Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sweet Silver Blues by Glen Cook

Sweet Silver Blues (Garrett P.I., #1)Sweet Silver Blues by Glen Cook

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I definitely enjoyed this book, my first read by Mr. Glen Cook, and the first of many, I think. This series is a scrumptious idea: hard-boiled noir detective with faerie creature-infused fantasy, the setting not quite urban, and not quite traditional fantasy. Mr. Cook has made his own world here, and it's a fun world. I must admit that I was a bit confused at times. The characters speak in a 'cant' that took me to some time to get the hang of. Sort of like 40s movie speak, but unique to this story, with some fantasy/magic-specific references. The narrative is on the terse side, which I do like, but at times I did have to reread to make sure I was getting the drift.

The characters stand out, particularly Garrett. He's quite the tough guy, a wiseacre, who doesn't like to take orders, but will do so if the mission calls for it. He's not infallible, which is good, but he's very capable. He's not quite a boy scout, but he does have a deeply-held sense of honor that emerges on a fairly regular basis, despite his cynical narrative voice. The secondary characters are just as interesting. In this case, Garrett's mentor is an undead corpse-like being who has lots of wisdom and smarts to make up for his decaying body. And his sidekicks are a vegetarian, lecherous elf/human hybrid, and three troll/human hybrid heavies with female names, and the inability to hold their liquor. The 'deadly dames' are two sexy gnomes, one with a bad temper, and another with a bad reputation that she happily earned. Garrett is on the hunt for his ex-flame who inherited his recently deceased friend's bequest of one-hundred thousand marks of coinage. He has to go to the toughest country in the realm, and deal with ferocious unicorns, a shifty centaur, and really nasty vampires, and other heavies of various species.

I definitely appreciate the fruits of Glen Cook's imagination on offer here, and the humor was great. It made up for my moments of confusion. Although Cook keeps the action nicely interspersed in with the often-times humorous narrative, the climax was fantastic in its intensity, as Garrett and his crew take on a whole nest of vamps.

Although I did love straight mysteries growing up, I love fantasy/paranormal mysteries even more. This book has not helped my addiction. I'm glad I've been collecting these books, because I want to keep checking in with Garrett, PI on his adventures in and around TunFaire.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

The Forest of Hands and Teeth (The Forest of Hands and Teeth, #1)The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

3.5/5.0 stars.

Why Not a Higher Rating?

*Ultimately this was a rather unsatisfying read for me. It took me a while to get engaged in the story, and to care about the characters.

*When that finally happened, then things got rather tragic. I realize that it wasn't Mary's fault, and she showed true heroism, but part of me wanted to blame her for how things unfolded. Probably not fair, but kind of how I felt.

*Mary was a bit too wishy-washy for me. She wanted Travis more than anything. No, she wanted to leave to find the ocean. No, she felt really close to Harry. What did she want? Maybe I'm being hard on her, but I just found her frustrating.

*The secondary characters seemed kind of one dimensional. The only person I saw clearly was Mary. I don't think that can solely be blamed on the 1st person POV, either. Honestly, Travis came off as wishy-washy, and less than reliable in his affections. He was the man of Mary's dreams, but he wasn't strong enough for her. He knew that though. We don't really find out what makes Travis tick until too late in the story for my tastes. Before that, he was too far in fickle-land for me. Harry had some really good traits, and I would have liked to see more of him in the narrative. I realize that Mary is all about Travis, so I can see why Harry doesn't get much screen time through her eyes, but since they were best friends growing up, I could have done with more filling in of his character.

*We are never told some aspects of the setting. I felt there was good detail in some instances, but a decided lack in other ways.

*But, I think the number one factor in my rating is the feeling of disatisfaction I had after finishing. I wondered what the point was. That hope means nothing in the end. Sacrifice ultimate counts for absolute zero? Yeah, not my kind of novel theme.

In all fairness, I think Ms. Ryan is a good writer. Her writing has an elegance I appreciated. I couldn't put this book down, although some aspects were a bit off-putting. She does zombies well. The focus on the emotional horror of zombies, and its cost on the hearts and souls of those who face this epidemic, instead of the gross-out factor. I really appreciated that, and I certainly had some hold my breath moments. I think that I would have enjoyed this story more if there was a more focused feel to it, as if the destination I was headed to counted for more than it did. If I feel this way, than I can only imagine how Mary must feel.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

A Secure Marriage by Diana Hamilton

A Secure Marriage (Harlequin Presents No 1248)A Secure Marriage by Diana Hamilton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cleo is Jade’s efficient, financially savvy assistant. But she wants to be his wife, so she can inherit her fortune. She puts her proposal to Jude in terms he can understand: mutual financial benefit. He agrees, so long as she accepts a real marriage. Cleo never allowed herself to consider Jude that way, although he’s always been an attractive man, although a bit cold-natured. But she’s going to make the most of her marriage, and she realizes that the man she married for money is the man she loves.
Unfortunately, the reason for marriage bites its ugly head, and causes Jude to lose all trust in her. Things only get worse when she tells him she’s pregnant, because he doesn’t believe he’s the father of their child.
I felt bad for Cleo. Jude walks in when her ex is trying to rape her, but he thinks she was just involved in a passionate moment of love-making. He believes that she married him to get her inheritance to finance her affair with her love, under his nose. He goes all possessive/jealous husband on Cleo, and refuses to listen to Cleo’s explanation.

Part of me could understand Jude’s hurt, especially when he reveals at the end that he was in love with Cleo for years. Of course, he assumes that she was using his feelings against him and because hard and cruel. I wish he would have had more trust in Cleo, and asked her what was going on, instead of making assumptions. On Cleo’s side, I wish she had been forthcoming about her reasons for marriage, and told Jude about her problem with her ex-boyfriend who was blackmailing her. I think she perceived it as a short-coming and a weakness. And she didn’t feel that Jude would want to be bothered with that information, because he wouldn’t have cared, if it didn’t have any bearing on their relationship. Cleo isn’t used to being cared for, or for others feeling affection and closeness to her, and when Jude pushes her away, that shrivels any hope that she has for being love. That part was sadly poignant, especially when Jude finds out the truth and believes he’s blown it with Cleo for all time, ready to give her the space he thinks she wants, since she never loved him in the first place. The end, and Jude’s declaration almost makes up for how mean he was to her, and his lack of faith in Cleo, but not quite. I thought it sucked that Jude wouldn’t even listen to Cleo, but he believed his sister when she told him what Cleo had confessed in tears about why she’d needed the money. I really don’t like a lack of trust between the couple, so that bothered me about this story.
Despite that fact, this was a good read, with a nice old school vibe. So, I got my entertainment’s worth out of this story.

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Tomorrow--Come Soon by Jessica Steele

Tomorrow -- Come Soon (Harlequin Romance)Tomorrow -- Come Soon by Jessica Steele

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you like the stories where the heroine is hopelessly misunderstood by the hero, then you’d like this one. The hero is drawn to her, but he knows she’s a ‘bad girl’ in some way. In this case, Grant thinks that Devon’s demanding, spendthrift ways lead to her father embezzling money from his company to keep her in the style to which she had become accustomed. He showed up on their doorstep the night before Devon leaves for Sweden, not for an extravagant vacation like he thinks, but for a surgery that promises to give her full use of her hip, which was injured in the car accident that killed her mother.
Devon comes back from Sweden to find that her father has been terminated from his job at Grant’s business, and will likely be prosecuted. She approaches Grant and asks him not to prosecute her father, and she’ll do anything he wants in return. His proposition is that she live with him as his mistress. Devon is willing to do this so that she can save her father from prison.

I liked that Grant wanted to be the ruthless seducer, but he didn’t really have it in him. He was clearly in love with Devon early on. He was kind of grumpy about it, but he had every opportunity to seduce her, but he didn’t take them, after he finds out that she had a bad hip and the money was spent to get her well. From that point, he does everything he can to get her to rest as she’s supposed to so she can get the all clear at her follow up.

I thought it was cute how Devon kept throwing herself at Grant so he would go ahead and fulfill his part of the bargain before her father comes back from the business trip in Scotland that Grant sent him on. Grant seems to come up with excuses for them not to be ‘together.’ Although Devon was clueless about Grant’s feelings for her, I as the reader, was not.

I really liked this book. It was a fun read. Devon was a nice girl, and Grant finally looked past his cynicism to see that, because Cupid’s bow had struck him dead center in the heart.

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A Bartered Bride by Anne Weale

The Bartered Bride (Harlequin Romance #3520)The Bartered Bride by Anne Weale

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I really liked this one. I found the writing fresh and unpretentious. The characters are pretty likable, with realistic viewpoints. For her young age, Francesca has a very good head on her shoulders. She’s a very grounded young woman, and she’s no pushover. I like that she can and does stand up to Reid, who has a very forceful personality.

I appreciated getting Reid’s viewpoint in this story. He thought he had things all figured out. It’s funny that Francesca knows herself better than he does himself, even though he’s more than ten years older than her. She’s comfortable with who she is, and doesn’t need to put on facades or to live up to what other’s expectations of her were. Granted, Reid had a lot more responsibility on his shoulders at a younger age.

However, Francesca’s life wasn’t without its bumps, despite being the daughter of a rich businessman. Her father wasn’t a good father and certainly wasn’t a good husband, despite the outward appearances of being a generous man. He was a cheater, and the whole family knew it. It probably was part of why Francesca was sexually circumspect, although I believe she used her devotion/crush on Julian, the chauffeur’s son as an excuse. Deep down, I don’t think that was really her style, even though she didn’t think of herself as an old-fashioned girl.

Only one thing bugged me about this book: Reid was pretty mean and unreasonable when he found out Francesca was a virgin. I mean, really? Are you that upset that your wife didn’t sleep around? In his words, he wasn’t looking forward to teaching her the sexual ropes. He wasn’t very nice about it, either. I think that Francesca handled it pretty well, taking his immaturity about that in stride. I think Reid needed to get over himself, and he did, with Francesca’s coaxing, thankfully.

A WTH moment was for me when he expected Francesca to sleep with him in his stuffy grandmother’s house before they were married. I think that would kill any girl’s libido, but that’s just me. In many ways, Reid was such a guy, for a banker type. But it turns out that he’s a lot more than that. I like the way hints are dropped about Reid being more than just a stuffy businessman throughout the story. Francesca and the reader come to a conclusion that Reid is more than he appears to be, and we turn out to be right.

I’m not sure I’ve read a lot of Anne Weale, but I forsee reading more of her books in my future. I found this book definitely worth my time. She’s a good writer.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Lover Unleashed by JR Ward

Lover Unleashed (Black Dagger Brotherhood, #9)Lover Unleashed by J.R. Ward

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Warning: Very Long Review!

Let me start this review of Lover Unleashed with a letter to Manuel Manello, MD.

Dear Dr. Manny:
Ah, Manny. Why did you have to go and steal my heart? You are such a darling man. Just perfect for the daughter of the Bloodletter, Payne. You even gave her a horse as an engagement present. You truly know the way to a woman’s heart. And, did I mention that you are a fantastic doctor? The Brotherhood is very fortunate to have your services.
So you found a long-lost brother, and boy do you have some things in common. Namely, you are both tough guys who are sweet as molasses down deep, and know how to take care of your women. And you’re both hot! (Clears throat and wipes glow away from brow.)
You really took all the vampires are real stuff in stride. And you have exquisite taste in women. You love a strong woman who can kick some serious butt, and a beautiful woman who glows (and I do mean glows) when she’s happy. It’s clear that you’d give her the blood from your veins, and all the sexual healing a woman needs. (yeah, you’re really good at that) And when you apply your doctoring skills to your patient, you really go the extra mile.
And then there’s the fact that you are not at all scared of a six-foot, six inches tall brother who thinks his twin sister is too young to have sex, not to mention, doesn’t think any male is good enough for her. You more than proved your worth to him and the rest of the Brotherhood, in the trenches, and otherwise.
Manny, Manny, Manny, can I add you to my ranks of favorite heroes, just because you are super-duper awesome? I had a feeling I would like you as the hero of your own book. Turns out I was right. Thanks for giving me such a fantastic story. I’ll have you know that your book is displayed with pride on my shelf with John Matthew and Rehvenge’s books. That’s a real honor. You deserve it.
I hope you will be very happy with Payne.
Love, hugs and kisses to you.

Your adoring fan,

Now Here's My Official Review!:
Well, if you didn’t notice by reading my letter to Manny, I really loved this book. I admit I was a bit apprehensive because of some of the rumors I heard. But I was a happy camper in the end. The WARDen handled some tricky issues (for me) beautifully.

Vishous and His Relationships With Jane, Butch, and Payne
I love the intimate, intense, multi-faceted relationship between Vishous and Butch. However, I am not one of the people who think that they are a better couple than Vishous/Jane and Butch/Marissa. I think Jane is absolutely perfect for Vishous. She understands him deeply, and loves him for who he is. I loved that Jane made some tough choices out of her love for Vishous, and she never resented Vishous and Butch’s close relationship. That’s a confident, strong woman for you. The right woman for Vishous. Hi Five to Jane for being awesome!

This book was a good chance to see deeper into the complicated world of Vishous, son of the Bloodletter. I loved Vishous in his book, and I love him even more now. He is one wounded guy. He doesn’t wear his pain on his sleeve like some heroes. Instead, he has buried most of it, and the other part comes out in his need for dark, twisted sex and in his formidable fighting skills against the Lessers. Since he found Jane, he realized that sex could be about love, and he put that (dark, painful sex) aside, although he still likes a little kink in his sex (which is okay with Jane). However, with his issues he faces in this book with finding out he had a sister that his mother kept from him, and with Payne’s injury and her despair about not getting better, he needs an outlet. How can he do that without betraying his vows to Jane? Also, why does he feel like he didn’t give all to Jane and show her exactly how much she means? Can this son of the Bloodletter, a dark soul who was completely rejected by both mother and father, really be worthy of a loving relationship, and still be true to who he is? All those issues were dealt with. At one point in this book, I was truly worried. I thought that V and Jane were going to fracture down the middle, and I really didn’t want that, because I love them together. I needn’t have worried. The WARDen came through for me. I was foolish to think she wouldn’t, for I know she loves these characters even more than I do.

It’s really hard to put my feelings into words here. There was something so touching about the bonds that V shares with Jane and Butch. I loved that he was able to be close to Butch without betraying his marriage bond with Jane. V and Butch have a fantastic, one of a kind relationship. I was worried about what needed to happen for Vishous at Butch’s hands, but Butch knew exactly what to do. He got right to the heart of the matter, and gave Vishous the release he needed (get your mind out the gutter).

The thing I love most about JR Ward’s writing is on evidence here. She does the interplay of emotions within and between her characters so well. She doesn’t go for the easy answer. She makes things tough for her creations, just like life is full of hard spots and crappy situations. But somehow, even though things can be bittersweet, she always gives us hope. With Vishous and Jane and Butch, I know that there is so much hope there. They will always have each other, just as Butch has Marissa (who also understands the bond between Vishous and Butch). And now, Butch and Vishous have a bond with Manny, very much about ‘brotherhood.’ In fact, this book shows that bonds of blood and friendship are what life is all about, because no man is an island. Bravo, Ms. Ward for bringing this theme to light so eloquently.
Payne and Manny:
I haven’t known Payne that long, and I met Manny briefly in one of the earlier books. But I liked what I saw of them as characters, and I liked the idea of them together when I heard that the WARDen had paired the two. I wasn’t sure how their relationship would play out, but I have to say that their courtship strikes me as one of the more romantic ones in this book series. There was a sweetness there, both characters star-struck by each other. To Manny, Payne is a beautiful woman not of his world, and way too good for him. He’d do anything to see her healthy and happy, even knowing he has no place in her world. To Payne, Manny is her beloved Healer. He is a gorgeous, worthy male, who has given her a new life. She doesn’t want to say goodbye to him, even though she knows he’s not of her world. Manny is such a gentleman, a hellren any female would want. Payne is a tough girl, but also elegant and beautiful, even if she doesn’t see herself that way. They both have insecurities that they have to deal with in order to find their way together, but they come to realize that love can make allowances for pretty much any shortcoming. I loved the sweetness of their relationship, but also the spicy sexuality of it. Talking about hot! Their short courtship steamed up my room as I read. I knew that there had better be a way for them to be together. Thankfully there was. I know that they are a couple that I want to see more of in the forthcoming books, but I also got to see them get their happily ever after, which was just what I wanted.

PS. I also like Manny’s relationship with Jane. They were both isolated people, dedicated to their professions, but they found a bond with each other in their past lives. It was good to see that this bond was renewed and strengthened in this book.
I like Qhuinn, but he annoys the crap out of me with his slutty ways. I realize it was a tremendous defense mechanism, but it got old for me. To be honest, I was glad to see Blay move on with Saxton, and stop eating his heart out over Qhuinn, although the romantic in me wanted to see these two souls get together. However, Qhuinn needed to do some growing up, and Blay needed to live his life not weighted down by his enormous unrequited love for Qhuinn. Once again, I feel the WARDen comes through here. Although there is not yet a HEA for this couple, Qhuinn is on his way to recovery. His eyes are open now. He understands that he can’t find what he was looking for in his destructive ways. He can’t hide behind the slutty, careless, Goth, playboy image, because the truth will hit him in the face eventually. Now, he has shed this hurtful façade that made it hard for me to like him, and is ready for a real relationship. However, he is willing to put his beloved’s needs before his own. This was the breakthrough I was waiting for. Now, I am eager to see these two get together. I know their book is going to be very awesome. I liked that in this book, Blay is the one who finally has someone. I think that Saxton knows exactly what’s up, and he’s okay with what he has of Blay, for as long as he has it. At the same time, he’s not unaware or unsympathetic to Qhuinn’s feelings for Blay. Sax is a good guy. I like him. It was interesting to see that Blay is the one who’s a little bit near-sighted here. He knows he still loves Qhuinn, but he also feels strongly for Sax. He feels at peace with what he has, even though his heart still beats for Qhuinn. Things are as complicated as ever, ala JR Ward! This chapter of the Qhuinn/Blay romance was very bittersweet, but I do feel optimistic for their future…finally!
The Advent of Xcor and the Band of Bastards:
Okay, at first I did not like Xcor. He’s not a nice guy…at all. And yet…..I’m drawn into his story. It’s my darned weakness for dark, dangerous guys. It gets me everytime. Already feel like the dude needs a love prescription. My mind is wondering where the WARDen will take this guy. I do like Throe quite a bit. He has the gentlemanly vibe I can’t resist. His sense of honor and justice is strong, and I like that about him. He might also be Xcor’s conscience. I like the loyalty he shows. And it’s clear that Xcor values him and the rest of his crew. He demands loyalty implicitly, but he shows that he is worthy of it, in his rough way. I definitely want to see more of these guys.
Okay, a moment of honesty here. I admit, I don’t go for ménage in romance. It’s just not my thing. But let me tell you that the three way between Xcor, Throe and the prostitute was sizzling hot. Um, wow! Let’s keep that between us, okay. I don’t want to ruin my pristine reputation here. (very big grin)

Final Thoughts:
I always worry before I start the newest book by one of my favorite authors. What if my high expectations for their writing are let down? What if the story and I don’t get along? I shouldn’t have worried here. I didn’t feel let down at all. In fact, If I had one complaint, it’s not even a fair one. If only these books could be longer. Even though I’m happy with what I get, I just want more. More romance, more magic, more everything, because she does it so well. I felt as though I only got teasing glimpses of the rest of the gang. It’s not enough. I just want more! That’s how she keeps us hooked, with the teases and the shots of her awesomeness. But that’s okay with me. I’m a loyal customer, and I can’t wait for the next book!

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

My Sunshine by Catherine Anderson

My Sunshine (Kendrick/Coulter/Harrigan #6)My Sunshine by Catherine Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like the sun comes up after a dark night, so love comes into the hearts of those who thought that they had no chance at being loved. Catherine Anderson has made this kind of story her stock and trade, and she truly does it well.

In this heartwarming story, Laura Townsend is the unsuspecting heroine who will find love in a very unlikely place. Five years ago, Laura had a great life: an exciting career, a boyfriend, and lots of friends. Until she hit her head in a swimming accident, and obtained irreversible brain damage in the process. Now, she’s barely making ends meet with her disability, and various odd jobs. Her grandmother and her friend Mary Coulter suggest interviewing at Mary’s sons’ veterinary clinic. Laura loves animals, and taking care of them is something she can do really well, so long as she is not required to do a lot of reading. Her anxieties about not being able to do that are the only part that has her worried.

She never, ever thought that the gorgeous, successful, intelligent clinic owner, Dr. Isaiah Coulter could fall in love with her, even if she loved him in return. But she was wrong.

Isaiah is a busy man. He loves his job as a veterinarian, even if he has so much work that he doesn’t even have time to eat. He agrees to consider hiring the brain-damaged young woman who is his mother’s friend’s granddaughter, but he makes no promises that he’ll hire her. She has to be able to do the job. His brother and he cannot afford to carry dead weight at their hospital. He’s sure that she won't even make it past the interview. When he sees her, he realizes how badly he’s stereotyped mentally-handicapped people, and he’s a big enough man to admit it. Laura has a beauty, a light and a sweetness, bringing joy to his life, and she’s incredible with the animals. She takes wonderful care of them and they love her back. She also takes care of the clinic employees, feeding them and making the clinic a warmer place for her presence. His life with Laura in it will never be the same. Before, his mind was focused on medicine. He didn’t even have time for dating. But each day he spends with Laura, opens his mind up to different possibilities. Even though he tells himself he’s not ready for marriage and a family, images of settling down and having a life with Laura seem to play constantly in his brain. And he admires Laura. She’s lost a lot, but worked hard to regain her independence, and to compensate for her lost ability to speak, and read words and numbers. She impresses Isaiah with her generous nature, her intelligence, and her determination. He comes to see that his life without Laura means nothing, because she brings such joy to it.

But there is someone who wants to sabotage Laura’s reputation at the clinic, and have her out of the picture. Does Isaiah trust Laura enough to believe in her integrity, and her commitment to doing what’s best for the animals in her care?

To my great joy, Isaiah did trust Laura. Even when the evidence was stacked against him. It made me livid to see how this person was sabotaging Laura (hurting animals and people in the process). And some people found it too easy to believe that just because Laura suffered from aphasia, that she was stupid and irresponsible. Honestly, I am glad I read Isaiah’s brother, Tucker’s book (Sun Kissed) before I read this one, because he really annoyed me. He was very judgmental and dismissive of Laura. His advice to Isaiah to break up with Laura was just about the last straw for me. I liked him in his book, but I didn’t end this book being such a big fan of his.

I think that the portrayal of how the mentally handicapped are perceived was daring, but truthful. Through Isaiah, I question my perceptions of mental disability. I have heard of aphasia, but I haven’t encountered someone with this disorder. Even though Laura was no less intelligent, she couldn’t communicate as well, so people would assume she was a stupid person, and some treated her that way. One would hope that people wouldn’t hold that against a person, or judge them. But Laura had faced prejudice. Her boyfriend broke up with her because of her disability, and her friends stopped calling. Although her family was loving and supportive, they had their own lives to live. Thus, Laura was trapped in a lonely world, other than her grandmother and the animals she adored. Working at the clinic opened her life to possibilities, and showed her that although her past career as a scientist was over, her ability to lead a productive, happy life was not. Isaiah was a darling guy. He truly wanted to make Laura happy, and accepted and loved her for who she was. He wasn’t ashamed because she had to speak slowly, and couldn’t read writing as easily as others. He was patient with her need to spend a lot longer at tasks others might find easy. But this wasn’t a one-way relationship. Laura takes great care of Isaiah, turning his house into a home, making sure he eats well, and has clean, neat clothes to wear. Although his stupid brother tells him he wouldn’t be happy with a woman of Laura’s shortcomings for long, Isaiah knows that it’s just the opposite. She’s the woman he had been waiting for his whole life.

This is another favorite, sweet, inspiring romance from Ms. Anderson. She has way with characters, writing lovable heroes and heroines you are happy to see fall in love. Once I started this book, I literally didn’t want to put it down. Definitely a keeper for me.

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Behind Closed Doors by Shannon McKenna

Behind Closed Doors (McClouds & Friends, #1)Behind Closed Doors by Shannon McKenna

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

My sister has talked about how much she loves this book for years. I can see why she likes it. It was thoroughly entertaining!

My Thoughts:
*Ms. McKenna is a very good writer. She uses words very elegantly and beautifully. This book surprised me with its imagery. I liked the motifs of Seth as the cold, dark knight who wanted badly to win the sweet, beautiful princess locked in her tower. He wanted to save her from the darkness around her, and even herself. I think that this fairy tale theme illuminated what could have been a very dark story.
*Seth is a one of a kind hero. There were times I thought he was a real jackass, pardon my French. He is rude, rough, domineering, and unforgiving. Other times, there was a scared, lonely little boy inside of him so in need of love. That's what made me like him. I love stalkerific heroes, no question about it. But, it was pretty edgy how he was recording Raine, bugging her house and her person. Also, he was pretty rough in bed sometimes for my tastes. I liked that Raine seemed to know how to deal with him in a way that made the dark, cold brute go away, and the sweet boy come to life. I liked how she would touch and pet him, her gentleness knowing how to calm him like a animal that had turned vicious out of abuse. I liked how much he needed Raine. He didn't know how to love, or how to express it, but he somehow managed to do that anyway, with her help. His declaration of love was so sweet, it brought tears to my eyes. I can't say that Seth is one of my favorite heroes, but I did come to like him and understand him. I understand how a hard life like his could turn someone cold and isolated. I think that Ms. McKenna did a great job of showing how Raine's love broke that permafrost and freed the man inside. I loved that Seth is a tech-geek. He really knows his stuff. I didn't mind his social awkwardness, for the most part, although I disliked some of the rude things he said to Raine (and his lack of trust in her at times). Although Seth is definitely an uber-alpha (very domineering and kind of mean about it), he turned out okay in the end. I saw him grow and I saw his pain and yearning for love and peace, which is what I needed to like him.
*Boy does this author know how to write steamy love scenes. I could do without the frequent use of the 'c' word for the female anatomy (I hate that word), but otherwise, she managed to write the encounters between Raine and Seth as volcanic-hot, but also deeply romantic (even though I thought some of the encounters were a bit on the rough side, it helped that Seth would back down when Raine showed him that he was coming on too strong). At the same time, it was clear that he wanted to please her and for her to be wild and free in her sexuality (which was something she wanted too). I think the love scenes furthered the story beautifully, showing the dynamic between Raine and Seth, and how it changed as their love connection blossomed. Also, there was real communication there, a lowering of barriers, something that was not easy for either character.
*Raine was an adorable heroine. I didn't expect to find one in a romantica read. I have this impression that the heroines would be more jaded and hardened, which is not something I prefer in a heroine, unless it is well done and fits the story. Raine was a very sweet, gentle, loving person. At times, I thought maybe too good for Seth. But, I realize that she is the perfect woman for Seth. She really saw his heart and wasn't afraid to be vulnerable when needed, but also showed backbone and stood up to him and showed she was no pushover. I liked her journey to find her strength and to conquer her tormented past. Seth was willing to kill her dragons, but she did most of that on her own. And she tamed the biggest dragon of all--Seth. I really liked her.
*The suspense elements were pretty dark, which is okay with me, although there was some sexual stuff that was a bit out of my comfort zone, and thankfully not a huge part of the story. And I was glad that wasn't in Raine and Seth's relationship. Victor Lazar was an interesting villain. He had depths that made him very intriguing, and he showed that even a bad man can love. His dynamic with Raine was quite fascinating. I ended up feeling sad for the guy. However, Novak is a piece of slime, and I think he got off lightly, considering.

I really enjoyed this book. It was my backup/gym book, but I ended up devouring it, because I couldn't put it down. I am glad my sister and some of my other friends talked this one up. Because I was quite impressed with this book, I'd give it 4.5/5.0 stars. I will read more of Shannon McKenna, although I appreciate my sister's warning that her other heroes are more dominating and overbearing than Seth. I know I will have to be in the mood for that. Even so, Connor's book is calling my name....

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Morgan Wade's Woman by Amii Lorin

Morgan Wade's Woman (Candlelight Ecstasy, #11)Morgan Wade's Woman by Amii Lorin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Morgan Wade’s Woman took me back to the category romances I read back in the day, from the library growing up in the Chicago suburbs. They had a shelf of them, and you could take them, read the books, and bring them back, trading them out for other ones. My sister and I must have read every Harlequin-type book they had. Although I never read this one, it brings back fond memories.


Samantha’s father has just died, and she found out that obtaining the five million dollar inheritance her father left her depends on her getting married before she turns twenty-five. If she doesn’t get married, she gets nothing but a monthly allowance, and a home with her stepmother. Samantha hates the fact that she is going to be forced to get married, but she doesn’t want to be dependent on her step-mother. When she goes to visit her old school friend Barbs in Nevada, she meets Barbs' husband’s friend, Morgan Wade. He’s not like the usual type of guy that she dates. He’s rugged, tough, and dangerous. He makes her feel uncomfortable, and alive in the way none of her previous boyfriends have done. Barb suggests asking him to marry her, and she agrees, although she has serious misgivings about it. She thinks that Morgan has agreed to a passionless marriage of convenience, but Morgan has other ideas all along. Soon, he has seduced her into his bed and her heart. Can she deal with the fiery love and desire she feels for her husband, and the loss of control that being Morgan Wade’s Woman brings her?

My Thoughts:

Sam was a bit too remote and controlled for me, except for when her temper erupted (I usually like this sort of heroine, but something about Sam didn’t quite appeal to me as much as I would have liked). She was the finishing school, polished, rich girl type, which works for me sometimes, and other times, not so much. Morgan was somewhat hard to get a fix on. He definitely had that hard as granite Western man thing going on that I like. He’s in the old school mode, the tough alpha hero who answers to no one, and takes what he wants. That’s not to say he’s rapey. He isn’t, although he’s probably a little too forceful for some readers, especially those who prefer the modern heroes. When he takes Samantha to his bed, she’s reluctant emotionally, but willing otherwise. So it’s more of a seduction scenario. He definitely has a jealous streak a mile wide, threatening to kill any man who touches Sam. And he doesn’t let Sam walk all over him, although she gives as good as she takes from him. And with their mutual fiery tempers, that can end up making for some blazing rows between this married couple. That’s when they aren’t hardly even talking to each other, and spending long time periods apart. I wanted for Sam and Morgan to communicate more than they did about their feelings. They didn’t quite have a big misunderstanding, just a phenomenal disconnect about the feelings they had for each other. They both can't believe that they are loved by each other, and they do foolish things to prove they don’t care about each other, like trying to cause jealousy when they spend time at their society dos with other people in their social circle. Sometimes, I’m cool with that storyline, but it was a tad tedious as I read this story. Not enough to ruin the book, but enough to keep this one from being a five star book.

Of course, this was written in the early 80s, so the hero and heroine both smoke and drink quite a bit. It may be shocking to modern readers that Sam both drinks and smokes while she’s pregnant. I admit it threw me for a loop, as I thought about how bad that is for a fetus. Back when this was written, they didn’t really know that, so I can’t hold that against Sam.

Sam’s life seemed kind of aimless. She didn’t do anything really. She was the daughter of a rich man, so she was definitely the socialite type. It was clearly a big change to be the wife of a hard-working rancher. She cooked and cleaned a little, smoked, swam, and visited. I think I would go crazy if I had that kind of lifestyle. She did seem to be going crazy at times.

What I liked:

• I liked that Morgan was the tough, Western type (which I said above). He was a very alpha kind of guy, but he wasn’t unlikeable about it. At least, he wasn’t too rough and hard for my tastes, and I never got a cruel vibe from him. Yes, he was on the controlling side, but Sam wasn’t the wimpy kind of heroine, so she could handle a guy like Morgan very well. After they have a really rough sexual encounter, he feels bad about it, and apologizes, although Sam gave as good as she got (she might have gotten bruises, but he had scratches and a bite). I also liked that he adored Sam (although of course, he doesn’t vocalize that until the end). You find out towards the end how much he didn’t need to marry Sam, but he did it because he felt an instant love/lust for her. In a way, his controlling, demanding way with her showed his love (Yes, I know that sounds messed up, and I know in real life that doesn’t equal love, but in this book, it did show Morgan’s feelings of love. He was the kind of guy who took care of what was important to him. So, his taking care of Sam was his way of showing his devotion to her). Sam was likable too, for the most part. I liked her pluck and her kindness, and the way she went home to face the music instead of running away from her husband and her feelings for him.

• Although the love scenes aren’t descriptive, the author manages to convey all the intense passion of their relationship. Nowadays, when books are so much more open door about sex, too often, I find there just isn’t real chemistry between the characters, even with the vivid, color by numbers love scenes. Sex seems too casual and kind of empty as I read a lot of the modern romances. I admit I like a lot of things about the current romances, but this is not one of those things.

• There’s just something about these old school romance books that is so much more intense, making for a more exciting read. I felt this way about this book, although I did wish the characters actually talked about their feelings more.

• It’s kind of funny reading the older books and seeing what fashions were in vogue then. I admit I do change the hair styles and update some of the clothing that seems really lame. There are a couple of scenes in which Morgan is wearing a white denim suit, and I just couldn’t go there. I’m sorry! And it sounds like Sam got her hair cut in a mullet, so I had to fix that in my head too.

I’m glad that one of my friends recommended this book to me. It was definitely worth tracking down and reading. I have a soft spot for jealous/possessive heroes, and Morgan definitely fits the bill. Thanks, Jennyg!

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Sierra Bride by Jenna Kernan

Sierra BrideSierra Bride by Jenna Kernan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this book a lot. It’s different from the other two books by Ms. Kernan that I have read and enjoyed, but that’s good. I like to see an author doing different things and mixing it up. One thing that was similar, and the most important thing, is Ms. Kernan’s ability to write a story that engages me, and her penchant for troubled characters falling in love with each other.

My thoughts:
• Sam was a sexy guy. He had charisma. I loved that Sam built himself from the ground up, from a very troubled past. He did something to survive that really tortured him, and made him feel unworthy of love. He wasn’t always the most honorable guy in the way he interacted with Kate, but he still showed her a lot of TLC, which counts for more in my book. Normally, I don’t like mistress storylines very much. Sam didn’t have honest intentions towards Kate initially, which bothered me. He saw the fire in her and thought she was sexy, so he wanted to get her into his bed. He didn’t really think about that being the last thing a woman who was trying to stay respectable would need. That struck me as being a little selfish of him (although he was more than willing to provide for her material needs), which made me unhappy with Sam. However, it was clear that there was a powerful attraction between Sam and Kate, and that had me interested. As I continued to read, I could see why Sam avoided marriage. He had two reasons: fear of commitment because of being rejected by the family who adopted his brother but left him because he was older, and also because of his feelings of unworthiness as a person. Ms. Kernan did a good job of showing that Sam was a down-to-earth guy, who might not have had a formal education, but he was smart and motivated. Who could ask for anything more in a hero? Although he was a rich man with access to anything he wanted, he was still an earthy man, which was very appealing! And he lacked the one thing he truly needed, the love and devotion of a good woman.
• Kate was tough, a survivor. She was also giving and self-sacrificing. She had scars from the loss of her family, and the fact that she felt responsible for her sister being blind. Also, from her marriage to a controlling, bullying man who used her for his own gain, and destroyed her reputation with his swindling ways. She was happy to be free and independent again, even if it made for long days and uncertain finances. She saves Sam’s life, and for her thanks, she gets pursued by him to be his mistress. At first, Kate says no, but her aunt will lose her house if she doesn’t go through with it. In any case, a temporary mistress stint would allow her freedom that being trapped in marriage had denied her the first time around. Although she agreed to be Sam’s mistress because of the financial necessity her family faced, she liked him and was very attracted to him. I like that Kate stood by Sam, even after finding out his terrible secret, and when he’s in danger from his competitors. She actually ends up saving Sam’s life twice. What a woman!
• The chemistry between Kate and Sam was hot. The love scenes were very passionate and fiery! I like how Sam was patient about Kate’s fears of intimacy, and cared about her pleasure, which wasn’t the case with her loser, deceased husband.
• Sam and Kate were both sweeties. I also liked Sam’s best friend, Cole. Sam and Cole’s friendship survived some truly horrible events, which is great, since we all need friends who will stand by us thick and thin.
• I must add that I liked the action/adventure elements very much. What’s a good western without one shootout? And the flood was a nice bonus. Another area in which Ms. Kernan excels.

Although I thought I would like this book, just based on my past experience reading Jenna Kernan, it was also a surprise that I found so many hidden depths to this story and our hero. Sam is one of those tough guys that I feel is just begging to be hugged, even if he doesn’t know it

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Vampire Sheikh by Nina Bruhns

Vampire Sheikh (Harlequin Nocturne, #105)Vampire Sheikh by Nina Bruhns

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Can I admit now that I am a sucker for sheikh books? How about a vampire sheikh? Technically, he’s a demigod high priest of an ancient Egyptian cult. He has a long name, but it’s easier to call him Seth, so I shall. Seth is all powerful, gorgeous, and very sexy. But he has a weakness. He needs blood, at least once a year to survive. The Haliday sisters have caused him no small amount of trouble. First of all, his promised blood sacrifice ran off with his best friend, and she was the middle sister. Now, the eldest sister, Josslyn, has arrived at the temple door, confronting him and demanding her sisters back. The light bulb goes off in Seth’s head. Why not take this sister as his blood sacrifice? She’s annoying and she needs to be silenced anyway. He can use her for blood (and maybe some hot sex as well), and make her a slave or follower in his cult. Joss believes that Seth will set her sisters free if she willingly provides the blood that this strangely gorgeous vampire dude needs, so she hands herself over. Trust me, that’s not as bad as it sounds.

This was one steamy story. The sexual tension was off the charts between Seth and Joss.

The bite of a vampire is one incredibly potent aphrodisiac that leads to lots of bliss for Joss. But Joss also discovers that she likes spending time with this immortal man who’s lived 50 centuries and has many tales to tell about the ancient Egyptians. Not only is he gorgeous and a great lover, but he’s kind of lonely and he's very erudite and filled with long-lost knowledge, appealing to this woman who spent most of her formative years in Egypt and loves it like her native land.

The magic part was interesting and Nina Bruhns enraptured me with the spells and the supernatural aspects of Seth’s world. I especially loved when Seth would shapeshift into an enormous black lion and take Joss on a ride across the midnight desert. I must admit that Egyptian mythology makes my head spin. It’s so complex, so I was a bit lost with those aspects. However, this story screamed unique and different, a departure from your standard vampire tale.

I also liked that there were two romances for the price of one in this book, both playing a huge role in the overall story. Seth’s adoptive sister Nephtys agreed to be the consort of Seth’s sworn enemy to save her brother. He’s also the man who stole her virginity and sexually enslaved her for many years. She loves him, although he’s used to playing the ‘bad guy’. Nephtys is torn between her loyalty to her brother, and her love for his sworn enemy. Ray is the demigod high priest of the opposing cult to Seth. His god is the god of light, whereas Seth serves the god of the dark and the chaos. Yet, it’s not as cut and dried as it seemed. Light doesn’t translate to good, and dark doesn’t translate to evil. They are just opposing forces, but not necessarily incongruent. Can Nephtys find a way to sow seeds of peace between her brother and her destined lover? Loving both men doesn’t have to mean betraying one or the other, or does it?

Admittedly, with the hyperbolic descriptions of how powerful both demigods were, and the otherworldly elements, the concept seems a bit silly at times, but the execution turned out pretty well. Certainly, it was different from the usual paranormal offerings, which is a plus. The romance was believable; and I quite liked the family aspects, with Joss and her sisters and parents, and how dedicated Seth was to his followers and friends. Even Ray, who was seemingly the big bad, also had his soft spots, particularly for Nephtys. All in all, Vampire Sheikh was a good read.

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The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett

The Warded Man (Demon Trilogy, #1)The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At times, I believe that humanity is doomed to destroy itself. Actually, I feel that way a lot, although it saddens me. Which is why I prefer reading fiction that is hopeful, or with humans triumphing over the destructive forces within them or around them. Tales in which the monster of the story is a fantastical beast of the inhuman variety, defeatable, even if it requires cost and sacrifice on the part of people.

I couldn’t even imagine living in a world in which every night, demons take over, and prey on humans. Fear becomes the primary motivation. One’s life is lived around the rising and setting of the sun. The only thing that protects humans from the demons is the wards, which must be assiduously maintained. That is the existence of the characters in this book, and it affects them all in different ways. Surprisingly, despite this ever-present menace, people still manage to have their own little dramas, squabbles, and tendencies to treat each other poorly. You would think that human spirit would triumph in these dark circumstances? Not so much. Or maybe it does. You’d have to stay tuned to see.
The Warded Man focuses on three main characters: Arlen, Leesha, and Rojer. Both Arlen and Rojer lost their mothers to the demons, their lives and futures shaped by these ugly experiences. Leesha’s mother is like her own personal monster. She’s harsh, cruel, amoral, selfish, and scheming. Leesha has vowed to be nothing like her. She finds a calling as the apprentice to the Herb Gatherer (the healer of all diseases and wounds) in her town, a way to find meaning in her life, other than being wife to the man who told lies on her and ruined her trust and her reputation along with it. Her decision to work with Bruna, the ancient Herb Gatherer for her little town, will lead her onto a path that intercepts with Arlen and Rojer’s path, and it won’t be an easy journey for any of these three people.

Although this story started out slow, and I was dismayed at depictions of human nature at its worst, ultimately I was vanquished by this engrossing story. It was a slow conquest initially. I found myself wanting to keep reading, and after a while, I couldn’t stop reading. The demons were very scary, and their attacks on the humans downright horrific. The sense of entrapment, fear, and the lack of options in the face of a supernatural threat that seems unbeatable really got to me. I wanted to see someone find an answer. I wanted someone to step forward and to find a way to prevail against the demons.

People have been waiting for the Deliverer to come back to protect them from the demons. Will the Deliverer come, or will the people have to save themselves? This story might be about demons on the surface, but deep down, the real theme of The Warded Man is the everyday sort of courage. The courage that keeps a person going without losing hope, and giving in to the darkness. A very important lesson that this book taught me is that the hero is within you. You can’t always wait on someone else to save you. You have to save yourself. And once you’re ready to do that, you might find that you can help others to do the same for themselves and for those who are in need of help and who truly are incapable of fighting for themselves.

This could have easily been a loss for me had the story been written differently. Bloodthirsty demons preying and always destroying people, seeing the good guys never win, doomed to continually destroy themselves and each other, and unable to triumph over the obstacles that they fight against, has no appeal to me. But seeing people fight back, taking back the night and renouncing the power that fear can hold over a person, now that interests me.

And I have to admit, the Warded Man was absolutely cool as all get out. He was a total bad*ss, a man who created himself from scratch, and wears the scars to show for it. Together with Leesha, and Rojer, they make an awesome team. If I ever had to fight demons, I will call them in for my reinforcements. They are my kind of demon hunters. This story inspires me to fight my own demons in my everyday life. And that’s the kind of hopeful message I need right now.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Her Irish Warrior by Michelle Willingham

Her Irish Warrior (MacEgan Brothers #3)Her Irish Warrior by Michelle Willingham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I felt as though I traveled back to medieval Ireland when I read this book, which is definitely a plus for this history buff. Ireland in the Normal conquest is an under-utilized setting. I felt as though I learned some things about the ancient Irish, which is always good, especially when the lesson comes in an enjoyable story.

Bevan is a man who lost much of what he loved in his life. His beloved daughter dead from fever, and his wife burned to death in a Norman raid. And his land appropriated by some of the Norman invaders. He is determined to take his keep and lands back, and that’s how he meets Genevieve. Genevieve is on the run from her betrothed, a man who beats and abuses her physically. She has smuggled missives back to her father in England, but she can’t wait any longer to be rescued, sure that Hugh will kill her or rape her soon. She begs the rough-looking Irish warrior she encounters to save her, but he walks away (he is afraid he will endanger his mission and his men). Later on, he breaks into the keep (having determined he will help the woman), and is captured. Genevieve helps to free him, and gets a beating from her betrothed for her trouble, which Bevan reacts to by beating up Sir Hugh. Her only choice is to flee with the Irish warrior.

Bevan has no desire for another woman, even one as beautiful and as brave as Genevieve, although she is one of the hated Normans. He buried his heart with his beloved wife Fiona, and he is determined to remain true to her. But he cannot stand to see a woman be beaten. Bevan asserts that no honorable Irishman would lay a hand on a woman, and it’s just another reason to despise the Normans. He offers her safe passage back to England to her parents, although Genevieve fears that Bevan will fight against her father and his men, for the keep that is now her dowry.

Bevan is the brother of one of the kings of Ireland. There is a high king and smaller kings (probably what would be considered a duke or lesser peer in England). His brother, King Patrick, has determined to make a marriage alliance with Genevieve’s family. Bevan ends up between a rock and a hard place, especially when England’s King Henry and the High King of Ireland agree to the match. Either that or the evil Sir Hugh will gain his lands and Genevieve as his wife, and will surely kill her with his brutality. Genevieve agrees to the marriage, even knowing that Bevan cannot love her the way she wishes, and does not want a real marriage with her, only the alliance. However, Bevan cannot keep her heart closed to the loving, courageous woman he married.

My thoughts on this story:
I had mixed feelings about Bevan. He was a very honorable man, capable of loving very deeply. I truly respected his faithfulness to his wife. You don’t see that many heroes who remain devoted to their departed spouses the way he does. However, I wish he hadn’t taken so long to open his heart to Genevieve. It’s clear that she is a really good woman for him, and his younger brother Ewan actually thinks she’s more devoted and loves him more than Fiona ever did. This is one of those books where the character has this false perfect image of their past spouse that the hero or heroine has to break past. It made me sad how Bevan hurt Genevieve again and again by pushing her away. Initially, Genevieve is afraid of men after how Hugh beat her and hurt her, but Bevan is kind and takes care of her so well, that he works his way into her heart. Now Genevieve has to break down the walls around Bevan’s heart, and show him that he can love again.

This was a good book. I found myself sucked in from the beginning. Genevieve and Bevan had excellent chemistry. I found Hugh to be a despicable villain, and I wanted him to get his just deserts, after seeing him beating and hurting Genevieve the way he did. I was afraid that her father would take Hugh’s side, but fortunately, he didn’t, standing by his daughter and believing her when she said Hugh was abusing her. I can’t imagine a father who would willingly let his daughter get abused by a man, so I was glad Genevieve’s father wasn’t like that.

I enjoyed this book. I liked reading about medieval Ireland, which had some customs and ways of looking at things that were distinct from England at this time. I liked both of the characters. The romance between Genevieve and Bevan was engaging, and I felt their emotional struggles and anguish. It was good to see Bevan grow to acknowledge his feelings for Genevieve and make those gestures she badly needed. He had to learn that his love for Fiona didn’t have to close his heart to loving again. I’m looking forward to reading about the other MacEgan brothers, particularly Ewan. I have a feeling he’s going to grow up to be quite a warrior. It should be interesting to see the woman he ends up with.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sin Undone by Larissa Ione

Sin Undone (Demonica, #5)Sin Undone by Larissa Ione

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am really sad to see this series concluding, although I am happy to see everyone get a satisfying ending. To be honest, I wasn’t that enamored with either Sin or Con when I met them in Ecstasy Unveiled. I didn’t like the closet hookup, and the uneventful sex; and I wasn’t sure I could buy them falling deeply in love in their book. But, I figured that Ms. Ione would have something up her sleeve to turn things around. And she really did.

Sin is a hard person, toughened and disappointed by life. I can totally understand why. It’s bad enough to be a man who is a slave to his desires, but for a woman, that’s probably even worse. Especially when you have inbred trust issues from having a mother who hated you and wanted you dead. Sex requires intimacy. Intimacy requires trust. Imagine having to have sex daily without being able to trust anyone? That’s Sin’s life. And you know how hypocritical men are about women who ‘sleep around’. It’s fine for a guy, but a woman who does it is a slut, and she doesn’t deserve their respect, and they show it, even though she chooses to share her body with them. I think that sucks. So, yeah, I get Sin’s issues. Surprisingly, I liked her early on in this book, and loved her by the end of the book.

As for Con, I really didn’t like him after the bet he made with Luc. Talking about callous. I think he did have some reason to be unwilling to get involved, but not as much as Sin. Even still, it was good to see him learn to love a woman more than he loved his freedom, or holding onto his belief that he could move on, and change out things in his life at will. Even though he was being Mr. Double Standard by pushing Sin to open up and allow her to feel, but not wanting to commit to anything out of a deep-seated fear of loss. But Con has to learn the hard way that you can’t close yourself off from people out of fear of loss.

I really like how Ms. Ione writes these books. They are highly sexual, but that’s just a layer of the story. Although she writes sex very well, she doesn't leave the romance behind to be forgotten; and there’s so much more going on and to be interested in. This series is about family, about realizing that one has a place in this world, connections. That what you thought about the world being black and white truly doesn’t represent the world very well. The world is so full of shades of gray, and even more, colors. It’s more about perspective than there being one answer, and one path. And love isn’t denied to anyone.

When I read the first book, Pleasure Unbound, I was pretty fascinated with this world of demons that Ms. Ione put on paper. After five books, I am still impressed. The world-building in this series is out of this world, and it only expanded with each book. That’s part of why I’m sad to see it ending, because I think there are a lot of stories to tell in this world. However, I am glad that she’s going to take things in a different direction in this same world with the Lords of Deliverance, and I am intrigued with how she introduced that series in this book. Sin Undone successfully fed my paranormal addiction and left me yearning for more. That’s five for five, Ms. Ione!

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Saturday, April 09, 2011

22 Indigo Place by Sandra Brown

22 Indigo Place (Loveswept, #154)22 Indigo Place by Sandra Brown

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of my sister's favorite books, which always makes me want to read a book, since she has good taste. She's usually not wrong about the books she raves about. The other night, I decided to give it a read, since it has a flower on the cover, I needed a pure, happy romance book to get my mind off of darker thoughts, and it would meet my Spring challenge. I was glad I did. I love the old school romance books. They seemed to build up the romance story in a more believable fashion. As well as the chemistry. I must say Sandra Brown did a great job. She built up the sexual tension expertly in this book. Each scene and interaction, both in the past and the present, showed the attraction between Laura and James. Their kisses and caresses escalated that tension until they consummate. I miss that feeling of expectation of when they finally will do it, instead of the more prevalent insta-sex of today, which really just makes the romance fizzle before it begins. After they have sex, what's the point really in reading the romance? I like the romance to come first. But that's just me.

Other things I liked about this book:
*There is something about Southern-set books. The ambience of that location, with all the societal aspects, the simmering heat, and the conventions of Southern folk. I could smell the gardenia and honeysuckle, taste the sweet iced tea, and feel the humid breeze against my skin. It is a clever metaphor for the heated sexual attraction between the characters that is burgeoning right under my eyes as I read.
*I love books where the H/h knew each other growing up, although they didn't get together, merely flirting around, or having the unconsummated attraction that will culminate when they reunite later on as adults.
*The bad-boy made good storyline: Although I didn't like the snobbery that Laura showed initially against James, I liked the dynamic of Laura and James having been in different social spheres. James was the son of the town drunk, and Laura the daughter of one of the town's more prominent families. James was pretty much like James Dean in the old 50s movies, a greaser with a bad attitude. But he was always a hard worker, just dealing with more pain and rage than a young man can carry and still have peace in his heart. It was good he shook the dust of his hometown off his feet and set off to make a life for himself, and his fortune. And he created his darling little girl, Mandy, who needs a mother. Good thing Laura is there to fill that job. James had a master plan of coming back to his hometown and making a good reputation for himself. Laura's found out that her father left her a mountain of debts and has to sell her house. It's a heartbreaking decision for herself, especially when she has to sell it to James, who she doesn't think is good enough for it. Things change in her thinking, and I was glad that she was able to open her heart and mind (although James had always been in her heart, even if he was way 'too bad, too experienced, too everything' for her). James sure has a way of bringing a girl around in her thinking. James has some revising of his views to undergo too. He wants a perfect southern maven wife, and doesn't need love or passion (at least not with her). He thinks Laura will fit the bill, until he realizes how much passion she has inside, and how much he feels for her. I think Ms. Brown did a good job of showing how James and Laura got to know each other past the misleading perceptions of each other they had (fostered by a society that is way too fixated on such things), and realizing how much they loved each other.

There was a lot to love about this book. I takes me back to the golden days of contemporary romance that I sincerely mourn nowadays. I've read a few of her older books, but I guess I should have paid more attention to Sandra Brown's contemporary romance. Now's as good a time as any.

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Friday, April 08, 2011

Magnificent Folly by Iris Johansen

Magnificent FollyMagnificent Folly by Iris Johansen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Magnificent Folly was a quick, pleasing read from back in the day by this prolific author. It continues the story of the Clanad, a group of people with powerful telepathic abilities who have found a refuge in the Middle Eastern country Sedikhan. This story is about Andrew, who is the brother of Mariana, from A Tough Man to Tame. Andrew donated his sperm so that Lily could have a child, only she doesn’t find out that he’s her daughter’s father until he finds them nine years later. Andrew bonds with their mutual daughter, Cassie, telepathically. Although Cassie is considered latent, she is able to communicate with Andrew, who she says, “Brings beautiful music to her.” Cassie is a musical prodigy, and the main focus of Lily’s life. Lily resents Andrew’s appearance in her life for a number of reasons. First of all, she hasn’t trusted or desired a relationship with a man since she was betrayed by one before she got pregnant with Cassie. Also, she can’t believe that Andrew has these special gifts. Lily is a realist, only believing what is tangible and real to her eyes and senses. Other things are as evanescent as sand castles. And then there is the fact that she has to share Cassie now with her father. However, Cassie is in danger from the people who want to track down and experiment on the Clanad and their descendents.

I loved Andrew. He is such an adorable, warm, loving, and sexy guy. I kept thinking of Spencer Reid (played by Matthew Gray Gubler) from “Criminal Minds”, who I have a lustful crush on, even though Andrew doesn’t look like Spencer. He just has that brilliant but sweet vibe that I love about Spencer. Andrew is steadfast in his love for Lily, who he saw on campus (where her doctor was) and fell in love at first sight, even knowing that it was hopeless that he could have had a relationship with her. If he could help her by donating his sperm for her to get pregnant, at least he could be in her life in that way. Andrew stays out of her life for nine young years (since he was in his teens at the time he first saw Lily, and only seventeen or eighteen when she got pregnant by him via artificial insemination). But when he realizes she and Cassie are in danger, he can’t stay away. He also realizes that he needs to take the chance to convince Lily that they belong together.

I found Lily frustrating for the majority of this book. Her past issues made her way too distrusting. She refused to see that Andrew was the real deal, although he was always as honest as he could be, and very genuine. Plus, Cassie trusted and had bonded with Andrew early on, which was good evidence that Andrew was a good person worthy of her trust, at least in my book. I can understand trust issues, but she took hers too far, and said some very hurtful things to Andrew, which seemed like shooting fish in a barrel, because he was so sweet. I did like the gesture she made at the end. It was perfect and poetic.

Although Lily’s character was annoying at times, I did like this book quite a bit. I was in a dark emotional place when I read it, and the book helped me to focus on something else other than my issues. So I appreciate that. Plus, I was glad I got to meet Andrew.

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Sunday, April 03, 2011

The Man Who Could Never Love by Kate Hewitt

The Man Who Could Never Love (Presents Extra)The Man Who Could Never Love by Kate Hewitt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my first read by Kate Hewitt, and overall I liked it.

What I liked:
*I liked that although Ana had some self-esteem issues, she was still a composed, confident woman in other ways. She had her own career, and she was making something out of her life, even if she felt that she would never be desirable to men and have marriage and children. She was a strong, admirable woman. I find it hard to believe that some men didn't find her attractive, but I guess it was the circles she ran in. And I loved that she was willing to wear her mother's wedding gown to make her father happy, even though it didn't suit her. That was a very sweet thing to do.
*I liked that she wasn't easily manipulated or fall into any traps that Vittorio might have laid out of desperation. She considered his marriage proposal carefully, and agreed for her own reasons.
*I was glad that Ana decided to get some different clothes for her own reasons, and not because Vittorio was browbeating her into it.
*Although Vittorio had some arrogant traits I didn't like, like his assumption that Ana would be so desperate to have a marriage proposal that it would be easy as pie to 'woo' her, he was a decent person. He was a little too quick to look at the surface (but he wouldn't be the first or last person with that shortcoming). I thought I would dislike him, but I found that I couldn't. I could see why he had his defense mechanisms of keeping people at an emotional distance. His parents did a real number on him, and I think he should have placed the blame equally on his mother and father.
* I really liked that Vittorio came to Ana at the end and apologized and admitted he loved her and his fears and weakness. I could see why Ana loved him in that moment.
*There was a poignant edge to this story that appealed to me, even though this story lacked that 'zing' that I wished for. I'm a bit of a sucker for that in books.

What I think could have been better
*I felt a bit of a distance from the story when I was reading. It's hard to put my finger on it. It's one of those things that really strikes me when I determine which Harlequin Presents are going to be complete winners and those that aren't. In this case, I liked the idea and some of the execution, but this book lacked the intensity that I like in a good HP novel. It wasn't that the love scenes weren't descriptive. That wasn't my problem. Actually, Ana and Vittorio had good chemistry. I just wanted to be more engaged emotionally in this story.

Considering that there was more that I liked about this than not, I think a four star rating is warranted. I will definitely read more by this author, but I hope that intense element is there in her other stories. With that going for this book, this could have been a knockout. However, this was a pleasant book and a good love story, and I'm glad I read it.

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Saturday, April 02, 2011

Fungus of the Heart by Jeremy Shipp

Fungus of the HeartFungus of the Heart by Jeremy C. Shipp

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fungus of the Heart is a short story collection that is rather aptly named. The stories do probe into the mysteries of the human heart, although their subjects are not necessarily human. However, they show emotions that humans would be intensely familiar with. The fungus part of the title represents the weird, strange, perhaps even unpalatable edge hinted at in many of these stories. I like that Mr. Shipp was able to capture that dichotomy between being a monster--so alien on close examination--and inside, so identifiable, nearly ubiquitous, like fungus is in our world.

Not exactly stream of consciousness storytelling, but quite free-flowing and non-linear story structure, often leaving me scratching my head mentally, trying to figure out exactly was going on in the stories. They begin and end at seemingly random moments, but there is a feeling of closure in most, at least for the moment. Not a full resolution, but enough conveyed to give the reader the feeling that whatever Mr. Shipp wanted told about that particular story ends up on the written page. Beauty might not be what Mr. Shipp was going for, but I did see beauty in these offerings. The open, honest emotions flowing through them, and the highly visual and sensory imagery appealed to me, although he does go to some dark places here. These offerings ponder the highs and lows of life: love, loss, war, rage, alienation, fear, identity, all those things, and more.

The imagination exhibited here was impressive. I would love to sit down with Jeremy Shipp and ask him what his source of inspiration is. How he is able to fearlessly put down on paper what must wander through his mind, and do it in such a way as to avoid pretentiousness. There was never that sort of feeling as I read. Merely honesty, a sharing of himself with the reader. That’s pretty brave and fearless, because people aren’t kind to each other when a person opens himself up to others for examination. I definitely admire him for doing this here.

Although I didn’t always ‘get’ the stories, I got them on an emotional level, and that’s what spoke to me as I read Fungus of the Heart. Mr. Shipp has a way with short stories that will lead me back to him, probably in the near future. I think fans of Caitlin R. Kiernan would like this collection.

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The Mezzotint by Montague Rhodes James

The Mezzotint by Montague Rhodes James

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How does he do it? How does Mr. James write such fantastic tales of terror? This story starts so benignly, I had this false sense of security. I was fooled but good. The conversational tone, and the dry, academic characters had me wondering where this story was going. Soon, I came to realize exactly what was going on. Our narrator collects pictures of homes. He gets a lead on a mezzotint (a metal engraving with a great deal of distinction between shades of light and dark) that he considers rather substandard for the two guineas the dealer is asking for. Only this is a special picture. It changes, you see. As the narrator becomes aware that this photo has some unlikely qualities, the unease builds. The narrator asks others to look at the picture, and they see something changing as well. What is one to think of this mezzotint?

It’s amazing that this story can be so eerie and disarming, even without knowing exactly what the nature of the mezzotint’s ability is. Is this a ghost story? Dark fantasy? What’s the nature of the figure in the picture? Mr. James doesn’t reveal that. It doesn’t matter. The story has served its purpose. The mood, setting, and plot deliver one heck of a read.

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Waking Up by Amanda Carpenter

Waking Up (Harlequin Presents)Waking Up by Amanda Carpenter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to my friend Rae for the heads up on this book. I love me a virgin hero. I especially like when the hero is not portrayed as a freak or weirdo just because he’s a virgin. Instead, Jason is a very desirable, well-adjusted, mature guy of twenty-six, with valid reasons for his virginity. You see, Jason has been in love with his best friend for most of his life. He waited years for her. The whole while, Robbie still thinks of him as a friend. She loves him, but she has to get herself out of the mindset of being just friends to lovers, and forever partners in life. I think that the author did a good job of conveying that change that Robbie’s viewpoint had to undergo.

If it’s not already apparent, let me say that I loved Jason. He’s a very sensual, sexy, intelligent, together guy. I liked how patient and caring he was with Robbie, but definitely conveying his powerful feelings for her. It must have been very hard carrying the weight of his unrequited love for Robbie, trying to wait for her to wake up to the true bond between them.

I felt that things were a bit slow at times, as the author spent a lot of time showing Robbie in her normal routine. I wasn’t as much interested in that. I was more focused on her interactions with Jason, the escalation of their relationship from buddies to lovers. The tension between them was fantastic, even though the love scenes are more along the fade to black lines. I did enjoy seeing their relationship evolve, although Robbie frustrated me in how she seemed rather clueless about Jason’s motives. Like he would ever hurt or use her. I think he deserved more of her trust than that. It was clear that she had some growing up to do, but I was glad she did grow up enough by the end of the book to realize that Jason was the man for her.

Waking Up is a must-read for romance fans who love virgin heroes. Jason will impress!

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Allie's Moon by Alexis Harrington

Allie's MoonAllie's Moon by Alexis Harrington

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Allie’s Moon is a love story with two lonely people who carry heavy weights on their hearts from the past. Althea Ford had been told for most of her life that she was responsible for her mother’s death. She focused her existence on making amends for her lapse by taking care of her father through his long illness, and her sister who has emotional problems and ‘fits’. She sees no other life for herself other than the narrow, lonely one she inhabits.

For the past two years, Jeff Hicks has drowned his past anguish in whiskey, becoming a homeless alcoholic, when he was once sheriff. He doesn’t think of the future, only the present. When he’s arrested for stealing an egg, his friend Will, who took over as sheriff, arranges for Jeff to work on Althea’s farm for a month, doing odd jobs that she needs a handyman for. Jeff doesn’t want to spend a month in jail, so he agrees to working on Althea’s farm.

The best part of this story was how these two sad people find peace and solace in each other. It was good to see Jeff stop drinking and heal from the pain of knowing he killed a boy. Even though it was in self-defense, he could never forgive himself. Although not as much time was spent on dealing with Jeff’s alcoholism, I believe Ms. Harrington made an effort for that to be realistic. Allie, as he starts to call Althea, gives him a reason to get through the day, purpose, and joy in anticipating every moment with her. In essence, she is a very good and positive substitute for alcohol, giving him the succor he needed, and helping him get his life back on track. That made his ability to kick his alcohol dependence so smoothly feel more realistic for me. Allie felt as though she deserved nothing more than to be a dogsbody to her sister to pay her penance for her mother’s suicide. But Ben sees the sweet, beautiful, loving woman she is under all her starch and propriety, and he wishes he was good enough for her, wanting to share the heart he thought was dead and incapable of feeling with her. At first glance, Allie does feel that the downtrodden, dirty alcoholic had something about him that draws her eye. When she sees the man he is after he gets cleaned up and finds purpose and peace working on her farm, it doesn’t take very long for her to become attracted to and to fall in love with Jeff. She realizes that he is an honorable, gentle, loving man, and wishes that he could be her happy ending, although she can’t see a future outside of her duty to her sister.

The worst part of this book was Allie’s horrible sister. She was such a mean, self-absorbed, evil person. She treated her sister terribly, manipulating and taking advantage of the kind woman that Allie was. I think the depths of her ugliness kept this from being a higher rated book for me. Olivia’s antics were too much for me, I think. I didn’t feel fully satisfied with the book after what she put Jeff and Allie through before it was over. I feel like she worked them over a little too easily, even though Jeff was onto her early on in the book. The fact that she was willing to let a man hang for something he was innocent of put a bad taste in my mouth . I do regret that this was enough to knock this book from five stars to four, but it just affected my enjoyment too much.

Overall, I really did enjoy this book. I read it in one day, which says a lot. Allie and Jeff are two characters that I wanted to find peace and happiness. They both deserved to be loved. I appreciate that Ms. Harrington gave us characters who had a lot of anguish and issues to deal with, giving them a happy ending together. Those are my favorite kinds of romance stories. I haven’t been reading many western romances lately, which is a shame, since they are favorites of mine. This is my third book that I’ve read by her, and I can say that Alexis Harrington is one to reach for when a western romance fan wants a emotional read.

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