Sunday, February 27, 2011

For the Sheikh's Pleasure by Annie West

For the Sheikh's Pleasure (Surrender to the Sheikh) (Harlequin Presents, #2656)For the Sheikh's Pleasure (Surrender to the Sheikh) by Annie West

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I put off reading this book for a while, because I didn't like the idea of the hero cold-bloodedly setting out to seduce the heroine because he was bored with his inactivity and seclusion while his broken leg was healing, and he needed a distraction. I started it once, because it's about the sister of the heroine from The Sheikh's Ransomed Bride (Surrender to the Sheikh), a book I loved. But I put it down because I wasn't in the mood for that kind of hero. As I embarked on my Weekend Harlequin Presents Marathon, a tradition I have that I truly enjoy, I picked it up and started reading it again. I am glad I finally did read this book.

How could I have doubted you, Annie West? You know how to write a great, intense romance. The process of showing the courtship and the seduction of Arik by Rosalie (note I didn't say the opposite) was so beautifully executed by you. Arik thought he knew all the moves, had women figured out, and knew how to get his pleasure out of a woman and move on. He saw Rosalie and wanted her body. But when he spent time with her, saw the mix of vulnerability and beauty that was her, not just her body, he wanted more from her. I have trouble with playboy heroes that think all women are the same, just warm bodies for pleasure. So I was predisposed to dislike Arik. He had to work very hard for me to like him. But he succeeded. He succeeded by showing he was a sensitive man. The way he gave Rosalie time, and let her come to him, made allowances for her skittishness, and didn't force the issue, that really helped me to like him. Also how he became obsessed with her, completely drawn in, so that by the time they were actually lovers, it was more than just that. For the short time period that this happened in, I have to give Ms. West some credit. I've read books where the couples have a love affair that spans much longer time periods, and the love aspect, the connection was missing. Not with this book.

Like the other books that I've read by Annie West, the intensity that turns a HP from an enjoyable read to a real pleasure and a favorite, was there in spades with this book. I liked how the struggle within Rosalie to claim back her life, to open her heart to love and a physical relationship with man after she was raped was shown. Even though Arik didn't know she was raped until near the end, he was very caring and considerate to her, and that helped Rosalie get past her fears and her issues. And Arik went from being kind of shallow, a rich playboy (even if he did have a heart for his people and worked hard, his attitude towards women was very shallow) to a deep, caring, loving man who fell truly in love, completely captivated by a woman before my eyes. I think this was done so well.

This was a great book. I'm a big fan of sheikh romances, but I liked that this was one was more intimate. There were hints about Arik's wealthy and powerful identity, but that was in the background. The focus was on the relationship between Rosalie and Arik. How a wary heart found a once shallow man and turned him into a man who was so lovestruck, he wanted nothing more than the one woman he had initially decided to seduce out of boredom. That's the most awesome kind of book that takes a story you're kind of 'meh' about, and completely draws you in.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Marriage: For Business or Pleasure? by Nicola Marsh

Marriage: For Business or Pleasure? (Harlequin Presents, #2898)Marriage: For Business or Pleasure? by Nicola Marsh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an enjoyable book about two people who had fallen in love as teens, but had gone their separate ways because of outside influences. However, ten years apart didn’t break their bond. When Brittany comes back to the small town in Australia where she and Nick grew up, it’s strictly for business. But she finds her feelings for Nick had only been suppressed, not vanished. She doesn’t want to be emotionally susceptible to the man who broke her heart. She’s worked hard in the past ten years to build a reputation and to climb the advertising ladder. A business relationship with her first love could help her significantly. She needs him to agree to allowing her to use his sugar cane farm to pitch as an advertising campaign so she can get her raise. He won’t do it unless she agrees to marry him, for business. When she finds out that she owes a debt to her abusive father, she agrees. However, the hard part is keeping those feelings at bay.

Although I’m not a big fan of the reunited lovers theme, Ms. Marsh handles it well. Also, I love seeing heroines who are successful in their careers, and financially independent, on equal to the heroes. Ms. Marsh did a great job of showing me who Nick was, revealing his emotional vulnerabilities in a way that I wish was done more often in the Harlequin Presents books. Instead of Brittany being the only one who seemed emotionally at risk, it was clear that Nick had a lot at stake on that level as well. I liked that Nick and Brittany had been friends since childhood, and their love grew out of their bond. It must have made their separation that much more painful. I appreciated that time was taken to show the rebuilding of Brittany and Nick’s relationship outside of the sexual aspect. That would have been way too easy to show them jumping into intimacy when they had to work to rebuild the trust between them that was lost when they parted.

This was a good, quick Saturday read, and I’m glad to know I have more of Nicola Marsh’s books in my tbr pile to read. She has a way with words and writes a very good romance.

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The Portrait by Megan Chance

The PortraitThe Portrait by Megan Chance

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Portrait was dark, angsty and riveting. At times, I wasn’t sure that I liked Jonas. However, I came to see that his initial cruelty towards Imogene arose out of his despair, his hopelessness about his life. People are often cruel out of self-defense. He felt a sense of powerlessness about his mental illness, and his dependence on his patrons to keep a roof over his head and to be able to do the one thing that had meaning for him, to pursue his art. As the book progresses, I saw that Jonas was a man who was very much capable of loving Imogene, a man that love could change for the better, merely by giving him hope and by having one person who saw him truly, who would not leave him or give up on him, even through the bad times, That was Imogene.

Imogene saddened me at times. Her lack of self-esteem, and lack of belief in herself. However, it was soon clear why she felt that way. Her father was just awful. He put his one daughter on a pedestal, and barely noticed the other, when he wasn’t putting her down and inflicting emotional cruelty on her. She’d spent most of her life feeling like she was inadequate to her family, feeling her mother’s disgust and hatred. Always below the mark of comparison to her sister, Chloe. When her father sends her to New York City to study art, she is determined to make a good artist out of herself, to make her father proud.

Instead she meets Jonas, a brilliant painter, who treats her cruelly at first, but captivates her and causes her to fall in love with him. Imogene wasn’t a fool. She went into the love affair with Jonas with her eyes open. She had been used by a man before, not measuring up, and she didn’t think that this larger-than-life artist could really love her for who she was. She was wrong. In Imogene, Jonas saw a masterpiece, a hidden beauty. But he also loved her for who she was. For her love and acceptance of him.

I love dark and angsty romance, but I was afraid this was going to be too dark for me. I’m glad to see that I was wrong. I loved the message of hope in this story. Jonas’ mental condition was not an easy fix. Many people with bi-polar disorder don’t fare well, particularly in the past, when they didn’t even have a diagnosis and no good way to treat this mental condition. With this story, I know things won’t be easy for Jonas or Imogene, but they have their love and their commitment to each other to help them through the dark times. Imogene has seen Jonas at his worst, and it didn’t make her run away. She only left because she thought he didn’t love her or that she didn’t matter. But she came back because he was the one for her, her true love. She would stay by his side forever, no matter what, knowing that he truly wanted her. Thankfully, Jonas loves her for who she is, and that’s what she always needed in her life. As this book ends, I felt a sense of hope that made this dark read just my kind of story. I could believe that although life won’t be easy, they will have a happy ending together. And that’s why I love romance novels.

Thanks to Denise for kindly loaning me this book for my Kindle!

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Once Bitten, Twice Shy by Jennifer Rardin

Once Bitten, Twice Shy (Jaz Parks, #1)Once Bitten, Twice Shy by Jennifer Rardin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once Bitten, Twice Shy was a fun read. I thought the storyline was interesting, and I liked the characters. Jaz is a tough heroine, but she’s also got the gooey, humane center that makes a heroine more realistic and likable to me. I am a sucker for a smart-aleck, wisecracking lead character, and Jaz can definitely hold her own. I identified with her in her complicated family dynamics. I liked that family was important to her, even though she was also in a very involving career. She’s a good person, and very strong to have made it through the trauma she suffered in her past.

I liked the dynamics of her relationship with Vayl, a vampire who is hundreds of years old, and who carries his own set of emotional scars. They had very good chemistry, even from the beginning. The tension between them heightened my enjoyment of the book, as it was clear that they both had feelings for each other, but weren’t sure what they were going to do about them just yet. Vayl is sexy and dangerous, but quite sweet, in his ancient, aristocratic way. I liked the allure of his power, and how he uses it, but his inherent sense of honor and right and wrong. I could tell he cares very deeply for Jaz, and would just about anything for her, although she’d never ask him to do so. I like the vampire elements—distinct enough to give this story its own feel, but with all the elements that I like to see in a vampire story.

At times, the writing seemed a little disorganized, like Ms. Rardin had a lot to accomplish, but wasn’t quite sure how to get from point A to point Z. I felt like I was only just getting the tip of the iceberg of this world, but since this is only the first book, I wasn’t too hung up on that. Some scenes moved a little too fast, and I felt like I was missing something from the narrative, making me feel I had to reread some parts. Also, the villains weren’t highly developed, just evil and obnoxious, but lacking any depths that would make them intriguing. The major plotline for this story was interesting, but it could have used a little more enhancement to give this story its maximum life. However, I really did enjoy this book.

The mix of humor with the angsty elements was well done, and I liked Jaz and Vayl’s various sidekicks and assets they encountered as they accomplished their covert supernatural spy work. The best part of this story was the chemistry and the symbiotic relationship between Jaz and Vayl, and that’s what will have me coming back for more in this series. As I read, I felt sad that Ms. Rardin is no longer with us. She clearly had talent, and I am glad she was able to bring her vampire story to life before she passed from this world.

Although there were some technical issues with this book, I found it enjoyable, and deserving of the four star rating I gave it. I’d recommend it to readers who enjoy a female lead urban fantasy with a nice mix of action, angst, romantic tension, and supernatural elements. I’ve already added the forthcoming books to my 'to be read’ list.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Elsewhere by Will Shetterly

ElsewhereElsewhere by Will Shetterly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Elsewhere is moody. It's from the viewpoint of young people who have dropped out and live on the streets, forming their own families and relationships. I don't especially feel comfortable with the idea of kids living this way, but that's one of the best things about reading. You get to see different worlds, lives, existences, and realize that humans are all the same, no matter what kind of lives they live.

Ron came to the Bordertown to find his older brother. He was living in denial, and this trip helped him to find himself, to let go of notions about who he was and what was important in life. I liked seeing him go through that evolution.

It was interesting how his name changed as his personality, or should I say who he thought he was, went through transitions. It was kind of ironic that he found peace within when his last manifestation would have seemed the most unfortunate. He found a family in the place he least expected it, but he sort of came full circle. To say more would be spoil the book.

This is a thoughtful book, with the capacity to inspire deep emotions in a reader. I picked it up because I am intensely interested in stories about Faerie, and this book is very good for those who like Faerie. Along with those elements is a deep story that gives a little more along with the surface fantastical elements. This book is about how we think we express our identities, purpose, bonds of loyalty and affection. How a person takes all those ingredients and uses them to become who they are meant to be, if they can make it through the painful metamorphosis that leads to the final state: that of the butterfly who emerges from its chrysalis, not without a lot of pain and effort.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastards, #1)The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to say that I was very impressed with this story. The worldbuilding was excellent and distinct to me. The setting of this book was like Pre-Renaissance Italy, with Faerie architectural elements and fantastical magic thrown in, but never overwhelming. I especially appreciated that Mr. Lynch went with a group of characters who were admittedly seedy, but utterly lovable, The Gentlemen Bastards. This whole world is very much on the edge of unpalatability. You can see and smell the filthy and unsavory environments. This story is full of cutthroats and unscrupulous criminals of all kinds. And there is the mafia element. I give the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) and the Russia mafia a free pass, because there is something very fascinating about them to me. But I really dislike the Italian mafia. Maybe this book was therapy for me, because I had to deal with the whole “Made Man” vibe, but it wasn’t the eyesore that I expected. Probably because the Gentleman Bastards are mainly swindlers and thieves, not blood-thirsty murderers with no code. But they walk in this dangerous world, and often face the nasty aspects (and characters) that end up with people dying painfully and in very bloody ways.

I’m touchy-feely when it comes to characters when I read books. I read for pleasure, and I need to have that connection to the characters in books that will end up being favorites. I totally had that with this book. From the beginning, Locke won me over. He’s one of those characters that literally steal their way into my heart. He had this ability to be a thorn in people’s sides, but it’s not from a mean spirited/cruel standpoint. It’s just like he’s a little imp and he can’t help himself. He wasn’t perfect, and I loved him for it. Locke is the planner of the operation. He’s not the muscle, and he’s not even the most book smart. In fact, he’s scrawny and small, and a terrible fighter. Funny, how his personality is so larger than life. Each member of his gang plays an important role, and that’s outside of the fact that they are his friends, his adopted brothers. Locke has to learn a lesson about loyalty as a very young man, lessons that he never forgets.

I do love a good coming of age story, and so I liked how Mr. Lynch starts this story with Locke as a very young boy, and shows him growing up, and how he ends up being the leader of the Gentleman Bastards. He also shows how Locke’s relationships with his boys develop. By the time the story gets to present day, I have already established a bond to these guys. I like how everything ties together in this story, from the flashbacks of Locke and the other Gentlemen Bastards as a boy, the anecdotes about the lands in this book, their beliefs, the way that the criminal and societal structures develop, everything. This is definitely a book where no parts are just throwaway filler. It all ties together, and I appreciated that my attention when I reading was rewarded with a ‘payoff.’

The Lies of Locke Lamora is not a genteel or gentle read. The language and talk is often quite vulgar and rough. It didn’t bother me, because this is the world that Locke lives in. He might inhabit a dukedom full of rich nobles, but they live up in the clouds, and he lives down in the dirty, rough streets of Camorr. It’s the real world, not the pretty one. This book is about criminals; and while the main character are lovable, admirable men with a highly-developed sense of ethics, they are thieves, swindlers, and liars. However, there is no question that they won my loyalty. This is a book where there are shades of gray, and bonds between the characters are complex. It’s not always just about friendship and loyalty. It’s as much about least cost differential, and do it or die kind of relationships. The people you have to ‘deal with’ because you don’t have much of a choice. You don’t have to like them. Heck, you might hate their guts even. Kind of real life, but ramped up for those of us who are fortunate to live in a saner, safer everyday world. The suspense inherent in this world made for an exciting read. There were also very welcome humorous moments that had me cracking up; and the bonding between Locke and his friends, the sage advice given to him, in a very earthy way by his mentor and leader Chains, and the family they formed was heart-warming.

If you are like me, and you don’t normally like the whole wiseguys/mafia thing, don’t pass this book by just for those reasons. Yes, there are some violent, cruel elements in this story. However, Locke and his boys always had my loyalty, and their actions never made me lose faith in them. On the other hand, if you do like the caper stories where the small guys work together to get their piece of the pie, and you are rooting for them the whole time, you should read this book. This one is going on my favorites list, and I am excited read more of the Gentleman Bastards’ capers.

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures, #1)The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie established to me that it would be a great read from the first page. Ian is such an unusual hero, and he is thoroughly lovable. And Beth is one of those rare heroines who really does deserve a hero like Ian. Their relationship felt right and it felt meant to be. Watching them grow closer, to acknowledge their unique, rich relationship, was very gratifying. Their bond was emotional, sensual, spiritual, and intellectual. Although there were parts of each other that they didn’t fully grasp, they kept their hearts open to coming to accept and understand each other. There were no judgments against each other given. Romance stories like this are my favorite kind: where two people can find love with each other, without judgments or the fear that they have to let go of who they are or lose who they are to be in a fulfilling relationship with each other.

Ms. Ashley did a wonderful job of showing me who Ian was. That what others considered a ‘madness’, a defect, a shortcoming, was merely a different way of processing things, and very beautiful and worthwhile in its uniqueness. The depiction of Ian’s condition reminded me of Water Bound by Christine Feehan, another book that looks at a main character with a form of autism. It was not exactly the same as Ian’s, but I saw some commonalities in Ian and Rikki. They looked at the world in a profoundly different way, saw beauty with an enhanced detail that few of us are able to appreciate. Although that makes it hard to filter out sensations, the artist, the lover of beauty in me wonders how this can be a bad thing, if the person has the love and understanding, the space to breathe when things get too intense for them. Apparently Ian has Asperger's Syndrome. Back in the 19th century, no one would have known what this was, or understood it, and so for Ian to be able to function and to be productive, wonderfully so, was so lovely to read about. To see how his shame became a triumph. It was just beautiful to see. It really was. I loved the hope that Ms. Ashley gave me as I read. I know that she never tried to deny that Ian’s life wouldn’t be easy, but he had the love of his family, their acceptance, and the love of Beth to help him through it. So his affliction was really a gift. That is so true to life for us. Those of us who are different look at ourselves as flawed. However, I believe that our differences are God-given, and they are given to us for a reason. We may not see it that way, but as we walk through life, we come to realize that because of who we are we can give something special to the world that no one else can. That’s how I perceived Ian’s madness. Definitely a gift in disguise.

I loved seeing Ian’s family. All big, tough, larger-than-life men, none of them perfect. They reminded me of my father’s family of brothers. A room full of big, loud-talking men. It made me smile. I am very much looking forward to reading stories about each and every one of them, and hopefully Ian’s nephew Daniel will get a book when he’s older too.

This book was rich and fulfilling. I read it pretty quickly, because it fed my soul. I want to thank Ms. Ashley for giving us Ian and Beth’s beautiful love story.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Winter's Bride by Catherine Archer

Winter's Bride (Season's Brides, #1) (Harlequin Historical, #477)Winter's Bride (Season's Brides, #1) by Catherine Archer

My rating: 2.75 of 5 stars

It took me so long to read this book, and my frame of mind was an issue, in part. But also, the fact that the heroine started to get on my nerves fairly early into the book really hurt this book in my estimation. I could understand her situation, not knowing who she was or remembering her past. However, her instincts told her the truth about her relationship with Tristan and her daughter, Sabina. She was stubbornly persistent on supporting her parents, even to the point of throwing her life and happiness away. I definitely understand loving your parents and wanting to support and take care of them, but that didn’t mean she had to marry a man who was clearly bad.

I really did like Tristan. He was a good man, loving, understanding, supportive. He was so good with Sabina, and he cared about people. Lily was lucky to have him. I also ended up falling in love with Benedict, Tristan’s older brother. I liked how he supported Tristan and wanted him to be happy, even if it was with a woman whose parents were allied with their family’s enemies.

I am intrigued with Tristan's brothers and Genevieve, the woman he was betrothed to, who practically grew up with he and his brothers, so I have already made notes to get the other books in this series. Although I wasn’t that impressed with this book, I would like to continue to read this series. I think I will like the other books more, especially if the heroines aren’t as illogical and frustrating as Lily.

Overall rating: 2.75/5.0 stars.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Their Convenient Marriage by Mary Lyons

Their Convenient Marriage (Harlequin Presents)Their Convenient Marriage by Mary Lyons

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book has been on my tbr pile so long, I finally decided I'd get it over and read it. I guess my instincts that made me put off reading it were correct. I was pretty underwhelmed from the beginning. It wasn't the fault of the hero Antonio, although he was pretty arrogant and kind of chauvinistic. It was Gina who got on my nerves. Although she considered herself mature and sophisticated, she didn't act the part. For a good-looking, rich, educated, blue-eyed blonde, who in her own words had lots of boyfriends and her share of lovers, she was awfully insecure. It became an enormous issue in her relationship with Antonio, almost destroying their marriage. She simply didn't have the capacity to trust him, despite the fact that he had never lied to her or treated her badly.

I don't DNF books that often, so I pushed through. I liked the reconciliation scene, that Gina swallowed her pride and apologized, but it was sad that she had to have confirmation that Antonio had not lied to her. I wish she had followed her heart and believed in him.

This was not a horrible book. It was just mediocre, and I don't really like to spend my time on books that are so-so, and rather underwhelming. At any rate, it's definitely not a keeper. Good news is that's one more book out of my tbr pile, and an empty space in my collection for a future keeper.

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Naked in Death by JD Robb

Naked in Death (In Death #1)Naked in Death by J.D. Robb

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I liked this as a mystery just as much as I liked it as a romance. Love a good mystery that keeps me guessing. I had my ideas about who the culprit was, and I was more or less right, although I had that kernel of doubt. I liked how this was a very well-plotted mystery. I think that it helped that the underlying aspects were so dark that I didn't think the story would go there.

Eve is a great protagonist. She's tough, intelligent, but vulnerable in some ways. She's a very good cop, and she goes after justice, and she's refreshingly down-to-earth. I can identify with the fact that she lets work take over her life, and I'm glad that Rourke is there to make that harder for her to do that.

Speaking of Rourke....He was nice...real nice. Of course, I'm understating the case. I like that he didn't let Eve's issues stand in the way of their relationship, but he wasn't out to change her or remake her into a more manageable woman for his life. What attracted him to her was what he continued to admire about her. I love a guy who isn't afraid of a strong woman. I like how he's very supportive and caring for her, and he can get tough with her emotionally when it's necessary. If he wasn't able to, he never would have made it past the titanium barriers she keeps up. He gave up off a good future husband vibe loud and clear. It cracked me up that every time they would look up information on a company, Rourke owned it. I think his net worth should be more than 3.8 billion, since he owns pretty much everything. He's like a Harlequin Presents hero, the billionaire businessman who is too hot to resist. Rourke's larger than life personality and his developing relationship with Eve made an appreciated counterbalance to the mystery involving horrible misogyny and violence against women. Even in the future, things didn't change that much. The same forces at work in the present world are involved, hiding their ugliness behind a squeaky clean facade.

I liked the futuristic elements. They were well-written and believable, but they weren't distracting to the mystery elements. Used very well to give me a good visual of the setting. And since I love noir mixed with most genres, the future noir in this book went over great for me.

I can't say I'm a big Nora Roberts fan, but I definitely like this series, and I want to read more of them. I won't commit to almost forty books/stories, just yet, but I think I can agree to the next several. :)

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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Tears of Heaven by Jewel Adams

Tears of Heaven A Love StoryTears of Heaven A Love Story by Jewel Adams/J. Adams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tears of Heaven was a very moving romance. It made me cry in several scenes. The devotion between Heaven and Sergei really hit home with me. I felt for Heaven, all that she had gone through, and her emotional anguish, and then her fear to open herself up to loving. And Sergei never grew impatient with her, his love steadfast, gentle, and protective--the balm to heal her wounds.

Although this is a short novella, the progression of the love affair between Heaven and Sergei felt right. They started out as respectful strangers, Sergei initially just Heaven’s employer. As Sergei taught Heaven that she could trust him, their relationship became a deep, understanding friendship and bloomed into a profound love. Sergei’s proposal made me cry. It was very romantic! I guess I was really in the mood for a sweet, emotional love story, and this definitely sated my need. I wish that there were more sweet, romantic interracial romances out there like this. If you know some, point me in the right direction. I know that Jewel Adams definitely writes these kinds of stories, so I will be reading more of her. Although the love scenes are hinted at, not described, she managed to capture the passion that was a part of Heaven and Sergei’s relationship excellently, and I didn't feel cheated that there weren't more details. And this is perfect for readers who actively seek out clean romance.

The inspirational aspects of this story are readily apparent, and make this story even richer. Heaven’s relationship with God, and her faith as a member of the LDS Church is a part of her that gives her a lot of strength. It felt realistic and natural that she would pray and let her faith dictate the lifestyle she pursued. Readers who are in the LDS Church will appreciate these elements, but those who don’t share those beliefs can still appreciate this story, as Heaven and Sergei’s faith are well-integrated aspects of their personalities, and the spiritual elements were not presented in a preachy manner.

Heaven’s issues with her abusive ex-boyfriend were well-handled. It was clear that Heaven had her reasons for staying in the relationship as long as she did, but her self-esteem and strong beliefs had give her the strength to leave. She still suffered from fears and anxiety as her ex-boyfriend stalks her, but I liked how Sergei stood by her and protected her, and that she didn’t let those stand in the way of having the relationship of her long-cherished dreams with Sergei.

I could probably go on, but I want the future readers to get to enjoy this book without me revealing too much. Tears of Heaven is a wonderful story. I am thankful to Ms. Jewel Adams for the opportunity to read and enjoy this story. She has made a loyal reader out of me.

I was listening to 'Halo' on the way home, and it fits this book perfectly.

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Monday, February 07, 2011

The Panther and the Pyramid by Bonnie Vanak

The Panther & the Pyramid (Khamsin Egyptian #4)The Panther & the Pyramid by Bonnie Vanak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I knew I was going to love Graham’s story when I was introduced to him in his brother’s book, The Cobra and the Concubine. He was angry and isolated, but he had an inner sadness that called to me. I have been excited to read this book for a while, but I put it off. I’m so glad I finally read it. It was a wonderful book, and it made me cry.

Graham was everything I hoped for, and more. I love him dearly! He’s fierce and deadly, tough and masculine, but sweet and gentle. His loneliness and anguish called out to me, and made me want to soothe him. His inner battle with despair and rage at his past, and the progression to peace and contentment was not an easy thing to read about. Like Jillian, I suffered, longing to see this man gain some inner tranquility. However, his journey was realistic. The wounds that a man like Graham carried would not be easily lanced and healed. It was a struggle for him, and for Jillian, and Ms. Vanak illustrated this process beautifully. I liked how she wrote Graham going full circle, back to the desert that had created the man he was. The Khamsin men say that the desert will strip a man bare of all pretense, leaving only the essential man, and some are driven crazy in the process. Jillian watched as the civilized English duke that she knew and married became a fierce, cold desert warrior. She railed at the gulf that separated them, and as Graham's friend Ramses had told her, she would need all her strength to save Graham and to bring him back across that void and into her loving embrace.

The passion and love between Jillian and Graham was thrilling. I loved their tender moments together just as much if not more, the way their hearts reached out to each other. They were like two lost souls who found each other, even though their circumstances and the fate that binds them were not ideal. In a way, it felt like their destinies were to love each other, so that their wounds (caused by the same man) could be healed. I loved how Graham encouraged Jillian to emerge from the gray cocoon her father had imprisoned her in. He admired her intelligence, finding it attractive. He coaxed her to be free and to embrace her wild inner spirit. Jillian had to tame the wild animal within Graham that had been terribly abused, teach him to open up and to love and to trust. I loved that they were both virgins, and had the rare privilege to explore passion for the first time together. Both of them were nervous their first time, but felt a connection, a powerful attraction that drew them together. The love scenes were enthralling, enticing and fiery—-the way good love scenes should be.

This book was a success on so many levels. The courtship of Jillian and Graham, the resolution of Graham and Jillian’s pasts, the beautiful and sometimes harsh depiction of life for the Bedouin in Arabia. The majestic and treacherous nature of the desert. This is what I long for in historical romance. Ms. Vanak wrote a fantastic book here. It has definitely earned its five star rating and a spot on my keeper shelf. I treasure the time I spent reading Graham and Jillian’s deep, emotional, beautiful love story.

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Saturday, February 05, 2011

Untameable Rogue by Kelly Hunter

Untameable Rogue (Modern Heat)Untameable Rogue by Kelly Hunter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kelly Hunter is two for two now. I tend to avoid the Modern Romances for Harlequin Presents, but now I know I can get a satisfying read when I reach for her books. She writes chemistry beautifully. The attraction between her characters sizzle, and the dialogue jumps off the page. Her characters are layered, three-dimensional, and have issues, but they work through them and communicate.

I love the Bennett family, just from the two I've read, this and The Maverick's Greek Island Mistress. I am especially fond of Jake, and I am excited to read Red Hot Renegade. She's already set the stage for the reunion between lonely warrior Jake, and delicate but strong Jianne. I wanted to meet the rest of the Bennett clan after the first book, so I worked on acquiring the Bennett books that were published, and I bought this one when I saw it was out, expecting an enjoyable read. However, Madeline and Luke's romance took me by surprise. I was expecting the story to be about a hot affair that slowly becomes love, but there was a depth and an intensity to their emotions from the start. They didn't fall mindlessly into bed right away. They spent some time getting to know each other first. Initially, a compelling attraction drew them together, but they weren't sure they liked each other and what the other person represented in each of their minds. But respect developed very quickly. They just had to come to realize that they could be together, and not compromise who they both felt were integral aspects of their being. I loved the touches about Luke's job. He defuses bomb and explosive devices, and he can be called to work at a mere moment's notice. He's not eager to give that job up, for any woman, so he settles for casual relationships. But he wants more with Madeline, even if he's not sure how to make that happen. Madeline is considered an older man's trophy wife, despite the fact that she brought his corporation back from the brink, and expanded it in the time since his death. I like that she freely admits that she didn't love her husband and married him for security. After her tumultuous youth, she deserved it. I respected her for who she was. Sometimes marriage is about things other than true love. William loved her and gave her security, esteem, and devotion when she'd never had that as an orphan and ward of the state. She showed William respect and devotion in turn, and he had no reason to complain. She didn't deserve being judged by anyone. I'm glad Luke realized that he was wrong to judge her that way.

I loved the Singaporean setting. Something about Asia always calls my name. I could see the appeal that drew Madeline, Luke, and Jake there, despite them being Australian. I loved how Madeline adopted Po, a streetwise, orphaned youth, and provided a safe, stable home for him with Jake, and later Luke and herself. And then there is Madeline's bossy savvy housekeeper who saw Luke clearly despite his tough warrior facade. These elements just reinforced the feeling of family that this book resonated with, in a delightful way.

Kelly Hunter has made it to my autobuy list after this book (although I had previously made a note to read all her Bennett books after The Maverick's Greek Island Mistress), and I am counting the days until Red Hot Renegade is in print. I'd recommend her to fans of short contemporary romance.

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Friday, February 04, 2011

The Infernal Game: Cold Warriors by Rebecca Levene

The Infernal Game: Cold WarriorsThe Infernal Game: Cold Warriors by Rebecca Levene

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ms. Levene managed to write a book here that is an equal mix of supernatural and spy noir. There are many twists and turns here. I thought I had figured everything out, but I hadn't even discerned the tip of the iceberg. The whole storyline that seemed to be apparent turned into something even more sinister. I liked how tense the narrative was. Ms. Levene writes tautly, like a spy thriller, and the well-executed, horrifying supernatural elements pricked me into another level of unease. This story was very dark, with some ugly use of magics and villains who worked for the real bad guy (if you know who I mean), but it was quite appealing and well-written, and I didn't feel icked out as I read it. I liked that there were real heroes in this story, even if they were weary and conflicted (like spies who had been at the game too long, chess pieces acting out their roles in a game that they didn't understand). Even in this dark universe, there were still some people who knew that there were some boundaries that shouldn't be crossed. Although there is a bit of gore, it was not over-the-top, and it was written in a way that was true to the understated espionage tone.

This book is highly recommended for horror/dark fantasy fans who would like some spy thriller elements thrown in and deftly executed, at that. I'm looking forward to reading the next book in the series, because I like this idea, and I have a real soft spot for Morgan, the protagonist.

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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Riddler's Gift by Greg Hamerton

The Riddler's Gift (Lifesong, #1)The Riddler's Gift by Greg Hamerton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I read a really good book, it's hard to write a review, because my words don't measure up to what I have read as an example of good writing. But, I do my best. Let me make it clear that I'm hardly a critical scholar when it comes to fantasy. Before I added this to my epic fantasy shelf, I checked out the definition of epic fantasy. As I read the description of epic fantasy elements, I ticked off a mental checklist, and this book fits all the descriptions of epic fantasy. Of course, as I said, I'm not an expert, but I felt that Mr. Hamerton wrote a story that took what was expected in an epic fantasy read, and did it very well, writing a story that mattered to him and captivated me as I read.

The Magic System

Interesting, and very complex. The magical system was one part science, one part high mathematics (those parts had me scratching my head a bit), one part spiritual, and one part philosophical. At times, it went a little over my head, but that’s okay. I like to feel that I don’t have everything all figured out when I read a book. I liked that the magic had rules to it. The magic couldn't come out of nowhere. It had to have a source, and the source could be depleted. In essence, even the most powerful wizard or magic-user could be magicked out. There was balance, although the ‘dark lord’ character, Cabal the Darkmaster, wanted to take that balance and shift it so he controlled all the magic available, so he could rule over all the lands. Thankfully, the good guys are fighting to keep that from happening.


The main character was a young woman named Tabitha Serannon. She was an endearing person, seemingly normal and not overly endowed with any particular strength, or so it seemed. Her gift was not something she thought greatly of. Her talent for music, and a good voice. If anything, it was a way to provide a living for herself, and it made her happy. Her mother was a Lightgifter (essentially a type of good magician with the power to heal using the force of light), and she one day hoped to follow in her footsteps, finding her parents’ simple life as farmers not to her taste. As always, the yearning for adventure becomes a double-edged sword, and this young woman goes through a baptism of fire that is as believable as it is stirring. Although she has a bit of prodding along the way from a enigmatic figure named Twardy Zarost, otherwise known as the Riddler, nothing comes easy to this young woman. Through it all, I found her to be an engaging, likeable heroine. There is also Garyll Glavenor, the most formidable warrior in the land, the Swordmaster, who commands the Swords, an elite guard of warriors who protects the kingdom of Eyri. Love blooms between the couple, a love that is put to the test over the course of this book, each thinking they are not good or right enough for each other, and that life leads them in different directions. There is also Ashley Logan, an apprentice in the LIghtgifters who also will face a very harrowing experience in this novel. And Mr. Hamerton gives us a truly harrowing villain in Kirjath Arkell, a Shadowcaster who is given the job of retrieving the lost ring coveted by the Darkmaster. You can guess where the ring ends up. Mr. Hamerton brought these characters to life, and I felt their pain and suffering as they fought an epic battle against the forces of dark, with the power to overwhelm them from the inside out.


Mr. Hamerton creates his own world that has a medieval feel. There is an added dynamic, in which the world is partitioned based on the deleterious effects of a power-mad wizard. Most people don’t seem to know this save the eight wizards of the Gyre, who go through some incredible changes to keep this secret and to maintain a delicate balance.


I’ll try to keep this from becoming too much of a book report and keep it simple here. The most dominant theme here is that each person fights an intimate battle against evil. Evil is a slippery slope. It starts out as a selfish need or thought that can lead to corruption. Each character in this book fights that battle, and some fight to the depths of their soul against succumbing to evil. It was very painful to see what some of the characters that I grew to love as I read this story went through, how they suffered, and their struggle against the effects of an evil that had worked its way throughout the kingdom. Although this message could seem fatalistic, I don’t take it that way. In fact, there is hope in knowing that we do have a choice. It might not be easy, but we can choose to do what’s right. We might fall, and fail ourselves and others, but that doesn’t mean the war is over. We pick ourselves up again to fight the next battle. So there is always hope, in the end.

Overall Thoughts

I want to thank Mr. Hamerton for the opportunity to read his book. Fantasy is one of my all-time favorite genres, but I am expanding my palate, trying to decide what I like in the various subgenres. So his offer to read his book was definitely one that I wanted to take him up on. Additionally, I like discovering gems in the literary world. Books that don’t get a lot of exposure, but are wonderful reads. This is definitely one of those books. His writing was lovely. There was an ease and a beauty to Mr. Hamerton’s use of language. He showed a poise in his use of language and the writer’s craft. I was completely engaged with this story, even to the point where it hurt physically to read some parts. When the story took a very dark turn, I didn’t despair, because I felt that I could trust Mr. Hamerton to bring to fruition a story that had a shining heart, which was what stood out to me from the beginning, despite some of the very dark elements. To be honest, I felt that this book was scratching the surface as far as potential for further stories, as there were elements that were left unresolved. But, I was satisfied at the progression and the conclusion of this story.

When an author approaches me to review his/her book, I am always crossing my fingers, hoping that I will enjoy the book and give the author some good exposure. After The Riddler’s Gift, I am happy to say that I loved this book, and I would recommend it to fantasy readers. From a layperson’s perspective, I would consider this good quality fantasy, and I doubt that many readers would find much at all to be disappointed about herein. I would guess it would be quite to the contrary, instead. At any rate, I know I enjoyed it immensely, and now I am waiting to read the forthcoming book(s) in this series.

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