However, the execution was too sketchy for my tastes. There was just enough folklore there to tantalize me as a reader, but the story left me wanting more. There was a part near the end that just got kind of weird, with a science fiction vibe that seemed incongruous.
*The witch aspect was sort of weak. I'm no big fan of witch storylines, but I think this one could have been expanded to give this book more pizzazz. The villain was along the lines of the White Witch of the North from the Narnia books, mixed with the Snow Queen. Not bad, but could have been better with more characterization.
*There were parts where I was almost bored. I felt like my reading time really got me nowhere with this book, at times. I put it down several times to do other things out of boredom.
*I never really fell in love with the heroine. She was alright. I didn't hate her, but I didn't love her. I wasn't quite sure why Risk fell in love with her, and was willing to give up so much for her.

The good:
*I loved Risk, the hero. He was quite the man/hellhound. Very sexy and interesting. I wanted him to get his happy ending, and it if was Kara, so much the better. The poor guy was often between a rock and a hard place, forced to make very difficult decisions on the spur on the moment. He proved his mettle, his intelligence, and his worthiness, ten times over. I found him very admirable, and I fell in love with him.
*Interesting secondary characters. The hellhounds as a group intrigued me. I liked the sprinkling of characters from the Norse myths, such as Kol, the gorm (a wolf in human form who acts gatekeeper to the portals between the Nine Worlds--the gate being the bar Guardian's Keep), and Venge (a young hellhound who has a pivotal relationship with Risk--I want to see more of him).
*Good descriptions of action and fight scenes. Magical parts were interesting.
*Great chemistry and love scenes.

All in all, not a bad read, but it could have been better. On the good side, I am invested enough to continue this series. I hope Ms. Devoti expands her world-building in the next series to do such a good premise based on Norse Mythology justice. I will recommend this book to paranormal romance fans who want a quick read based on Norse myths, but with the above reservations. Also, I think it's worth reading for Risk.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Diablo's Return by Sierra Rose

Diablo's Return Diablo's Return by Sierra Rose

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Kudos to Sierra Rose for writing such a cool story. Diablo's Return is a dream story for folks like me, who spent their adolescence watching way too many action movies, and wishing there were books that read like some of those under-appreciated gems.

Diablo is one of those dark figures that you root for, even though he's probably not a good guy. Or isn't he? Diablo has quite a tortured past to get beyond, and his heart is full of vengeance. Will he be able to put that past behind him and find a happy future? Will the real bad guys get vanquished? Well you need to read this story to find out.

Ms. Rose does a great job with the action and suspense elements (with appeal to both a male and female audience), but also manages to create fairly well-fleshed characters for such a short story. Writing short fiction is not easy. Writing really good short fiction is even harder. But this is a great short story that meets my needs for an edgy, action suspense story, with a nice romance, to boot. Great fun, and definitely recommended!

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Monday, February 08, 2010

Pure Princess, Bartered Bride by Caitlin Crews

Pure Princess, Bartered Bride (Harlequin Presents) Pure Princess, Bartered Bride by Caitlin Crews

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Caitlin Crews is a new writer on the Harlequin Presents scene that has gotten my attention. I picked this book up based on the blurb. I love arranged marriage/marriage of convenience as a theme in a romance novel. I think there is so much inherent tension with this storyline. A lot more is at stake when the hero and heroine are married and getting to know each other. They can't just walk away like an unmarried couple could. But can they make a marriage work, between strangers? Will their hearts be put at risk in a marriage that started out of obligation? In the right hands, this can be a very intense read. I'm happy to say that Ms. Crews succeeded in taking a well-loved premise and giving it life.

Luc is one of those heroes that is literally seething with emotions. He has been taught by his parent's rocky marriage, lived out in front of the tabloids, to keep very close control over his emotions. But still waters run deep. I knew he'd keep me reading. The man is like a volcano in the quiet hours before it erupts suddenly and with deadly force.

Gabrielle also wears a calm mask of composure. She has been conditioned since an early age to be the perfect, pretty princess. Her father's love was denied to her, and her goal in life was to do everything she could to earn it. The next thing she knows, she's bartered off to a billionaire businessman of aristocratic heritage, without being consulted or asked if she wants the marriage first. Gabrielle sucks it up like a good future Queen and walks down the a man that scares the life out of her. He's tall, dark, handsome, and full of intense masculinity. And he's her husband. She never balks at duty, but this is more than she can take. There's not question that this man wants to be in charge and run things, has plans to control his new bride within an inch of her life. She feels as though she's merely traded one prison for another. After her husband claims his kiss of possession on their wedding night, she flees the scene, leaving him to be exposed to mockery in the tabloids (his worst nightmare, thanks to his parents). Well, we know Gabrielle won't stay hidden for long from a ruthless, unstoppable man like her husband. He tracks her down to her friend's bungalow in California, and he's determined to claim his bride as is his right. Yes, this is one of those 'mine' heroes. Works for me!

This book has the right ingredients for a very good, entertaining Harlequin Presents. The powerful attraction between Gabrielle and Luc radiated off the pages when I was reading. Luc is one of those heroes that you don't exactly love initially, but you can't resist, at the same time. He's so strict and arrogant about what he wants in a biddable wife, and he's sure he's going to get it. But he gets more than he bargains for. He doesn't seem to know what he wants. With Gabrielle he gets the perfect, decorous wife in the public eye, but in bed, she's wild for him. But he hates when she retreats behind the facade she's used to protect herself from the derision she's come to expect from the one man she couldn't make happy, her father. How does she know her husband will be any different?

Ms. Crews uses the sensual moments to fantastic effect in this book. They are the lens through which we see the walls break down between these two people who are controlled and afraid of emotions for different reasons. We see Luc go from being a man who hates emotions to one who wants nothing but emotional honesty from his wife. The way she tries to hide herself drives him crazy. Gabrielle tries very hard to keep herself from loving Luc, but she fails in the attempt. It's simply heartbreaking when Luc throws her love back in her face because he believes she betrays him.

The climax of this book had me hanging on the edge of my seat. I couldn't put it down as I kept reading to see how things would resolve. I really admire how Ms. Crews pulled it all together. Both Gabrielle and Luc had to reach an epiphany where they realized that their love was more important than any shallow thing like public image or looking bad to others, even their pride. They had to take leaps of faith, to come to trust their hearts in each other's hands.

This book is heavy on internal dialogue and description. But it was used to excellent effect. The emotions came off the pages at me, which is what I look for in a good book. As I said above, I really enjoyed the love scenes, because they showed so much about the feelings between Gabrielle and Luc. My favorite was the limo scene. Well done!

If you're looking for a new Harlequin Presents author, you should definitely give Ms. Crews a try. I look forward to reading further books by her.

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Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas

Sugar Daddy (Travises, #1) Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Sugar Daddy was one of those books that I dreaded reading, in all honesty. Let me tell you why.

1)I do not like chick lit or women's fiction. I like a story that has a defined beginning and a defined end, that has landmarks, and ends on a happy note. To my understanding, chick lit and women's fiction does not need to meet these expectations.

2)I was dismayed that one of my most beloved authors was leaving the historical romance scene (my most beloved subgenre within my favorite genre) to write contemporary novels. I feared that the amount of quality historical romances would be that much more diminished than before with her leaving it behind.

3)Because I am such a big fan of Kleypas, I was afraid I would read this book, and truly hate one of her books for the first time.

4)Let's be honest, I abhor love triangles. Whenever I pick up a book, and it has the phrase, 'torn between two lovers,' it goes back on the shelf. I won't buy it. I like my romance predictable in this sense. I want to know who the heroine ends up with before I start the book.

So, having said all these reasons I put off reading Sugar Daddy so long, I am very glad I read it, and I found it to be an excellent book. Was it perfect in meeting my expectations? To say yes would be a lie. I did have the following issues with Sugar Daddy:

1)The beginning seemed drastically different from the end. The book starts out as a coming of age story about a young woman, Liberty, and her journey through life, the good and the bad, and her all-encompassing, soul-defining love for her sister. The end becomes a romance story in which Liberty has to decide which man was right for her. The large shift was quite jarring for me as a reader. Although I dislike chick lit/women's fiction, I am a great big sucker for a great coming of age story. I read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte last year, and that is probably one of the best I've ever read. I'd also put forward Where The Heart is by Billie Letts, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, and of course, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee as my top list of coming of age stories. I loved this aspect of Sugar Daddy. I was transfixed by the story of this young girl, and how her life evolved. Then, all of a sudden, it became about which man would she end up with. One could argue that this was part of her story, and yes, it is. But I felt the focus had shifted from Liberty's journey to explaining which man was right for her, almost a bit of show and tell, to me as a reader. I would have liked to see more of Liberty putting the pieces together and coming to a more organic understanding of the man she belonged with. Also, there seemed to be less focus on Liberty's relationship with Carrington towards the end of the story. It was noticeable, because of how prominent a character Carrington is earlier in the book. It's not that I didn't want to see Liberty have a life and a love outside of her sister, but I thought the tone should have remained consistent. Fundamentally, I was left with the feeling that I didn't know what kind of book Ms. Kleypas was trying to write here.

2)This evolves out of my first issue. I felt that the romance aspects were slightly underdeveloped. In my opinion, more time should have been spent on developing the romance between Gage and Liberty. In my opinion, much more time was spent on the romance (or at least the evolution of Liberty's love for Hardy) between Hardy and Liberty. I could see in a general way, why Gage was right for Liberty, but I really needed more for my heart to accept on a deep level that he was the right choice. Part of this unsureness came from the fact that I think having Hardy betray Liberty was a bit of a cop-out. Yes, we know that Hardy was committed to getting ahead by any means necessary. But it didn't quite ring true for me. Hardy was shown as a very good, honorable person growing up (even if he didn't believe it about himself). Yes, he was a bit of a skirt-chaser, but he stuck with girls who were up for the game. His caring for his family and for Liberty and her family didn't match up with how he acted when he returned to Liberty's life. So I was left feeling that, perhaps Liberty would have chosen Hardy, if he hadn't betrayed her that way. That didn't convince me on the romance between Gage and Liberty. Don't get me wrong. Gage was definitely the right man. Although I didn't get quite as much of a fix on him as I did Hardy, I could see his appeal and why he was the man that Liberty would fall in love with as an adult. But more narrative on him, definitely would have been appreciated.

3)I really disliked the scenes in which Liberty was exploring her sexality with Luke, who was her high school boyfriend, and the guy she dated as an adult before Gage. Now, I will admit that this ties into my dislike of chick-lit. I like to see a romance between two people, the heroine and the hero. I don't want to see them having sex and being involved with other people. If they had other relationships before, then I'd like that to be in the past, and not revealed during the book, other than a couple of lines of exposition, or through something that is revealed in dialogue. I knew that Liberty didn't love those guys, and she was a woman who wanted love. So it felt wrong to me. I especially hated the scene when she lost her virginity. I was really mad at her for that decision, although I could understand the pain that drove her to it. This would have went over better with me, had the women's fiction aspect of the story been continued through to the end, without the shift to a romance. But since the last 1/4 of the book was written as a romance, this left a bad taste in my mouth. I really didn't like the way things unfolded when Hardy returns into her life. The passionate kiss with Hardy felt wrong. Could you do that with an ex if you were deeply in love with a new man? Liberty wasn't the flighty kind of person who would do that. It felt out of character to me. Also the part in which Liberty decides to spend time with Hardy to find out if there was anything there. In my mind, if her feelings for Gage were so strong, would she have felt right doing that, even if he was a good enough man to let her? I don't know the right answer, but it didn't feel right to me. I think this is something that I would expect in a chick lit novel and not a romance.

One aspect of the book that I didn't really love, but I could see why it was done, was the attention to detail on the accoutrements of the upscale life that the Travises and their associates had. I think Ms. Kleypas did a great job of describing this through Liberty's eyes, but I was kind of 'meh' about it. To some degree, those of us who grew up with modest surroundings, do have a wide-eyed awe at what those who 'have' possess. But it is only so interesting. I think I would have preferred more time spent on showing Liberty's emotional interactions with Gage and his family, to a greater degree. Maybe dropping a designer name here and there, and describing things as needed could have sufficed. Perhaps this is unfair of me to comment on this, considering that Ms. Kleypas's phenomenal ability as a writer of beautiful, vivid description, is one of her strong points for me as a reader. I think in this instant, it was too much of a distraction from the emotional focus of this story.

So you may ask, how this book garnered a five star rating. I have to give it five stars, because it's a really good novel. It really affected me emotionally as a reader. And that is one thing that will always have a writer coming out ahead, for me. I found the love story between Liberty and Carrington to be the most beautiful and profound aspect of this story. The scenes in which Liberty takes on this responsibility and shows her love for her sister excelled. I cried numerous times reading this book.

Other reasons I give this book a five star rating: The beginning is excellent. The way in which Ms. Kleypas describes Liberty's life in a small town in Texas really resonated with me. It took me back to my time at this age. Hot, lazy summers, kooky relatives and neighbors. Having a family that wasn't always perfect, but loving them hard and strong, regardless. The awkwardness of being a girl who is in that stage where she feels ugly and invisible. This book could have been about a girl I knew growing up. Maybe a little bit of me, as well. That identification factor was so powerful, that I was sucked in as a reader. I wasn't going anywhere and doing anything until I finished this story.

And then there's Liberty. She's an unforgettable character. She had grit and determination. She had a unique way of looking at the world. She approached situations with the tenacity that I could not help but admire. Her strength was the best kind of strength to me. Not cussing out people or fighting at the drop of the hat, but hanging in there, enduring, doing what had to be done to keep going, and to achieve one's goals. I loved Liberty being that kind of person. And I wanted her to be happy. I cheered when she did get her happy ending. That's what I read this books for, after all.

Also, there are few writers who can create such appealing heroes as Ms. Kleypas. Gage had a magnetism that reached out of the book and slapped me in the face, in a good way, for all the short time he had in this book. Although he was a jerk to Liberty, initially, you could still see his appeal. I wanted more of him. And then there's Hardy. Well, I fell in love with Hardy as a young man. I could see why Liberty loved him so hard and so long. That's why I had some issues with the way he was written when he returned, because he made such an impression on me initially in this book. I know that I definitely have to read Blue-Eyed Devil to get more of him, and to see him become the man he should be, not who he thinks he is.

Well, for all the rambling that I did in this review, I feel that I could not have possibly expressed my feelings for this book with the clarity that I wish I could. It's so hard to unravel something so complex in such a short time for a review. But I feel that I have captured the essence of my feelings about Sugar Daddy. I do have to say a few things to Ms. Kleypas to end this review:

*Thank you for having the courage to write this book.
*Thank you for stepping out of the box and pouring your heart into this book.
*I'm sorry that I doubted that you could write a contemporary romance with heavy chick-lit leanings that I could enjoy.
*Will you please continue to write excellent books that challenge me as a reader, make me cry, and keep me up late at night because I can't bear to put the book down?

Lastly, I say from one huge Lisa Kleypas fan to another: if you have not read Sugar Daddy, read it. I think you will find much of value in this book.

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Madhouse by Rob Thurman

Madhouse (Cal Leandros, #3) Madhouse by Rob Thurman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Yet again, I'm blown away with the third Cal Leandros book. To me, these books are powerful. They have so much intensity as far as human emotions and struggles. Not a book that could bore me, by any means.

As anyone who has followed my reviews on this series probably has surmised, I adore Nik, who is Cal's older brother. But I find I am falling more and more in love with Cal. He is really turning into a remarkable man. He's lethal as a warrior. He's smart and resourceful. And he has a wounded heart that calls to me as a reader. I think Rob Thurman does such a great job of writing Cal. He feels real to me. Like the young man that he is. Cal's struggles in life are enough to break your heart. He is half-monster, literally. His mother slept with an Auphe for money, and he's the result. His kin are monsters from a person's darkest nightmares. And there are the ever-present fears that they will return to destroy Cal and everything he loves. As such, he has had to push away the one woman he loves, George. I felt very bad for Cal. He didn't want to hurt George, and having to cut her out of his life, hurt him and her very much. But he knew that he wasn't good for her. What he did, definitely caused her to cut ties with him.

Cal sees himself as a monster. He's afraid to look in the mirror because of what happened in Nightlife. He despises the monster inside of him. But truly, he is no monster. He's sarcastic to a T, irreverent, but very, very honorable. He's one of the most compelling narrators I've had the pleasure to read. Like I said, Cal's catching up to my Nik love, and fast. I think there's enough room in my heart to adore them to the same level, so that's okay. In fact, I'm looking forward to it.

I am ambivalent about Cal's advent into a sexual life. I can see why he did what he did, but I feel sad that he could not have his first time with someone he loved, and cared for it. I feel a little more at peace about his relationship with Delilah, a very sexy but deadly female werewolf who calls him "Pretty Boy." She saves his life by performing a very intimate task for him. I knew that wind was going to blow in her direction at that point. There is a connection there with her. They both live on the dark side, they are both warriors. And they are both broken in some way. I came to like Delilah, and part of me didn't feel bad when Cal slept with her. Yet, I feel regret for what could have been with George. I wonder if things will work out for them to be together again. But now, I agree with Cal that it's too dangerous for her to be near him. Hopefully they will find a way back to each other.

Nik and Cal's relationship: The heart of this book. It's changing, as Cal gets older, more self-sufficient. As Delilah says, Nik will always be the alpha, but he's showing Cal the regard of a highly-trained and capable warrior, a man worthy of respect. I like that Nik is giving Cal the room he needs, but he still pushes and cares for Nik in the fashion of mother and father combined. I think Nik must be very proud of him. As one of my friends said, any women who comes into their lives will have to understand that that bond between them is intrinsic to their being. It's what I love about this series.

The action is unrelenting, as usual. Nik and Cal are warriors in the true sense. You know they are going to take down their enemies, hard. I love that about this book. There are aspects that Ms. Thurman reveals in her writing that help to contribute the iconic nature of their characters. Nik is the samurai. His honor is impeachable. He lives by his code, and he does not stray from it. Every day and every moment is designed to be used to make himself and his brother into better warriors so that they can survive and help those in need. His body is a weapon. I like the way Thurman describes Nik with just enough words to show who and what he is. I want to smile on the scenes that define him as a person. His love for Cal breaks my heart. He'd die for him. Simple as that. That's how you should love your family, in my opinion. Cal loves Nik just as much. They are very different, but their core essence is the same. That love, that determination to survive and prevail against all odds. And to help those in need of help.

This book is dark with ugly violence and evil creatures. But there is a light in the powerful bond between the brothers, and the friends they have made. Not many, but quality is much better than quantity. That brings me to Robin. Who knew Robin would become such a pivotal character? I love the guy. He's one of those very morally flexible, but at the same time, deeply likeable characters. He's predictable in his ability to keep surprising me as a reader. I love his scenes. I really do. I can't imagine a Cal Leandros book without him, now.

I love the mythology and the world-building of series. How Thurman has made New York into a fantastic place full of creatures straight out of the darkest fairy tales and legends. A valkyrie curator at the Metropolitan Museum, a Japanese healing spirit who teaches pre-med students at the university. A mummy who lurks in the bowels of the museum. And a very scary, very crazy redcap who lives for the kill of any 'travelers' he can get ahold of. But Thurman doesn't just take things from folklore,chapter and verse. She gives it her own spin. Like the angels, which are called 'peris' in this book. They tend to have an unearthly beauty and a bad temper to match, and are always shedding feathers. In fact, Cal's boss is one. He runs a bar called "The Ninth Circle," where many of the fantastic creatures go to wet their whistle, and to have a rousing barfight or two. Man, I wish I could live in a city like this. It'd be dangerous, but heck, it'd be so fun.

I like that the villains in this series are not 'paper tigers.' Going up against them always holds risks for the brothers and their allies. They have the scars, inside and out, to show for their batttles. Of course, they will prevail. But at a cost.

This book ends on a cliffhanger that is like a double whammy. There are some serious loose ends that are dangling. Sign me up for all the books Rob Thurman want to write about the Leandros brothers. I am always up for more Cal and Nik. Bring them on!

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Monday, February 01, 2010

Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs

Blood Bound (Mercedes Thompson, #2) Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There is something so wonderful about Patricia Briggs's writing for this reader. She is able to create a world in which I am completely drawn in, but she writes with such simple elegance. Without a doubt, this is my favorite urban fantasy series so far.

Mercy Thompson is the kind of heroine that earns my devotion. She is so brave, but has the same fears and uncertainties that us readers have. She wants a simple life, even though she's a walker, a coyote shapeshifter, who is up to her neck in werewolf politics, not to mention vampire and fae issues. She has to go to work the next day even after staying up all night, dealing with demon-possessed vampires and the like, knowing that some of her close friends might be dead. I think Ms. Briggs has really tapped into the wellspring of what pulls me in as a reader in this genre. She is able to give me a fantastic world that is imbued with the real life things, and the combination is very satisfying.

Mercy could not be more admirable. Not a perfect person, but who is? Nevertheless, she has qualities that earn my respect. She is strong, and loving, empathetic, and willing to do the dirty jobs. Her courage in a truly harrowing situation spoke to me. She could have just moved on, and took things as they ended, but her conscience told her she had to finish things. Which she did, despite her fear, her guilt about doing something that went against her code, and her disgust at what she had to to. And Mercy is surrounded by men (wolves/vamps) who are used to exerting their dominance, but she navigates her way through this testosterone-laden world without losing her sense of self, or control over her own life.

The men in this series. Oh, the men. Adam is the keeper of my heart. I just love that man. I believe he is the right man for Mercy, hands down. The chemistry between Mercy and Adam is divine. There is a naturalness to their relationship, full of tension, but so organic. I loved all their scenes together, reading the subtext of their complex relationship. How Adam has to suppress his compelling power as the alpha, but his feelings for Mercy make it difficult. How Mercy wants to submit, but doesn't want to, at the same time, out of fear of losing herself and disappearing into the pack hierarchy. So intense! And then there's Samuel. He was Mercy's first boyfriend, the man she almost mated to. He still wants her, even more than ever. But he knows he messed up the first time, and his fight to give Mercy the choice of who she wants, takes its toll on him. And then there's his pain at what he has lost, and fears he will never have again.

The vampires in this series are scary! They are predators, pure and simple. They have powers that make them formidable enemies and uneasy allies. Mercy's 'so-called' friend Stefan has an ambiguosity to him that is inherent because of his being a powerful vampire, but at the same time, having a humaneness that the other vampires lack. He's one of the good ones, but he's still a predator at the end of the day. Mercy knows she's in over her head when she has to deal with the vampires, and particularly a demon-possessed sorcerer vampire. But Mercy has the power to resist the vampires to a degree that the other preternaturals lack, even though her small size and lack of strength as a coyote shifter leaves her at a disadvantage. There are parts in this book where I felt the tension like a knife edge. The evil that these creatures were capable of was always clear. Yet some hid it behind an urbane facade.

But more than anything, I love the wolves. The pack dynamics are utterly fascinating. The basic and primal nature of the wolves always played a factor in how Mercy dealt with Samuel, Adam, Bran (the leader of all the werewolves in North America), Warren (Adam's third, a good friend of Mercy), and some of the other wolves in this book. I felt envy that this was not real. But at the same time, I'm not sure I could handle being in love with a werewolf, and knowing that his control is what keeps him from eating or killing you, if that inner wolf nature takes full control. Not to mention dealing with the dicey pack politics that Mercy gets sucked into, despite her desire to do her own thing.

I'm gushing. I know I am. I can't help it. I love this book, and this series. I think I will have restrain myself from speeding my way through it too fast. I don't think I could handle having to wait a long time for the next books in the series, then!

If you're looking for a really good urban fantasy series with a heroine that you will fall in love with, I recommend this series. If you are into werewolf fiction, you are really missing out if you don't read this one. These werewolves are the best in fiction (in my opinion). Thumbs way up!

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