Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wolfsbane and Mistletoe

Wolfsbane and Mistletoe (Sookie Stackhouse, #8.2; Kitty Norville, #2.2) Wolfsbane and Mistletoe by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Well, I pulled this book back off the shelf this year for another go at it, after the false start last Christmas. I have listed my thoughts on each story in the collection:

Gift Wrap by Charlaine Harris. Sadly, I was not impressed with the Sookie Stackhouse story. I felt it was in bad taste. I don't think it's funny to have someone's great-great-great-great, etc- grandfather (even if he's an amoral faery) hooking up his many-times granddaughter with a man for the holidays. I guess I should lighten up, but I found that idea offensive. I'm not here to judge people's personal lives, but when it comes to fiction, there are some things I don't like, and this is in that area of gross-out, ick-factor-ville for me. I don't like to put down people's writing, but I found the story to be very barebones and poorly characterized. Sookie came off as being especially vapid in this story. In general, I don't think she's a very deep character. But I found her likeable in Dead Until Dark and the short story I read out of Powers of Detection Stories of Mystery & Fantasy. However, she was very one-dimensional in this story. I can't say who would be thrilled that her many times grandfather enforced a geis on his subject to pretend to be someone else and seduce her so she wouldn't be alone on Christmas. But she didn't seem that bothered. Whatever happen to gift cards as Christmas presents? For the vulgar nature of this story, I have to give it 1.5 stars. I realize that there is a huge Sookie Stackhouse following, and no offense. We all like what we like. But I was underwhelmed. This story made me put down this very promising volume for a year, and put me off the series. I'm glad my mother was willing to take my Sookie Stackhouse omnibi off my hands for the time being until I muster up the courage to give Sookie another try. That's my opinion, and I'm sticking to it.

The Haire of the Beast by Donna Andrews. This was a cute story. Short and sweet, and a bit of a twist on the werewolf genre story. I liked the inclusion of medieval scholarship and grimoires with recipes of various sorts. And there's a little bit of karma in store for an old flame who took credit for something he didn't do, but his ex-girlfriend, the protagonist, did. Recommended. 4 stars.

Lucy, at Christmastime by Simon R. Green. Not the best story I've read by Green, but pretty good. Very sad story. It takes place in the Nightside, but don't look for John Taylor in this one. However, the main character does make a visit to the Strangefellows bar to spend Christmas Eve. This story brings to ming the old school, sad werewolf tales. Recommended if you're not looking for a happy ending. 4 stars.

The Night Things Changed by Dana Cameron. Very interesting perspective on vampires and werewolves. They are good guys and are perpetually misunderstood by humanity, who they try to protect with their paranormal abilities. Dark and somewhat chilling, with some deeper meaning for a short tale. Recommended. 4 stars.

The Werewolf Before Christmas by Kat Richardson. What a great story to read around Christmastime. You must take a rather dark sense of humor into this story, for maximum enjoyment. It also helps if you believe in the magic of Christmas. I was quite shocked how it begins. Let's just say that Rudolph isn't around to lead Santa's reindeer after the first page of this story. This is my first time reading Richardson, and I'm glad I've been collecting her urban fantasy series. Recommended. 5 stars.

Fresh Meat by Alan Gordon. A great story for animal-lovers, particularly dog lovers. I've always believed in the intelligence of animals. Clearly the author does too. I love the loyalty shown by the protagonist's canine friends. This one brought a smile to my face, although it has some gruesome aspects. Recommended. 4.5 stars.

Il est Ne' by Carrie Vaughn. I wasn't sure what to expect with this story, but I ended up being very pleasantly surprised. It had a very good buildup of tension as Kitty meets a young male who has become a werewolf, and is not in control of his inner wolf at all. When a string of horrible murder mutilations occurs, he suspects himself, and Kitty has reason to do so as well. Together they try to find out if he is the culprit, and if not, to catch the real killer. Kitty also teaches the fledgling wolf how to manage the beast within. Short stories are very hard to execute, so I give props to writers who manage to pick so much into a short tale. This one left me with tears in my eyes, as it really struck clear to my heart with its message about learning to control the darkness inside of one's self, and the fact that it's never to late to go home. If I wasn't a fan of Ms. Vaughn after reading
Kitty and the Midnight Hour, I certainly would be one now. 4.5 stars.

The Perfect Gift by Dana Stabenow. Writers of sizzling werewolf romance should take note of the fantastic chemistry that Ms. Stabenow creates between her two protagonists, two police officers who happen to be infatuated with each other, although they are trying to follow the rules about fraternization. They both happen to be werewolves, although the male is latent. I love the way she builds up the intense attraction between the characters, letting it simmer in the backdrop as they track a family of serial killers. The climax is powerful as the hero, Lobison, comes to face the reality of his heritage, triggered by his powerful desire for his partner, Romanov, and the full moon. The interesting thing is that Ms. Stabenow doesn't even write romance. Well I hope she decides to do some more werewolf stories, because she really won me over with this short, sizzling, and satisfying tale. 5 stars.

Christmas Past by Keri Arthur. This was my first read by Ms. Arthur, and I must say I enjoyed it. In many ways, it read like a standard lovers reunited romance story, with a paranormal twist. Hannah is a human member of a paranormal unit, with the ability to sense evil, that is on the hunt for a supernatural serial killer. She is trying to deal with the fact that her werewolf co-worker Brodie dumped her last Christmas, and he's trying to insinuate his way back into her life and her good graces. Initially, I wanted Brodie to take a long walk off a short pier, but as his actions convince Hannah that he deserves a second chance, he starts to win my trust as well. While I won't be reading the Riley Jensen books, this story has convinced me to consider reading other works by this author that doesn't involve a lead character who engages in polyamory sexual encounters. 4 stars.

SA by J.A. Konrath. I was a bit worried with how this story started. I don't like body humor, particularly of the scatological variety. But this is a case of following the 'Keep Reading' edict, because this story was one heck of a fun ride. I laughed myself into a coughing fit. This was one of the funniest stories I've had the pleasure to read in a while. Imagine a group of people who turn into animals, called therioantropes. Then imagine that that they have the were-animal version of Alcoholics Anonymous. On top of that, their worst enemies are Santa Claus and the Salvation Army. It sounds incredibly stupid as a concept. But I have to say that Mr. Konrath did a fantastic job of pulling that premise off. This was a thoroughly enjoyable story, despite the scatological humor that was vaguely disgusting, but still managed to be in good taste. 5 stars.

The Star of David by Patricia Briggs revisits a character I met in Moon Called. David Christensen is a mercenary who is also a werewolf. I am so happy to see African Americans in urban fantasy, especially appealing characters like David. David is an honorable man who made a terrible mistake long ago, unable to keep his wolf under control, and lost his daughter's respect and companionship as a result. However, she needs his help to protect a foster teen who is in danger from some supernatural elements. This story was intense and involving, for all its shortness. I am impressed yet again with Ms. Briggs writing. She manages to create a very magical world in her stories, but the characters are very human, and you cannot help but care about them. David is no different. He is everything that a father should be, and I ached for him, that he felt his relationship with his daughter was lost forever. I hope that Ms. Briggs continues to include David and his family in her werewolf books. 5 stars.

You Better Not Pyout by Nancy Pickard manages to be humorous, yet gritty and scary at the same time. It's about two Russian vampires who decide to cut themselves in on vampire Santa Claus gig, which allows him unlimited access to many houses, and the warm, blood-filled bodies within, all year-round, since he is invited in on Christmas Eve to deliver presents. I was a bit horrified at the thought of a vampiric Santa. Part of me still believes in the spirit of Santa Claus (I know he's not real, but in a way he is real to me), so that really hit home with me. The Russian vamps were hilarious, as well as some of the Christmas vampire gags. The werewolf aspect was very cool. The werewolf is a female scientist who is devoted to protecting and saving the few African wild dogs that remain in existence. It turns out that they raised her from a pup, and she has never forgotten her allegiance to them. I just love the pack dynamics in werewolf stories. I have always thought of myself as more of a cat person, but I think I must be equally a dog person, because the nature and the sociology of dogs is very interesting to me. This story was very vivid. I could picture myself in the frigid cold of the North Pole, confronted with a Santa Claus from a horror fan's worst nightmares. This Santa scares me much more than a knife-wielding, homocidal-maniac Santa ever could. Even the reindeer were kind of menacing. I also loved the descriptions of Africa. How I wanted to be there, running with the pack. I really enjoyed this story. 5 stars.

Rogue Elements is my first Karen Chance story, but it won't be my last. The elements of the werewolf clans were so richly infused into this story. I love when a writer gives so much care to the werewolf lore and pack hierarchy, since I feel that werewolf stories are so neglected in urban fantasy. The weres are so much more interesting to me than vampires (although I am a big vampire fan), and the structure of werewolf clans in this story caught my interest right away. Great action, interesting characters, and a dash of sexual attraction and romance, all add up for a very pleasing read. I hope that Ms. Chance revisits this world in future stories. I'd like to see more adventures of the heroine, Accalia, who is a War Mage and is part Were, although she refuses to Change. Very interesting! 5 stars.

Milk and Cookies is by one of my favorite urban fantasy writers, Rob Thurman. I thought I'd miss a story without Cal and Nik, but this story kept me so drawn in, I realized that anything she writes is something I want to read. She tells one heck of a tale with this story of a young teen who is trying to deal with a bully (Yes, I know how he felt. I think I had a 'pick on me' sign on my forehead all the way through school.) Oh, how she draws you in for the twist that you don't see coming until this story is almost over. If you like coming of age stories, you should read this one. It will cause you to feel a bit uneasy, but it's worth the read. 5 stars.

Keeping Watch Over His Flock by Toni L. P. Kelner is one of those tales where you decide you do not like the protagonist, but you are forced to change your mind. I found Jake to be a complete and utter brat, with a major case of 'Teenager Who Drives Me Crazy' syndrome. Yet, I found I had to revise my opinion. I think we were all annoying teenagers, although we forget this as we age. The lessons that we learn are invaluable, allowing us to grow and to change from our selfish views of the world, to embrace the responsibility that we all have in the world to each other. This is Jake's journey in this tale. He is just finding the pack, having been an orphan, passed from foster home to foster home. He is having trouble getting adjusted to following so many rules, and observing traditions that seem just plain hokey to him. But he learns the real message behind the Christmas story about the wolf who watches over the baby Jesus on the first Christmas night. I loved that tale. It was so meaningful to me. What a unique idea to integrate werewolf myth into the Christmas story. And how it ties into the overall tale is wonderfully executed, as Jake learns that being able to enjoy the fruits of werewolf-dom also comes with a resonsibility to protect those in need of protection. Another scary view of Santa (thankfully not the real one in this case), but a human monster kind of scary. 4.5 stars.

This was a rocking cool collection. The only story I disliked was the Sookie Stackhouse story, but I won't let this bump the overall rating down too much. Because I was so happy with this collection, I'd give it an overall rating of 4.5/5.0 stars. I highly recommend this to werewolf fans. I don't think you'd be disappointed at the varied and delicious fare offered in Wolfsbane and Mistletoe.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Ball by Jennifer Ashley, Emily Bryan, and Alissa Johnson

Christmas Ball Christmas Ball by Jennifer Ashley

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Christmas Ball was an enjoyable read, but not particularly amazing. I had trouble keeping my interest in the stories. I'm not sure if it was the time of year, being so busy, or that I just didn't find them overwhelmingly interesting.

The Emily Bryan story was unique in that the couple were of the working class. Jane is the illegitimate daughter of a noble, consigned to work as a maid in the very house of her father. She has grown up with her spoiled legitimate sister and an indifferent father who never really acknowledged her presence. Since she's the spitting image of her sister, she is blackmailed into pretending to be her sister to accept a marriage proposal from a nobleman, since her sister has run off with an impoverished Italian artist. Jane would have said no, but her father's steward threatened to let go of her sweetheart, Ian, a stablehand, without a reference. She can't let that happen, so reluctantly agrees to impersonate her sister. This story definitely had some good points. I liked Jane and Ian, and I thought that the writing was good and rich. However, it had a bit of a modern feel that I found distracting. I really didn't think it was appropriate when Jane and Ian made love on the bed of the Marquess of Hartwell, a complete stranger. That had an ick factor to me. I certainly wouldn't want some strange couple having sex on my bed. The point of view of various characters involved in the intrigues, such as the legitimate sister, Sibyl, her Italian lover, the future husband, and the steward, was interesting, giving a fuller view of the story. Overall, I would give this story as 3 stars.

Jennifer Ashley returns to the Nvengarian series in this story about Valentin, a half Logosh bodyguard and agent for Prince Damien, and Mary, who is the sister of Egan MacDonald, from Highlander Ever After. I haven't read that book yet, so some of what occurred prior to this story was new to me. It didn't affect my ablity to enjoy this story. I have to say that this story didn't enthrall me like some of Ms. Ashley's other work. It was well-written, and it has the power and flavor of her characteristic style. I don't know if I just wasn't too captured by the story of a widow well into her thirties with a grown son, and her illicit relationship with a fallen aristocrat working as a bodyguard/assassin, or what. I'm not a big fan of the secret/forbidden lovers theme, so maybe that was the problem. At one point, I thought Mary was being a bit judgmental and intractable. She seemed to be very snobbish towards English and a bit towards the Nvengarians. She definitely seems to believe that the Scottish world is the center of the universe. I admit that attitude did not endear her to me. I can certainly understand the Scottish dislike of the English, but at the same time, I think it behooves a person to think outside of her own culture to gain understanding of the decisions and behavior of others. I didn't like the way she dismissed Valentin's need for revenge, and his need to serve the Nvengarian Prince and Duke Alexander. Yes, he needed to move on and find purpose for his life, but the way she communicated this to Valentin, was abrasive and somewhat annoying to me. She didn't seem to be considering why he felt the way he did very much, in my opinion. In the end, she did come around, but I can't say that she's a favorite heroine of mine. Overall, this was a good story. 3.5 stars.

The last story by Alissa Johnson was definitely my favorite, although there wasn't a lot going on. This is definitely a regency romance, in which the whole plot deals with an earl, at the point of realization that he must marry and soon, who starts to court one young lady, but ends up being captivated by her plainer friend. You would have enjoy these kinds of stories to like this one. For this reader, it was interesting to see this couple get to know each other, and watch their love grow as they spent time together. I never felt like I was reading a modern novel disguised as a historical, which is a plus for this reader. I enjoyed the back and forth between the couple, and their banter. I liked how the connection between them was very deep and real, with good chemistry. It was nice to see that the hero was able to see the hidden depths in this young lady, and quickly realized that she was the perfect bride for him. There was a serious element with the heroine's dealing with her father, who was showing signs of what we would call Alzheimer's disease nowadays. Back then, he was just considered 'mad'. The poor heroine didn't really have much of a life, trying to keep a roof over her head, dealing with a father who cared more about his experiments than his daughter, and finally dealing with a father who was sinking deeper and deeper into his disease process. And she felt like she would have to walk away from this man she had loved for some time, because he would be very unlikely to want to marry a poor nobody with a crazy father. It was gratifying that the hero didn't even think twice about the fact that the heroine's father had mental illness. He loved her, and was more than willing to take on the burden of her father. I found the couple to be very likeable, and I rooted for things to work out between them. Although this was my favorite story, I did have trouble concentrating on the storyline at times. Again, I don't know if it's the time of year and having so much on my plate, and feeling pressure to get this read. All the same, I'm glad I read this story. 4 stars.

Overall, a good Christmas anthology. Certainly not one of my favorites, and not the most involving read, at times. But, in all fairness, with so much going on, it's pretty hard to concentrate on a book right now. All in all, Christmas Ball was a good way to spend a few hours around the Christmas holiday.

Rating: 3.5/5.0 stars .

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dangerous Tides by Christine Feehan

Dangerous Tides (Drake Sisters, #4) Dangerous Tides by Christine Feehan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Despite a slow start, I ended up loving this book. There was much to love in it, after all. If you read this book, hang in the past the helicopter scene, which was filled with a bit too much technical information. You might like it, but I found it was a little dry for me. Shortly thereafter, things really take off.

Ty Derrick isn't your typical hero. He is extremely intelligent. So intelligent that he isn't very good at doing the normal life kinds of things. He has poor social skills, and will say exactly what he thinks. Ty is a nerd. He's a delicious nerd. I am so happy that Ms. Feehan was brave enough to write a hero who was without any doubt a big nerd. Now Ty is also gorgeous and built from his extreme sports. But the cool thing is Libby has loved him from afar in large part because of his brilliance. Although most things of normal life cannot keep his interest, Ty was always interested in Libby, but hadn't worked up the nerve to pursue her until this book starts. It's good that he finally decided that she was the woman he wanted. Ty is not an easy man to love or to live with. So it's great that Libby understands and accepts him for who he is (in ways that no one ever did, including his cousin, whom he is very close with). He's so abstract in his thinking, so absent-minded, in the ways that truly brilliant people are. However, as the book unfolds, it is clear to see the change that Libby's love makes on him, and it is realistic. Ty will always be the absent-minded professor, but Libby has become one of his major fixations, and she'll always take number one spot in his life. Ty might be a braniac, but he makes a formidable hero in pursuit, and definitely makes my possessive/jealous heroes list.

I loved seeing Libby's story. She's truly a gentle, loving person. Her gift for healing is incredible, and she uses it with profound cost to herself in this book. I am a big fan of heroines who are educated and have careers in the scientific and technical fields. I loved how she was able to meet Ty on his level, although he is more on the analytic side of science, and she is on the applied, humanistic side. Their discussions on science and medicine were interesting to me (since I am in the medical science field), and it was an excellent way to show that this couple were made for each other.

Ty and Libby is one of those couples I root for. They are very good together. They seemed to complement each other. Ty finds it hard to feel, and Libby feels maybe too much. Instead of it being the case of Ty walking all over Libby's feelings (although he seemed to say cutting things to her in school that hurt her, he didn't mean it from a cruel way, but didn't know how to talk to this girl he was in awe of), he finds the ability to open up to her and love her in ways that he never could love anyone. Ty did frustrate me how he was determined to believe that the Drake family was a bunch of shysters, but it made sense for a man so rational and used to applying the principles of science to everything, and breaking everything down to its fundamental level, would have trouble reconciling the powerful magic of the Drake family. When Ty begins to pursue Libby, he is determined to save her from her family. I am really glad that this was not dragged out too long. I like how Ms. Feehan resolved Ty's doubts about the magical abilities of Libby and her sisters. I like how Ty came to find himself the family he always felt he was denied with the Drake sisters. He becomes part of their circle of love and protection.

Ty and Libby had excellent chemistry, but also a love for each other was gentle and strong in equal measures. They cared for each other and wanted each others' happiness. The love scenes are pretty sizzling, and show that their bond is deeper than just physical. I really love how Ms. Feehan wrote the perfect hero for each sister, intensely compatible and right for these wonderful women.

I never realized how much I would come to enjoy the theme of this series. I don't want to belabor a point about my usually avoidance of witch stories. But these books really show the elemental nature of these incredible young women, how good they are, and how natural what they can do is. I truly love the scenes in which the sisters are spending time together, how deep their love and support for each other is. How much they are willing to sacrifice for each other. They really show how strong family can and should be. I liked that Jackson and Jonas were in this book a lot. They are great characters, and I can't get enough of them. You can see how important they are to the Drake sisters, although they haven't found their happy endings with their respective Drake sisters quite yet. Only brief appearances by Damon and Matt, alas.

Again, I was laughing out loud with this story. Christine Feehan is really funny. I love the humor in her books. It's just as good as all the intense passion, steamy love scenes, and tortured angst, and it's a great counterbalance to the darker, more serious and emotionally-wrenching moments.

This book had less of the supernatural darkness aspects than some of the books. It was more of a crime/mystery type plot underlying the love story. The resolution of this story was rather heartbreaking in some ways. There is a happy ending, but the betrayal that Ty faces is astounding.

I am so glad that I picked this book up again after laying it down a couple of months ago, because this time I could barely put it down. It just goes to prove what a mood reader I am. It was a bittersweet read for me, since this is the last Drake sisters book that I can read for the first time (I ended up reading this series out of order). But I have a feeling I will be rereading this series sometime in the future. And there's always Ilya's brothers' books to look forward to. Thanks for writing another excellent book, Ms. Feehan.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

An Enchanted Season by Nalini Singh, Maggie Shayne, Erin McCarthy, and Jean Johnson

An Enchanted Season (Berkley Sensation) An Enchanted Season by Nalini Singh

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
This is one of those short story collections that really surprised me, in a good way. I expected to only enjoy the Nalini Singh, but I liked or loved every story in the book. In fact, I might have liked three of them to the same degree as the Nalini Singh story. Gasp!!!! Don't tell anyone I said that!

I was really happy with the Erin McCarthy story. It's about friends who both want to be more, but are afraid to take the first step. And the great thing is it's love, not lust. They are a very cute couple, and you root for them to get together. It's good that the heroine's sister is more than willing to meddle on their behalf. The heroine comes from a witchy family, but is in denial about her powers. What happens to make her face her abilities is really funny. I'm not going to spoil you, but imagine what you might think about when your best friend (who you're in love and lust with) is above you on a ladder with his scrumptious rear in your face, and you have abilities. I'm sure you get the picture. There is also some zipper manipulation involved. That scene was a hoot, and it set the tone for this great story.

I've heard good things about Erin McCarthy, but I haven't taken the plunge. I'm not really into the sexy, modern romance stories, because most of them are fling, hookup stories. But this story was up my alley. It's about two friends who have a deep, intense love for each other that has lasted years. This story was HOT!!!! I mean, seriously. But it's traditional in the sense the they are in love and declare their love before they get naked. Not long after, there's a marriage proposal. How refreshing. I decided I might have to read some more of her books. I think my sister has some, so I might have to borrow them. I give this story 5 stars.

The Maggie Shayne story was pretty cute. It's about a man and a woman, who are the exact opposite in their feelings about Christmas. The heroine died, along with her family, for a few minutes, in a car crash, but her mother sent her back to earth because she was needed. She and her aunt who has multiple sclerosis (she takes custody of her niece), vow to celebrate Christmas with the vivacity that her mother always did. The heroine's a real believer in signs, and signs tell her to go back to her family's house, which has been abandoned for many years.

On the other side of this equation, is the hero, who hates Christmas, since his father died the day of Thanksgiving, leaving their family in a serious financial situation. He goes out of his way to avoid the holidays. He buys houses and fixes them up, and decides to squeeze in a viewing before the reluctantly going to his sister's house for Christmas. You can guess that the house he goes to look at is the heroine's family house. They end up getting snowed in, and the hero gets to realize the joy and meaning of Christmas with the infectiously sweet and joyful heroine. This was a pretty good story. I enjoyed it, so I'd give it 4 stars.

The Nalini Singh story is about Tamsin, the healer for the DarkRiver feline shapeshifter pack, and her mate, Nate. She comes home from training and is ready to continue her role as the healer for the pack. She wants to continue the healing process from the attack that left several pack members dead (including future alpha Lucas's mother, who was the healer, and his father) in all ways. She decides to encourage the pack to celebrate Christmas by inspiring them to decorate for Christmas.

The mating bond manifested itself very early between Tamsin and Nate, when she was fifteen, and Nate was twenty-five. Of course, they could not act on it at that age. Four years pass, and Nate has put a strangehold on the mating bond, leaving both of them with emotional deficits, and pent up sexual desire as a result. Tammy thinks that Nate does not want to be her mate, but the mating bond is not something that can be rejected. She decides to try to seduce him into making their mating real, but Nate resists her at every turn. He is afraid of staking his claim while she's so young. She had to step up to the plate as healer at seventeen, when their healer died during the attack by another shapeshifter pack. He fears she has not been able to enjoy her youth, and the demands of being his mate will be too much for her, because of what happened with his parents because his parents mated young.

I could understand what his issues were, but frankly, Nate worked on my nerves. He was being a macho butthead, and trying to make decisions for Tammy, instead of allowing them to work together and come together for their mutual benefit. I wanted to knock some sense into him. Of course, he comes around in the end, but not before I was ready to pull out my shovel to hit him with. I realize that Tammy was young at 19 (chronologically), but it was clear that she knew what she wanted...him, and she's very mature for her age. Everyone in the pack knows she's really to fully be his mate. He was being very hurtful inadvertently. Since she was in contact with his former love, that really rubbed things in for her. She felt like he didn't find her desirable as a woman, and couldn't love her. It was kind of hard and frustrating to read. I decided I was glad this was a short story, because I would have gotten really tired of this, had it been a full-length story. I had an issue with the epilogue too, wondering why they had to wait FIFTEEN years to have kids. Come on!!! Anyway, I would give this 4.5 stars (I took off 0.5 stars for the annoyance factor). It was a very good story, because Ms. Singh is a fantastic author, despite the frustrations that Nate caused me. Imagine how poor Tammy felt! It was nice to see the beginning of a favorite paranormal series, and to see Lucas and Dorian as young teenagers. Worth the read.

The last story was by a new to me author, Jean Johnson. I really liked this story. It was a different spin on the Christmas story with the three wisemen (except they were two women and one man), and an affianced couple who has been weighted down with financial worries and other cares, that they haven't had time to spend cherishing each other. They get snowed in at the couple's inn, along with three youths from town, who came to remind them in a not so nice way that they owe money for their mortgage, or they will lose their inn. It just occurred to me that they were probably the shepherds from the Christmas story. There was a dairy cow that was about to give birth (a metaphor for Christ's birth, I suppose). I didn't like that she had a male, which would end up being sold for veal (I have some issues with veal, so that was a downer for me).

This was a really meaningful story about love and how miracles really do occur. Not to get religious on anyone, but it had personal meaning for me. It reminded me that God knows all my needs, and he will meet then when they need meeting. He's watching over me. I shouldn't worry and lose my joy in the meantime. This sweet story brought tears to my eyes because of the deep meaning and the way that everyone came together to help each other, giving of themselves. I'm a sucker for those kinds of stories. What can I say? Although there was something about the narrative that was a little dry at times, I still found this story very good. I'd give it 4.5 stars.

And so, I'm offering this simple review, to kids from 17 to 92, and so it's been said, many times, many ways, this was a great story collection to celebrate a Merry Christmas, and I'm recommending it to you!

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

Magic Bites (Kate Daniels, #1) Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
About twelve years ago, there was a little girl named Danielle who read a book called Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton, and was seduced into the dark, enchanting world of urban fantasy. She went on to read more urban fantasy than she could shake a stick at. Over the years, she lost touch with Anita Blake, and mourned the loss of a tough-as-nails, kickass, urban fantasy heroine to join for exciting, dangerous, and magical adventures.

Recently, she finally picked up a book called Magic Bites, which had been sitting on her bloated, embarrassingly large tbr pile. She read it to find out who this mysterious "Beast Lord" was, and why everyone thought that Kate and Curran were the best urban fantasy couple. That young girl is a very happy camper.

Magic Bites is a hard book to describe. If you are a genuine, die-hard urban fantasy fan, you will like this book. At 260 pages, it appears deceptively slim. However, there's a lot of information, adventure, description, and incredibly good writing in that relatively small amount of pages. I will admit that this book made being confused and baffled fun for me. I had a lot of questions as I was reading. Still do. But that's kind of nice.

Kate Daniels is one of the best urban fantasy heroines I've had the pleasure to meet. I've said before that I don't care for arrogant, braggadocious, posturing characters. She doesn't posture. She simply is a bad-ass, but down to earth, at the same time. She doesn't run around in bustiers, low-riding leather pants, and stiletto heels, climbing out of bed with some random guy long enough to kick-butt. She wears clothes that facilitate her ability to kick ass and to keep herself alive. Being cute is all good and well, but in her world, being cute might get her killed. Her only vanity is her long hair, which she keeps in a braid most of the time. Lethal abilities aside, Kate is very feminine. She can appreciate a cute guy, and she had flaws and weaknesses just like the rest of us armchair kickbutt heroines. I like her no-nonsense view of the world, her snarky sense of humor, and the fact that she likes to pull the lion by the tail, sometimes literally. I thought she was an interesting character. She has some emotional wounds that she is dealing with, and tends to keep her own company. It's nice to see a thoughtful, almost brooding heroine in this genre.

Ms. Andrews earned my respect. The Atlanta that she has created is a very fascinating place. I still don't understand all of what occurred to make Atlanta very much like a dystopic wastleland, but I didn't have to understand that to enjoy this book. I do know that magic plays a huge hand in the catastrophe that hit this fair Southern city. It seems to surge and ebb, like the electricity brownouts that were hitting California when I lived out there. For all the importance that magic plays in this story, Ms. Andrews is never heavy-handed with the use of magic. In fact, she lightly and skillfully builds a storyline that is credible and interesting around the tendrils of magic power wielded in different ways by many of the characters in this novel. And better yet, she was able to create a female magic-wielder who wasn't a witch. I believe there are far too many witch urban fantasy and paranormal heroines. It's gotten to the point where it's almost cliche'. Her use of folklore is clever and well-placed. She takes a different direction with vampires, shapechangers, and mages. I must say I've never seen vampires described in the manner in which they exist in this story. They are quite gruesome and almost pitiful in Kate Daniels' world.

I have to say that Ilona Andrews writing is high class. She sets the scenes very well, using language in just the right way, to keep the story flowing forward. She employs the noir elements that I enjoy in urban fantasy and occult detective novels very well. Better yet, she treats the reader with respect, understanding that popular fiction readers like to be challenged and fully engaged. She seems to understand that just because we enjoy fantastic, escapist material, it doesn't mean that we want to read something meaningless and without substance. In fact, I felt as though I was reading a police procedural with magical and horrific elements (a sure sign of a good occult detective novel). I thought I had figured out who the killer was fairly early on (and was about to be disappointed), but I was way off. When the reveal happens, it comes at you in such a manner that you cannot help but admire how skillfully the red herring and clues were laid out.

As I read this book, my brain, which always tries to make order and sense of things, tried to think of a way to categorize and classify this book and the world within it. I never came up with a concrete classification. But that's a good thing. It's nice to find something new within a well-loved genre, and to encounter a novel reading experience at the same time. This book delivered that to me.

If I were to make any literary allusions, I would consider this book to have incorporated the story traditions of the tales of medieval knights, with a modern and often horrific spin. If I could describe Kate in any quick way, I would call her a knight-mercenary. She has the requisite sword, although she lacks the steed that usually goes with the package(To my pleasant surprise, there is quite a bit of horse-riding in this book, but Kate doesn't have her own horse). Unfortunately, we didn't get to see her wearing her armor. Maybe in the next books. Slasher, her blood-thirsty and sentient sword, reminded me of Stormbringer, the vampiric sword owned by Elric of Melniboné, written by Michael Moorcock, whom I became acquainted with earlier this fall.

Any urban fantasy heroine has to have a potential spark, if you will. That's where Curran, The Beast Lord, comes in. He's impressive, let's leave it at that. He's not just a potential love interest, but a powerful ally. These two butt heads in the most delightful ways. As the Beast Lord, and a lion shapeshifter, Curran's used to being in charge, and Kate lives by the 'you're not the boss of me' philosophy. I look forward to more fighting alongside, and flirting with Curran in the next books.

This book is quite dark. Blood (and blood magic) and guts aplenty, dark deeds, dark magic, dark creatures. This is a book for a reasonably mature reader, in that regard. Being a big fan of Magic Noir (thank you, Brad, for letting me steal your fantastic term), I enjoyed those aspects. But I did wince at a few particularly gruesome scenes. The villain is a very disturbing individual, in more ways than one. Everything in this story has an edge to it. That's not a bad thing to this reader, since she enjoys a little darkness in her fiction. But if you tend to enjoy the lighter urban fantasy stories, you'd want to be prepared when you read this one. Now there is humor, but it's of the drier, more wry, and grimmer variety. If you like the hero to get banged up and injured quite a bit, you'll enjoy that about this novel. Kate definitely faces jeopardy, again and again. The stakes are particularly high in this novel, in ways that you need to read to find out.

So, after so much rambling, I have to say that this urban fantasy fan has found a new series of which she intends to fully avail herself. Kate Daniels is my newest knight in shining armor. Let the adventures continue.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Bedded at the Billionaire's Convenience by Cathy Williams

Bedded at the Billionaire's Convenience (Presents Extra) Bedded at the Billionaire's Convenience by Cathy Williams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The word 'mistress' needs to be struck from the vocabulary of the editors and the writers for this series of romance novels. It is so nineteenth century. And just a heads up here, a woman is not a man's mistress if he does not support her and she is not his beck and call, sexually or otherwise. Thus, this term does not apply to Georgie, whatsoever. I guess the person who writes the blurbs thought that us Harlequin Presents readers were so unenlightened, that we wouldn't buy this book unless the blurb included 'mistress' in the description. Here's a lesson to you: I hate the mistress concept. When I get a Harlequin Presents in the mail or pick one up in the store, seeing this outdated, sexist term is a turnoff to me. I will read the book if I like the author and the story sounds interesting otherwise. But I would prefer never to read another book where the heroine is the hero's mistress. It offends my 21st century sexual egalitarianism principles. Okay, you might ask why I read these books. Because they are good, and entertaining, and a nice way to spend a few hours, allowing me to recharge, relax, and let off some steam. Because they are fun to read, I am prepared to overlook some of the way un-PC aspects, most of the time.

PSA over. Review begins: Georgie approaches Pierre at his elite gym in London to explain that she more or less said they were engaged because his mom has been really depressed since her stroke, with little to take interest in, and she thought knowing that her son was engaged would help. Of course, Pierre is livid. He doesn't even like Georgie. She's too disorganized, too down-to-earth, too scatter-brained for his tastes. He likes his women cold-blooded, into making money, intellectual, and willing to get horizontal without feelings involved. This is about 180 degrees opposite to Georgie's personality.

Georgie heartily disproves of Pierre's life style. The fact that he barely ever comes home to see his mom, that he is way too fixated on making money, and city living, and his colorless, snooty, boring girlfriends. She thinks that he's forgotten the important things in life. But she's a good friend with his mom, and she wants for Didi to get better. So she takes a chance and says they are engaged.

Pierre goes along with the charade, because Georgie answering his phone at 10:30am when he offers to let her stay in London, really gives the impression that they are 'together.' Also out of concern for his mother whose hippish, country lifestyle with his deceased father was something he never agreed with, although he does love her.

This odd couple spends more time together, and develop a liking and attraction for each other. Georgie is very wary of Pierre, knowing he's not the home and hearth type. She doesn't like his materialistic values, and she feels that he looks down on her simple living. Although Pierre feels that Georgie is way too 'messy' in her life for him, and he doesn't care for her 'flower-child-like' dress sense, Pierre comes to realize that Georgie is very sexy in a way that none of his other girlfriends were, and why not make their association real for the time being?

I enjoyed this book. I liked the back and forth between Pierre and Georgie. I liked that Georgie wasn't beholden to Pierre or under his thumb. She had her own career and her own home, and was perfectly happy with her life in the country. Pierre was the one who had some issues he needed to work out. He resented his family for their organic farming ventures, and the fact that they squandered their money on schemes destined to fail. He focused on making and keeping his money, and became more and more cold-hearted in a sense. Georgie brings a part of him to life, and he realizes how much he loves his mom, and enjoys being around her. Georgie and Pierre have good chemistry (although the love scenes are not fully described. Part of them would be shown, and part wouldn't. Which I thought was weird, but oh well.)

I was actually okay with Pierre to a certain extent, although I wished he hadn't kept his family at a distance, but I can't judge him for that. He might be rich, but he didn't have much quality of life. I think spending time with Georgie and his mom helped him to realize what he was missing out on, but eventually that scared him. He made me mad on the part where he sees a tender smile on Georgie's face and decides it's time to cut and run. I thought that was very cowardly of him, and low down. But he ends up realizing what he almost let slip through his fingers when he goes back to town, and his mom tells him that Georgie has a new boyfriend after three months pass. Of course, he goes running because he doesn't want any other man to have her. (Rolling eyes.) Men!

This was a fun book. I stayed up way too late reading it, and I'm paying for it today. Definitely recommended, if you don't mind the incomplete love scenes.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Christmas Love-Child by Jennie Lucas

The Christmas Love-Child (Presents Extra) The Christmas Love-Child by Jennie Lucas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Wow. A really good Harlequin Presents novel is a great tension-releaser for me. This one counts on my list. Plus, brownie points for the sexy Russian hero. Okay, he was a jerk at times, but he was a jerk who fell in love, had to deal with his conscience kicking in after twenty years, and manned up when he was supposed to. That's my kind of jerk.

I've noticed that Ms. Lucas has the heroes who are really into the whole, "I'll fix you. I'll marry you and make you pay," school of revenge. Okay, I think that's hilarious. Why would you want to marry someone you can't stand to make them suffer? Because you're totally in denial and you want her to be yours, but you're having a temper tantrum until you get over yourself. Yup, that was Maksim, alright.

At times, I thought Grace was a little too wide-eyed innocent to be believed, but I went with it. This is high drama, soap opera. You have to suspend some disbelief. This is Harlequin Presentsland, where everything is larger than life. That's part of why I read these books, so I can't complain. She was a good person, definitely into self-sacrificing. I do have to admit when Maksim offered her a job, I would have said, "Hell, yeah!" Sorry for the bad language. I'm just keeping it real. Did I tell you I have a thing for sexy Russian heroes? This guy puts the Russian in sexy!

The love scenes were steamy. Not super descriptive, but very steamy. You could feel the sexual tension coming off this book in waves. High five, Ms. Lucas. Maksim was hot, in all his steely-gray eyed, hard muscled, ruthless because he was so poor that he almost froze one really bad Philadelphia winter, self. The man was always trying to buy outrageously expensive stuff for her, like oh, I don't know, a Maserati to go with her hair. He bought his sister a platinum tiara with diamonds, which she gave to Grace as a party favor. What's up with that? Reminder to self: Harlequin Presents novel. It's supposed to be over the top. Anyway, this was a hot book.

Did I mention that part of this book takes place in Moscow? Awesome! When Grace runs away the second time, she takes the Trans-Siberian railroad. How cool is that? Of course, Maksim shows up in his armor-plated SUV, swooping down on her like the angel of darkness to declare his love. They kiss at the train station surrounded by various eastern Russian peasantry. Sigh!

I really liked this one. Very enjoyable as long as you go into it remembering that Harlequin Presents novels are not real life, and they are not supposed to be. They are a few hours of entertainment where heroes give out Maseratis and diamond tiaras like you might hand your friend a pack of gum. Oh, I forgot to mention that Maksim has a Bugatti Veyron! (I didn't even know what that was before last year, but now I know that's a million dollar sports car thanks to reading Dark Desires After Dusk by Kresley Cole last year.

Nice job, Ms. Lucas. Thumbs up on this one!

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Woman Hater by Diana Palmer

Woman Hater (Silhouette Romance, #532) Woman Hater by Diana Palmer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Reading this book this week turned out to be a serendipitous thing. I needed a book like this in my life right now. I'm kind of homesick, overworked, stressed, and tired. And a great book really helps to lighten my load. There are things about this book that I loved that I could go hoarse trying to explain to someone who doesn't 'get' why people enjoy Diana Palmer's writing.

Every writer has a formula. Find me one who doesn't if you want to dispute this statement. Sometimes the formula is disguised as anti-formula, but it's still there, all right. I think some authors get lambasted much more than others for their formula. Heck, I've been reading Diana Palmer for about 20 years, maybe more. I will freely admit that she does have a formula. And my retort to a mean-spirited anti-Diana Palmer reader is, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Why do I say that? Because she can write a book that can make me laugh, stir my emotions, turn on the heat, without being overly descriptive, blatantly sexual, or outside of pretty much any reader's sexual comfort zone, and make me cry or feel like I might cry, and I end the book happy that the couple found their happy ending together. Do I love all the elements in her books? No. But I can't say there is a writer in my list of favorites where I can say that I don't dislike some aspect of what they have included in a story. That's including my absolute faves (including Diana Palmer): Anne Stuart, Kresley Cole, JR Ward, Christina Dodd, Nalini Singh, Lisa Kleypas, Laura Kinsale, Sherrilyn Kenyon/Kinley MacGregor, Simon R. Green, Jim Butcher, Manly Wade Wellman, and many more.

If I were to way the things I don't like about Diana Palmer's writing against what I love, she'd still and does make my list.

What I don't love/like:
--excessively hairy men
--cigarette-smoking men
--minimum of ten year age difference between hero and heroine
--tendency for hero to be verbally abusive (but I can see why most of them are that way. She writes very tortured heroes who have a history of being betrayed by a woman in some way. The most verbally abusive ones had a bad experience with a mother, and that can really mess a person up. She does the 'I am mean because I don't want to be in love' hero very well, in my opinion. There are a couple that I felt were worthy of being brained to death with my titanium shovel that I keep handy for jerky heroes, but most of them, I can end the book feeling like they've made up for their bad behaviors.)

What I do love about her writing:
--she can make laugh like crazy. She is such a funny writer. I love to laugh. You do the math.
--she has wholesome characters (and is not afraid for them to have old-fashioned morals)
--she tries to introduce information about different cultures (and peoples of different cultures) into her stories (although I wish she would have some Black characters move to Jacobsville).
--she writes extremely poignant, emotional stories with characters I feel for and care about
--even though her heroes can be mean at times, they do repent and show their remorse and go on to be very loving and caring to their heroines, and they are not physically abusive or sexually cruel
--personally, her gentle heroines (often disparagingly called doormats) don't bother me. I like them. Some are more tolerant than others, but she has some pretty smart alecky heroines who can give tit for tat, and score some verbal darts to keep them neck for neck with the hero. Her heroines are usually very kind, and are often very tormented. I love a tortured hero (a lot), but I also appreciate a tormented heroine. I like to see her get the happiness she deserves at the end of the story. I like her heroines. They are really good women who don't always get the best shots in their life. They make lemonade out of lemons, and that's to be admired.
--she's not afraid to write a virginal, less-experienced, or celibate hero, or a hero who might have a sexual dysfunction, for that matter.
--personally I think she has tried to do different things with her writing. Yeah, the rare Diana Palmer hater out there who reads this review might disagree with that, but how many Diana Palmer books have you read to dispute this? I've lost count of how many of her books I've read.

Argh!! Why do I always have to go into Diana Palmer defense mode? I love her, and that's good enough for me. I think it's because I think she's a dear, sweet lady, and I just want to hug her. Her books have brought so much joy into my life for more than half of my time on this earth. Even when I cast my most critical eye on her books, I still love what she does, because she's such a good storyteller. It says something when an author can have similar storylines, but still engage a reader's interest and enjoyment. I can't say I love all her stories to the same degree (only one story got a C rating from me by this author), but I always enjoy reading them, and the time spent on them. And they stay on my keeper shelf.

Well, Woman Hater is an older book that somehow got past my Diana Palmer radar. Thank you, HMS, for bringing this one to my attention. I was lucky enough to find it on Amazon used for a decent price, and I bought it. I'm so glad I did. This story does have a hero who has a grudge against women. Yet surprisingly, although he blew hot and cold, he wasn't cruel to Nicole. At the most, he kept her at a safe distance, until his passion seemed to get out of control (which happened frequently). You could tell that he genuinely liked and respected her from the beginning. He was very sweet to her, and really wooed her very gently and showed her the adoration a hero should show to his heroine. When she needed him, he was there for her.

I enjoyed hearing about life on the ranch in Montana, the interactions between Winthrop and Nicole (great chemistry from the beginning), and the secondary characters. I wanted to be in Montana in the fall, during a bad blizzard, stuck in the ranch house with Winthrop, Nicole, his brother Gerald, and various other cast and characters. I was sitting at the car dealership this morning, laughing out loud, and not minding the long wait for my car. In fact, I was happy to wait because I had some actual reading time for this book. I admire how Ms. Palmer can write romances that are very genteel in their love scenes, but very sensuous at the same time. I don't know how she does it, but I do find her love scenes stirring (did I say that out loud?)

Nicole has some very troubling issues with her family. I felt really bad for her because of what happened with her mother and father. I had to give her props for walking away from what she did, gaining her independence, and her own life, and sticking to what was right. I don't know how you can call a woman who could do what she did a doormat or weak. I certainly don't. I liked how she came to terms with her father, who had a 'Peter Pan' syndrome like you wouldn't believe. She had to open her mind and heart to seeing that he wasn't the villain that she always thought he was.

I liked Winthrop. I think he was flawed in a very human, relatable manner. Like him, when I am hurt by people, I tend to withdraw into myself. I am not one to put myself out there to get hurt again and again, so I don't blame him for keeping women at a distance, when his love turned her back on him because of a potentially crippling injury. That would really destroy a person's pride and ability to trust. He saw Nicole working for his brother, and part of him fell in love with her then and there, although he couldn't admit it to himself. She never left his mind, and he was afraid to love her. But for all that, he did what needed to be done, and showed his love in a way that brought tears to my eyes.

Ah, this sap loves the romance of that kind of story. I had to give this to be a five star read because it was really enjoyable. I laughed, almost cried, felt for the characters, and I was so interested, I didn't want to put it down. If you can find this one, definitely give it a read. If you haven't read Diana Palmer, but you've heard really ugly things about her, don't let that dissuade you if you want to give her a try for yourself. No, she might not be everyone's cup of tea. And that's okay. However, I assert that Ms. Palmer has earned her fans' loyalty in her many years of writing. I'll speak for myself. She's definitely a woman who has my steadfast loyalty.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, and The Cricket on the Hearth

A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, and The Cricket on the Hearth (Barnes & Noble Classic) A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, and The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Christmas Carol was wonderful. It was just like seeing the movie, but better, because prose on paper really stimulates the imagination much more. Scrooge is a man who had lost his hope, and it showed in how his heart seemed to shrink, and his world with it. He got a second chance when he was visited by the three ghosts on a cold Christmas Eve. Just like the movie, this story made me cry. I guess some would call me sentimental. I don't know if that's the right word. But I love to see a person go from the dark to the light emotionally. This is the evolution we see with Scrooge.

5 Stars. If you love the movies, you really should read this story. I don't think you'd regret it. It is very readable and keeps your interest.

I can't really say that for The Chimes. This story moved pretty slowly, and it took a while to figure out where Dickens was going. At first, it read like a satire against the upper class and the government in its treatment of the poor and the working class. Then it seemed as though it was a story about being grateful for what one has and appreciating the time that you have with your family. It was an ambitious story, and I liked the elements of the ghosts of regret (I think) that manifested themselves as the chiming of bells that Totty, our protagonist, makes his daily routine around. Some parts were really tedious, and some parts were beautiful and poignant. At the end, I could only give this one 3.5 stars because it was a difficult and somewhat unrewarding read for this reader. If you have read The Chimes, I would love some feedback on what you believe was the point of this story.

I have started The Cricket on the Hearth, and it's really hard to focus my attention on the writing. I haven't given up yet! Soldier on!

Update: I've come to the conclusion that life is too short to keep trying to read The Cricket on the Hearth. It's dreadfully boring. I can feel my hair growing as I try to read it. I feel that I did my best with it, and I'm calling this one a day. I will have to give this one a rating of 1 star because it was too boring to finish reading.

So my overall rating is four stars, because of my love for A Christmas Carol, and my half-hearted enjoyment of The Chimes. I pray that Dickens' longer fiction isn't dry like this. I'd really like to read some of it.

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Ultimate Daredevil & Elektra Vol. 1, by Greg Rucka, et al

Ultimate Daredevil & Elektra Volume 1 TPB Ultimate Daredevil & Elektra Volume 1 TPB by Greg Rucka

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This was a pretty good origin graphic novel. However, I felt that the impetus to cause Elektra to cross to the darkside was kind of weak. I do think that Trey was a piece of dog poo, but I don't think he was deserving of Elektra being willing to compromise her morals, leave her family and friends behind, and forsake her love for Matt to see justice done on him. I wanted to see a more compelling reason than what I was given. At the end of the day, Trey is a lame, bullying toad. Just a chip off the old block like his father, who thinks he can buy his way out of justice.

I really liked Matt,and I liked seeing Elektra as the wide-eyed innocent (sort of), but there was too quick a jump to ruthless, cold-blood, would-be assassin. That transition does not occur overnight (unless there are seeds there, which we don't see in this story).

Another pet peeve I have is her friend, Pheobe. Why does the Black female friend always have to be a smart aleck with a bit of an attitude? Phoebe was a cool character and all, and I get that Mr. Rucka (the writer) probably didn't mean any offense, but I am so tired of seeing African American characters represented as stereotypes. Phoebe easily could have been the gentler, kinder friend. She could have been nerdy, an artist who's a bit kooky but has a great sense of humor. No, she's the tough chick. I guess he should get brownie points for having her hail from Austin, Texas. But she could have been from the Bronx for what we see of her smart alecky demeanor (with a musical bent for a little variety). Maybe I'm just being uptight about that....

Last pet peeve. We don't really get to see Matt much outside of the Elektra storyline. It's assumed that we know his backstory, which is not a safe assumption.

Pretty good, overall. I'd like to see where this arc goes. I want to see more darkside Elektra. (evil grin)

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A Wicked and Wondrous Christmas by Christine Feehan

The Wicked and the Wondrous (Includes: Drake Sisters, #2; Christmas Series, #1 & #2) The Wicked and the Wondrous by Christine Feehan

My rating: 4.75 of 5 stars
The Twilight Before Christmas:
Finally I have gotten to read Kate Drake's story. So that leaves me one more Drake sister book to complete (Dangerous Tides--Libby's story). All in all, I found The Twilight Before Christmas to be a great story. I can't give it 5 stars, because it did drag a little in some parts. It's probably a 4.25 star story.
What I liked about it:
*Matt's adoration for Kate was very endearing. It was funny how he felt like he made a fool out of himself in front of her, and how she made this very physically-accomplished guy act clumsy and wreck three cars. I like that although he became enamored of her when she was fifteen and he was college age (I'm going to assume he was maybe 19 or 20), he didn't act on it, but left to her grow up. Plus he joined the military and Special Forces. Some might argue that this was just an infatuation, but the fact that he had these feelings for so many years suggests that this is not the case. When this book rolls around, Matt is in full hero-in-pursuit mode, although gentle and wooing about. Matt was a very nice guy.
*The humor in this story was great (which I alluded to above). Poor Kate thought that Matt's brothers were laughing at her, because she always felt clumsy and inadequate around Matt in their interactions. They were really laughing at their brother, and how stone cold cupid-struck he was for Kate. This story had lots of other family interactions that made me laugh. Christine Feehan really is a funny lady, for all the angst and darkness in her stories.
*Family and friends--always a good thing for this reader, although sometimes I get a little bored with some of the descriptions of various denizens of Sea Harbor. I like the Drake books best when they focus on the family and immediate friend interactions than talking about such and such and who did what around town. I felt a little cheated because we didn't really see too much Damon in this story. He's a cool character for me. What can I say? I love nerdy guys. And Damon, well, he's brilliant. Smart is sexy. So: I.Wanted.More.Damon! Loved seeing all the Drake sisters. What a cool bunch of women. Since I read Hidden Currents just before this book, it was nice to see the beginnings of the bond between Jackson and Elle. Sadly, no Ilya or Alexsandr :( I love me some Jonas, and he's in this one a lot. You can tell he has it bad for Hannah.
*Very cool gothic, scary, creepy angle. The ghostly villain, shall we say, reminded me of the creepy Old Man from Poltergeist II. It goes without saying that it was a bit scary in moments since I refuse to watch that movie since I saw it the first time. The backstory behind the haunting was very interesting, and Ms. Feehan utilized it very well to tell us a little about the history of Sea Harbor and a bit about the Drake ancestors who settled in this seaside town. The scary parts probably dragged out a little too long for me, but overall, I enjoyed it.
*Kate and Matt--Although I could see where Kate was coming from with her fears that she was a mis-match for Matt, the man was clearly in love with her and adored her. Say yes already! I doubt the man was going to change his mind after being in love with her for what I estimate is over ten years. So that part was a bit frustrating for me. Great love scenes (as usual).

All in all, a nice story, and just right for this time of year. I liked the message about religious tolerance and the fact that we can all be united in some way, even if we don't share the same beliefs.

After the Music:
After the Music was the second story in this volume. I loved it. Music is in my heart, and I am definitely getting the impression that Ms. Feehan is a big music fan. She really seems to get the power of it, and how it can consume a person, and how great it is when someone is gifted to bring music to life in a wonderful way.

This has a very prominent gothic theme to it. I'm not a big fan of romance stories where accidents happen and you spend the whole story trying to guess who the culprit is. But I think this one was well-done. By and large, I enjoyed the time spent sifting through the clues and trying to figure out who the villain was, and discarding suspects. It got a little frustrating when the mystery plot seemed to be a frequent cause of coitus interruptus in this story. As frustrated as this made me, I'm sure that it was worse for Dillon and Jess. Although I liked that there wasn't insta-sex in this story, and there were actually plenty of love scenes, especially for a short story. My one issue is that the kids were in the house and they knew what they were up to. Okay, I admit I'm a prude about such things (when it comes to unmarried couples)!

This story has some really dark elements in it. Dillon is a widower who lost his wife after she was shot with her lover, on a night in which their house burned down and killed seven others. Dillon was accused of the crime, tried, and acquitted. The worse part is all the people who died (including Dillon's wife) were involved in Satanic worship, drugs, and sexual orgies, and the ringleader actually grabbed Jessica and tried to use her as a sacrifice. Whew! What was really hard for me is to understand that all this was going on with kids in the house. I'm very particular about kids and what they should be exposed to. I admit I don't have any, but I do feel that kids should be protected from stuff like this. Dillon carries a lot of guilt because he felt he should have intervened more when his wife started this downward slid into addiction and dark religious practices and sex with other men. He was too busy traveling and performing and making music. Compounding his guilt was his fascination/fixation/love for Jess while he was married, which I want to make clear that HE NEVER ACTED ON THAT. They were really good friends, and they bonded in their mutual love for music and the kids.

Dillon is a bit on the tortured side, but it's not dragged out or annoying in how it's executed. He had been scarred horribly by the fire that happened eight years ago, which took his family (Jess and the kids away). He had some long years of recovering, and he has lost some of his dexterity in playing instruments, but decided to compose and sing when some of the old bandmates convince him to make another record to reinvigorate their careers. So the bandmates are in the house, along with Brenda (his dead wife's sister), and her husband. You have to decide which one of them is perpetuating the accidents that endanger the twins and Jess.

Dillon and Jess are one of those couples I really wanted to see together, which is why the coitus interruptus kept bothering me. And also why I could get pass the fact that they were having their interludes with young, impressionable kids in the house (thirteen year old twins.) I was rooting for things to work out for them because they were such a good couple and so in love. I think they were soulmates.

I won't keep blabbing on and on, since this is a short story. I liked the execution of this one, and the whole paranormal element was good. As I said earlier, I loved the music elements. Both Dillon and Jess are very talented musicians, which you get to see in this story. I thought the kids were fun and interesting. Their dialog seemed likely for kids that might be on the intelligent, more mature side. Jess and her mom did a great job raising them, because they were good kids. I liked how the bonds were rebuilt between Dillon and his kids. Although the gothic mystery romance genre is not my favorite (with a few exceptions, including Jane Eyre, and most books by Anne Stuart), I really enjoyed this one. I'd give After the Music five stars.

So my total rating for this collection is: 4.75 . It would have been higher if The Twilight Before Christmas didn't have the draggy parts.

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Hidden Currents by Christine Feehan

Hidden Currents (Drake Sisters, #7) Hidden Currents by Christine Feehan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is probably one of the toughest reviews I've ever written, because of the very sensitive subject relating to what Elle endures in this book. I write this review with all due respect to other friends who have read this book and had issues and serious objections to the depiction of rape and abuse that occurs. I also write a disclaimer that I am not qualified to say what a rape victim can go through and how soon she can recover to move onto a normal life. All I can do is say what I personally think of the book. I know that some will disagree, but we all see things differently, and that's okay.

I thought this book was a very intense and moving story. I went into reading it with a heavy stone in my gut, afraid that I couldn't handle the events that occurred. In my humble opinion, I thought Ms. Feehan wrote those events tastefully, and she showed just enough for you to realize what a terrible ordeal Elle went through. I really was expecting to see minute by minute, scene by scene descriptions of what this psychopath did to her. It wasn't written like that, thankfully. However, there are a couple of real time scenes that are hard to read. But I think they could have been much, much worse. I came through those pages with a feeling of strange relief. I did make it through and I didn't break down.

Now some readers question why Ms. Feehan felt she had to put Elle through this. Why does crap happen in life? I think we all ask ourselves that. Should a character in a romance novel be immune from the horrors of life that occur? I don't think so. Are there some horrors I can't bear reading about in a romance novel? Yes, indeed. For myself, I can read about a character who has been raped in a romance novel. It's a rough thing and a touchy subject. But if it is approached with sensitivity, I can deal with it. I have other subjects I don't want to touch with a ten foot pole. That doesn't mean that those who don't want to read about rape or abuse are wrong or right. It's just different comfort levels.

I don't know what Ms. Feehan was thinking when she plotted out this novel. What I suspect is that she wanted to show the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst events possible. I think she wanted to have her character go down to the pits of despair and realize that she could rise above it. Maybe she wanted to have Elle and Jackson be on completely equal footing. It is not said explicitly, but it's clear that Jackson was also raped when he was kept as a prisoner by enemies during his time in Special Forces. I have a feeling that she wanted us to see how Elle has to come to the realization and acceptance of her destiny as the seventh daughter of the seventh daughter, and all the burdens that come along with that. Maybe she wanted the bridge between Elle and her destined mate Jackson to be that much stronger for what they have suffered together, and the kinship that formed when Elle made contact mentally with Jackson when he was being held prisoner and tortured. And conversely, how he refused to give up and moved mountains to get her back and to help her recover. Frankly, I think she was very brave to write this. Considering the backlash she's gotten, she really took a chance with this story.

In all honesty, I didn't feel that the ugly events that occurred to Elle was a huge diversion from the original books. In my opinion, this is a series with fairly dark subject matter from the beginning. I think the events in this book were slightly, but only slightly harder to read then when Hannah was savaged by the crazy man with a knife. Sexual violence hits home much worse, but the cruelty and horror of being violently attacked is bad, period. I have read all but two of the Drake stories, and they were all somewhat grim in some aspects of the storyline. But, this grimness is contrasted to the power of the love and sisterhood of the Drake women, and the men they love.

Do I feel that Elle recovered pretty fast from her ordeal? Maybe. But, I have to take into consideration that she's not an average woman. She is a woman blessed with powerful gifts and surrounded by other women with incredible gifts of their own. I also think that the bond she forms with Jackson helps her to heal faster. Should she have been ready to plunge into a normal sex life? I can't really answer that question either. I forced myself not to think of this as a normal, real life situation, because this is a paranormal romance novel. The time line did seem very fast, I don't deny that. I'm not sure why Ms. Feehan decided to have this story occur over a matter of days. Those are questions I turned around in my mind. I do have to say that, given the fact that Jackson and Elle had a very intimate association on the mental and emotional level from the beginning, allowed me to accept that they would be able to pursue an intimate physical relationship perhaps faster than a woman who has been sexually assaulted might do in real life. Again, I can't say because I don't have a real life scenario to apply it to, and I won't make any judgments on any women (or men) who suffered this way.

The thing about fiction, especially romantic or feel-good fiction, is that horrible, and seemingly insurmountable events occur, and good prevails. Some may not like this lack of realism. Myself, I am a believer in good prevailing ultimately. So I like my fiction that way. Christine Feehan seems like the kind of writer who believes that good will always triumph in the end, and her stories reflect that philosophy. Maybe this was her way of showing that there is hope for those who have gone through horrible experiences like Elle and Jackson underwent.

I felt that the end was a little rushed. However, I liked the fact that we got to see all the unmarried sisters get hitched at the same time. That was really nice. I loved the closing scene, where she shows all the couples in their own private places, enjoying each other and their love for each other. That put a smile on my face and was a nice thing to read before I went to sleep last night. In fact, I thought that was the perfect close for the story.

I really loved the strong bonds of family in this series. The mates for each sister became a part of the Drake family and are like brothers to each other. When I read stories, one of the best parts for me is the interactions between the characters. I think that Ms. Feehan does an exceptional job of writing these types of scenes. I like how she shows how unique each sister and her mate is from each other, yet how the men make perfect pairs with the individual sisters, and also bring different gifts to the table. The men work together to solve the problem in a way that will resolve the issue with Elle's crazed stalker and keep Jackson out of jail for killing him. They show a lot of understanding of each other and the way they think. The men are all strong, dominant fellows, but they treat the women with respect, and show a very high regard for them. Cherish is good word for this.

Another aspect I loved was the humor. For this to have such dark subject matter, it was nice to enjoy some really funny moments in this book.

Animal lovers will enjoy this story. Jackson's dog acts a sentinel and protector for the physically, mentally, and emotionally fragile Elle. There are also great depictions of sea creatures like dolphins (Abbey's loyal friends), whales, and seals. This animal lover was very happy, anyway.

I loved the fact that Ms. Feehan left us fans of Ilya (and the fact that he is the seventh son of a seventh son) a clue that we might get to see his brothers and what life has in store for him. I am eagerly awaiting their stories.

As usual, the magic parts were interesting and at times, eerie. The Drake house never fails to creep me out. It's a protective, benevolent house, but it's just kind of scary to accept that it's alive. I'm really glad I'm not the seventh Drake sister, but then, Elle's pretty used to that house. The scenes with the sisters chanting and using their gifts together tend to send a shiver down my spine. I'm not sure why. It's pretty interesting for me as a reader (and I don't really care for witch stories, so that says a lot).

Although this novel is not perfect (is anything in life perfect?), the power and message of it really hit home with me. Despite the fact that I think some aspects were left undone or dealt with perhaps a bit abruptly (maybe another 50 pages could have helped), it kept my interest, and I was invested in the characters. I felt that Christine Feehan did a really good job telling the last Drake sister's story. It wasn't easy to read at times, and it wasn't pretty (the depths of cruelty that humans are capable of never fails to disturb me). But at the same time, it showed that inner strength, faith, and the love of family and one's mate can really help to move mountains. A person who is wounded in such a way does have a long journey to recovery. I don't think Elle is fully recovered emotionally, but we see that she has the mental and emotional fortitude, and the support to get there someday.

Well, you might ask how I got a five star rating for this book. I'll tell you. I gave this one five stars because of the way it resonated with me emotionally. When I rate a book, I don't rate it on technical merit alone (that is a part of it, but I'm not overly critical on books in this way because the best technical writer can leave a reader bored and dissatisfied if the heart is not engaged). I rate books on the ability to tell the story well, but also on how it affects me as a reader and gets me involved. For me, Hidden Currents was a winner for its depiction of triumph of the human spirit in adversity, the power of love to heal the deepest wounds, the strength of the bonds of family, friendship, and one's spouse or mate, and good, involving storytelling. I also have to give it to Christine Feehan for not being afraid to go to the dark places, but also showing that where there is dark, there is also light. So, five stars it is.

PS. I had a disturbing moment when I thought I lost my review before saving it. God is good! It was still there. (Wiping forehead). Phew!

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