Friday, January 27, 2012

The Riccione Pregnancy by Daphne Clair

The Riccioni's PregnancyThe Riccioni Pregnancy by Daphne Clair

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When The Riccione Pregnancy starts, Zito shows up on the doorstep of Roxane, his estranged wife. Roxane left Zito because she was feeling stifled and strangled by his treatment of her as a porcelain doll. She felt that her sense of identity was being absorbed into that of only one role, his wife. She tried to communicate this to Zito, but he didn’t listen. Her only option in her mind was to leave him.

When this couple reunite, at first it felt tedious. The continual rehashing of why they separated, but never clearing anything up in reality wasn’t to my taste. In all honesty, I didn’t initially understand why Roxane kept pushing Zito away. I am not keen on the theme of estranged married couples, so that’s why I didn’t appreciate this novel initially. However, as the real issues came to light, and both Zito and Roxane did some thinking and listening, I could see the strong bond of love between them. And I could understand Roxane’s issues and why she left him. What I really loved about this story was that Zito truly did love Roxane. He just didn’t know how to show it. He was stuck in his ways because of his culture and what his ideas of loving meant (protecting, guiding, and yes, controlling). He didn’t realize that although Roxane was young, she had her own mind, and she needed to be her own person, even if she did love him and love being his wife. She wasn’t by nature a combative person, so it was hard to stand against his stronger personality and demand what she needed from him. So she started to fade like a flower out of the sun. And she left for her own survival. I came to the conclusion that their year apart was good for them both. Roxane was able to gain experience in being independent, and discover a sense of her own identity as a grown woman, and she was able to see Zito’s love in a new light.

I also liked that Zito get’s Roxane pregnant on purpose. I know that’s wrong in real life, but some reason, I like this theme a lot. Probably because it shows a hero’s desperation to keep the heroine with him by any means. I love a hero that is desperate for the heroine. I like that although Roxane was mad at first, she acknowledged that she also had a responsibility in preventing a pregnancy if she didn’t want to be pregnant, and she was able to see why Zito did it. And the pregnancy had a way of uniting this couple, forcing them to work out their issues. It helped them to see how much they had in common and how much they needed each other in their lives. I would imagine in real life, that doesn’t necessarily keep a marriage together, but it worked in this story.

So overall, I did enjoy this read. Even though I found the recriminations a bit tedious at first, merely a matter of taste--since I prefer books where the couple initiate their relationship at the beginning of the book, not when they get back together after they are/were already lovers/married--they had an important role. I believe that they helped to show why this marriage between two people, who loved each other very much and belonged together, fell apart for that short, painful time. I would recommend this book to Harlequin Presents fans who enjoy lovers reunited, married couple romance, pregnancy, and a steadfast/besotted hero themes in their romances.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How Can I Know What God Wants Me To Do?


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am walking with Christ. That is what my life is about. Each day, I want my life to reflect that I follow and believe in Christ. Part of that is making decisions in my life that honor and reflect God. It is difficult to live with uncertainty. That has nothing to do with being a Christian. Non-believers feel the same way. The difference for a Christian is that we trust in God to take care of us. Believe that His invisible hand both guides and supports us. That means that every day is a leap of faith. We walk supported by His invisible hands.

What I really, really love about being a Christian is knowing that God loves me for me. He made me into the unique person that I am for a reason. Why should he want to change that just because I gave my life to Him? He doesn’t want me to be a windup doll. He gave me a brain and the freedom of choice. But He also gave me guidelines for my life so that I could ‘live more abundantly’. If I live according to biblical principles overall, I can choose the direction my life takes. Sometimes, that’s where it gets hard. You can have two different paths that are God honoring, but one might work better for you than the other. How can you know what to do?

This booklet was very helpful. It’s quick, easy to read, and insightful. It doesn’t give you a laundry list of what you should do to make decisions. Instead, it gives guidelines.

I like the acronym they come up with for decision-making principles: GUIDE

G-Go to the Lord

U-Understand His Principles

I-Investigate Your Options

D-Discuss it With Others

E-Express Your Freedom

I think GUIDE is extremely helpful. That doesn’t mean that making decisions will always be easy. They won’t. Especially for a stone cold melancholy phlegmatic like myself. What that means is I am a worrier who has trouble making decisions because she wants to make the right decisions and dwells overly on every choice she does make. Instead of being at sea, I can at least look to these principles as a way to go through that painful decision-making process. At the end of it, I can feel some peace that I made a good decision.

I also liked the passage, “Quiet Nudges,” written by Philip Yancey. I can identify with what he’s talking about when he writes of seeing God’s guidance as he looked back on a tough part of his life. On looking back at my life, I have felt that instead of stumbling around in the dark, I was being lead down a twisted path, with God’s guiding hand on me, even when I felt most alone, most uncertain. It puts the whole leap of faith concept in perspective. We might feel like we’re walking alone, walking on thin air, but God knows and sees things deeper and farther than we ever will. And even if we fall, God can use that for our overall good and let something worthwhile come out of that process. Knowing that is a real blessing.

I received this booklet free from Our Daily Bread’s Discovery Series Bible Study, but it definitely proves its worth. If you can get a copy of this, I recommend it. If not, I think the GUIDE principles can still be helpful to you. And even without those, one thing I’d say to always remember as a Christian, good times or bad: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding. And in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths." Proverbs 3:5-6. You might not know where you’re going, but you can trust that the Lord will get you there in the end.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Her Husband To-Be by Leigh Michaels

Her Husband-To-Be (Harlequin Romance, No. 3541)Her Husband-To-Be by Leigh Michaels

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don't think I was in the mood to read this book, so it was a slow one for me. Danielle had a tendency to jump to conclusions that I found frustrating. She seemed determined to think the worst of Deke. Of course, at the end, it seems she was right about Deke in one respect, but he realized that his fear of commitment was about to cause him to lose a woman he really loved. That was a bit confusing to me, because he didn't seem like a bad guy. Of course, I didn't really get a real fix on Deke because he seemed to get cut off most of the time by Danielle in her assuming the worst about him and snapping something rude at him.

I like Leigh Michaels Harlequin books, but this one didn't do much for me. Not bad, but not very memorable or involving. I do have to say I liked the end more than most of the book, and not because it was almost over.

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Ascension by Caris Roane

Ascension (The World of Ascension #1)Ascension by Caris Roane

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Ascension took me a while to read, when I typically devour most paranormal romances. The writing style didn't grab hold of me and refuse to let me go, which is a shame. However, I did like enough about this book to keep me wanting to continue the series.

What I liked
*The concept of ascensions was captivating. I loved the idea that there were various Worlds accessible via dimensional gates that only a person who had ascended could pass through. This had some metaphysical aspects that appealed to me as a person with interest in the ethereal and the scientific.
*I liked the mix of high tech science with fantasy aspects which are integral to this book.
*The romance was strong and involving despite the dense writing style. The steam and attraction elements were well done.
*I'm a sucker for a brotherhood of warriors. What can I say? I like the way Roane sort of makes fun of the seemingly obligatory aspect of the brothers going out to a club to get drunk, drink blood, and have sex with willing, nubile females. This has become quite a convention of the paranormal genre which I can’t say I’m in love with. I like that Alison talked about how sexist that was with Kerrick, because it’s a thought I often have when I read these books, even as an admitted paranormal addict.
*Good action sequences, and the displays of superhuman abilities were well done. I had these images of large-scale, majestic battles between winged warriors. She conveyed this imagery very well.
*There's something about winged people that just does it for me. These aren’t angels, but I’d probably lump them into that category because of the whole ascended being with wings aspects.
*Endelle is a character that totally stands out. Normally, you don't see these kinds of outre', unabashedly over the top alpha females in these books. She is a good source of humor and I love that her word is law, even to this group of very powerful warriors.
*I liked the concept of the breh-hedden. While the fated mate theme is nothing new, I liked the way Roane presents her version. Although I'm not 100% keen on the idea of a hot warrior who is your fated mate smelling like fennel/licorice (Marcus, a secondary character smells like licorice to Havily), at least it's kind of unique.

What could have been better
*Honestly, I think that this could have stood a very liberal edit, at least 50 pages. I felt as though there were excessive pages and words used than were needed to tell this story. This was quite striking considering that I had a question mark in my mind over the whole concept until about 300 pages had gone by. A surgical use of words could have conveyed more of what the author intended in a more concise fashion, and made for a shorter, easier read. Admittedly, I'm a reader who prefers more short and snappy writing. I can get past that with a really compelling read. However, in the case of this story, it just felt apparent to me that not all the words she used were needed.
*I felt that most of the warrior brethren are still somewhat sketchy as far as characters. I can name them and give brief traits about them, but for all the length of the story, I would have liked a better integration of them in the narrative than I saw. This made the book have a samey feel in comparison to other popular paranormal series out there, when there is more than enough to distinguish this book from others in the genre.
*The villain was a bit sketchy too. I couldn't feel his motivations. I was told rather than shown these, and it didn't quite ring through to me. I hope that he is better developed in the subsequent books.

Final Verdict:

After a rather slow, frustrating read, with some moments of brilliance that spurred me on to keep reading, I can say I liked this book, but I did not love it. I like the ideas, and I really want to fall in love with this book. I hope that I will feel more drawn in with the subsequent books since I have gotten a introductory feel to this world. For a first book in a high concept series, Ascension isn't bad. It is just one of those books that it takes patience and determination to get through.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars .

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Behind the Palace Walls by Lynn Raye Harris

Behind the Palace WallsBehind the Palace Walls by Lynn Raye Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is fairy tale stuff. A normal girl goes to Russia, meets a billionaire, gorgeous prince, and ends up married to him. However, this fairy tale heroine has to work hard for her happy ending. Her fairy tale prince is a prisoner in his self-constructed tower of loneliness. Driven by vengeance, he has closed himself off to love. It will take a courageous, determined heroine to conquer this prince.

Russia sung its siren song to me through this book. I liked the touches that Ms. Harris added to make it realistic. I was fully immersed in this story, with its beautiful accents of Russian language and culture.

I didn't find this book as passionate as I had hoped for a Harlequin Presents, and I don't mean sex. I mean I felt that Alexei held himself too isolated from Paige, and I didn't feel a sense that he was desperate for her. That's something I love in a hero, a hero that is so much in love/captivated with the heroine that all bets are off. I wanted to see more of that feeling from Alexei. When I read a plain jane romance, I want to feel that yes, the hero is the man who finds her irresistible and falls madly in love with her. To me it seems very obvious that a man can fall for a beautiful, glamorous woman that has everything going for her. That's not escapism in its purest form, it's fairly plausible in real life. But for a prince to fall for a normal girl, that gets my romantic heart beating fast. I did feel that Paige felt hard and fast, and that Alexei held all the cards too long, not a preferred scenario for me. Eventually, I came to see that Paige had found the key to Alexei's well-guarded heart and he couldn't stay away from Paige or deny his love any longer, but I guess I didn’t feel it as much as I wanted to. As a positive, I did like that when Alexei finally opens up, he tells her Paige all his painful secrets, revealing himself fully to her.

Although Russians hail from a land of bitter cold, I view them as strong, enduring people of fiery emotions, so I wanted to see more of that emotionalism in Alexei. That was really my issue with this book, why I didn’t rate it higher. I like for a Harlequin Presents to have that zing, and this one was more of a mild buzz, although it was written well.

Still a good book, especially if you like Russian settings and Russian characters. I liked that Ms. Harris worked hard to give it an authentic feel in that regard. And I thought Paige was a good heroine, an everyday kind of girl that I imagine I would like very much if I knew her in real life. I’m so glad she got her happy ending.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Unlikely Wife by Debra Ullrick

The Unlikely Wife (Love Inspired Historical)The Unlikely Wife by Debra Ullrick

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

We often have ideas of what we want in life, but they aren’t necessarily what we need. Such was the case with Michael Bowen. He asked the Lord to send him a bride, a genteel, elegant Southern lady. The Lord sent him Selina instead. Of course, he took one look at the rough and tumble, trouser-wearing , but very beautiful young woman, and thought he’d been cheated. It turns out that Selina had her friend write those letters, unaware of the embellishments her friends had made. Nevertheless, Michael was a man who took his vows seriously, and he’d married her, even if she wasn’t the woman he’d fallen in love with via the letters they had exchanged. He would make the best of this marriage, but he didn’t believe he’d ever love her. He was afraid to love the wrong kind of woman after what his eldest brother went through with his first wife.

Selina fell in love with Michael via the letters he’d sent her. She came to Idaho from Kentucky in good faith, determined to be a good wife to her new husband. She was perfectly happy with him, with his good looks, and his honorable personality, and she was happy to have a safe home and plenty of food, and an accepting family of in-laws. However, it was heart breaking knowing that she wasn’t enough for her husband, what he wanted. That he didn’t love her for who she was. Regardless, she too had made vows and she’d keep them. They both prayed that God would make the best of their marriage, and give them the hearts for being a good husband and wife to each other.

Debra Ullrick charmed me with this novel. Her writing is crisp and lively. Her prose nicely descriptive and full of imagery. I found Selina utterly delightful. She is comfortable in her own skin. She’s a giving, generous person who is highly capable of many things, even if that list doesn’t include reading and writing, speaking genteelly, and wearing dresses. She wants to improve things about her that need improving, but she doesn’t want to fit into anyone’s box for her. She believes that God made everyone and everything unique, and that’s the way she wants to stay. I like that she stands up for herself with Michael when he tries to do the bossy husband bit. Like her, I don’t believe being a good wife means being a doormat to one’s husband. She’s perfectly willing to honor and cherish her husband, but she’s not going to let him control her. I loved how she inspired Michael to look at the small things one typically takes for granted, the ever-present beauty of the world around him. To stop and smell the roses. She continually surprised him, and showed him that God knew exactly what he needed in a wife. I loved Selina because she was easy to love. I wanted Michael to feel the same. It took him a while, but ultimately he realized just what a good woman God had brought him.

Michael was a good man. I didn’t like some of his tendencies to be narrow-minded about what he thought his life and his wife should be. I liked that he was a man of faith who truly wanted to do what was right. He was afraid that he couldn’t love his wife, but his actions showed love in that he treated her with respect, took care of her, stood up for her, and opened his life to Selina. He honored his vows, and he showed what he didn’t believe he could feel. Love is about what you do, not what you say. And I could see love in Michael’s actions towards Selina, long before he owned up or acknowledged it.

I am so glad that I read this book, because I enjoyed the story and the messages about the Christian walk in it. Along with a beautiful romance, it made for a very fulfilling read. I liked that even though this is a clean romance, Ms. Ullrick did a good job of conveying the chemistry between Selina and Michael, through their thoughts, their interactions, and their kisses, both gentle and passionate. There’s no question that they have a true love match.

The only reason I didn’t give this five stars is because Michael’s fixation on not being able to love Selina, and her efforts to change herself to make herself worthy of his life, along with the aspects about God giving him the power to love her seemed a bit unromantic. I do believe God shows us what love is, and I think that a Christian marriage should definitely involve God in the process of relating to one’s spouse, but I wanted Michael to realize that he loves Selina out of his own heart. He did come to this conclusion eventually, and realized how he wasn’t doing right by Selina trying to make her something she wasn’t. So that was good.

That issue aside, this was an infectiously readable, wonderful book. I would recommend The Unlikely Wife to any historical romance readers open to a book with an obvious Christian message. I will be reading more by this author.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Dreams of a Dark Warrior by Kresley Cole

Dreams of a Dark Warrior (Immortals After Dark #11)Dreams of a Dark Warrior by Kresley Cole

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dreams of a Dark Warrior is a story about an undying love that a man had for a woman, a long time ago. Of course, the man is a berserker, a warrior who harnesses the spirit of the lean winter bear--angry, fierce, powerful, and possessive; and the woman is an immortal valkyrie. This is a book about the danger and sacrifice of love. Love causes you to give yourself away, and there is no guarantee that you'll get anything back. But that is what love is.

CS Lewis wisely said:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Regin had to learn that if she truly wanted to have her love endure and last forever, she had to let it go, and expect no guarantees. The man she was always afraid to give herself truly to--her heart, not just her body--refused to take the little she could give. He kept coming back to her, doomed to die, again and again. Until he was reincarnated as Declan Chase. Declan is the one man who seems least deserving of her love, but he is the one man who is strong enough to demand it, to fight for it with every inch of himself, and to dare her to love him. And he is also her enemy.

This was a hard love story to write, I imagine. I could see that, because, for all its excellence, it was hard to read. Kresley Cole had to start at the beginning, and let the pieces come together until the full story was unfolded. You see the golden, shining perfection of Aidan and Regin’s relationship, and you see how she loses that. And then you see her in the modern times and the man who is the reincarnation of her lost love. Reading this, I just didn't see how it would work out. There’s such a gulf between them. Such a war to be won. I looked hard at Declan, and he was so wretched, so lost. My heart wrenched in my chest for him. Having this yawning hole within him that made him do something horrible to feel whole, to cope. And to have lost his family that way, and to have suffered torture by his inhuman enemies. It gave birth to great hatred within him, fostered by an unjust father figure. Seeing Declan as Regin's reincarnated, long, lost lover seems like a losing proposition. But things always happen for a reason. Even really bad things. Because of what Declan went through, he was the one man reborn of Aidan's soul who was strong enough to fight against the curse that bore down on these star-crossed lovers that always intervened to separate them. I love how he always reminded Regin, "Nothing keeps you from me!" It makes my knees week. Ah, Declan, for such a cold, scary man who wanted and needed nothing but vengeance, you turned out to be a real romantic.

Yes, Dreams of a Dark Lover was a strange, dark love story. But it touched me, because although I don't believe in reincarnation, I do believe love never dies. I believe that love does conquer all. Nothing destroys love. It's eternal. That was a very strong message of this story, and I got it, loud and clear.

As you can see, I loved the romance part of this book, but I also found myself riveted with the story elements. The progression of the situation which arises in Pleasure of a Dark Prince, which promises to turn the Lore on its ear. I am a die-hard fan of this series, and that goes without saying. But I feel increasingly invested with this story with each book, because Cole brings it to a new level. She doesn’t keep me at a comfort zone where I know I’ll get a guaranteed good read. She escalates all the things that make these books such a ball to read, and keeps me yearning to see what she’ll come up with next.

PS. That Lothaire is such a scoundrel! I’m in love!

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Disgraced Playboy by Caitlin Crews

The Disgraced Playboy (Harlequin Presents)The Disgraced Playboy by Caitlin Crews

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With two under my belt in the Notorious Wolfes series, I can tell this is going to be a favorite. I love the family dynamics in this series, even though you don't even see most of the family members in all the books. That tells a lot right there. This family unit has critical fractures. The Wolfes are walking wounded. Every one of them. The good news is that they are on the path to healing.

In The Disgraced Playboy, Caitlin Crews gives us Lucas' story. She takes what appears to be a shallow womanizer and shows his scarred heart. He truly believes himself incapable of being loved, the only thing he has to offer is his good looks, his charm, and his prowess in bed. Initially, seducing Grace is about the chase, about the conquest, about having her sexy body in his bed. However, Grace touches something deep inside him with each encounter. The way she hides so much behind a proper facade. He can't imagine how such a gorgeous woman can be happy so buttoned up. He doesn't know why Grace chooses this life. He's so intrigued he can't walk away for an easier conquest, and most of them are ridiculously easy. I liked that he took the time to find out.

Lucas had a different feel from the average Harlequin Presents hero. One that took me by surprised and charmed me. He reminded me more of an Anne Stuart historical hero. Beautifully male, but not at all macho. Debonair, suave, languidly elegant, all hiding a sharp, keen mind to match his sharp wit. If I'm going to read about a rake, I'd prefer he be like Lucas. Not just some walking fount of testosterone. But a real life man, completely fascinating, irresistible, and deep as the Mariana Trench.

I enjoyed the play of wits between Grace and Lucas. I never like to see the heroine give in too soon or the hero conquer the heroine before it's time. I liked that Grace was the one who took the initiative when the magic hour finally happened. It was completely her decision, not just a moment in which her hormones got the better of her. If there's anything that annoys me in these books, it's the heroine who turns into a hormonal puddle of goo over an unworthy (or at least unproven to be worthy) hero.

Caitlin Crews' writing is dense with character reflection, and it worked for this book. Those moments of inner monologue gave Lucas a depth that he needed to show, a depth that illuminated the tortured, damaged man behind the carefree, ladies' man facade.

As different as night to day from Sarah Morgan's A Night of Scandal, but I appreciated how both books showcase their authors' different writing styles and give me two love stories that have distinctive flavor, but together add a rich texture to this series. Looking forward to reading The Stolen Bride by Abby Green, another favorite Harlequin Presents author.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Unlocked by Courtney Milan

Unlocked (Turner, #1.5)Unlocked by Courtney Milan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Unlocked is a fantastic short novel about a man who faces his past, and earns the love, trust, and forgiveness of the one woman he always wanted but was afraid to go after honorably, to break out of the mode of society's expectations for him.

I totally identified with Elaine. I was picked on incessantly growing up. No matter what I did, it was the focus of ridicule in school. I followed her plan of attack and withdrew into myself, pretending like it didn't matter. If you pretend like it doesn't matter, after a while, you can deal with it and keep your composure. The prey animal that runs gets chased by the predator. Ms. Milan was spot on with her psychology in this story. It felt therapeutic to me, that she could hit at the heart of such an issue that many of us experienced, and do it so well in the context of a love story. Although I could never imagine falling in love with one of my adolescent tormenters and settling into a HEA, she made it plausible, because she showed that Evan was just a man, a man who was too scared to be real and to be stand out from the crowd in a good way. I completely fell in love with Evan, for his honest desire and efforts to make amends and to be a better man. That took so much courage, more courage than climbing a mountain. Sometimes you have to go away to grow, and he did that, and came back to fulfill his destiny. And what a man he became. Also, Elaine showed courage. She was afraid to trust Evan, to believe he had changed. He proved that he had, and she took that leap of faith when it counted. And leapt right into his arms.

Courtney Milan clearly puts a lot of thought and heart into her stories, and that's why they resonate with me. She writes about men and women who I want to see happy, to see fall in love. They aren't cardboard, samey characters. They feel distinct and real to me. I liked that Evan is somewhat awkward and afraid but works past his fear. I like that Elaine has been a social failure with a mother who is so brilliant she doesn't fit into society. She gets the passionate aspects right too. They belong there, very organic to the story's development, showing the bond between the characters, so that I hold my breath with expectation. For a die-hard historical romance novel lover, it's been a bit depressing to see an endless ocean of new books out there with few that actually move me that way romance used to. I'm glad that I have Courtney Milan's books to do that for me. It feels good to be excited about reading historical romance again. Short but sweet, Unlocked is a delightful treat for the historical romantic. I highly recommend it.

Thanks for encouraging me to pull this off the pile, MrsJ!

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Whiskey Sour by JA Konrath

Whiskey Sour (Jack Daniels Mystery, #1)Whiskey Sour by J.A. Konrath

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whiskey Sour is the first book in the Jack Daniels mystery series. Lieutenant Jack Daniels of the Chicago Police Department is an insomniac workaholic who is on the case of a brutal serial killer at work in Chicago. He goes by the name of the Gingerbread Man, and his favorite hobby is taking lives in the most brutal ways possible. Jack has made police work her life, at the expense of her marriage and peace of mind. And now, she’s too set in her ways to change. That same determination has attracted the twisted adoration of the Gingerbread Man, and he turns his attention on her in a very personal way.

This was a good suspense book. The viewpoint of the killer is absolutely chilling. He is clearly a sociopath with a mean streak a mile wide. Seeing his POV only made me root all the harder for Jack to catch him. In contrast, I liked Jack’s calm, battered but unbroken personality. She hasn’t had it easy, and the weight of the world seems to rest upon her shoulders, but she’s not self-pitying, but very matter of fact about her situation. She gave up a lot to be a good cop, and I felt bad that she couldn’t have a husband who understood her drive and loved her all the more for it. Being a softhearted person, I hope she finds someone so she doesn’t have to be lonely and turn to all the whiskey that people give her because of her name to get through the tough nights when she’s not working.

Jack kicks butt, and she’s credible in her role as a Lieutenant in the Violent Crimes Unit. She knows her stuff. I like that she’s a bit weathered by life and isn’t a spring chicken, already a mature woman in her forties with a divorce under her belt. She acts like a veteran cop, savvy and seasoned, but there was a pervasive sense of risk to her, because the killer has also been at his ‘career’ a long time. He was a wily and deadly match for her that kept me on the edge as I read. Konrath has a way of writing that keeps the tension high, but also feels very police procedural. Almost like Law and Order meets Criminal Minds.

I am becoming a big fan of straight mysteries, so I liked that aspect. I’m not and never will be a huge fan of serial killer fiction, so that was a bit of a turn-off, especially the descriptions of the gruesome details of the Gingerbread Man’s acts on his victims. Konrath isn’t lurid about it, but reading about the way this freak hurt people didn’t make for fun reading (and it probably shouldn’t). I will keep reading this series because I like Jack’s character, and the investigative aspects. However, the violence and sociopathy of the nemesis is quite disturbing and not something I’d want to delve into on too often an occasion. (Shrugs) You take the good with the bad.

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Saturday, January 07, 2012

Marley- The Other Christmas Carol by Donald Allen Kirch

Marley- The Other Christmas CarolMarley- The Other Christmas Carol by Donald Allen Kirch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wish I'd had time to read this during the past Christmas season, because it would be perfect to get a reader into the mood, and to reinforce the deep meanings of this beloved holiday.

Mr. Kirch is on point with the meaning of A Christmas Carol in this novella, and he lovingly does homage to it, while he takes the story forward in time to a family that very much needs to be reminded about the importance of family and love.

For a while, I was quite worried. I cried bitter tears, but I kept hope alive in my heart that Marley would do his magic to help little Kathy, a young girl with two bickering parents who often forget she's around. Kathy, Marley, and Tobias make this story, while parents Dan and Beverly make for some frustrating moments. But one of the most important truths of Christmas holds true here, that love is a miracle. A light that can enter into the darkest abyss, and its miraculous ability to change a human heart will ultimately triumph over the most hopeless of situations.

I enjoyed this story very much, and I recommend it to readers who love A Christmas Carol, and readers who like modern gothics and horror that bring to mind the classics in these genres.

Thanks to Donald Allen Kirch for the opportunity to read Marley-The Other Christmas Carol.

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Sandstorm by James Rollins

Sandstorm (Sigma Force #1)Sandstorm by James Rollins

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Well, if you're going to have insomnia, this is one heck of a book to have handy. It took me a long time to finish this book because I had so many irons in the fire towards the end of last year. I am so glad that I did pick it up now, because it turned out to be a very rewarding read.

Just a few of Danielle's Late Night Review Observations:

1) James Rollins writes detail-oriented, science heavy action/adventure. It took me a bit to get used to his writing style, but I have to say it really worked for me. Since I am a self-admitted science nerd, I found the scientific aspects quite interesting, and it usually didn't go too far over my head. I loved Coral Novak's character. A tough as nails special forces operative, who is also a serious brainiac. Which leads me to my next point.
2) I think Mr. Rollins really loves and respects women. Painter Crowe and Omaha Dunn are strong, pivotal characters in this novel, but the women really carry the show. This novel is underscored and wrapped in the depths and characterization of women, from the shy, introverted, scholarly, tortured Safia, to her more outgoing adoptive sister, Lady Kara, who is equally tortured, to the seriously twisted villain character (a major spoiler) if you haven't read the book, and then there are the mysterious women of the Ubar descent who trace their origins back to the Queen of Sheba. Although I thought that Lady Kara could have been more fleshed out, I think overall Rollins did a great job of rounding out this book with incredible women.
3)Painter Crowe and Omaha Dunn surprise you, because they are a lot more emotional than I would expect tough guy action heroes to be. Painter actually gets choked up a few times. It was sexy. And I loved the image of him running around in his boxers. (I'm a bit boy crazy, I freely admit) I like a man who can be free with his emotions. Omaha is in the Indiana Jones vein, but with a soft-hearted depth that Jones doesn't quite show with women; he's never fallen out of love with Safia, even with the bad mistakes he made. That's another plus with this novel that Rollins is unafraid to stray from gender conventions, and dare I say, stereotypes.
4)Going back to point 1, (forgive me, it's almost four am, and my brain is muzzy), I like that Rollins does his research to write a story that is about the possible and the plausible. I loved the fact that he built this imaginative science/fantastical adventure on a foundation of real life facts.
5)The action in this book is hot and heavy. When I said it was detailed in the science facts, don't let that scare you away. Mr. Rollins doesn't let his readers down when it comes to things blowing up, characters in serious jeopardy, and yes, violent, gruesome deaths. Nothing gratuitous mind you. If you like all the hardware and high tech action meeting the ancient treasure hunting motif, you'll be a happy camper with this novel.

Wrapping my wobbly thoughts together, I thought this would just be a four star novel because of the fact it took a while to get into the book. However, I have talked myself into a higher rating during this review, actually as I read the incredible imagery in this book at its climax. I was mentally reading with my mouth wide open. A guy who can write with this kind of depth and imagination is a man I want to read more of. I have to give this book 4.5 stars at the minimum.

Highly recommended!

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Friday, January 06, 2012

Doukakis' Apprentice by Sarah Morgan

Doukakis's Apprentice (Presents)Doukakis's Apprentice by Sarah Morgan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can totally see why one of my GRs friends has so much love for Polly. She really is a great character. Loving, hardworking, intelligent, strong, and willing to stand up for what's right. And she has a great sense of humor. I loved her loyalty to her employees. Wish more bosses were that way in real life. At first, I didn't think Mr. Doukakis was nearly good enough for her. He was a bit of a jerk to poor Polly. Fortunately, as it should be with any good romance book, I came to like and respect him, to see that he was a Control Freak more than anything. It's interesting how an insecure childhood can shape two different people in two entirely different ways. Honestly though, Polly and Damon aren't that different. They are both goal-oriented, decisive people who get the job done. Who deal with circumstances and fix what's wrong in the best way possible. People who love strong and deep, and believe in doing the right thing. Damon came on hard and tough, like he didn't care, but he also cared about his employees. He just wasn't touchy feely about it like Polly. I have to say I liked his business ethics a lot (except for the hot desk idea. Did not like that at all). So my main issues were with how Damon treated Polly. Damon couldn't see past the outside, the fae, energetic beauty of Polly, to believe that she was just as capable as he was. He was poisoned by his past experience with her and his issues with her father. I was glad that he did work past his preconceived notions to give her the credit she was due. And he fell head over heels for her. I think I might create a new shelf, the "He never even knew what hit him" shelf, because that's what happened to Mr. Doukakis when Polly came into his life.

I liked the fresh, modern feel of this story, without throwing out the things I value in a HP. I like a virgin heroine, and I like that Ms. Morgan wrote one who is identifiably modern without being promiscuous. It wouldn't make sense for her to be that way, but it makes perfect sense for her to be a virgin. And there are a lot of woman out there who might be virgins for similar reasons without being weirdos, as the media tries to present. (off soapbox) I also felt the freshness in the references to such things as You Tube and other social media. Polly knows that the target audience for her advertising campaigns are going to rely heavily on social media. So why not use those technological avenues to advertise to the younger demographics? This felt very relevant, and I never felt like I was lost in a time zone, like I can feel sometimes with category romances. I also liked that although Damon takes over Polly's dad's firm, she isn't just the secretary. She's been running the company for years and not getting credit for it. It puts her on much more equal footing than you see in the usual workplace-set HP. Cheers for that. Even though this couple get their traditional HEA, I can rest happily knowing that Polly will continue being a genius in the workplace, making a name for herself, as she deserves. And she gets the man of her dreams. Works for me.

This review is a rambling fest. I guess that's the mood I'm in. Anyway, I ended up loving this book. it's glad I am that this is my first HP read of the new year. You were right, Lulu!

Sarah Morgan has done it again. High five!

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Thursday, January 05, 2012

Spirit Bound by Christine Feehan

Spirit Bound (Sisters of the Heart, #2)Spirit Bound by Christine Feehan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's very hard to top a book like Water Bound, but this is a very good follow up. I think that Lev and Stefan managed to feel different although they are brothers, both very dominant, possessive, dangerous, edgy, and surprisingly passionate men. I'm not going to lie and say that I wouldn't have liked Stefan even if he was too much like Lev. I just have no resistance to this kind of character. But, I am glad that I liked him in a different way. Lev started out very rough and turned into, not a puppy dog when it came to Rikki, but a lethal guard dog, who loves her and her sisters so much that he can be soft for them. Stefan is still learning how to be soft. He undoubtedly loves Judith very much, but he's not going to soften the way Lev did in that way. Instead, his strength and his hard core are given to protecting his beloved and her family, her way of life. It should be interesting to see how Stefan adapts to being part of the family of sisters and husbands in Sea Haven.

Christine Feehan does have the tendency to be long-winded, so it makes her books a bit harder to read than a more concise author (my favored writing style). But she utterly worth the effort. She does passion, danger, dark love in a captivating, distinct way. It's interesting how her and Anne Stuart (my #1 author) write the same genre of romance, but do it very differently. And each one is obligatory in my reading regimen. When I want the domineering (which isn't my favorite except how she does them, go figure), possessive, lethal beyond belief hero who falls head over heels for a woman, along with an interesting intersection of mystery and paranormal, friendship, familial love, and an appreciation for the important things in life, I run to Feehan, because it's her trademark.

Okay, rambling aside. I really liked this book. It didn't move me like Water Bound, because that's just a one of a kind read. But there was a lot to offer in this book. I loved Judith. She has an effervescence, and a strange air of the zen in the middle of a swirling wind of chaos. That's not really easy to convey, but I get that from her. Stefan is the right man for her, because she can handle the things about him that make him a very tough sell for other women, and she touches his heart, makes him feel like a man, not a shadow. And for Judith, Stefan is the one. He calms her in ways she needs calm, opens her up and encourages her to be at peace with her abilities and her emotions, the good and the bad, and he meets her head on with the fiery passion she craves in life. Plus, he appreciates the importance of art in her life.

I thought long and hard, and I have to give this five stars, because even without being perfect, it meets my needs. As a emotional reviewer, that's five star criteria.

Man, these books don't help my Russian fixation at all!

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Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Hunting Ground by Patricia Briggs

Hunting Ground (Alpha & Omega, #2)Hunting Ground by Patricia Briggs

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am glad I took my time reading this. I think there are so many levels to this novel that I could miss if I breezed through. I like how simple Briggs writes. Not a lot of nonsense, extraneous prose that bogs down the story. Despite her concise narrative, she conveys so much, filling the novel with an emotional power. Her characters have a distinct feel to them from other writers. I like that she puts their flaws out there unashamedly, and it makes you love the characters even more.

I will freely admit I like the scary hero that everyone fears, but the one woman who looked into his heart and feels safe with him, and is not afraid to love him. I think that Anna and Charles have that sort of bond that is symbiotic. It doesn't really apply to call it yin and yang, but there are elements of softness and strength coming together. Truly though, their strengths complement each other. And they aren't trying to modify each other to make a more comfortable fit for the other. It's more a matter of growing in their knowledge of each other, and growing together. I find their relationship very fascinating and fulfilling, and that's another reason why I read this book slowly.

The storyline was very good as well. A lot of intrigue here, to see who was trying to destroy the Marrok's plan for an alliance when the werewolves reveal themselves to the world. The suspense was done cleverly, because you look at the key players, think someone looks likely, but look away to focus on someone else, and then you realize that things aren't the way they seem. I liked how she kept me guessing.

The werewolf parts are fantastic as usual. Just utterly fascinating. Another thing to appreciate from all angles as I read. And throw some faerie and King Arthur stuff in there, and I start thinking this story is tailor made for me. This is my kind of urban fantasy. Naturalistic characters with identifiable motivations, enough grit to keep my heart beating fast, a heroine whose strength comes from within, and who grows right in front of my eyes, for Anna is a phoenix who rose from the ashes. A to-die-for hero who makes me sigh even as he makes others shudder with fear. But then you see his soft spot is his Anna. How can I resist that? Just the right dose of romance that fits into the story so well, it neither distracts or detracts from the fantasy elements. Everything my heart desires, except the book was over, and I still wanted more.

I love you, Patricia Briggs.

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