Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Summer Knight (The Dresden Files, #4) Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Summer Knight starts with Harry in a very dark place. He is reeling from the fact that his girlfriend has left him, and she's been changed into a near-vampire by the Red Court of Vampires. He feels personally responsible, and is desperate for a way to help her. This despair has affected him to a deep level, and he's barely functioning, living in a pig-sty, and not even taking cases or taking care of himself. It was very hard to see him like that. And things don't get better for Harry. Because he's facing judgment by the White Council of wizards, who are out for his blood, and he has to prove that he's not a troublemaker or they're going to deliver him signed and sealed to the vampires, who won't sit him down for tea and sandwiches. They'll kill him, and make it hurt. His only way out is to prove his allegiance to the White Council by opening up routes into Faerie so they can get away from the vampires. In order to do that, he has to make nice with the Faeries. Luckily, or unluckily, the Winter Queen Mab shows up at his office, 'asking' his help to solve the case of who killed the Summer Knight, thus stealing away some of the Seelie's Court's power and upsetting the power balance between Seelie and Unseelie Courts. Trust me, that's not a good thing, and could very well lead to the end of the world. By asking Harry, that means he doesn't get to say no, since his faerie godmother sold his debt to her to Queen Mab. Complicated? Yes it is. But that's par for the course for Harry.

Harry Dresden doesn't get it easy. He just gets it not as hard, sometimes at least. Life for him seems to go from one battle to the next. And he has plenty of battle-scars. But, he doesn't give up. He keeps on trucking. I couldn't love him more for that. Harry is at his snarkiest in this book. The man's mouth is a sharply-honed instrument, and he knows how to use it. And, he shows that he's definitely an alpha male, with his take charge, 'try to stop me' attitude, despite his endearingly self-deprecating manner. He might seem like a ne'er do well, but he's resourceful, strong-willed, and at heart, definitely a white knight.

Summer Knight wasn't an easy read for me. The print in my book was way too small, and Mr. Butcher has a very descriptive, detail-oriented writing style. But, it was a fantastic read. Mr. Butcher takes faerie and concocts a delectable story around it. I've read quite a few faerie stories, and he still managed to bring some new images and concepts to the table. I love what he does with Faerie. And I loved the Faerie smackdown at the end of this story. I felt like I was right there, with a ringside seat on the action. I was cheering for Harry and his gang of werewolves and faerie changelings, and wincing as he takes his share of licks. And if you've ever read a Dresden novel, you know that Harry is always, always getting hurt. But, he just keeps on going. Gosh, I love this man!

Mr. Butcher really took me on a nonstop ride. I was feeling all Harry's pain. I didn't enjoy seeing him suffering the way he does in this book, and I hope that he does find peace over Susan. Even still, with all his personal anguish, he manages to save the day, yet again, and give me more than a few laughs in the process. It was great to see tough as nails Karrin Murphy, the Chicago Police Detective that he consults on 'weird' cases with, fight at his side against an ogre, chlorofiend (plant monster), and ghoul assassin at the local Walmart. Hats off to Mr. Butcher for yet another grand adventure with Harry Dresden. I better rest up so I can be ready for the next one!

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Friday, June 25, 2010

The True Love Wedding Dress by Catherine Anderson, Barbara Metzger, Connie Brockway, Casey Claybourne

The True Love Wedding Dress (Includes Coulters Historical #2) The True Love Wedding Dress by Catherine Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I enjoyed all the stories in this volume. The Casey Claybourne story was 4 stars, but the rest were 5 star stories. This collection reminded me that I've been negligent in reading two of my favorite authors, Connie Brockway and Catherine Anderson.

I'm feeling a little lazy, so this won't be a long review. This is what I thought of each story:

The concept of this story collection was nice, a lovestruck Highland Scottish seamstress (who had been disrupted from her lands by the Highland Clearances) forced to make the bridal dress for her beloved's wedding to an Englishwoman, who decides to use her hereditary sorcery to help women in the future have a happy wedding and marriage, since it's clear she'll be denied that future. This is the prologue written by Catherine Anderson. It's very short, but I liked that she got her happy ending with her true love.

Barbara Metzger story was a traditional regency, with a marriage-shy Viscount (his first wife cheated on him after giving birth to their son, dying in the arms of her lover) tasked with investigating the family of his nephew's intended. He ends up meeting the mother of the bride and falling in love with her. Poor Katie was betrayed many years ago, and never got a wedding, although she did have a child to raise. She's made lemonade out of lemons and raised her daughter very well. Now, she wants to see her daughter happily wed in a lovely wedding gown--the one she would have worn to her own wedding, had her fiance not been killed running off from the wedding. The gown chose her and wouldn't settle with being worn by the daughter. I enjoyed the humor in this story. The hero, Viscount Forde is a pompous lordly character, who is about to find true love for the first time in his life, and in an unlikely place, with a country-dwelling 'widow.' This was a fun story with good humor.

Connie Brockway's writing is like enjoying a decadent dessert, full of rich flavor that engages the senses. She is wonderfully descriptive, and has a deft, refined ease to her storytelling. I fell in love with her couple, rooting for Alex and Lucy to get back together after their mutual pride and fears drove them apart two years ago, when Alex went off to war. I was sent into an advanced state of drooling adoration by the deliciousness of Alex, battle-scarred, yet resolute to reclaim Lucy's heart, even to the point of parading around the street of Pall Mall in the wedding dress, which magically fit his 6'4" tall, muscular, broad body. I asked myself why have I stayed away so long from this lovely woman's writing. I am so glad I have several of her books in my collection to indulge myself in. Definitely my favorite in this volume.

Casey Claybourne's story was good. I didn't get emotionally engaged though. That's crucial for me, and it's the dividing line between a 4 star and a 5 star read. It was a nice read, and I did like the fact that the daughter of the hero brought this couple together, and the wedding dress was there for this heroine to aid her in getting her wedding to the man of her dreams.

Catherine Anderson struck gold again with her story. It's about Joseph, who is the brother of Kaitlin, from Keegan's Lady. He's simply irresistible, as most of Catherine Anderson's heroes are. He takes in Faith and her daughter Caitlin, who are on the run from Faith's nasty father, who's trying to barter her into yet another marriage, when Faith gets the wedding dress from a peddler, and sees an announcement in a window for a housekeeper. Joseph is actually a better housekeeper than Faith (she was trained in being a lady, but little else), but he's not about to let her end up working in a bawdy house, because there aren't many other options in No Name. Instead, he gives her some on the job training, and they both take lessons in love together. Ms. Anderson managed to pack quite a punch with this short story, and it reminded me to get back into her books, since I'm way behind on her.

The epilogue is also written by Catherine Anderson, and it's very sweet. There's hope for a poor mother who has the weight of the world on her shoulders. The wedding dress is there, yet again, to bring luck and love into her life.

The True Love Wedding Dress turned out to be a pleasant read, full of hope and the magic of true love coming to fruition, with the help of an enchanted wedding dress. It's nice to read books that make smile, and this book did that for me.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Weddings From Hell by Maggie Shayne, Jeanine Frost, Terri Garey, Kathryn Smith

Weddings From Hell Weddings From Hell by Maggie Shayne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
My favorites in this collection were the Maggie Shayne and Kathryn Smith stories. The Jeaniene Frost story wasn't bad, and the Terri Garey story was decent.

"Till Death" by Maggie Shayne

I didn't expect to like this story with the family curse due to a female witch ancestor embittered because her husband had cheated on her. She killed him and the woman he betrayed her with, cursed all her female ancestors to die by their husbands' hands if the husbands are unfaithful, because it was better to die than to know that their husbands had cheated on them. It just sounded...not to my taste. Well, it turned out to be a good story. I admit I really liked Ian (well he's a big, sexy Scot--so that's practically a given), and he was a sweetie. I liked Kira too. Although she was a bit skeptical at first, she showed real resourcefulness and bravery, confronting her ancestress to end the curse. I thought the accents were a little hokey. I'm thinking modern Scots don't talk like that. But, I guess that's a small thing. Four stars.

"Happily Never After" by Jeaniene Frost

This is my first story by Ms. Frost, and I'm not sure what I think about her. The humor was a bit on the cheesy and hokey side. Don't get me wrong, I like cheesy humor, but the tone of this story didn't always work for me. I thought Isabelle was a little hard for my tastes. She didn't trust, and didn't believe in much. I didn't really get to know her or come to like her. I hope that she learns to open up a little more in the future. I liked Chance, and I did get some good laughs. I mostly like Ms. Frost's concepts of vampires. I was offended at one comment about what modern women should have done regarding the lie that Isabelle told her unwanted fiance. It makes it seem as though a woman of a certain age who is chaste can't possibly be modern. It was a throwaway comment, but rather presumptuous. I guess I shouldn't take it personally, but I did. All in all, pretty decent. 3 stars.

"Ghouls Night Out" by Terri Garey

Overall, not a bad story. I liked the mystery and the unfolding of the dead bridesmaid haunting Nicki to solve her murder. I did not like the liberal throwing around of the offensive term 'redneck' and the low-brow offensive humor directed towards 'backwoods" people. Some of the jokes were funny, but some were mean spirited, making Nicki seem like a mean snob. Overall, she was likeable, but the judgmental attitude she had towards her country cousins made it hard to warm up to her at first. Her boyfriend, Joe, was scrumptious. It was an entertaining read, other than the offensive parts. Not enough to get me to read this series though. 3 stars.

"The Wedding Knight" by Kathryn Smith

This is part of the Brotherhood of the Blood series, about Payen, one of the knights who drinks from the Blood Grail chalice, becoming a vampire in the process. He seduced and left Violet five years later, but returns when he finds out she's marrying a member of The Silver Palm, a dastardly organization behind the betrayal and extermination of the Knights Templar, and worse. He refuses to let her marry such a dishonorable man, so he barges in on the engagement party, leading to Violet breaking the engagement. In truth, he never got over Violet, although he told himself he couldn't have her because she was human and he was a vampire. Violet realizes that she never stopped loving Payen, and is determined to make him realize their future belongs together. Ms. Smith managed to get three love scenes in this very short story. I liked that Violet was a larger-sized woman, and Payen liked her just fine that way. It was a passionate, well-written story for all its shortness. If a reader doesn't like her love stories earthy and sensual, she probably won't like it. I liked it a lot. Four stars.

This story collection does indeed touch on weddings with a supernatural edge to their distaster quotient. Thankfully weddings do occur in two out of four (with a botched wedding scene in another), so it qualified for my challenge read! So to recap: I received a pleasant surprise with Ms. Shayne's story (although she has proven herself to be a good writer when I've read her). As for Frost, I will one day start the Night Huntress series, and I hope that the humorous tone is more to my liking in those. I'm not stricken with a burning desire to read Nicki Styx's series, since my tbr pile is already massively large and I don't tend to like the more chick-lit-oriented urban fantasy. Of course, I appreciated the Brotherhood of the Blood Offering and look forward to reading the rest in the series. So, I'd say two out of four isn't bad.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

First Comes Marriage by Mary Balogh

First Comes Marriage (Huxtable Quintet, #1) First Comes Marriage by Mary Balogh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The title of this book is more than appropriate. There is no love between Vanessa and Elliot when they married. They didn't even seem to like each other. But, they had mutuals goals behind the marriage that Vanessa proposed. And it turned out to be the best thing possible for them both.

I loved Vanessa. She was such a sweet person. She overflows with enthusiasm and a joy for life, despite all the trials she's seen. I really admired her for how she approached her marriage with first husband, Hedley, who died young from consumption. Her love that she showed him really brought tears to my eyes. I normally don't really like romances where the H/h were married before and are mourning their lost spouses. It seems to take away from the present romance, which is clearly my focus. But, this was very well-done. It showed that the rooms in the heart never overflow or fill up. The heart has endless capacity for love, and there are many different kinds of love. It wasn't a conflict of interest for Vanessa to have loved her first husband so much, because it was clear how different her love was for Elliot. I think having Hedley in her life allowed her to heal and melt the ice around Elliot's heart. Vanessa is a very good example of the adage about inner beauty. She is the plainest person in her family, and no one lets her forget it. But, her good, good heart shines through and gives her the truest kind of beauty, from the inside out. She's one of those people that you can't help but love. And soon, Elliot falls for the genuine, loving person she is. I liked how he showed her in many ways how much she meant to him, although it took some initial shifting in his paradigms.

Elliot was a hard sell initially. He seemed like a full-on snob, and I have a very low tolerance for snobs. But I came to see that the recent trials in his life had hardened him, hiding a man with a broken heart, not from a woman who did him wrong, but from his father's betrayal of his family with his long-standing adultery and other family. And then, the betrayal of his best friend and cousin Con in taking advantage of his younger brother Jon, the heir to the earldom of Merton, who was mentally disabled--really shattered his ability to trust others. Elliot's plate was seemingly full to the brim, his shoulders heavily-burdened with the cares of taking care of his family. Luckily, Vanessa's light opens the rooms of his heart and brings the spring and sunshine back into his life, putting everything into perspective, and teaching him to enjoy the moments of happiness in every day.

This truly was a lovely story. Mary Balogh has proven herself to be a wonderful writer. She has a way with words in her books, giving the reader a resplendent romance, but also a rich story that shows the spectrum of human emotions and interactions. I must admit, I wasn't terribly eager to read this series, although I intended to do so at some point. Thanks to my Goodreads friend who picked this off my shelf for me to read, I ended up with a reading experience that I truly enjoyed. I'm looking forward to reading the next books in this series.

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The Dominant Male by Sarah Holland

The Dominant Male The Dominant Male by Sarah Holland

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Well, this was certainly a dramatic book, Harlequin Presents-style. At times, it seemed over the top. The hero Gabriel would say the most outrageous things, and it seemed to make Rhiannon equally angry and burning with lust. I didn't know whether to laugh or say, WTH. But this book ended up sneaking in on me. Underneath the brash, uber-dominant hero's demeanor is a man who is in love, and has a master plan to get his woman, even if he has to steal her away from her fiance.

Rhiannon had a very traumatic experience with her last boyfriend, which made her bury her nascent sexuality. With Bobby, her fiance, it was easy to maintain a platonic relationship, since he's in cold storage with all his Mommy Issues. But Gabriel Stone is larger than life. He's a "Dominant Man" who calls to the intensely female part of her, the part that wants to be submissive. I was pretty surprised when I found out what Rhiannon's dark secret was. Not something I expected to read in an older HP book.

To be honest, I had a few eye-rolling moments with all the Dominant/Submissive stuff. At the same time, I was pretty surprised to see this in a Harlequin Presents that's at least ten years old, probably older. That part kind of missed the boat with me. But I liked the devotion and love that Gabriel showed for Rhiannon. I liked their bantering too (eye-rolling moments included). It was pretty sexy, if I may say so. Good book. I hope to read more of Sarah Holland's books. She has a very lively style that definitely kept me entertained with this quick read--it only took me about 1.5 hours to finish it.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp

The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp (Alfred Kropp, #1) The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp by Rick Yancey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Here's the thing with this book: If you cannot suspend your disbelief, then do not attempt to read this book. If you can, and you want to have lots of fun, enjoy a book full of adventure, with a deeper message, and you enjoy action/adventure, then dive in!

This was a fun book. It had a bit of a slow start, but then, watch out. I absolutely loved Alfred. He is considered a screw up--not good at anything. He's big and awkward, blocky big. Think linebacker. But this young man...he saves the world, and discovers a secret destiny.

And to think, when he bargains with this uncle (his only living relative) that he'll try out for football if he is able to get his learner's permit, Alfred has no idea that he will be driving Porshes, Lambourghinis, Bentleys, and Mercedes across the country and England, at 90-120 miles an hour. He has no clue that he'll go from being a 'loser' to fighting off evil henchmen with The Sword of all Swords--Excalibur.

Alfred's adventures are not all good. He sees lots of people die--deaths that can in part be laid at his feet for a monumental decision he makes to help his uncle steal a sword from his boss. When he becomes the sidekick to the last knight of an order sworn to keep Excalibur out of the hands of evil men, he does it out of guilt and because he has nothing left. But Alfred is taking the step toward his fate.

This was a very good book. As a fan of action/adventure, I had a ball reading it. It's pretty violent, so I'd probably read it first if you are a parent of a kid under twelve (although I read worse when I was that age). I think tween kids and younger teens (as well as some older teens who like a fun read) would love it (although I had some moments where I felt the POV seemed a little mature for the average 15 year old--but I could be wrong). I also think grown-ups who love adventure/quest novels and movies would eat this up. If you are a fan of these kinds of stories, what are you waiting for? If you like King Arthur, you need to read this book. Mr. Yancey managed to write a story that is chock full of adventure, but also with a message about realizing what your purpose is in life. I really felt for poor Alfred. He had been through a lot, and he had the weight of the world on his young but large shoulders. He showed a lot of courage, strength, heart, and intelligence, although he was his own worst critic. But, in the end, Alfred showed that he was in the right place at the right time. This is my first book by Rick Yancey, but it won't be my list. I'm excited to read more of Alfred's adventures. He proved to me that he's a hero who is up to the challenge of saving the world, and I enjoyed watching him do it. Highly recommended!

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Instinctive Male by Cait London

Instinctive Male  (Heartbreakers) Instinctive Male by Cait London

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Mikhail is the businessman brother of Jarek from Mr. Temptation. After reading Jarek's book and meeting Mikhail, I knew I couldn't put off reading Instinctive Male. It seems that Ellie Lathrop is the woman who can get under his ice cold demeanor and shatter his businessman cool. Ellie is the boss's daughter, who he disliked because she came off as a spoiled playgirl. Initially, he might have seen that part of Ellie, as she adopts this facade to hide a heart broken by her mother's leaving when she was a baby, and an uncaring father who only thought of her as an asset to his own business. Mikhail seems too much like her father, and she can't resist needling him. But years later, she comes to him because he can protect her and her adopted daughter from the wrath of her father, and her selfish sister's attempts to take the girl away from her. Because her sister is actually the girl's mother.

Mikhail knows he's going to help Ellie. Family is too important to him to see her suffer for the loss of her daughter. He is able to see that the carefree girl of the past is gone, and a strong, loving woman remains. Mikhail wants to be her knight in shining armor. He wants her forever, but Ellie is afraid to give her heart, not knowing who she is, since she never knew her mother's love. But Mikhail isn't used to failing. He's playing to win, for her heart.

Mikhail is different from his brother, in some ways. But, I liked him just as much. At heart, they share their love of family, and the strength to claim the women that claimed their hearts.

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Mr. Temptation by Cait London

Mr. Temptation (Man of The Month/Heartbreakers) (Silhouette Desire, No. 1430) Mr. Temptation by Cait London

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What's not to like about this book? Celibate carpenter hero who is just waiting for the woman who can take his mind and heart off his lost wife, who he's been grieving for ten years? Buttoned-up career woman who's never had much time for romance? Beautiful seaside scenery? And then there's the fact that Jarek is Russian-American!

Jarek takes one look at Leigh, and the possibilities come to mind. He hasn't had a woman in his bed for ten years. When Leigh ends up sleeping in the bed he made with his own hands in the showroom for his family's furniture business, he realizes how good it feels to wake up with her in his arms. But Leigh's focus is on nabbing the account for a swimsuit shop in the hotel run by his brother, so she can continue to protect and take care of her aging hippie parents. She's up to her ears in work and trying to keep her family safe and out of trouble. Romance is just not on her agenda.

It's up to Jarek to show her that there is more than enough room for him in her life, heart, and for her in his bed. He's ready to marry again, and he's got his eye on her.

I confess I have a weakness for Cait London's category romances. They have delightfully quirky, but passionate love stories. She has great heroes that are beautifully masculine, sexy, intense, and deeply-layered. Her heroines are left of center in a way that is very appealing, and reminds me of real life women (who aren't always perfect and 'beautiful' according to Hollywood standards). Her books always have a message about home and hearth, and the rich cultural heritage of various Americans, that we often take for granted.

I loved Jarek's family, with his Texan mother and Russian father,and his brother who's all business. They are loving and fun, embracing Leigh as their new daughter, long before she agrees to marry Jarek. And Leigh's hippie parents made me laugh. I could do much worse for a good Saturday afternoon read.

FYI: Jarek's brother, Mikhail's book is Instinctive Male.

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Veil of Midnight by Lara Adrian

Veil of Midnight (Midnight Breed, #5) Veil of Midnight by Lara Adrian

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I really liked this storyline. Although Tegan is still my favorite Breed warrior, I liked Niko. Renata was a powerful, admirable heroine. I liked that that she was a true survivor. I thought it was awesome that she rescued Niko from the interment facility. Mira, the young girl with the power of showing people who look into her eyes the future, was an interesting story idea.

The Midnight Breed series is pretty dark and violent. The concept of the alien Otherworlders coming to earth a millenium ago, going on a rampage of bloodletting and killing, and raping and impregnating specific Earth women who are compatible with them, to form the breed--alien/human hybrids who live off of blood--is pretty sinister. Although generations of breeding have tamed most of the savage instincts of the original Otherworlders, there is still a dark, violent nature to the Breeds, more obvious in some than others. Although the body count can be somewhat high in these books, this concept has grown on me. I do think that Ms. Adrian has distinguished herself with the storyline of the Breed warriors amongst the vampire romance entries. I find that I am invested now, as I yearn to see what will happen as the new nemesis of the Order unleashes his army on the Breed and on humans, desiring to take over and bring things back to the way they were before, where the Breed ruled, and humans were merely their chattel and food source.

As this book ends, things have come to a very sad turn for the sophisticated Berlin Darkhaven leader, Andreas Richen. I expect that he will be very changed in the next book. I'm looking forward to reading his book, Ashes of Midnight. And I am dying to see more of Hunter, the Gen One warrior who turns out to be an unlikely ally to the Order. I hope he gets his own book. I quite liked him. I think this is one of my favorites in the series, so far.

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Married by Morning by Lisa Kleypas

Married By Morning (The Hathaways, #4) Married By Morning by Lisa Kleypas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Married by Morning was such a delightful book. It fully exceeded my high expectations. The sparks between Leo Hathaway, Lord Ramsay, and Catherine Marks in the prior Hathaway books promised good tension and a fun read, but Ms. Kleypas managed to draw on deep wells of emotion and passion in writing this story, that made it even fuller than I expected.

I had the feeling that Catherine would prove to be fairly tortured for a Kleypas heroine, and it turned out I was right. She had some deeply buried issues, related to her abandonment by her father to the dubious care of her grandmother and aunt, and the heinous future they had planned for her. I was quite surprised at the terrible fate that Catherine barely avoided, and glad that her brother, Harry Rutledge, came to her rescue in time. But, his saving her wasn't soon enough for her to avoid the deep emotional trauma of what she suffered. Since that point, she has buried herself within the prim disguise of a spinster governess, although she isn't that much older than her charges, the younger Hathaway sisters, Poppy and Beatrix.

Leo Hathway was her Achilles' Heel, almost from the beginning. A strong, vital man who made her feel things she didn't want to feel. He represented what she thought she despised, but Leo proves to be the man for her. They trade insults freely, but underneath is a sizzling attraction that is more than obvious to the Hathaways.

I simply adored Leo in this book. He was the consummate hero in pursuit, in all the best ways. He is determined to woo Catherine and give her exactly what she needs: love, understanding, protection, and companionship. Because he realizes that she's the one woman for him, even though he vowed not to fall in love again after losing Laura. Catherine brings him to life, making him want her more than is prudent and convenient. And, in true form for him, he barely skirts society's rules chasing his reluctant heroine. I could see why Catherine was hesitant to accept Leo's proposal, with her past and what she suffered--even though I hoped she'd say yes to his proposal. Although Leo was frustrated that she continued to hold herself back, he didn't give up. I really admired him for that. I think Catherine needed a man who really focused on her, wooing her powerfully.

Leo was a dark horse in this series, although I shouldn't have been a surprise at how well he turned out as a hero. He went from the darkest depths of despair after the loss of his first love, turning into a dissolute rake bent on self-destruction. His sojourn in France gives him the time and space he needs to heal his broken heart and shattered soul. When he comes back, he's still a bit of a rake, completely irreverent and wicked in the things he says, but he finds a sense of purpose in taking care of his properties as Lord Ramsay, and occasionally doing architectural commissions, spending time with his family. When Ms. Marks shows up as the governess for his younger, unmarried sisters, he wonders why they hired such a buttoned-up, bitter hag. Yet, he finds himself unwittingly attracted to her. In fact, she becomes an obsession he cannot deny himself. When he finds out that he must marry to keep Ramsay house, he isn't eager to find a bride at first. But soon, his heart tells him that only one bride will do, Miss Marks. And Leo moves mountains and does the sweetest little things to prove his love. It made me sigh to see such a good woman who had been forsaken in many ways find a man who loved her so very much, and she loved in return.

This was a simple book, but rich in content. It has the characteristic, beautiful writing that makes Lisa Kleypas one of my favorite authors. It is very sensual, with the compelling attraction between Leo and Catherine. Stolen kisses that will melt your socks off, moments of intimacy full of passion, and a love that conquers both Leo and Catherine's reluctant hearts. I could not help but root for this couple. And of course, it's always lovely to catch up with the Hathaways, and their spouses. It feels like coming home.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Covet by JR Ward

Covet (Fallen Angels, #1) Covet by J.R. Ward

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Okay! That was a very interesting book. First of all, I applaud Ms. Ward for trying to do something different and tackle the whole Heaven versus Hell theme. I liked her spin on it, although the unfolding of theology is slightly different from what I'm used to. The reviews are mixed on this one. I can only speak for myself, but I loved it. I did one thing that really helped me to go into this book with no preconceived notions: I didn't look for more Black Dagger Brotherhood. If a reader does that, they will probably be disappointed. Be happy with the cameos, and take it from there. Be open to something different, and I think that will help.

This is a very different kind of story from the BDB. It's pretty ambitious too. Although the WARDen has been accused (maybe for good reason) of abandoning the paranormal format and going into urban fantasy, I really do believe this is urban fantasy with a strong romance. I will concede that the latter BDB books are urban fantasyish, but I still consider them primarily paranormal romance. This is the opposite. This is obvious right away, with the strong narrative focus on Jim Heron, who is the main protagonist, although not the romantic hero. That is Vin diPietro. Personally, I kind of like the hook about a guy recruited by Heaven in the Great Game between Good and Evil. He's got seven souls to save, and his mission starts now. It's fresh and interesting. And I love a story about "G. v. E."

Okay, so what did I like about this story?

First and foremost, I loved the protagonists: Jim and Vin. They are strong characters, both deeply flawed, but good men at heart. They are very similar in the fundamental ways. I liked how they seemed to click as friends. They had an ease between them that transcended their so-called socio-economic dividers. I think that Ms. Ward is great at depicting relationships between men that seem authentic (at least to me). She has tough guys, but they aren't all "I'm too macho for feelings." They are men with dreams, broken and intact, hearts, souls, and feelings. Like real men. I liked that they were both pretty straight-shooters, and had come from traumatic pasts to become who they are when this story starts. Therein lay the connection, I believe.

Vin was a character I loved from first meeting. He made me think of Rehv (who I am crazy about). He's ice cold on the outside (but I always felt like he was a good person at heart). I think he was somewhat remote with Devina, but he seemed to really respect women and treat them well. I like his ethics about not cheating and abusing women. His need for ownership, money and power was fascinating. I could totally see why he had that. It was a sense of false security when he had none growing up. I think there the paranormal elements were obligatory for this story, but it could have worked without him having a demonic influence to make him that way. It was great seeing him get some peace and resolution for his life. I felt so bad for how he had never had those things. Had never known love. I felt his love for Marie-Therese, and why she was what he wanted.

As for Jim, he was the other kind of hero I gravitate to. Sort of the salt of the earth type (despite his past as a lethal assassin). He really had a core of goodness. His way of taking care of Dog endeared him to me and warmed my heart, but I also liked his innate kindness and care for women. I think he found his mission in life, but part of me hopes he'll get a woman of his own one day. I think he is a great choice as the narrative focus for this series.

I also liked Marie-Therese. It was dicey crafting a heroine who turns to prostitution as a lifestyle. For the most part, I think Ms. Ward did it well. She didn't glamorize prostitution, and she didn't make it seem like doing that for a living didn't have an effect on a woman. I definitely believe it does. She didn't make Marie-Therese into too much of a plastic saint. If she was that sainted, she wouldn't have turned to hooking for a living. She even admits that she had options, but she chose that as a quicker way out of her problems (and for another reason that is a spoiler to discuss). I felt for her. I couldn't imagine doing that. We didn't really get offered the opportunity to analyze too many of the other girls, but we do get a glimpse into the other side. Gina is a girl who likes the lifestyle of a sex worker. She's up for it, and has no problem with it. I think there was a little balance there. I'm not sure if I wanted to see more of Marie-Therese, or if I was happy with what I got. I get a strong vibe that this is more of a story about men and their relationships with each other and with the women in their lives. In essence, the male voice is a much stronger focal point in the narrative. Much like the BDB books. But, by and large, I didn't have much of a problem with Marie-Therese. I did see that she was determined not to fall back into the old habit of waiting for her knight-in-shining armor to save her. In this case, he's there, but they will help each other. I could see her attraction for Vin, why he got in her heart. She was afraid that he was the same thing all over again as the man she'd made a mistake over, but I feel that she recognized the essential character of Vin, and that's what drew her to him. I think she was pretty layered. She was a good person, but she had some flaws, and she was passionate and earthy, although that part of her had been suppressed by her troubles in life and current profession. I was happy to see her find Vin (and the promise of future happiness), and I loved seeing her relationship with her son. I think she was too hard on herself, and I hope she learns to forgive herself.

The paranormal elements: I think this was well-done. Her view of angels and demons stays more on the realism side. There aren't wings and halos here. I liked how Jim could tell who was an angel or demon by their lack of a shadow. That was a nice touch. I liked the elements going into the lore and ritual of why Vin was in trouble, and getting him out of his fix. That was well-crafted and intriguing. I think Vin's backstory was fascinating. I'm hoping that he will show up in later books as a resource to the Fallen Angels in their battle. I'd love to see more of him. I liked Adrian and Eddie. I wish I had gotten to know them better. It seemed like I didn't see much of who they were initially, but as the story built, you could see what they were and how they were powerful assets to Jim. I especially liked the role that Eddie played in freeing Vin. I'm intrigued with finding out what Adrian's deal is. What's his power? What happened when he confronted the villain? My hope is that they will have a more prominent part in the forthcoming books.

The romance angle: I'm going to get busted for saying this, but I felt like Vin and Marie-Therese had sex too soon. I'd like to have seen them do more romancing and talking before they got physical. I think this was the tone for their lives prior (although Marie-Therese not by choice). I wanted to see their relationship start in a different manner, setting a new tone from the past. The love scenes were steamy, and I liked that Ms. Ward addressed a crucial issue for them both as far as being safe (considering their pasts). I do feel they had a connection and loved each other, but I probably could have seen a little more courtship outside of the physical, to be honest.

I'm loving Trez. He is the man! Can't wait to read his book! I like the relationship he had with Marie-Therese. He's a good guy. In the prior BDB books, you see him more as a bad MOFO, but he seemed very sweet in this book, although the menace was there when it needed to be.

Oh, can I say I adored Dog? What a sweet baby! He was so cute! I think he was just what lonely Jim needed. :)

The villain was a nasty piece of work. Completely evil and awful. I like to see a genuinely bad female villain, so that was pretty well done. I bet she's going to be up to even more despicableness in the following books. She was also pretty creepy (which I like in a good urban fantasy/horror setting).

What I was kind of 'meh' about: I'm not sure I really bought the execution of who turned out to be Marie-Therese's stalker. It seemed a bit anti-climactic. It played into the story arc very well, but I guess I needed more threads and breadcrumbs to buy his connection with Marie-Therese. It seemed to come a bit out of left field for me.

So, my final thoughts: I enjoyed this book a lot. I did mention some things I thought could have been a little better for me. But, overall, I was pretty happy and impressed with this story. I like this concept a lot, and I think that the forthcoming stories will be even stronger. I think that most fans of JR Ward will like this book. If you don't care for the WARDen's hip lingo and brand name dropping, you will probably hurl the book into the corner. I am used to that about her, and I consider it part of her style. The things I love about her writing are here: her detail, her way of putting the emotions and the heart there. The characters I fall in love with, and their complex relations with each other. She doesn't let me down. And, like I said, I love the big stakes battle unfolding in this book. Long story short, Danielle was a happy camper!

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling (The Seven Kingdoms Trilogy, #1) Graceling by Kristin Cashore

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Simply put, I found this to be a fantastic book. I loved the world that Ms. Cashore built. The concept of the Graced individuals was fascinating. I liked the way the Graced stood out with their eyes that are different colors from each other, and their phenomenal abilities that varied between each Graced person. And the characters that inhabit this story...well they weren't ones you could easily forget about or dismiss.

Let's start with Katsa. I felt for her. She was basically her uncle, King Randa's goon. He sent her to hurt people for his own selfish ends. Her Grace became something she hated about herself. It took Po's love and acceptance to get her to see that her Grace was a blessing, and to see it for what it was. Not the power to kill, but the power to make a difference. Katsa had some serious control issues. I totally empathized with her on that. Being under someone's thumb and control is an ugly, ugly thing. I could see why she wanted to be free to make her own decisions. So, that was something I respected about her, but it led to a big issue I had with this story, which I will go into shortly. That withstanding, even though I really disliked a decision she was set on, I loved her. I thought she was a great character. Her strength as a person was formidable. Her determination to protect others and to survive any obstacle humbled me. I admired her so much, it brought tears to my eyes.

Po was fantastic. Sometimes I am somewhat skeptical about these wonderful men that women authors write. Do they write men that they feel that women will instinctively love, or are there men out there as wonderful as Po is? I hope I meet one. Haven't just yet (no offense to the great guys I know). Po got my attention, and kept it, from the first meeting, in which he ends up encountering Katsa, and being one of the few who are somewhat of a challenge to her as a fighter. Po has a gypsy sort of vibe that reminded me of another favorite, Cam Rohan, from romance novels by Lisa Kleypas. He has an ease in his skin which makes him very attractive. He's gorgeous and sensual (not too sensual for a young adult book---but it's there alright). He's a great fighter. He's intelligent, resourceful, supportive, and insightful. He has a sense of adventure and an air of mystique. He was a really good guy. I couldn't love him more. Yet Po hides a secret that actually makes him a great counterpart to Katsa, although she has to take time to accept that he can see and perceive her in ways that no one else can. He has to come to terms with his own Grace, and that journey will not be without anguish to him. I overuse the term soulmates in my reviews, probably because I'm the sappy romantic who believes in this concept. But Po is without a doubt the one soulmate for Katsa. That made me more able to accept an issue I had from the romantic angle.

The secondary characters were very distinct and absorbing. Young Bitterblue is a character that really stood out. I loved her by the end of this book, and I look forward to reading her book when it comes out. The poor girl. What she suffered. It was completely harrowing! Then there's Prince Raffin. He was adorable. I hope we see him again and see him find his bride. Oh, the awful villain. I won't say who it is, but he was an abomination! He got exactly what he deserved! No question.

The world itself: Ms. Cashore stuck to simplicity and it paid off. She writes a world that looked a lot like our own, but the people in it gave this book the fantasy feel. If you like survival books and journey/quest books, you'll love this. It made me want to bone up on my non-existent survival skills. I couldn't do it justice the way Katsa and Po do. I liked the idea of the Seven Kingdoms, and how they related to each other. Far and above, Po's people stood out, with their penchant for jewelry, their dark hair and gray eyes--their culture was nicely distinctive. They had a Roma (gypsy) vibe that I liked.

The action and adventure were par excellence. I love both, and I heartily recommend this book, if you are of the same mind. If you love a heroine who can more than handle her own, and the combination of a tough heroine and hero fighting at each other's side, you will love this book. The fight scenes are thrilling and awesome. The violence is not so graphic that it's disturbing, but there is death and blood in this book. But, the value of life is very much made clear by the author. I think this book sends a good message to younger readers in how she handles some tough issues such as using power in a way that is helpful and not selfish and hurtful to others.

Okay, now I'll talk about the romance: It was scintillating, completely appealing. Katsa and Po had great chemistry. You knew they were for each other and no one else. You could see why they loved each other. This book does have some love scenes, but they aren't descriptive enough to be unsuitable for young adult books, but they had enough steam to make this book sizzle in a way that would appeal to a fan of adult romances, at least in my opinion. A good steam factor is about chemistry, and it was there in spades here. Also, there was that vibe of a love that was too strong to resist. Let me get into my one and only issue with this story. Katsa did not want to fall in love. She didn't want to give her heart away. She did not want to be owned, and not really to belong to anyone. She vowed not to marry or have children. One one level I could completely understand that, but it also frustrated me. I think Po more than showed he was the kind of man who would never try to own or control her. I think he gave her more than 100% of himself, but I felt she didn't give herself fully in return. I think agreeing to marry him would have showed her trust and love for him in return. I felt she did love him and show it, but I also felt she was holding a large part of her essential self back. And thus, the true romantic in me was unsettled and dissatisfied with the resolution of this book. I hope and pray that eventually Katsa will marry Po. I think he deserves that show of trust from her. I can't get away from my feelings about love. I think if you love someone enough, you want to marry them, and there is no substitute. That's my personal belief. And, it made the way this book ended a big issue for me. So, on the romantic front, this was not a 5 star book. It's more like a four. As a fantasy and a book overall, there is no question that this book is a five star book. But, if you are reading this as a romance, it doesn't quite reach perfection, at least if you are of a similiar mind to me. You might not be. You might be fine with this great couple existing forever in a relationship that is uncommitted to the rest of the world, and between them in the sense that Katsa feels she will always have the freedom to walk away from Po. Ugh, it makes my heart ache to think about it.

So, this is the best review I can write. It's so hard to describe my feelings about this book, and I did the best I could. I don't think I can add much more to it. I highly recommend Graceling. It was a pleasure and a joy, and I want to read more by Ms. Cashore.

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Rich...Rugged...Ruthless by Jennifer Mikels

Rich , Rugged...Ruthless (Montana Mavericks) Rich , Rugged...Ruthless by Jennifer Mikels

My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars
I found myself really clicking with Ms. Mikels' writing style. She has a way of an interesting story. I was drawn into this book, and I felt a connection with the characters. I was intrigued with what made Max Henderson such a cold, unapproachable man. When I found out, it totally made sense. I could see why he had withdrawn from others. His emotional pain made him unexpectedly tortured. Although he was a businessman-type, he also had a rugged, manly appeal that I liked. I could see why Sam fell for him. I thought that Sam was a good counterpart for him. Determinedly cheerful, yet strong and independent, but not without her own baggage.

Their love story was straightforward, but it had its bumps along the way, as they dealt with their emotional issues, moreso on the part of Max. There was a nice, strong vibe of attraction and an appeal to this story. But it wasn't a dramafest in the bad way. It was nice to see their love grow as they spent time together and realized that there was more between them than patient and caregiver.

Since this is part of a series written by different authors that all ties together, there is a bit of vagueness in the description and the characterization of the supporting characters, and loose ends with the mystery of who killed Max's sister Christina, with little resolution on that front. This didn't bother me, because I knew that going into it, and I was more interested in seeing the relationship between Sam and Max unfold. In the end, I was glad I pulled this one off the shelf for my Clean Off My Category Romance Challenge. It turned out to be a very good read.

Overall rating: 4.25 out of 5.0 stars.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Hostage by Madeleine Ker

Hostage by Madeleine Ker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Intense Vintage Harlequin Romance that reads like a Harlequin Presents. It certainly has all the trappings: incredibly beautiful but cold and unawakened heroine, dark, brooding, and scary hero. Revenge, oh the revenge. Leo, the hero calls himself "The Eagle", and he tells Sabrina that he's her enemy. Actually, her father is his enemy. But he died before Leo could exact his revenge. Sabrina wasn't that fond of her father, either. In fact, she hated him for who cruel he was to her and her mother. But Daddy Dearest left all his holdings to Sabrina, and she's not going to sit idly by and let the board do all the dirty dealings her father was known for. I was very impressed with Sabrina in how she went into the board meeting, and showed the good old boys that she knew her stuff. She made them well aware that she wasn't going to stand for their old way of doing things, while they were willing to put a thousand people out of work, and maintain their high expense accounts and corporate cars. She got a bravo for that.

In her dealings with Leo, Sabrina was in over her head. Leo is definitely on the cruel hero side. He's a take no prisoners hero. Very ruthless in his dealings with her business and with her. When the big reveal comes about how he loved her since he first saw her, it's a bit hard to believe, based on how he treats her (although he doesn't ever hit or harm her physically and doesn't rape her). When he makes her believe he filed for a quicky divorce, I thought that was fairly cruel. But, he maintains he did it so that she'd admit her feelings for him. Sabrina doesn't get off the hook. She says some pretty cruel things to Leo as well. I tried to remind myself that as far as she knew, they were truly enemies, and Leo married her for revenge alone.

So why the four stars? The drama, the intensity, the good writing. The climax was written to make both characters well aware of what they were at risk for losing, and Leo comes through wonderfully when Sabrina's life is in jeopardy. I probably read some of Madeleine Ker's books when I was a kid. I read pretty much every Harlequin and Harlequin Presents I could get my hand on growing up. Unfortunately, I forgot many of those books. But, Ms. Ker's writing is excellent. She paints vivid pictures, and they are quite iconic. The drama level is built through every interaction between the characters. It's never garish, but has a natural intensity. I could see Leo as the Eagle, and Sabrina as the Ice Maiden. Even though the love scenes weren't descriptive, you could see the passion there. So, I was very impressed with this story.

If you want a good old school Harlequin that will bring on the drama, but in a very elegant fashion, I'd recommend this one. Reading this book makes me long for more new books in these lines that have this same level of intensity, passion and risk. It's why I search long and hard for these oldies to enjoy. I hope to find more of Ms. Ker's books to read.

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Bossman Billionaire (Silhouette Desire) Bossman Billionaire by Kathie DeNosky

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Good story that kept my interest, but not as intense as I would like. The writing seemed a little basic, lacking some emotional depth that I hoped for. However, I am sucked into this series about a group of offspring from a rich playboy who went around planting his seed liberally, and the grandmother executive who is using her considerable means to make sure that they all have happy lives.

Luke was pretty clueless. He was all business. He had this great idea that he wanted an heir to train to take over his businesses. He approached his trusty Admin Assistant Hayley to research into hiring a surrogate, only to find that Tennessee laws precluded a non-married person from hiring one. Next plan was to ask Hayley to do it. Hayley, being an old fashioned girl, and deeply in love with her boss, came up with conditions that included marriage and joint custody, sure that her commitment shy boss would say no. He called her bluff and whisked her off to get married.

Of course, Luke is all business, and spends their wedding night in labor negotiations, instead of romancing his wife. He doesn't even buy her a ring. Poor Hayley. This husband really needs to go to husband school.

Most of this book shows Luke coming to the realization that his feelings for Hayley are quite deeper than he thought, and he'd loved her for a while, whereas Hayley spends her time trying to hide that she's deeply in love with her workaholic boss. And he wouldn't even introduce her as his wife. He still kept calling her by her maiden name and as his Admin Assistant! Boy, was Luke in for a wakeup call. He surely got one, too.

It was a pretty good book, and I'll continue this series. Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Dark Gold by Christine Feehan

Dark Gold (Carpathians, #3) Dark Gold by Christine Feehan

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
What is it about these Carpathians? I can't seem to stay away from these books. This time I lasted three months. I started reading this book, and soon I was fully immersed in this world of dark sensuality and supernatural beauty, where the creatures of the night are a race of ancient immortals who live on blood. They fight against their own dark natures, and against their brethren who have succumbed to the darkness and became the evil vampires who pray on humans and destroy them. They walk through centuries hoping they will find the one woman who will be their other half, their salvation from the darkness inside of them.

Poor Alexandria was just trying to get a job when she encountered the vampire who would change her world irrevocably. And the whole time she was dealing with foul creature, I was waiting for Aidan Savage to make his appearance. As typical for Carpathians, he made a dramatic entrance. I was like, "It's about time!"

Alexandria didn't sign up to be a lifemate, to live in the darkness, to have to drink blood to survive, but Aidan had little choice but to change her, since she had been fed on twice already by the vampire he destroyed, and forced to drink its blood. The third time was when he thought she was a vampire herself and was going to bite her to kill her. But meeting her was fortuitous to him, because he sees colors. That's a sure sign to him about something....He knows she's his lifemate, and he's selfish enough to want her to live and to be in his world, for she is his salvation. But Alexandria won't come into his world alone. She has a little brother that she loves dearly, and has cared for alone, since her parents died.

This Carpathian book started very dramatically, and the tone didn't abate. Simply put, I really enjoyed this book. I guess it goes without saying that I am a pretty big fan of this series. I like the uniqueness of it, the old world Carpathian men with their heavy air of mystery and magic. I like the dramatic, flowery language, the scary fight scenes in which the nasty vampires pull all sorts of monstrosities out of their bag of tricks, only to be vanquished by the Carpathians and their lifemates. I like the elegant nature they have, their constant struggle with the dark side, and their reliance on their women to save them. Their behavior is on the edge of what's acceptable in a modern day romance. They don't have much qualms against carrying their lifemates off and 'convincing' them that their future is tied to their own. Some are a little more cavemanish than others (Rafael I'm talking to you). In the spectrum of un-PC-ness of some of the Carpathians , Aidan was practically a New Age male. I feel that Aidan tried to give Alexandria room. Her situation was tough in that he really didn't have much choice about changing her since the vampire had already started the conversion, and she would have died if he didn't give her his blood. He did try to give some freedom and time to adjust, as much as possible. Alexandria was in denial about her new nature, and I can't blame her too much. I'd be a bit upset if I found out I had to stay out of the sun, and drink blood to survive (Although I don't think I'd mind the hot guy saying I was his lifemate too much). Not to mention the fact that her new lifestyle would preclude her being a full mother to Josh in some ways (no baseball games and stuff like that). Aidan really showed a lot of patience with her, only getting mad when she freaked out and ran out into the full sun, and got one heck of a sunburn. Otherwise, they had a fairly gentle courtship for a Carpathian and his lifemate.

It's hard to condense down what appealed to me about this book. It was fun and interesting. When I read this series, it's unlike any other that I've experienced, and in a good way. I like this world, although it's pretty dark and scary. I like the concept of these ancient males searching through centuries for their other halves. I like the humor and the passion, the intensity of emotions that the characters experience. And the action scenes are very good also. Although I can't typically read these books back to back, when I pick one up, I fall in deep and enjoy the time I spend reading them. Dark Gold was no different.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

The Wedding by Julie Garwood

The Wedding (Lairds' Fiancees, #2) The Wedding by Julie Garwood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Wedding managed to make its way up into the ranks of Garwood books that earned a five star rating. Why? Because this book took me from laughing hysterically, to being angry enough for my blood pressure to shoot up (or so my throbbing temples testified to), to being so sad I wanted to cry. Also, it's just darn entertaining.

I've read many, many romance novels in my thirty-some years, and Julie Garwood has a way of writing singular heroines, like no other author. On first glance, they seem too sweet to be believed. But, their sweetness is completely genuine. Her heroines are so kind and loving, that you'd have to be a big jerk to hate them. As for me, I love them. Brenna certainly was no different. The poor girl. She really went through the wringer in this book, and Connor contributed significantly to her suffering. At times, I did want to take a frying pan to his thick skull. Of course, I realize that he's emotionally stunted from the tragedy of his father's betrayal and death, and the murder of most of his clan. His deathbed promise to his father was what drove him, and marriage was only a secondary concern. He's a hard man, and it took him sometime to realize that his husband skills needed improvement. You cannot put wives away on shelves to gather dust until you want to play with them, man! Thankfully, love conquers all.

This was a very good book, and I didn't want to put it down. Brenna won my heart, and I was very glad that Connor got a clue. I loved the secondary cast of characters, such as Connor's men Quinlan and Crispin, and his people, Father Sinclair, her family, and of course, Laird Alec and Lady Jamie. I'm not sure if medieval Scotland in any way resembles this book, but I almost want to go there just to enjoy the ambience (despite the lack of indoor plumbing).

I don't have it in me to write a long review right now, so this will have to suffice. How does Ms. Garwood do it? Write such brilliant comedy, but scenes that are ripe with emotional anguish? Those diametrically opposed tones shouldn't go together, but she manages it. Although some parts wrenched at my heart at what poor Brenna went through, I felt that things worked out very well. I know that Connor will never, ever take her for granted again. He'll realize just how precious the love he has with Brenna, and how that was more important than the vengeance his father swore him to. She snuck her way into his heart, just like she did mine.

Darn! I wish I had time to go back and read all her historicals again!

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Monday, June 07, 2010

Just a Normal Marriage by Leigh Michaels

Just A Normal Marriage (Harlequin Romance, No. 2987) Just A Normal Marriage by Leigh Michaels

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Good old school Harlequin romance with a marriage of convenience between an orderly accountant and a disorderly pediatrician, all for the sake of Shauna's younger sister, who is not doing well living with their self-absorbed mother (currently on her fifth husband). Shauna meets Rob when she takes her sister Mandy to the pediatrician for stomach aches that are due to the stress of living with their mother. She decides that it would be best for Mandy to live with her, and her mother says no. When her mother and her current husband are going to move to Mexico for a year to film a movie, Shauna intervenes in her mother's plans to place Mandy in a boarding school. She makes a deal with Rob that they will marry for a year, and she'll pay off his medical school debts, if he'll be her husband in order to provide a stable home for Mandy. It sounds really good on paper, but the feelings of attraction between the couple will grow when they are living in close quarters, making their convenient marriage into an inconvenient love match.

Shauna gave me some heartburn with her emotional ups and downs, and her mood changes towards Rob. I understand why, with her insecurities after having a father who walked out of her life after her parents divorced, and an ex-fiance who turned out to be a 'Baby Daddy' and a deadbeat dad out for her money. Rob was such a good guy, and it was frustrating to see how she always wanted to assume the worst about him. Thankfully Harlequin delivers a happy ending for this couple, and the final scene shows them coming clean with each other, admitting their love (from nearly the beginning) for each other. Just a Normal Marriage was a quick, sometimes fun/sometimes angsty read, taking me back to the Harlequin Golden Age.

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Marrying the Captain by Carla Kelly

Marrying The Captain (Harlequin Historical Series) Marrying The Captain by Carla Kelly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Carla Kelly has done it again. I read my second book by her and fell in love with her characters and her writing. Oliver Worthy was completely sigh-worthy. What an honorable man. He was very down to earth, and, at his heart, a really good, decent man. The Navy was his life, and he had convinced himself that marriage was not for him, because it wouldn't be fair to his wife. But, Nana Massie slipped past his defenses. It wasn't quite love at first sight, but darn close. This young woman had the power to make him yearn for a wife to come home to.

Ms. Kelly has a way of writing a story that is so real and essential. She doesn't tend to write about dukes and ladies. She writes about the non-titled people, the ones who are just getting by, or are doing their everyday tasks to keep the British Empire running, although they seldom get credit for it. I love her non-titled heroes. They have more to offer me than a titled hero, who really has nothing more to do than to seduce women, gamble, and drink. Oliver is a great example of the kind of hero that Ms. Kelly excels at writing. He started his career in the Navy at the age of twelve, working his way up to captain. His men admire him, because he treats them humanely. He's earned his reputation and his rank, and that spoke to me. I liked his down to earth nature. He didn't judge Nana or her grandmother because they weren't Quality. He didn't hold Nana's illegitimacy against her. He loved her for who she was. Even though a woman who married him would have to deal with life as a military wife, hardly seeing her husband, and living with the knowledge that he could die at sea, a woman couldn't ask for a better husband. Nana was a lucky girl.

Nana's mother had made the mistake of falling for the charms of a Navy Lieutenant, and ended up pregnant and unmarried for the trouble. Her grandmother held the father responsible, and he paid for Nana's education at a girls school in Bath. However, he turned out to have unsavory intentions for her: giving her as mistress to a man to pay off his debts. When Nana realized this, she fled back to her grandmother's inn in Plymouth, where she was when the story started. So, she had every reason not to fall for Captain Worthy. But, he lived up to his name. In the end, it was easier than she imagined to fall in love with him. When he shows up, sick as a dog, to stay at their inn, which is barely limping by with no business for six months, it's not very long before he's in her heart.

The romance was excellent in this story. But, I also like the glimpse into the life of a sea captain, and those who live with the everyday reality of the Navy and their men at war. Although the battles are being fought at sea, the people left at home also suffer as the men they love don't always make it back home, or when they do, it's for as little time as they can steal with their spouses and families before they have to go back to sea.

I enjoyed spending Sunday with Nana and Oliver, and I hope that they have a happy life together. Even though there is much at risk in their future, they can claim the time they have together, the family they create together, and the deep, true love they found as their own, that no one can take from them.

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Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean

Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I enjoyed this book a lot. It was rich with depth and with characters that I was interested in reading about. Callie was tired of being trapped by society's expectations, and the box she'd been put into, and decided to claim some happiness for herself. I liked that Gabriel liked her for who she was. He was drawn to her, even though she didn't fit society's ideas of beauty. She became the one woman he couldn't resist, and it wasn't hard for me to believe that was the case as I read this story.

I think Ms. MacLean did a great job of writing this novel, that was recognizably full of honest and real emotions. Normally, I don't care for the Regency hoyden, who gallivants around town doing things that women just didn't do. But, this book wasn't quite like that. Callie was a woman of her times. But, she was a woman who was trying to claim some happiness for herself. She never felt anachronistic in her morals. She was just tired of trying to live up to others' expectations. So, despite this being a theme I'm far from fond of, I wasn't bothered by Callie's hijinks. I really liked and felt for Callie. Some readers complained about it constantly being repeated that she was plain and plump. I didn't really see that. I think that it was mentioned as much as necessary, especially considering that's the box that Callie had been put into. I felt for her, seeing how insensitive people were in their treatment of her. It felt authentic. Women are often treated in such a fashion, when they don't fit into the mode that society defines for them. If you're not married, don't have a man, or a boyfriend, then what's wrong with you? You must be flawed somehow. You have no purpose in life. Sadly, that's still the case.

This was a very sexy book. There are some pretty spicy scenes, and they are quite well-done. The chemistry between Gabriel and Callie felt authentic. I could see why they were attracted to each other, and why they fell for each other. Those love scenes really kept me on the edge as I read.

I liked Gabriel a lot. Although he was a rake, he showed himself to be fairly admirable in his behavior. There were some lines that he knew he shouldn't be crossing with Callie, but the way this book was written, you could see that he couldn't resist his feelings for Callie. I didn't find Gabriel especially tortured. But, I don't guess all heroes have to be. He did have some baggage with his mother running off and leaving him, and you could see how that affected him, making him afraid to give his heart to a woman. But, with Callie, it was natural for him. He couldn't hold that back from her.

I liked Nick, Benedick, and Juliana a lot. I hope that Ms. McLean writes stories for them as well.

Reading Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake was a very pleasant experience. It wasn't a particularly dark romance (which is my favorite), but it was nuanced and had an intensity between Callie and Gabriel that made it a fairly compelling read. I think Ms. MacLean is a very good writer, and it's clear she makes an effort to write a high quality historical romance that manages to entertain but also has an underlying message. She treats important elements of historical romance with respect, but writes a story that is fun, sensual, and engaging, and she earned my respect for doing so. She's definitely going on my to-read list.

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Saturday, June 05, 2010

Raven's Shadow

Raven's Shadow (Raven Set, #1) Raven's Shadow by Patricia Briggs

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It's clear that Patricia Briggs can work the same magic for traditional fantasy that she does with her urban fantasy and werewolf stories for this reader. I loved this story. I must admit that there were parts that were slower and harder to read, and that's due to the intricacies of the worldbuilding (keep in mind, I don't read a lot of heavy-duty, traditional heroic fantasy--so keep the urge to sneer under wraps if you've read a lot of that and consider this book child's play). Having said that, I thought the idea of the different orders of magic really interesting. I loved how it all tied together and related very personally to Seraph, and the family she had with Tier. And, I like that she kept the story focused on the characters and their journey, and not on the actual magical aspects. The magic was part of who they were, and it affected the non-magic people who lived in the world of this book. I liked the messages about prejudice, and how some people are dismissed and marginalized, but they are the people who are capable of really doing something worthwhile in the world.

Seraph is not the type of heroine who's in touch with her feelings and bright and bouncy, emotionally open. I didn't mind that. I liked that she was a to-the-point, contained, composed, but deeply feeling person. Because of the dangerous nature of her magic, she had to keep her composure. And it was clear that she did care about others, and loved her children and her husband, Tier, very deeply.

Tier was a great hero. I loved him from the first page. He's so humane. Even years as a soldier, seeing the worst, didn't change that about him. He's a born leader, not through brute force, but an intrinsic charisma and his being a good person that you wanted to like. For all that, he's formidable and strong. He's the kind of hero I go ga-ga over.

Tier and Seraph had good chemistry. Even though this isn't a romance novel, they have a great love, and I was hoping that things would work out for each other. After twenty years, there was still passion, and they knew each other so well, and cared for each other. Their love was a steadfast thing that empowered them, even if they didn't say the words to each other.

Tier and Seraph's kids: Jes, Lehr, and Rinnie, all play important roles. I loved all of them. But my favorite, hands down, was Jes. He managed to be menacing and dangerous (in a very appealing way), but sweet, at the same time. His gift (also could be a curse) was very fascinating to me. I was hoping that we'd see a lot of him. And I liked the fact that he found a connection with a woman who wasn't scared of him, like so many others were. Jes, Lehr and Rinnie's gifts really came in handy in this story. It was interesting to see how they came to realize what they were, and how they embraced them. Although, they struggled with their natures as magically-gifted people.

Raven's Shadow may not appeal to some fans of the Mercy Thompson books. It's pure fantasy. But, the things that I love about Patricia Briggs' writing are there for me to enjoy. Her writing has a simple, yet elegant beauty. She tells a story that is full of the human element. When I read her stories, I get so captivated in seeing how her characters unfold, and how they meet the issues that life gives them. This book was no different. I like how she gives you characters that have flaws and troubles, and you end up getting heavily invested in their stories, hoping for the best for them. And, she's so good at writing about magic, and a good adventure yarn, to go with it.

When I was a kid, I devoured all the fantasy I could find in the library. But I fell out of reading fantasy for a long time. I've recently gotten back into reading it. This was a good start. It's focused on the characters, but it has the traditional heroic fantasy elements. And in Patricia Briggs' hands, it's very successful. I'd say give it a try, if you like the Mercy Thompson books. If things seem to move slowly at times, hang in there. I think you'll enjoy the end efforts. Or, at least I did. I look forward to reading Raven's Strike, the next book in this set.

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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Ravishing in Red by Madeline Hunter

Ravishing in Red (The Rarest Blooms, #1) Ravishing in Red by Madeline Hunter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It's been a few years since I read Madeline Hunter. But, I didn't forget how good her writing is. Her style has an authentic feel that I love to read in historical romances. I like her choice of words and her use of subtle wit. This story wasn't particularly steamy, and at first, I was disappointed at how mild the love scenes were. But, as I continued to read, I came to realize that they fit this story.

I love books in which the couple marries early, and the progression of the book shows how they come to know each other and fall in love as husband and wife. This book is no different. Sebastian and Audrianna had a very inauspicious start to their courtship, but it was deemed by fate, on many levels.

I liked and respected both Audrianna and Sebastian. I think Sebastian turned out to be a wonderful husband, even though he doubted that he would be. He was raised in the shadow of a big brother who was the perfect gentleman, and his harridan of a mother never let him forget that. When Morgan, the Marquess of Wittonbury, was wounded in the war, and paralyzed, he stepped in to attend to Morgan's duties as the Marquess. Sebastian felt like his identity had been absorbed into that of his brother, and that he would never live up to him. He married Audrianna mostly out of duty, although there was not a little bit of desire there, as well. His brother immediately liked Audrianna, which spurred him to offer for her when her reputation is ruined. Although it's perfectly innocent, it doesn't look like it; as they are caught together in an inn room where they both go to meet the man who might have information about the adulterated gunpowder that lead to soldiers' deaths, and ruined Audrianna's father's reputation. Despite the reason for marrying Audrianna, he treated her with kindness and respect, and listened to her, meeting her needs. Soonafter, he gave his heart to her fully. Audrianna rejected Sebastian's marriage proposal twice, and finally agreed, having doubts as to the success of her union. She resigned herself to a ton marriage in which a husband's unfaithfulness was a forgone conclusion. She had no idea how she had stolen her husband's heart.

This is a very strong, good read. It falls short of five star for me, because the passion seemed a bit muted, and it lacked a certain intensity that I like in a good historical. However, it's a very well-executed love story, with a captivating cast of secondary characters. I think it's also very successful as a historical; one in which I never felt like I was reading a modern book with window-dressing. This is one of those books I want to read when I yearn for a good historical, and I'm glad that Ms. Hunter delivered that reading experience to me.

I must say that Sebastian makes a very polite jealous/possessive hero, with some good quotes that show he won't be a man to be cuckolded:

"You will have to forgive me, Major Woodruffe. I am new to marriage, and perhaps more given to jealousy than some of the more experienced husbands that you know. It is possible that you seek only friendship with my wife. If, however, you entertain any other--"
-Sebastian to Woodruffe (Audrianna's ex-fiance who comes sniffing around her now that she's safely married to a man of influence)
"I assure you that such a thing is the furthest thing from my mind."
-Woodruffe to Sebastian
"Come now, Major. We are both men. Such ideas are never far from our minds at all. But if you do anything that causes me to think that your mind dwells long on that particular idea, I will thrash you, I will ruin you, and I will probably kill you. "
-Sebastian to Woodruffe

"I did indeed say you could have lovers. But I never promised that I would not kill them.
-Sebastian to Audrianna

Those moments gave me some glee, as I do love my jealous/possessive heroes. I was glad that he intended to do his best to be faithful. I admired that he said he would do his best. Since he is not a man to lie or to shirk his responsibilites, and he is very much in love with his wife, I have no doubts that he will be faithful to her for the duration of his marriage. Before, Sebastian seemed to be rootless, but he found his home in his wife. I don't expect him to return to his wandering, rakish former ways.

If you want to read a good, entertaining, historical romance that reads like a historical, I'd recommend Ravishing in Red. Ms. Hunter writes so beautifully, I feel you'll enjoy this novel.

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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Blue Diablo by Ann Aguirre

Blue Diablo

Blue Diablo (Corine Solomon, #1)
This was a very interesting and unique foray into the world of magic noir, or noir occult detective fantasy fiction. Corine Solomon is a fairly conflicted, and troubled character. Her mother was a practicing witch who was essentially burned to death by the suspicious and intolerant townspeople in Kilmer, Georgia. Before she died, her mom endowed her with her power, in the form of the ability to read objects. However, it comes at signficant cost to Corine. She bears the scars of the readings on her hands and fingers. Scars to match those deep in her soul.

After she almost died on one of their cases, Corine cut out in the middle of the night, leaving her boyfriend and business partner, Chance behind. She left because she didn't believe he loved her, and that he was just using her for her abilities. She left because she let him in and paid the price. In her life, Corine learned that caring for others is a losing proposition. And Chance messed her up too much inside. So she fled to Mexico, running a pawn shop, and living as close to a normal life as was possible for her.

But, eighteen months later, Chance shows up. His mother has been kidnapped, and he needs her special gift to find her. Chance has a special gift of his own, incredible luck. Unfortunately, his luck isn't so good for those around him. That, and Chance is just way too self-controlled and distant for her, despite being gorgeous and her weakness emotionally. They strike a deal, she helps him find his mother, he helps her get revenge against the people who killed her mother. And, it's just business. Their relationship is over, or so Corine says.

This story twists and turns, and shows a side of Texas very familiar to me. The aspects of Mexican culture ring very true to someone who's spent a fair amount of time in that environment, and add to this story like the spice of chili powder. Corine is a narrator who is not always nice and kind and neat, but she sneaks in on you, so well that you end up liking her for all her flaws. Chance is delicious--dapper, half-Korean, completely intriguing, and very much in love with Corine, but unsure how to show it. He's the enigmatic guy who sounds great on paper, but probably isn't the best boyfriend. But what in life is perfect? I wanted Corine to forgive him, even seeing his flaws. There's also interesting secondary characters, such as Chance's friend Chucho, and his wife, Eva, who help this couple in many important ways; Jesse, who's a cop in Laredo with a gift for empathy. He appoints himself as Corine's mentor in the world of the gifted, but he wants to be more. Maybe, Corine wants more too. Sex is not an issue, but falling in love is. Can she have all the wild, crazy sex with Jesse, and avoid falling into the trap of loving Chance? And there's a killer who considers himself the hand of God. Is he going to help or hinder Corine and Chance in their search for his mother?

Normally, I don't like my noir urban fantasy too filled with romantic angst, but it was well done and fitting in this story. After all, Corine's life is very turbulent, and that's a big part of her life. I have to say it really added to this story. I have a feeling her future will always be entwined with Chance, and that's not such a bad thing to me.

The magic and occult aspects were very intriguing. There were some parts that were borderline scary. I think Ms. Aguirre told a great story of dark magic being used to further the criminal enterprises of those who prey on the strange entity that is the border of Mexico and Texas. I had little trouble believing that the cartels would hire witches and warlocks to employ sorcerous magic to keep business going.

If I had a complaint, I think that the tension could have been sustained in some of the suspenseful moments. The execution tended to be somewhat anti-climatic. Otherwise, this was a great foray into the dark world of bordertown Texas and Mexico, where magic is alive and well. Corine is a character I got invested in, and I definitely want to read more stories with her. And I hope that Chance stays in the picture. He's quite a character, himself.

Ebony Eyes by Kei Swanson

Ebony Eyes (Love Spectrum Romance)

Kei Swanson is clearly eavesdropping in on my brain. She truly knows about my love for Asian men. If not, then she must be a serious admirer of Asian men, just like me. Laine Tanizaki was completely, utterly fantastic. Sexy as all get out, but sweet and kind and honorable. I kept picturing Ian Anthony Dale as I read this book, and badly in need of a bib to catch all my drooling. But, I don't want to objectify him. He was a fully-realized character that I fell in love with, just as Corie did. Helping people is in his blood, and being an undercover police officer wasn't something he enjoyed, but it was a way to do what he felt was necessary to keep people safe. He was so loveable, and lickable too (okay, mind out of the gutter). I like that Kei wasn't afraid to have a hero who is Japanese-American, but one who didn't cement or pander to stereotypes. I felt as I read this story that we are of the same mind, ethnicity doesn't control our lives. It's who we are, but just a part of our identities. Laine was an American who happened to be Japanese. He had some of those elements of his ethnicity and heritage, but he also was just like any other American. To be honest with you, I could give this book five stars just because of how much I adored Laine. He was just one of those heroes who claims my heart early on and doesn't let go. I loved how he watched out for, loved, and truly respected and liked Corie. He was a dream man, in my opinion.

I liked Corie, but she's the vulnerable type. If readers don't go for the kind of heroine who is always in need of rescue, Corie won't be your thing. I was okay with her, because I felt that she was the right woman for Laine, and I felt the chemistry between them. Also, she went through a tough experience, and came out of it a survivor, even though she was worse for wear from the experience. And, she gets points for running a bookstore, owning a cat, and seeing what a fine, sexy, hunk of burning love Laine was. I liked that she was also a character who didn't fulfill stereotypes about Black women. She's about as far as you can get away from the uncultured, uncouth, loud, bitter, mean Black woman that seems to be used as the poster child for women of my race. She came from upper class, born into money, but strayed when she fell for a man who turned out to be a straight-up hoodlum and drug-dealer, who beat her so badly, she lost her baby and was in the ICU for two weeks. Now, she lives in fear of him, which was a little frustrating. Although I could understand that fear can control us. I wasn't always happy with the choices she made in regards to dealing with her ex-husband, but I've never been in her shoes, so I didn't hold that against her too much.

This was a well-paced, well-written romance. The chemistry builds deliciously, and you feel the emotional bond between Laine and Corie. Even though they can't open up about who they are, there is a connection between them that drives their interactions. I liked the dialogue and the intimacy in their everyday interactions. When they make love, the fire has stoked to a tingling level of anticipation, and I was not disappointed.

I had a bad experience with the last interracial romance I tried to read. It also had an Asian hero and a Black woman, and that woman was also battered by a man in her life. This execution was so much better. There was nothing tawdry or disturbing about this story, but the abuse that Corie suffered was clear. Laine never came off as an opportunist or a user, but a man truly in love who knew how to care for his woman and to love her. Just what she needed. And, Corie turns out to be right for Laine, giving him a connection and the love of a woman, when he's felt so isolated, with only a dying father in his life, and his job. I am thankful to Kei for her deft handing of this tough subject. I loved how she dealt with the racial and socioeconomic differences, and how lovingly she brought Laine to life. It sounds really bizarre to say so, but I have a heart for Asian people, and I want to see more stories that show Asian Americans as they are everyday, minus the stereotypes that seem to cloud a true vision of a group of people who are diverse and rich in culture and personality. As a Black woman, I feel that on a personal level everyday, and it's not pretty. So, when I read a book that doesn't go in that direction, I feel very happy. I cheered for Laine and Corie to get their happy ending together, because I felt that I truly knew them as lovable, good people. If they were real, I'd definitely want to go to their wedding.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.