Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Chimera by Rob Thurman

Chimera (Chimera, #1)Chimera by Rob Thurman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I picked up an urban fantasy novel by this author called Nightlife, I had no idea then how big a fan I would become of her writing. Since then, she’s been an autobuy for me, because of my love for Cal and Nik Leandros, and how Ms. Thurman managed to show the depths and the power of the relationship between siblings. With Chimera, she does it yet again. One might be encouraged to dismiss this book about a man’s quest to find his brother who was stolen from his family ten years ago a rehash, but it truly is not. Because there are so many stories of siblings to be told. No two brothers have the same relationship, and in this story, she has conveyed a completely different relationship between Stefan and Lukas/Michael-- with depths that are equally fathomless, but one that is utterly distinct from the brotherhood between Cal and Nik.

Stefan Korsak is a young man who has lived for one thing for the past ten years, to find his younger brother, and bring him home. He has literally given what was left of his soul to this quest. He has even entered the family business. Stefan’s father is a big Russian Mafiya boss, and now Stefan works for one of his dad’s ‘friends’ as a byk, a bodyguard. He doesn’t do the enforcer dirty work, much, other than having to beat people up occasionally. But he’s a lethal guy all the same. He has acquired lots of skills that will help him in his quest to find his brother. When his source for information on his brother, Saul, finds out that there was a boy in a field trip at the mall matching Stefan’s brother’s description, Stefan gets a ray of hope for the first time in ten years. With Saul’s help, he breaks his brother out of the strangely prison-like medical facility that his brother has been living. But that’s only the beginning. He has to keep himself and his brother safe from a very scary man who runs the facility, the mob faction that are on the hunt for Stefan, and convince Michael that he is his long-lost sibling.

I can easily visualize this as a movie. It has that feel, with clear images and a story that draws the eye and the focus of the reader. Stefan is damaged, fascinating; a character who inspired a lot of loyalty and devotion in this reader. In his mind, he doesn’t think much of himself. He feels that his potential for a good life is over, since he failed to protect his brother so many years ago, and has sold his soul in the family business. But he’d do just about anything to give his brother a second chance. This book reminded me very strongly of the TV show Supernatural, with the relationship between Dean and Sam. Dean is much like Stefan. He has little self-worth, and all his love is for his brother. He was raised from a very young kid to always watch out for his brother, and if he does nothing else in life, he will complete this mission. Other than that, they aren’t that much alike. But I saw that cord of recognition in Stefan, and the author builds a very different man from this foundation.

What I liked about this story was being inside Stefan’s head, and seeing what he views himself as, but knowing that he is much more than that. I totally fell for him. I loved seeing how having his brother back healed the broken parts of his soul, and gave him hope, a four letter word that was alien of his vocabulary for a long time. I liked seeing how much of a survivor he was. He’s a street-smart, clear-thinking young man, who has his own moral compass. Not purely black and white, but more focused on the greater good, which is taking care of his brother. If he has to steal a car to do that, no problem. He doesn’t want to be a killer, but if it takes that, he’ll do it. I wanted Stefan to be happy, and I hope that he will be. I hope that he will have more to his life, so much more, than he turned his back on. He certainly deserves it.

Michael’s character was also great. He was raised in this facility for one purpose, to kill. Every lesson learned focused on making him the optimal assassin, and nothing more. However, Michael found out the hard way that he didn’t have the heart for it. His days were numbered as the ‘program failures’ tended to disappear in the middle of the night. Fortunately, a man claiming to his brother (a fact he doesn’t believe) takes him away. Given the choice of going with this man or staying in the facility, it’s a no brainer. Now, Michael has to learn to be a normal human being, which is somet hing he has little experience with. Although Michael has a lethal ability, an incredibly intelligent brain, and enhanced healing abilities, he’s still a seventeen-year-old kid. He acquires a serious junkfood habit that Stefan indulges although worries enough about him to buy vitamins. He is curious about sex and girls, and he purchases a ferret. And along the way, he becomes attached to this guy who is determined to convince him that he is Michael’s long-lost sibling. The love he develops for his ‘brother’ scares him, because he could one day lose Stefan, and he has nothing in his short life that belonged to him for keeps, if at all.

I liked the view of the United States through a windshield and roadside motels. The mundane which is very fascinating when one takes the time to look at it. If you have ever taken a road trip across America (or any small part, you know what I mean). Every state and even parts of the same state has a distinct feel, but the overall flavor is “This is America.” This motif reminded me of Supernatural, as the Winchester brothers spend their lives on the road, going from hunt to hunt. In this case, Stefan and Michael are running for their lives.

Another refreshing aspect to this story was the inclusion of Stefan and Michael’s Russian heritage. Although Stefan’s Russian is the colloquial, everyday, user-friendly version, he retains a very strong sense of the culture. His dialogue is realistically seasoned with Russian terms (which is great since I am learning Russian right now), and his values reflect those of a second-generation Russian-American, with a background in the Russian mafiya thrown in for extra flavor. Miss Thurman showed the daily life of a man born into this crime life very authentically. Stefan had a father who was cold enough to order men killed at the dinner table, and his job as a Mafiya boss was the elephant in the room for Stefan growing up. All his uncles were associates in the family business. Clearly, it was difficult for him to divorce himself from that life and to yearn for something better. But Stefan would have willingly left it behind, if he could have found his brother without those resources. Because his true family is his brother, especially with Daddy Dearest gone underground to elude the Feds on his case.

This is a deeply personal story. It is one of those speculative fiction stories that throws you a loop, because it’s really about people, and the relationships we have with those we are related to by blood, and obligation. There is enough of the sci-fi element to earn its place in that genre, but moreso it’s about humanity and relationships, one in particular. I became deeply involved with this novel, and I found that I came to regard Stefan and Michael as real people. I really appreciated that about this story, and the lessons it contained. Love doesn’t give up, ever. Love sacrifices. And love recognizes what is lost. What is family? It’s not always what we believe it is. It’s a lot more than we can imagine.

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Monday, May 30, 2011

Pleasure of a Dark Prince by Kresley Cole

Pleasure of a Dark Prince (Immortals After Dark, #9)Pleasure of a Dark Prince by Kresley Cole

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I deliberately took a long hiatus on this series. Not because I didn’t love it, or that I was bored. No! Quite the contrary. I did it because it was doggone heartbreaking to run out of books after Kiss of a Demon King. Now, I have accumulated a nicely sizable stock of IAD stories, and I am good to go, if having to avoid spoilers like the plague doesn’t put a bit of a crimp in my style.

The Story:
It was quite fun to see besotted Lykae, Garreth MacRieve chasing after his reluctant (for the most part) Valkyrie mate, Lucia. You see, Lucia totally has the hots for Garreth, but she has some really good reasons to give him the cold shoulder. For the most part, this didn’t bother me. I like to see the hero doing the chasing. And Lucia did show that she had feelings for Garreth. There were a couple of things she did to discourage Garreth that I wasn’t fond of. And I didn’t like the way she treated them the day after the night in the temple. Thankfully, she saved his life from the anaconda and apologized nicely, so I forgave her .

I do have to say that I was dismayed that Lucia was married. I hate cheating. I just do. I convinced myself that emotionally she was divorced or annulled from her horrid, disgusting, awful husband, and he didn’t deserve her. But I just wish authors didn’t go there. Yes, this is a series about pagan immortals and my set of values clearly don’t apply, but I feel much better when I read a romance with a pair who is not married to someone else. Having said that, it was an interesting idea, Lucia being married to a being of legend, a horrible thing who made her wedding night unspeakable. I also liked that Lucia saved herself and Garreth. And I loved that Garreth’s love for Lucia kept him from killing her, able to fight off her husband’s magic just long enough to keep him from hurting Lucia.

As usual, Kresley Cole writes a blisteringly hot romance story. Here I am reading this book at the gym on the elliptical, with my eyes glued to the pages, which were singeing my fingers. Oh, my! Ms. Cole writes so many good foreplay scenes, you are eagerly awaiting the big moment, and of course, you are not disappointed.

I loved the adventure aspects. The trek into the Amazon, and the natural, strange but natural creatures, and of course, the Loreans that Garreth and Lucia encountered made for an exciting read. She didn’t let the tension wane in any way, sexual or storyline-wise. And there are so crazy, over the top action scenes that I loved. I didn’t know what to expect, and I wasn’t bored for one second. Lucia holds her own against enormous caimans, crazed assassins, shapeshifters, vile, cannibalistic gods, and crazy humans. Garreth ain’t shabby either. My werewolf fixation was very much appeased with him! A girl could do no better than to have a devoted Lykae mate out to protect her and to meet her every need! Hot and sultry, this book was, in many ways. The treasure hunt was a nice addition, giving this book that Indiana Jones vibe that I love. I have a feeling that some of the happenings in this book will have repercussions in the next, and I am eagerly awaiting to see how those chips fall.

The Characters:
Ms. Cole was able to distinguish Lucia from her Valkyrie sisters by giving Lucia a more serious bent than her other sisters. She had a lot of emotions simmering underneath that she had to keep leashed. While most of her Valkyrie sisters are party animals, she has to stay in control and honor her vows. Her situation was a tough one, with her obligations that kept her from living a full life. She was punishing herself for childish choice she made when she was a very young girl. That’s one thousand years of guilt. Way too many! I liked her rationality, and I loved her archery skills. She was freaking awesome! I liked that she had a soft spot for Garreth, and it wasn’t just lust. She really liked the guy and cared for him. And she really, truly showed how much he meant to her, going after him in his time of need. If I didn’t like her before, she definitely won me over at this point.

Like pretty much all of KC’s heroes, I adored Garreth. Sexy, sweet, tough, funny, intelligent, and devoted, very devoted. It’s safe to say that when he makes a commitment, he keeps it. And when he loves, he loves, to the bottom of his soul. He just about broke my heart near the end of this story. But this story has a happy ending, so fear not.

The secondary characters are always entertaining and well-drawn. Ms. Cole has a great imagination, creating characters that populate her ever-expanding Lore, and making me even more of a devoted reader. I love the romance, but the world-building was an equally powerful factor in making me a fan of this series. It’s very distinct and fascinating, full of legend and myth that makes this paranormal romance into fantasy adventure, and keeps me coming back for more. When I meet new characters, I hope that Ms. Cole will bring them back so I can see what their story is, and where this series will lead them. I have to say that Lothaire is one character that I have my eye on. What is his deal??? Inquiring minds! And the epilogue….Evil. She’s evil! I am so glad that I have the next book waiting in the queue.

Some Questions to Finish This Review:
Did I love this story? Yes‼‼ Sexy romance, humor, adventure, fascinating storylines. They are all there for the intrepid reader.
Was I satisfied? Oh, yes‼!
Am I excited for the next book? Absolutely‼!
Would I recommend this series? You aren’t reading it? Do you like paranormal romance? If the answer is yes, hop to it!

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Raziel by Kristina Douglas

The Fallen: Raziel (The Fallen, #1)The Fallen: Raziel by Kristina Douglas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book captivated me. It started out kind of strange, with the shifting 1st person POVs, and the fact that the heroine gets hit by a bus at the beginning of the story (not a spoiler, trust me). But, I have to say, I couldn’t stop reading. It’s the honest truth that I would read the phone book if Anne Stuart wrote it. When I heard she had written a fallen angel paranormal romance (under a pseudonym), I was there. I mean, she’s the Queen of Bad Boy Heroes. She didn’t disappoint me with Raziel, the book or the character!


Anne Stuart takes the legends of fallen angels and spins her own version. I can’t say I liked all the theological doctrine behind it. I really dislike the whole “God’s on vacation” premise that seems to be very popular in secular supernatural fiction based on Angels and Judeo-Christian legends. In this case, God pretty much washed his hands of the humans, and left them under the control of his lead angel, Uriel. Uriel is a cold, unforgiving, disdainful regent, who thinks of the humans as a mistake. He dislikes the Fallen about the same, if not more. He has hatched plans to make their eternal lives miserable, and has plans to end them all. Uriel doesn’t show up in this story, but his machinations are readily apparent.

Our heroine is a woman who grew up with a puritanical religious mother (a Jew by birth and rearing who becomes a Fundamentalist Christian). She makes Allie believe that she is nothing short of the spawn of the devil, forcing her zealous form of Christianity down Allie’s throat until she chokes on it. As a result, Allie is an atheist who writes Old Testament mysteries that debunk the religion. So it’s pretty hard to believe that she’s dead, and an angel is taking her to her resting place. Especially an angel that is too gorgeous to be believed, with striated black/silver eyes, long tawny hair, and perfect chiseled features. And his wings (rolls eyes in ecstasy). Blue-black and lush! Heavenly! Yeah, Raziel is some kind of gorgeous, and she doesn’t see his wings at first. She doesn’t like him much, and he doesn’t seem to like her either, but then he saves her at the last minute when it turns out she’s supposed to be thrown in the fires of hell. And he almost dies in the process, because the Fallen are exquisitely sensitive to fire. Allie spends the night sleeping next to her sick angel rescuer, hearing the screams of the horrible Nephilim (fallen angels who have become ravening, cannibalistic beasts), all around her, and shell-shocked that this is actually happening.

The next day, they are rescued by a group of men who turn out to be Raziel’s brethren, other Fallen angels who dwell in a compound called Sheol with their human wives. Allie doesn’t want to be stuck in this weird place with its patriarchal rules, and she doesn’t want to be close to Raziel, who inspires feelings in her that make her vulnerable, and Allie doesn’t like being vulnerable. However, she is soon to discover that she is his bonded mate, and destiny is not something she can laugh at.

I started this story not knowing at all what to expect. This is one of those books you have to read with an open mind. It’s different. The writing style is a lot more conversational, and less action and focus on the sexual attraction between the couple, that is typical in most paranormal romance (that’s there, but it is on slow simmer until it boils over).

I found myself utterly seduced by this story. I really liked how Ms. Douglas (Stuart) uses the angel theme in this book. It was kind of odd at first, the idea that the angels have to drink blood, how they take human wives who die before they do (although they live longer lives), and cannot have children. How they are essentially trapped in their own compound, other than when Uriel calls them to escort certain humans to their afterlife destination. This story made me care about the angels, feel bad for the Fallen. That they fell because of their love and attraction to humans and humanity, their tendency to question Uriel’s orders. Of course, I had to put my own beliefs about angels and God out of the picture when I read this, because they are different from the concepts in this novel. But, for a fiction world, it was very interesting.

As far as supernatural themes, angels are in my top three (with faerie and werewolves). I love when a book does angels really well--bringing a new dimension to the concept, and giving me a novel way to look at them. I loved how Ms. Douglas showed the angels with their human wives, how their bond was very powerful and beautiful, but there is a poignancy because being the wife of an angel doesn’t grant immortality. It may prolong one’s life, and leave it relatively free of illness, but eventually they die, always childless, and the angels keep living, mourning all their wives over the millennia.

The Characters:

Allie :

Allie was pretty annoying, quite frankly. She was a bit too much the Sex and the City-type heroine for me at first glance. Shallow, hard, unsympathetic. She seemed to be the type of heroine to make her life more difficult than necessary. She didn’t seem to get that she was dead, and that she was surrounded by real angels, and she couldn’t go back to her life. I understand that this was a lot to take in, but her defiant determination to believe in nothing supernatural got kind of old, especially with the evidence right in front of her. But then she actually became likable as the story progressed. I saw that she was wearing armor. It’s pretty tough growing up with rigid, unloving parents. Her determination not to believe was her way of fighting back at her mother, who loved God more than she loved her daughter. For her to be in a scenario where she was actually dead, surrounded by supposedly mythical creatures probably would be a lot to take in. And I liked that she stepped up when her help was needed, more than once. I admit I liked that she was tough and mouthy. She needed to be, with a mate like Raziel. Honestly, Allie was more of a chick-lit type heroine than I would have liked, but she ended up being a heroine I could root for.


Raziel is yummy with a cherry on top. He’s also ageless, and kind of sad. After all, he had been cursed by God for his sin of disobedience, cursed to never have children, and to be a blood-eater (blood drinker). He is the picture I would have of a fallen angel that is not evil. Sad, lonely, a stranger without a home, exiled from heaven. He put up barriers against Allie at the beginning, having lost his wife in the past, going through that heartache, and determined not to face it again. But, she worked her way through those barriers. And when she does, look out!

Allie and Raziel:

Their relationship starts out contentious, as they really don’t like each other, even though they find each other attractive. They actually wanted to be rid of each other, and were both working to find a way to achieve their mutual goal. However, over the time that Allie stays in close proximity with Raziel, they can no longer ignore their bond, which turned out to be destiny, pushed away by their mutual fears of intimacy.

I liked that this was a paranormal romance where there wasn’t the instant ‘mine’ moment. Now don’t me wrong. I love the whole mine/fated mate concept. Even though it wasn’t instant, boy did we get that ‘mine’ aspects in spades. Even the growly jealous expressions (loved those). Possessive hero lovers, fear not. All I’m saying!

The relationship development between Raziel and Allie felt authentic. Raziel and Allie aren’t warm and fuzzy characters, so they grow on you as they grow on each other. I could see why each didn’t want to be in love, because love hurts, especially when ultimate loss and disappointment (on Raziel’s part) is almost guaranteed, and feeling that you will never be good enough (on Allie’s part—her mother didn’t love her, why should anyone else)?

I liked the tension between Raziel and Allie. I think this showed up very well considering that it was first person. With 1st person POV, it is harder to see both sides of the relationship, which is why I was glad that we got shifting POVs. And the intimate point of view just worked for this story, in my opinion. Normally I don’t like 1st person love scenes, but these love scenes were very good--heightening the intimate aspects, actually.

I really loved the way Raziel took Allie flying, how he wrapped her in his wings during intimacy (which is something that the angels do with their mates). Oh those wings were so gorgeous and beautiful. I can just imagine flying around in an angel’s arms. Not likely to happen, but at least I can read about it.

This book gave me the post-reading glow! I can see how it wouldn’t work for others, and there were things that I felt were less successful than I’ve read in other paranormals. But there is a distinct, irresistible feel this book. In cooking, they use the term ‘mouth feel’. I look at books similarly. Some books just have good ‘book feel’. They taste good during the read, and they cause this power release of happy reading endorphins, and this is one of them. If I had time, I’d probably reread it right away to get more happy juice. But my tbr pile calls. I’m glad that the next book comes out soon!

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Black Company by Glen Cook

The Black Company (The Black Company: Books of the North, #1)The Black Company by Glen Cook

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s amazing how well military and fantasy seemed to mesh in this story. The Black Company is an elite mercenary unit that holds two values sacred: Committing fully to any commission they take on, and watching out for their fellow members, their brothers in the unit. This unit consists of hardened fighting men, some of whom happen to be wizards, and our narrator, Croaker, who is the annalist (records the history of the unit) and the doctor of the unit.

The world they live in is plagued by war between the Rebels and those who serve the Lady. After leaving their present commission for a minor potentate in Beryl (a dead end that could have ended up with them all dead had they not found a way to ‘honorably’ terminate their employment), they take a commission with one of the twelve extremely scary Taken (a cabal of undead wizards who serve the Lady), an androgynous figure called Soulcatcher. Soulcatcher has the tendency to speak in various voices, male and female, sometimes at the same time. The Company knows there is something not right about Soulcatcher. Soulcatcher is probably evil. But for the Black Company, they don’t look at morals that way. Their greatest ethical commitment is to put in a good day’s work for their present employer. The problem is this job is going to take them into really nasty places, and cause some of the men of the Black Company to reevaluate their morals for serving their questionable employer, particularly Croaker.

The writing style in this story appealed to me, with a brisk narrative that managed to convey exactly what I needed to know. The humor is subtle, and the depiction of violence is done very well—not excessively gory, but clearly expressing the ugly nature of war. As I mentioned above, the fantasy elements went hand and hand with this military adventure. The use of magic was a weapon used by both sides in the military conflict. The wizards in the Company were quite the characters, often having competitive showdowns with each other that were great comic relief.

I appreciated the time spent to bring the characters to life. Although these are guys who work for pretty much anyone who can pay for them, I felt that they were honorable men in their own way. Croaker was a good narrative choice, because he was a seasoned soldier who had seen a lot, and pondered what he experiences in a way that brings the reader right into the narrative, along for the ride. He’d been in the business too long to be morally righteous in the traditional sense; but there were things that he and the guys in his unit definitely wouldn’t stand for. Croaker would be one of the first to admit that most of his brothers sit at various points on the evil spectrum. But there is evil, and there is worse evil, as they soon come to find out. The problem is trying to figure out which side is worse.

Another standout character in this story was Raven. He was, well, scary, but tremendously fascinating. A man who joins their unit shortly after they take on the commission with Soulcatcher, he is driven initially by revenge. A formidable killer who scares even the hardened men of the unit, but with a sense of honor that causes him to intervene when another group of soldiers murder a village of children, and gang-rape a nine year old girl. That girl and her grandfather essentially become part of the unit, and Raven becomes like a surrogate dad to the little girl called Darling. This unlikely adoption of a mute little girl and her grandfather adds to the rag-tag family atmosphere of the Company, as they all end up becoming fond of the girl and her grandfather.

Shades of gray. This story is definitely about that spectrum between black and white. It touches on the fact that war is more often the means through which figures in power work out their political squabbles, and less about doing the ‘right thing’ or righting wrongs. And the puppets of their war are working men, getting paid to fight their battles. That doesn’t erase their individual responsibilities for the wrongs they do, and they carry those burdens in the ways they can best manage. But at some point, one has to wonder when it’s time to walk way, to save what’s left of one’s own soul. That’s what Croaker struggles with.

I like that fantasy can go to these places that I wouldn’t necessarily explore out of the fiction setting. The military life is not one I would choose for myself. However, I respect those in the military a lot. Like any profession, a soldier has his own set of ethics and rules, and the good and the bad that goes along with his job. Cook illustrated the inns and outs of military campaigns very well here, the grueling days and nights, and how war isn’t always some crazy, dramatic battle. Sometimes it’s about the long waiting, the even longer marches, and the deprivation when supplies are down, losing men faster than they can be saved, and digging in while the Company is surrounded by the enemy. And everyone has their part to play in the conflict, even if it’s just cannon fodder (sadly enough).

I’m on a roll. I’ve liked most of the epic fantasy I’ve read so far. But this one stands out with its military esthetic, which was done very well. I read this story out of an omnibus collection of The Chronicles of the Black Company, and I’m glad I went ahead and bought it because I want to read more of the Black Company’s adventures.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Blaylock's Bride by Cait London

Blaylock'S Bride (Man Of The Month/Anniversary/The Blaylocks) (Silhouette Desire, 1207)Blaylock'S Bride (Man Of The Month/Anniversary/The Blaylocks) by Cait London

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Roman Blaylock is a Class A sweetheart. He is such a good guy. I love that he’s all about taking care of people. It was sad what his ex-wife did to him. She seriously sucked. She took advantage of his good heart, stuck him with a child that wasn’t his (although he fell in love with and raised her as his own), and refused to have sex with him. Then, she takes all their money and runs off with some other guy she got pregnant by.

At first, it seemed as though Kallista wasn’t going to be nice enough for him, but she turns out to be the right woman for Roman. She’s all fire, and she’s not afraid of him. Roman likes that she’s feisty and doesn’t fear him, like his ex-wife did. He decides she’s the one for him, although things are very complicated, since she is one of his best friend’s grandchildren, and he has promised to take care of them and his friend’s estate for them. I just loved that Roman was a man who took his promises seriously. He did what he said he was going to do. He didn’t take intimacy lightly, and exercised a lot of self-control when some men would have felt license to do differently.

Kallista is very suspicious of Roman, but it made sense, considering that she grew up with a mother who had a revolving door of boyfriends, some of whom tried to rape her. So I can understand her trust issues. But initially I wanted her to back off of Roman with her assuming he was taking advantage of an old man, when everything showed to the contrary that Roman was a good, kind man. It was good to see that Kaliista grew to trust him, and found herself drawn to Roman, falling in love with the gentle man he was, although he was also a strong, Western man. The kind of man that she’d love to be with if she was able to settle down and to trust in the future.

This was an engaging, quirky read, with unique characters, and a lot of atmosphere. There is always a distinctive feel to Cait London’s books, and that brings me back to her category romances. I always enjoy her books. This one wasn't a five star because some of the narrative seemed a bit repetitive, but it's close enough with a 4.5/5.0 star rating. I am slowly savoring her backlist, and this is another book by her that I’m adding to my favorites list.

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The Loving Trap by Daphne Clair

The Loving Trap (Harlequin Presents, #506)The Loving Trap by Daphne Clair

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book packed a punch. The more I read, the more I put a picture together of Kyla, what made her tick. It was clear that she had a resistance to Marc’s charm, and he had to do some work to gain her attention and her regard. Honestly, I wondered why he didn’t catch on sooner that Kyla had more going on than being a very proper, seemingly prudish person. She put out some signs that she had a past trauma that made her untrusting of men. I guess he didn’t want to believe that something so terrible had happened to her.

I wondered why her parents hadn’t encouraged Kyla to seek counseling, and it was pretty sad how people reacted to what Kyla went through. It was like no one ever reassured her that it wasn’t her fault. She internalized it all and assumed blame for what she’d gone through. I couldn’t believe that it made some men have prurient designs towards Kyla, which was another reason why she went to the extreme of being very careful about her clothing and appearance, which Marc read as her being aloof.

I felt bad for them both, not knowing how to bridge the gap of Kyla’s fears of sexual intimacy, and Marc’s need for her. I wanted to get Marc to see that there was a bigger picture going on, and feared for when the reveal would come, and its consequences. Even though I didn’t like all of Marc’s actions, I didn’t dislike him. He was actually a decent guy, but pretty slow on the uptake, in my opinion. I have to admit, that he was a patient man, very patient, considering. What he did wasn't good, but I'm glad he came to his senses in time.

I really liked the end. It was very poignant and emotional. You could see the healing begin and the bond between Kyla and Marc that showed that everything would be alright with them together, that Kyla would be able to move on from the past, and that they would be happy together for the rest of their lives.

This one is definitely a keeper. Good writing, complex characters, and a sensitive, expert hand with some touchy subject matter. I’m glad I was able to read this one.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Fire of Spring by Elizabetth Lowell

Fire Of Spring (Silhouette Desire, No 265)Fire Of Spring by Elizabeth Lowell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fire of Spring has some beautiful, descriptive writing, and it hooked me emotionally. The imagery was very vivid, with the descriptions of the Colorado landscape under the grip of a cold spring in which snow is still on the group, and the promise of a warm Spring lurks around the corner. The title of this book really ties into the storyline in a number of ways, relating to the weather, the emotional intensity between the characters, and the tapestry that Dawn is working on that reflects her hopes for her relationship with Logan. Additionally, anyone who has read Elizabeth Lowell’s romances knows how well she writes sensuality. She never gets too explicit, but there is a fire and a power in her descriptions of the attraction between her characters, and their eventual lovemaking.

Both Dawn and Logan have suffered in their lives, and the cause of their suffering is in part due to the same woman. However, Dawn choose to put that pain behind her and get on with her life. In contrast, Logan hangs onto the hurt of seeing his brother kill himself with alcohol, and after years of feeding him full of nonsense about how bad women are and how they will destroy you, because his brother fell for the wrong woman---Dawn’s mother.

Logan hurt Dawn very badly by taking her young love and turning it into something dirty, offering her the position as his mistress until he tired of her. Instead of taking him up on that, she left and moved on with her life. Three years later, Dawn’s friend Kathy, Logan’s sister begs her to come and take care of Logan, who is sick with walking pneumonia. Dawn doesn’t want to go back down that painful path, but she owes Logan a debt, and she intends to pay him back. She hopes that she can keep herself from loving him again, knowing that he will only break her heart.

This is definitely a well-written story, and I zoomed through it. However, Logan is a mean bastard. He is deliberately cruel to Dawn, and I think most women would probably have beaten him to death with a frying pan. Dawn takes a lot off this guy, probably too much, out of her love for him. She tries to break down the corrosive wall of anger and bitterness that Logan has around his heart so that he can be free, even if she won’t be able to claim his love for her own. Part of me wondered that he was even worth the effort. But deep down, Dawn knows that Logan does love her. He just has to overcome that bad programming that his brother entrenched into his mind and spirit. She tries her best to help him, even though she weeps from the wounds that Logan’s ugly words inflict on her vulnerable heart, and she stays until he tells her to leave. She was a strong woman to put up with that. Strong in that yielding and standing sort of way that is underappreciated. I really liked Dawn. Logan, not so much, especially after he humiliates Dawn in front of the ranch hands. He comes around, realizing how much he loves Dawn, but I would have preferred some extended groveling and an epilogue in which Logan shows how much he adores Dawn. Because these essential elements weren’t on offer, this couldn’t be a five star read for me. However, this is a very good book, if you can tolerate a jerky, cruel hero who needs some remedial lessons in love and groveling.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Forbidden Lord by Helen Dickson

Forbidden LordForbidden Lord by Helen Dickson

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

This was a slow-starter that threw me a curve ball, as I ended up getting fairly engrossed in the story. I started this as a quick in-between book as I knocked out my review books, and the next thing I knew, I was fully engaged.


I really liked Eleanor’s spunk and her unbeatable, strong nature. She’d faced so much in her young life, despite its idyllic start. Her mother married a depraved, abusive man who drove her into an early grave, after her father lost his head when he was implicated in a plot to usurp Queen Mary’s (Mary I, known as Bloody Mary, Elizabeth I’s older sister, a devout Catholic who persecuted and had many Protestant English subjects killed) reign. Now she was facing molestation at the hands of her stepfather if she didn’t flee from his house. She was strong enough to take care of herself and make decisions on her own future, even if it caused her to dress as a man and seek safe passage with her enemy. Even though Eleanor could have come off as bratty, she never did. I could understand her dislike for William, considering that she believed he turned in her father in the plot against Queen Mary to save his skin. I could also understand her reasons for resisting her feelings for William and later marrying another man. She wasn’t one to go off on a tangent with little information. She processed the situation to the best of her understanding, and made rational decisions. I ended up liking Eleanor a lot, and admired her early on in this story.

William started out as a hero who seemed a bit on the harsh, arrogant, bracing side. As the book progresses, I saw that he had a caring, loving heart. He didn’t want to fall for Eleanor, but she found a way into his heart, and he remained steadfast to her. I admit I liked his determined, possessive feelings for her. He took her sudden marriage in stride, and didn’t let that stand in his way for long.

For the brevity of the focus spent on the secondary characters, I did find them interesting, and their motivates captured the period well, illustrating the intrigues and the dangers of the English Monarchs' courtlife. I especially liked Godfrey, William's close friend. He was captivating enough to be the hero in his own book!


I saw Eleanor’s marriage to another man coming and I was really worried. I really dislike adultery in romance novels. I have to admit that the handling of it wasn’t as obnoxious as I feared. Eleanor’s marriage to Martin was a beard relationship (It turns out Martin is 100% gay and most people know it, and she actually got tricked and pressured into it). I liked that she took it seriously though, and didn’t lightly enter into an adulterous relationship with William. And I was glad that it didn’t stay adulterous for long.

I feel that the adventure/intrigue plot could have been more strongly developed . The culprit behind William’s being transported/shanghaied, who had betrayed Eleanor’s father was revealed in a way that was a bit anticlimactic, and so was the final confrontation scene. And sadly, he was an interesting character. I think it would have made for a very intense climax if executed differently. But the romance aspect of the relationship made up for that short-coming. I found Eleanor and William’s romance captivating, and you could see that their love was strong, not just based on outward attractiveness and lust, but a true respect and kinship. They were both survivors with strong instincts of family and honor, and saw that in each other.


This book was a bit odd for an Elizabethan. I thought some of the descriptions was a bit on the generic side, and the dialogue didn’t always ring true for me. Overall, the author captured the period well, but I felt that she could have made the novel more authentic in that regard. Queen Elizabeth shows up in the background, but the book doesn’t show Eleanor interacting with her at all. In one scene, William greets and pays court to the Queen, but that’s as much as we actually see Elizabeth in the story. The focus is more of the other aspects of court life. I find Elizabeth an interesting historical figure. Although I’m not much of an historical fiction reader, I do enjoy reading romance books where she plays a role. I was disappointed that she wasn’t in this book more. It seemed like a wasted opportunity for me.

Overall Thoughts:

I didn’t have high expectations for this one initially, but it turned out to be an entertaining read. I liked the characters, and I enjoyed the Elizabethan setting, although I think it could have been more fleshed out. I think some readers would enjoy this one, especially for the romance aspects. It was pretty good, but not a book that would give four stars to. Thus, the 3.75/5.0 star rating.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Sandman by ETA Hoffman

The Sandman by E. T. A. Hoffman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The antiquated language and over-wrought prose on offer here will likely turn off some readers. I don’t necessarily prefer this sort of writing, and I don’t care to read it terribly often (despite my enchantment with classic horror and speculative fiction). However, part of me enjoys these elements at the same time as finding them hard to tolerate when I am not in the mood for them. Rather a contradiction, but there you have it. There’s something about the way this taste of antiquity takes me back in history, so that I can experience life as those who lived during these times experienced it.
Nathanael is a broken man. The horrific events of his past have destroyed him in the most fundamental of ways. He is not free to be a happy, joy-filled man, content with the love of a good woman and the friendships of those around him. He is haunted by the dark memories and the malevolent figure of Coppelius, who murdered his father. This figure became intertwined in the imaginings of a childhood dark fable about the Sandman, who will punish bad children who don’t go to bed in a timely fashion.

Years later, the memory of that diabolical man taints everything, even his relationship with Clara, his beloved. Nathanael goes back to University and starts falling in love with Olimpia, the daughter of his physics professor. She is literally the perfect woman: an exquisitely correct danger, a pianist without flaw, and beautifully mannered. She listens carefully to everything he says, not dismissing him as Clara does when he goes off on a melancholy bent. He adores and is obsessed with her, even though his friends and acquaintances find her repellent in her lack of animation. Unfortunately, his beloved is not as she seems.

The Sandman is a study in psychological horror. Like many good horror stories, this one is laced with ambiguity. Is the malevolent figure continuing to haunt Nathanael, or has he lost his sanity, stricken by hallucinations and mental malaise; his mind broken by those terrifying events in his childhood? I wasn’t quite sure because there was evidence to suggest that it was not completely a figment of Nathanael’s imagination.

The Sandman is an important short story because it is one of the first works of fiction to include an artificial human, the precursor to the robot of later fiction and scientific reality today. I have wanted to read this story for a while, and I enjoyed it more than not. Despite the author’s penchant for using five words when one would suffice, and the somewhat disjointed narrative structure, I found myself becoming very enthralled as I read this story. Mr. Hoffman shows a vivid imagination, and his prose caused me to become involved in the story to a level in which I was quite worried about how the story would conclude. Although this won’t be to all tastes, I recommend that admirers of classic fantasy and horrors read this one at least one, because it does have something of merit to offer to the literary world.

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Saturday, May 07, 2011

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

Midnight Riot (Peter Grant, #1)Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Midnight Riot is the kind of book that people like me, absolute anglophile and devoted BBC lover, couldn’t help but like. The humor and the texture to the narrative in this book reads delightfully British, but in a fashion that suggests that England isn’t just Jane Austen or Charles Dickens. It’s also Doctor Who, Blake’s Seven, Being Human, Law and Order: UK, and Luther. It’s upper crust and working class. It’s a mix of past and present. Even deeper, it’s the everyday lives of Britons, not all Northern European either.

It was so refreshing to have a hero who is mixed-race, but seen as black by some; and to others, ethnically uncertain. He couldn’t get on the tube without getting nervous looks from some people who had made up their mind what his place in their world was, without asking him about it. On any given day, due to how much sun he gets, some might think he’s African, or some might think he’s Arab. Peter is unselfconscious about his ethnicity, although very aware that not everyone is comfortable with it. His mother is Sierra Leonan, and her culture infuses him, from her attitude towards hard work, to her frugality, and her penchant for making food so spicy that he has to drink a liter of water to douse its fire. His father is a white former musician with a thirty year heroin habit, and that colors the narrative just as much, for we are not in a small degree who our parents make us. That is either due to rebelling against our parents or through a childhood of being shaped by their rearing. As a reader of black heritage, I have to say that it’s good to see stories that feature characters of black ethnicity. There are a lot of our stories to tell, and they don’t seem to see the light of day, and not in the diversity that reflects the black African disapora. I hope that more leads in urban fantasy novels in the future are of color, because it adds something to a read to see someone who is like you, at least in some small way.

I enjoyed Peter’s character. He’s an insightful narrator, and full of wit. I liked seeing London through his perceptive gaze.

The police procedural aspects were great. Better than watching an episode of a BBC cop show, because Peter explains the ins and out of the Metropolitan Police to a degree I have never caught onto in my varied viewing pleasures. Peter’s acceptance of the workings of enormous wheels of bureaucracy turning in the Met makes what might have been boring, very fascinating, especially with his deadpan humor delivery (classic British wit). As I read this novel, I felt as though I had learned a lot more about the police in the UK, which is similar but different to the US.

The paranormal aspects were good and rather unique. I like how magic is presented here. The way it leaves an essence (called a vestigium that has a taste, feel, and smell) that Peter is able to pick up. When he’s recruited as an assistant and apprentice wizard to Thomas Nightingale, for a part of the Met that deals with the odd and magical crimes, he finds the niche he’d been searching for, with this inquisitive mind, and his insight into science. He doesn’t take things at face value, but he’s open-minded enough to accept that London has denizens that are not human, such as vampires, trolls, and malevolent ghosts who draw energy from those they possess, leading to their gruesome and violent deaths. It was interesting to watch Peter and Nightingale use a mix of police investigative techniques and magic to solve the inexplicable attacks of violence that seemingly normal London citizens are perpetrating against each other. He also comes to realize that the rivers of London are alive, gods and goddesses, if you will. And Peter needs their help to keep the peace in London, but also to resolve the territorial disputes between The Old Man of the River and Mama Thames, who both believe that they have a right to rule the Thames, and their tributaries.

Ben Aaronovitch has already secured his place in pop culture as the writer of Doctor Who novels. It’s great to see him put the fruits of his imagination to the page with this first in the Peter Grant series. After falling for Peter Grant, and his unforgettable narrative of London, he is going on my must read list.

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Monday, May 02, 2011

Area 7 by Matthew Reilly

Area 7 (Shane Schofield, #2)Area 7 by Matthew Reilly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Warning: Do not read this book if you cannot suspend your disbelief about the seemingly improbable events that occur during action sequences. If you can’t do this, you will not enjoy this book. If you can, then hang on for the wild ride. No one, and I do mean no one, writes action scenes like Matthew Reilly. I reached for this book for precisely that reason.

Reading one of his books is like watching an action movie on steroids. I was laughing and cheering out loud throughout this book, and I could feel my heart beating fast as the tension of not knowing what would come next had me in its grip.

Although there are definitely some scenes that make you roll your eyes because you are having a “yeah, right” moment, it’s clear that Matt Reilly did his research. He started with an idea, and he developed the background to make his idea come to life. And in the process, he wrote a story that definitely gave me something to worry about. Because he poses the question of what group has the greatest potential to take over this country. Easy answer if you think about it: a Branch of the United States Armed Forces. Why, because they have access to many of the installations containing some of this countries greatest tactical assets: high tech planes and ballistic missiles. And something else even worse. If you guessed the US Air Force, then 10 points to you. It so happens that the President is visiting one of the most mysterious Air Force bases; a good time to put their plan into action.

Only they didn’t plan on US Marine Captain Shane ‘Scarecrow’ Schofield being part of the President’s protection detail. The great thing about these books is that Shane has the deck stacked against him the whole time, and the cards only pile up higher as time passes. However, this is not a man who gives up. He uses the advantages he has available, which often involves some quick thinking on his part. Schofield is a hero you can get behind. He’s a decent human being, not a killing machine, unless he has to be. And he will get the job done, no matter what. After going through the crazy experience in Antarctica with Scarecrow (written about in Ice Station), I definitely love the guy. His surviving team members, Gant (who Shane has a budding relationship with) and Mother (a tough as nails 6’4” shaved-head female marine) are also along for the ride to help save the day.

The villains don’t particularly stand out, other than being loathsome human beings with no sense of loyalty (beyond their own sinister agendas), and bloodthirsty murderers, but this book is so fast-paced, you don’t really miss the character depth. Again, this is the kind of book you pick up when you want an edge of your seat, action-driven story. And you will definitely get that.
Despite its quick pace, I felt the story was pretty solid. This is one of those books you have to pay attention to when you read, because cues will be planted in earlier scenes that will play a pivotal role later on. It helps to appreciate Scarecrow and the other good guys for their quick-thinking and adaptability under fire.

The body count is high in this one, so I’d warn especially squeamish readers. I admit that I would probably flinch if I was seeing some of this on the big screen, and I did a bit when I was reading. But it adds to the sense of risk that good guys do die, and you feel a sense of validation when the bad guys die ugly. Trust me, they deserve it in this book.

Matt Reilly really knows how to bring it. I always enjoy myself when I read his books. And Scarecrow and his crew are just awesome. Glad to read another one of their adventures.

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Sunday, May 01, 2011

Dark Goddess by Sarwat Chadda

Dark Goddess (Billi SanGreal #2)Dark Goddess by Sarwat Chadda

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Last year, I picked up a book called Devil’s Kiss on impulse. It sounded good, with a story about a girl who is the daughter of the leader of the modern day Knight’s Templar. I read this book, and I loved it. So, I was definitely going to continue the series. And Sarwat Chadda has continued the excellent writing in this next installment.

First of all, he writes a character that is complex and surprisingly likable and identifiable. Normally, authors bent on crafting realistic characters will give you a character who is so flawed that you can’t like them. They make bad decisions so they seem more human, but their bad decisions only show the bad of humanity. You need to see the good, too.

In Devil’s Kiss, Billi was rebelling against her legacy. I understood why, even if I didn’t always agree with her actions. In this book, she has taken up the yoke of duty in the Knight’s Templar. She’s hardened by the loss of her dearest friend. Now, she is all about duty. Her duty requires her to make tough decisions on a regular basis. Billi doesn’t have the life of the average teenager, and she never will. But the world needs her sacrifices to be protected from the Unholy, monsters who prey on humans. In this book, she might be forced to make the toughest decision of all. If she has to kill an innocent child to save the world, can she do that?

Mr. Chadda manages to write this teenage girl in an amazingly convincing manner. He doesn’t forget what and who she is, but he endows her with a maturity that is realistic, given her relentless upbringing and the burden she carries in her life. I love young adult fiction, although there are some books that I can’t get into because they don’t have the complexity I like in a story. This is not one of those. If there were more YA books like this one, I think that many adult readers would stop looking down their noses at YA and calling it infantile. This book is mature and challenging enough to keep any fan happy, and done in such a way as to contain suitable and interesting subject matter for teenage readers.

Russia and its Folklore:

This reader has a fascination and a love for Russia, its culture, and its folklore. I was overjoyed to see how well Chadda writes about modern Russia. I felt as though I took a tour of the Moscow of today, and he even takes us to the barren wasteland of Chernobyl, twenty years after the nuclear meltdown that made it uninhabitable by humans. Each scene gives a full picture of Russia, how the past, future, and present mingle in a Gordian fashion. On top of that is his use of the old folklore of Baga Yaga and Vasilisa. Baga Yaga scared me in the folk stories I read. She’s even more scary in this. In this story, she is the Dark Goddess, with a whole pack of ruthless female werewolves dedicated to her service. I loved how Chadda took this folklore and made it such an important part of his story.

Action, Danger, Interpersonal Relationships and a Bit of Romance:

I tell you what, I am glad I am not Billi. Facing the situations she does would be way too much for me. But it’s real life for her, whether its saving a young girl from ravenous wolves, or dealing with corrupt humans. Operating on little to no sleep. Trying to find the way out of seemingly impossible situations, only to do it again the next day. And facing a formidable witch who has the power to end the world. This book is action-packed. The storyline twists and turns, and the sense of risk never abates. I loved seeing the characters fight their way through one situation to another, and the sense of family between the Templars. These guys are seasoned, hardened warriors. Mr. Chadda does a great job of writing about modern day warriors and their weapons, and doesn’t result to info-dumping to show just how knowledgeable they are about their weapons.

I am glad to see that the relationship between Billi and Arthur has improved. Arthur trusts Billi to do to the right thing, gives her a lot of autonomy in doing it, and listens to her advice. He realizes that she has earned his respect the hard way, and that she’s an incredible asset in their battle against the Unholy. I loved the daughter/father relationship in this book, because Arthur isn’t only Billi’s father, he’s also her commanding officer, which takes precedence most times, but it’s clear how much Arthur cares about his daughter, and vice versa.

After the last book, in which she is betrayed by one love interest, and ends up losing another who was an important part of her life, Billi isn’t exactly looking for love, and she doesn’t have time for it even if she was open to it. Nevertheless, sparks fly between her and Tsarevich Ivan Alexeiovitch Romanov, the surviving heir to the Imperial Romanov dynasty. Yes, that could have come off as a cheesy, over the top touch, but it did not. In a story in which Russia is an intrinsic part of its fabric, it totally made sense. I liked Ivan. He had the arrogance and regality I expected of a young heir to the Russian Imperial throne, but he was also tough, adaptable, and good-hearted. I liked that he respected Billi for the strong young warrior that she was, as well as seeing the beauty in her. I liked seeing their relationship bloom, in the most adverse of circumstances. It added a nice touch of romance to this dark story, but it didn’t inappropriately take over the story, as both know that there is not much time for snuggling and flirting.

Oh, the Horror!:

This author writes horror so well. He does the atmosphere beautifully, with just enough violence to make the reader shudder, but not over the top. The menace of Baga Yaga, the werewolves, and humans who seem to lack any semblance of humanity. And yet, the bad guys aren’t all bad, and the good guys, not all good. It’s all about motives, isn’t it? That sense of ambivalence takes a horror novel to the next level.

Final Thoughts:

I loved this book. I devoured it, and wanted more when I finished. I wish Sarwat Chadda would write faster, because I can’t wait to read his next book about Billi and the Knight’s Templar!

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