Thursday, December 30, 2010

Living on the Edge by LaVerne Thompson

Living On The EdgeLiving On The Edge by LaVerne Thompson

My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

This was easily a four star book, because I really liked it. Ms. Thompson is a very good writer. The story was interesting, and the characters likeable. The mystery/suspense was good. I liked the world she created with her Atrox shifters (extinct Cave lions). I think she was true to the cat nature in crafting her characters. I think it was interesting how many of the Atrox were in this story, even though they were supposedly rare (and Ms. Thompson even had a character make a comment about this). I liked that Ms. Thompson didn't have any loose ends or implausibility in her world-building. I have come to realize that although I am a huge cat-fancier, I love werewolf PNR more than cat paranormal. But a fan of cat shifters will be very happy with this book.

I found the characters to be well developed, although this is a shorter novel. I liked that Ethan was a good mix of alpha and beta, possessive and strong, vital and masculine; but he was cool with a strong woman, and he could handle her independent nature, and trust her to do what she did well, without taking it as an assult against his masculinity. Edge was a capable heroine, very intelligent, tough and confident, but not annoying in her kick-butt nature. It's not easy to bring an alpha heroine to life, and Ms. Thompson did it well.

The sensual parts were tres sexy, and the attraction between Edge and Ethan rich and natural. I liked that they didn't jump right into bed. Any sex breaks they took were appropriately timed. Although Edge wanted to look on their relationship as more casual than it was, Ethan definitely wanted to stake his claim. I could see Edge's reasons, but I don't like the casual sex thing, so I was bummed at her attitude about their relationship. But all that ends well.

One thing I must mention is there were some editing oopsies. I hate to harp on that, but I think it's important to state for anyone who has a serious issue with editing errors who might read this review. They were pretty minor, just a lack of commas were I felt there needed to be, and just a couple of homonym errors. I am no grammar expert, and I won't pretend to be. I can overlook minor editing problems very well, but I just wish the epublishers were better about not letting stories get by without fixing those things. Ms. Thompson is a very good writer, and her story has a polish that shines through, and I hate that poor editing might cause readers to look down on her work. In all fairness, I have seen major publishing houses and books by best-selling authors with errors, so I tend to try to shrug that off for the most part. (Danielle steps off her soapbox)

I must say, I am very picky about paranormal romance. It's one of my favorite genres, and I've read enough that I know what I like and I don't, and my standards are probably unfairly high, and I have found I am tougher about my rating of PNRs as I read more and more of them. I really need the zing factor with a paranormal romance to give it five stars. This one is up there for me, although not a five star read. Having said that, I want to thank Ms. Thompson for the opportunity to read her novel. It's clear she knows what PNR fans want, and she has a feel for writing a very good romance that shows in Living on the Edge. I will definitely read more of her books!

Overall rating: 4.25/5.0.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Warrior by Zoe Archer

Warrior (The Blades of the Rose, #1)Warrior by Zoe Archer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's very true that if you do something well, people will notice. That's how I feel about this book. Zoe Archer did a fine job with Warrior. If I were to imagine a dream book based on my favorite historical action/adventure movies, with the romance ramped up, then this is a very good example.

Warrior has a couple that I totally loved. Gabriel is a man's man, and I adored him for it. He's not macho and overbearing. Nope. He's just a rough and tumble guy who's spent his life as a soldier, and it's made one heck of a man of him. He worries about his lack of social polish--but his worries are groundless as far as I am concerned, and Thalia too. I adored him. I liked his confidence as a warrior, his ease with dealing with very hostile situations, his deep sense of honor. I liked how he committed himself to protecting Thalia and seeing her fulfill her mission. He was willing to stand up for a cause that didn't even make sense to him. And he showed a remarkable ability to adapt and to react to the very strange situations he found himself in. I loved how he adored Thalia for who she was, and didn't feel the need to change her into the average Englishman's ideal woman. She was his ideal, instead. Gabriel might consider himself rough and unpolished, but he definitely knew how to take care of his woman.

Thalia was an awesome heroine. I liked that she wasn't the typical English rose. She'd been raised in Outer Mongolia, and was a woman of that world. She'd yearned most of her life to take up her father's work with the Blades, and when she got her chance to prove herself, she was determined to do so. Thalia respected Gabriel for who he was, admired his strength, and the innate essence of him. She realized that he was the man she'd been waiting for, but couldn't believe that he'd want her and not a perfect English lady. Seeing their love affair unfurl like a blooming flower was such a pleasure. This book is very steamy, and wildly romantic. A perfect combination. There are many sigh-worthy scenes between Gabriel and Thalia. I was very invested in this couple, and I was cheering for their happy ending together.

On top of the great romance, this is a fantastic historical adventure. I loved the setting and the way that it was as much an integral part of this story as the romance. I think Ms. Archer did a great job of bringing this rollicking, good old-fashioned (in the vein of Indiana Jones and Stephen Sommers' the Mummy movies) story to life. Ms. Archer showed a respect for the Mongolian culture and its people. Before this book ended, it felt so familiar to me, I could have been on the Mongolian steppes myself.

The action and adventure aspects were fantastic. There is a sense of risk throughout this story, right from the beginning. I loved the fact that although Gabriel was a formidable warrior, he was not blood-thirsty. He respected life, but was more than willing to fight and kill for a worthy cause. Conversely, he went out of his way to save others. (Sigh break required) I liked the fact that Thalia could more than defend herself. I loved how things unfolded in the final confrontation in this book. Thalia didn't get shut out of the action, just because she was a woman. In fact, she plays an integral role in fighting the Heirs.

I think that Ms. Archer handled the multi-cultural aspects deftly. There is no preachiness here, but she addresses the imperialistic drives of the British Empire, using it as a backdrop in which there is a struggle between two groups who differ in their attitudes about how the British Empire will succeed. One group, The Heirs, wants to use the magical treasures of various cultures around the world to expand Britain's influence. The Blades of the Rose want to protect the cultural heirlooms and preserve the heritages of the various countries. I loved the fact that there were major players of various ethnicities in this story, and none stereotypically portrayed. I am already enamored of Catullus Graves, who is the intellectual giant of the Blades, constantly inventing nifty instruments to assist them in their endeavors. And the best part is he's black (and very British). I love to see the breaking of cultural stereotypes that portray people of color as intellecutally inferior (when the truth is that people of black heritage have been responsible for many scientific advancements in society although they typically remain unacknowledged for it). I remember talking to Ms. Archer on an Amazon forum about multicultural characters in urban fantasy. She posted about Catullus having a book of his own, and I put this series on my wish list right away, not just for that reason, but because I love historical adventure, especially with fantasy elements. She is my heroine!

The magic was very grand in this novel. There were some very novel elements, and I loved how the magic of the Sources was such an intrinsic, naturalistic force, tied to the people and their lands. It was beautiful. Ms. Archer has a great imagination, and she put it to very good use in this book.

I must say that the praise for this new series is well-earned. I had to think long and hard about what I was going to say in this review, because I hate being repetitive. I want my words to count here. A great book deserves a well-written review. It's the best tribute to an exceptional author and her work. I am a huge fan of Ms. Archer now, and I cannot wait to read more of her books.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

A Wallflower Christmas by Lisa Kleypas

A Wallflower Christmas (Wallflowers, #5)A Wallflower Christmas by Lisa Kleypas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ah, how does Lisa Kleypas do it? I think I have Lisa Kleypas romance receptors in my brain. She always knows how to hit my satiety centers. I had heard complaints that this was too short. It was perfect for me. I loved how we got updates and interludes with the Wallflowers, we were able to see the incredible, enduring friendships between Annabelle, Lillian, Evie, and Daisy. It was also great seeing the Wallflowers interact with their husbands, and to see how deleriously happy each of them were in their marriages. And I loved how they ended up adopting Hannah into their circle like she was the long-lost addition to their quartet. And the moments between St. Vincent and Evie were sigh-worthy. I just adore this couple! I love how their private relationship is so rich and their own, but anyone can see that St. Vincent more than meets Evie's needs and gives her a deep quiet contentment and happiness.

And, on top of that, we were treated a brand new, beautiful romance. Rafe was such a bad boy! I couldn't get over how outrageous he was, kissing Hannah practically right after he met her! And what a kiss. The chemistry between them was simply outstanding! I really liked Hannah. She was practical, intelligent, kind, loving, loyal, passionate, and perceptive. I could see why Rafe fell for her, and I definitely saw Rafe's appeal. He was simmering hot! I was glad he did right by Hannah. He had the power to break her heart into tiny, little pieces; but despite his low opinion of himself, and his reputation, he wasn't a callous man. He was capable of intense, enduring love. I was so glad that Hannah and Rafe got their happy ending.

As usual, Ms. Kleypas's writing shines brightly. She does the historical Victorian period so well, so beautiful but authentic. She has such wonderful humorous moments in her books. This was a great book to read on Christmas Eve. I buzzed through, and ended it with a happy sigh! Thanks for the Christmas gift, Ms. Kleypas!

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Home for the Holidays by Sarah Mayberry

Home for the Holidays (Harlequin Superromance, #1599)Home for the Holidays by Sarah Mayberry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I ended up loving this book. It was so well-written and the emotions and the characters were real life and genunine. I just adored Hannah. I loved how she was down-to-earth, a tomboy who was more into working on motorcycles than doing her nails, wearing dresses, and primping. She was tough and strong, but genuine. I could understand her pain of being betrayed by her sister and her ex-fiance', but it was also good that she was able to move on from it and live her life. I liked how she interacted with Joe's kids. She wasn't trying to insinuate into their life, or usurp their deceased mother's place.

Joe was great too. He loved Hannah for who she was, and he wasn't trying to change her. I loved how he wanted to do right by his kids and take care of them. He desired Hannah, but she was his friend too. He wanted her to be part of his life and his family. He didn't slight her for his kids, but he loved Hannah and showed that without it overriding his children's needs.

It was so heartbreaking when Hannah had her health scare, and how she tried to extricate herself from Joe's family so she wouldn't hurt them. How they came to her and made it very clear that she was part of their family and they loved her, and they would stick it out until the end brought tears to my eyes.

This is my second read by Sarah Mayberry. I liked the first book I read by her (She's Got it Bad), but I didn't like the subject matter, and it affected me in a negative way that affected my enjoyment. In contrast, this book was just what I needed to read. I love books about two souls who find each other, and fit into each other's life so well--their love makes their lives better, and they aren't trying to hurt each other, but manage to heal those wounds that they each have. Plus, I have a soft spot for heroes who are really good fathers. I definitely want to read more of Sarah Mayberry's books.

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Snowbound by Janice Kay Johnson

SnowboundSnowbound by Janice Johnson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Snowbound was a very pleasant read. I liked the snowed-in aspect with Fiona, who was a teacher who coached a high school trivia team, and John, an Iraqi war veteran who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. I loved and felt for John. I mostly liked Fiona, but I didn't like the way she handled John's issues. She was bulldozing him into dealing with his PTSD. I didn't like the ultimatum she delivered. She seemed to think he was supposed to all of a sudden become an open book. It doesn't work that way. Falling in love doesn't wave a magic wand and cause a person to open up and lance their wounds. Especially with men, it's hard for them to deal with that kind of hurt easily. And some people aren't able to share their pain with others so easily, and when others guilt them into it, it really feels wrong to me. I think she was insensitive about it, and that bothered me. I know that John had issues and he was doing the ostrich thing, but time would help him, and I think that Fiona could have been more understanding.

I actually liked the aspect of the kids being snowed in with John and Fiona. I have a love/hate thing with teenagers in fiction (and having taught young adults, I definitely got my fill of their often bad attitudes). Their sullenness can be annoying (although I freely admit I was one of those withdrawn, sometimes sullen teens myself). But Ms. Johnson managed to write a lively bunch. I liked the way that Fiona and John approached and dealt with the eight kids, getting them to work together and get along when they are snowed in at John's lodge. I liked how most of the kids pitched in to help matchmake between John and Fiona.

Although most of this book only has a small part set during Christmas, I still enjoyed the setting, with the snowed-in winter environs, and John and Fiona building a bond between that leads to a lifelong love that starts when Fiona and her kids end up on John's doorstep.

This book turned out to be a weak four star because of the way Fiona annoyed me. But, the other aspects were very good, and I just wanted to give John a hug.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Winter Fire by Jo Beverley

Winter Fire (Malloren, #6)Winter Fire by Jo Beverley

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

It was great spending Christmas with the Mallorens and family. I loved the descriptions of English traditional Christmas celebrations. There is something very enthusiastic and dashing about Georgian England. It lacks the stifled air of the Regency period, often steeped in hypocrisy in that people in the ton did what they wanted, they just pretended they didn't. With the Georgian period, people were a lot more freewheeling. That's not to say there weren't boundaries that one didn't cross. And Ashart was rather good about that last part, a cultivated rake from a young age.

At first, I didn't care much for Ashart. He was arrogant and kind of rude. I could see why Genova thought he was attractive, because he was dashing and masculine. But, I wasn't sure about his suitability as a romantic hero. He didn't move me just yet. Somehow that started to change. Genova got to know Ash better during their impromptu engagement after being caught in a compromising position. I begin to see that Ash was rather sad. His grandmother had raised him and fed him on the milk of vitrol, aching to get her vengeance on the Mallorens for her daughter (the Marquess of Rothgar)'s sad demise. She poured most of the Trayce's funds and all her energies into doing so, and did her best to corrupt Ash. The good thing is, she didn't really succeed. Deep down, Ash was a good guy. He began to see that making peace with the Marquess of Rothgar was the right way to go. They were actually first cousins, and not all that different. In fact, Rothgar was to be admired.

As much as I liked the romance, I really enjoyed the dynamic between Ash and Rothgar. In fact, Rothgar almost stole the show from Ash. I have been reading this series out of order, you see. I've only read Something Wicked, Elf and Walgrave's story, and I got a tantalizing glimpse into Rothgar, more as a stern, dangerous to his enemies, and wickedly manipulative and cunning older brother to Elfred. In this story, he is more relaxed (newly married to Diana, Lady Arradale), at peace with himself, and it spurs him to settle an old feud that has some valid roots, depending on who's looking. But, the cost has been too high, and it's Christmas time. He wants his family reunited, with pax ruling throughout.

This story was short, but it has some depth to it. It's a suprisingly complex mix of romance, family interactions, and a very good Christmas story. Ash has to figure out why his ex-lover dumped a baby on him that she claims is his, but couldn't possibly be of his blood, and deal with his nearly life-long enemy in Rothgar, or sue for peace. And then there is the inconvenient attraction to a young woman who he can't have without marriage, and he needs to marry a substantial heiress (which Genova isn't). Genova is determined to make Ash accept responsibility for his offspring, reconcile her duties as companion to his quirky, elderly aunts, and enter the lion's den of the powerful Malloren family. On top of that is the compellingly intense feelings for Ash.

Jo Beverley has a way with words. She doesn't write romance quite like anyone else. Her books aren't for all tastes, but I love the feel of her books, like I'm there in the past. She captures the passion of the characters, in more ways than one. When Ash and Genova come together, you can see the sparks and feel the burning desire between them, and the way love wraps itself around their hearts and entwines them together.

This was a very very enjoyable reading experience, and it was almost five stars, but the ending was a bit abrupt for me, although I did like the resolution of Ash and Genova's issues.

Some of my favorite aspects:

*Rothgar, Ash, and Genova bonding over their fascination with clockworks. (I know it sounds boring but it wasn't)

*Genova's presepe, which is an Italian Nativity. I liked how Ms. Beverley used this as a metaphor to show Genova's longing for family and the stability of her own home. Her father was in the Navy, and she and her mother traveled all around the world with him. Setting up the presepe was a tradition every Christmas, and each year another animal was added. When her mother passed away, and her father remarried, his wife didn't want it in her house, calling it 'shabby'. It broke Genova's heart, and she knew she wasn't going to be a part of her father's new family. When she goes to stay with her friends, the Trayce aunts for Christmas, she takes the presepe with her, essentially wandering with all that is left of her family, hoping to find a new, safe home for herself. The part in which she sets up the presepe at the Malloren Christmas festivities (and everyone is delighted with it) brought a tear to my eye (I've already admitted to my sappy nature). We have our own Nativity at home, set up with pride in a place of honor on a table in our living room.

*All the kisses and sensual moments were well done. Very good chemistry.

*Fun Christmas festivities, with lively explanations of their roots. Just what I need to keep me in the Christmas spirit.

*Seeing the Mallorens again. Reminds me to get back into this series.

Definitely a fun read, and more than worthy of a rating of 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Holidays are Hell by Kim Harrison, Lynsay Sands, Marjorie Liu, and Vicki Pettersson

Holidays Are HellHolidays Are Hell by Kim Harrison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My favorite stories in this anthology were "Two Ghosts for Sister Rachel" by Kim Harrison and "Six" by Marjorie Liu. Ironically, they weren't Christmas stories.

"Two Ghosts for Sister Rachel" by Kim Harrison

This story looks into Rachel's past, when she was eighteen, fresh out of community college, and determined to recover from her childhood of severe illness and to get a job working for Inderlander Security. Her brother Robbie is in town for Solstice Night, and wants her to go back to west coast with him and go to a four year college to continue her Earth Witch studies. Rachel isn't interested. Her life is in Cincinatti. They make a deal that if Rachel can raise her father's ghost and he will agree to her going into the IS, and sign her permission slip, then Robbie will support her decision. In the process, Rachel raises the spirit of Pierce, a male witch who was working for the older version of IS, tracking a vampire who preys on young girls. This was a great story. I liked how Rachel got to strut her young stuff, showing the strong woman she would one day grow into. I liked the sweet chemistry between Rachel and Pierce. It was also nice to see Rachel's family. Her brother is kind of bossy, but Rachel holds her own against him and Pierce's inbred chauvinism very well. Kim Harrison's excellent writing skills are ably-demonstrated in this short story. 5 stars.

"Run, Run Rudolph" by Lynsay Sands

At first, I wasn't sure I'd like this story. It seemed too pedestrian. Heroine owns a clothing shop. Hero owns a shoe shop. At first I wasn't sure of the tone, and the Kim Harrison story gave it a hard act to follow. Forgive my non-paranormal contemporary snobbery. As always, it helps to keep reading. It was actually really funny. I was giggling and laughing out loud like crazy! Jill was a pretty sharp heroine. She figured out pretty soon how to use the abilities that had been forced on her by a crazy scientist who used to work with her brother. This story is related to "The Claire Switch Project", which is in Dates From Hell. In that story, Jill's brother creates a machine that can destabilize molecules to allow a person to change their form to whatever they visualize. This story has a little bit of the goofy vibe of the previous story, but I liked it much better. The humor found me at a good time, I guess. I thought that Nick, the guy that Jill had been sweet on for months, was a very nice guy. I liked that he accepted Jill for what she was, helped to protect her from her pursuer, and he had felt the same way about her for months, but was waiting for the right time to declare his feelings. This was a nice, fun Christmas short story. 4 stars.

"Six" by Marjorie Liu

Marjorie knows what us comic book/action-adventure movie/romance novel-reading fangirls want! In this story, the heroine is a police officer who was trained from a young age to be an invincible fighter. She has no life outside of her work, and suppresses her longing for anything more beneath cold, hard determination. Her whole body is a weapon, and she knows how to use it. The hero is a necromancer, and they are fighting vampires that are straight out of Chinese folklore. I felt like I was watching one of those awesome Hong Kong action movies, which I love! I loved the intense bond between Six and Joseph. I loved that this book was set in China, and that the heroine is Chinese and the hero is Chinese and Russian. This book takes place on New Years' Eve, and it was interesting to see how that holiday is celebrated in China. Boy, I wanted some dumplings after I read this story; since one of the characters makes them, making me drool in the process. I think Marjorie Liu is a highly talented author, and I am kicking myself for letting all her books accumulate on my tbr pile. I plan to rectify that in the New Year. 5 stars.

"The Harvest" by Vicki Pettersson

This story took so long for me to read. The idea is intriguing but the execution was fairly tedious. I think that it would have benefited from lots more dialogue and action instead of explanatory narrative. I did like the idea of a war between good and evil and how it's been told in comic books, which the forces call 'manuals'. Zoe was a strong, vivid character. I thought she showed a lot of mettle, striving to protect her daughters and granddaughters, even at the price of giving up her own legacy. The relationship between her and her ex-lover and comrade was bittersweet. It was interesting how Ms. Pettersson built this story around Thanksgiving, and how she integrated it into this story. The Buddhist spiritual aspects are underutilized in urban fantasy. I think I would have loved this story if had been more active, with more showing. As it was, it was kind of boring. I'm sad about that. 3 stars.

Overall, this was a good collection and a nice holiday read.

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Lone Star Seduction by Day Leclaire

Lone Star Seduction (Silhouette Desire)Lone Star Seduction by Day Leclaire

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

For seven years, Alejandro Montoya (I love this name!) focused on gaining his revenge against Sebastian Huntington, the man who fired his mother and threw them out on the street, all because he had the nerve to get involved with his daughter. But, he never forgot how Rebecca made his heart beat faster, even if he forced himself to believe he hated her. Now, Alex is a powerful man, rich, and determined to show that Sebastian Huntington is not better than him, just because of his Latino heritage and because his mother cleaned his house.

When it turns out that Sebastian embezzled $300,000 from the Texas Cattleman's Club, he plays right into his hands. Now he had the power to bring Huntington down. Even still, the idea of Rebecca being hurt doesn't sit right with him. He does what he can to nail her father, but help Rebecca, because his feelings for her have not dissipated despite his rage at her father.

Rebecca never got over Alex. She didn't understand why he would have made a terrible bet with his old friend from the barrio, "El Gato", that he could sleep with her. She's determined to help her father, even if it means she has to convince Alex to give her a loan against her lingerie shop and work as his housekeeper to help pay off her father's debt. Yet, as much as she wants to keep it all business, and Alex wants to focus on his need for revenge against her father, their powerful attraction keeps getting in the way.

I loved Alex. He was sexy and hot, all man. He was angry, but he really didn't want to see Rebecca hurt. He went out of his way to seek a resolution which would spare her, although he fully intended for her father to pay for his crimes, even if it was losing his ranch and having to move out of town. Alex reminded me of Alex from Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles, except all grown up, and a little more of a cowboy. They both have that powerful charisma. I could totally see why Rebecca was head over heels for him.

I liked Rebecca. She had mettle, and even though I didn't like her father, I admired her loyalty to him, which she didn't let blind her to the truth about him. Her actions were understandable. It would have felt cold-blooded for her to completely wash her hands of him.

Ms. Leclaire dealt with the prejudice issue deftly. People looked down on Alex and his family because they were Mexican-American, and his mother was a domestic. Even some of the members of the TCC who had books already did the same (especially Lance and Mitch). I liked that Alex stayed true to himself, and was proud of who he was, but strove to make something of himself to show the snobs where they could stick their prejudice. I was glad that Rebecca wasn't prejudiced against Alex, although she should have taken her father to task for his snooty attitude while she was dating Alex the first time.

I liked the suspense angle, with Alex's shady friend "El Gato" as a major player in Huntington's troubles, with intentions to claim Rebecca as his bride, and Huntington's land so he could play Cattle King. Alex had to resolve his loyalty to an old friend, who had some designs against the woman he loved. He showed some real mettle dealing with his friend, who was clearly a slimy criminal. And it forced him to accept his true feelings for Rebecca.

So far, this is my favorite in the newest Texas Cattleman's Series, at least out of those I've read. I need to read Darius and Summer's story, since I've liked him quite a bit in the books I've read.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Italian Doctor, Sleigh Bell Bride by Sarah Morgan

Italian Doctor, Sleigh Bell Bride (Harlequin Medical Romance 372)Italian Doctor, Sleigh Bell Bride by Sarah Morgan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Italian Doctor, Sleigh Bell Bride definitely met my needs for a quick, feel good contemporary romance Christmas read. It had a Cinderella vibe, with struggling single mom Liv; and handsome, sexy, accomplished, and very nice Stefano. That was very cool to see a deserving woman get her Christmas wishes come true. On top of that, this had some elements of the medical profession that I absolutely loved! It was so much fun to see the medicine cases that Liv and Stefano worked on together. Although Ms. Morgan played it safe by having Liv as the nurse and Stefano as the trained surgeon, she also showed how very good Liv was at her job. She was an excellent diagnostician, and had a wonderful touch with her patients. She took her job seriously and was always professional. And I liked the message that nurses were a valuable part of the medical team, often providing essential care that doctors can't and don't. Stefano was also a professional. Even though he was a rich Italian (gotta have that vibe going on), he was a very good doctor, and he took it seriously.

I loved the progression of their relationship. Stefano showed his love, which is a big thing for me. He saw that Liv was under a lot of burdens, trying to raise her son and make ends meet, and putting him first. I loved how he nurtured her, bringing her sense of self back where it needed to be, because she was had very low self esteem after her husband cheated on her and abandoned her. He was also really good with Max. He understood that the little boy needed a male influence, and he wasn't just playing along just to get close to his mother.

I liked that Liv and Stefano conducted their relationship circumspectly. Although Liv and Max were staying with Stefano after their apartment burned down, they weren't carrying on with a young boy in the house, because Liv didn't want for her son to get the wrong idea. I liked that Stefano respected that, and he managed to show Liv that he found her sexy and desired her, but did it in a way that didn't compromise her status as a mom with an impressionable young boy.

Although this story had some of the unrealistic elements of a Harlequin Presents, it also had some more real world aspects that I enjoyed. And the medical elements were the icing on the cake. The dialogue was good, with some great funny bits. And Max was adorable. I loved his last line when Liv and Stefano were being 'mushy'. It was classic! Sarah Morgan has once again written a story that I am adding to my keeper shelf, and showed that she knows her stuff when it comes to medicine. I can't wait to read more Medical Romances.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Deep Kiss of Winter by Kresley Cole and Gena Showalter

Deep Kiss of Winter (Includes: Immortals After Dark, #8; Alien Huntress, #5)Deep Kiss of Winter by Kresley Cole

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm rounding my rating up on this one, because I loved the Kresley Cole story enough on its own for five stars. The Gena Showalter story was a fairly solid four stars.

First of all, lets talk about how awesome "Untouchable" was. I liked Murdoch before I read this story, because the Wroth brother are four times hot! But, I didn't love him as much as Nikolai (swoon), Conrad (thud), and Sebastian (sigh). I'm not fond of womanizers. But somehow, I fell in love with Murdoch. I could see that his fear of giving himself away and losing himself in love with a woman was the reason why he was so love 'em and leave 'em. Truth be told, I don't think he really broke any hearts. He found woman who just wanted sex and he made sure he gave them what they wanted very well. I don't know that he held any more fondness for them than they did for him. As always, Kresley Cole does the devoted male very well. This Wroth courtship was very different in that Murdoch didn't want to be Blooded. He was rather unhappy with the fact that Daniela was his Bride, and she had brought his body back to life. This story is a good metaphor for the relationships that some women face with the reluctant bachelor, who doesn't want to give up his freedom, out of fear that he's going to miss out on something. Murdoch had to go through the process of realizing that he might no longer be fancy free, but he had found the love of his life, and he would have been miserable without her--she made his life better, just by being in it. Daniela also had her issues. Because of her Icere heritage, she couldn't be touched by anyone. She'd spent two thousand years of celibacy, as a chaste (other than self-pleasure) virgin, seeing her Valkyrie sisters have their love affairs and live a full life, while she felt she was on the shelf. When she meets Murdoch and realizes she is his Bride, she's willing to give him a chance. At times, I felt bad for Daniela. She really put herself out there to be hurt by Murdooch, and he did hurt her more than a few times. Yet, at the same time, he did care about her and tried to do right by her. He is probably the most like a real guy out of the heroes I've read about in paranormal romance. Not to pigeonhole men, but he had a lot of the fears and insecurities of a modern guy in relationships, instead of the slavish devotion and adoration that I've seen (and I freely admit I like) in a lot of paranormal romances. He fought the bond between him and Daniela. But, when he gave into it, boy did he! The love scenes were tres steamy! I was curious how Ms. Cole would pull off having lots of sexy encounters with a couple who couldn't touch each other, but I must say she did it well.

I love this world of the Lore. It's funny, fascinating, exciting, interesting, and very entertaining. The Immortals After Dark series is tied for my favorite paranormal series (with the Black Dagger Brotherhood) for a good reason--it's awesome. I was happy to see that this was a fairly long short story, just under 300 pages. And Ms. Cole used the time she had to excellent advantage. I totally ended up loving this story, and it more than earned its five star rating. I loved how well Ms. Cole wrapped up the Wroth brothers' stories. I think that she found the perfect mates with them, and I was very happy with how she resolved Daniela and Murdoch's prickly situation. And can I just say that I think I might be part Icere? I sure do love the cold, and I truly enjoyed the scenes in which Daniela gets settled into Murdoch's icy hunting lodge in Sibera, and the couple frolicking in the snow and ice. This story was fantastic!

"Tempt Me Eternally" by Gena Showalter had a tough job to accomplish, following an Immortals After Dark story. I have to say that it did it fairly well. I will always choose supernatural over science fiction. It's just the way I'm wired. However, I thought the concept behind this story was pretty interesting. The Rakans have come to Earth to settle down and rebuild after their world and peoples are devastated by an invasion by the Schon, a race of beings who have sex with and infect other races with a virus that causes the the females to turn into cannibals. All the females were killed, and they decimated many of the males of the Rakan world. The lone survivors have found Earth, and intend to live here peacefully. However, they encounter a force of AIR, an agency that protects Earth from hostile aliens. Things don't go well, and some of the AIR agents are killed by a rogue Rakan, and their leader Breean sees and kidnaps AIR agent Macy (who is actually Aleaha-a shapeshifting woman who has assumed the identity of Macy). Breean can actually see the real Aleaha under the mask of Macy. He sees and decides he has to have her. He takes her and some of the other AIR agents back to his hideout, biding his time to try to make an exchange with AIR and bargain for the right to live on Earth peacefully, but he's already determined that he will keep Aleaha. Aleaha is a pretty tormented heroine. She has an ability that has caused her a lot of trouble, because she morphs in moments of extreme emotion (including sex). She's tired of pretending to be someone else. When Breean seems to see and like the real her, as well as accepting her morphing abilities, she feels a real bond, not to mention he's sex on legs, and she's incredibly attracted to this tall, well-built, sweet-tasting, golden man. She doesn't want to be his captive, but he makes captivity very enticing as he seduces her body and soul into loving him and wanting forever with him. But, Aleaha has her loyalty to AIR to deal with before she can jump off the deep end into passion with Breean.

This was a good story. It was also very steamy. I ended up enjoying the science fiction elements very much. Ms. Showalter focuses more of the sensuality, but she does that very well. I knew the characters enough to care about them, and root for their happy ending, and I was pretty engaged. As I said, I was so blown away by the IAD story, it was hard to love this one quite as much. But it was good and entertaining. It easily earns a four star rating. And it was nice to revisit the Alien Huntress storyline, in which I am way behind.

I don't tend to buy very many hardcovers, because I'm cheap and they are harder to store, but this was way worth my money, even if just for the Immortals After Dark story. I think of the Alien Huntress story as a nice bonus, since I've been more interested in reading science fiction lately, and I really do like Gena Showalter's writing. This was a great read for the holidays. Although the stories weren't heavily focused on Christmas, I thought that the authors used the holiday theme to good effect. I especially loved the frosty moments in IAD. Oh to have a sexy guy to play in the snow with!

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Mistletoe Magic by Sophia James

Mistletoe MagicMistletoe Magic by Sophia James

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not sure what to say about this book. I was somewhat disappointed. Some parts were a bit dry, and some parts very tantalizing. I wish the balance was more in the latter direction. I have to say I loved the hero, Lucas. He was dreamy! He was a very tortured guy, who hadn't gotten a lot of breaks in his life. I wish that Ms. James had focused on that more. I felt like there was too much time focused on how snobby British society viewed him, and how that affected Lillian's view of Lucas way too much, instead of looking into his heart, and what her heart told him about it. I could understand why, since her mother had ran off with her lover, broken her father's heart, and disgraced her family. She had spent her life trying to be the epitome of a well-behaved lady, the epitome of English gentility. However, she was very unhappy with her life, twenty-five years old, and yearning to be loved. She was tired of being the perfect young lady, the model for others. She just wanted something real for herself. At times, she was almost unlikeable, coming off as being a complete snob at times. Lucas didn't deserve that from her at all. Granted, it took him some time to get back to her after she was ruined when he was caught kissing her hand on the balcony, but he had a good reason for it. She didn't even give him the benefit of the doubt.

I liked the bond and chemistry between Lucas and Lillian. It did seem like a fated, compelling love they shared. The brief love scene was pretty steamy. Definitely some good points for that!

I didn't quite get why the children of Lucas' deceased wife's sister were introduced, but then you didn't hear about them until near the end. I felt like they were more of a plot point than an organic part of the story. This was another area that could have been more developed instead of showing society functions as much as was done. I liked seeing the couple trying to work on their marriage, and interacting with the kids, and I wished there was more of this.

The adventurous climax was too quick and didn't make a lot of sense to me. I would have preferred seeing Lucas and Lillian work on their relationship to this.

All in all, this could have been a better read than it was. I liked Lucas a lot, and the little girls were cute. Lillian disappointed me in her snobbiness, despite my understanding of her issues. I wanted her to 'woman up' sooner than she did. I liked the Victorian setting, and the Christmas elements. But, I ended up feeling mostly let down by this book. Mistletoe Magic wasn't a bad book, but it could have been much better. It had a lot of potential. Sophia James' lovely way with words was evident, this just needed a more cohesive, focused narrative to shine like it had the potential to do.

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Millionaire Under the Mistletoe by Tessa Radley

Millionaire Under the Mistletoe (Silhouette Desire #1985)Millionaire Under the Mistletoe by Tessa Radley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I enjoyed reading this book, it didn't really set me on fire. However, it was a pretty good Christmas-themed romance. I sort of got the feeling that I was marking time while I read it. I'm not sure why this was the case.

This book is set in England, and both the hero and heroine are British, but it didn't feel British to me. It was weird, because they talked about British things, such as the M6, London, Harrods, Boxing day, but it felt American to me. It's very weird, I guess.

What I liked about the book:

*The heroine was a trained-chef and caterer. I liked seeing her do her magic.

*Callum was a pretty nice guy, although he admitted that he initially just felt lust for Miranda. He did come around very quickly, and I respected that he broke off his relationship with the woman he was going to marry for business when he realized he was lusting after Miranda.

*Miranda had qualities I admire: hard-working, devoted to her family, resourceful, pragmatic.

*I liked that both the hero and heroine were close to their families.

*The idea of Miranda and Callum essentially being star-crossed in that Callum had Miranda's father arrested from embezzling money from him, which led to his suicide was an interesting direction. Callum initially re-connected with Miranda to make amends for his part in her father's suicide, although her father was culpable.

*I liked the scenes of Christmas celebration in both their families.

What I was not happy with:

*I don't like how their relationship started with a hookup in the kitchen. There didn't seem like there was more between them but strong sexual attraction. I would have liked to see more of a connection before they got physical. Miranda essentially thought of their encounter as a one-night stand. That's not my personal preference when it comes to romance stories.

*Miranda's brother and mother got on my nerves. They were way too dependent on Miranda. Her brother was constantly hitting her up for money, and instead of taking responsiblitiy for himself, he depended on her to bail him out when he got in trouble. Miranda's mother was running up bills she couldn't pay for, and relying on Callum's generosity. This just put more pressure on Miranda. I did like that Callum really was supportive to Miranda, and helped her to foster independence in her mother and brother.

*Miranda called Callum a liar a few times, when he insisted that her father was guilty. It offended me because I think it's wrong to call someone a liar unless you know they are truly an untruthful person. Callum never gave off that vibe. She even persisted in this after they were emotionally involved. I could understand why she didn't want to believe badly of her father, but she was in love with Callum, and he had no reason to lie about it.

Ultimately, I never got deeply involved with this story. I like to be sucked into a book and forget about everything else. This book didn't do that for me. But there was not an issue with the writing, we just didn't form a love connection. However, if a reader wants a quick, well-written Christmas romance that has some modern, sophisticated elements, I think she would like this book.

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An Obsessive Love by Sarah Holland

An Obsessive LoveAn Obsessive Love by Sarah Holland

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think readers of Harlequin Presents who really get a kick out of the drama in these books, will enjoy An Obsessive Love. Natasha is scared to death that she will go down the once-traveled path of obsession for a man. Four years ago, she fell hard for a man who strung her along, demanded all the love she could give, and threw it back in her face, telling her that it wasn't enough. She left behind her childhood village and didn't look back, so ashamed of how she had made a fool of herself over a man who didn't love or want her.

Since then, she's avoided relationships of all sorts, but she ends up meeting a man she can't seem to resist, Dominic. There is a powerful draw between them right from the beginning. Natasha, who is of Russian descent, is captivated by the Slavic/Russian-looking, completely masculine, and absolute beauty of the man who turns out to be the son of her favorite author, a woman who specializes in writing romantic historical fiction set in Russia. He sets her up to get a job working as his mother's assistant, with a side of passionate love affair with him. Natasha is all for the first, but wants to avoid the second, but that pull he has on her is irresistible. If readers like a determined hero in pursuit, look no further, because Dominic has it covered.

Some of the lines and scenes will have some readers' eyes rolling. But, I enjoyed it. I love the over-the-top emotion and passion in these books. They both say some ugly things to each other, but it's like a form of foreplay and double-speak (as weird as that sounds). It's like "I hate you" is "I love you so much," and when she calls him the "B" word, she's calling him "Beloved." You get the idea. It's clear from the beginning that both are them are fully engaged with each other, and despite what either may think, this fire is not going to burn out any time soon. I thought the love scenes burned up the page. Ms. Holland did a great job of starting this fire, and she kept it good and hot, although this is far from an erotic, detailed book.

As an admitted Russophile, the scenes and descriptions of St. Peterburg and its surroundings in Russia were lovely to read about. I loved how Natasha and Dominic were proud of their Russian heritage, and it was clear that this was a very important part of who they are.

As far as dealing with Natasha and Dominic's pasts, which made both of them somewhat wary of love and passionate relationships, I think the author did a good job of tying that up and showing why they acted the way they did, and I liked how she depicted the couple dealing with their respective baggage.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Although my copy mislead me into thinking this was a holiday-themed book, I have no regrets in reading it, since I like this author and it was very entertaining. I hope to read more of her books, because she definitely knows how to write a drama-filled, passionate book.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

The Viscount's Betrothal by Louise Allen

The Viscount's Betrothal (Harlequin Historical, #982)The Viscount's Betrothal by Louise Allen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Books like The Viscount's Betrothal validate my decision to subscribe to the Harlequin Historical line. I love that I can find hidden gemlike books by newer authors in my monthly shipment that are up my reading alley. This was a nice, shorter, but satisfying love story. Readers who enjoy the spinster motif likely will be well-pleased with this book. Decima is a character who is likeable and textured. She has valid insecurities that she struggles with, being very tall (5'10"), very freckled, and on-the-shelf for several years at the age of twenty-six. She failed to catch her first season, and lost confidence. It didn't help that her brother is over-bearing and controlling. Yet, finally, Decima is going to make her bid for freedom. She's tired of matchmaking attempts that go awry when the male object fails to fall for her due to her abundant attributes. She plots her escape and ends up snowed in with a delicious Viscount. From the beginning, Adam seems to find her attractive, and she fears it's just the 'port in the storm' phenomenon. But their mutual chemistry is strong and seemingly undeniable. I liked how Ms. Allen kept me on the razor's edge here. There were plenty of nicely sensual moments that didn't end in consummation, which was appropriate considering that Adam is a gentleman, and Decima a lady, and he couldn't at that time marry or make her his mistress. I like that they both struggled with their desire for each other, and the powerful connection that formed between them. I liked the interactions between them that consisted of playing in the snow, bonding over their mutual appreciation of horses, and putting together makeshift meals when they are snowed in. I appreciated how they nursed their respective employees (who were sick and had a broken leg). And they also did some matchmaking for them after they realized that Pru and Bates were in love. I also found the wit and the dialogue to be well done. This is the kind of Regency book I like when I reach for a lighter read. Very period, with nuances that keep the story moving and appeal to me in their portrayal of the lives of members of the ton, especially those who are on the fringes for their perceived lack of what is fashionable.

I like that Decima was realistic. She had moments where she doubted her attractions after having it reinforced for so long that she wasn't in society's mode of beauty. But, at the same time, she took charge of her life and was determined to be happy. I like how she interacted with others--showing a kind, loving personality, but finding the courage to stand up for herself against her bossy brother. Decima was a good heroine.

I also liked Adam. He was honorable, but manly. Although he had a mistress when the story started (and has some discreet assignations with widows that was mentioned), he was not an out and out rake, and he took his responsibilities seriously. He was a very likeable, decent guy, and very attractive and sexy. He saw the appeal in Decima pretty early on the story, and wanted to figure out how they could be together. Things get complicated when he gets trapped into a betrothal, but Adam is determined to find a way for Decima to be his own. I liked his solution to the problem, also playing matchmaker to his fiancee', Olivia (who is afraid of him and not at all attracted to him, only marrying him because her mother demands it), and Decima's gorgeous but diminutive best friend, Henry, when he realizes they are in love. I thought it was a pretty good idea, and the fact that he wasn't going to give up on winning Decima's hand endeared him to me.

It took me a while to read this book because I've been busy with other things, but I certainly looked forward to reading it when I obtained an opportunity. I'd recommend it to fans of lighter, but not fluffy regencies in the traditional mode, but with a nice dose of sensuality (fueled by the well-written chemistry between Decima and Adam).

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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel's Dart (Kushiel's Legacy, #1)Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Just a disclaimer here: This will be a very difficult review to write. In order to truly review this book, I have to talk about my own views on things and how books affect me personally. I am opening myself up here, which always makes me squirm. If you are reading this review and you don't agree with my beliefs on things, that's totally fine. But, I am not going to deny how I feel, because that is very important to me when I review a book, since I read books emotionally and not from a detached standpoint. Having said that, let's get this show on the road.

I can think of a list of reasons why I should not have liked this book, and I will start there:

1. I really dislike long books. As I told a friend on here, I am a 'hit it and quit it' reader--meaning, I like to read shorter to moderate-length (and occasionally longer) books, get them read, and move onto the next book. This book was a massive 901 pages!

2. Prostitution and paid sex is something that I absolutely detest the thought of. It squicks me out that someone would pay for sex or have sex for money or financial support/livelihood. I generally avoid this content like the plague, although a big part of my nature is to occasionally challenge myself and my perceptions of the world. It's good for me, even if the process is painful at times. This book has a heroine who is a courtesan, although she is called more ugly terms that I don't use. Not only that, her prostitution is a form of worship and honor to one of her dieties (if you want to call Fallen angels dieties).

3. I don't like books where the main characters sleep with a lot of people during the book. Promiscuity and sleeping around is another area that I am just not comfortable with. I especially don't like reading about sex with no love/emotional bond. This book was kind of interesting in that Phedre's sex is a form of worship. She didn't love most of the people she was intimate with, but she loved Elua, Naamah, and Kushiel, and that was expressed through her sex with her patrons. The genesis of the sacred nature of sex in this culture relates to the fact that the angel Naamah would lay with strangers to support Elua and the angels as they traveled through the Terre D'Ange. It's probably necessary to mention that the patron can be male or female. Elua's dictate is Love as thou wilt, which eliminates any stigma to same sex relationships. Although I am more of a male/female romance reader, I don't necessarily dislike same sex interactions, so that wasn't a huge issue for me.

4. I am very vanilla about sex. Meaning, I don't like reading about kinky, dark, twisted sex at all. I especially don't like reading about sadomasochistic/painful/humiliating sex. I don't understand that need and it's not something that I personally feel okay about. The main character in this story is a masochist. She was pricked by Kushiel (who is the angel who is the keeper of Hell and punishes the lost). That punishment is out of love to save their souls. Phedre possessing Kushiel's Dart marks one of her dark brown eyes with a dash of red, which is a visible manifestation of her being favored or cursed to have a physiology which made pain pleasurable for her, including emotional pain (which means that she got sexually aroused by being humiliated or forced or treated badly by her partner). I'm not going to go into detail here. I think you could use your imagination. I'll just leave it with two words to express my feelings: Ick Factor! Most of the sex scenes were very uncomfortable for me to read. In the author's defense, this book has very elegant sex scenes (for the subject matter). Somehow, she managed to avoid them coming off as repulsive and tawdry. My repulsion was based on my own comfort zones being exceeded, instead of deliberate acts of prurience on the author's part.

5. I typically don't care for stories with a lot of political intrigue and situations. Surprisingly, I found that I really got into that aspect of this story, and I was quite enthralled with the tangled web of conspiracies against members of the royal family and nobles. I believe it was because Ms. Carey did a great job of entwining Phedre into this Gordian Knot in a very intimate manner through her adoptive father, Anafiel Delaunay. Phedre becomes Delaunay's bondservant, and is trained to be a master spy as well as courtesan. Her skills aid him in his secret avocation to the royal family, hearing and seeing all, in the line of her duties as a courtesan.

6. The whole cultural set up of this story is very different from what I am used to. Surprisingly, this part was the easiest thing to get past. When I read fantasy, I expect that the author will build her own world from the ground up, and that might include other religious beliefs. It's easier for me if the author founds a whole new religious world divorced from the real world. I can easily separate myself from what I know and accept the concepts from the story and read it with a fresh mind. In this book, Ms. Carey takes a left turn from Christianity, and creates a world in which the main diety worshipped, Elua, is the son of Jesus' blood from when he was wounded on the cross and its union with Mother Earth. The other members of the pantheon are angels that chose to fall to accompany Elua in his exile. In other words, turning their back on God to follow Elua. The people with these beliefs are called D'Angelines, because they live in the country founded by Elua and his Angels called Terre D'Ange (Land of the Angel in French). Christianity still exists in the world, and its practitioners are called Yeshuites, after Jesus' Hebrew name of Yeshua. I believe there are also Muslims, but they are called Akkadians. The people who correspond to the Celts and Picts of Alba (Britain) and Eire (Ireland) have their own beliefs, and the Skaldi, who are like Norsemen, worship the Norse pantheon. Even though it was pretty different, I thought it was a pretty creative cultural genesis that Ms. Carey accomplished in this story.

Yes, that's a lot of reasons why I shouldn't have liked this book. Despite these things, I loved this book. It was fascinating. It kept my interest. I cared about the characters. Phedre was a heroine that I loved. I didn't like her assignations, and I would sort of roll my eyes when she took another one, much like Joscelin did. But, I liked her as a person. I could see that she was being true to herself, and I couldn't fault her for that. I loved how she came from very humble origins and made something wonderful of herself. I loved her loyalty and her caring heart. I loved how clever she was. She used every thing she had been taught and all her assets to accomplish what needed to be done. Even though I didn't always like what she did, I respect why she did it. It was profound to see how her view of herself and her place in the world changed. People looked down on her for being a 'whore', but she was a great spymaster, a diplomat, and an incredible tactitian. I cheered for her to find her rightful place in her world, because she earned that after all she'd suffered and lost. I loved Joscelin as well. Although he was a bit judgmental at times, so was Phedre towards him, but in a different way. It was very clear how devoted to her he was, and he was very true to his beliefs, following Cassiel, the angel who still loved God, but felt that he had to follow Elua out of loyalty. I admired that he made sacrifices to follow his beliefs, but his love for Phedre often caused him to break his vows, which in a way showed how true to following Cassiel he was. Even though he was not the main character, my mind always went back to him, wanting to see what he was doing and how he reacted to the situations around him. All the characters were real and lifelike, some in a good way, some in a bad way. But, there weren't any disposable characters in this story, even if they played small roles. And when some of the characters I grew to love got harmed and died, it made for painful reading.

At first, I had a lot of trouble with all the names of the characters and people, and countries. But, after a while, it started to make sense, and I was able to connect them to an existing frame of reference pretty well. I think it was pretty brilliantly conceived. The various peoples were extremely culturally distinct, and I really appreciated the time that Ms. Carey took to explore their cultures. It was interesting how the D'Angelines had a lot of cultural superiority that they had to get past, in order to face a huge threat from within and from the warlike, intimidating Skaldi race.

What surprised me was that I found the military aspects very fascinating. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised, because I've always had an admiration for warriors and the culture of warriors. I thought that seeing the battles and war unfold through Phedre's eyes was very interesting. I liked seeing how she used her particular skill set to aid her country in winning the war. The sacrifices she made for her country were very admirable. She showed that although she wasn't a warrior in the traditional sense, her heart was that of a warrior, willing to give everything to win and prevail, even if that involved personal sacrifice and surrender.

This was a deep book. It took me through a gamut of emotions, many not comfortable at all. It truly was epic, and I really didn't get bored, surprisingly considering its length and complexity. There were some very unpalatable aspects to this story, and the values seemed very alien to what I feel I hold sacred. However, underneath there is a commonality. Love is sacrifice, love is giving. When something is important to a person, one devotes herself to it. Even though the creeds of the people in this book seemed alien, I could identify with the idea of holding something sacred in life, and that dictating one's actions.

As one can imagine, it's not easy to sum up my thoughts on a book that is so long and rather complicated. I think I have done as best as I can, and I won't make this review any longer than necessary. I have to be honest and say I highly doubt I'll keep reading this series. It's a huge investment of my time and energy when books are this long. And since it took me to some uncomfortable places, I'm not sure I want to go through that process any more with the following books. In my mind, I want to think of Phedre and Joscelin being happy, able to find a compromise that works for both of them, and having a great love. I want to leave things that way. The good thing is, this book is a keeper, and will have fond memories of these characters who came to mean so much to me. Perhaps I will reread this book one day to revisit this fascinating world of the D'Angelines.

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Thursday, December 02, 2010

Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas

Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor (Friday Harbor, #1)Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor was a lovely little morsel to get me into the Christmas spirit (or at least more into it, since I've already started listening to Christmas music on the satellite radio--I'm a Christmas junkie. What can I say?). It was also a great introduction to Ms. Kleypas' new contemporary series. I am very happy with it, and eager to read about Mark's brothers finding their HEAs.

I really loved the heart-warming vibe of this story. I love books that show the incredible bond that can form between a man and a woman (or any group of people who become their own family), and encompass children, either through their own union, or that they have brought into their lives. This book was definitely one of those stories. I have never felt that family has to be limited to the traditional idea of a nuclear bond. Blood bonds are important, but are completely unnecessary in forming a family. This book has that message.

Mark has the magnetic charisma that Ms. Kleypas is so stellar at endowing her heroes with. He also has a little bit of the tortured hero to him, not much, but enough. His family life wasn't great, and after losing his sister, he has taken on the role as guardian to her daughter Holly, not sure if he's up for it, but determined to do his best. Somehow, along the way, his heart is changed from the man who barely does the family thing, to a father who would do anything for his daughter, even if she's only his niece. And his brother Sam also finds an incredible sense of purpose through helping to raise Holly.

What's interesting is the dynamic between Mark, Holly, and Maggie. Initially it seems as though Maggie will be the fairy godmother who comes and makes everything right with Mark and Holly. But it turns out that Mark and Holly do a lot of healing for Maggie, who is still trying to recover from losing her husband, and has sworn off marriage and having kids of her own, afraid and believing she has nothing left to give.

Lisa Kleypas is one of my favorite authors for a reason: She knows her stuff. When I read her books, I am getting a full experience. She puts the heart, a wonderful, exciting love story, the beautiful description, a great, engaging narrative, humor, and pathos all there for me to enjoy. She has a wonderful way with words, a skilled artist who paints a visually-arresting landscape with her prose. Her books never feel flat to me, they are as three-dimensional as if I was there in the scene. I have discovered this sudden urge to go to Washington and explore Friday Harbor, and hope that I will walk past Maggie's toy store, or Mark's coffee-roasting business. I want to look up Rainshadow Vineyard while I am in town. I don't know when I'll get to Washington, but I know I will definitely want to revisit Friday Harbor and its inhabitants again, and this book is short enough to pick up every year to get that lovely Christmas spirit infusion, and to stop by and visit with my new friends that I have made.

If you need a little pick-me-up, and a book to remind you why Christmas is more than just a hassle and a marketing gimmick, but a wonderful time of year to enjoy family and friends, and to remember the most important thing about the season, you will find that in Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor. Because this book shows the power of love to warm hearts and to make bonds where there was no hope for a sense of connection. The power of love to heal what is broken. If you don't believe me, just give this book a read.

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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning

Darkfever (Fever, #1)Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Darkfever took me on a very dark ride, but I enjoyed myself immensely. Ms. Moning delivers with her concept of the Fae, and with this story of the inception of a young woman's crusade to find out who murdered her sister and why. Along with Mac, I was thrown to the wolves, exposed to the cruel, ruthless, and extremely scary nature of the Fae. I am very interested in stories that show Faeries not as the cute, glittery sprites that dance around flowers and giggle in high-pitched voices, but the otherworldly type, who view humans as objects to be used and discarded, when they aren't ignored as beneath their notice. Call me weird, I guess. If I am, then Ms. Moning and I am on the same wavelength here.

Mac was a very interesting character. She seemed shallow and immature, but she wasn't. I saw her evolve very quickly as a person, and show that underneath the pink nails, perfect blonde hair, and always coordinated fashions, there was a strong woman who could hold her own. I am very close to my sister, and this book hit home with me. I can't imagine how Mac would have felt, and I don't want to. Having your sister be alive and then the next, horribly murdered. That is an awful place to be in. And to find out about your hidden heritage as a sidhe-seer, and that the Fae are ruthless, cruel and dangerous beings, and you might be one of the few who can stand against them if they decide to take over the world. Wow! Just wow! I'd say she stood up great under all that pressure.

And Barrons. I had heard about the guy. He was even better than I expected. Erudite, cultured, dangerously intelligent, powerful, good-looking, and with a hidden agenda and nature that kept me intrigued. He's manipulative and cuttingly sarcastic, but he saves Mac's life and gives her shelter, and even better, helps her to find the means to survive in a world that doesn't make a bit of sense, and to come into her destiny as a power sidhe-seer. Oh, and he owns a bookstore, a really nice one. That's another plus. I was thinking he was like Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with a little bad boy thrown in for flavor. But my mother nailed it, as she often does! He's actually like Wesley, well Bad Wesley (after he betrays Angel and gets his throat cut). She is so right, and I loved the comparison, since I adore Wesley (good/nerdy and Bad/dangerous Wesley both). Anyway, Barrons....Loved him! I thought that there was a great dynamic between Barrons and Mac, sort of a sensei/student, sidekick, antagonistic partner/frenemies, and could be something more (with the tons of sexual chemistry between them).

I've been a fan of Ms. Moning for years, since I've read most of her Highlander books, but I have to say that this book really cements my admiration for her. She writes the Fae very, very well (beautiful/ugly, otherworldy, and very dangerous), and she managed to write a story that engaged me on many levels. There were the dark elements, the humor, the appeal of an ancient, foreign city that was so exquisitely described in the narrative, a likeable heroine who had depths, and I was able to see evolve in a good way over the course of the book, a fantastic antihero, bad boy like Barrons calling my name, and very scary, intense adversaries. This book was primo. I have definitely gotten the Fever, and I want more!

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