Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Mad, Bad Duke by Jennifer Ashley

The Mad, Bad Duke (Nvengaria, #2)The Mad, Bad Duke by Jennifer Ashley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As I had hoped, I liked this one even more than Penelope and Prince Charming. It was hot without having the over eroticism that I found uncomfortable in the first book. It definitely helped that I became drawn to Grand Duke Alexander in Penelope and Prince Charming. He is a very good villain turned hero, utterly compelling, with a charisma that grabs and doesn't let go. I understood his motivations even then, and I gained a deeper understanding of him in this book. Megan is the perfect heroine for him. She is sweet and innocent, but no pushover. Her love is steadfast, and even though she doesn't always understand everything about Alex, her love for him and the desire to be fully joined with her husband in marriage, is the guiding force that pushes her to break through those quite formidable and rather intimidating barriers between her and her husband. I rooted for their happy ending, because they are one of those couples you really want to see have their happy ever after.

I love the magical aspects of this series, and the fantastic culture of the Nvengarians. They are so dramatic and fascinating. I loved the humorous aspects of their Nvengarians' intensity, how they are loud, proud, emotional people, and very endearing in their over-the-top ways. I think Ms. Ashley crafted these people in a way that feels very authentic, and she gained a fond admirer of these people in me. They stand out in many ways, both in their consistently blue eyes and black hair, and their ethos and their personality traits. It's interesting seeing Megan, who is very English, adapt to a life surrounded by these folk who are so very different. She will have quite a life as the Grand Duchess of Nvengaria.

This is one of those books that you read very quickly because the story draws you in and keeps you hooked. Not just for the romance, but for the whole story, including the cultural aspects and the light fantasy/magical elements. With two leads that are both lovable and compelling, sexy, intense romance, and great humor moments, there is much to recommend this book to readers of historical romance who like their stories nicely steamy, with some well-integrated paranormal elements. Another winner for Jennifer Ashley, who definitely has a master touch with historical romance. This is one of her earlier books, but it's worth looking up if you haven't read it.

View all my reviews

Walking the Edge by Zee Monodee

Walking The Edge (Corpus Brides, #1)Walking The Edge by Zee Monodee

My rating: 4,5 of 5 stars

Walking the Edge is a book tailor-made for readers who love spy fare like "The Bourne Identity" and "La Femme Nikita," with a little "Hitman" thrown in. And the bonus is the heroine is equally if not more lethal than the hero. The atmosphere is spot on, with a sophisticated European vibe that is almost obligatory with this sort of espionage storyline. This is my first read by Zee Monodee, and definitely not my last. I have met her on Goodreads and shared friendly discussions about our mutual love of dangerous heroes and romantic suspense. She definitely brings all that knowledge and appreciation for these genres to vivid life in this book. The romantic elements are authentically hot and sensual, and they fit well into this edgy, noirish suspense tale of a woman who truly doesn't know who she is and goes on a journey to find the answer to this million dollar question. There are plenty of storyline twists that kept me reading, and I found myself pleasantly surprised at how well and intricately plotted this story was. Normally, you read these sort of books and criticize the decisions the characters make. Not here. These people act like the pros in the field that they are. I liked that she gets that cold, hard edge that needs to be present in this kind of story. Spies don't live sunny, fluffy lives. They walk in the dark, and that darkness always tries to encroach on their heart and minds. But love can vanish away that darkness, and the time comes when tough choices have to be made to reach out for that light in the darkness. It takes one heck of a heroine to deal with this, and this book has that kind of heroine.

For readers who enjoy a tough, sophisticated, edgy heroine, this book will definitely make for a good read. Especially with an equally tough, sexy, but loving hero at her side, and lots of suspense and adventure to round out an appealing romance.

I recommend this book.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

Thanks to Zee Monodee for the opportunity to read Walking the Edge.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Finding the Lost by Shannon K. Butcher

Finding the Lost (Sentinel Wars, #2)Finding the Lost by Shannon K. Butcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked Finding the Lost much more than I liked Burning Alive. I obtained a much better sense of the world and the storyline, which is expected. More importantly, I felt a much greater connection to Andra and Paul. I admit a big part of my problem with the first book was the way a death of a character I really fell in love with was handled. But I honestly think it's also due to the fact that the author feels more comfortable with her storyline in this book, and the romance and the overall storyline are better integrated. I think the sexy/sensual elements were very well done, hot but romantic. I definitely felt the chemistry and the connection between Paul and Andra, despite the short time frame.

Andra and Paul were for the most part likable characters. Andra is tough and strong, but she isn't too hardheaded to be sympathetic. She's definitely a good match for Paul, even though she fought it more than I liked. I did get frustrated with how Andra seemed to reject her bond with Paul, but I could also understand why she couldn't give it the focus it deserved. So much of her life was about helping her sister, and finding lost children, because she couldn't let go of the guilt of her self-attributed failure to protect her sisters when they were attacked by the Senestryn. She carried that guilt like a weight on her shoulders that affected everything. Honestly believing she didn't deserve any happiness for her own outside of seeing her remaining sister, Nika, alive and well. So when she kept dissing Paul, I would feel upset with her, but I understood why. Also, I realized that it was due to Paul's unwillingness to be honest with Andra about how crucial their bond was to his well-being and life. He didn't want to put that pressure on her, and he had been rejected in the past by a bondmate, so he was sensitive to rejection and insecure about a woman wanting to stay with him as his bondmate. I got pretty frustrated with him for being so reticent about his vital situation. Maybe if he had been more honest, Andra wouldn't have made those stupid bargains to wear his Luceria for such a short time. That annoyed me, but I realize the problem wasn't just with Andra. She really didn't understand what she was doing to Paul by setting those short bargains.

As far as the action/suspense elements, I really liked them, but I felt that the story lost some cohesiveness towards the end, with some anticlimatic aspects that lessened the intensity of the storyline. It didn't ruin the story for me, but it didn't resolve as strong as it started in that regard. Overall, I am developing a strong connection to this story and series that I didn't feel with the first book. I can see why my sister is so enamored of this series now.

I admit a huge part of my liking for this story is the ancillary characters, such as Logan, Madoc, Nika, and Tynan, the other healer who helped Nika at the Sentinels home base I have to say that Ms. Butcher writes heroes very well. They are very appealing, strong, sexy, and I felt a lot of sympathy for their plight. I loved Paul and I thought he was a nice mix of alpha and beta, very endearing and sexy in his willingness to take care of Andra, and his honorable nature. However, I feel like I am going to love Madoc even more. He's definitely the tortured, edgy, scary type hero that I loved. I think his book with Nika is going to be very good indeed. I'm honestly looking forward to all the forthcoming books, and I especially want to read more about the Sanguinar people, because I find them very alluring and interesting.

I still have some questions about some aspects of this series, but I feel that reading the subsequent books will enlighten me about those. I have to say that I am glad I kept reading this series. I still feel grief about what happened in the first book, but I think I am at the stage where I can keep reading without that ruining the series for me. Happily, I can give this book four stars.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 19, 2011

Young Sherlock Holmes: The Death Cloud by Andrew Lane

Young Sherlock Holmes: The Death CloudYoung Sherlock Holmes: The Death Cloud by Andy Lane

My rating: 3.25 of 5 stars

I'm going to put this book in the 'not bad, but could have been better' classification. I have my own perceptions about how young Sherlock Holmes would be and this one isn't real close to my ideas. Yeah, I'm not sure I can clarify that right now, so I won't try. I just found the book disappointing in how it did craft young Holmes.

I did like the fact that Holmes has a mentor in an American who brings to mind a cross between Mark Twain and Wyatt Earp/Doc Holiday. Mr. Crow helps to develop Holmes' signature traits, deductive reasoning and a keenly analytical mind. It was interesting seeing how Holmes went from being a 'whatever/why is this important?' kid to the man who has an insatiable curiosity about the world and the burning desire to solve any puzzle that he encounters. I also liked Holmes' sidekick Matty Arnett. I have a feeling he will be accompanying Sherlock on more adventures in this series, and I'm very cool with that. I'd also like to see more of Mr. Crow. His daughter, Virginia, doesn't have quite as concrete a role, other than the horse-mad hoyden, would-be love interest, and perhaps, her tendency to bring out the impulsive adventurer in Sherlock.

What surprised me was how violent this book is. Personally, I would be wary about letting a child younger than thirteen read this. There are some fairly descriptive acts of brutality that I think would be a bit much for a younger reader. I was concerned that the exceedingly villainous bad guys who would torture a kid with a bullwhip in a book for a younger audience. It's a pretty drawn out scene too. Not to mention a nasty fist fight that Sherlock finds himself involved in, along with numerous altercations with the Big Bad's minions who have no qualms about murdering youngsters.

The main bad guy is suitably majestic, and really quite outre' in his madness and character quirks, almost over the top, in fact. I guess that could be fun, but his bombastic speech about wreaking vengeance against the British Empire was a bit tedious. Sometimes I get impatient with the "I am an Evil Overlord" speeches.

A big issue I did have was the pacing. I don't know. It just seemed uneven. I liked the action bits, for the most part, but I wasn't keen on how long it took Sherlock to figure things out. I realize that he's a young kid and he's just in the beginning of his long career as a detective, but I think he could have been a bit brighter in some circumstances. Happily, there is a good progression in his character over the course of the book.

Yeah, I know it, it's a problem of having too high expectations. Why do I do that to myself? That can burst a bubble or two for a reader. Would I recommend this? Hmmm, only if you really want to read about a young Sherlock Holmes, and your expectations aren't too grand. If you happen to be at the library and you can't find another book with a young detective to read, then you could reach for this one and it wouldn't be too much of a waste of your free time to read.

Overall rating: 3.25/5.00 stars.

View all my reviews

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Immortal Fire by Anne Ursu

The Immortal Fire (Cronus Chronicles, #3)The Immortal Fire by Anne Ursu

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This was a great ending to this trilogy, providing lots of thrills, laughs, and plain good old storytelling. Ms. Ursu employs wit and charm mixed with very visual imagery that gives the reader quite an adventure. Charlotte and Zee are really brave, tough kids. I shudder to think about real kids going through what they experience. I winced at how many times poor Charlotte got wounded, and there were a few moments that just about broke my heart. This book is very true to the original myths in how petty and unflatteringly the Greek gods are portrayed. I would never substitute a modern story for the original tales, but I like how fun and accessible Ms. Ursu makes the Greek myths. I liked that the author stayed pretty true to the myths, but also made a fun, original story of her own.

I'm glad the kids get a rest from saving the world and facing mortal danger with gods and vicious creatures of myths and legends, but I will miss Charlotte and Zee very much.

I think young readers and older readers will get their time and money's worth with this book. The writing is clever and sly, with some jokes for the younger reader, and some that a mature reader will appreciate in an entirely different way. Definitely recommend the Cronus Chronicles series to fans of Greek mythology and stories that spotlight the Greek myths.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars

View all my reviews

Friday, December 16, 2011

Unveiled by Courtney Milan

Unveiled (Turner, #1)Unveiled by Courtney Milan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ms. Milan has lived up to the promise I saw in her writing in the short story I read in The Heart of Christmas: A Handful of Gold\ The Season for Suitors\ This Wicked Gift. I loved the way she wrote her hero and heroine, and knew she was a writer I wanted to follow. I'm glad that she had written another story that I felt that way about. Her characters are very well-crafted, deep, complex, and textured. I found myself continually evaluating things from each one's perspective, and it was difficult to 'choose sides', which is a good thing. In real life, no person is all good and bad (at least for the most part). We are a complex mix of both, and we often make decisions out of our human drives, sometimes good and sometimes bad. In the case of Ash and Margaret, I could see what drove them, and I felt for them both. Family is very important to me as well, and even though I don't always like everything my family does, I love them, and I'd do anything for them. That's why I couldn't get mad either at Ash or Margaret at the choices they made. Even though their brothers didn't always understand the sacrifices they made for them, it was both characters' choices to give up so much for the love of their siblings. In the end, I was glad that they found each other, and realized that someone saw them truly and loved them honestly. I was glad they found their other halves, because I think that this kind of love is so valuable to humans, and they both needed it. It takes a writer of considerable skill to create such real, lovable characters, and Ms. Milan shows it.

I loved the intensity of her writing, and the strength of the story here, a romance, and a good one, but something more. I liked how she integrated the sensual moments into this love story, making them intrinsic to the development of the relationship between Ash and Margaret. I liked that Ash saw Margaret and knew she was what he wanted and needed. I liked that even though it was a seemingly bad idea to fall for Ash, Margaret did anyway. I know that she had some tough choices to make, and I was glad that she was able to make a choice that was right for her, down deep, and that that choice included Ash. I was glad their feelings for each other, that trust and understanding of each other stayed true, even in the face of what seemed insurmountable. I also loved the authenticity of the Victorian setting, drawn in subtle strokes, but very evident. I could tell that the author knows her subject, and she managed to convey that without overwhelming the narrative with facts about Victorian England and inheritance law.

Giving this book five stars is a foregone conclusion, based on its many strengths, and how much I enjoyed reading it. It was deep, rich, fascinating, sensual, intense, and rewarding. All the things I love about historical romance. Highly recommended.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hot November by Ann Charlton

Hot November by Ann Charlton

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This started out a bit slow, but wow, this was a very good book. I loved the interactions between Mackenzie and Emma. They had fantastic chemistry, and a powerful bond that drew them back together when circumstances threatened to push them apart. Mackenzie is very much a manly man, and it was in an utterly appealing way. He didn't come off as macho and neanderthalish at all, even though Emma interpreted him that way at first. Instead he had a lot of the positive alpha hero traits that I hope to find in a so-called alpha hero but find lacking instead.

I loved the descriptions of the Outback, all the imagery that contributed to the theme of Heat and Fire. There was a drought and Mackenzie is part of the fire brigade, which plays a major part in this story, but it also underlines the fiery sexual tension between Mackenzie and Emma. Even though the love scenes aren't descriptive, there is plenty of heat because of the manner in which the author builds up the attraction between the couple. Also, you can see that they really grow to love each other. Emma's issues with marriage could have been annoying, but I could understand her reluctance, and it showed how much Mackenzie wanted to be with her, that he was willing to be patient and work through those with her. Her love for him helps her to realize that she wants more, and to consider what she might be giving up out of fear.

I found this book very satisfying, despite the slow start. I didn't want to put it down last night and go to bed. I had to finish it. And I was keyed up after I finished, so it took a while to go to sleep, but this is one of those books that's worth missing out on a little sleep for. I recommend it to readers of short category contemporary romance. I don't think it will disappoint. I also enjoyed Married to the Man and Titan'S Woman, and off to find more of her books. I can see she is really good at writing the manly type of hero, which is a definite plus!

Overall Rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

View all my reviews

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own MakingThe Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading Catherynne M. Valente is a unique experience. Her writing is full of magic and imagination. It doesn't always make 'sense', but it feels right. The child in me who never grew up, who loves fairy tales, lands of magic, mythical creatures, and folklore, ate up this story like the most scrumptious dessert. I listened to this on audio, and at first, I wasn't sure how well it would work. There are a lot of concepts, and they don't tie together in a straightforward fashion at first glance. If other readers are like me, I'd encourage you not to give up on it if it doesn't catch you right away on first listen. Initially, I felt that Ms. Valente didn't quite feel comfortable reading her story. However, that changed, and she seemed to get into the flow of it, using different voices, timbres, and cadences for the various characters. I could feel how much she loved this story she had written, and the characters within.

This novel is one that both kids and grown-ups with a love of fantasy and make-believe tales would love. It's a story of a young girl who is very, very brave, strong-minded, determined, but with a very big heart for a kid (who are considered to be mostly heartless, according to the narrator). She goes to Fairyland on a romp, to escape the reality of a mother who works all the time and a father who was shipped off to war. Feeling alone and too different from the other kids she went to school with, she longs for adventure and a place where normal isn't the ideal. That's when she gets swept off to Fairyland and becomes a champion for this place of magic. And we are along for the journey.

At times, I got a bit confused with the narrative, because it's not exactly a linear story. Fairyland isn't a place that always makes sense, and that could make for strange listening when I was focused on driving or getting where I was going. If the reader embraces that this isn't that kind of novel, it makes for a very satisfying reading experience. Just immersing oneself in this marvelous world where anything is possible is gratifying.

This book is suitable for a young audience, but there are elements that feel pretty sophisticated, if one is older and catches the subtext. Some younger readers might not get all those references, but that's okay. I think it's fine for them to grasp an understanding of the story at their own level. There is some violence and dark subject matter, but the message of self-sacrifice, determination, friendship, and love are very good elements for kids to experience.

At one point, I thought I'd have to take off half a star because of getting lost and things slowing down a bit, but the overall beauty and power of this story requires a five star rating for me. I definitely recommend this book to readers who enjoy mythopoeic/folklore-rich fantasy novels, young and older.

View all my reviews

Friday, December 02, 2011

Chasing Darkness by Robert Crais

Chasing Darkness (Elvis Cole, #11)Chasing Darkness by Robert Crais

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I admit I am reading these books out of order, but it hasn't hurt. I like Crais' spare writing style, yet how he writes description beautifully, bringing Los Angeles to life for me as I listened. I was a bit disappointed with how quickly it ended, leaving me with some questions about why the killer was operating. The same narrator as The Watchman, and he does the Cole/Pike books perfectly well, so I shall not complain.

I exhaled a dreamy sigh whenever Pike came around. He is utterly lickable. (Did I write that in my review? Pausing to drool...) Back to the review... I am quite fond of Elvis too. I don't feel that I know him as well as Pike, but that's my fault for reading these books out of order.

It was very awesome to see Carol Starkey from Demolition Angel again. She seems a little better adjusted, but smokes like a chimney. I enjoyed the banter between her and Elvis.

This one is a low four because of the sparse detail on the killer and how it wraps up. I think the characters are a strong point for me with this series, and the mystery part is sort of an added bonus, so I can can still rate this one well. It's a four because I really liked it for the reasons I mentioned. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it!

View all my reviews