Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lord of the Vampires by Gena Showalter

Lord of the Vampires (Royal House of Shadows, #1)Lord of the Vampires by Gena Showalter

My rating: 3.25 of 5 stars

Sadly, I was pretty disappointed with this book. If it was written by another author that I didn't have higher expectations for, I would have liked it fairly well. But for Gena Showalter, and what I know she can write, this one didn't quite measure up. I think it's the Harlequin Nocturne curse. I've found that these books don't have enough content to make this PNR fan happy. Ms. Showalter seemed to have some issues with the word count restrictions. I think she did the best she could, but I felt that the storytelling wasn't as cohesive, and some aspects were less concrete that I would like. I think as a 400 page book, this could have been an awesome story. For a 281 page book, it's rather half-done.

I wanted more world-building and stronger characterization. The world seemed a bit like a Saturday morning cartoon as far as the fairy land stricken by dark magic. I was left wanting more on that front. The bad guys were kind of cardboard. I love a wicked witch villainess, and this could have rocked in that sense. As is, the players were too sketchy for my tastes. As far as the romance/sexy bits, that was very well done as it was, although more time spent on Nicolai and Jane getting to know each other wouldn't have come amiss.

On the positive side, I really liked Jane as a heroine. Nicolai didn't impress me, but I wasn't necessarily disappointed. He was just okay. He was the standard rakish hero who happens to be a vampire. He didn't strike me as particularly tortured, but yes, he was sexy! I didn't mind the monosyllabic/neanderthal speech as much as some of my fellow readers. It fit Nicolai's character to me, so it didn't stick out. He's an elemental, primal kind of guy, and I would expect that of him for the woman he fell in love/felt a strong bond with. As far as the sex slave to beat all sex slaves angle, I think The Pleasure Slave has a somewhat similar scenario in some respects, but done much better, because there was more time for the story to ripen and bloom fully.

As much as it pains me, I can't give this one more than 3.25/5.0 stars. Ms. Showalter, you still rock for me, and I am still a loyal fan. I blame this more on the short format than on a lack of writing skills on your part. My fingers are crossed that I enjoy the following books in the series a little more. I'm not giving up on Harlequin Nocturnes yet, darn it!

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Stories by Various

Stories: All-New TalesStories: All-New Tales by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

How to review this collection.....Hmm..

One one level, for a reader who loves short stories (as I do), for the pure essence of the medium of storytelling, this is an excellent collection. There is no question that all the writers here know their craft, and very well. I had the pleasure of being introduced to many new authors I had never read, and none of the stories were boring. I know I will definitely seek out some of these new authors to read more of their stories. Others, I'm not so sure about. Not because of a lack of ability, but I'm not sure that they write the kind of stories I like to read, if the content here indeed represents their output. It's completely possible that the pieces here are a departure. I suppose that like strangers who travel down a similar path (the world of short story literature), we might meet again. As Neil Gaiman intimated in his introduction, most of these stories caught me, and had me on the line, waiting for what happens next. Like Mr. Gaiman, that is a huge draw when I read a story. If I don't care about what happens next, I don't even bother finishing the story. For pretty much all of these stories, even the ones I didn't care for, I did keep listening to find out...what happens next. I wanted to know!

On another level, I think that if a reader picks this collection up to read fantasy/science fiction/speculative fiction and that alone, they will be disappointed. Certainly, there was a good amount of those things on offer. There were also stories that I would place firmly in the literary fiction arena. Which certainly is not a bad thing if that is your sort of reading. And if you like a literary touch to your speculative fiction reading, you will probably be a happy camper. Myself, I don't care much for the genre or its conventions, so I felt a bit like I had gone into a movie theater for a science fiction 'popcorn' movie and ended up watching an IFC-style drama about all the depressing aspects of life that I don't need to be reminded about. Not to say that the latter movie isn't well done and interesting, but certainly not what I wanted to watch, or read, in this case.

So, this one is a bit of the good and bad. I loved a few of the stories. I liked more still. Others I didn't care for or I was ambivalent about. There was one with a woman who was being stalked by an admirer who gifted her in the days around Christmas in the manner of the wonderful carol, "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Take a moment, if you will, to consider how messed up that could be in execution. Yeah. I was bad, and it was highly hilarious and entertaining. That was by far my favorite story. This was by one of my favorite fantasy authors since I was a young girl, Diana Wynne Jones, who passed away this year, and will be mourned by this reader and many others. If that was her last story, I would raise my glass in toast to her. The Joanne Harris story was about Norse Gods in modern NYC, and it was funny and entertaining. Yeah, the Norse mythology part hooked me, but the wit kept me listening intently. The Jodi Picoult story, "Weights and Measures," had me sobbing hard and blowing my nose as I drove and listened. I think I'll avoid her books. I don't like going to that emotional place if I don't have to. But she can write. The most disturbing story was by Lawrence Block. It was called, "Catch and Release" and it was about a serial killer who had developed a habit of doing exactly that, except not with fish, and not all the time. It was....chilling, to say the least. Another story that I found very well-written but I found very unsettling and very sad was "The Stars are Falling," by Joe R. Lansdale. I've been wanting to read him for a while, and he's definitely a talented writer. The story itself was incredibly sad, but the imagery stuck with me. The sign of a good short story. There were others, lots of others, and I could probably talk about each one, but I won't dither here.

Narrator Comments: I think the narrators were very good. There was one man who I felt sounded a little too much like the PBS documentary narrators for my tastes. It took me out of the story because it was too monotone, and a bit too detached. The other narrators I liked very much.

Final Thoughts: My rating is an emotional one (that's how I roll, you see). I gave it three stars because it didn't quite give me what I wanted. That's on me, not the writers here. However, for the reader who has a serious love of the short story, and who wants to bask in that medium for many hours, or however long one wants to spend reading through an anthology, regardless of the genre and subject matter, I think this is a good collection to reach for. In that sense, it's probably more of a four star collection.

So I recommend this one with reservations...

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Monday, September 26, 2011

War of Love by Carole Mortimer

War Of Love (Harlequin Presents, #1727)War Of Love by Carole Mortimer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Darn those first impressions. They are very hard to overcome. Lyon sees Silke for the first time in a sexy bunny outfit. He immediately starts thinking she's one of those kinds of women. It doesn't help that his aging playboy uncle Hal seems to take a liking to her. Then Lyon gets the impression that Hal plans to marry her. The words "Gold Digger" become a fervent part of his vocabulary when he talks to Silke. But he's gotten it all wrong. Hal doesn't want to marry Silke, he wants to marry her mother, Satin, his lost love. It's easy to get names like Satin and Silke mixed up, especially since Silke is the spitting image of her mother.

Lyon is kind of a jerk for a large part of this book. But I found that I kind of liked him at the same time. He was rather stuffy and reminded me of the characters that Cary Grant, David Niven, and Rock Hudson used to play in the 50s romantic comedies. He had the wrong idea about the heroine, and was slow on the uptake, and it took most of the movie (book in this case) to get a clue. The whole time he's falling head over heels for Silke. Silke gave me the impression of a young Shirley MacLaine in some of those movies. I love those movies, so that gave me a good feeling when I was reading.

I liked Silke. She was feisty and independent, and able to take on this big, bossy guy without flinching. I think that her falling in love with Lyon made it easier for me to like him. And I could totally see why Lyon couldn't resist her. She had that vibrant energy and joy about her that made her very compelling. Lyon was the kind of guy who took everything too seriously, so he needs a woman like Silke. I'm glad he figures that out.

I also liked the fact that Lyon's uncle Hal and Silke's mother Satin play a big role in this book, because I love books about family connections, the wackier the better. Along with the tone, these elements made this a lighter-hearted read, although there were a few more angsty bits. This book reminds me of the sort that Emma Goldrick used to write, which is a nice association, since I loved her books. I was dead tired Saturday night, but I didn't want to put this down and go to sleep. In fact, I ended up finishing it before I went to sleep. It was worth it.

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Not Forgiven, Never Forgotten by Elizabeth Power

Not Forgiven, Never ForgottenNot Forgiven, Never Forgotten by Elizabeth Power

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Grace met Seth eight years ago, she was a different person. She was shallow and spoiled, and immature. It caused her to treat him cruelly, and unbeknownst to her, her grandfather got him fired. When they meet again in the present, it's clear that Seth is still holding a grudge. He buys up the controlling shares in her family's company from her grandfather's young trophy widow and Grace's ex-fiance'. So now Seth is her boss, and he wants her back in his bed. Is it just about revenge, or are the flames of passion still burning just as brightly as they did for their brief time together in the past?

I liked that Grace had come to realize that she didn't want to be the same girl she'd once been. She'd learned a lesson about what was important after the tremendous loss she'd suffered. Now she was realizing that she still loved Seth. When their passion leads to a pregnancy, they end up getting married, but can Seth love her the way she yearns to be loved by him?

This is a good Harlequin Presents. It has all the passion, drama, and angst I like in these books. I also appreciated Seth's viewpoint. He didn't always approach Grace the way I would hope, but I could understand his issues with her. At the end of the day, he was a good man, and his actions showed that he was crazy about Grace, although she couldn't see the forest for the trees. Although life had pulled them apart and in different directions, and he was angry at the way she'd dismissed him in the past, I think that he was motivated down deep by his desire to get her back, because he never got over her.

There was a poignancy in the losses that Grace suffered, losses that helped to mature her and to encourage her to get her priorities right. I think that as a mature woman, she had a lot to offer, and I can't hold what she did at eighteen against her. The same goes for Seth at twenty-two. We all make bad choices when we are young, and hopefully have the opportunity to learn from them as Grace and Seth did. I'm just glad that these two fated lovers got a second chance together. A chance to be in love, and to have a family together, which was denied the first time around.

I really liked this book, despite the sniping and back-biting between Grace and Seth initially.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sails and Sorcery by Various Authors

Sails & Sorcery: Tales of Nautical FantasySails & Sorcery: Tales of Nautical Fantasy by W.H. Horner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a good collection of stories that smoothly combine the seafaring/pirate theme with fantasy. I only disliked a couple of stories, although as a whole, I found the tone a bit on the dark side. I think the only upbeat story was by Patrick Thomas, and I would expect no less of him, since he always gets me to laugh with his stories. The writing was high quality, even if I didn't necessarily care for all the stories, and none were predictable in the slightest. One hopes to find fantasy stories ripe with imagination, and such was the case here. They also depict all the highs and lows of the human experience, even if the characters aren't necessarily human.

I am feeling too lazy to give an individual account of each story in this collection. Instead, I will end this review with a wholesale recommendation of Sails and Sorcery. It took me a month to read (with other books on the agenda at the time), and that is the best way to read this. Savor each story, one or two a day, or more if you find that you don't want to put it down.

Maybe the person who did this collection will put together an assassin-themed one. Hint, hint!

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The Boss's Inexperienced Secretary by Helen Brooks

The Boss's Inexperienced Secretary (Presents Extra)The Boss's Inexperienced Secretary by Helen Brooks

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I have to say that Kim really made this book for me. I admired her for her emotional integrity and fortitude. I liked that she took a painful past and used it to be stronger and didn't mull on the past. She isn't a wallflower at all. She's actually very fashionable and feminine, although she does have a few insecurities about her extreme height and being teased about it in the past, also from what her ex-fiance' did to her. I like that she was able to stand strong against Blaise, who is a bulldozer in most ways. She was very attracted to him from the beginning, and fell deeply in love with him, but she didn't let that compromise what was important to her as a woman. I especially loved that she was clear about what she wanted out of a relationship and from a man, and didn't play emotional games.

I really liked that through Kim, this story reflects that some young women's values don't follow the trends and shouldn't have to. That some women do still believe in sex having to meaning something for them personally, and aren't afraid to wait or afraid to stand up for what they believe they deserve. This wasn't done in a preachy way, as Kim doesn't condemn other women who are happy with no-strings sexual relationships; she just knows it's not for her. I found that this was refreshingly dealt with, and the message was clear enough without being PSA-like.

This story had me crying near the end, and I won't say why. I think that it's worth reading about for oneself. It relates very closely with Blaise and his issues. He's a man that I feel has some emotional scars that have caused him to cut himself off from love. I loved that Kim was brave enough to be real and to challenge his perceptions,and not in a pushy way. But in a way that made him realize that he couldn't continue to live his life the way he had and be a whole person.

I thought that Helen Brooks was effective at having a modern voice with this novel, but also showing that people can have their own values that cause them to step outside of what is expected for a 'modern' person, when it doesn't ring true for themselves in particular. That's a good message for this reader. Outside of that message, I enjoyed reading about the relationship between Kim and Blaise. They had a a strong relationship that involved not only passion and love, but mutual respect. And the ending was very romantic and sensual, exactly what I hoped for.

This was a very good book. Thus a 4.5/5.0 star rating.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Plain Kate by Erin Bow

Plain KatePlain Kate by Erin Bow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's hard to say exactly what I felt for this book without rambling. First of all, let me say, I think this book has one of the most tormented heroines I've ever read about, both in adult and young adult literature! How much crap can one girl go through? As I listened, I kept thinking how morose this story was. But I had to keep listening. Hoping that Plain Kate would find joy and a place to call home.

This is a novel that shows the destructive effects of prejudice in an interesting way. In this book, anyone who is different or odd has to be a 'witch.' Everyone is so busy blaming everything that goes wrong around them on witches (who are more than anything just anyone who sticks out), they don't even have the sense to go after the real cause of the problem. Even those who are outsiders don't show nearly the amount of tolerance that they should. That makes for a very bitter pill to swallow.

What I loved about this story, what kept me reading was Kate. It was not easy to walk alone, and to keep walking after all she had lost. But she does. And I admire her for that. Also her cat, Taggle. Talking about a scene stealer. I loved him. The author knows cat behavior very well. I would laugh at Taggle's antics and what he would say. He's charmed so that he can talk, but he expresses himself in very much the way I can imagine my cats talking. I definitely give the author brownie points for that.

Although it's never stated, the setting is very Russian. Even the folkore gives this story an indisputible Russian stamp. Russian elements always work for me!

The tone of this story was hard to handle at times. It's very grim in a way. There are spots of brightness and joy like a ray of sunlight shining through a cloudbank. But for the most part, this story has a very downcast feel to it. That sadness that permeated this story grabbed at me. I was glad that Taggle was there for needed comic relief. As an optimist, I looked for evidence of hope for Kate, another thing that kept me reading, even when one event had me sobbing out loud. I mean really crying. I was thinking how much can this one person suffer?

Although definitely the most depressing young adult book I've read in a long time, Plain Kate was a very good book. It's not one of those books that you put down with a smile, though. Instead, you feel a sense of moody reflection. If only to convey how ugly prejudice is, this book succeeds on that point. Substitute any class of people for the 'witches' as the persecuted group and you have a powerful story told in an imaginative way, and the lesson will get transmitted to an audience who I hope will take this lesson very seriously. I think that one should think hard about these issues. Thinking clearly might help a person to see that hatred of others because of their differences is just wrong. And a world that condones that kind of injustice makes for a cold, cruel world for all of us. If I have to read a book that's not so sunny and happy to get that message, I guess that's a good thing in the end.

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Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer

Eclipse (Twilight, #3)Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Eclipse started out pretty good, and by the time I finished it, I was once again feeling the love glow that these books give me.

My Thoughts:

1.Bella. Bella was rather annoying in this book. I have decided that she must have the lowest self-esteem of any person alive. I just don't get why she doesn't like herself, doesn't think herself worthy of others' love. I think that everyone should love themselves, and with two parents that adore her, you think that would have instilled some degree of self esteem within her. But, no! Yes, we all see our flaws magnified, but still we should love ourselves as God made us. Unique creations, good part and areas in need of improvement, alike. And to make her more annoying, her self-esteem issues make others' lives more difficult. As much as I love Edward, Bella's attitude that he's so far above her, that he couldn't love her is frustrating. She doesn't think she should take anything from him more than his love. Like he shouldn't fight for her, or be willing to die for her. When she'd do it for him. That he can't give to her selflessly, when she gives all for him. In contrast, she seemed to take Jake's love for granted. The saving grace of Meyer's portrayal of Bella is that she's actually fairly self-aware. She can see her flaws clearly, her tendency to be selfish, despite her lack of self-love. She knows she's neurotic and grasping, and seems ungrateful at times. She wants to do better, and she tries. And in other ways, she's very giving, the way she cares for others. In the end, I still like her, but she's hard to swallow at times.

2. Bella and Jacob. I'm not sure how I feel about the way Bella and Jacob's relationship changes in this book. Why does Bella have to be in love with Jacob too? A woman/man love? I am not saying that people can't feel more than one kind of love, but I just don't believe that you can love more than one person as your mate whole-hearted. In this story, it seems as though part of Bella loves Jacob as much as Edward, but she can't live without Edward, so that's why she chose him. That's a cop-out. It makes it seem like Edward is more of an addiction, and not the man she chooses to love. That she loves fiercely. I'm not discounting Bella's capacity to love Jacob. Jacob is a wonderful guy. He's very lovable and wonderful in a different way from Edward. I think that in another life Jacob was her true mate. I know that when Edward left, Jacob was there, and his love healed that wound that Edward's leaving caused Bella. He's always going to be a part of her, and even Edward knows that. I believe that he is her soulmate in that he is her best friend. But I don't think he's her other true love. So that drama of having her heart broken because she loved both guys seemed unnecessary to me. Far be it for me to tell a writer how to write her story. If that's how Ms. Meyer wanted to write it, then so be it. I just wasn't too fond of it, though. I do like the sweetness and the snarkiness and the enrichment that Jacob and Bella's friendship brings them both.

3. Jacob. I started caring deeply for Jacob in New Moon. Even when he is annoying, he's so vibrant, and it's hard to dislike him. I can see why Bella felt like he was so necessary to her life. He has that way of bringing life and love to the lives of those around him. I see him maturing into quite a man. I think some of what he does to Bella and Edward was kind of low-down, but he playing to win Bella from Edward and a future as a vampire. He thought he was doing the right thing, and I could see that, even though I can see why Bella and Edward wanted to hit him. I appreciated the perspective I gained of Jacob by learning more about his tribe, their pasts, and the awful things the Cold Ones had done to them. I can totally see why Jacob feels such hatred for the Cullens. I can see why he seemed so mercurial and he shows some emotional cruelty in moments. He has a whole lot on his plate. Not only does he have his unrequited love for Bella to deal with, he has a several tons' weight of all his pack and tribal family's issues to carry around. That's a lot, even for a six-feet, seven, enormous guy like Jake. At the end of the day, flaws and all, I want to hug him. Even if I don't think he should be with Bella in the long run. He needs a more balanced, more emotionally healthy person than Bella to be his true soulmate. One thing I don't get is why he hangs onto Bella so hard, when he knows he's not imprinted on her. Is he trying to rebel against his destiny in this way? Shape at least one thing for himself? He sees that Bella can be the one thing he can claim selfishly, that doesn't have to be about his heritage as a Quilete tribesperson? I think yes.

4. Edward. I still love him as much as I did in the first two books. Yes, he's kind of bossy sometimes, but Bella does what Bella thinks is right, and he's pretty easy for her to manipulate. He's wrapped around her finger. I love that Edward's love for Bella isn't a selfish one. He really does want what's best for her, and much of what he does comes out of that. That doesn't mean he's perfect. There are times when he does want to be selfish, or when he tries to be controlling in her best interests, but he realizes that he's wrong and he makes up for it. And I can't stay mad at him. Really, I love this character. Everything about him. He's very courtly and decent. He's also tough and protective. His beauty isn't just skin deep. It goes to the heart and that shines out, and becomes part of his appeal for this reader. I like his interactions with Jacob, how they both do the territorial guy thing, and you see some of his more primal aspects in those moments. But at the end of the day, Edward is always going to be that decent, kind man who will do the right thing even if he doesn't like it. I hurt for Edward that he could see the draw between Bella and Jacob, and how he was hurt by some of the interactions between Bella and Jacob. Almost as though Bella's love for him was so sacred, he couldn't have the normal moments with her that she shared with Jacob. I think he shows his love for Bella that he tries very hard to allow her to have that, and not to mess that up for her. I can totally see why Bella loves him, although I don't think she should put him on a pedestal. Even Edward doesn't want that.

5. Edward and Jacob talking things out. As with the movie, which I saw first, this was one of my favorite moments in this book. I felt that it shows a lot about the two characters, and they come to realize that they aren't the enemies that they believe themselves to be. They are part of a triangle that has complemented their lives even as it's complicated them, but also one that has enriched each person. I think this is when they make peace on a deep level (even though things are a bit rough after this point). Jacob comes to see how Bella can love this 'cold one', and that Edward would never be selfish when it comes to Bella. He would give her up out of love, if he thought that was what Bella wanted and needed. And Edward comes to realize how important Jacob is to Bella, and how he can give her things that Edward can't. It's a painful thing for both to accept--the importance that the other guy has in Bella's life. This part was very well done, in my opinion.

6. The Cullens' stories. I loved reading about Rosalie and Jasper's stories. Rosalie in the movies annoys me. I like her more in the books, because you can see that her enmity with Bella isn't so much against Bella, but the desire for Bella to have the life that she couldn't, and for Bella to appreciate those choices better. What happened to Rosalie was shockingly dark. It's hard to believe that people can be so wretched to do something like that. But that's real. I can't say I regret that Rosalie was 'theatrical' in exacting her revenge. Jasper's story was one of my favorite parts of the book. I have to say that other than Edward and Jacob, Jasper is up there for me as a guy in this book. I like him almost as much as Jake. I liked seeing more of him, and how Meyer takes him from being the 'strange' brother to having a rich back story and a crucial role in the story in this book. As Rosalie's story is dark, Jasper's is equally so. Even though people hate how Meyer portrays vampires, thinking is all sparkling and light, that's clearly not the case. I like the constrast that Meyer draws between the luminous beauty of the vampires, to their dark, ravenous, grasping, cruel, destructive natures. I think in some ways, these vampires scare me more than the traditional lore, and that's coming from a girl who's read vampire stories for many years. Her vampires are formidable in a more scary way than some of the traditional vampires I've read about The typical nature of the Cold Ones strikes a sharp contrast to the decent, loving, humane natures of the Cullens. I don't want to be a vampire at all, but being a Cullen....I think I'd like that very much.

7.Victoria. I can't stand her! She's so selfish and cruel. I think she got just what she deserved.

8.The Volturi. I can see a major standoff between them and the Cullens looming on the horizon. They will realize that it's folly to take the Cullens for granted. I especially despise Jane!

Overall Verdict: After the emotional rollercoaster of New Moon, it took me a while to find my feet in this installment. However, Meyer worked her spell on me once again. There are some moments of pure brilliance in this novel. I think that she has a way with words, with painting powerful imagery in my head. I loved the line in which Jacob says he is Bella's sun, but he can't fight the eclipse (which is Edward). That one line pretty much conveys the essence of this series. I love this series because it strikes me at the heart. The idea of a love that great, something beyond understanding. When you love someone, you can't always dissect out the whys, and you can't change it. You can move on, sometimes. Live your life, but part of you is always going to be with that person, and you don't ever get it back. That's what I see with Edward and Bella, and with Bella and Jake. Although not on the same scope, as an inveterate booklover, when I finish these books, I feel like part of me stays with them after I read the last page. It echoes that powerful feeling of love in a small way in my life. And I like that!

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Monday, September 19, 2011

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

A Tale Dark and GrimmA Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved, loved, loved this book! This is the kind of book that I wish I could find more of. I think it was a wonderful fix of humor, horror, suspense, angst, and a great coming of age story. I didn't think that I would appreciate a story with Hansel and Gretel thrown into other fairy tales, nor could their story sustain a full-length novel. I was wrong on both counts. Hansel and Gretel became very dear to my hearts. They started out as little children who were doing what little children did. Living their lives, having fun, basking in the love of their parents and caregivers. Until circumstances cause them to embark out into the cold, cruel, scary world.

Adam Gidwitz doesn't go easy on Hansel and Gretel, nor does he go easy on the reader. There are some very violent, disturbing aspects in this story. For that reason, I disagree with the 9 and older rating. I would say it should be 11 and older. I realize that he is true to the original Grimm's fairy tales, and I know I did read fairy tales at a younger age. So maybe some kids would be fine with it. As a grown up, I winced on some parts myself.

I loved the aspect of the narrator breaching the third wall and talking to the audience as he read. He would warn us to send the little kids to bed or to get the babysitter. He would warn the reader that some very bloody parts were coming, and good thing he did. He would encourage the reader through the very sad parts (and they were very sad). He would make hilarious asides that had me braying with laughter in my car as I listened. My sister told me I was silly when I laughed at some parts yesterday. But it was so funny! This is a truly fun book, guys! And Johnny Heller, the narrator, did such a great job of creating a lively atmosphere for this story. Kudos to him!

A Tale Dark and Grimm is a story of courage. It's a novel that shows that children have depths of endurance, ingenuity and strength that adults often dismiss. I'm not saying that every child could survive what Hansel and Gretel endure, but I think about what kids go through every day, and this message resonated with me. It's also a cautionary tale to parents. Parents need to consider carefully what it means to be a parent, and how much they cherish their children. Are children a means to an end, a possession, or are they worth their weight in gold? I'll leave that to people with kids to decide, although I have my own opinions on that.

My verdict on this book is as follows: Read it! If you like fairy tales, you definitely need to read it. If you see this on audio at your library, pick it up, just for fun. Although some parts are pretty tough, this was a very entertaining and often moving story. I borrowed this from my library, but I definitely want to get my own copy to add to my keeper shelf, preferably with my fairy tale collection.

Highly recommended!

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The Keep by F. Paul Wilson

The Keep (Adversary Cycle)The Keep by F. Paul Wilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was glad that I went into this book unaware of many of the plot elements. It made for a more exciting read. Despite this, I was still surprised as things turn out to be not as they seemed. I liked F. Paul Wilson's writing voice. It's erudite and sophisticated. He did his research about WW2 and what was going on in Europe at this time. The aspects of the Nazis' treatment of the Jews and the Gypsies made my heart hurt. I can't and never will understand such barbarity, cruelty, and inhumanity. Mr. Wilson doesn't just throw this in for a background historical context. This becomes a very important aspect of this story as it deals very much with the nature of evil, how humanity's actions perpetrate evil and its sickness in the world.

The characters were engaging, making this supernatural story feel very grounded in some respects. I felt deeply for Magda. She was a strong woman hemmed in by circumstances, a sickly father who took her granted in a way that was almost criminal. All her dreams denied because of her need to take care of him, and because she was Jewish. Glenn is an interesting character as well. He's quite enigmatic, something more than human, although he wears the cloak of humanity well for the most part. He has lost touch with some of the human emotions, as he says, but in contrast to the SS soldiers, there is no question that he is a humane person. As for the Germans... I felt sorry for Woermann, and I didn't think he was a bad man. Imagine me feeling sympathy for a German soldier in WW2. The key point that I am glad that Wilson makes clear is that not all the Germans supported or believed in what Hitler was doing. Of course, many did act to thwart Hitler, and lost their lives in the process. Something that one might not choose to acknowledge on the surface, as it's easy to label all Germans as the hated Nazis. It is the truth, none the less. History now makes it clear that there was a strong German Resistance, as well there should have been. One hopes that good men and women will not stand by and watch evil happen, and Woermann felt like he had done too much of that and it destroyed his belief in himself, and the country that he had spent most of his life serving. In contrast, there was the SS commander, Kaempffer, who was a horribly evil, vile human being. It is harder to feel sympathy for him and his ilk, in light of his vicious and unwarranted hatred and persecution of people because they happened to be of a different ethnicity than him. Part of me relished seeing the SS soldiers get their just deserts, but Wilson makes it clear that this only perpetuates the dangerous taint of evil in this story.

There were some touches I liked very much in this story:

*A very obvious nod to the Lovecraftian mythos. They find copies of some of the forbidden books of Chthulu, such as De Vermis Mysteriis, Book of Eibon, Nameless Cults, Cultes des Goules and even The Necronomicon. Lovecraft fans will likely appreciate this as I did.

*I liked the romance very much. It was good to see that Magda does get a chance to have a 'life' and to be appreciated in a way that she didn't in a man's world, with a father who doesn't respect her as much as he should, and as a member of a group of people who were horribly persecuted against. And Glenn has been alone so long. Now he isn't.

*Some parts of this novel were truly creepy! I love a good scare, so I was a happy camper. It was less scary towards the end, but still thrilling and disturbing in a different way.

*The history and setting made this WW2 history buff happy, although sad at the same time. The Shoah is a disturbing subject, even in fiction. The supernatural horror of this story pales in comparison to what kinds of horrors really happened, and the fact that behind them was human evil and institutionalized racism.

*I like the cosmic scope of this battle between good and evil. I won't go into that, because that would spoil this book, and this is a book that the less you know, the better it reads. Suffice it to say, if you like arcane supernatural fiction as I do, you might enjoy these aspects of this book.

I found myself reading this very quickly on my Kindle. I was immersed in this story, transported to 1940s Romania, and submerged in the gothic feel of this novel. Although I had no expectations, it turned to be a lot more than I even imagined. I enjoyed it a lot.

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Rebellious Rake, Innocent Governess by Elizabeth Beacon

Rebellious Rake, Innocent GovernessRebellious Rake, Innocent Governess by Elizabeth Beacon

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

I enjoyed reading this book. I think the writing style probably wouldn't work for everyone, but it has a trad regency feel that I like in a regency romance.

Unfortunately, the title and blurb are a bit misleading. The hero, Ben, really isn't that much of a rake. He's illegitimate, and that has affected him so that he doesn't 'spread his seed' liberally. He has affairs, but he is discreet about it and careful to take precautions. Charlotte is a virgin, but she's not as young and naive as the title conveys. She's five and twenty, very intelligent, and tough-minded, and she holds her own.

I thought the chemistry between Ben and Charlotte was a big plus in this story. They do a lot of verbal sparring. Charlotte has been attracted to Ben since they first met, but she doesn't want to be. Ben feels the same way, much to her surprise. She had determined that she would stay a spinster and devote her life to educating young women. She had no desire to marry. And Ben isn't a marrying man anyway. The last thing she'd do is be any man's mistress. If you're like me and you hate the whole mistress angle, don't worry. Actually, Ben doesn't hold any dishonorable intentions seriously. He knows better. He actually turns out to be quite honorable. For many reasons, I just didn't see him as a rake, which is a good thing for me.

There is a bit of suspense, but it's not the major part of the storyline. However, there were things that occurred in the previous books that were discussed and alluded to that left me in the dark regarding the suspense angle. Not enough to frustrate me or spoil the read though. I'm not real big on suspense being too prominent in a romance book, so I was happy that the focus is on the sparring/chase/advance/retreat between Ben and Charlotte. There are some passionate kisses and a well-done love scene, and the author shows very clearly that they are both crazy about each other. I believe the author did a good job in keeping this story period. There was enough sexual tension to make this a lively romance, but the characters acted as people of their times in how they conducted themselves (very important for this reader).

I think that the narrative relies a bit too heavily on internal dialogue, and less on actual conversation and action, and that would be a negative for some readers. I would have liked more of both, but overall, I thought this was a good read. I enjoyed it, and I had a smile on my face as I finished the epilogue, which was very sweet.

I've give this book a 3.75/5.0 stars because I thought it was good entertainment, and I really liked both Ben and Elizabeth. And I am a sucker for a good spinster/bachelor sparring and fighting their feelings for each other romance. I'd recommend it with reservations as expressed above.

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Something Wicked This Way ComesSomething Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Something Wicked This Way Comes is a dark fantasy tale of the upheaval that a strange carnival of souls causes when they arrive in a small, unnamed town. It delves into heavy themes of regret, longing for lost years, and the desire for maturity and escape from one's lot in the world. You see, the Carnival, ran by Coogar and Dark, feeds on all the wretched, negative emotions that the humans they prey on exude. They will find much sustenance in this Midwestern town.

Our main characters in this story are two 13 year-old boys, Jim and Will. They have been friends forever, but their friendship will be tried as Jim finds it increasingly difficult to resist the allure of the carnival and the sinister offer it can make its visitor. And their lives are put in jeopardy when they stumble on the very real threat that its merry go round poses.

I liked the lessons in this story, about the importance of treasuring the now, instead of longing futilely for the past or the future. Jim's father, Charles Halloway is a man in his 50s who is feeling his age deeply. He married slightly older than most, when he was 39, and his wife seems to be a bit younger than he, and is content in ways he is not. Mr. Halloway longs for lost youth. In contrast, Jim longs to be older, so he can escape from his single mother's clinging, stifling embrace. Both will have to face their hollow desires head on if they want to survive the threat of the carnival.

Other lessons that this story teaches of are loyalty, and the strong, powerful bonds of family and friendship. The first plays out through Jim and Will's enduring friendship, their intense bond, which helps to protect them and gives them the ability to fight the malevolence of Mr. Dark. With the second, we see the boys rely on Will's father, a seemingly unlikely hero, for their protection. I appreciated that although Halloway might seem like a frail knight in shining armor, he shows true heroism and fortitude against Dark. By means of his bookish ways and his thoughtful personality, he discovers and exploits the fatal flaw that Dark and his sinister folk hold close to their dark hearts.

Unfortunately, I didn't find listening to this story as good an experience as I would have hoped for. It felt a little bit overwritten for an audiobook read. There was excessive use of imagery, similie and metaphor for my tastes. Normally, I love the use of these literary devices, albeit a bit more sparingly. Since I am a very moody reader, it could have been that I just wasn't in the right frame of mind when I listened. But I found the extended descriptions that didn't seem to further the plot as expediently as I hoped, rather tedious.

That is not to say that I didn't like some aspects. Bradbury uses words beautifully, spurring the imagination fruitfully. I just wished that the story was a bit more straightforward. I have the feeling that this book would read a lot better than it served as a listening experience. I do think this story is a nice way to start out the fall season, to get a reader ready for Halloween and the spooky month of October. There were some spooky moments, and the evil of Dark, Coogar, and the Dust Witch give this story a very sinister vibe. Also, its look at the darker aspects of very human nature. I appreciated it from that standpoint. As I mentioned earlier in this review, the message is very good. As a person who sometimes feels her age deeply, I can appreciate Bradbury's gentle warning that humans can put too much stock in how old and how young they are and lose out on enjoying and experiencing every day, the Now. I needed that reminder. So that's for the good with this story.

I am and always will be a reader who enjoys and admires Ray Bradbury. He inspires me as a writer. I think he has a very good imagination and quite a way with words and phrases. I just know now that I should save him for when I'm in the mood for that expansive, flowery language, and a story that relies heavily on allusion and imagery, instead of concise storytelling. Also, I think my yen for the short story medium is very much appeased by his type of writing, so I am glad that I do have several of his short story volumes to read in my book collection. I will definitely attempt to read another one of his novels one day. Maybe not on audio, though.

My recommendation: Don't read this on audio if you don't care for expansive description and flowery language. This a book best experienced on paper.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Lost WorldThe Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Lost World is a classic work of action/adventure that has a lively feel that made for a very fun read. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, best known for his Sherlock Holmes stories, has a way of writing an engaging tale. For readers who fear reading books published prior to the later 20th century out of the desire to avoid dry, stale language, I would offer up this book. Although it shows the sentiments, good and bad, for the period in which it was written, the writing tone could easily be as modern as a work published in the recent years. It doesn't have much of a dated feel to this reader, except in one way that I will address later. Mr. Doyle takes the scientific debates of the later Victorian, early Edwardian period, and gives us vivid characters to speak for the different viewpoints, making what could be a dry discussion of evolutionary biology and the various proponents or antagonists therein, and instead crafting a diverting read.


Challenger is by far the most hilarious character in this story. He is completely pompous and arrogant, assured that he knows everything, and of his utter superiority in every way. He is oblivious to the idea that anything should shake his massive self-confidence. Although he is right a lot of the time, sometimes he's very, very wrong (or his way of analyzing and approaching things is just skewed), not that he lets that bother him much. Mr. Doyle created an iconic figure here, so it doesn't surprise me that he wrote other stories about Challenger. He's too good a character to let go of.


Summerlee is mostly a foil for the more vibrant, and sometimes often obnoxious Challenger. He doesn't come off quite as vivid as either Challenger or Roxton, but he adds to the scope and detail of this story with his acerbic, strong, but not bull-like in the way of Challenger, personality. He turns out to be a very valuable member of the exhibition, both for his counterpart role as the voice of reason to the more bombastic Challenger, but also for his scientific knowledge and rationality in the face of very eye-raising events in the Lost World.


Goodness, I did love this character. I have seen and encountered those in popular media who exhibit the Great White Hunter stereotype, but Roxton didn't strike me that way at all. He's an alpha male in all the good ways. He wasn't one-dimensional, only driven by the hunt and sport (as I feared), although those were important things to him. He's a man's man, but he's also a thinker and a doer. He is a man who lives life to the fullest, and doesn't let fear or 'can't dos' stand in the way. He is a lot more compassionate and crusading that I expected. I thought he would be self-serving and superior. That's not him at all. Roxton is another iconic, larger-than-life character, that no doubt fueled many of the adventurer types that have populated later literature and cinema/television stories in this genre. In his own way, Roxton is also a foil for Challenger. Challenger is convinced of his self-importance, and ever ready to take credit for what he does. Roxton likes the thrill and the challenge. He claims his trophies, but it's not about the right to brag. It's about the doing for him. His very apt, if "school of hard knocks" wisdom saves the day many a time on this journey.


Malone is the point of view of this novel. We see everything through his eyes, and his wry observations make for some very humorous moments. Doyle also uses Malone to convey the wonder of the Lost World. He describes both the dangerous and fearsome aspects of the lost world, and the rare and eye-opening beauty in a way that pulls me into the narrative head first. Malone and Roxton seem to be contrasted in ways in that Malone is a bit more of the thinker, who wishes he was the doer. He has quite a case of hero worship for Roxton, but Malone proves to be very valuable on this expedition, both as a source of information, and by his own feats that save and protect the various members on the expedition. He turns out to be a character that one should not underestimate or dismiss.

You take the good with the bad:

When it comes to older books and stories, one prepares to see some rather disappointing exhibitions of racism come into play. As a reader of classic and pulp literature, I have had it hit me very badly with some authors, and others where I was surprised at how enlightened their attitudes seemed. For the most part, this wasn't as bad as it could have been in that sense. However, it did bother me and made me wince how the one Negro character was referred to as 'our faithful' and as though he was an unintelligent object or possession pretty much every time. I found it very patronizing and offensive. His speech was very stereotyped (poor English and using the word 'Massa'), and showing slavish devotion to his white 'betters'. He was even referred to as being as intelligent as a horse. You could take that in the manner in which it was intended (which I did), as the man being less intelligent than white men, or you could take that as Doyle believing horses are smart cookies. Out of this whole book (which I had mainly favorable reactions to), this aspect left a bad taste in my mouth. It seemed as though the views of the South American natives were more enlightented than the black man. Yeah, that smarts. Also there is a tone that speaks of the inherent superiority of the white man and Europeans. I'm not beating up Doyle. I'm telling it like it is and how it affected me as a reader of color. I realize that this were the prevalent thoughts of the time. But this is not something that makes me a happy camper. Thus, it dulls the shining light of this story somewhat for this reader.

On the good side....:

The science, botany and zoology, exhibited in this story seemed quite knowledgeable, showing that Doyle did attempt to do his homework. I am no dinosaur expert, but I did recognize many of the older names for dinosaurs which probably came into common knowledge around the period in which this was written. This story also conveys a detail about the South American rainforests and tropical environs that made for a seemingly credible read. I felt like I was along for the journey, but immensely glad that I was just reading this book on my Kindle when it came to encountering vicious carnivorous species and the rather vile apemen.

End Verdict:

The Lost World is a piece of classic literature that no respectable adventure fan should go without reading. If you enjoy movies like Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider, or any other of the many treasure hunting/lost world expedition movies and tv shows, then take a little time to explore one of the forefronts in this genre of literature. I give it a thumbs up.

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Imager by LE Modesitt, Jr

Imager (Imager Portfolio, #1)Imager by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this up as an audiobook from my trusty library because I enjoyed The Magic of Recluce by this author. Although I think I liked The Magic of Recluce a little more, this was a very good book.

Mr. Modesitt's style is fairly distinctive. He writes what I would call 'grounded fantasy'. He is detail-oriented, and spends a lot of time building his world and setting the scenes. He is clearly a 'foodie', because he describes food in great detail, and it sounds very scrumptious to me. I obtained a very comprehensive visual of this world in which Rhennthyl lives, rather like Renaissance era Europe, although with some later historical touches.

The concept of people who are able to visualize things into being, and how they become part of a Collegium was interesting. I felt that the process could have been a little more dynamic when described (the scenes were a bit one-dimensional at times), but it definitely had me listening.

Although I liked the spy novel-esque vibe, this book is probably a bit more political than I like my reading to be, with a focus on the tangled situations between various governments, the one in which this book is set, and nations that they danced around conflicts with. However, I can't say that it was extraneous to the plot of this story. In fact, The Imager Collegium plays an integral war in keeping the political situation balanced by protecting the Council (who runs the country), and resolving situations in a discreet fashion that allows the status quo to continue. At times, I did feel my mind wander a little bit when the discussions in this book delved too deeply into waters of political intrigue, because this reader is just not wired to be very interested in such subject matter. I liked seeing Rhennthyl think on his feet to navigate these shark-infested waters, though.

Rhennthyl is a protagonist that I appreciated reading about. He doesn't have an easy road, despite his formidable abilities (hard-earned and honed) as an imager. I liked that he does have to struggle a little bit, work hard, and think hard, even though he advances very quickly in the hierarchy of Imagers from a primary. He felt like an everyday sort of guy, not excessively intelligent, nice, or charismatic. Just normal. Enough of all those things for me to like him, though. The guy was in a tough situation, as the Collegium was basically dangling him out as bait for the assassins who were plotting to kill young imagers. I have to say that he held his own, and managed to extricate himself from many a bad situation.

I found the romance between Rhennthyl and Celiora (spelling might not be right since I listened on audio) to be well-written and very important to this storyline. She is a good match for him. She is wise, insightful, loving, and independent and strong. He's the kind of guy who wouldn't do well with a softer, malleable woman, and Celiora is the opposite of that in all the best ways. If things progress the way I believe they will, Celiora will be a great mate for Rhennthyl.

This was a fairly long audiobook, but I was happy to keep listening. Although Modesitt's writing might be a bit too detail-oriented for some readers, I like how he builds the foundation of how his magic system works, using quite a bit of proven science that makes sense, and a concept that I found interesting. I also loved the artistic aspects, as Rhennthyl starts his training as an artist, and continues to maintain that artistic sensibility.

I mentioned above, the only shortcomings with this novel were the sometimes dry political aspects, and the less than dynamic action sequences (I'm a bit of a tough customer when it comes to that). Otherwise, I think this is a very good fantasy book, that I would recommend to those who might be interested in this sort of storyline. I'm adding the next book to my wish list.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

A Night of Scandal by Sarah Morgan

A Night of Scandal (Harlequin Presents)A Night of Scandal by Sarah Morgan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sarah Morgan has written a book that is both very funny and quite sad and poignant at the same time. She used the overlying theme of Nathaniel being an actor and built a whole story around it, including a lot of symbolism and motifs related to acting/playing roles to enrich this novel.

You see, Nathaniel is not an accoladed, successful actor for no reason. Playing roles was a way to escape from his terrible childhood, in which he was treated in a way no child should have to experience by his parents. He took the opportunity to become a Hollywood actor at the age of 16 and didn't look back. Since then, he has gone from one role to another, hiding himself in the characters he enthusiastically and vibrantly plays.

Katie is a clothing designer who prefers to hide behind the scenes. She is self-conscious about her voluptuous curves and the fact that she feels her looks pale in comparison to her glamorous model sister. She prefers being unnoticed, watching the actors play their roles and dressing them, and she is a very talented clothing designer with aspirations to make clothing for movie productions. When she meets Nathaniel, she is in awe of him, since he is one of her favorite actors, and a beautiful man. Never could she imagine that she would be embarking on an exotic interlude with him.

Despite their obvious differences, it's clear that Katie and Nathaniel have a connection that will lead them down the rocky but ultimately rewarding path to love. Katie being a determinedly bright, cheerful, communicative person, and Nathaniel always in control with his 'actor' facade on, unless he's lost in a role, giving as little as possible outside of his characters. I loved how Katie became a formidable opponent to that self-control, destroying that cold wall that the real Nathaniel hid behind (and she got revealing glimpses of the more time she spent with him). He couldn't resist her, because her spark and her joy, and her veracity hit him deep where he couldn't run away. Before long, Nathaniel is giving more to Katie than he ever shared with anyone. And Katie is in love with the real Nathaniel. But can she keep the real man from retreating behind the actor role he plays 24/7?

There were some very funny moments, and I loved those. Yet I was deeply affected at the pain and anguish that Nathaniel (and his numerous siblings) suffered and held deep in his heart. His family life was truly horrible. I felt for him and his siblings, and Ms. Morgan did such a good job of conveying this intense angst without beating the reader over the head with it. Like Katie, I could see the subtle signs that all was not as smooth and casual as Nathaniel tried to convey. Beneath his Hollywood persona was a wounded, troubled young boy that I wanted to hug. I was glad that Katie was there to love him, and that she met him head on and wasn't afraid to challenge Nathaniel to be real.

I have been a fan of Sarah Morgan for years, because she writes such rich, emotional, and hopeful stories with heroines I love a lot. They don't have to be sophisticated and gorgeous, or perfect to be wonderful heroines. Instead they have determination, emotional fortitude, and good hearts, and they make you cheer them on to get their men, and without settling for less than they deserve. I also like that her heroes are three-dimensional, and even though they might start out with undesirable traits, love causes them to grow into men that make worthy mates for their women.

This book is five stars because it had so much to offer to me. For a short read, it took me on a very comprehensive emotional journey, and it has me totally psyched to read the Notorious Wolfes series. This is one family that I need to read more about, and to see these eight siblings overcome a very sad family past to be successful people who find true love.

Highly recommended!

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Spanish Billionaire's Pregnant Wife by Lynne Graham

The Spanish Billionaire's Pregnant Wife (Virgin Brides, Arrogant Husbands, #3) (Harlequin Presents, #2795)The Spanish Billionaire's Pregnant Wife (Virgin Brides, Arrogant Husbands, #3) by Lynne Graham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was glad to read Molly's story, out of a group of half-siblings with a mother who 'got around', looking but never finding love. Molly was what I hoped for in a heroine. She is standard Lynne Graham heroine. Young, optimistic, determined in the face of adversity, chaste, but completely unable to resist her hero when he comes along, although she does make a stand when he is not giving her what she needs in their marriage.

Leandro is fairly standard for Lynne Graham, although there were a couple of novel touches. He'd been married for several years and widowed and celibate for a year prior to meeting Mollie. I was happy to finally have a hero who wasn't as big a tomcat as usual for this author. Of course, he did his share of that in the past, but at least, he wasn't including the heroine in his revolving door of girlfriends. He does a few things that annoy me, but I found his impassioned bid for Molly's love near the end of the book to be quite irresistible. I could understand some of his control/not showing emotions issues when the reveal occurs about his so-called 'happy marriage'.

I have to be honest and say I spent a significant portion of this book waiting for Molly's siblings to show up. The romance was good and sexy, nothing lacking, but I was more attracted to the family dynamics that Ms. Graham had pumped my excitement up for in the prior books. And yes, eagerly awaiting another glimpse of sexy Nikolai from Ruthless Magnate, Convenient Wife (Pregnant Brides, #2) as Molly's older brother. What can I say??? He's Russian. I love Russians! Sorry, Leandro. Russians trump Spaniards, even though you are sexy and can be a real sweetie. I was not disappointed when Molly's siblings showed up. I loved how they closed ranks around her as a family, taking her in, and making sure that she was happy, even in her relationship with Leandro. Nikolai is just the kind of older brother I think a girl needs. At any rate, it was great to see the family together, and really sweet. And I adored Ophelia, so seeing her again was great.

The epilogue was lovely as well. Molly, who had always felt unwanted and unloved, alone in the world, had a family that loved her, and a husband who would hang the moon barehanded because of his adoration for her.

Deliriously sappy (in a good way), a bit silly, sexy, a good way to spend a few hours. Nothing ground-breaking, but I wasn't looking for that. Just a good read, and I got one with this book.

Related Books:

The Ruthless Magnate's Virgin Mistress (Virgin Brides, Arrogant Husbands, #2)

The Greek Tycoon's Disobedient Bride (Virgin Brides, Arrogant Husbands, #1)

The Greek Tycoon's Defiant Bride (The Rich, the Ruthless and the Really Handsome, #2)

The Desert Sheikh's Captive Wife (The Rich, the Ruthless and the Really Handsome, #1)

The Italian Billionaire's Pregnant Bride (The Rich, the Ruthless and the Really Handsome, #3)

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Devil You Know by Mike Carey

The Devil You Know (Felix Castor, #1)The Devil You Know by Mike Carey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The tone of this novel is bleak, saturnine, and wry. Shades of horror and dark urban fantasy blended into a noir mystery that kept me guessing until the end. I love when a writer is able to pull all the elements together that he introduces to me, from beginning to end. And that's what Mike Carey does here. Tight plotting and subtle characterization. Even the characters that would seem stereotypical have depth and intensity.

Felix Castor gets added to my roster of male lead urban fantasy go-to characters. He is a cynical, flawed, morally unpredictable man who somehow shows a deep sense of right and wrong, even if his means don't exactly scream "Boy Scout." When he could have just walked away several times, or taken the easy road, saving his own skin and putting money in his pockets, he digs deeper, compelled to do the right, although not easy thing. That's what I like in a protagonist. Flawed, questionable, but in the end, someone I can root for.

The world-building and esoterical aspects of this story are distinctive and not at all easy to pin down. Here we have an self-declared atheist, who sees and exorcises ghosts and has had some very uneasy experiences with demons. I don't really see Castor so much as an atheist, but more of a hard-hearted agnostic. How could he not credit the existence of God and the devil if he sees it right in front of him? It's not a matter of belief when it's staring you in the face. Instead, he merely chooses not to look deeply into those aspects of the world he is confronted with, much like a stubborn person who refuses to look at the person who is in authority over him. Just my take, really.

Ghosts fascinate me. This book delves into the whys and wherefore of hauntings, asking the reader to ponder, even if Castor refuses to do so. He merely deals with them, sending them wherever they are supposed to go from this plane of existence in which they linger as melancholy shadows. Carey doesn't force the reader to draw conclusions, but leaves it up to those who care enough to come to their own understanding. This book fits into my view of hauntings at any rate, although I have my own opinions about what comes next, even as I question what forces keep a spirit here on this plane.

Zombies and werebeasts also have a presence in Castor's world of London. I never thought of weres the way that Carey explains them, and I appreciate the novel elements here. Zombies are merely reanimated bodies inhibited by spirits. In fact, Nick, one of Castor's contacts is a reanimated corpse who has a serious case of conspiracy theoriaisis. Which makes him good, very good at finding out information. Clearly zombies (although not called by that name) exist, but they are just another aspect that Carey doesn't explain to death. He merely puts this oddness out there in a real world context, and lets the reader do what they like with the information.

This is a dark read. Surprisingly the supernatural elements aren't what lends the darkest flavor. It's the glimpse at very human evil at the depths that made me shudder as I read. And I think Castor and I are in the same boat on that.

I really want to give this fire stars. I can't say that there was anything lacking in the execution. Carey is a very good writer. For a 500 page novel, my attention didn't wander, and I was drawn fully into this world. His characterization is very good, he sets atmosphere with a deft, expert hand, and he imparts a sophisticated flavor to this noir urban fantasy that I found very seductive. There were more than a few words that I didn't know, and wanted to look up, but I was too busy reading to be bothered, and I was able to figure out through context. He clearly appreciates London in all his flavors, and I appreciated the opportunity to pay this ancient city a visit, even though there was a dark, gritty cast to this venerable metropolis, which is altogether real, I have no doubt.

I was very impressed with this novel. It captures what I like very well in my urban fantasy. The dark and gritty, the wry humor, the intriguing supernatural elements, and in a way that doesn't make me cry same old same. Definitely one for this reader's keeper shelf, and a series that I will happily follow.

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Thursday, September 08, 2011

Grimspace by Ann Aguirre

Grimspace (Sirantha Jax, #1)Grimspace by Ann Aguirre

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

If you're looking for a science fiction yarn that will suck you right in, and keep your interest engaged at max warp speed, then this should work. Grimspace takes the concept of interplanetary travel, and integrates the idea that specific people have a gene that allows them to navigate the points within space to decrease the travel time and go to places previously impossible to travel in a reasonable distance. Sort of like a wormhole, but not really. This inner space is called Grimspace, and Sirantha Jax is such a person.

This book was just what I've been wanting to read. I love science fiction with a heavy dose of adventure, and that doesn't dwell too heavily on the tech and science explanations. It's not that I don't like science (I love it in fact), but I don't want a story bogged down with that. I want a character-driven, action-oriented, tightly written story in a science fiction universe, and that's what Ann Aguirre delivers.

The weary, scarred, nearly broken character archtype never fails to appeal to me, and such is Jax. She lost her lover and was accused of killing him and 79 souls on their last flight together. Her future is looking decidedly bleak, since the corporation she works for (think Umbrella Corporation in space, or somewhat like the Alliance for Firefly fans) has taken her into custody and are submitting her to psychological manipulation that is sure to turn her into a walking zombie. A mysterious man shows up in her room and breaks her out, and she's off on a trip across the known and unknown galaxy.

This is one of those stories where the author doesn't give you much time to start feeling comfortable and safe about any character or scenario as you read. She lulls you into a sense that things are starting to make sense, and then she pulls the rug out from under you. This was smart although not always comforting storytelling, because it puts you very much into Sirantha's shaky boots. It felt her confusion, her fear, and her almost consuming sense of loss at the terrible choices she had to make, what she had lost and could lose, and that feeling of constantly having one's back against the wall, surrounded by enemies.

Sirantha is a tough, prickly, not terribly friendly woman, but somehow she is lovable for all those traits. Her heart is deeply human and capable of unfathomable depths of feeling. She knows what needs to be done, and might inwardly balk, but goes ahead and does it, and counts the cost later. March, the man who breaks her out, turns out to be an interesting counterpart, first uneasy ally, and sometimes verbal opponent, but the person with whom Jax finds a kinship and a deep level of communication she's never known.

This is and isn't a love story. I think that those that enjoy romance will like Jax's relationship with March, but you don't have to be a romance fan to enjoy this book. Aguirre has the elements that make for a riveting love story, but she can also be ruthlessly unsentimental, and unfraid to play around with the usual romantic conventions. This adds to that uneasy feeling I got when I read this story, because I didn't really trust that anything was safe, even supposed fated love.

As far as science fiction, I like the sparse but effective scene-setting that Aguirre has done here. She has enough tech for me to buy in, but not excessive amounts that would make my eyes start rolling trying to visualize it all. This aspect again brings to mind Firefly, which is a very good association for this devoted fan of that short-lived but briliant series. The rustic elements of the space that Jax explores, the interesting characters, and juxtaposition of cynical and homespun values, not to mention the philosophical/spiritual questions that its inhabitants face, reminded me strongly of the show. However, Ms. Aguirre effectively builds her own sci-fi universe here with some unique and characteristic elements that stake her claim in the niche of space opera/sci-fi adventure.

If I had any complaint, I just wish the action sequences were more effectively paced and more expansively described. They seemed to go by way too quickly, with lost opportunity to establish themselves with memorable panache in this highly visual reader's mind. I think for a space adventure, this element really needs to shout out to the reader, but it doesn't. Don't mistake that I am implying that the action elements are poorly written (not at all), they just could have used a little more. That was really the only reason I couldn't give this five stars. On all other levels, Grimspace comes in first place. The characterization is poignant and fierce, and I deeply empathized with everything that Jax, March and crew struggled against, inner demons and outer enemies alike. I experienced this book as if I was in this corner of space, eking out my existence, and staying one step ahead of the gray men, bounty hunter, Corp bullies, and opportunists. And that made for one fantastic read. Highly recommended.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman

Odd and the Frost GiantsOdd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Odd and the Frost Giants was a quick, but very rewarding book to listen to on audio. The author himself narrated, and his voice is very pleasant to listen to. He knows his characters best and animated them as richly as he had intended them. The Norse mythology elements were interesting, and I loved how Mr. Gaiman injects a humorous view of the constant strife between the Aesir and the Frost Giants. He embodies the traits of Odin, Thor, and Loki very well, and their animal forms fit what characteristics one would attribute to the three Norse gods. In this story, the frost giants are almost portrayed, but not quite, as the underdogs, caught in a losing war with the Aesir. It cracked me up how afraid of Lady Freya's complaining the lead frost giants were.

I absolutely adored Odd, with his oh-so annoying smile that he put on his face exactly when he wanted to disarm or frustrate someone else. He was a really good guy. I liked that he was able to figure out a way out of most of the scrapes he found himself in, and met obstacles in a calm, thoughtful manner. I wanted everything to work out for this kid, because he deserved it.

I don't have much more to say since this is a pretty short little book. The only thing I could add is that I enjoyed it immensely!

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

The HobbitThe Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bilbo Baggins is a Hobbit who doesn't take much after his Took side of the family. Adventure might be in his blood, but it's not really his thing. He'd rather stay in his nice home under the Hill and have tea. But adventure comes knocking in the form of one wizard, Gandalf, and thirteen dwarves. Gandalf has volunteered Mr. Baggins to be the burglar for these dwarves. To steal into their former home and get back their treasure from a nasty dragon by the name of Smaug. Bilbo would rather say no, but he doesn't get the choice.

So off he goes on an amazing adventure that takes him across Middle Earth and to very dangerous places. Bilbo discovers just how much he is capable of (more than he imagines), and proves his worth again and again to the dwarves. Of course, Gandalf knew he was capable of that all the time.

This was a lovely story. I had never read any Tolkien prior to this, so it was fascinating getting to experience his work firsthand. He clearly has a love of song and poetry, and the epic works of bravery and adventure. It took some getting used to, but I decided I liked how he used lots of songs in this work. I would even read them aloud to myself.

I appreciated the time spent in crafting this world, replete with various types of folk, from Hobbits to Elves, Trolls, Goblins, Dwarves, a bear Shape-changer, Wargs (werewolves), talking ravens, great War Eagles, nasty giant Spiders, and even a grumpy Dragon. I liked that Mr. Tolkien told us a little of each, but primarily integrated this knowledge into the story so we could see for ourselves what they were made of.

This book was a great mix of humor and adventure. Tolkien doesn't seem to take himself too seriously, and his narrative shows a lively sense of humor and a good-spirited view of the world. It's clear that he has some things to say about what was going on in the world of his times, but he doesn't use his story to beat the reader over the head with his beliefs. Instead, one gets the clear impression that Tolkien questions the advance of industrialization and how it might cause the loss of things much more valuable in the world. And to think he uses a mythical world and mythical creatures, and tells a great story along the way, making that the clear focus. Personally, I think a writer can reveal a lot about himself without taking a reader out of the story and into editorial land, and that is clearly the case with Mr. Tolkien in this novel.

Bilbo is definitely an unlikely hero, which is one of my favorite kinds. He shows that being a hero is both a lot of work and sacrifice, yet comes naturally when one does what one feels is right, albeit not easy. I liked that as we got to know what he was capable of, so did he. His strengths felt realistic to who he was, and I liked that although people expected little of a Hobbit, Bilbo shows them just what he's made of. Bilbo gets frightened, and who can blame him? But he shows a cool head, and puts his thinking cap on, and always works through his fear. He's the kind of character that challenges the stereotype of what a hero is made of, and in a very good way. I found myself feeling very affectionate towards the guy and hoping that things worked out for him. I especially liked that although Gandalf is their companion part of the way, and a powerful wizard, he's not a deus ex machina figure in this book. His powers and sage knowledge do help, but his companions, particularly little Bilbo, mainly have to use their own strengths to extricate themselves from some nasty situations.

Although this tends to be a light-hearted book, there are some scary moments, and foes that I certainly wouldn't want to face. Poor Bilbo and his companions continually get out of one bad scrape, only to end up in a worse one. Lives are at risk, and heroes have to make their stands. But good wins out in the end, and that's what I want to see in a Goodread.

I can certainly see why The Hobbit is considered a classic. This is a rich story that can be taken on several levels. It's not only fun to read, but it has some good messages. I also found the writing to be high quality and showcasing that its author had the benefits of a classical education in folklore, myth, and legend. He combined all that to make a very delightful story that I had the pleasure to read for the first time (although not the last, I'm sure). If you have enjoyed the Lord of the Rings movies but haven't read the books, I highly recommend reading Tolkien. And The Hobbit is the best place to start.

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Monday, September 05, 2011

A Stormy Spanish Summer by Penny Jordan

A Stormy Spanish Summer (Mills & Boon Modern)A Stormy Spanish Summer by Penny Jordan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Penny Jordan was one of my all time favorite HP authors for many years. But something happened. I guess her books lost that emotional depth that attracted me. I have liked some of her recent reads, but I haven't loved any. But this book is the first in a long time that I felt that pull from. I admit she's not for everyone. She has the very angst-ridden, emotionally-tortured heroines who live in their pasts way too much. If you like Penny Jordan, then you're prepared for that going in.

There was something about this book that appealed to me. I think at lot of it was the luscious descriptions of Spain. They added beautifully to the atmosphere in this book. I think that although I didn't like the way that Vidal was holding a misconception against Felicity, he was a decent guy, and he was as misunderstood by Felicity as she was by him. The love affair between Felicity's parents was very tragic and it added to the angst component in this book. It made me hope that things would turn out okay between Vidal and Felicity. They were both decent folks and were caught in a situation that started way before they could assume personal culpability, and they deserved to fall in love and be happy in a way that Felicity's parents couldn't be.

The passion and love scenes were very well-done. Yes, there was a lot of the tortured inner dialogue and longing aspects in this story, but they didn't bother me (actually I like that, depending on the execution). I felt the fire and the longing intensity between this couple, so I was hoping that nature would take its course and it did.

This is going to be one of those 'feeling' ratings/reviews. To sum up, there was little I didn't like about this book. No reason to rate it poorly, even if it wasn't five stars. The book felt right. It met my inner qualifications for a good Harlequin Presents read. So four stars it is.

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Prince of Scandal by Annie West

Prince of ScandalPrince of Scandal by Annie West

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Annie West, you did it again. You took a hero I was prepared to hate and made him a man I fell gaga over. I was thinking that Raul would be way too arrogant, entitled, remote, supercilious, and unlikable (but why did I think that since I've loved all your heroes?). Oh no. I think it took about ten minutes into reading this book for me to see the appeal of Prince Raul.

Let me preface this by saying I really don’t get that into royalty romances (except the sheikhs..class of their own). I don’t expect to relate to Harlequin Presents, but I really can’t relate to royal romances. But that’s not an issue at all with this book. Because this royal couple are just a man and a woman, falling in love. And it was a beautiful love story to read about.

I read this book earlier today, and then I read another book in which I was given the polar opposite of Raul (but we won’t go there). Raul is a freaking prince, heir to a Kingdom, and what a man (in every sense of the word)! He's thirty years going on sixty (more like a Sylvester Stallone sixty, mind you). Tradition and duty was drummed into his head since he was four. His entire life was lived in the public eye, and he was careful to keep control and to plan everything out, not feeling deeply. When he finds out that he will lose his kingdom if he doesn’t marry Luisa, he will do whatever is necessary to see that happen. And he is rather ruthless about it. He doesn’t expect to admire, desire, and deeply love his reluctant bride.

This is one of those stories that keeps me reaching for Harlequin Presents. All the passion, drama, exotic locations, with characters that I love and want to see fall in love with each other.

Luisa was such a sweet, wonderful woman. She was strong in a way that made her very accessible to me as a reader. I could see her insecurities and identify with them. I could see how she fell for Raul and wish her happy with him, hoping he would treasure her for the unique aspects that made her up, and not try to change her. She wasn’t confident of her abilities as a future queen, but she tried her best and stayed true to herself. The last thing she wanted was to go back to the country where her grandfather lived, after he rejected her mother and Luisa herself as unfit. But she did it to save her family and friend’s farms from foreclosure.

The love scenes were great, and I especially liked the wedding night scene. That was pretty hot! I could see why Luisa found Raul very hard to resist. I certainly can’t blame her!

My favorite scene was was when Raul thinks he’s lost Luisa, and he’s shaking, so overcome with emotion. At first, Luisa thinks it’s her shaking. She can’t imagine that he feels so deeply for her, as she does for him. For a man who has spent his entire life trying to control himself so he doesn’t make any more bad mistakes like he made in the past, that was very telling. No question how much he loved Luisa.

And I admit, for a girl who never went through a princess phase, the coronation scene had me sighing breathlessly, wishing I was the long-lost heir to a principality with an arranged marriage to a breathtakingly sexy prince like Raul.

I have gotten somewhat picky about handing out five star ratings lately. But this one definitely earned it. It was very romantic and emotional, and I loved the characters. When a writer has a down-to-earth girl imagining her coronation to her very own Prince Raul, she has definitely succeeded in writing a five star book.

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