Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner

Museum of Thieves (The Keepers #1)Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The fact that it took so long for me to finish listening to is in no way a reflection on the overall quality of this book. I had some issues with my CD player in my car, which is how I listen to audiobooks, and I started The Left Hand of God and wanted to finish that up first.

This is a book that I would say I liked, but did not love. The ideas in it were quite interesting. I love the concept of a place that is more than it seems, much like the TARDIS for Doctor Who fans. The Museum of Thieves is very much that sort of place. It has a mystical element to it that makes it a fun, and even scary place to hang out. And only the right persons can serve as the caretakers there. The Museum sees into a person, and it chooses its caretakers wisely. The Museum chose Goldie.

Goldie is a girl that seems rebellious and stubborn, but she's just a normal little girl. She yearns to be free in a world in which children are actually chained to their parents and city custodians called Blessed Guardians. Sadly, while the parents do love and wish the best for their children, the Blessed Guardians don't seem to like kids at all. In fact, they seem to go out their way to torment them in small ways.

Separation Day, the day on which Goldie is to be freed from her guardian chains, a horrible catastrophe occurs, and a person with a deeper agenda uses this to make even more restrictions on the city and to the children, putting off all the childrens' separation. Goldie can't take it and she runs off. She ends up in the Museum, and so begins her very important role in changing her city for the better.

Ms. Tanner has written an enjoyable story that has good messages that children and an older person who appreciates children's books would appreciate. She writes about the themes of responsibility, confronting and fighting fear, personal freedom, and doing what's right, even if it doesn't seem to match what others consider as right. If I had a child, I would let my child read it, and I'd discuss some of the events in the book, and use them as an opportunity for entertainment and education. Parents should be warned that there is a fair amount of violence, and that stealing is condoned, but for particular reasons that made sense to me. The villains are particularly heinous, and it is disturbing that they are so cavalier about children's lives, and perpetuate deliberate acts of emotional cruelty to them.

This book didn't blow me away, but I found it a very entertaining story. Claudia Black, who starred on Farscape and Stargate, did a great job as the narrator. She does a whole host of voices and accents, and they illustrate this story beautifully. It's a short listen, and I think that it's worthwhile if you enjoy this sort of book. Three stars seems like a low rating from me, but it reflects the fact that while I enjoyed it, it wouldn't be a favorite of mine, and I wouldn't listen to it again. That doesn't mean that you won't like it more than I did.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Immortal Wolf by Bonnie Vanak

Immortal Wolf (Nocturne Draicon Werewolves #5) (Harlequin Nocturne, #74)Immortal Wolf (Nocturne Draicon Werewolves #5) by Bonnie Vanak

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Immortal Wolf was a good follow-up in the Draicon series, although I loved Enemy Lover more. The romance element was the real winner here. I have said it many times, I am a sucker for the concept of two lonely, alienated souls finding love together, and it was done very well here. Raphael has always felt inferior for his mixed heritage among many purebred Draicon (wolf-shifters). He is part Cajun, and the purebloods look down on that. On top of this, is his role as the Kallan, the sacred life-taker of the Draicons (tasked to end the lives of the very old and suffering, and those who have a decree of execution placed on them). Many fear him for his powers, and avoid him as such. Emily feels cursed by her ability to take lives and to give life. A year ago, she was cursed by the Draicon goddess, Airebelle, that she would be able to kill with her touch. She has been able to heal with her blood most of her life. She accidentally killed her father and aunt, and her pack has issued a decree of execution on her, after a year of ostracizing her to the periphery of her clan. And Raphael comes to their pack to do exactly that. To make matters more complicated, it turns out that they are fated mates.

I wondered how things would wrap up in this story, with these huge obstacles between the two lovers, and I was not disappointed. I sort of guessed that Emily and Raphael's weaknesses would turn out to be their strengths, but that's compelling storytelling (and what I would have done had I wrote this kind of story), but I still felt like this book had satisfactory surprises for me.

The romance was great, both sensual and emotional. I could feel the bond between Emily and Raphael, how he was one of the few to ever show her kindness, tenderness, and a regard for the unique person that she was. I liked that Raphael took the time to help Emily explore who she was meant to be, not what her pack restricted her existence to becoming. I also liked how Emily cared for Raphael, and heals him emotionally and physically in very crucial moments. I felt a true connection between them on many levels. I became acquainted with Ms. Vanak's writing through her historical romances, and she definitely writes romance very well.

As far as the paranormal elements, I liked most of them. I do find the aspect of the Morphs weird and off-putting. I liked it more than in the first book, The Empath, which was a little too weird for me. But the whole cloning and feeding thing that they do gave me the shudders, especially when one of the morphs turns into a giant tick and sucks Raphael's blood until he gets big as a baseball bat. Yuck much! I hate ticks. They are disgusting! This part hit me where I live! I have to say that I am convinced that Ms. Vanak is a fan of the Carpathian series by Christine Feehan, because there were elements in this story that reminded me very strongly of some of the aspects in that series. I am not saying she was copying, because I don't feel that way. However, I feel she was inspired very strongly to do her own version here, with wolves instead of vampires. Although the Morphs are highly disgusting, I liked the mystical elements very much, how Raphael goes on a vision quest as part of his duties as Kallan, and the spiritual way that he and Emily become connected, and how their uniqueness becomes a tool to aid their people.

I think this book had enough desirable elements to more than earn a four star rating, despite my dislike of the Morph aspects. I loved the romance, the sensuality, and the characters. It was great seeing all the brothers again, whom I became acquainted with and came to like in Enemy Lover. I would recommend this book to readers who are like shorter paranormals. I have made no secret of my desire for the Nocturne books to be longer so that the full potential of the storylines could be revealed. This one struck me favorably, although I could see areas where I feel Ms. Vanak had to cut her story shorter to fit into the prescribed book lengths for this series. If a paranormal romance fan can get past this, they might find a good, sexy, romantic paranormal story to enjoy as much as I did.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Skinwalker by Faith Hunter

Skinwalker (Jane Yellowrock, #1)Skinwalker by Faith Hunter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Skinwalker was a good introduction to the world of Jane Yellowrock, skinwalker. She knew little about her past, only that she was part Cherokee, and that she could shift into the form of animals. And that she shared her consciousness with the soul of an animal, who she called Beast. Jane makes a living as rogue vampire hunter, and she's very good. Now she's in New Orleans, hired by a prominent vampire who happens to run a prostitution house. And this job is going to a very complicated one.

Jane is a very likable main character, which is a real must in urban fantasy. You want someone who you will want to come back to visit with in a series, who can kick some serious butt, but isn't annoying. That's Jane. She's tough and a smart aleck, but she's also soft in some ways. I liked how she felt so warm and fuzzy toward her friend's daughter, and how she cares about people. She has her strong opinions, but she is open-minded enough to think outside of her prejudices. I also liked that while she doesn't sleep around, she can appreciate a good looking man, and there are quite a few of them in this book. I have to say I am not enamored of Rick, who Beast seems to like just fine. I liked Bruiser (Jane's nickname for George), who is the blood servant for one of the most prominent male vamps (and he wasn't shabby either). Yeah, there was a lot of man candy in this book. (Reflects back on reading this book with a silly grin on her face) Where was I? Oh....

I am a bit bored with vampires, although I do and will read a good vampire story. I actually liked the vampire elements in this book. I do like the whole vampire society and politics aspect, and it was well-done here. I actually learned the difference between a blood servant and a blood slave, right along with Jane. I thought the vampire ritual that was enacted upon a gravely wounded vampire was very interesting. I liked that the vampires in this story respond to Christian holy symbols, such as the cross and holy water, along with silver.

Along with the vampire mythology, and more importantly, the shapeshifter aspects struck me as very interesting. Jane actually has to think about scientific concepts when she shifts. She has to account for her mass in comparison with the animal she is taking the shape of. She also has to eat a lot of food to fuel her shifts, even raw meat in animal form (yuck). As a scientist, I appreciated this. I thought Beast's viewpoint added an intriguing element to this story. At first, it was hard to read, since her thoughts are very simple sentences, conveying sensation mainly. After a while, I got the hang of things, and I really liked seeing the world through Beast's eyes. It's also interesting how she sometimes wrestles Jane for control of her body, and the reasons for that are complicated and add another layer to this story.

New Orleans as a setting never fails to enthrall me. It's such a fascinating, mysterious city, rich with history, and ripe with uncanny energies that make it a great place to set a supernatural novel of any type. It's clear that this Ms. Hunter loves this city, and she brings it life with a loving touch in this story, showing both the elegant beauty, the rich cultural aspects, and the seediness that lurks below the gaudy exterior. I can almost believe that New Orleans is run by ancient vampires, with their own intricate society, forming an intrinsic foundation for the infrastructure of this old, beautiful lady of a city.

By far, my favorite element of this story was Jane's Cherokee heritage. I found this very fascinating and I feel like Ms. Hunter did a good job bringing this to life. I liked that Jane is a heroine who is of color, of an ethnic heritage we don't often get to see in a main character. And it adds necessary depth and texture to this story, since that forms a very important part of the overall plot, part of Jane's journey, and a significant part of the mystery element in this novel.

I was very satisfied with Skinwalker. I will definitely be following this series (which is good since I have the next two books). I think Jane is a great main lead, and I like pretty much everything about this first book in the Jane Yellowrock series, the skinwalker elements, Beast's personality, Jane's Cherokee heritage, and the action and sometimes horrific urban fantasy elements. They all combined to make a very enjoyable read that distinguishes itself nicely from the other urban fantasy novel series. Recommended.

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A Solitary Heart by Amanda Carpenter

A Solitary HeartA Solitary Heart by Amanda Carpenter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a bit of a slow read, but I gave it four stars because I liked the emotional intensity of the storyline. Initially, I got the impression that Matt was going to be one of the super jerky heroes, the way he goes up to Sian at the party and emphatically warns her off of his brother, Jordan. However, after Sian sets him straight, beautifully, I might add, it's clear that he's not that way at all. From thence it becomes a hero in pursuit story with a hero that was so romantic he made me sigh. I read his declaration about marriage and my toes tingled, and I thought, "Wow! That's the kind of husband a woman wants." Yeah, people might turn their noses up at romance, but those moments make it clear why romance novels are a billion dollar industry in itself.

One thing I also liked about this story was how textured Sian was as a heroine. She wasn't falsely perfect, nor was she catty and frustrating. Instead she was a realistic young woman who had very understandable fears about giving her heart away. She had a composure that I really admired. She was loving, and playful, but she didn't take crap off anyone. Considering her upbringing, and her belief about how unimportant she was to her father, a world class gambler who never stayed in one place very long, and who continually let her down by backing out of his commitments with her, I could totally respect why she wanted a stable, comfortable marriage, instead of an emotional rollercoaster union. Matt scared her deep inside because she instinctively knew he wouldn't be the kind of guy to settle for just part of her--he would want all of her.

I have to say that I loved that this book was set in Chicago. I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, and Chi-Town will always have a place in my heart. I was really excited when they went to Indiana Dunes, which is a place I've visited myself. Although I love Harlequin Presents for their exotic locations, it was very nice to read one set in places I am familiar with, and with American characters with their uniquely American ways.

As far as the chemistry between Sian and Matt, it was volcanic. This is one of those stories where we don't see a physical consummation, but there are some pretty fiery kisses and caressing scenes where I didn't miss the 'real deal'. Ms. Carpenter definitely does a great job showing the attraction between her characters.

I liked various scenes in this story, such as the one in which Sian saves the little boy from the tree, and Matt saves her (I could see how much Matt cared for her very clearly and also what a good person Sian is). I thought the reveal on Sian's father was well-handled too. Quite a unique sort of dynamic there with her dad's real reasons for not being around much. And the ending was very good too. More sighworthy moments.

So, even though there was some parts that read slow, this was a steady, fulfilling read. That's four stars from me.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Everything Forbidden by Jess Michaels

Everything Forbidden (Albright Sisters, #1)Everything Forbidden by Jess Michaels

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This was a decent read. It was not appreciably that much steamier than a few of the mainstream historical romances I've read. I admit I am pretty bored with the oversexed rake, and I think that Anne Stuart did them a lot better in her Rohan series.

What I liked:

*I found myself really liking and respecting Miranda. She was a good person. I like that she is honest about her needs as a person, and she is also generous and giving to take care of her family, even when they have been so ungrateful and cruel to her. She has a lot of heart and integrity, and she did endear herself to me for those reasons.

*I liked Ethan's proposal at the end. That really did show his feelings for Miranda. I hope he is truly able to stay faithful to her. She deserves a husband who adores and cherishes her and sets her on fire in the bedroom.

My Overall Thoughts:

Regency romance lacks a lot of tension and punch for me, and the tortured elements of Ethan and Miranda's characters didn't really come to life for me. The love scenes were good, but not especially steamy for an erotic read. I'm not asking for kinky, mind you, but I thought that they would be more descriptive than they were. Having said that, this is not a bad read. I can see many readers enjoying it a lot. Especially readers who love the Regency setting, with the Marriage Mart, and the jaded rake hero. As I said above, rakes leave me cold, unless they are done really well. Ethan didn't really inspire me to overcome my dislike of the rake storyline, so I can't really endorse this book wholesale. I think the thing that makes it shine is Miranda. She made the book more worthwhile to read, and Jess Michaels writes smoothly enough to make this book a pleasant few hours' read.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman

The Left Hand of GodThe Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Left Hand of God starts out very dreary and grim. It was hard going reading such a dark story, but I found Cale's character compelling enough to keep reading. Reading books in which most of the religious people are the bad guys is difficult for me. Especially when the religion is either Christianity or a thinly veiled, ugly version of what people assume Christianity is. It seems as though Christianity is the religion that gets the most criticism in fiction, and this book is no different. Of course, some tenets are slightly different. But if you are familiar with Christian beliefs, it's clear to see where Hoffman is going here. Think Spanish Inquisition and Mad Monks, and you won't be far off. I won't spend too much more of this review 'ranting' about such things. The churchs of my faith have done enough damage throughout history to draw some negative views from people. But after a while, it's like shooting fish in a barrel, really. Are there bad Christians? Certainly. Are there decent Christians? Certainly. But, more often than not, 'we' get to be the bad guys. Oh well. Despite this unbalanced and rather unfair view of the Christian church, I was still able to enjoy this book, because Cale is a character that draws all this reader's interest back to him. And as magnetic as Cale is, Mr. Hoffman managed to populate this novel with a lot of other interesting characters, from Vague Henry, Kliest, Idris Pook, the Chancellor, Cale's first love, Arbell (who I never grew to like), and the various Matarrazzi citizenry. Also, the humor was very good. Extremely dark and sarcastic, but funny all the same.

One of my friends on GRs remarked that the book seems to have a split personality. I completely agree. The first part seemed like a relentlessly dark story of religious zealotry, and its deleterious effects on young boys. I thought the whole book would be about the boys trying to escape its effect. However, the story turns into a not quite as dark, but still murky coming of age story in which we see a young man go from point A to point Z, and how it affects him. It left me a bit confused at how to take this story. I think that Mr. Hoffman had so much fun writing that he sort of lost his sense of direction. Despite that fact, this was still a very good book. My tastes are odd enough that I can enjoy dark material (depending on the execution), although I am an unrepentant consumer of happy ever after stories. The crucial ingredient that causes me to love a book, or even like it, is a pull towards the characters or the story, and that can overule my desire for happy, sunny reads. In this case, Cale is that sort of character. I listened to this on audio, and I was seduced into a dependence on hearing Cale's story. He's an interesting kid. He scares a lot of people, annoys most others, and inspires a strange sort of loyalty in the rest that they don't quite get, nor does Cale. He's not even the nicest guy. But he shows a sense of honor that causes him to do the right thing, even when his pragmatic nature tells him not to. I hope that he doesn't listen to the junk that the Redeemers seem to want to feed him, about his darkness, his curse, and his true mission. I don't believe that about him at all. I do believe he is a very dangerous person. But why can't that darkness in him be used for good? I think it can.

Towards the end of this book, I listened with a very strong sense of dread. I knew that things weren't going to end well, but I couldn't not listen. I just have to know what is going to happen to Cale. He's important to me, and that means I will be reading the next book: The Last Four Things.

Thoughts on the audiobook narration: The British narrator has a beautiful, smooth voice, with a certain element that lends itself very well to the sinister aspects of this story. He has an ability to employ an almost monotone delivery (lending a paradoxically dark, sharp edge to the violent and also the humorous elements) that he employs in quite the right way to surround the listener with an atmosphere that brings this story to life. I would recommend listening to this book on audio if you can find it.

Recommendation: I would advise those who don't like dark subject matter not to read this novel. However, if you don't enjoy dark stories, but you like very compelling, enigmatic characters, you might find yourself compelled to read it anyway, like I was.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran

The Duke of ShadowsThe Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Duke of Shadows was a meaty, involving historical romance, the kind I love! I admit I put off reading this book because I wanted to be in the right mood for it. I was hesitant when I started it, feeling it would be too much for me right now. However, it turned out to be a good book to read at this time, because I was completely focused on the storyline.

I completely respect the way Ms. Duran addressed the setting of the British Raj in India, mid 1800s. She showed the complex issues at work: nationalism, prejudice, exploitation, cultural insensitivity, imperialism, loyalty, race; and for Julian and Emmaline, add falling in love to that picture. Although I have discussed with some romance fans who don't enjoy exotic settings about the tendency to pander to stereotypes or to oversimplify the pertinent issues, I enjoy exotic settings very much. Probably because I crave a good story of adventure and of travel to far away destinations--it adds another desirable layer to the escapist joy of romance reading. Of course, I do want to experience writing that does reach that 'next level,' and that addresses the important topics that go along with imperialism in a clear, thoughtful, and honest way. I feel that Ms. Duran did accomplish this in writing The Duke of Shadows.

As the descendant of African slaves, Native American tribespeople, and Irish immigrants to America, I can identify with the anger and sense of injustice of being under someone's economic and social yoke, with the wrong belief by the overrriding culture that they are bettering the savage or inferior race, showing a profund lack of respect for the beliefs and cultures of that 'conquered' group of people. I definitely could see the side of the native Indians, their land taken over, their cultures devalued, their people abused. On the other hand, the savagery in which the natives attack the British residents, civilian (including children and women) and soldier alike was very difficult and injust in a different way. Two wrongs never make a right. Duran shows both cultures at their best and their worst, making it clear that at the heart, we are all humans, good and bad.

I'm sure that Julian felt like he was being ripped in two by the uprising, having both Indian and English blood flowing in his veins. Not to mention that he never seemed to belong fully to either culture--too Indian to be a British person, and too British to be an Indian man. On top of that, was the fear that he couldn't protect Emmaline, the woman he'd fallen in love with, or his Indian relatives. This made for a very dramatic, somewhat shocking in parts, and extremely poignant read. Also, seeing Emma's breakdown and her struggle to survive after what she'd seen and experienced, and had to do for her survival. I can understand her anger at Julian in believing he'd failed to honor his promise to her, that he'd forgotten about her. Especially after the traumatic loss of her parents.

The reunion between these reunited lovers in London had me glued to the page. It was both what I would expect, and completely different. I was prepared to it to be powerful. I had not counted on Emma's rage. I didn't expect for Julian to be so out of control and primal in his need to hold Emma, even in polite company. Of course it made sense. Although their time together in India was short, a profound bond had formed, and their separation had left enormous holes in each other's hearts. They had come to love and rely on each other deeply, both in the tamer times in the British Raj, and during the fires of blood-soaked revolt. Despite all that had passed while they were separated, that love still simmered deep inside them both. However, they had to break past the barriers and the pain that Emma faced. From what I surmised, Julian would have taken up where they left off without a second thought, making Emma his duchess, since his love had never died. To my surprise, Emma turns out to be the more tortured person in this book. Julian's life had always been troublesome to some extent, because of his mixed heritage. He had many years to develop strong defense mechanisms that protected him from the scorn of society, and he had cultivated a reputation for being a fairly notorious, edge-riding member of the Ton. Not one easily dismissed, but not completely accepted by all in the snooty British society realms. For Emma, to go from being a coddled young girl with loving parents, to an orphan forced into a loveless engagement, to fighting for her life in a world in which she is hated and people want to kill her and her kind (and seeing her countrymen commit their own unspeakable acts of brutality), was no simple thing to recover from. It left deep scars on her psyche. It might have destroyed a more frail person, I'm sure.

Meredith Duran's writing reminds me of some of my favorite historical romance writers, like Laura Kinsale, Connie Brockway, and Anna Campbell, in a good way, although she establishes her own unique style and voice. It has a depth and an authenticity that shows me that she respects the time period and the impact of a historical romance with a powerful sense of period, texture, and intensity of emotion and passionate romance. Julian and Emma both are potent, vivid characters that resonated within me as I read. I think that Ms. Duran will likely become a favorite for the manner in which she writes, and the compelling charisma of her characters. This book just has that 'extra wow factor' that I look for in a historical romance, after more than twenty years of reading this genre.

Although there were parts of this novel that I felt weren't ideally paced, I think this is a five star read, because I was so involved and transfixed by this story. And I have to say this is an excellent effort for a first time author. I formed a bond with this book. I didn't just read it, I experienced the story of Julian and Emma as an active participant. The powerful pull into a story will urge me to give a book five stars, as I did in this case. Recommended!

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Man She Loves to Hate by Kelly Hunter

The Man She Loves To Hate (Presents Extra)The Man She Loves To Hate by Kelly Hunter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I truly loved this book. I was worried, because all my friends raved, and I didn’t want to be disappointed. But I can truly see why this is a hit. The depth of character, the intensity and emotion, the freshness, and the humor. I loved how this romance unfolded, the manner in which Jolie and Cole come back into each other’s lives as adults and get the chance to make a go of a relationship together. Their relationship wasn’t just about sex. It was about two people who met each other’s emotional needs and wanted to be loved for who they were, not who everyone assumed they were.

I loved that Cole and Jolie were so nuanced. Both of them suffered blows from their parents’ affair, twelve years’ worth. Both cast in the roles of villains because of the fact that they were the children of an adulterous pair. I thought I’d dislike Cole after what he did to Jolie when they were teens. He seemed kind of cold and arrogant at first, but pretty soon, I could see that he had to make a show of being tough to get through years of what his father had visited on his family. I have to say I loved him. I especially loved how he took a stand for Jolie numerous times. He turns out to be her Shining Knight and he slew more than a few dragons for her. And his proposal was gorgeous! As for Jolie, she’s my favorite Harlequin Presents heroine now! A real woman in every way. A woman I admired and cared about. I loved that Jolie set Cole straight and faced him head on. He scared her, but she was brave enough to say what needed saying. I was telling her “Bravo” loud and clear. I knew I adored Jolie at that point. I identified with her shyness, but her ability to do what needed doing. Sometimes you don’t get to choose to hide. You have to stand tall and fight. At the same time, I could understand how things got too much, and she had to run back to her corner. The process of Jolie going through her epiphany about her relationship with Cole was so beautifully written, my heart completely engaged. I think it took a lot of bravery to go to the party with Cole, and to face Hannah and call Christina the way she did.

I think adultery is about one of the worst things a married person can do to a family. I hate it, and I have personal reasons for doing so. I find it very hard to deal with this plot element, and I really hate when adultery is trivialized, brushed off, or rationalized. It’s wrong to me, end of story. I like that Kelly Hunter doesn’t try to justify Rachel or James’ behavior, but neither does she demonize them. Instead they are portrayed are humans with frailties, and hopes and dreams. And Christina Rees, the wife that was cheated on, isn’t just a martyr. She does her share of hurting others as well.

I honestly can’t find a thing wrong with this story. It made for an involving, entertaining, emotional read. I fell in love with Jolie and Cole as individuals and a couple. I felt their pain, and their joy. And that makes for a five star read for me!

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Dangerous Passion by Lisa Marie Rice

Dangerous Passion (Dangerous, #3)Dangerous Passion by Lisa Marie Rice

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a classy, emotional romance. I really liked Drake and Grace as a couple. The idea of lonely people who drift through life, and find each other, two pieces of a heart coming together always makes me feel mushy and sentimental in the best way. That's the ultimate kind of romance to me. Add on top of that, a hard, lethal man who melts only for one person, the woman he loves... Yup, I go into instant sighing mode. Despite the fact that this could have been rather cheesy in theory, this book is not cheesy in the slightest. At least, not to me. I love the dangerous hero who will do anything for his woman. And Drake definitely embodies that.

Lisa Marie Rice has an elegant, smooth writing style that makes for a quick, involving read. The love scenes are just right, although I could have done without the 'c' word for the woman's anatomy. I can understand that from the perspective of a rough man like Drake that he would use terms like that and the 'f' word for the sex act, so I was able to deal with it. I could see that his feelings for Grace were so deep, multi-layered and real. He never viewed her as a disposable sex object, which is a huge turnoff for me in a hero. He was just a rough guy who grew up in the worse circumstances, and to whom gentleness and love were foreign, until she came into his life, and everything changed. I'm not an erotic romance person, but I felt right in my comfort zone with the love scenes in this book ('c' word aside). The scenes show a sensuality teamed with an emotional connection that progressed the story nicely. Nothing too crude, kinky, or off-putting for me.

The action and suspense elements won over this exacting action/adventure fan. I knew I was going to like Drake from early on. This man knows how to handle himself. He might have bodyguards, and he is wise to do so, but he is lethal all by himself. Anyone who comes after him and his woman has a serious death wish, and there was no question about that. The strong, silent, lethal hero is my favorite type, and I will add Drake to my list. I also liked the way that sweet, gentle Grace handled herself in some dangerous circumstances, keeping her cool and showing a lot of resourcefulness. She proves that she can handle being in Drake's world.

I really enjoyed this book. The scenes of emotional and physical intimacy were perfectly rendered. Drake is the larger than life kind of hero that you do have to suspend disbelief to read (because he just makes normal men just fade in comparison), but that's the fun of it. Grace is a woman that you know is more than worthy of his love, who gives back even more than she takes, even from a man who would hand her the world on a platter. I can see them living happily ever after, more deeply in love each year of their long lives together. I love reading romance books that are like action movies with very good and extensive romance elements. That's the perfect combination for me. The adrenaline rush from both the danger and the swoonworthy romance. And this book definitely delivers that. I can see why this is such a well-liked book. I'd recommend it, even if you aren't into erotic romance. It gets the Danielle seal of approval, if that means anything to you.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Creepers by David Morrell

CreepersCreepers by David Morrell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an odd book. Some aspects struck me as cheesy (listening on audiobook), but man it was intense, and the bad guy is a piece of work. Actually, there were other bad guys, which were a complete surprise (and they were complete jack*sses that made me want to jump into the story and do some b****slapping).

The genre of this book seems to vary as I listened. At first, was it adventure? Then it was mystery. Then, horror...but supernatural or human monster variety?

The violent parts come suddenly and are somewhat brutal. Nothing I couldn't handle, but I was gasping in horror and talking to myself as I listened on my commute. I'm working on my language, and I had to restrain myself from cursing at the bad guys.

The characters didn't immediately strike me as memorable. But Mr. Balenger, well he earned my respect. Goodness gracious, what this man has gone through. But I have to say it really prepared him to be the hero in the ordeal that their little urban exploration jaunt into a long-abandoned hotel on the Jersey Shore will bring them to face. At first, he's a man who seems mysteriously knowledgeable and capable in emergency situations for a mere, mild-mannered reporter. And strangely bossy. But then, you know why. He comes through big time, and I definitely wanted to give him a high five. But he's also very human. The everyman sort of hero, kind of like John McClane from Die Hard, in a way. I also liked Amanda and Vinny. I felt bad for a few other characters who had some messed up crap happen to them.

And the main villain. What a sicko lowlife scumbag, for sure! I mean, seriously???

What did I learn from this book?

*Creepers, the nickname for urban explorers, are crazy as heck!
*Every experience you go through in your life will come in handy, so pay attention!!
*Minutiae and trivial facts might buy time if you can spout them off when you are dealing with bad guy losers who want to end your life.
*Stay my butt out of abandoned old buildings.
*People can be seriously messed up in the head!
*There is a such thing as poetic justice.

I didn't love this book (some parts just seemed cheesy to me), but it was an interesting read on audiobook. At any rate, I was sucked in big time.

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Lord of Desire by Paula Quinn

Lord of Desire (Lord Series, #1)Lord of Desire by Paula Quinn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lord of Desire was a very good introduction for me to Paula Quinn's work. I found myself drawn into this novel about a young woman who falls in love with a man based on how powerfully he loves another woman. It sounds weird, but this was quite a hook.

Brynna came across Brand and his love Colette, frolicking in a sun-drenched pond. From that moment on, she cannot shake the visions of her black-haired, blue-green eyed merman with his all-consuming joy and passion that spills from him for his lover. Much to her surprise, her merman turns out to be one and the same as her arranged husband. Except now he is a cold-eyed, fierce, frightening Norman warrior, one who vows never to love her. Although Brynna craves a husband that can love her, she is willing to marry him anyway, if it will save her home. However, this strong, determined woman can't help but fight to chip away the glacial ice that coats her husband's heart.

I was captivated with Brand. His mix of icy ferocity and passionate emotion truly intrigued me, and had me falling for him. I liked the descriptions of him, and how clear it was that he was a very good man, one who'd had his heart stomped on by a woman who he loved so deeply that this love destroyed him when she betrayed him. He was very tortured in that he had given so much of himself that nothing but a deep, dark void remained. I could totally see why Brynna fell hard for him. I did too, I must admit.

At first, I was worried that Brynna would be too bratty for me, but she wasn't. She was very spirited and she stood up for herself and for others, which I liked. I loved that she was strong enough to take on her troubled husband (and the spectre of the woman who did him wrong), and to love him deeply, even knowing it could be a losing proposition in the end.

I liked the setting and the storyline, which prominently features a real life historical figure, Duke William of Normandy, otherwise known to us medieval history buffs as William the Conquerer, the man who changed the face of England in 1066. William's character is brought to vivid life as a big, strong, hearty, passionate man. Brand is one of his most trusted warriors, and William himself campaigned for the marriage between Brand and Brynna. He becomes a close friend and ally to Brynna in her battle to win her husband's frozen heart. I have this feeling that Ms. Quinn has a bit of a crush on William the Conqueror. He plays a big role in this book, and his scenes and dialogue are delivered with a loving attention to detail. It was a nice touch for me, since I haven't read any books that showed William as a real man, and a prominent character. I have to say that I liked him very much in this novel.

Although there are elements of intrigue and danger, most of the focus is centered on the developing relationship between Brynna and Brand. The chemistry and passion between them is red-hot, and I felt that powerful intensity that wrapped their hearts together. The love scenes were good and plentiful, although I did feel like some of the word choices were a little purple prosy. I struggle with how love scenes are described in some books. I don't like the raunchy language, but I admit that the purple euphemisms can make me giggle. It makes me wonder if it's better just to keep the descriptions vague if you don't want to go there and be too explicit. I think in this case, the attraction between this couple was so fierce, I probably didn't even need all the descriptions to be satisfied with the love scenes.

One other aspect I liked was how sinister the villain turned out to be. I read a lot of books, and I wish that many more had truly nasty villainesses. This is one for you if you like to see a good female villain. It really struck me that this woman could be so conniving and evil. I wish there was a bit more of a resolution on her final fate, but at least she's out of the picture between Brand and Brynna. And that's all that matters.

I have to say I am glad that I have several of Ms. Quinn's books in my pile. I like her style. She won me over with this tale of a man that is both hot like fire, and cold and fierce like iron is to faeries. I am a sucker for a good medieval romance, and this fit the bill very nicely. Recommended!

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hostage to Passion by Diana Hamilton

Hostage of Passion (Harlequin Presents)Hostage of Passion by Diana Hamilton

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

I can't give this four stars because I felt my attention wandering (although I did have a lot on my mind). It was a good book, and I loved the fact that Sarah was able to keep Francisco on his toes. I really like when a heroine is not struck dumb by the awesomeness of the hero and manages to keep her faculties, despite her developing attraction and emotional bond with the hero. Although it seemed as though he had the upper hand, there was more even-handedness in the power struggle than I usually see in Harlequin Presents of this sort. In short, Francisco neither always got the last word, nor doee he always his way.

Although Francisco seemed like an arrogant stuffed shirt, I was able to see the gentle, caring side of him. He took very good care of the people in his isolated valley, and they loved him, for good reason. I could also understand why he was so smotheringly protective of his sister. It was clear that he loved her and wanted what was best, and his mother put a very unfair burden on him as a young man. I could also get why Sarah was so 'ice queen', calm and composed. Her father is an artist who isn't the most stable guy, and it made her childhood and young adulthood very uncertain. Her stolid, proper lifestyle as an adult is a rejection of his value system, and it makes sense. When it comes to parents, you either follow in their example, or resolve to be nothing like them. Of course, Sarah chose the alternative. When faced with threats on her father's life by the top-lofty, dangerous-appearing Spaniard for running off with his young sister, I could see why she tried to intervene to save her father's life, even if his antics got on her nerves.

I liked the courtship that unfolds between Francisco and Sarah. There is no full love scene in this book, and I think that was a good choice. I like the way Diana Hamilton decided not to show this, because things happened so fast between them, and it was nice to see that their feelings develop sweetly with a few kisses and passionate caresses (enough to show the strong attraction), and no actual sex to cloud the issue. In short, they were able to sort out lust from love. The ending was very sweet, Francisco going to claim his woman and showing that she means a lot to him, and her doing the same.

I couldn't rate this one last night when I marked it done, because I wasn't sure about whether I should go up to 4 stars. After reflection, it's pretty darn close, so I think I will bump this up to 3.75 stars.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Blood in Electric Blue by Greg Gifune

Blood In Electric BlueBlood In Electric Blue by Greg F. Gifune

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Blood in Electric Blue is a well-written novel, a journey that is steeped in surrealism. This is one of those books where you don't quite know what is real and what isn't. Is Dignon really being preyed upon by a siren, or has years of physical and psychological abuse, and a hopeless, lonely adulthood broken his sanity? You don't really know. As I read this story, I came to my own conclusion, and it made me sad. I would like for lost and lonely Dignon and his brother Wilma (who is a transsexual) to have an optimistic future... Alas, it doesn't seem likely.

I thought that the writing was evocative, highly visual, and emotive. I found myself being pulled into the narrative, and cared about Dignon, feeling deeply for him. The sadness that enveloped him in his normal life, also infected me. I felt his sense of disconnection and loneliness deeply. He was like a person looking inside through the glass, trapped outside in the cold. As a cat lover, I appreciated his close bond with Mr. Tibbs, his beloved feline companion.

This struck me as a very sad story. It was also effective as a dark fiction/horror novel, even though the horror elements are somewhat ambiguous. I would recommend this to readers who enjoy dark fiction with horror elements, written in a fashion that feels 'literary.' As a person who dislikes genre snobbery, I rather dislike using that term. However, I do feel that readers who enjoy character-based stories that plumb the depths of speculative fiction and horror would view this book as a more literary-oriented novel. As such, I'd put this forth as a recommendation to reader with these tastes. If you are like me and prefer upbeat stories, you won't find that here. However, it was worth a read for its exploration of the emotional and psychological effects of abuse and isolation on a person. Essentially showcasing characters that are definitely of the walking wounded variety.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars

Thanks to Jeannie for loaning me her copy and recommending Greg Gifune as a writer to me.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Guardian Angel by Patricia Wilson

Guardian Angel (Harlequin Presents, No 1262)Guardian Angel by Patricia Wilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought this was a cute book. Ben is clearly bonkers over Tara, although she doesn't realize it. He does his best to play it cool like he isn't crazy about her, but I know better! It takes Tara a little longer to get a clue, but it was good reading seeing her realize that Ben loved her.

I also liked that Tara is a valued employee with an important job. She's not just arm candy. She isn't just the future mistress/wife material (who is temporarily employed just long enough to meet and snag the hero). And even though Ben is her employee and he pays for her mom's surgery, it's not like she's the oh so over-utilized Harlequin Presents downtrodden heroine. She is actually very skilled and reputable in her field, and when she looks for another job, she pretty much has it sown up. I did a fist-pump at that!

I think that the aspect that really won me over is the sweet relationship between Ben and Tara, how they take care of each other. Their relationship transcends employee/employer, and Tara is valued on all levels by Ben. Things get a bit angsty when Ben seems to reject Tara in a private moment and Tara's emotions and self-esteem spiral out of control as a result, but I could accept his explanation. I liked his show of jealousy towards the end.

Some readers won't like how the fact the guy Tara is dating strangles her enough to give her bruises, and instead of getting put in prison, he gets sent off to Brazil. I think he should have been arrested for it, even if it was a heat of passion reaction to finding out that Tara was at Ben's flat (innocently in this case).

I tend to associate Patricia Wilson with uber-alpha, borderline jerky heroes, but Ben definitely isn't a jerk. He's actually a nurturer, a sweet guy, with a very soft heart, although he does his best to hide it under a tough, bossy, businesslike facade. That kind of hero never fails to make me smile.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The MagiciansThe Magicians by Lev Grossman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Did you ever read a book, and enjoy it, where you weren't even sure you really liked the main characters at all? They are people that you wouldn't want to be around for more than five minutes in real life. Well that is this book.

Having said that, this was a really good book. I found it fascinating, wildly hilarious, creative, unique, and I have this fond feeling inside now that I've finish it. But along with that, there is a sadness.

Let's talk about this book!

The Characters:

As I said above, I spent most of the book trying to decide if I even liked these people, except for Alice. She was the only character I liked 99% of the time. And the 1% of the time I didn't like her, I could understand her actions. The other characters, I just felt like they needed to stop playing around and take something serious for once. Although I felt protective over most of them, and I didn't wish them ill (except for wanting to slap some of them hard), I didn't like their ways of dealing with life. It seemed as though everything was a lark, drinking way too much, taking drugs, sleeping around, playing emotional games with other people. Ugly ways make for ugly people, and that kept hitting me like an off note in an otherwise melodious piece of music. Kind of like Dorian Gray, ultimate hedonism, but without the darkly cruel, ugly edge of narcissism that Gray had. Yeah, there is a bit of a Gossip Girl/Cruel Intentions kind of vibe in some of their doings, The Rich, Bored Mean Kids and their Antics, and I hate that sort of thing. Let me put this way, if this wasn't a book about magic school students, I think I would have shucked it. But the magic part, well that was too brilliant to let go. And I admit, they did make me laugh many times. As for Quentin, the main feelings are decidely complex.


To me, Quentin is a brat who needed a good spanking, a good wake-up call (which he gets in spades, but I'm not 100% sure if it really worked). He is one of those people who scream "Wasted potential." He has opportunities handed to him on a silver platter, and he can't seem to step up and take things as they truly are and be a man. Alice told him so well what I was thinking, essentially to get over himself. I think it helped...some. The verdict is still out. I have high hopes that Quentin will rise to the potential he has, because I can see it shining inside of him. Do I expect great things from him? Well, it's not fair to put those expectations on people, but I expect a lot more than he's given in life. Alice hit on it, his real problem. He is so miserable, and he is bent on being a miserable person. And that is one thing that truly annoys me, a person who likes being unhappy and wants to drag others to their unhappy party. His unhappiness gave birth to a self-destructive bent that he barely managed to keep control of, and it was painful watching him continue in his vicious cycle.

The Story:

As I said above, I found the concepts of a magic school and how it was handled here was utterly fascinating and made for quite an enjoyable read. I know it's been done before, but I like the way it was done here. It brought back memories of my academic days (undergrad and professional school), how it kicked my butt hard and I wondered why I didn't just crawl in the gutter somewhere and die, but I didn't. I just kept on trucking. I especially liked the part in Antarctica. That was just brilliant. I mean....Breakbills South in Antarctica. Rather like the fourth year residency. Just awesome.

The metafiction element of the Fillory books and how they are one of the very few things that Quentin holds sacred, and how they relate back to the story of Quentin and his friends from Breakbills was an element that made this story resonate. Another part I really liked. The satire and the respectful but also irreverent (I think) homage to Narnia hit a chord with me since I love the Narnia books. Seeing how a set of jaded early twentysomethings might view that magical world as opposed to young, sheltered children was quite interesting. And there are some very naughty and quite hilarious jokes thrown in that had me laughing.

The humor was great, and equally well-done was how well the author managed to work in some pretty harrowing and disturbing aspects. The part with the Beast made my hair stand on end. Just freaking weird and scary. And who the Beast turns out to be made it even more unnerving. And the dangerous potential for magic use on the wielder. In my opinion, no story about magic is complete without this. I admit I liked that the Physical kids (as they were called) turned out to be rather woefully underprepared for Fillory. It felt refreshing, although it turns out that their magical skills definitely come to their aid when needed (for the most part). I felt that all the plot elements tie in very well in this story, with elements that are introduced in the very beginning coming full circle in a way that feels balanced for me as a reader.

Overall Thoughts:

This was a very well-done novel. My major issue was how unlikable and cynical the characters were at times. That might not bother some, but I don't have a lot of tolerance for that whole, "I'm so bored and jaded with life" kind of vibe, so it wore on me. At times, the narrative voice was a little bit too smug and nastily pretentious (I can't stand cultural snobbery) for me. Also, way too much drinking and carousing for me. I don't know how Elliot still has a liver the way he drinks. And Janet, well, I would have given her a few slaps for her nasty behavior, thank you very much. Even with these unpalatable elements, I can see where Grossman is going here. He's turning the childhood fantasy series on its ear, and he spins this story deftly for those who enjoy fantasy and the process of experiencing how an author can take these elements and spin a fascinating story. I just want to see more character evolution than I saw here. I need to see that Quentin is a mature, wiser, more emotionally healthy person for what he's experienced. I'm definitely reading the next book, and I hope I can find it on audiobook again, because this kind of story begs for a skilled narrator like I had the pleasure of listening to with The Magicians.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Trouble in High Heels by Christina Dodd

Trouble in High Heels (Fortune Hunter, #1)Trouble in High Heels by Christina Dodd

My rating: 3.25 of 5 stars


This is not one of my favorite Christina Dodd books. It was decent, but I expect more than decent from her. I think it's a timing thing. Being an extremely moody reader, it's hard when I read something and it doesn't fit what I am feeling at the time.

The Not-So Good:

*I never fell in love with the storyline, to be honest. I didn't like how Roberto and Brandi got together. She picked him up to make herself feel better after her fiance dumped her. Imagine her telling her grandkids that story. I don't like the fling/hook-up/one night stand storyline at all. Furthermore, I just couldn't get behind Roberto as a glitzy, celebrity count who happened to be a jewel thief (and the subsequent reveal on this). I couldn't suspend my disbelief on that one. And the connection between that and the men who were stalking Brandi was highly tenuous.

*Love scenes were too short, not satisfying to me. Christina Dodd writes good love scenes, but these didn't set this book on fire for me.

*The suspense part didn't work for me. It was a bit too thin and didn't come together well.

*Roberto didn't blow me away or hit me hard like many of Christina Dodd's heroes. He wasn't a bad hero. He just didn't do much for me, except for his beautiful gesture at the end, and how he stood up for Brandi with her ex-fiance'. Those were a few sigh-worthy moments on his part. It might be that I am just not into the Italian allure when it comes to guys. They don't do much for me. And I especially don't go for the high profile ladykiller type like he was.

*Sometimes I didn't get Brandi. She acted in ways that didn't make sense and didn't seem like something a logical, goal-oriented type person would do. She had some esteem issues from her dad and I could see that in her. On the positive side, I respected her for taking control of her life and helping out her mother when her father failed them.

The Good:

*This was a quick, fast-paced, breezy read, which is nice if you want a quick pick-me-up.

*The humor was good

*Interesting storyline

*Smart, independent heroine

*I loved Roberto's grandfather. He was adorable!

*Despite not liking how Brandi and Roberto met, I did like their chemistry together, although it didn't grow as fully-bloomed as I would hope. This read like an expanded short story instead of the full-fledged novel it was.

*I thought Brandi's relationship with her sister and mother added to the book, but her father was a full-on jerk. I'm glad she washed her hands of him. He doesn't deserve to have a relationship with her

Would I Recommend This Book?

Honestly, I would say avoid this one if you haven't read any Christina Dodd. I think she has written better. If your expectations aren't very high, you will probably find it to be a serviceable read, and you might enjoy it. I just expect so much more from her, and maybe I wasn't in the right mood when I read this. It's like ice cream. If the ice cream tastes pretty good even if it's not great, it's still better than no ice cream at all. But you'd rather eat really good ice cream if you're going to splurge on those calories. That's how I would describe this book.

Rating: 3.25/5.0 stars.

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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Hounded by Kevin Hearne

Hounded (Iron Druid Chronicles, #1)Hounded by Kevin Hearne

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Ten Things I liked/loved about Hounded and the Whys:

1. Sexy, redheaded Irish hero. Why, because I have a thing for red-headed guys, and I am a proud person of Irish ancestry, so I think Irish people are cool!

2. Hero is a druid who can also kick butt like nobody's business. Why, because I love characters who can kick butt, and druids are so mysterious and underutilized in contemporary fantasy.

3. The hero communicates with his dog. Why, because I am crazy about animals, I love the human/animal bond, and I thought Oberon was freaking hilarious with his obsessions with sniffing butts, sausage, and French Poodles.

4. Celtic Mythology. Why, well that goes back to my love of the Irish and the Celts (and mythology in general). Um, I do have to say that I prefer my Christian deity, because I don't trust those Celtic gods as far as I can throw them (no offense to those who believe in Celtic pantheism).

5. The Arizona setting. Why? I hate hot weather, but the desert has a raw beauty that appeals. Hearne does it very well here, and not too many books that I've read were set in Arizona.

6. The variety of magical elements and beasties here. Why, because I am a fantasy nerd. Enough said!

7. Swords and swordfighting. If you don't know, I can't tell you why this is cool.

8. Werewolves. Why? I love werewolves. I just do. And these are Scandinavian werewolves, even cooler!

9. Wicked witches. Why, because I like to read books with wicked witches!

10.This book was laugh out loud funny. Why? I love to laugh.

Bonus: Dang, Atticus has some good lawyers!

If you haven't read this book and you enjoy all most at least 60% of what I listed, you should read this book.

In all seriousness, I really enjoyed this book. I had a ball reading it! Highly recommended.

Rating: 4.5/5.0 stars

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Monday, August 08, 2011

Killing Floor by Lee

Killing Floor (Jack Reacher, #1)Killing Floor by Lee Child

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Are you having a bad day?

Do you need an Action Pick-You Up?

Do you sometimes wish that the bad guys would get exactly what they deserve?

Then I have a quick solution. Read a Jack Reacher novel!

Jack Reacher is the kind of guy who will kick some serious butt in the most brutal fashion, and it ain't pretty. I admit that I wince when I see someone die violently on tv and in movies. But I love action movies. Yeah, I know it makes no sense. Killing Floor is the kind of book that I would love to see as a movie (if Hollywood didn't manage to bungle most of the movies they make. )Yes, it has some cringe-worthy scenes, but I don't feel bad for the bad guys in this book at all. They were completely loathsome. While I don't consider myself a violent person, there is something deeply satisfying about reading a book with a kickbutt hero who deals with corrupt persons with no morals and no respect for human life, and deals with them hard like they deserve, but they certainly don't expect.

Things I like about Jack Reacher:

*He can handle himself

*He is a good person, but he don't play!

*He is both the mysterious, strong silent type and a smart aleck with unforgettable lines. What a great combination.

*He uses his brain and all the assets available. I liked how he assessed the various situations and was able to come up with a good solution, thinking on his feet.

*He has a sense of justice that I can get behind, and he doesn't let the rules get in his way of seeing justice done (much like Repairman Jack from the F. Paul Wilson books).

*He treats people with respect, except for lowlives who show that they aren't worthy of it.

*He can kick some serious butt and teach the thugs some lessons they won't ever forget!

Who would I pick to play Jack Reacher in a movie?

I immediately thought of Josh Lucas when Jack is first described. Why? Because Josh is hot, he's a good actor, he has the attitude and the presence to play Jack, and the coloring and physical description. Yup. Josh is my Jack. I will not budge on that.

Do you still need a reason to read this book?

If the answer is no, I suggest you go find a copy of this book and have a ball reading it. If you don't want to read Killing Floor by now, then I can tell you truly haven't been completely annoyed with how scumbags manage to take advantage of good people and get away with it. Or maybe you just don't like adrenaline rushes in a book, and action-packed suspense with some nifty twists and turns. If that's the case, I still like you.

Um, Danielle. You sound kind of gleeful about this violent book and I'm a little scared of you right now. Should I be? Are you a closet vigilante?

Not at all, even though I love Batman and Jack is definitely going on my favorite hero list. No, it's just very good wish fulfillment to read books with tough guys like Jack who can and will take care of the bad guys and have you going, "Dang!" What can I say? I grew up in the 80s, the Golden Age of action films. It's too late for me now....

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Her Wyoming Man by Cheryl St. John

Her Wyoming Man (Harlequin Historical)Her Wyoming Man by Cheryl St.John

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Her Wyoming Man is a book about second chances. Ella has a second chance to have a life of her own, a life of freedom where she doesn't have to live in a gilded cage, at the whim of another person. People might think being a wife doesn't provide safety and freedom. But to prostitutes and courtesans who are one step away from being slaves, it's a way out of a desperate, hopeless life. So Ella, and some of the girls from a house of pleasure in Dodge City, Kansas sneak out and answer an ad in Wyoming for maidens suitable for marriage. They have to lie about their origins, saying they came from a finishing school, but that's a chance they are willing to take.

Ella ends up marrying Nathan, a handsome, kind, widowed father who has aspirations for the governorship of Wyoming. He's the way for her to have a safe life, and she's taking it. Ella has bottled up her emotions and what she wanted out of life for so long, she doesn't expect for her husband to love her. She just doesn't want to be seen as only a beautiful object, so she works hard to prove her worthiness to her husband. Much to her surprise, he shows her a consideration and care for her needs that she's never felt. And then he tells her he loves her, not even expecting for her to feel the same for him. She falls for him and his three young children, and living a lie doesn't feel so good, especially when her friend Celeste comes clean to her husband, and she sees how much Celeste's husband adores her, even knowing about her unsavory past. Can Nathan love Ella, even if she isn't the sheltered virgin he thought he was marrying?

Nathan is also getting a second chance. His first marriage wasn't happy. His wife didn't like living out West, and she tolerated, rather than enjoyed their time in the marriage bed, eschewing any intimacy on a personal and emotional level with Nathan. Nathan internalized this, thinking he was a bad husband, and fears he will do the same to Ella. But Ella is warm and eager for his attentions. How can he be getting his wish come true after things going so wrong the first time? Can he accept that she was once a courtesan, finding the courage to ignore what others might think and fight for their love?

This was a quick but rewarding read. I liked that the issues and the unsavory aspects of life as a prostitute weren't overlooked, but neither were they handled in a graphic manner. Instead, Ms. St. John tackles the emotional costs that a woman who has been forced into this life faces. She presents different women who were ladies of pleasure, and shows how they aren't all necessarily the same. Ella had it much easier than many of her fellow ladies, but she was still a prisoner, treated as merely a beautiful face,a pleasing/trained companion, a warm body, and valued only for what she could provide, her own emotional needs ignored. Her friend Celeste was sold into prostitution as a young girl, in very unpleasant circumstances, and physically abused. I was happy to see that she found a good man in her husband Paul. A man who loved her enough to realize that everyone deserves a second chance, and that she didn't really have a choice in that life, so who was he to hold that against her when she had a heart full of love to give. Nathan had a harder time accepting it, but I loved that he searched his heart and realized that Ella was the woman he loved, and that whatever happened in the past needed to stay there; that he didn't have the right to hold that against her. Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical at the town's resolution of the issue, but not enough that it affected my enjoyment of this story. There was too much to like about it, with characters that I liked as people and wanted to see get a happy ending.

The subject matter of prostitution is not a favorite of mine, but deep down I love the idea of people getting a blank slate, a chance for their happy ending, even if they didn't have such a good start in life. In fact, these stories make me root for the HEA even more. I like to see love conquer all and the good guy win; people overcome really horrible obstacles and come out the victor. And this book delivers that. I'd recommend this book to fans of shorter historical romances. It has a lot of heart and soul.

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Friday, August 05, 2011

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

Daughter of the Forest  (Sevenwaters, #1)Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have always loved the fairy tale about the sister with numerous brothers who had a wicked stepmother who enchanted her brothers to turn them into birds. The number of brothers and the type of birds can vary. I have seen it with ravens and with swans. In Daughter of the Forest, Ms. Marillier used the version in which the heroine has six brothers and they are all turned into swans. I must say I truly enjoyed (and devoured) this heartbreaking, emotionally wrenching novel based on that fairy tale. I like the way this version is set in Dark Ages Ireland, in which the Irish fight against the British to maintain their sacred islands and to keep their own faith. In this case, the heroine is the seventh child born to parents who are mystically blessed. Her mother died in childbirth and bequeathed a spiritual legacy and a deep bond to her seven children.

The theme of family is a huge foundation of this story. These siblings would do anything for each other, and their bonds of loyalty are severely tested. This is one of those books where you scream to the heavens in agony, asking "WHY?" in a loud voice. So many trials and hardships. I was prepared from the fairy tale, but the additional detail in this story and the foreknowledge of some major aspects make it that much more wrenching to read. And what happens to Sorcha while she is in the forest, that just about broke me.

A person would have to be made of stone to not be moved by the trials that Sorcha endures. Not just that, but the cruelty that is so much a part of life for people in this story. Ms. Marillier tackles the subject of war between cultures. In this book, you start out seeing the Irish side, but Sorcha's brother Fimbar has always looked at the issue of warring cultures as a construct that falsely divides people who are at their heart just humans. He wants to see both sides, and he wants to find a way for both the Irish and the British to see each other as allies instead of enemies. His warlike father Lord Colum doesn't understand that at all. His heart died with his wife, and his focus has become fixed on conquest and protection of their lands from the British, at any cost. As this story progresses, and I met Simon, a Briton who was captured and cruelly tortured by Lord Colum's forces (and liberated and healed by Sorcha and a kindly Christian priest that dwells on their lands); and later meeting Lord Hugh, who saves Sorcha's life and protects on her dangerous mission to save her bothers,and his people--I could see that there was good and bad on both sides. For that's just the nature of humanity. Alas, this reader has a very tender heart, and I was affected deeply by the dark times that unfold in this story. I was also struck by the unfairness of it all. As much as that bothered me, I couldn't imagine being the characters in this book. Sorcha seems to be put in a position that no thirteen-year-old (at the time her mission starts) should have to face. The Fair Folk have chosen her for this responsibility, and neither her nor I really truly understood what their game was. What was the author trying to say here? That life is pain, and it doesn't seem to make sense. That we can make up explanations for it, but in the end, we just have to buck up and deal. I guess that is true to some extent. There are so many twists and turns, and life is full of these unfair situations. Like Sorcha, I rely on my faith to make sense of it, and to keep me strong. Even though my faith is different from hers, I could identify with her in that sense, and in the love she feels for her family.

There are many memorable characters in this story. Of course, Sorcha. Sweet, loving, enduring, fiercely determined Sorcha. She is the willow that will bend but won't break. Her brothers (all distinct and lovable), Simon (who formed a bond with Sorcha that affected them both deeply), and Lord Hugh (who is called Red), just to start with. Characters that I loved and cried for in my heart at how they suffered. I wondered how the author could be strong enough to show her characters hurting, dying, and being subject to the cruel actions of bad people. I know it wasn't at all easy to read. The villains are so evil, you just want to tear them limb from limb. Just evil because they can be. Lord Richard seemed even worse than Lady Oonagh, despite her dark witchcraft. He was the type who was pure human, but with the mentality of a devil. Both with secret ambitions brewing in hearts so black they don't even seem human. As I read, I shook my fist at them both, and willed Sorcha and her brothers to be strong. Like Sorcha, I could not help but love Red. What a wonderful man!

This was an absorbing story. It's truly angsty and sorrow-filled. The kind of book that leaves a lingering essence of melancholy in me after I finish it, even though the ending is relatively upbeat, for the most part. But the emotional scars of what occurs in this book didn't fade even when the book was over. They stayed with me. That's the power of a good book. You don't want to finish a book and think, "What did I just read, because I don't feel a thing?" Nope, that's not this book.

For those fairy tale lovers, this is a must read. It captures this beautiful story of a sweet but enduringly strong heroine whose love for her brothers takes her to very dark extremes, but that love is pure enough to help her save them and herself. People say that fairy tales are chauvinistic and show women as weak, under others' control, always needing a prince to save them. I don't think they have read this one, or they wouldn't dare say that. And what is strength anyway? Did Samson's strength protect him from Delilah's wiles? Did Hercules fare any better in his tragic life for all his strength? No, to me, the greatest strength is that of a loving, enduring heart. And no one has more strength than Sorcha in that regard.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Summer Campaign by Carla Kelly

Summer Campaign (Signet Regency Romance)Summer Campaign by Carla Kelly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Carla Kelly writes gold. Out of three books I've read by her, I've loved all of them. Summer Campaign makes her three for three now. This was a great story, with a heartwarming, beautiful romance. The perfect mix of humor and angst, and two characters that I loved, both as people, and as a couple. Jack is fresh from Spain, tortured by what he did and saw as a soldier. His dream is to get home again. On the road home, he encountered a woman about to be raped by highwaymen. He saves her, but also gets shot, and its up to her to protect them both, which she does. Then this young woman has to nurse him back to health from his gunshot, pretending that they are man and wife. That's how Onyx and Jack meet, and a beautiful friendship develops. But also a bond that allows them to see each other through eyes of love.

I felt for Onyx, her having been rejected for something that wasn't her fault. Constantly berated by everyone, forced into marrying a man who is nowhere good enough for her. I was urging her to run off with Jack from the beginning of the book, and fearing how thing would unfold, knowing she was too honorable to seize her own happiness that way. I have to say I really like the way this story concluded. There was a purpose to the painful journeys that both Onyx and Jack take.

This is a sweet love story, yet you know that there is plenty of passion between Jack and Onyx, and they will have a very happy life together. Even though I was sad about some parts, I ended this book with a happy smile on my face.

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The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

The Strain (The Strain Trilogy, #1)The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro

3.5 out of 5 stars

This was probably a 3.5 star read for me. It was good, but it could have been better. I think the writing lacked a certain polish, although I did like some of the imagery. And it definitely was scary!


The vampires in this book were both disgusting and fearsome. I admit that thinking about the vampires and their nasty stinger and how they would excrete their waste products gave me the shivers (both in repulsion and fear). I liked the scientific angle employed in this story, taking an ancient evil, and giving it a scientific explanation. The potential for exponential and catastrophic spread of the vampire plague in this novel gives me the shudders. Books like this make me glad for the light of the sun, which is what a good vampire novel should do. This book touches both on my primal fear of ancient evil and infection, so it really did push my buttons.


There were some characters that were so beautifully written that they spoke to me. Others were too cardboard for me. Abraham Satrakian, the elderly Jewish Shoah survivor was a wonderful character. He was like Van Helsing, with even more credibility, having earned his slayer status deep in the trenches. Hearing about his horrendous time in the Treblinka concentration camp added a deeper sense of horror and anguish to this story. He's one tough old guy, and he's definitely my favorite character in this novel. Ephraim is a pretty good character. At times, his narrative seemed a little half-baked. Over the course of the book, he gained a little more life and authority in my mind. I think his co-worker Nora was woefully under-used. I wondered what the purpose of her character was, other than being a soundboard for him. I felt very badly for Ansel and his situation, with his wife Anne-Marie. I didn't really care for the lawyer woman Luss, although I want to see what happens with her perceptive, Haitian nanny and the kids she saved from their mother. I like Fett, the ratcatcher a lot. He's a smart guy, street smart, intelligent, and resourceful. He knows how to handle himself. He is a huge asset to the small vampire slaying group that Abraham forms with Ephraim. The Master Vampire, well, I'm kind of undecided about. He wasn't in this book enough for him to resonate with me. I think Abraham is a much more powerful, and iconic character. The Master is more like Patient Zero to me, just a disease vector, one who comes around and sneers into the camera. He didn't really establish a lot of credibility with me as the Great Villain or the Big Bad. We'll see if that changes with the other books in the series...

Overall Thoughts:

This was a suspenseful, scary book to hear on audio. I was definitely sucked in. My aunt (who was riding with me on Friday) also got sucked in. Unfortunately, I think the characterization could have been more even-handed. There were a bit too many storylines, and I felt like some were dropped prematurely. I know this is a three-part book, so I guess I will have to keep reading to see where things go. As far as being scary and gross and keeping a reader invested, this is a Class A read. I think that work on the characters and the plot would have made it a stronger read over all. Ron Perlman was a really good narrator. He has a great voice, and he did a good job with the accents. I would definitely listen to other audiobooks read by him. If you find this available on audiobooks, and you are a vampire fan, I say check it out.

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