Thursday, September 30, 2010

Green Tea by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Green TeaGreen Tea by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Interesting read. I felt bad for Mr. Jennings for what he suffered, and for so long. Being who he was, it seemed even worse for the poor fellow. I don't think it was just a nervous condition. I think it's kind of funny that large amounts of green tea seems to open the poor man's 'third eye.' My sister is an avid green tea drinker. I suppose I ought to warn her. Personally, it's a little too bitter for my tastes, but I digress.

Dr. Hesselius is an interesting protagonist, a doctor who treats the spirit and the body. I hope to read more of his stories.

As far as writing style, I found this a little more easy to read than Carmilla. Mr. Le Fanu writes beautifully, although not simply. That's okay. I kind of like the old-fashioned manner of writing of the prior centuries, and this one wasn't a tad dry like Carmilla was.

Like many classic horror short stories, the conclusion is sort of up to one's interpretation. That works for me. I never liked being spoon-fed ideas in literature.

Although not scary, there are some elements that are a bit eerie. Green Tea was a pretty satisfying story--a nice, quick read.

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The Viscount and the Virgin by Annie Burrows

The Viscount and the VirginThe Viscount and the Virgin by Annie Burrows

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The cover and the blurb drew me in when I got this one with my monthly Harlequin Historical books. I knew I'd be reading it soon. It didn't disappoint.

I don't want to give away too many plot details, because that is the fun in reading this book. It was interesting how deeply Imogen and Monty's lives intertwine. When they met, they seemed to be adversaries, but a blistering attraction makes that unlikely. They don't seem to be what each other wants at first glance, but they need to look deeper to see that they are meant for each other.

Imogen/Midge and Monty both have emotional baggage that they are dealing with. Imogen is a very lovable heroine, although she's way too hard on herself. But, I could see why, never having felt loved and appreciated. She finds it hard to believe that her husband could love her and want to be faithful to her. She takes his every action as a rejection. But, Monty is dealing with this difficult father and trying to play catch-up since he was a soldier for most of his young life, and now he's the heir to an earldom that has been mismanaged by his older brother before his death. He's got a lot on his plate, and that governs his actions quite a bit.

In the first book I read by Annie Burrows, The Earl's Untouched Bride, I felt that the misunderstandings between the couple went on too long. I was worried that this would be the same, but thankfully she didn't belabor those. I liked that Monty reasoned through some of Midge's actions towards the end, and came to the correct conclusion, instead of believing the poison his woman-hating father had spouted about her. I like how protective he was of her. For once, she had someone looking out for her needs.

My one issue, and sort of a big one, was the love scenes. Ms. Burrows does such an excellent job of building tension, you think you are in for some nicely steamy love scenes, but they so quick and very non-descriptive. I was quite disappointed. I don't mind at all if the author chooses not to include love scenes; but I don't like the story is written so steamy with great chemistry and buildup, and then there are no good love scenes to show the culmination of that tension. That was the case with this story. There were passionate kisses and caresses, and the love scene would go by with no details (practically fade to black), and I felt like I had missed something. I think Midge and Monty deserved some good love scenes. Monty is pretty hot for his bride, and Midge feels so passionate towards him that she worries that she's being improper (after being condemned for being her wild/immodest parents' daughter for so many years). They really connect on that level, and their private moments are when the walls come down between them. It just doesn't fit to have these short, non-descriptive love scenes. That's why I can't really give this book five stars. It's a shame, because I loved this book. It would have been five stars if I hadn't felt cheated of some passion.

This is part of a Harlequin Historical series called Silk and Scandal. This is book five. I haven't read the first four books, although I plan to do so. It didn't hurt me to read this book out of order, although there is a larger continuity involved that relates to Midge's parents. There was a good secondary story with Midge's half-brother Stephen who is the illegitimate offspring of her father and a Gypsy woman. He's very embittered by the way he was abandoned, and wants revenge against his family, who he believes rejected him. It added another emotional layer to this story.

I'd definitely recommend this to fans of shorter regency romances. If you like the plain jane/spinster motif and married couple romances, I think you'll enjoy this. Although Monty comes off as arrogant and rude initially (reminding me a little of Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, although more passionate), he's really a nice guy. I liked him a lot. Midge and Monty were a great couple.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Black Ice by Anne Stuart

Black Ice (Ice, #1)Black Ice by Anne Stuart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is something to be said for rereads. I read this one more slowly this time, savoring the language and the scenes. I love dessert. It's my favorite meal. And I always eat my dessert very slowly. Sadly, I read this so fast the first time, since Ms. Stuart hadn't put out a book a while before this one, too fast to truly take in and appreciate all the nuances. This time, I tried to treat Black Ice as if it was a dessert to be savored. And indeed, it was like the most seductive, decadent kind of desserts. And, I love it even more this time around.

Can you fall in love with a ruthless killer? A man who cares nothing for life and has absolutely no sense of right or wrong? A man who will use violence, sex, or lies, in whatever way is necessary to get the job done? In real life, I hope never to find that out. But, in this book, I could totally believe that Chloe would fall in love with the covert operative who goes by the name of Bastien, among many.

Can love change the bleakest, darkest heart? I do believe it can. As she often does, Ms. Stuart did a great job of showing me exactly that.

Black Ice won't be for everyone. Not every reader will fall in love with a hero who is as ruthless as Bastien. I couldn't help but fall for him. Ms. Stuart knows how to write this kind of hero--like no other author that I've read. There are so many layers to the man who goes by Bastien Toussaint. I love how each layer is peeled away to reveal the man that Chloe (and I could love). He's a physically beautiful man, one of sinuous grace. He's completely elegant, even when he's doing unspeakable things. He's absolute, complete seduction. And then there's the way he risks life and limb, and wreaks all sort of havoc to protect Chloe. Like the woman in his past, and Chloe, I could not resist him. Funny to think I felt he was a bit too hard the first time I read this. Silly me. Now I realize that he's just what this Doctor ordered. Maybe I've come to appreciate this kind of hero more as I've aged. I'm glad for that.

Dark romance it might be, but Anne Stuart writes luscious, sensual romance like no other author for me. The love scenes--fantastic. Worth rereading again and again. So much to savor here.

The suspense and action elements were awesome. Nothing like a little danger with my romance to get my heart pumping. I am a sucker for a sophisticated setting-something about European locales for spy/suspense stories for me. I felt as though I was there in Paris on a wintery night. Seeing the dark, twisted deeds that the Committee did to keep the world safe, even if they had to sacrifice a few innocents along the way, looking so stylish and elegant in their black designer wear all the while. Watching the shadowy games and the more shadowy players. I could see this as a movie, and a great one, in the right hands. Maybe Luc Besson?

At the beginning of this story, Bastien seemed like he could very well watch a defenseless woman like Chloe, in the wrong place at the wrong time, die, and not shed a tear. But, something changes in him after he meets Chloe. By the end of the story, it's clear that he'd do just about anything to keep her alive and safe, even if he can't be with her. How could I not see his love for her? I found I didn't need the words. He's not a man to wear his heart on his sleeve, and by his own words, he normally feels nothing for no one; so when he tells her he loves her, it is that much more poignant. I could feel the ice break, and my heart with it.

I could go on. I get like that about Anne Stuart. But I won't this time. I'll end by saying this:

I think this book is going to be like fine wine. It will get even better with age; it will go down so smooth and then hit you with the fiery reminder of its potency after the fact--better and better each time I read it.

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The Maverick's Greek Island Mistress by Kelly Hunter

The Maverick's Greek Island Mistress (Harlequin Presents)The Maverick's Greek Island Mistress by Kelly Hunter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was upbeat and entertaining with snappy dialogue. I thought that Pete and Serena were a good couple. I don't go for the no-strings attached theme very much, but I liked how it was made very clear as the story progressed that neither party was able to adhere to that qualification. I also liked how the islanders interfered with their plans for hot rendezvous, since Serena is half-Greek, and it's a small Greek island on which her grandparents are very prominent citizenry, and they are old-fashioned about such things. It helped to build up tension, and for Pete and Serena to get to know each other outside of the bedroom.

I loved Pete. He was a charmer, but he had some depths. He was ex-Navy, and was emotionally wounded from his experiences as a Search and Rescue pilot. Serena helped to heal his wounds. He helped Serena to realize that she could fulfill her dreams and find a lasting love. I liked that Pete was the first to say he was in love, but Serena annoyed me with her reaction this marriage proposal. I thought she was crazy. You can always have a career, but you can't always find a true love. As some career women who are still looking! And he was very supportive of her career. I'm glad she came around in the end.

I liked the side story about Serena's cousin Nico and his courtship of Chloe, who was raising her orphaned nephew. Pete was such a sweetie in how he interacted with Sam.

I will definitely read more of Kelly Hunter's books. I hope she writes about Pete's brothers. One of them owns martial arts dojos and the other is a Navy SEAL. Sounds good to me. :)

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Getting Red-Hot with the Rogue by Ally Blake

Getting Red-Hot with the Rogue (The Kellys of Brisbane, #2) (Harlequin Presents, #2874)Getting Red-Hot with the Rogue by Ally Blake

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This ended up being a very good book. Ally Blake is a strong writer. She has a way with words that engaged me and kept me reading. Her love scenes are steamy and emotive, furthering the procession of the romance between her characters. Her characters have depth, and you end up liking them, even if you don't always like the decisions they made, because you can see where they came from and where they are going.

Hardcase, ruthlessly private, and cold as ice businessman Dylan Kelly had no idea that he'd find his true love in Wynnie Deveraux. Although the blurb says she's ditzy, that's not at all true. She's concocted a breezy facade hiding a very keen, clever mind and secret heartbreak. She believes very strongly in saving the environment, and is willing to use risky means to get the attention of the Kellys' business in order to get them to adopt more eco-friendly ways. She handcuffs herself to a sculpture at the top of their high-rise skyscraper. That's how they meet.

Dylan was determined not to let a woman get close to him again, after his gold-digging ex-fiancee' embarrassed him and his family, but the vulnerability shining in Wynnie's sweet brown eyes breaks through his tough facade, and makes him want to be a better man. She finds the chink in his titanium armor, and he does the same to her, despite her determination not to get involved with a man, not with her devastating past. But love doesn't play by any rules.

If you like a quick, modern romance, with characters that are richly crafted, despite its short length, you can't go wrong with this book.

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Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander (Outlander, #1)Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay, there are tons of reviews on this book, and I can't add too much to the review ether that hasn't already been said. But, I promised to write a review for every book I read, so I'll do this in an different kind of way. How about a Q&A session about this book?

Question and Answer Session With Danielle Regarding Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

1. So, you finally read it. How does it feel to read this 850 page magnum opus?

I feel a profound sense of accomplishment. I'm glad that I 'womaned-up' and faced this super-duper long book. This is the longest book I've ever read (other than the Bible, which I've read in parts, although I haven't made it through all the way yet). I'm verra, verra glad I chose this book for a challenge, thus had to read it in a certain time period. I might have put it off longer, and missed the marvelous book that it was.

2.What do you think of Jamie Fraser?

Are there words to describe him? He is just fantastic. I can't imagine how D. Gabaldon created such a wonderful, wonderful character. I have standards for my "heroes to die for", and he meets all those standards. What a beautiful, wonderful man! Claire is a lucky woman.

3. Was this a difficult read?

I have to say that it wasn't. I did have to apply myself. This was more because I don't care for long books. I like to read shorter books so I can move onto the next book faster. This book felt like it could be 2 1/2 books. However, it wasn't boring. It was interesting seeing life back then, and how Claire, who is from the 20th century, reacted to it. I love books about Scotland and Scottish people. Their way of life sort of resonates with me. And the characters were very vivid and fascinating. And the romance was to die for. And Jamie is just awesome!!!

4. What was your favorite aspect of this book?

Jamie Fraser! My second favorite aspect for the powerful love story between Claire and Jamie. They are definitely a couple that was meant to be together. I thought that the fact that she was married in the future would bother me, but it didn't. I thought of Frank as being her past life, and although she truly loved Frank, he wasn't her soulmate like Jamie was (can I write a review without using that 'S' word? Apparently not). I so wanted her to stay with Jamie. There was no contest. And Claire was used to rustic living, since she'd grown up on digs with her uncle. I also liked seeing Claire do her medical treatments (I love medicine). I also liked the adventure and the fighting.

5. What didn't you like about this book?

Well, I hated Randall, but I was supposed to! He was one sick puppy! I can't imagine how Claire felt to meet her husband's ancestor, and to know what a truly awful man he was. I hated some of the situations that Jamie and Claire faced and what they had to do. It made me sad that one evil man had caused this.

6. Would you recommend this book to other readers?

Absolutely, providing that one was committed to reading a book that is nearly 900 pages, and one enjoys historical books. No book is for all tastes, but I think those who might be interested in a story with a fantastic hero like Jamie, and an outstanding heroine like Claire, and those who are crazy about Scottish subject matter, should read it.

7.Has the bar been raised for Scottish Highlander romance?

Most definitely. I try not to compare books, because, well it isn't fair. But, now that I've read Outlander, I know in the back of my mind, an image of Jamie will crop up when I read future Highlander books.

8. Were parts of this book hard to read?

Oh, there was a couple of parts that made me wince. One part nearly broke my heart, but Claire really came through for Jamie, and it made me almost cry. It was beautifully done. I tend to read romance books for the hero moreso than the heroine, but I love a great heroine, and Claire is definitely that.

9.Okay, what if I don't like romance, and I think it's sappy nonsense. Can I still enjoy this book?

Well, I think this might convert you, if you don't enjoy romance. Barring that, I still think you'd enjoy this book. Not only is it a great romance, it's great historical fiction. And the time travel element, although not a huge part, is very intriguing. So, give it a try.

10.Danielle, what are you going to do, now that you've read Outlander?

Go to Disney World???? Just kidding! Honestly, I'm going to continue my reading adventures in my massive, ever-growing tbr pile, and I know eventually I will be drawn back to this series. But, I think I'll read some shorter books for a wee bit. I might take a break from Scottish Highlander romance for a while. I don't want to be disappointed because the book isn't Outlander.

11.It's about time to wrap this up. Anything you want to add?

Just a few things: The praise for Jamie Fraser is well-deserved. Ms. Gabaldon wrote a fantastic book, and I'm very glad I read it. I can now pat myself on the back, since I read this book. I'll consider it my War and Peace, in fact. I hope that those who are hesistant to read this book take the plunge. It was worth the time spent on it.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

First Time, Forever by Cara Coulter


My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book passed my good book test. I loved the characters, I was involved, and I enjoyed the storyline, and it made me feel good and optimistic when I finished the book. Not all books have to have a feel good quotient, but it's certainly nice when they do.

Evan and Kathy were both struggling to do right by the boys they were raising: Evan was a single father with a three-year-old son, and a big farm to run. Kathy was raising her orphaned nephew.

Evan used to be a wild child, raising you know what, and living life in the fast lane. When he got his girlfriend pregnant, he did the right thing, and married her. But she didn't want the settled life of a wife to a farmer, and a mother. She ran off with Jesse and broke Evan's heart. He finally got his son back, and he's determined to do the right thing by him. But, he's still insecure that he's not a good man or role model for his son.

Kathy decided that small-town life would be better for Mac, because he was getting to be at the age where trouble was calling his name. She was thirty-four and still a virgin, and thought her chances at love has passed her by. In fact, she didn't even date. Evan is too gorgeous to ignore, and he has an adorable young son. Could this man be the answer to her dreams, able to be husband to her, and father to her nephew, who badly needs a male influence?

This couple met when Mac vandalized Evan's truck. Evan recognizes the plea for help in Mac's actions, and sentences him to two weeks shoveling manure on his farm. It turns out to be a really good decision on his part, helping to bring these two people and their sons together to form a family. The kids are pretty cute: Jesse and Mac hit it off and become honorary brothers. It was nice to see Mac's sullen teen angst get melted by an adorable kid. Mac's vulnerabilities were realistic in light of losing his mother, and his father rejecting him before he was even born. He feared that Kathy didn't truly love him but saw him as an obligation, and he acted out because of it. Evan did a great job of setting boundaries with Mac, and showing him that parental love is often in the form of loving discipline, an area that Kathy had trouble. Working on the farm gives Mac something to focus on other than his sense of inadequacy and his fears.

This was a really nice, sweet story. It's probably too sweet for some readers. Things wrap up in a nice bow at the end, and that's a-ok with me. Since life isn't really like that, it's nice to read books where that happens.

Kathy and Evan are a good match. They have passion and understanding, and can work past their disputes and uncertainties to keep their marriage going. I like that their love encompassed their children, proving that there is infinite room in a person's heart for people to love. They are two people I can see happily married fifty years from now. It was great spending a couple hours with them and reading about their romance.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bonds of Justice by Nalini Singh

Bonds of Justice (Psy-Changeling, #8)Bonds of Justice by Nalini Singh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! Max, you sure know how to seduce a reader, I mean woman. I just fell in love with you. They should put a 'Dangerous' label on you. You are not at all intimidated being a plain old human (snorting when I write that), even though you are surrounded by folks who could rip you to shreds or melt your brain. You are confident enough to claim a formidable 'J' Psy as your very own woman. How could you not become one of my favorite heroes in this series? Not to mention the fact that you are gorgeous and part-Asian (drooling on keyboard). Again, I wonder if this author is actually a Psy and is extracting data directly from the dark corners of my mind.

Bonds of Justice moved up the list of books in this series, and to near the top of my favorites list. Unlike many fans, I actually enjoy the Psy-focused storylines. Something about these people of formidable mental abilities, and their struggle to say in control. Control is a theme that hits me hard. Control of oneself, control of others. Escaping control, gaining control. Different aspects of control as a concept resonates deeply with me. I like stories in which the protagonists wrestle with control issues. I like to see the ice cold walls come down, or for them to loosen enough to let that character love and be loved.

Max and Sophia are a perfect pair. They are both wounded on the inside (and for Sophia-also on the outside). Both of them look deeper to see their soulmates. Max was one of the first people to actually 'see' Sophia. To want to take care of her, and to know her. She was thrown away by her parents because she was deemed 'unfit' after she was nearly destroyed by a pyschotic Psy as a child. She took the only option available for a Psy of her talents, that as a J-Psy. They have a notoriously short lifespan because of the stressors of their job. They have to work with the worst of humanity, extracting ugly memories to help to solve the most heinous of cases. Eventually all that ugliness destroys them from the inside out. When Sophia meets Max, she knows her days are numbered. But, because she was never subject to Silence, she feels an attraction to him that she decides to pursue, to allow herself to feel that way before her life is taken from her by the Psy (or face total rehabilitation). Close proximity to Max on a case in which they are trying to determine who is trying to kill powerful Psy Councilor Nikita Duncan reveals that he's a man she cannot resist. And Max is more than willing to pursue her. I cared about Sophia, loved her. I wanted her to find that chance of happiness with Max. I think she's deserved it, with her lonely, selfless life. No one should feel so isolated and unloved.

Max has all the traits I love in a hero: keenly intelligent, possessive, strong-minded, a good sense of humor, an infallible sense of justice, and the insight to see the beauty in a wounded Psy like Sophia. Max had some very deep scars. His mother was very cruel to him, abusing him and showing her hatred in every way. He never felt worthy or loved growing up. As an adult, he became dedicated to seeking justice for people, and became one of the most relentless and formidable cops in the Enforcement system. I just adored him. I wanted him to see how worthy he truly is.

I was rooting so hard for Max and Sophia to find their happy ending. I like the way that Nalini Singh worked things out in this book. She broke a pattern and found a resolution that progresses the Psy storyline in a way that makes my interest even more keen.

Big changes are coming for the Psy, that have the potential to affect all three races: Psy, Changeling, and Human. I am excited to see where things go from here.

Gosh, I am so addicted to this series, and this book only made it worse. Ms. Singh tantalized me with glimpses of one of my favorite supporting characters, Psy Councilman, Kaleb Krychek. She has me drooling here. What a sexy, scary, cool, dangerous character here. He's terribly enigmatic. The man has one heck of a siren call going on for this reader. She has to write a book for him. I insist.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I loved this book. There was quite a bit going on, but the romance was lovely, and the Psy elements were awesome. There was even a good mystery thrown in. It was cool to catch up with some of the characters from past books, and to see that they were doing well. I liked how Ms. Singh intertwined Sascha's ongoing storyline so well into this story. There are layers and layers of subtext going on here that balance the Psy-Changeling storyline beautifully. Yup, this is definitely in my top three books in this series. Max, you are giving Hawke, Dorian, and Dev a run for their money, and you have surpassed Judd, although I love that man too. What a major feat for a mere human!

Great story here. Loved it!!! Check out this absurdly-addictive series if you haven't yet. It starts with Slave to Sensation.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

The Blue Castle The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a delightful book! Who could not love this story about a woman who gains the courage to break free from the smothering yoke of her family and to make the most of the life she has left?

This book was hilariously funny in some parts, always inspirational, and sometimes pretty sad. It was intensely readable, and I loved Valancy and Barney. I could empathize very deeply with Valancy's situation, and I cheered her on when she stopped being afraid, and decided to be true to herself. Life is too short to be hemmed and caged by others expectations. If you can't be happy with who you are, then what is the point of living? It took a life-changing event to get Valancy to see this, and I was glad she did.

The romance was lovely in this book. I liked how Valancy and Barney's relationship started and would always be built on their friendship. There was a deep, romantic love there, no doubt. But, the person that one chooses as their life partner needs to be one that they can be happy to be around, and comfortable enough to not feel the need to fill the silences, but to cherish them. They found a connection as soulmates through the doorway of respect for each other and friendship. A great way to start a great lifetime love, in my opinion.

The metaphor of the blue castle spoke to me. We all need a blue castle in our lives, a place where we can go to feel true happiness, a retreat away from the disappointments and expectations of the world, and others' judgments and requirements for us. As I read this book, I wondered where my blue castle was. I got the answer to that question, and it made me smile.

This book gave me some wonderful hours of entertainment, but also encouraged me to life my life to its fullest. In the end, the quiet, shy plain Valancy is a huge role model to readers who find themselves in a similar situation to hers. This is my first book by L.M. Montgomery, and I'm eager to read more of her.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Ruthless by Anne Stuart

Ruthless (The House of Rohan, #1)Ruthless by Anne Stuart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Do What Thou Wilt, But Don't Fall in Love!

I don't even know what to say! I loved this book so much. I savored it, stretching it out, not wanting it to end. I was completely immersed in this book. I was no longer in Texas, modern day. I was in France in the 1700s.

I don't know how Ms. Anne Stuart does it. She can take the most objectionable type of hero, and make me fall in love with him. Let me say, I am a devout Christian. I can't even imagine even pretending to worship the devil, or to hold orgies in which one does things that are unspeakable, just because you can. That should have turned me off of Lord Rohan. But, with Ms. Stuart's incredible writing skill, it wasn't even an issue for me. I am very glad that she didn't dwell on those aspects, although they were there in the background. This is a book about a rakehell who was the leader of festivities along the lines of the real Hellfire Club, so that aspect had to be present. But, I didn't have to see him doing any of that. I was fine that I didn't. Now, he definitely did some fornication (even after he met Elinor). I was okay with that, because that was who he was, before he fell in love. Once, he had Elinor in his heart, that was over for him, even if he didn't want to admit it to himself for her. And I was gratified that he didn't allow anything to go on there that wasn't between consensual adults.

No question about it, Elinor and Rohan are one of my favorite couples now. Anne Stuart-wise, and period. There was something so delectable about their interactions, the by-play between them. Even though Francis was sixteen years older than Elinor (old enough to be her father, and he was quite active at that age, in his own words), Elinor was able to hold her own with him. Elinor had some serious pluck. I love a heroine who is strong, and no question about Elinor's strength. She is no Xena, and she didn't have to be, in order to captivate Rohan, and to make me love her. She is true to herself, forthright, and brave (in ways I can't even fathom). Francis was a very bad boy, but he had a core of him that was good and decent. He did things for Elinor that he really had no reason to do. He showed her love even before he knew what the word meant. How could I not love him for that? The sexual tension in this story was off the charts, and the love scenes aren't even until near the end. That's talent to me. I felt the sizzle through every conversation, the exchange of glances, the way Rohan pursued and Elinor fled. It was magic on the page.

Yes, I know. It's clear that I love Anne Stuart so much, that some may doubt my objectivity. But, I will say it if I don't think a book by a favorite author is my favorite. But, with Ruthless, there is no question that this one is a stellar read. I wish that Ms. Stuart released books every year. When she doesn't have books out, I mourn the dearth, and I pine for her books. I have especially longed for her historicals, because she writes them so well, with the dark aspects, the multi-faceted characters, the writing subtlety that conveys so much, the intensity that I crave in a romance story. I am happy to say that this book truly makes me happy. I am still replaying the scenes in my head. The skillfully nuanced courtship of Rohan and Elinor, and the powerful love story here. The sad, heartbreaking things in their pasts. I got choked up a few times. I was touched on such a deep level, I feel it right now as I write this review. I think that readers who enjoy meaty, intense, darker historicals with strong, vibrant characters will be very happy with Ruthless. I foresee myself rereading this book soon and often. Bravo, Ms. Stuart.

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The Earl and the Governess by Sarah Elliot

The Earl and the Governess (Harlequin Historical Series)The Earl and the Governess by Sarah Elliott

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I just love when I read a book by a new author, and their writing clicks with me. That is how I felt about The Earl and the Governess. I have had this book on my shelf for a few months, since I get all the Harlequin Historicals. I loved the cover, so I knew I'd probably read it sooner. But, the storyline didn't really call out to me that much. I'm not a fan of the titled hero chasing a woman who is in dire straits, and manipulating that situation for his own prurient gains (unless an author can do it well). I needed an 'E' for my monthly challenge, and it shouted "Read Me!" So, I selected it, and I am glad I did.

As I read this story, I said to myself, this is good writing. Not reinventing the wheel, but telling a story of two people who meet and fall in love, and doing it very well. I found myself liking both characters very much. It's not always a given that I like the titled, handsome, monied hero. I find that it's a coin flip for me. I don't like people who have a huge sense of entitlement. I don't like heroes who think they can have any woman they want, and who will resort to underhanded methods to get her, unless the author can show me a man with those undesirable traits, and reveal to me that he has some good traits to balance it out.

I must say that William and I got off on the right foot from the beginning. He sees a woman in distress, not particularly well-dressed, passably pretty, but not a stunner, and he goes to help her. He's not just trying to get her into bed. He's genuinely concerned about her. That really softened me towards William. He's rich and important enough to ignore people that are beneath him, but he doesn't.

Surprisingly, even though William was working the angle of having Isabelle under his thumb as the governess to his ward, and he eventually wants to persuade her to be his mistress, he shows some qualms about it. Although they share a couple of passionate kisses, he doesn't automatically resort to hanky-panky with his ward in the same house. That would have felt very wrong to me. When her reputation gets ruined, he offers marriage, when he could have just paid her off. He shows respect, and a love for this woman, a love that is equal to his desire. That made me love him.

I really liked Isabelle too. She had a good head on her shoulders, but she also had a heart and emotions. The war between those aspects of her personality was well-written. She felt a connection to William from the beginning, but she was no fool. She was in dire straits, and she knew that her reputation was important. She knew that nothing lasting could come of her association with William. Her love and attraction to him slowly but surely wore away at her doubts, and it was an organic process.

I'm pretty iffy about the wallpaper-type historicals. I like to read historical romances that are written with the morals and the atmosphere that represent the times and makeup of people who lived back then. I get pretty frustrated when I read one that has modern people who are merely dressed up like historical people, and carry their modern ideas and mores into the story. This is not one of those, fortunately. Although Ms. Elliott doesn't hit the reader over the head with the Regency setting, it's very natural and obvious in this story. I found myself reading this book very fast, and enjoying it a lot. Seeing William and Isabelle's courtship play out was a lovely thing. When they consummate their relationship, it felt natural, although I wondered how things would work out for them long-term. But I knew their love was real, and that was important for me.

I would have given this book five stars, but the ending seemed a little drawn out to me, leaving me with an uncertain feelings as for how things would resolve. But eventually things get to where I wanted them to, and I was happy with the resolution in the end. Otherwise, I had no issues with this story. The Earl and the Governess was a very good book, and I'd recommend it to fans of Regency romance.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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His Virgin Acquisition by Maisey Yates

His Virgin Acquisition (Romance HB)His Virgin Acquisition by Maisey Yates

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The blurb on this book got my attention when I received it in the mail with the monthly shipment of Harlequin Presents. I liked the idea of the heroine approaching the hero for a business-oriented marriage, and him turning the tables on her by making their marriage a real, physical one. I can honestly say I wasn't disappointed. I found Maisey Yates' writing to be very solid in this story. I liked how she skillfully used narration and dialogue to reveal the characters to me. She shows a skill in using language to write a vivid, enjoyable story that I didn't want to put down until I had finished it. His Virgin Acquisition definitely makes me want to read more by this author.

On the downside, I found that I didn't like Marco at all for most of this book. I found him to be arrogant, sexist, dismissive, judgmental, and rather self-absorbed. In fact, he was borderline narcissistic. I don't mind a hero who has some of those traits as long as he has some element of self-deprecation and the ability to see himself clearly and to laugh at himself when necessary. I got the impression that Marco really thought he was 'all that and a bag of chips', and Elaine was lucky he had condescended to marry her, since he was way out of her league. I understand that his rough childhood and betrayal by his parents had hardened him, but I needed to see more of his vulnerabilities to accept his flaws.

Another big issue I had was this: I think that he failed Elaine in a very glaring way in this story. A man who had pretty much destroyed her career prospects by telling lies out of spitefulness insulted her blatantly and publicly, and Marco did nothing. And this was after he agreed to marry Elaine. I didn't want him to start a fight at a very elegant function, but I think he should have at least told the guy off. Even if he believed the rumors about Elaine, she was now his fiancee', and I couldn't believe he wouldn't stand up for her, especially since he was a pretty possessive man. I did like that he humbled himself signficantly at the end of this book. That's the only reason, he's not going on my 'hero I can't stand list.'

As for Elaine, I really liked her. She had a cool head. She was very intelligent, and she was determined to make a success. I thought her drive to gain control of her father's business was very fair. I could understand how hard it was for her to succeed in a sexist environment. Although I don't think a woman should have to look frumpy (ever), I could understand why she downplayed her looks and strived to show a professional appearance, instead of trying for a bombshell look in an environment where she did not to be judged by her sex or her looks. What happened to her was pretty awful, and it made me angry. Marco's callous acceptance of it added to my anger at the miscarriage of justice that had been perpetrated against Elaine. I have to admit that for most of this story, I thought she was way too good for Marco. I was ambivalent about how sexually susceptible to him she was. I wish that we had seen more of a mutuality in this. We did see that Marco was attracted to her, but he didn't seem to need/want Elaine quite as much as she did him, at least for most of this book.

The fact that I've written such a long review of this book is telling. Ms. Yates definitely me engaged me as a reader, and that goes a long way towards winning my affections as a reader. I just hope that she tames down some of the unlikeable, uber alpha traits in her heroes in future books.

I recommend His Virgin Acquisition with some reservations that I've elucidated above. I think most fans of Harlequin Presents would enjoy this story. It was nicely steamy and pretty emotional, with a heroine that I really liked.

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The Thief by Megan Whelan Turner

The Thief (The Queen's Thief, #1)The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What do you do when you want to gain possession of something that's nearly impossible to obtain? You hire a thief who can steal just about anything.

Gen has no disillusions about his abilities as a thief. He's actually named after the god of thieves, Eugenides, as a matter of fact. While his father wanted him to be a soldier, he knew that was not the life for him. Instead, he honed his skills at stealing, until he was one of the best in the land. Too bad he did a little too much bragging about stealing the King's seal and ended up in jail. He's approached by the King's magus and offered a proposition, steal something for the King, and he'll be released from jail. If he refuses, he'll simply disappear (not in a good way). It's not a proposition an intelligent young man would say no to. So begins this story.

Gen is one of those characters that I couldn't help but enjoy. His irreverent, jaundiced, but very insightful view of human nature insinuated him into my affections. I like that kind of humor, so I tend to gravitate towards main characters like Gen. From the beginning, I knew he was a thief, but that didn't make him unlikeable to me. Instead, I wanted to find out what made him tick, and I was rooting for him to come out of this story for the better. I liked that I saw some character growth in him as this story progressed.

The Thief is a story set in an alternate world in which various gods hold the devotion of the populace. I liked how part of the story was hearing the tales of the gods who made this world; and those stories are very smoothly integrated into the plot, playing a crucial role in the narration, characterization, and the unfolding of this story. Reading the extra material at the end of this novel revealed Ms. Turner's thought process. I could see a heavy Greek mythology influence, but there were unique elements about the pantheon and the story-telling that showed the author's specific vision. There are also aspects that surprised me, in that the gods actually play a real role in this story. I liked how the fantasy elements didn't dominate, but the focus is Gen's character and his quest to steal something that has the potential to affect three kingdoms in this novel.

There was an interesting twist towards the end that I was not expecting at all, and I always give my respect to an author who can do that, and surprise me. I'm not a jaded reader, by any means, but I read a lot, and I've seen a lot of common plot devices; so a writer who can throw me a curve ball is always appreciated.

I have to say that this Newbury Award Winner did impress me. It's one of those stories that doesn't try to go elaborate, but has a richness that won me over as a reader all the same. Fortunately, this is part of a series, so I can look forward to more adventures in this interesting world.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Wicked House of Rohan by Anne Stuart

The Wicked House of RohanThe Wicked House of Rohan by Anne Stuart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this story. Yes it was short, but it was also sweet and very well done. I'm a sucker for the plain, aging spinster meets the rake storyline, and I think Ms. Stuart always does great with it. I don't know...Not too many writers do rakes as well as I like. But, Ms. Stuart, she definitely does. A rake is mad, bad, and dangerous to know. But the best part about a rakish hero is seeing him fall in love with the one woman who makes him want to give up his debauched, profligate ways. Hard to do in such a short format, but she managed here, in my opinion. I love her use of language, and how she built the tension so well for a short story. I'm not sure what to expect about the Heavenly Host, except they are far from heavenly. I can't say too much without spoiling the story, but it met any expectations I have for Anne Stuart's writing. I'm glad to see her writing more historicals, although I love her contemporaries too. What can I say? I love her writing, period. She writes a killer short story, says Danielle, with a happy smile on her face.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cry Wolf by Amanda Carpenter

Cry Wolf (Harlequin Presents, #1596)Cry Wolf by Amanda Carpenter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I wouldn't call this book unputdownable, I enjoyed it. It had a deep element that I don't always see in Harlequin Presents. I liked the way that Nikki could see there were two aspects of Harper that were fighting each other. The part of him that was a protector, sweet, and loving; and the predatory, domineering, take no prisoner part of him. She saw that he was in conflict, feeling like he needed to supress one over the other, and that this would be an issue in him accepting his love for her, instead of pushing her away altruistically. Nikki was young, about 23, but she was pretty mature and insightful. I loved that she was an artist. She reminded me of my mother, in fact. She was a pretty layered character. Harper was also deep and rich in characterization. I liked him from the beginning. He has that tough, strong, intense nature that I love in a hero, but also the warm, sweet, loving, caring personality that is equally irresistible. And he was a British hero. We need more Brits in the HP books! Another thing I liked about this book was that Harper was a family man. He was raising his nephew since his parents died when he was a baby. He was also close to his mother. I think Ms. Carpenter wrote this book with some elements that enriched it in a way that I wish I saw more in this category of books. This was a good book, and I wish I had read it fast, but I kept picking it up near bedtime when I was too sleepy to enjoy it as much as I could.

If you want to sample a Harlequin Presents that veers away from the whole Mediterrean/Latin billionaire playboy with the arm-candy heroine, you should check this out. I hope to find more of Amanda Carpenter's books since I enjoyed this one and The Great Escape.

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City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments, #1)City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rich, vivid, entrancing. City of Bones is all those things and more. As I read this book, I felt that sense of childhood joy that I remembered from reading C.S. Lewis' Narnia series and Madeleine L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time, and the many fairy tales and legends growing up. I found the world-building in this series without fault. I have to give it to Cassandra Clare for creating this book. It was a fantastic concept that kept me enthralled to the last page.

City of Bones is a fantasy adventure in all the best ways. The characters are interesting, made me laugh, and had quirks and distinct personality traits that made them come to life for me. The setting is another character that I thoroughly enjoyed. This is a New York hidden behind the glamour. The mundanes (regular humans) have no idea what they are missing. Just ask Clary Fray. Clary Fray lived most of almost sixteen years having no idea about the world of the Shadowhunters and the Downworlders. If she saw something weird out the corner of her eye, it was easily dismissed. Until she encountered Jace and Isabelle at a club. Jace kills a demon, who looks like a boy, or does he? That's just the beginning of Clary's adventure.

This book is a young adult book that I think most adults can enjoy just as much, especially those who have a serious love for fantasy and adventure. I thought that Ms. Clare had just the right mix of sophistication to appeal to the youth of today, and the ageless wonder quotient like classic fantasy novels to make this book zing for both younger and older readers. The sense of risk is high, and there are no guarantees that the kids in this book will be safe. They might be youngsters, but their world is fraught with dangers.

The action was intense and sometimes frightening. Ms. Clare's word choice brings every scene to life. I never felt like there was a wall between me and the events playing out in this story. I felt like I was right there for every part.

I met a whole cast of characters that I became involved with in this story: Clary, Jace, Simon, Isabelle, Alec, Magnus, Luke, Hodge, Jocelyn, Valentine, the Silent Brothers. Some I loved, and some I definitely don't love. But, I definitely want to see more of these characters.

While I truly loved this book, I must admit that part of the resolution in this book has me baffled. I am even a bit disturbed. I am truly hoping that the revelation that takes place in this book is not truly the way things were presented. Although this book doesn't have a true cliffhanger, there are some threads left unraveled which lead into the next book in the series. Honestly, I didn't want things to play out the way they did. All I can do is keep reading to hope that Ms. Clare has an ace card hidden up her sleeve. But there's not a chance I won't be reading the following books in this series. This is fantasy that is too good to miss.

If you are looking for a fantasy series that will captivate you and take you back to the golden days of children's/young adult fantasy literature, I'd humbly suggest The Mortal Instruments series. In my opinion, Ms. Clare has written a book that will be a new classic in this genre.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood

The WendigoThe Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Algernon Blackwood has been on my list of classic horror/weird fiction writers since I discovered my fascination with these old, and often lost, gems that fell in the cracks of classic literature. I have read his biography on, and he seemed like an interesting fellow. I bought a couple of his volumes for my collection, and added more to my Kindle. A few years ago, I attempted to read The Willows in an anthology, and it just wasn't our time to get acquainted. Thankfully, the Classic Horror Lovers group voted on reading this short story as a group. For, I found it to be a very good story.

Nature fascinates as much as it terrifies. I'm a nature girl. But, let's face it, I'd be almost helpless were I stranded in the wild. I like to watch "Man V. Wild" and "Survivorman", and I collect my survival guides to prepare for the coming apocalypse, the 'what if' scenario in which I have to live on the land. But, this surburban girl would be in for it, were she in the shoes of these men in this story, which is why I stay my butt at home.

Intrepid fellows (or nowadays gals, as well) who venture into the wilderness may face a mental crisis in which they lose their reason when faced with the powerful force of the uninhibited, unclaimed isolation of the wild. They may start to go crazy, and think they see things, which cannot be real. But, why, I ask, did it happen to a seasoned woodsman first, and not the naive, inexperienced young Scottish student who had accompanied him? The reason is, there is a force that lurks in the wild. The natives know to fear it. It is the Wendigo.

I admit I laughed at a few parts. Not because the writing was bad or because it was cheesy. I think I needed the release of a pressure valve. Also because, It seemed terribly bizarre to think that some wild force could essentially kidnap you, force you to run so fast your feet caught on fire, and your eyes bled. So fast, your feet burned away, to be replaced by the animal-like ones that it has. A force that could assume your very form and masquerade as you to your companions--perhaps waiting for its chance to snap them up too. Okay, it makes me shudder just writing that.

This story is pretty creepy in parts. Algernon Blackwood uses language in such a way to evoke this emotion. He paints a clear picture of the beauty of the wild, and the sinister creature that lurks within. The erudite would try to dismiss its existence, like Simpson, and his uncle, Cathcart. But the deeper part of a man, the pure, instinctual survivor, knows better than that. To know and to understand is to fear that force, the primal creature that defies explanation: The Wendigo.

A word of warning to those who like to venture into the unknown wilderness: Take great care when you go into the wild. Guard your eyes and your feet well. Don't let that fire go out for one second. Look carefully into the face of your companion. The Wendigo lurks out there.

I'm glad to have read Mr. Blackwood, and I am eager to explore more of his singular tales.

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'Salem's Lot by Stephen King

Salem's LotSalem's Lot by Stephen King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

City folk have a distinct misconception about small towns. We tend to believe that they are tranquil and innocent. That the denizens are wholesome and full of family values. But, we don't see the hidden rot that lurks beneath the sleepy facade.

Stephen King does a lot to shatter that myth with 'Salem's Lot. This a horror novel about a vampire who destroys a town from the inside out. This is a horror story about the darkness that we don't see clearly (or maybe we ignore) about our friends, families, and neighbors.

What was the most horrific part of this book for me? You're going to guess wrong. It wasn't the horror of the vampires. It was seeing a woman punch her ten month old baby in the face because he was crying. Yes, that bothered me more than any of the actual supernatural horror. I say to Mr. King that you know what fears lurk in our hearts. The dark is full of potential evil that can possess us, take over our bodies, and turn us into monsters. But, the truest monsters are the human ones. With this novel, Mr. King showed me both kinds of monsters.

Do you believe that there are no true secrets in a small town? You'd be right if you said yes. You'd be equally right if you said no. The townspeople of 'Salem's Lot know a lot more than they want to know about their neighbors, but they overlook it, ignore it, sweep the sins under the rug until the rug starts to bulge in the middle, and it won't hold those secrets back.

For example, 'Salem's Lot harbored an ex-mobster who had a penchant for devil worship. He lived in a scary house on the top of a hill, the Marsten House. It was a house that haunted Ben Mears after he went there as a nine year old on a dare. He went there, and saw something that was from his worst nightmares, but he believed even in his adulthood to be true. The evil that Hubie Marsten brought into existence never died. The house held it as a battery holds a charge. It was the perfect place for a vampire and his evil minion to set up shop in this little town.

I read the introduction to this story with interest. I love knowing how an author came to craft his or her story. Mr. King was a fan of Bram Stoker's Dracula, and he wrote 'Salem's Lot as an unofficial homage to that classic vampire novel. In my inexpert opinion, I think he did a great job. I feel that Mr. Stoker would probably nod in approval, even if he didn't get all the modern references. Mr. King wrote his idea of a vampire story, and it holds his individual stamp on it. Yet, the aspects that make Dracula such an excellent vampire novel, at least to this vampire aficionado, are clearly represented. Mr. Barlow could give Count Dracula a real run for his money as far as being a completely evil, despicable, and formidable being. His minion, Straker, could give Renfield some lessons in evil. And Matt, Ben, Jimmy, Susan, Father Callahan, and Mark could compare notes with Van Helsing, Harker, Mina, Holmwood, and Quincy. But, if Mr. Stoker would forgive me, I think that Mr. King ramped up the fear level significantly, because his world is not sentimental and endowed with as many basically 'good' people. His world is full of flawed humanity who have really nasty proclivities, although I still feared for their safety and didn't want them to succumb to the evil of the vampire that infected this town.

In this story, we learn about the heights and depths of the human condition. How a person can bounce back from despair, face his/her worst fears, and quite possibly wrap his mind around events that cannot be real to an empirical mind. We learn about what a person's limits are. Can you go into that house and do what needs to be done? Do you have the nerve? Or will you turn away and pretend it's not happening, as some members of this town do, for their own sanity? Can a thirteen- year-old boy show the bravery that a seventy-year-old man in the twilight of his life lacks? Can a non-believer trust in the symbols of a faith that held no relevance to him, in the face of an evil that defies scientific explanation? All these questions are explored in this story, with answers that might surprise you.

I deliberately read 'Salem's Lot during the day, because it is quite, quite scary. Even still, I thought about a pair of red eyes haunting me in the night. Feared for the scratching of a lost loved one against my window pane as I tried to sleep at night. Some part of me hoped that I had not inadvertently invited the wrong person into my home. If that is what makes a successful vampire novel, I'd say Stephen King has succeeded in a big way.

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Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

Poison Study (Study, #1)Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finished this book on Friday, and I took all weekend to decide what I wanted to say in my review. Let me start by saying that Poison Study is written in a very elemental fashion. If you are a reader who likes flowery, descriptive writing, this might throw you for a loop initially. The story is told inelaborately, and there is no hesitation in describing the ugliness of Yelena's situation. When I met Yelena, she was taken out of her prison cell, where she had languished for the better part of a year, and was prepared to meet the executioner. I can't say I've read too many books that started this way. I was hooked right then and there. Instead of seeing Yelena get executed, she is taken to the office of the man who will cause a profound change in her life, Valek. Yelena was offered the opportunity to escape a quick execution. She could undertake the training as a food taster, which was not without risk, and if she survived, she would spend her life risking death on a regular basis. Typically the life of a food taster is very short. But, it's a lot longer than instant death. Yelena thought things through and decided she'd rather take her chances as a food taster.

From the beginning, I was interested in Yelena's story. She was a young woman who had ended up in a very dire situation (not all of her making), but was willing to own up to the life she'd taken. She never made excuses for her actions, although the reasons were valid. With the murder she committed, she felt as though her soul had been lost. And yet, some part of her refused to give up.

This book brings to mind the aphorism that "Justice is Blind." More and more I wonder if justice really should be blind. Those who enforce the law make their verdicts on cases based on the evidence presented. Yet, they don't always consider the underlying reasons why a person commits a crime. In the eyes of an omniscient diety, this makes perfect sense, because that Supreme Being sees all things. But, humans don't have that all-seeing perception. Is it fair for a woman to be sentenced to death for trying to protect herself and her loved ones, for killing a man who brutally tortured and raped her? According to the strict laws of Ixia, murder outside of war is considered a capital offene. From the moment that Yelena took the life of the son of General Brazell, her life was forfeit.

I believe in second chances. I just do. I know that we all fall and fail, and while I think some crimes are extremely heinous, I cannot let go of my belief that everyone deserves the right to make amends. I was happy that Valek gave Yelena the opportunity to live. Yet, Yelena will face more trials with her second chance. And she is put in a position to save the Commander who she serves as food-taster, and to prevent Ixia from falling prey to a conspiracy that involves key members of the government.

Poison Study was a very readable, fascinating, enjoyable adventure. I loved seeing Yelena come into her own. It was clear that she'd always been a strong person, and her strength of character and will is what allowed herself to emerge from the fires that had potential to destroy her. Instead, she was honed by those fires and made stronger.

I'm not very good at political stuff. I have my own way of looking at things, and it makes my interpretation of political stances, parties, affiliations, and governmental structures very against type. I think it was interesting to see the inner workings of the system that the Commander had set up through Yelena's eyes. In many ways, going from a monarchy to what appeared to be a dictatorship was an improvement. However, there were many restrictions imposed on the people as a result of that same government. Opportunities were open that weren't before. The government was set up to encourage fairness and to discourage waste. The downside was, anytime you have people in a system, it's going to be flawed, because people are flawed. So this system was not perfect. Through Yelena's eyes, I was able to see this all playing out.

I started this review by saying that this book was written with a simple use of language. I found that this narrative style was a bit deceptive. You might think this story is basic on first glance, but that's far from the truth. There is a lot going on here. I liked that Ms. Snyder left it up to the reader to interpret the events through her own eyes. I like how she slowly reveals aspects of the characters until the fullest picture comes to mind. That was the best way to write about a character like Valek. When he comes on the scene, he doesn't seem that grand. He seems like a puppet in the political structure of Ixia. But, if I had continued to see him that way, I would have been missing out on a lot. You see, Valek is not the puppet. He's the puppetmaster. He is an extremely intelligent and cunning spymaster, a swordsman without equal, and a deadly assassin. He's so matter-of-fact and without flare, so you don't see him truly unless you look deeper. He holds his allegiance to Commander Ambrose very sacredly, but that doesn't mean he doesn't always agree with the rules that the Commander has instituted. That he cannot see justice done in his own way. Through Yelena's eyes, we see how the perception of Valek expands to show who and what he really is. I fell in love with him as Yelena did.

I'm a romantic at heart, and I will always be. I loved the burgeoning relationship between Yelena and Valek. How they slowly worked their way into each others' hearts, through proximity and the fact that they saw something in each other that resulted in an irresistible draw to each other. It's clear from the beginning, through the eyes of others around Yelena and Valek, and through Valek's actions, that he cherishes Yelena. It's a subtle but at the same time, pretty obvious thing. In my opinion, it took a lot of writing skill to convey this to the reader, and Ms. Snyder did an excellent job.

Poison Study was a grand adventure in the style of the classic adventure novels. The fight scenes are well-written, and the danger elements are exciting and involving. Being Yelena is a dangerous proposition, because Brazell is determined to see her dead for killing his son, and continually uses underhanded methods to do it. Also because she lives in dangerous times, and in an environment fraught with intrigue. I liked that Valek saved Yelena several times, because it showed the intensity of his regard for her, but I also liked that many other times, Yelena was able to save herself through her intelligence, quick-thinking, and through her developing skills at self-defense. Yelena views herself as a small person in the scheme of things, but she had an important role in preventing a very ugly conspiracy from coming to fruition. She effects change by doing what she feels is right, and because of that, she gains the respect of those who had previously viewed her as a cold-blooded murderess. Her actions don't occur in a vacuum, and they often result in helping/protecting others in various ways.

The fantastic elements are subtle but integral. I liked how Yelena's magic was instrinsic to her, a part of her that was dormant, emerging when she needs it. I loved seeing her become a capable and deadly fighter. She hates the idea of killing, but killing is necessary in the dangerous world she lives in. She had to come to realize this, or she couldn't love Valek, a man who kills for a living, and must do it without letting remorse weigh him down.

Poison Study was a book that I thoroughly enjoyed. Like many unexpected favorites, it snuck in there on me. But when I finished this book, I had a big smile on my face.

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Substitute Bride by Margaret Pargeter

Substitute Bride by Margaret Pargeter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am really glad someone recommended Goodreads to me. I used to keep a writing journal, but I think I missed a few entries. This is the third book within a few months that I accidentally reread because I hadn't written down that I read it. I realized on the first page that I had already read it, but it was involving, so I thought, "What the heck."

Substitute Bride was published in 1981 (I was eight when it came out!), and that's apparent when you read it. However, it isn't trite and dated in my opinion. I was drawn into this story of Emma, who is a Cinderella. Her father died and she had to go live with his sister and her promiscuous, scheming daughter, who is engaged to be married to cold and dangerous Rick Conway, a rich plantation owner from Barbados. She's running around with another man behind his back, and makes Emma cover up for her.

When Emma meets Rick, it's instant dislike. Rick isn't a very nice guy, and he's very dismissive of Emma. Also, Blanche has been telling untrue tales of Emma, who is too busy running the farm to do all the running around and partying that Blanche has told Rick that she's up to. Because of working so hard all the time, she's pale and thin, and not looking her best. For a man who with an eye for beautiful women like Rick, she's easy to look through (or so he acts).

Blanche has gown out with her in-town squeeze, Rex, and told Emma to lie about it. But Rick shows up unexpectedly, and Blanche brings Rex home with her. Blanche makes it seem like the sleazy nightclub owner Rex is dating Emma, and Emma is forced to play along with it. This contributes to Rick's poor opinion of her. He says some rude things to her and kisses her brutally, then he stalks off with Blanche. Emma has decided that she wants nothing to do with this guy again, and talked her aunt out of being invited to the wedding (rather easily since her aunt wants to save the money anyway).

Rick is supposed to be in Australia for an extended time, so Blanche goes off to Paris with Rex, and threatens Emma into lying that she's off with their sick and dying relative. However, Rick shows up and spanks (yes he does, hard to believe as it is) the truth out of Emma. Let me tell you, nothing annoys me more than a hero spanking the heroine like she's a child. Emma is too scared of Rick to give him the butt-kicking he deserves. He railroads her into marrying him and going to Paris with him to show Blanche what she gave up. Emma decides that her bridges are burned with her family and uses this marriage of convenience as an opportunity to escape from the farm and start a life for herself. She knows that Rick holds her in comtempt, but she's not too fond of him either. As long as he keeps his distance, she can handle it until he divorces her.

Rick drags Emma to Paris for the confrontation (and a mini-makeover and shopping spree), and then off to Barbados. Emma's health and looks improve as she is able to rest and eat good food, even though Rick ignores her and she's contantly digged at by his mother and sister. He goes out of town a lot for business, as well. Rick's younger brother Ben takes a liking to Emma, which provides some friendship. The trouble is Ben starts to develop feelings for her, which she doesn't return, since she has started to fall in love with her husband. Soon Miles, who is the brother of one of Rick's flames, also takes a shine to her. Rick shows up to see the two men fighting over his wife, and he decides to take her to his remote island for revenge, although Emma likes it there. He also decides to make their marriage a real one, discovering some truths about Emma and his feelings for along the way.

This is standard vintage Harlequin Presents fare. These books entertain me. I feel no shame about it. The writing is good, and the characters are well-developed. I like the sights and scenes, with the exotic locales. These are my soap operas--good drama doses. I thought that Rick was a real jerk initially. He did come around by the end of the book, but he needed someone who was tougher than him to show him how a bullied person feels. It makes you wonder why people can't see what's right in front of their faces. But a proud, hard man like him wouldn't want to fall in love with a simple girl like Emma, and he fought it pretty hard. Emma was a nice person, too nice for him. The good thing is he figures that out before it's too late, and determines to show her that he can love her the way she deserves.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Mark of the Demon by Diana Rowland

Mark of the Demon (Kara Gillian, #1)Mark of the Demon by Diana Rowland

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to thank my Goodreads friend, Jess R, for encouraging me to read this book. All she said was, Rhyzkahl was like an Anne Stuart hero, and I was there. And I am so glad about it.

Mark of the Demon gave me one heck of a read. Diana Rowland managed to take the concept of demon summoning and write a story that got past my personal hang-ups about that idea. I like that she made it clear that her concept of demons veers from the Christian concept, because I don't know if I could have been down with reading about a heroine who was dealing with Satanic demons. Okay, my hangup, not yours. But, anyway, that helped me to get on board this book.

Occult detective novels are like candy to me. I devour these things. Essentially, an occult detective novel is a mystery with paranormal aspects. In this case, Kara Gillian is a police homocide detective who has a hobby/calling of demon summoning. She does this because it's in her blood. Her aunt was a summoner, and she finds out that her grandmother was one too. When her aunt taught her this art, it helped her to get her life on track, and to find a sense of purpose, something she could feel confident about. It turns out her summoning skills, and her ability to sense arcane energy, will come in handy in investigating a series of very grisly murders by the Symbol Man.

I flat out loved Kara. She was insecure, foul-mouthed, socially awkward, but strong and intelligent, and very likeable. I like that she wasn't the resident sex bomb that all the men wanted. I get really tired of that over-used device in female lead urban fantasy (which causes me to search out male leads just for a break from it). She was very good at her job as a police officer, even though she didn't always have confidence in her abilities. I liked that she thought things through, and had a habit of 'faking it until you make it'. In other words, showing you had things under control, even if you are a shuddering wreck inside. I liked that because I often use that technique. I have to be honest, I saw a lot of myself in Kara. She hadn't had an easy or normal life. She wasn't good with people, and because of what she was, she hadn't had a busy social life as far as men. I liked that she was pretty good with being one of the guys, and handling that wall of chauvinism that women often face when they are working in male-dominated environments. She didn't act like a bimbo to get her way. She used the natural abilities and skills she had and didn't play up to men's flawed perceptions of women in the work environment.

The mystery was tightly-plotted and well-executed. I had some suspicions about who was behind the murders, but I was pleasantly surprised to find I was wrong. Although the arcane elements tied heavily into solving the case, Kara also used good, old-fashioned police investigative techniques just as much. Ms. Rowland managed to integrate her experience in criminal investigations into this story in an interesting and believable fashion.

The arcane elements were very interesting. I have zero personal interest in pursuing studies in the occult, but I find it fascinating to read about arcane/occult lore in fictional books. This story has some elements that felt unique and personal, crafted by the author to create her own world with its own rules. I liked that a lot about this story.

And then there's Rhyzkahl. Hello! Yummy much? Scary much? Yes to both questions. He's not a demon, by the way. He's a Demonic Lord, which are like the top of the top in demonic hierarchy. He's not scaly and gross with horns, either. He's hot. Really hot. I was thinking, sex with a demon? Not sure about that part. But, when I read about this very sexy, human-looking (well better than human looking since he's absolutely perfect), and smooth, polite (unless he's ripping you to pieces), and charming, the sex part didn't weird me out at all. It was more like, Wow! I can see the appeal with Rhyzkahl. I can also see why Kara is scared of him and wants him out of her life. But, Rhyzkahl has an interest in Kara. We find out what that is to a certain degree, but there are still questions there. Does he like her for who she is, or what she can do with her summoning skills? He seems kind of possessive of her. Is that a sexual thing or a power thing for him? The verdict is still out on that one. But I will keep reading to find out.

As for Ryan Kristoff? I grew to like him. At first, I was thinking, 'Stuffed Shirt.' But, he actually has an appeal. He's smart and he has knowledge in the occult world, and he ended up being a very good ally and partner to Kara. It will be interesting to see where their association goes.

Mark of the Demon is occult detective urban fantasy in all the best ways. The sensual/romantic aspects don't overwhelm the story, but tie in beautifully. The characters are appealing and life-like. I care about Kara. I want to keep reading about her. I want to see what her association with Rhyzkahl is going to bring into her life in the future. Ms. Rowland wrote one heck of a book here. Mark of the Demon gets my stamp of approval. Give it a read!

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Thursday, September 09, 2010

Ecstasy Unveiled by Larissa Ione

Ecstasy Unveiled (Demonica, #4)Ecstasy Unveiled by Larissa Ione

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Larissa Ione hit the ground running with this one, and I was along for the ride. What can I say? I loved Lore. I felt so bad for him. Ms. Ione brought him to full, vibrant life for me. I do love my assassin characters, so Lore was already in there for me. However, it was his vulnerability and his sense of loneliness which opened the door of my heart fully. I wanted to beat up Shade and Wraith for being mean to him. He needed their support, and they could hardly judge him, considering that they had some pretty unsavory pasts themselves. In fact, Lore was a bit more 'clean-cut' than both of them. Don't get me wrong. Lore is definitely a killer, but he does have a conscience. He'd rather take punishment then harm women or children. He feels a serious sense of remorse over the people he accidentally killed with his hand, which can take (or give) life with contact. It makes satiating his need for sex very difficult. Fortunately, Lore is a cambion (half-human/half-demon), so he can resort to self-gratification (which is something that the full-blooded Seminus demons cannot do). I have to admit those scenes were very sexy! I liked that he was somewhat innocent in some ways about sex (his experience was very furtive, not that satisfying encounters). He never experienced the tenderness of a true sensual encounter with someone he could touch fully and spend time enjoying.

Just when Lore is hoping that he can get himself and his sister out of the Assassin contract he has with the head of the demonic Assassin's Guild, he's given the worst job he ever imagined: He has to kill a man who he only recently restored life to. This kill will cause a serious rift in his new-found family. But, he can't refuse, or his sister will be killed instead. So, Lore is sure to make enemies out of his brothers and their family and friends. He's between a rock and a hard place.

But, he gets an unexpected ally in an Angel-in-Waiting, Idess. Idess has lived two millenia, and she's hoping she will soon gain her wings and Ascend to heaven. She must protect Primori, which are people who will have an important role to play out in the world. If she does this successfully, and lives a pure life, she can become a full-fledged angel. Her primori happens to be the man that Lore has to kill, only things shift, and she soon realizes that she has to protect Lore as well. As she keeps Lore captive and under her protection, she falls in love with the deadly assassin with a lonely heart. Things heat up between this unlikely couple, and that was nice reading. But, more importantly, I loved the bond between them. How they gave each other solace as each of them had led lives of denial. Ms. Ione did such a great job of pairing Lore and Idess. I loved them both. Idess was a tough, kickbutt woman, but also had a very warm, sweet nature. She truly believed in doing the right thing and was very dedicated to it, even with the tremendous self-sacrifices she made.

Another thing I loved about this book was the complexity of the storylines. There's not just a romance here. You see the progression of the storyline at Underworld General Hospital (UGH), which is still having problems, due to some rowdy ghosts causing damage, and an outbreak that is killing werewolves. And the real culprits behind a lot of the happenings in this book were pure evil. They made me shudder.

It was great catching up with the brothers and their mates. I really liked Eidolon in this book. Actually, I love him more and more with each book. He has a lot of qualities I admire: discipline, intelligence, honor, the ability to make peace. He is a great guy to head up this family and UGH. I do have to admit, I wanted to punch Shade a few times. He was being a jerk in this book. Although I eventually found out there was a good reason for why he was being so contrary. Lore's sister Sin is an interesting character. She's just as tortured as Lore, as the only female Seminus demon in existence (that's not as fun as it sounds). She's as hard as they come (a really tough life does that to a person), but I felt so much sympathy for her. I have a feeling her book is going to get me in the gut. Yet, I imagine I will do some laughing as she keeps her brothers (and her future mate) on their toes.

I couldn't put this book down. I know I say that often, but it's really true with this book! Larissa Ione knows how to write a very involving story. She writes very sexy stories, and the steaminess is so seemlessly integrated into the story (and not too raunchy or borderline gross). I love that she is able to have this sexy world, but have so much else going on. Her world-building is incredible, and the emotional complexity of her characters make these books fantastic reads. I find myself wanting to shake a character in one scene, and in the next, wanting to give him or her a big hug. She gives this world of demons and angels some heartiness. This is paranormal romance that I think a horror or dark fantasy fan would eat up if they took the plunge. The settings and places in these books are so vivid, I feel like I'm there (which isn't always a good thing). She's not afraid to add some blood and guts when it's warranted, but it's done tastefully. There are a lot of layers here, with demons who are good and angels who are bad, and the other way around. Yet, she hasn't abandoned classic ideas of the supernatural world that have a lot of power for me; but managed to tell her unique stories and integrate those into it very well. I am so glad that I read Pleasure Unbound and found this world she's created. They make for some hours of true reading enjoyment. Thanks for the awesome reading experience, Ms. Ione!

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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The Greek Tycoon's Virgin Wife by Helen Bianchin

The Greek Tycoon's Virgin Wife (Greek Tycoons) (Harlequin Presents, #2669)The Greek Tycoon's Virgin Wife by Helen Bianchin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Greek Tycoon's Virgin Wife starts out with a hero who has decided he's ready to settle down and get married. The perfect candidate is Ilana Girard, only she's not too eager to be any man's bride. Two years ago, she called off her wedding the day before the event. Since then, she's been called the Ice Maiden by society. She's a busy and successful fashion designer who travels in the same high society circles as Xandro due to her aristocratic parents. Ilana has some very good reasons to avoid an involvement, particularly the fact that her ex was abusive and threatened to kill her if she dates another man. Of course, she doesn't let Xandro know this. He merely thinks she's playing Lady Reluctant, but he's determined to woo this lady.

Events escalate and her ex-fiance is now full-on stalking her: leaving threatening messages on her phone, and eventually making attempts on her life. Xandro swoops in to protect Ilana, hiring a bodyguard, and moving her into his mansion. Ilana is finding it increasingly hard to resist this attractive man who shows her gentleness and loving care, the total opposite from the man she was going to marry, who beat her and tried to rape her the night before their wedding.

This one wasn't terribly exciting, but I still enjoyed it. I thought it was funny how Xandro hired another man to protect his would-be wife, instead of swooping in to do it himself. I guess billionaires don't really think about being tough guys, not when he can pay someone else to do it.

Misnomer aside, since Ilana succumbs to Xandro's seduction long before the wedding (hence, no virgin wife--more like virgin girlfriend), I liked this book.

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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Ruthless Awakening by Sara Craven

Ruthless Awakening (Presents)Ruthless Awakening by Sara Craven

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very good one if you like the old school Harlequin Presents. Ms. Craven has written Rhianna in such a way that you feel a lot of sympathy for her. Rhianna definitely got a raw deal in her young life. Her mother is reviled because of her affair with Ben Penarvon, who had an invalid wife, and her mother was hired to be her nurse. When her parents died, she ended up living with an aunt who never loved her, and treated her like a burden the whole time. She grew up as the child of the hired help on the Penarvon estate. Diaz was nice to her, and she fell in love with him as a young girl, but he catches her in a compromising position which makes her look like she's definitely following in her mother's footsteps. Her aunt puts her out and she has to make her own way in life.

Years later, Rhianna has made a name for herself playing the femme fatale on a television drama. It's pretty ironic that she has taken a role of the scheming, low-moraled vixen on the show, and in real life, some people see her that way, particularly Diaz. You see, Diaz believes she is having an affair with her best friends fiance', and has gotten pregnant by him. When she arrives to attend her friend's wedding, Diaz is keeping a close eye on her to make sure she doesn't try to destroy things for his cousin, who is Rhianna's best friend. He even kidnaps her onto his yacht the night before the wedding to ensure she can't ruin his cousin's day.

Rhianna is playing yet another role in real life. She's hiding some very ugly secrets, secrets which paint her harlot red. I asked myself why she didn't just speak up, but Rhianna had her reasons. Plus, she was afraid to follow through on her long-held feelings for Diaz. It was better for them to stay enemies than to give her heart to him. She thinks Diaz hates the sight of her, but she is very, very wrong. Diaz is an enigmatic figure. You get tantalizing glimpses of his feelings for Rhianna, but his troubled family life has caused him to play his cards very close to his chest. In the end, you truly see how much he always loved Rhianna. In that sense, he stayed sympathetic for me, even though Rhianna saw his actions in a very different light, due to the fact that she was used to feeling disliked and unwanted.

This book is yet another multi-layered story by Sara Craven. She is very good at writing stories that show you different sides of the story, and slowly assembling the pictures, so that you either confirm your suspicions, or end up with a big surprise. I thought I had this one figured out, and I did in part. But, things were even more complicated than I thought. The puzzle pieces were there, as I read, but I had no clue how the final picture would look when fully assembled. I feel like I got a very intense, involving romance, but also a dramatic story full of old secrets. These secrets kept by the parents cause a lot of pain for the children. But fortunately, they find solace and love together.

This is classic Sara Craven, and it was very well done.

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