Friday, October 29, 2010

The HarrowingThe Harrowing by Alexandra Sokoloff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Harrowing was a pretty good book to read around Halloween. It was nicely scary, and the story idea was quite interesting. Ms. Sokoloff integrated Jewish creation lore into this story. I thought that it gave this story an individuality for a ghost story/supernatural horror story. This was a major strength of this novel.

I also really liked Robin, the main character. She starts this story at a complete low, but shows courage, ingenuity, and strength of character that is crucial for the ordeal she will face, along with her new-found friends.

The message that no one is worthless or a discard resonated with me. We all have a place in the world, and have individual worth as people. Through Robin, Cain, Lisa, Patrick, and Martin, this theme comes to life. There was a bit of a Breakfast Club vibe to this story that I enjoyed. You see the five archetypes for young adults come together: The musician/artsy kid (Cain), the sexy promiscuous girl who no guy can resist (Lisa), the football star (Patrick), the nerd (Martin), and the depressed, black-wearing strange girl (Robin). Each character has their own issues that they are dealing with that make them feel like that are burdened down by life. On the downside, I wish that Lisa's character had been given a little more depth. I didn't really get to see why she was promiscuous, other than something in her past had driven her down that path. Perhaps she was molested and no one believed her. Also, I felt that Waverly, Robin's Southern Belle roommate, and Patrick's girlfriend, could have been more three-dimensional. I realize she was just a secondary character, but she's an important one.

The major reason I did not rate this higher was a matter of personal tastes. I am not a fan of the teen slasher horror motif. Unfortunately, that was the direction that this story went towards. I sound like a fuddy-duddy, but I didn't like all the drinking and drug use. Yes, I know lots of college students toke up and get drunk, but it made me uncomfortable. It started out nicely eerie and gothic, which I really appreciated. However, I didn't see why the possessed character had to turn into an ax-wielding murderer. That seemed a little off-course from the original direction of the story. In fact, I could have done without that element. The demise of one of the characters seemed to be too abrupt and the way in which the character's body was used seemed kind of crude and unnecessary. If the author wanted to convey a sense of risk to the characters, I think there were other ways to go with this.

Overall, this was a good book. I liked the very unique idea behind the haunting, and it had some good messages about identity, tolerance (it touches on anti-semitism) and friendship. I just wish that the story had kept to the original gothic elements and atmosphere the whole way through.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bonechiller by Graham McNamee

BonechillerBonechiller by Graham McNamee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bonechiller was a quick, but satisfying read. Our protagonist is a young man who is still dealing with the death of his mother from brain cancer. He was very close to her, and her death has sent him and his father on the run, from place to place, to escape the grief of her passing. Lately they have landed in an small town in Canada, in the deep of arctic winter. He befriends fellow travelers, military brats, Pike, Howie, and Ash. Pike and Howie are two brothers named after weapons (Howie being short for Howlitzer), and Ash is a half-Ojibwa girl who is a boxer, and Danny's crush. Danny's just taking it day to day, enduring the extreme cold, and the weight of grief that is almost too much to carry. Soon, he will face a creature from his worst nightmares, a monster who marks him for a future meal.

That's when things start to get weird. What kind of monster is stalking Danny? We don't really find out. All that we know is that he's ancient, preying on many, many teens over the years. He stings them, injecting them with a venom that changes them, making them cold from the inside out, and allowing it to penetrate their dreams, until they give up and come to him, to be devoured. Danny thinks he's all alone in what he has seen and survived, until the monster attacks his friend Howie. Howie is the brains in his family. He investigates to find out what they are facing, and how to destroy it. I liked the surreality of the dreams that Danny and Howie must wade through, and escape, to prevent the monster from taking them, as it had countless others. But time is running out.

I thought this was a very good book. I liked how short and brisk the writing style was. It conveyed much, with an economy of words. McNamee managed to make this story both supernatural/monster horror, and a coming of age story about a boy who watched his mother succumb to a brain tumor. When I read these young adult books, I always appreciate the strength of young people to deal with what seems like far too much on their young plates. In this case, Danny suffered through the death of his mother, and her drawn out illness from the cancer treatments; and now he has to deal with the fact that a monster is changing him into a popsicle so that it can eat him. That seems like a double whammy to me.

I liked the portrayal of friendship between the quartet, and the growing romantic relationship between Danny and Ash. Ash is a tomboy, through and through. She boxes, goes hunting and fishing, and knows guns better than Danny. He freely admits she can kick his butt, and he thinks it's sexy. I loved that Danny appreciated Ash for what she was, and vice versa. Pike was an interesting character--very gun and ordnance crazy. He liked to set things on fire, shoot them, or blow them up. His talents come in handy when they face off with the monster. I liked how Howie was the resident geek/genius. His research skills prove invaluable. The friendship that these four teens shared spoke to me. They accepted each other for who they were, and united to face the threat that two of them faced.

The fifth important character (besides the monster), is the arctic Canadian wilderness. Below zero temperatures and extended dark hours every day is no joke, and it made for fascinating reading to see how people faced this kind of environment and went about their daily lives. No snow days for them.

All the pieces of this story come together to form a successful whole with Bonechiller. It was a unique idea and it was well-executed. I still have some questions about the nature of the monster, but we don't always get all the answers in life. It was good enough to watch these brave teens face and conquer this threat, and to see Danny (and also his dad) start on the road to emotional healing from his mother's passing.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

The Monstrumologist (The Monstrumologist, #1)The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Monstrumologist was an unforgettable read. I can't even imagine how Rick Yancey came up with this idea. I was completely horrified many times, as I read this book. This is a young adult book, but it's not one I'd recommend lightly to just any teen, or adult for that matter. Mr. Yancey doesn't hesitate to make this story gruesome and downright stomach-churning. Due to my biological/medical background, I have a strong stomach. It came in handy when I read this book. There were scenes that I would not want to watch in a movie. Sadly, I think this would be a fantastic movie, as it's very vivid and dynamic; but I would be afraid to watch it, and I think it would have to be R-rated for some of the scenes of extreme violence and gore, which is probably not ideal, since it's a young adult book.

Thankfully, there is a strong story with a compelling set of characters to balance out the unsettling, distasteful scenes. Our protagonist is young Will Henry, an orphan who works as the assistant to an eccentric scientist. His father worked for the doctor before him, and died with his mother in a horrible fire that Will survived. Will says to himself that he never loved the Monstrumologist, but he will never leave him. It's an interesting aspect to this story, Will's devotion to this man, who barely shows him kindness or regard. For the doctor is a cold man, completely devoted to his work as a scientist who studies monsters. His skills come in handy when a group of monsters from any person's worst nightmare begin to wreak havoc on the sleepy New England town of New Jerusalem (I wondered if there was a deliberate reference to Jerusalem's Lot when I read this book). The doctor and Will embark on a quest to seek and destroy these monsters that makes for harrowing reading.

I have to admit that this book had some moments that were hard to read. The anthropophagi are vicious predatory creatures, who view humans as a food source, and they are not sentimental in any way. What they did to the minister's family was just awful. I wanted these monsters found and destroyed, all the while fearing for the lives of Will, the doctor, and his companions.

Gross, gory parts aside, I loved the writing in this story. Mr. Yancey establishes himself very credibly in the historical narrative of this novel. I was immersed in this world, a dark one, set in the late 19th century. In the background, one can see the significant events that would have shaped the characters, such as Darwin's work in evolution, scientific studies in eugenics, and the aftermath of the War Between the States. This is all seen through the eyes of the twelve-year-old narrator, who witnesses things that would cause a grown man to lose sleep. I could not admire Will more. He made my hero to die shelf, because this was one heck of a young man. He goes into the lion's den and into the pit of Hell numerous times to face these horrifying monsters. I could only cheer him along, my heart racing, when he comes face to face with the incredibly vicious matriarch of the group of monsters who have made New Jerusalem their preying grounds.

In reading this book, one has to fortify herself. There are views of human nature that are just as unsettling as the monsters themselves. In fact, the man that the doctor summons to help to hunt and to kill the anthropophagi might be considered a human version of a monster himself. I admit that I found Kearns to be an interesting character. He was very lively, making me laugh a few times. However, he had absolutely no moral center, which made him a very dicey ally. He even has a line where he states that "the only morality is the morality of this moment." Yeah, that makes him a very dangerous man. Good to have against the anthropophage, but not so good if you happen to be standing in the way of his objective. Doctor Warthrop (Will's boss) was a flawed, complicated character. He came off as arrogant and uncaring in many moments, but deeply principled at his core. In fact, Kearns turns out to be a good foil to reveal the positive aspects of his character. I think the doctor cared very much for Will, but was unable to show it in the ways that we would consider most demonstrative of affection. He had so many issues with his own father, that it warped him emotionally. However, it was apparent that Will was very important to him--his companion, and the only person who cared for and about the doctor. This made their relationship very complex, and in my opinion, the core of this story.

The Monstrumologist is a book that is quite hard to categorize and to explain in a few words. There is so much to this story. Yet, it's not one that the casual reader will enjoy. It's too dark and gruesome for that. But for an intrepid reader, there is much to admire and to appreciate in this book. After this book gets started, it doesn't wind down until it's over. It was a fascinating, powerful read, one I won't forget. Even now, it is lurking in the back of my mind like a shadow.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How to Enjoy Most of the Books You Read For Pleasure

If you haven't noticed, most books I read get at least a three star rating. I won't deny I'm a bit of an easy grader; but quite honestly, I enjoy/like about 95% of the books I read. You might wonder, how is that the case?

As I took my walk yesterday, I pondered that very question. Here are some things I came up with:

Be choosy about the books you select for reading
Your time is valuable. Don't pick books to read that you aren't sure you will enjoy. Think about the stories you like to read, the subject matter, the themes, types of characters, when you look at a book blurb. More importantly, think hard about what you don't like to read. If you are not a fan of love triangles, I suggest avoiding books that clearly have a love triangle in the storyline. I don't like adultery, child death, love triangles, and erotica elements. I avoid those kinds of stories. Use other readers' reviews as a tool in your book selection arsenal. If you read a review and it really perks your interest, you need to really assess whether reading that book is worth your time, if you are more than likely going to be disappointed. At the same time, take other folks' reviews with a grain of salt. They are not you. You can analyze the review, not for the rating alone, but why they rated a book that way. It may turn out that you will love a book for the same reasons they hate it. This is one of the reasons I love, although it can be a double-edged sword when it comes to the hyper-critical, grumpy reader, and the group mind scenarios. It may seem like I want to read all the books. There was a time when I was less selective. Nowadays, I know that I won't enjoy every book that is written. I've learned the hard way what I like and don't like. I apply that learning from the school of hard knocks to shape my present and future reading, and it's been very helpful to me. As a pleasure reader, I made a choice to be selfish with the time I will spend on a certain book. I decided I would pick the books that I feel are worth my valuable time. Even if it's an author you normally enjoy, you might have to say 'no' to one of their books if it's something you know you won't like. Being a choosy reader can't backfire on you. Trust me. If you doubt it, look at how many books I have listed as 'to read' on Goodreads. It's helped me out a lot.

Go into most books with limited expectations
That sounds pessimistic, even fatalistic, doesn't it? Not really. It's just a mental tool for preparation. If you go into a book after having coached yourself not to expect too much, the chances are you will be pleasantly surprised when you do enjoy the book. On the other hand, if you are uber-excited to read the latest book by (Name your author of choice), in the (best series ever written), you are in for a wake-up call if it doesn't meet the high level you thought it would. I'd be lying if I said I do this all the time. I don't. But, I try to do it as much as possible, and it has helped me.

Remember that nobody is perfect-even an author
Authors are human beings. They make mistakes, and fail to reach the standard of perfection that the world (and discerning readers) establishes for them, and that they set for themselves. It's the truth. If I'm not perfect, and I don't always get everything right, it's hardly fair for me to expect an author to do so. Here's where you're going to say, "Well, that's their job as a professional author." No, their job is to write books for a living. There's a lot that goes into writing books. It's a very tough job. Authors have deadlines, financial issues, and personal life stuff that might sometimes interfere with their abilities to write the perfect book. And then there is the editorial interference. There is the fact that the publishers expect the book to meet certain sales numbers, and will probably poke their heads in to suggest what will make the most money. Yes, we'd like to believe that an author is an artist, first and foremost, and that they will walk out the door when they are given an ultimatum by their publisher. But, how often do you quit your job when your boss gives you a task you don't want to do? Although authors are artists, they must be pragmatic, or they won't stay published for very long. Who am I to judge them? Just food for thought here. Also, consider this. I believe every author is allowed to write a not-so wonderful book. Maybe they were trying something different, and it just didn't come to fruition very well. Maybe they were listening to their inner muse, which caused them to write something counter to what their nearest and dearest fans wanted to read, or expect from them. Maybe they went through a divorce, their house burned down, their spouse passed away. Do we really know what was going on when they wrote that not so great book? Frankly, I think readers can judge authors way too harshly. I make it a practice not to do this. As a reader, you have a choice. You can try to go with the flow, enjoy the book for what it is, or you can pitch a hissy fit and demand your money back. I'll leave that up to you. Typically, I shrug it off and chalk it down as the book by my favorite author that wasn't my favorite. I'm sure I can find at least one thing I liked about that 'experiment.' If that was the last book, at least I have their older books to cherish. Or, the next book will likely be more to my tastes. That's just my philosophy, anyway. At the end of the day, it's just a book. That's all. Put it into perspective.

Remember, a book won't save the world or cure cancer
Bear with me. What I said above requires repeating. It's just a book. If you're a pleasure reader, then you are just reading for a few hours of enjoyment. Unless you picked a book outside of your comfort zone, or you have just completely parted ways with a favorite author emotionally and intellectually, you have remind yourself that it's a few hours out of your life--pure escapism. If you get yourself into that mode, the missing punctuations or lapse in character or a less than satisfactory love scene won't make the book a total loss for you. Look at the whole book, and base your feelings on that, instead of one or two issues you might have had. I've found this works for me. I don't sit there with my red pen, jotting down all the mistakes and errors I find in a story, because it's a waste of my time as a pleasure reader. If I'm nitpicking, then I'm not enjoying myself.

Don't read a book when you're not in the mood for it
I am a moody person. I am a moody reader. I choose my books based on what mood I'm in, and what kind of story I want to read. If I don't, I'm more likely to dislike a book. Also, if you are in a really bad mood, maybe you should put the book down and go for a walk or to the gym. You need something to get your mind working and to blow off steam. A book is the best cure for a lot of things, but not everything. Do something that will help you to get into the right headspace for reading. Then come back and read the book. If you don't, you hate the book, and then go onto Goodreads or Amazon and tell the world how crappy the book was. It's not really fair to that book, to the author, to many readers who have been turned off by that review, or to yourself.

Take the opportunity to expand your mind every now and then Sometimes I will challenge myself as a reader. I will read something that I normally don't go for. I do my research first. I read other reviews, and talk to trusted friends about the book. I make sure it doesn't have stuff on my 'don't go there ever' list. If it's a subject I generally don't like unless it's well-written, I will give a book that has been recommended highly by trusted friends a chance--I will read it. But, I do make sure I don't expect much. I try to throw the critic in the closet, and I open my mind. I have found opening my mind to be a liberating experience. I realize that as I grow as a person, and get older, my mind naturally does too. Living in a diverse world is a great thing. You don't have to compromise your personal beliefs to do so, either. You can look at a subject from your detached viewpoint, analyze it, and see it through the eyes of the character, and then close the book and go back to your own safe life. That is one of the great things about literature, isn't it?

Go for a little variety in your reading
My personal opinion is that most of us will get bored if we eat the same thing, day in and day out. So it is with our minds. We need a little variety to keep our brain and our tastes sharp. That's why I mix it up. As much as I love romance, it's nice to read something that isn't romance. I find that when I go back to romance novels, my love for them is even more intense. I feel the power of that genre tenfold. You may even find some favorite books outside of your genre of choice, maybe even a new genre or author. And, you might be able to follow a much-loved author to a new genre. The end result is good--more books to love. It's all good. On the other hand, if it turns out you tried something new and didn't like it, it's not the end of the world. I would suggest, maybe try again, but ask yourself why you didn't like it, and do your research to find something that better fits your tastes.

Don't be afraid to think differently from others
When you hang out in communities, there starts to be a group mentality. I am sorry to say this so bluntly, but I don't want to be a sheep. I want to be myself. If I meet people who like what I like and have fun with, great. But, at the same time, I won't pretend to like something or not like something just because everyone else does. Embrace your individuality. If you like bodice rippers, own it. If you like novels that other people consider 'trashy', what's wrong with that? Maybe the crowd frowns on a controversial subject. That doesn't mean you have to, as well. You are not hurting anyone to like what you like. Others may feel insecure because they can't step outside of the box, but don't let them steal your joy. Your time is valuable. Don't let anyone dictate to you how to feel about a book. Never, ever let the voice of the crowd echo in your head when you read a book. It doesn't matter what everyone else thinks of this book or this author. All that matters is, what you think. Conversely, never read a book just because everyone else is reading it. Read a book because you want to read it. It's not fair to yourself, otherwise; because you might not like it, and then you'll feel bad saying so, or the urge to pretend you do like it. Not good!

Last and not least...

Be passionate about reading!
I am not afraid to say that I love reading! It is my favorite thing in the world. I embrace the rush that a pile of unread books brings me. If you approach reading with a joy and a passion, it's very hard to be severely disappointed. You won't enjoy every book you read. That's just a fact of life. But be thankful that you can read books. Remember that there is always the next book. And each book is a doorway to a new world. You are an armchair world traveler when you read, and no one can take that passport away from you!

I think that is a good start. If you don't read for pleasure, this won't apply to you. If you do, maybe this might help you out. As always, this is just my humble opinion, worth less than two cents on the global exchange market. If anything, you can understand why my average rating is 3.5-4 stars on books that I read. I end this post by saying, Happy Reading to you!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Scandalous by Charotte Lamb

Scandalous by Charlotte Lamb

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This book snuck up on me. I wasn't sure I'd like it, although Charlotte Lamb's books are generally very good. It turned out to be a winner. I really liked the heroine, Stacie. She was spunky, smart, and had a very snarky sense of humor. I liked that she had her flaws, which she was aware of. For instance, she knew her temper tended to get her in trouble. I liked that she was realistic about herself. She showed self-respect, in that she wasn't willing to settle for less than she deserved. She'd made a mistake in the past, falling for the wrong man, and it made her wary. She didn't want to get caught in the same trap again. Which was why Nicholas was such a threat to her. I also liked that she was a photographer, in a position that was normally occupied by men, and she had to work hard to get the respect and career opportunities due her. She wasn't afraid of hard work.

Nicholas Kinsella comes off as a bit of a bully initially. As this is one of the older Harlequin Presents, you don't get to see his POV at all. Any conclusions you might draw about him are based on his behavior. He is a powerful man, and he seems to be used to manipulating his power to get what he wants. He doesn't come off as particularly warm, either. What I liked, was how Stacie was able to get this ice-cold man to melt. I felt you could see how she was changing him, and how he was falling in love with her, willing to give up his control and all his plans to have her in his life. By the end of the book, I could see just how deeply he loved Stacie. I was hoping she'd let him into her life and give into her love for him.

I truly enjoyed the adventure element in the climax. I did not expect it, but it helped to make this book for me. It served as a very good catalyst for bring this couple together, and it made me love Stacie even more, for her quick thinking and her selfless actions.

This was a very good book, and I ended up enjoying it a lot. The beginning was a bit slow, so that's why I'd give it 4.5/5.0 stars instead of a full 5 stars. I'm glad I have a bunch of Charlotte Lamb's other books in my tbr pile. Although she's gone now, she's left quite a legacy behind in the great books she's written.

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Inherited: One Child by Day Leclaire

Inherited: One Child (Silhouette Desire)Inherited: One Child by Day Leclaire

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you don't like kids in your romance, this might be a hard sell for you. For that's a big part of this story. Billionaire, hard-working businessman, Jack Mason, has inherited his niece after the death of her parents (his sister and her husband) in a plane crash. His niece has serious emotional issues, and has managed to chase off every nanny Jack has hired thus far. Additionally, Child and Family Services is making noises about taking her away. His lawyer gives him one solution: marriage. Jack isn't ready for marriage, but he refuses to let go of his niece, even though she's adopted. So, he decides to advertise for a nanny, and convince her to marry him for two years.

When he has his interviews with nanny candidates, he's impressed with Annalise Stefano from the beginning. She's a good-looking woman, although understated. But she also has a calm, cool, collected demeanor he finds very appealing. And then, there is the masterful way she deals with Isabelle in full tantrum mode. He's a bit worried at her lack of experience, but circumstances occur that prompt him to hire her. She's definitely the best person for the job, able to bond with Isabelle, but also give her a sense of order and security, dealing smoothly with Isabelle's tantrums. Soon, it's clear that he can't keep his hands off her, and she seems to feel the same way. But Annalise is a person who tries to be control of herself at all times, and she wants to put Isabelle's needs first and foremost, which is what he wants too. Yet, he also wants her. He feels that the chemistry between them is too strong to resist. There were some interesting conversations regarding this issue that made me laugh.

The whole time, Jack is thinking about his master plan: marriage. He's sure Annalise is the right person for the job, in many ways. Jack is able to convince Annalise to marry him, and they form a very happy family. However, Annalise is keeping a whopper of a secret that will change things between them in a huge way.

I have to say that I loved this book. It was a slow evolution, although I knew that it was going to be a strong read from the beginning. Day Leclaire writes very well, and I thought her characters were very charismatic, from Jack to Annalise, to young Isabelle. Add in a pregnant Great Dane, and it's magic. But, the ending. Now that was just fantastic. That's what earned this book a five star rating. If a reader is too cynical to believe that lives can interconnect so seamlessly to form a perfect whole, then that reader won't like this book. However, I like to believe that we all go through rough experiences in our lives, but they have a reason, and they open doors to greater possibilities. This is one of those books.

If you don't care for kids in romances, I'd say give this one a try. It wasn't sappy. It was very well done. I don't see how it couldn't bring a tear to your eye.

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Boss Man by Marie Rochelle

Boss ManBoss Man by Marie Rochelle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been excited to read this book for over a year, since I read Dangerous Bet: Troy's Revenge. It was clear that Fancy and Maxwell had some exciting chemistry and wonderful tension building up between them in that book.

Finally, I did read this book, and I wasn't disappointed. Marie Rochelle writes scintillating interactions between her couples very well. The dialogue really furthers the storytelling, showing the fiery chemistry between Fancy and Maxwell. This book is the quintessential battle between the sexes. Fancy and Maxwell play a game of chaser versus chasee. Their dynamic reminded me of a game of chess. Each player tries to make a move that will win them the game, but protect their queen (their hearts).

Initially, Fancy was doing the pursuing, until Maxwell decided that he wanted to be caught, and he thought Fancy had moved on. Fancy has been in love with Maxwell for a while now. He came into the Tycoon Club (where she worked) with his friends Troy and Cole pretty regularly, and she tried to ask him out a couple of times, only to be rebuffed. She gave up on there being something more between them. However, she needs the position he's advertising for, as his assistant and cook. Fancy's determined to keep things professional between them, and to hide her feelings for Maxwell. However, Maxwell sees Fancy and considers all the possibilities. She's completely sexy, and he likes her--she's spunky and intelligent, and a great employee. He's not sure what he wants from her--he just wants her. But, his past makes him believe a wife and a family are not in the cards for him. At the same time, his attraction to Fancy makes it impossible not to pursue her and claim her as his own. For those who enjoy a jealous hero, it was kind of cute how Maxwell was jealous of his friend Cole's relationship with Fancy, who was very good friends with Cole.

This was a light (but not in a bad way), fun, and sexy read. I loved the back and forth between Fancy and Maxwell. They were both strong people, and neither wants to let the other win, although their feelings betray themselves into each others' arms. Additionally, it was great to catch up with Headley and Troy from Dangerous Bet: Troy's Revenge, who are very happily married, with a baby on the way, and more than willing to do some matchmaking between Fancy and Maxwell.

I do feel that the editing could be better. I hate to harp on that, because I've noticed that can be an issue with smaller presses. It didn't really hurt my enjoyment of this book, but I feel I should mention that there were issues here, for full disclosure. Editing problems aside, this was a great story. I enjoyed spending a Saturday watching Fancy and Maxwell's courtship unfold. For those readers who like the Diana Palmer-esque heroes and that kind of dynamic in a story (albeit with a pretty fiesty, independent heroine), you'd probably like Maxwell. He does have some of those traits.

I truly enjoyed this book. Thus the five star rating!

PS. I emailed Ms. Rochelle about Cole's story, and she kindly emailed me back almost immediately to tell me that his story came out in July. It's called Cole's Surrender, currently available through Red Rose Publishing. I'm looking forward to seeing Cole surrender to young, sweet Lauren. :)

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Public Wife, Private Mistress by Sarah Morgan

Public Wife, Private Mistress (Harlequin Presents, No. 2532)Public Wife, Private Mistress by Sarah Morgan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reunited lovers and estranged spouses just don't work for me as a theme. I tend to avoid these books like the plagues of Egypt. Too much baggage for this reader. However, Sarah Morgan is an author that I really enjoy reading, and I will collect all of a favored author's books (for the most part). So, I grabbed this book off my bookcase with trepidation. I was not disappointed. I ended up thorougly enjoying this book.

There were issues in Stasia and Rico's marriage before they parted: a lack of communication a big one. Stasia started to feel neglected, almost like a mistress. She barely saw Rico other than when he came home to have sex with her. When he found a naked male in her bed, that was the end of their marriage. A year later, Rico has his lawyers drawing up the divorce papers, ready to get his faithless wife out of his life for good. That is, until his younger sister is gravely wounded, and calls out Stasia's name. At that point, Rico is willing to bring his estranged wife back to Sicily if that will help his sister come out of her coma. He is determined to keep her frozen out of his heart, and to maintain a distance between them for the time she is in Sicily.

When Rico shows up on her door, he's the last person Stasia wants to see, even though she's still in love with him. He hurt her terribly by not believing she was innocent, and not coming after her when she walked out. He even blocked all her calls. She's tried to build a new life for herself, a life without him. When he demands that she comes back to Sicily to help his sister, she wants to decline, but can't. Her good heart won't let her.

The close proximity that this estranged couple share breaks down the walls of distrust and resentment, and soon they are hot and heavy again. There was never much ability to resist the fiery attraction between them. If only they can overcome the issues that tore them apart to begin with.

I liked that this book featured a hero and a heroine who were both good people, even if neither of them were perfect. Stasia is very passionate and impulsive, and her anger caused her to walk away instead of defending herself. Rico felt that when Stasia left, she was leaving for good and admitting her guilt. His possessive jealousy throws him into a rage that she cheated on him with another man, when he tried to give her everything. He tried to wash his hands of her and to learn to hate her, but he couldn't. When they are reunited and forced to live as man and wife again, because his sister has amnesia and thinks they are still married, they have to deal with each other and their issues. Much like Capelli's Captive Virgin, this book won me over because the characters actually do talk out their issues and spend a certain amount of time communicating in ways other than physical. This book is pretty steamy with plenty of love scenes, but the emotional interactions between Rico and Stasia really make it a worthwhile read for me.

One thing that frustrated me was how Chiara (Rico's sister) got away with murder (at least figuratively). Her immaturity and selfishness ruined Rico and Stasia's marriage. I disliked how Stasia allowed Chiara to shirk her accountability because she didn't want Chiara to hate her any more than she did. I also disliked that Chiara never came clean about her culpability in the situation that lead to their marriage breaking up. Stasia was a nice person, but she was too nice. The bratty sister should not have been allowed to come between Stasia and her husband. In the long run, that was not good for building that young woman's character to get away with her unconscionable behavior, and for Rico to be none the wiser about his sister's real personality. I understood that there were bigger issues, like the lack of communication that Stasia felt ruined her marriage, but this certainly was the icing on the cake. It inflamed my sense of justice for this to have happened the way it did, although the truth does come out in the end; inadvertently through Stasia, not through Chiara.

Public Wife, Private Mistress was a great surprise. Not in the sense that I expected the writing to be bad. Sarah Morgan is a proven author. It just surprised me how much I liked this book, because this scenario is one of my least favorites in a romance novel. But, Ms. Morgan did a great job with it. That's why I gave this book five stars.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Billionaire's Marriage Bargain by Leanne Banks

Billionaire's Marriage Bargain (The Billionaires Club, #2) (Silhouette Desire, #1886)Billionaire's Marriage Bargain (The Billionaires Club, #2) by Leanne Banks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a pleasant, lighter read. Although I wished for a little more depth from the characters, I did like Mallory and Alex. I prepared myself to dislike Alex, actually. I find I don't tend to care for the rich playboy type in contemporary romances. They can be a little too perfect for me: lots of money and power, lots of charm, lots of sexual skill, but where's the heart? Alex did have heart, even if it was buried. He really didn't intend to fall for Mallory. He got to know Mallory as a favor to her father, who he was courting to get investors for his latest resort venture. However, he found himself being drawn to the sweet, luscious young woman, who seemed so proper but had a wild streak. He was on the arrogant side, but it wasn't excessive or a turn-off for me.

I did enjoy the courtship between Alex and Mallory. I like when the hero does have to do some courting and convincing, instead of the heroine falling instantly into his bed (and in love that is not returned). It's more of an interesting read for me this way.

Mallory was a bit overly insecure. I wasn't sure exactly why. I suppose it was because of the loss her family had suffered. Her mother had withdrawn after the death of her brother, but her father was very doting, so she did get attention. She was treated more like an only child, so I would expected her to be a little more confident. She couldn't believe that Alex would be interested in her, especially long-term. That might be an issue for some readers who don't like insecure heroines. I like that Alex was attentive and affirming to her, even though he believed that his career would always be the most important thing to him, even his wife. His actions showed differently.

Leanne Banks wrote a charming book here. There weren't any major issues that got in the way of enjoying it, although I would have liked to see more character/emotional depth and development, and a bit of a pacing issue towards the end. It's silly to complain about that with a less than 200 page novel, so I won't quibble. Although I wouldn't reach for this if I wanted an intense, dramatic, meaty romance, this was not too fluffy; and the romantic and steamy moments were well done. This book fit in very well between my horror/dark fantasy picks for the month of October.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Captain's Lady by Lorraine Eckhart

The Captain's LadyThe Captain's Lady by Lorhainne Eckhart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, that was a nice change from my last book! I did enjoy this quite a bit, but I would not recommend this book if you don't like men with Stone Age era ideas about women. The hero in this book actually believes all women should be at home raising their babies and taking care of their husbands. Yes, really!!!! I had to read the paragraph out loud to my sister in which he laid down the rules with his new wife, our intrepid heroine. He told her that he needs to be in charge and call the shots. There would be no career for her, ever! She would be at home, taking care of his kids. Here is the great thing about fiction: I don't have read a book that mirrors my life. I am glad for that, because I would not have liked this book if I felt that way.

I liked Eric, for the most part. He was gentle and loving with Abby. In general, I didn't care for how he interacted with women, although I didn't think he deserved the sexual harrassment suit a 'crazy' woman corpsman filed against him. His attitude about women not belonging in the military rubbed me the wrong way. But, I respect that he was honest about his feelings. He didn't go out of his way to mistreat the female sailors under his command. He mainly avoided them. I have to be honest and say that I don't think I would like him much in real life. Let's just say we have the opposite ideas of womens' roles in society and wifehood. I'll leave it at that. I wish the author had delved more into his past so I could better understand his thing about women. He wasn't a misogynist, per se. He just tended to compartmentalize women and didn't have much to do with them. It was interesting how quickly Abby worked her way into his heart. It made sense, because she was just the kind of woman he was looking for. She softened the rough, lonely places inside of him. She saw him as her hero. He needed that.

Abby needed a protector and a man who would take care of her. She was totally fine with his dictate about his expectations for her as his wife. She said all she'd ever wanted was to be a wife and mother, and to take care of her husband. I have always wanted to get married and have kids, but I definitely had a lot more goals than just that. So, I can't identify. Despite that fact, I liked Abby. I thought she was a strong woman, for what she'd been through. She was also very loving. She didn't let Eric walk on her, but I think she's somewhat submissive, at the same time. That works for their relationship.

As far as writing, I thought some of that was a little rough. I felt that it could have used a couple of revisions to make the writing flow a little better, because some of the phrasing and word choice seemed awkward. Having said that, this was a pretty compelling story. Ms. Eckhart was able to convey the powerful connection between Eric and Abby very well. I think that the plot involving the man who had bought Abby and was the father of her child was left as a pretty big loose end. I think that Abby probably should have had a little more reticence about sexual intimacy after her experience in captivity. I would have liked to see a little more closure with that whole situation. Also, I felt like I didn't really get to see why Gail Carruthers, the sailor who filed the sexual harrassment charge, was so loony. I would have liked more insight into that. Additionally, for those who don't like 'head-hopping', there is a lot of that in this book. But, all in all, this was a good read. It was interesting and a good love story.

If you want a quick read with a hero who has some very antiquated ideas about women, but is a pretty nice guy in most of the ways that count, I think you'd like this book. With my bizarre fascination with the Navy, I enjoyed the views of life on a battleship. I thought the secondary characters were pretty interesting, although not heavily developed. But then, this was a short romance.

In summary, this book came along right when I needed it. It was enjoyable and interesting. I thought the love story was good and believable. That's why I'd give it four stars.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Nightmare and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy by Francis Stevens

The Nightmare and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy (Bison Frontiers of Imagination)The Nightmare and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy by Francis Stevens

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

What I liked about this collection of stories:

The stories within were pretty imaginative. The writing is erudite and fairly polished. Some of the story ideas were very innovative for the time. I can see the legacy that this author has bequeathed to future dark fantasists.

What I didn't like:

1. Story stories were often slow-starters and somewhat long-winded. There were too many novellas and not enough shorter stories. It made for harder reading for me.

2. The blatant racism against black people, Chinese, ethnic whites, you name it. Ugly terms for people of various races were used here and there with a distressing nonchalance. Negative traits being assigned and assumed to people of certain races based on their ethnicity was done very casually. There is also some subtle classism. Most of the protagonists are well-off non-ethnic white men (although the writer was a female who had to work for a living). I imagine this was done deliberately, as this is probably a big audience for these stories. This unpalatable racism, xenophobia, and classism is part and parcel of early 20th century literature, but it's still grating on this reader.

I'm just exhausted after doggedly reading this book. I usually finish most books I start, and I wanted to get this one read, even though my typical MO is to leisurely work my way through a short story collection. Mental note (please heed this time): Do not pick short story collections for monthly challenge reads!!!

Here are my brief thoughts on each story.

The Nightmare

This was a pretty good story. I can see some elements of 19th century fantasy adventure literature used with fairly good effect here. However, with its very slow start and too quick ending, this story did not impress me. Three and 1/2 stars.

The Labyrinth

This was my favorite story. I would have given it five stars except I disliked the racism against Chinese people. Otherwise, the humor was good, the diabolical intent behind the labyrinth, and the various characters and their interactions were well-written. I think this probably provided fertile fruit for many future works involving murderous labyrinthine traps. Four stars.

Friend Island

A short, cute satirical work that shows a world where women rule. I liked it. Four stars.

Behind the Curtain

A brief story (thankfully) about a man's dream of brutal revenge against his wife who asks for a divorce, involving an Egyptian mummy, and poisoned wine. This would have been very at home in a Weird Tales volume. Four stars.


I can see that this story influenced Lovecraft in a massive way. His style, the use of horrifying creatures beyond our comprehension, the narrative focus, and the casual elitism and racism that he seemed to favor in his stories. The last was a big turn off for me. Two and 1/2 stars.

The Elf Trap

The good and the bad are equally weighed here. More xenophobic racism. The message seems to ridicule such prejudice in that the protagonist dismisses the gipsies on first sight, finding out later that they assume a mask to hide their elvish existence. I liked the idea behind it more than the execution. Four stars.


I thought this was going to be a good, scary story. It started out so well-with plenty of supernaturally-sinister elements. It turned into more of a melodramatic piece. The protagonist is steadily possessed by the malevolent spirit of his dead uncle. I didn't much like the direction she took with this story, although it was well-written. More casual racism in the depiction of the medium's black servant. Lastly, it was way too long. Three stars.


A somewhat interesting look at a seemingly deserted pyramid in the Amazonian, which hides a human sacrificial culture and the dangers within to the five men who arrive to explore it. Not a bad story, but it shows the prevalent white racial attitudes of superiority demonstrated in most of the other stories. Three stars.

In Summary:

I don't want to belabor my point about the racist elements, but it made this collection a lot harder to read. I like reading the classics and pulp literature very much. But as a person of color, it is very difficult to see such blithe ignorance and disrespect for people of differing ethnicities and racial backgrounds. Sadly, the author seemed to be a person of intelligence and vision, but the racist/prejudice attitudes that her stories revealed (although representative of her time) dim the light of the promise shown in these stories (this author was the inventor of dark fantasy as a genre). Reading these stories and other authors from this era make me grateful that the books available in the fantasy genres today are free (in my experience) of such objectionable attitudes. Although I find myself disappointed for the racism and prejudice shown in the stories from this collection, I definitely don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, because that would be a huge waste. Instead, I hope that authors will continue to incorporate some of the inventive, imaginary ideas of this era of writing, and create stories that show a more enlightened perspective on race, ethnicity, and nationality. After all, fantasy is a genre in which the writer's imagination is boundless. There is no place for small minds.

A completist reader with an interest in classic/pulp fantasy literature from the early 20th Century should check out these stories, because it is quite clear how influential Gertrude Barrows, who wrote under the pseudonym of Francis Stevens, was on future writers.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

The Darkest Passion by Gena Showalter

The Darkest Passion (Lords of the Underworld, #5)The Darkest Passion by Gena Showalter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yet another favorite for me in this series. I found Olivia and Aeron to be a great couple. I loved how Aeron just couldn't resist her, and how Olivia was so drawn to Aeron, that she was willing to 'fall' for him, instead of killing him as she had been ordered to do.

As this series progresses, I am seeing more investment in developing the heroines. I liked Olivia's steadfast ability to love. Her determination to enjoy her time with Aeron, and for him to be happy. Even though Legion was a real pain, she tolerated her as much as she could, because she knew how much Aeron loved her. Olivia was a heroine who brought to mind 1 Corinthians 13, which explains what love is. For Olivia, her love for Aeron wasn't an easy thing. It wasn't simple, but complicated her life, and she knew that she wouldn't have him forever, but she was willing to be with him as long as she could. Truly, she was hesitant to define it as love because she didn't view it as a sacrifice (she was wrong about that). In the end, her love helped to save him. As you can tell, I really loved this heroine.

Aeron had closed his heart off from people, so that he could avoid the pain of loss. To him, dying and having those he loved die was the worst thing possible. He didn't seem to understand that it's more important to live the time you have to the fullest. In some ways, I could understand why he had boxed himself in emotionally. His demon caused him to harm and kill people for their sins, and he had seen so much death. He knew more than anyone just how frail humans were. When Olivia comes along, he does all he can to resist her. But even Wrath, the demon that possesses him, knows how important she was to him. Even though Aeron didn't realize it, his actions showed love. The way that he watches out for Paris, the tenderness and care he shows for Legion. He doesn't want to let Olivia in his heart, but when he does, she becomes so important to him, he's willing to do just about anything for her to be happy. And in the end, his true, deep love for Olivia causes him to make a great sacrifice, one that is very much rewarded by the One True Deity, the god that Olivia loves and serves.

I think the theme of this book was love. You could see this played out through the actions of the various characters. Interestingly, Legion truly believed she loved Aeron, more than Olivia ever could. But her actions showed a very selfish aspect to her love. Olivia, her nemesis, taught her a lesson about what real love was. One that I hope she takes to heart.

This book had some exciting twists and turns. The focus wasn't exactly on the war between the Lords and the Hunters, but on the issues that Aeron and Olivia faced instead. I liked that. And there was an unsuspecting angle that tied into Aeron's relationship with Legion. That was pretty interesting.

I was pretty surprised at how this one ended. I didn't expect things to unfold the way they did. It wasn't quite a cliffhanger, but pretty darn close. Things promise to get very complicated in the forthcoming books. But I have to say, I really did like Aeron and Olivia's happy ending. It was the best one so far--a silver lining to the dark cloud of how things progressed at the climax.

The Darkest Passion is my favorite in this series so far. I loved the romance aspects, and the underlying message about love. I think Olivia was a great heroine. And the love scenes were pretty darn steamy. I thought I liked Aeron in the previous books, but seeing him as the hero in this book showed me more depth to him that made me love him even more.

I will take a short break before reading The Darkest Lie, because I don't want to go too long without more Lords of the Underworld books. These books feed my paranormal endorphins, and my spirits took a downer when this book was over. What will I do when this series ends?

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The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde

The Canterville GhostThe Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Now that was a good ghost story. It was refreshing. I loved the humor, but there was also pathos. I kind of liked the old crusty Canterville ghost, even though he was kind of evil. I loved how the Otis children turned the tables on him. And how Virginia felt sad for Sir Simon, and helped him to get closure.

This is the second story I've read by Oscar Wilde, and I must say, I am very impressed with his writing. His work has a depth, but an airy lightness to it, and a hard to define beauty to it. Honestly, I can't find the words to really explain how I feel about it. I think that he managed to put so much into this short story, and I was very pleased with the result. I can't believe I waited so long to read Oscar Wilde. Shame on me.

If you have not read The Canterville Ghost, I highly recommend doing so. It is free online through various sources.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Beckoning Fair One by Oliver Onions

The Beckoning Fair OneThe Beckoning Fair One by Oliver Onions

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hmm. I didn't enjoy this story that much. I can see why it's influential and respected as a ghost story. But, it's not my cup of tea. I think that the malevolent ghost aspect is interesting and appreciated, but I didn't care much for the execution, or the ending. I can see how this motif has been used in latter works. Definitely respect Oliver Onions for that. I also respect him for having such a dark aspect to this story.

Let's be real here. I like upbeat endings. I can enjoy some books that end negatively, but I didn't like this ending. I felt bad for Elsie. She genuinely cared about Paul. I wanted her to kick some ghost you know what. And Paul, well he just seemed to give up the ghost (no pun intended) and let the spirit suck him dry, practically. Nope, I didn't like that.

My other problem was how long and meandering it was. That doesn't tend to be my favorite kind of writing. I didn't think that Mr. Onions did much to build up the tension. It was awful vague, more suggestive and 'is it really happening or is Paul Oleron off his rocker?' But we know that's not the case.

Again, I can see why this is well-respected, and it was a pretty good story. Just not my thing. Man, I feel really bad for poor Paul and Elsie. What a downer--and no good scare with it. Bah!!!

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Friday, October 15, 2010

The Best Horror from Fantasy Tales, Edited by Stephen Jones

The Best Horror from Fantasy TalesThe Best Horror from Fantasy Tales by Stephen Jones

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This was a pretty good collection. Too bad I put it down more than a year ago, and I don't remember the stories I read back then well enough to write a competent review. I don't really want to spend the time to reread the first half, so this review is going to be pretty sketchy. My apologies for that.

The Clive Barker story was scary alright. It's what the Candyman movie is based on. Closest I'll get to watching that movie, for sure. I liked it in a freaked out kind of way. Of course, I loved the Manly Wade Wellman story. I adore his writing. I know for sure I did not care for the Ramsey Campbell story. It was boring and creepy in a weird, skin-crawling, what the heck is going on kind of way. I liked the other story I read by him in another anthology, so I haven't given up on him. I didn't like the story about the green man either, by another author. Another boring yet what the heck kind of story. Overall, reading this was a good experience. I put it down last year because I wasn't in the mood. What can I say, I'm a very moody reader. If you run across this one in a used bookstore for a decent price, or your library has it, it's worth reading.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Stories by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Stories (Barnes & Noble Classi (B&N Classics)The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Stories by Robert Louis Stevenson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Stories turned out to be a relatively quick read. Here are my thoughts on these stories:

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

This was a little different than I expected. It's rather introspective, if that's an appropriate word. The emphasis is not on the action or the dirty deeds that Mr. Hyde perpetrates. Instead, the focus is on the duality of the natures of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In truth, they are not separate men. They are two different aspects of one man's nature. Dr. Jekyll somehow discovers how to separate out the primal aspect of himself, the one who follows his most deepest, uncivilized urges. As time passes, he comes to realize that Mr. Hyde is winning control over him.

I would think that this is really an allegory here. As human beings, we all have a dark side. Some of us try to control it more than others. Some throw a hypocritical facade over that dark person inside of them, pretending to be upright and moral. I don't believe that Dr. Jekyll really needed a serum to undergo this change. To see this story played out in the fantastic/science fiction manner makes it more interesting, surely. But, humanity often needs no potion to be at its darkest and most monstrous.

In learning something about Mr. Stevenson's background, I can see why he chose to write about the hypocrisy of society. He came from a Presbyterian tradition, which follows the religious theory of predestination, in which some are called to salvation, and they have a better, more prosperous life, as a result. Those who are doomed to damnation, will lead low, desperate lives. Mr. Stevenson came to question this and reject these doctrines in his life. I could see some of his philosphical musings about his religious background playing out in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Dr. Jekyll was born to privilege. He worked to keep up a facade of morality, when he really wanted to indulge his darkest desires the whole time. When he invented the serum, this allowed him to do so without so-called feelings of guilt. However, this became his fatal flaw. His true self could no longer be hidden.

To my surprise, this was not an action-oriented or lurid story. The narrative shows the observations of the friends of Dr. Jekyll, and towards the end, an epistolary narrative is used, in which we see the workings of Dr. Jekyll as his life undergoes this transformation.

This was a thoughtful, somewhat philosophical story (at least in my inexpert opinion). It gave me something to think about. Hypocrisy is something I truly dislike. It is one thing to be a person who tries to life a good life; it is another to pretend to be moral, but hide your dark proclivities behind a polite mask. I have a feeling that Mr. Stevenson had similiar feelings on that subject. At 81 pages, this is a short read, and it's written in a very readable style. My edition has footnotes for some of the more obscure terms that Mr. Stevenson used. I'd recommend it to the readers with an inclination towards the classics, and for those who would like to see the origins of the figure (or should I say figures) who have become a part of pop culture through film versions, pastiches, and modern literary works, such as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 1. I would give this story a four star rating.

A Lodging for the Night

This was another thought-provoking story. The beginning shows a rather heinous murder. The rest of the book shows one of the persons who was there during the murder. I started out thinking the worst of this man, but Mr. Stevenson gave me some insight, and helped me to see him through a different pair of glasses. Mr. Villon seeks shelter on a cold night, ending up in the home of a much adored military hero. He has to sit and listen to a self-righteous lecture for the price of a meal and a warm place to pass the night. Again, Mr. Stevenson's background in the privileged middle class of Presbyterian Scotland comes to play. Mr. Villon makes a good case for himself. He wants to be a moral man, but he has no other options besides thievery to keep food in his belly and a roof over his head. He asserts that he follows his own moral code, even if others think him behind the pale. On the other hand, the soldier can feel self-righteous that he is not a thief, and that God has blessed him with plenty for his moral actions. His success in life is due to his good character, or so he attests to. However, Mr. Villon points out that as a soldier, he committed or has been party to similar actions, but they are deemed respectable because of his high position in life. Mr. Villon had something of value to say here. It's too bad that the soldier couldn't look past his own sense of entitlement to see the wisdom in what this 'low' man had to say. It would have been a good lesson for him. I actually got quite involved in this story. I would give it four stars.

The Suicide Club

This turned out to be three related stories. They are very much in the mystery/adventure/suspense genre. And they were quite thrilling, especially the first. Imagine that there is a club where men can go to have themselves done away with when they are tired of living. They pay a fee, and each night, they show up. Fate will determine when they die and how. But, the person pulling the strings is doing so out of his own greed. Will justice be done here? This story had me on the edge of my seat. I literally didn't know how it was going to end. The end turns out to be open-ended, and it leads into two more stories. I liked how the next two stories start with different narrators, and I had to figure out how they tied into the first story. The way in which they relate was very imaginative. There is more mystery and suspense as each subsequent story unfolds, and I learned what they had to do with our protagonists from the initial story. I think Mr. Stevenson had a good hand with suspense, as shown through these stories. Four star rating.

Thrawn Janet

I had some trouble with Scottish brogue in which most of this story was written. I had to concentrate really hard to decipher what was being said. Despite that, this was a very chilling story indeed. The minister in this story was a brave man. I could see how he was much changed by his blood-curdling experience with the titular character in this story. To say more would spoil it. If you can handle the brogue, give this a try. Four stars.

The Body-Snatcher

This is actually a reread for me. Another story in which the worst monster in the closet is human, and a nice facade hides a putrid center. This story is based on the real life incidents of the Resurrection Men of Edinburgh, Scotland (1827-1828), who started out grave-robbing to provide corpses for dissection for an anatomist. Eventually, they started murdering people so they would have a steady supply of these corpses. I liked that there were some pretty scary consequences for the actions of the two grave-robbers in this story; although it's questionable if the person who really needed the lesson learned anything.


At first, I didn't really like this story. However, I got thrown for a loop at the supernatural twist it took. Markheim is forced to face his life, and the acts he committed through the years. His false sense of righteousness, and the slippery slope that took him down the path to becoming a murder. It was a real wake-up call for him. And it gave me food for thought. Four stars.

Overall thoughts: I read The Picture of Dorian Gray earlier this month, and I can't help but constrast it with this collection. Mr. Oscar Wilde seemed to be a proponent of not injecting his own sense of meaning into his story. In contrast, there seems to be a lot of Mr. Stevenson's thought processes in his stories. I don't think either is better or worse. I feel that writers have different motivations, and I can learn from any number of them, finding something of personal meaning in their stories. In the case of this volume, I can certainly see why Mr. Stevenson continually revisits the same concepts (although in different ways in each story). It is clear that they played heavily on his mind. Perhaps these stories served as a catharsis for him. Even more than a hundred years later, our society has similar divisions and issues, which might contribute to social ills in no small way (in my opinion). As such, these stories still have a relevance to this reader.

Sadly, Mr. Stevenson has been dismissed by literary critics as a second-rate writer. My personal opinion is that he wrote very well. His stories were entertaining, but they had a strong message to the reader. That's not what I'd consider hack writing. But, each reader has to make their own decision about that.

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Unnatural Selection by Tim Lebbon (A Hellboy Novel)

Unnatural Selection (Hellboy)Unnatural Selection by Tim Lebbon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the Top Secret File of an Unofficial Reviewer of the Files Recording the Incident Henceforth Known as "The 1997 Event."

For Authorized Eyes Only

Date: 15 October 2010

I came upon this historical document, and I was amazed at how close the world came to a true cataclysm. Fortunately, Hellboy, and the BRPD were there to save the day, at some significant personal cost. Truly, the death toll was astounding. The engineer of these horrible happenings was a man with good intentions, but one who slipped over into madness. He believed that if he brought back the mythical creatures that had once ruled the world, but had since slipped into Memory (that lost place where the legends go when beliefs falter), the earth could be the beautiful Eden that it was. He declared war on modern humanity, for their wanton destruction and rape of the Earth.

It was no easy feat, reading about the carnage that creatures like griffins, sea serpents, dragons, huge black demonic dogs, and yes, even a kraken; and others perpetrated on humanity. These creatures had an unlimited capacity for destruction. Based on this document as reviewed, Heathrow Airport is a smoldering ruin, and London hasn't faired much better.

We can only thank the BRPD, including Hellboy, Liz Sherman, Abe Sapien, and the werewolf who strove to be human, Abby Paris, for fighting these creatures, not to mention those who gave their lives in sacrifice, for dealing with these threats, and the man behind them.

This historical document reminded me that humanity is frail. We live in arrogance, assuming that we are at the top of the food chain, that we are stronger than myth and legend, that we can easily defeat the ancient dragons and other beasts of the past; but there is always a price to be paid for our arrogance. We must also look at the darkness within ourselves and determine if we will fight it, and become the heroes that we are meant to be, or to become the villains.

I'm a mere civilian who happened to be privy to this information, but I can truly tell you, we dodged a bullet here. Even still, the world will not be safe, if it ever was; for some of the creatures of Memory now inhabit our world. And they are hungry and angry for their loss. The BRPD will have their work cut out for them, indeed.

My thanks to the brave recorder of these events, Mr. Tim Lebbon, for posterity's sake. It is my hope that we will use this information to be prepared for the worst that is to come.


An Observer

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My 100 Most Favorite Historical Romances

This is very difficult to narrow down. I had to cut some great books off the list to represent my overall most loved books. If I could do 200, there would be more books by each of my favorite authors. Alas, I am only allowed to list 100.

*Five star books only
*Keeper for ever and ever
*Made me laugh, cry, or both
*Completely memorable and touching
*Will reread more than once
*Loved the hero and heroine passionately

1. Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase
2. The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale
3. The Texan's Wager by Jodi Thomas
4. Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas
5. Seize the Fire by Laura Kinsale
6. A Heart So Wild by Johanna Lindsey
7. My Lord Pirate by Laura Renken
8. Night Shadow by Laura Renken
9. Wicked Lies by Laura Renken
10. Two Texas Hearts by Jodi Thomas
11. When a Texan Gambles by Jodi Thomas
12. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
13. Born in Sin by Kinley MacGregor
14. Touched by Fire by Kathleen O'Reilly
15. Entwined by Emma Jensen
16. Tallie's Knight by Anne Gracie
17. My Darling Caroline by Adele Ashworth
18. Still in My Heart by Kathryn Smith
19. Only in My Dreams by Eve Byron
20. All Through the Night by Connie Brockway
21. A Dangerous Man by Connie Brockway
22. A Rose at Midnight by Anne Stuart
23. Ruthless by Anne Stuart
24. Lord of Danger by Anne Stuart
25. Shadow Play by Katherine Sutcliffe
26. Annie's Song by Catherine Anderson
27. Surrender by Pamela Clare
28. Untamed by Pamela Clare
29. Maverick Wild by Stacey Kayne
30. Mountain Wild by Stacey Kayne
31. The Arrangement by Lyn Stone
32. Married by Morning by Lisa Kleypas
33. The Prize by Julie Garwood
34. For the Roses by Julie Garwood
35. To Love a Dark Lord by Anne Stuart
36. Shadow Dance by Anne Stuart
37. This is All I Ask by Lynn Kurland
38. Saving Grace by Julie Garwood
39. Warlord by Elizabeth Elliot
40. Lady Gallant by Suzanne Robinson
41. Keegan's Lady by Catherine Anderson
42. Seek Only Passion by Deana James
43. Lady Sophia's Lover by Lisa Kleypas
44. Secrets of a Summer Night by Lisa Kleypas
45. To Pleasure a Prince by Sabrina Jeffries
46. Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas
47. A Well-Pleasured Lady by Christina Dodd
48. Rules of Surrender by Christina Dodd
49. Rules of Engagement by Christina Dodd
50. Lost in Your Arms by Christina Dodd
51. One Kiss from You by Christina Dodd
52. Scandalous Again by Christina Dodd
53. Priceless by Christina Dodd
54. Gabriel's Bride by Samantha James
55. Bitterleaf by Lisa Gregory
56. Dark Torment by Karen Robards
57. Nobody's Angel by Karen Robards
58. Claiming the Courtesan by Anna Campbell
59. Untouched by Anna Campbell
60. Fallen by Celeste Bradley
61. Sweetbriar by Jude Deveraux
62. Velvet Angel by Jude Deveraux
63. The Raider by Jude Deveraux
64. The Awakening by Jude Deveraux
65. The Princess by Jude Deveraux
66. Captive Bride by Johanna Lindsey
67. The Prince of Midnight by Laura Kinsale
68. My Dearest Enemy by Connie Brockway
69. Perils of the Heart by Jennifer Ashley
70. The Pirate Hunter by Jennifer Ashley
71. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
72. My Forever Love by Marsha Canham
73. The Wicked One by Danelle Harmon
74. Forbidden by Jo Beverley
75. Taming the Scotsman by Kinley MacGregor
76. A Promise of Love by Karen Ranney
77. The Wedding by Julie Garwood
78. The Sun and the Moon by Patricia Ryan
79. If You Dare by Kresley Cole
80. If You Deceive by Kresley Cole
81. Bridal Favors by Connie Brockway
82. The De Burgh Bride by Deborah Simmons
83. Taming the Wolf by Deborah Simmons
84. My False Heart by Liz Carlyle
85. Savage Thunder by Johanna Lindsey
86. The Last Hellion by Loretta Chase
87. The Wedding Journey by Carla Kelly
88. The Lord Next Door by Gayle Callen
89. Princess by Gaelen Foley
90. Lions and Lace by Meagan McKinney
91. The Mercenary's Kiss by Pam Crooks
92. Hannah's Vow by Pam Crooks
93. His Secondhand Wife by Cheryl St. John
94. Never Love a Cowboy by Lorraine Heath
95. Be Mine by Cait Logan
96. Heartless by Mary Balogh
97. On a Long Ago Night by Susan Sizemore
98. The Price of Innocence by Susan Sizemore
99. The Proposition by Judith Ivory
100.The Smoke Thief by Shana Abe'

Man, that was hard work! *wiping brow*

I will revisit at the end of the year to see if I need to make changes.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dark Prince by Christine Feehan

Dark Prince (Carpathians, #1)Dark Prince by Christine Feehan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I try to evaluate this book, I close my eyes and picture old-fashioned weighing scales. On the left, is the negative aspect about this novel. On the right, the positives will be measured.

The negative

Truly, there was only one. My only real complaint was this:

I've noticed that Ms. Feehan will use very long sentences, and as many words as possible in most sentences to convey her story. She will write things repetitively, instead of just once (although I think a lot of authors have this tendency). It makes the narrative very dense, resulting in somewhat difficult reading. This effect is especially noticeable when I am tired, or I want a quick read.

Out of all of her books that I've read, this was the hardest book to read. The good news is, this was her first book. I am not a published author, and I may never become one (only time will tell). But this is my philosophy: I give writers the respect due to them. Despite the fact that it was tough reading at times, I did like this story, and I got a vivid picture of what Ms. Feehan was writing about with her story. I think she wrote a singular book here. Because this was her first book, I definitely give her leeway, and experience has shown that she has learned to use words more economically since this first endeavor (although she will never be a succinct writer). Knowing her writing style, I read her when I'm in the mood. And when I am in the mood, I usually go away from her stories very happy. I had heard this book was pretty bad, and I'd have to disagree with that statement. I feel it's probably a matter of personal tastes, really. Although, I will freely admit, it was a somewhat difficult read.

The Positives

*I really, really like this concept of the Carpathians. I think Ms. Feehan has taken the vampire romance and put her own personal stamp on it. Something about these lonely people, primarily men, doomed to succumb to their own dark natures, yearning for a woman to complete them, to make them whole--it calls to me. I like the dark nature of the men, and how love has the power to save them. I'm sappy that way.

* I love the vividness of the world she has created. The rules are clear cut, and make sense to me. It's such a fascinating world for me.

* I love the drama, even if sometimes I did smile when it seemed pretty over-the-top. Heck, that's what I like when I read paranormal romance. If I wanted run of the mill romance, I wouldn't reach for a vampire romance.

* I think the men are pretty sexy. Yes, they are pretty old world in their values. They are kind of dark and scary and primitive in some ways. I'm not afraid to admit that works for me when I'm in the mood for it. It's not my real life, and I don't read to see my real life played out. How boring would that be. I want escapism, drama, extraordinary stories. I get that with the Carpathian books. Although the Carpathian men are "I see, I take" kind of men when it comes to their life mates; at the same time, they seem to value womankind, holding them in very high esteem. You could see how much Mikhail truly treasured Raven. He would die if she died. The other Carpathians watched over her very carefully, and saw her as the hope for their race. I don't see these men as brutal misogynists at all. I cannot ascribe modern day rules to a man who is practically immortal, and who has lived millenia. I realize that this kind of story won't work for everyone. I'm not ashamed to say that it does work for me, when I accept the rules of this world, and I look at it from a different perspective. I have read contemporary, non-paranormal books with heroes who were much worse than the Carpathians, some by a very famous author who is well-loved (and I love a lot of her books too, although there is one where I hate the hero with a fiery burning passion), and I've found the heroes to have many worse traits than the Carpathians, and it didn't make sense for them to be that way. The Carpathian way of life feels genuine for what it is in these stories.

*I liked how each Carpathian introduced in this story was distinct. I personally did not find Mikhail too overbearing. I think that Raven handled him pretty well. She made it clear she was going to do what she wanted. Her love allowed her to give in on things to him, but he knew he wasn't going to win all the battles. And having her be happy was very important to me. I saw a lot of give and take in that relationship, personally. I have to admit that Gregori stole the show. I want to go back and reread Dark Magic (well, all the ones I've read because I want to see them in light of reading the first book).

*The action scenes were dark and intense. I like that when I read a Carpathian book, it's like reading a horror book but with a good romance. Like a lot of old school vampire scare and romance mixed together nicely.

Final Tabulations

Minus One for Writing Flow, Plus Four for Characterization, Worldbuilding, Entertainment Level, and Sexy Romance. That adds up to Four Stars.

If there are readers who have made this their first Feehan book, I'd recommend reding some of her more recent books, and you may find that the writing works better for you. I can only speak for myself. There is something that draws me back to Christine Feehan's books, again and again. She writes such dramatic, intense, imaginative, very romantic stories--elements that I absolutely love in a book.

So, I have to say that I am glad I finally read Dark Prince. Although it was a chore at times, it was worth it.

Disclaimer: This is just my opinion, to be taken with a grain of salt. I do not advocate any behavior in this book for real-life man/woman relationships. It's just fiction to me.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Claiming His Runaway Wife by Yvonne Lindsay

Claiming His Runaway Bride (Silhouette Desire, #1890)Claiming His Runaway Bride by Yvonne Lindsay

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This book had the promise to be very dramatic and exciting, but it didn't quite get to that level. It was a bit dry, in fact. I was hoping I wouldn't have to put it aside, and perservered; when finally things did start to pick up. I do have to say that the love scenes were good. I think that I would have liked it more, if we had seen the angst that Luc hid in his heart a little sooner. The focus was on the anmesia angle more than the hidden intensities of Luc's feelings for Belinda. You got the feeling he was a ruthless, possessive, determined man, but you don't quite know why he feels that way about Belinda soon enough. Towards the end, it got pretty good. I could see why Belinda reacted the way she did, and Luc did exactly what I hoped he would do. That part almost made the book four stars. But, since it was so draggy at first (and being bored is the kiss of death to me as a reader), I'd have to give this one 3.5 stars. Ms. Lindsey has some good ideas, and she does a great job with the sexual tension. And, she writes a very good hero. So, I'll definitely read more of her books.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars

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Hex and the City by Simon R. Green

Hex and the City (Nightside, #4)Hex and the City by Simon R. Green

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm writing this review like a letter from a huge fan to the author who wrote this book I loved.

Dear Mr. Green:

Can I be honest and say that you have a very twisted imagination, and I love you for it? Yet again, I found myself horrified, creeped out, laughing like crazy, and going "Aww, that's so sweet," all in the same book. How do you do it?

I love the way you put interesting legends of all sorts, and folklore in your stories. If I wasn't afraid for my life, I think the Nightside would be on interesting place to visit. Since I'm too cowardly to actually go there for real, I am glad I can read your books.

I do love John Taylor. What a rascal. His sense of humor is fantastic. I like that he is able to bluff his way out of some nasty situations. I like that he's a decent person, although he hardly sees himself that way. I feel bad for the guy, in light of who his mother is, and the fact that people want him dead because of his mother. I admit, I'm crushing on him.

As for Mommy Dearest, I can't say I like her too much. I did think it was fantastic what her true origin was. Very cool. I worry for the future when she comes back. I forsee some family feuding. By the way, I loved the flashback about how her and John's dad met.

I have to admit that I missed Shotgun Suzie and Razor Eddie, although Madman, Sinner, and Pretty Poison made some very interesting companions to John. They came in handy. I loved the romance between Sinner and Pretty Poison. It was kind of sweet, and profound, in a way that always gets to me. True Love, and all that. Mr. Green, I think you must be a very sweet guy in real life. Okay, I won't get too mushy here.

There's too much to go into for this letter. There was a lot going on. And I loved it all. Each scene was intensely visual, rich, and interesting as I read. Sometimes, I did wince a bit, since you're not afraid to go for the grue. But, your humor makes up for it.

Mr. Green, I want to thank you for writing the Nightside series. It's so very good. Just the right mix of lore and legend, humor, and scary moments, with a hero I just adore. I will be very sad when this series ends. Until then, I will eat these books up, and your other novels, as well.

Your devoted fan,


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Bone Song by John Meaney

Bone Song (Tristopolis, #1)Bone Song by John Meaney

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If I could say one thing about Bone Song, it is certainly unique. I like that Mr. Meaney wrote a book that was entirely out of his imagination. I did see shades of "Blade Runner" and noir/cyperpunk aspects in his story, but he didn't play it safe or familiar in any other way.

The idea of bones having power to run cities, and for necromancers to kill gifted people so they could harness the power of their bones, was something I have not encountered in my reading. It was pretty gruesome, at times, although this book is far from gory.

The worldbuilding in this story was very solid. I do admit, I was totally scratching my head at first. Mr. Meaney builds his world from the ground up, even using a very different calender and number of days system that I have ever encountered. I am pretty sure that Quintember 37, 6066 is a date I will never see in real life. And last I checked, there are not twenty-five hours in a day.

I loved the infusion of mythical beings and various types of ethereal creatures into this novel. In the cities of Bone Song, wraiths of various types are enslaved and used to power the city in various ways. For example, the elevator in the police building is run by a wraith named Gertie. There are also stone-beings, and deathwolves who guard the premises of the police station and rich people's homes. Mages and witches are employed on the police staff, on airplanes, and in hospitals. And zombies are fairly common, although not accepted by everyone.

The world of crime-solving had a uniqueness as well. Instead of forensic medical examiners, there are Bone Listeners who read the bones to find out how people died. It was a bit creepy how that was done. Well, very creepy.

This story managed to mix the paranormal with science in an intriguing way. I won't deny that I wasn't lost, at times. I was quite lost. But, I was also intrigued to keep reading. That's not to say this book wasn't a bit dry at times. It was. But not so dry that I wanted to give up on it. I truly had to see where the story was going, so I persevered through the drier moments.

I really liked the main character, Donal. He was a tough guy, but also seemed to want to do the right thing, and genuinely cared about people. His situation was pretty harrowing at times, and I felt like I had to hold my breath, at the various twists and turns in this story. When the book felt dry, his character kept me reading. That's a good thing, because that's why I read books, for the characters that stand out and earn my loyalty.

I liked the secondary characters as well. I did feel like Laura, the commander of the unit that Donal joins, and his love interest, could have been more deeply characterized. I didn't feel like I knew a lot about her, which seemed important, considering her relationship with Donal, and her very interesting nature. I had a love/hate relationship with the point of view switches. I felt they were too abrupt, and it took a while to figure out where the story was going when the POV changed. If that had been more smooth, I think I would have been fine with seeing the other characters' viewpoints. I feel like there is more to learn about Viktor, Xilia, Alexa, Harald, and Shushana.

I have to be honest and say I didn't like the ending. It was way too abrupt and didn't seem to make a whole lot of sense. I have this feeling that it's a cliffhanger sort of ending, so I won't throw the book against the wall. I'd like to see where John Meaney goes with this story, so I'm looking forward to reading the next book.

Bone Song won't appeal to all readers, but I am glad I read it. It was a unique world with some elements that really stood out to me. Overall, I think Mr. Meaney wrote quite a fascinating book, and I would like to see more of his world where the bones have their own songs to sing.

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