Thursday, May 31, 2012

Captain BloodCaptain Blood by Rafael Sabatini

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is definitely a book to read if a reader likes pirate/swashbuckling novels. The setting, characters, scenes, and dialogue took me back to the 17th century in a time of political turmoil and wild seas and locales where the wars between countries play out in a very personal matter.  And Peter Blood, the main character is one that claims your affection and doesn't let go.  I sometimes find reading on the Kindle a chore, but with this story, I got so sucked in, that before I knew it, it was ending. And I had a smile on my face as I read the last sentence.

Captain Blood is not a predictable read, at least for me.  I literally didn't know what was going to happen from one scene to the next.  I loved reading about Peter rely on his wits and face each obstacle with courage and determination, always working towards the end goal, even when it didn't seem in sight.  He is a charismatic character who kept me captivated, through his quick thinking, and his powerful manner of expressing himself.   Although Captain Blood is a pirate, he is very much a man of honor, for his profession. He is, in my opinion, the preferred antihero. One who doesn't let go of his sense of honor, even if it doesn't necessarily follow the established rules.  And because of that, I rooted for him.

The one part that didn't sit right with me as I read, was how a distinction was made between Peter Blood and the English captives sold into slavery and the negro slaves.  As though they were too good to be slaves when the negroes weren't.  I realize that it was the ideas of race at the time, but that doesn't make it right.  Slavery to me is wrong, period. It doesn't make it more wrong when the enslaved is a white man versus a black man.  I wouldn't presume to call the author a racist. I think he was painting a realistic picture for the times, and I can't fault them for it.  I personally find the idea of racial superiority offensive, and it can slap me in the face even in the context of a historical work.  Overall it was a pebble in my shoe as I read, but not so much I couldn't read the book. 

Otherwise, I enjoyed this novel.  I've always had a yen for pirate stories, and it's great to go back and read a classic in the genre. Rafael Sabatini is an author who writes this type of story well, so I'll be back to read more of his books.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My Surrender (The Rose Hunters Trilogy #3)My Surrender by Connie Brockway

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well. I wrote a review, but it never got posted. Let's try this again.

This is a romance book, but it is also a book about choices and sacrifice.  At least three of the characters in this book had to make choices and sacrifices that destroyed their reputations and their credibility to achieve a goal.  As this book begins, I saw Charlotte on the crux of changing her life irrevocably.  And it only gets more hairy. I asked myself why it bothered me that she was going to do what she did.  Should I have worried so much about that. Reputation is important, but is it that important to me that I truly regretted what Charlotte did, even knowing why.  I was involved in this story, but not necessarily in a good way at some places. I guess that's makes a book successful for me. When I read this book, I wasn't just marking time. I was feeling a lot, and suffering along with Charlotte.  She showed courage, and that courage translated to me as I read.  I don't look at fiction books as a guide for behavior, but I do believe that almost every book I read has some gem that I can ponder and let it help me in some way.  That might sound strange to most people, but not to me.  It is rarely a literal thing.  Most often, it is an encouragement in my own walk of life.  From this book, I took the idea that I had to take advantage of the adversity I face to let it build me up instead of tearing me down.  That courage is not being unafraid or uncertain. Courage is doing in the face of that fear.  And the fears are many in life.  If we let one fear overtake us, we will fall beneath so many. It's a domino effect. The reasons don't have to translate directly to my life.  But deep down, that human experience always does.

As far as the romance, I felt the potency of it.  Charlotte and Dand, both seemingly hardened to such a thing, found love together.  A common goal brought them into each other's sphere, and love found its way into both of their hearts.  I like to think that a mutual respect was the foundation to that love. When others around them saw little but the facade they projected, they looked deeper and saw the whys and not the whats.  Considering the path that their lives had been forced into by circumstance, that was a rewarding thing in this book.  

Overall, although I didn't like some of the aspects of this story (It has me wincing emotionally in parts), I loved the romance between Charlotte and Dand, and I loved their characters, and their willingness to sacrifice so much for doing the right thing.  That's the core of this book, and that's what calls to me as a reader.  So I count this as a well-written, enjoyable read.

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Bride in a Gilded Cage by Abby Green

Bride in a Gilded CageBride in a Gilded Cage by Abby Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love how Abby Green incorporated tango into this book so thoroughly.  I love dancing, so that hooked me instantly.  Tango helps to bring Isobel and Rafael together, it builds a bridge, and provides a pathway for the expression for the passion and pain in their relationship. Just for this alone, I would give this a four star rating.  I also loved Rafael's point of view.  Although Isobel saw him as cold, hard, ruthless and unethical, with no desire or ability to love her the way she wanted, I could see from the beginning that Rafael was equally vulnerable to her.  Just in a different way. While she had never loved or lost, he had, and it mad it just that much harder to open his heart to another woman.  I loved seeing the evolution of his feelings for Isobel, how he who thought he had it all figured came to realize he did not. Because love is not some equation to be balanced or dismissed.  Instead love is a force.

When I read Abby Green's books, I always get emotionally involved. She incites my senses and taps at the doors of my heart. In this case, I engaged by the story of a man and a woman who fought against the realization that they couldn't keep from falling in love. They fought it, hard.  It wasn't always an easy road for me. Isobel frustrated me at times, although I do understand why she struggled so.  She was very young, and having the realization that your life is not your own is very, very hard to accept.  She thought she was doomed to a lifelong marriage without love.  I think that in the case of Rafael, I felt sympathetic to him, with the exception of not acknowledging he loved Isobel (ironically, the thing she most needed).  He wanted to be a good husband, but she fought him at every turn.  I guess that was good in the end, because he realized that he couldn't put her in a box and take her for granted.  He had to fight for that love, and embrace that he had something very valuable to lose, his heart. In return, he could gain the love of his wife.

This was a good book.  I'd recommend it to Harlequin Presents readers who enjoy a dramatic, sensual, and emotional story.

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Dragon Actually by G.A. Aiken

Dragon Actually (Dragon Kin, #1)Dragon Actually by G.A. Aiken
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

GA Aiken is a big name in paranormal romances, both under this cognomen and also as Shelly Laurenston. This was my first time reading her, and I had a positive experience.

What I liked right away about this story was the nice flow of the narrative. I was in a big reading slump where it seemed like it was harder to read books and get sucked in, and I liked how easy it was to fall into the world of this book. Aiken has some very good humor, and not afraid to make it involve some physical interactions between the characters. Along the lines of The Three Stooges and Bugs Bunny, to be clear.

I do have to say that her female characters stand out with their brash, tough nature. I liked Annwyl a bit more than Rhiannon, even though I acknowledge that both were shaped by their environment. Annwyl is the real deal when it comes to being a warrior. She didn’t earn her name of Annwyl the Bloody for no reason. Let’s just say that few will survive a sword fight with her without coming away about eight to ten inches shorter on the top. They are a good match for the heroes, meeting these big tough guys toe to toe. In some cases even more vicious at times.

The other thing I enjoyed a lot were the dragons. I liked the descriptions of them and their lifestyles, although it was quite disconcerting for them to talk so casually about eating humans and gleeful in killing them in various ways. Yeah, I know dragons probably view humans the way we do cows. But still…. Anyway, if one has a ‘what if’ about the lifestyles of the big and scaly, then Aiken will hook you up.

What I think was a bit too much for me was the graphic depictions of violence. In a way, I think it works for her, considering this harsh, brutal world of warring humans and dragons. On the other hand, I am a bit squeamish when it comes to descriptions of men getting gutted and their entrails falling out. And people getting squished to a pulp. If you can get past this, a reader will enjoy the action elements and the fact that the heroines go to battle hardcore.

Readers who like their romance on the hot and steamy side will not be disappointed. I am not into BDSM at all, but the chains that featured heavily in the second story certainly made things interesting.

Overall, quite satisfied. I liked Annwyl and Fearghus’ story a bit more, but the story of Fearghus’ parents (Rhiannon and Bercelak)’ famed courtship was very good as well. I will read more in this series.

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

One Chance at Love by Carole Mortimer

One Chance At Love (Harlequin Presents, No 1117)One Chance At Love by Carole Mortimer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ah, this was a cute book.  Zach has the nerd appeal big time.  I can't resist a guy who is hot and a nerd, or perhaps the nerdiness enhances the appeal of a hot guy for me big time.    I am a sucker for love at first sight stories, and finding loving where you least expect it, and this one definitely has that vibe.  Dizzy saw Zach for the first time and fell like a ton of bricks, although she manages to keep her composure fairly well (point in her favor).  Zach also feels things for his niece's young friend that are not at all avuncular.  What to do about that!  Zach won me over big time with his Nerdy Professor demeanor.  I find that so hot!  Whenever she described his bad clothes and glasses, I started fanning myself.  I am a sick woman!  But I see that also rocked for Dizzy.  I like how she made a comment near the end when he bought some better clothes that she'd have to beat the women off her Greek God.  Girls who ignore the nerds are missing out!  (Keep in mind I am not referring to the uber-geeks with poor grooming and hygiene skills and no social skills that hang out at Comic-Con. They do nothing for me)

The one that troubles me about this book is how Dizzy doesn't get closure on her parents. Is she always going to be estranged from them?  I can't imagine having parents like that. No one has perfect parents, but Dizzy's are a nightmare.  At least she has Zach, Christi, and her friends.  I feel like her parents are the ones missing out on knowing a great daughter.

Yeah, this one doesn't have a lot of drama, but I didn't miss it.  I loved the sweet and passionate scenes between Dizzy, and how they weren't fooling Christi at all that they had made a love connection.  Also loved the literary aspects of this novel with Dizzy and Zach's secret careers.

Although sweet and simple, this one was a winner. Thumbs up.

*Now Danielle wants to find more romance novels with nerdy heroes. The deliciously and lickably nerdy Bruce Banner played by Mark Ruffalo in The Avengers movie did not help to diminish my thing for nerds at all!*

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Storm's Heart (Elder Races, #2)Storm's Heart by Thea Harrison

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Dragon Bound was an extremely hard act to follow, but I think Thea Harrison did a good job with her second book in the Elder Races series.  I wondered how she could top Dragos, because he is so VERY!  I am glad she didn't try to do that. She gave us a distinct hero with Tiago, and I like his differences, although he had the crazy/dangerous/possessive/jealous/fierce vibe of Dragos. Honestly, I would have missed that part...a lot.  Tiago held his own as a hero, but not quite as compelling as Dragos.  Having that, how many heroes would be?  Overall, I felt that he had some nice layers to his character.  Lethal but also very caring and loving.  The best kind of PNR hero! He reminded me of a mix of a Mack truck and a Golden Retriever.

Niniane, I liked her a lot. She was sort of the anti-urban fantasy heroine in all the best ways. She was soft and needy and vulnerable in a realistic way. But she was also very strong-minded, determined, in her force of will, which speaks to me more. Considering what happened with her family and her exile from the world of the Dark Fae, she definitely put on her big girl panties to go back to reclaim her throne. And that took some serious chutzpah.  I liked that along the way, I was able to see an organic reaction to this process.  Who wouldn't be scared to death, uncertain, and conflicted? I know I've felt that way even in much less dangerous situations. I could identify with her insecurities in that way, and it made her more lovable and admirable to me. I loved her warm, friendly way with people. I was glad that the betrayal she faced early in her life didn't destroy her capacity for that. I can see her being a very effective, beloved ruler.

Niniane and Tiago as a couple was something I couldn't quite get my mind around after I read Dragon Bound and knew they were next. But they worked together very well.  Tiago is at heart a male who needs someone to fight for, someone to protect.  Niniane has that softness to her personality that is a very good contrast to Tiago, and they complement each other very well.  I would have enjoyed a bit longer book for their courtship in all honesty.  But what I got was very enjoyable.  Definitely some hot, sexy loving times for this couple! Talking about lightning striking, the earth moving, and seeing stars!  I loved that they worked past the issues in their relationship and faced some serious obstacles as a united front.

The storyline was interesting, focused on Niniane's process of assuming the throne of the Dark Fae.  A mix of fae politics, but a focus on the main characters and a few intriguing secondary characters.  So far, I love me Aryl, the harpy sentinel. I know I said it in my Dragon Bound review, but she reminds me of Xhex from the Black Dagger Brotherhood books by JR Ward in the best ways.  Looking forward to more of her. Some interesting chemistry between Rune and Carling, the Queen of the Vampyres.

Ms. Harrison is a very good writer. She provides a compelling story that kept me reading, with some sexy, swoonworthy romance that keeps a PNR fan more than happy.  I feel her world-building is a star element in this series, so along with the aspects of PNR I can't resist, it makes her a safe bet for this fan.  I do have to say I was a little disappointed at the very rapid climax and denouement, and not too happy about the fate of a character I liked and hoped to see more of.  I wasn't as satisfied with the ending because of those issues.  That's why I couldn't quite give this five stars, although it is very close.

Overall, a very satisfying follow up to Dragon Bound, and more validation that Thea Harrison is a PNR author to follow.  4.5/5.0 stars

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Vicar's Daughter to Viscount's Lady by Louise Allen

Vicar's Daughter to Viscount's LadyVicar's Daughter to Viscount's Lady by Louise Allen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a storyline about two people who end up starting a marriage under less than ideal circumstances. Arabella is pregnant by a man who lied to her, used her, and abandoned her. Leaving her pregnant. She tracks him down to find he has died, and gains an audience with his younger brother. Elliot has fought to find his own path instead of living in his brother's shadow. And he's done a spectacular job. While Rafe lived a dissolute, selfish life, Elliot sought a productive one, full of physical activity and meaning. When a bedraggled, plain young woman comes to his home and claims to be pregnant by his brother, he knows it's upon his honor to do the right thing and marry her, even she did not demand this of him. He is determined to do right by her, and in the process cultivate a decent marriage, raising his brother's child as his own. Haha, the great plans we make! Soon, both Arabella and Elliott realize a comfortable marriage is not enough for either of them.

What I liked:

* I found Elliott to be a good hero, but also quite realistic. I liked that he was troubled by the fact that his wife wasn't carrying his own child, and insecure enough to resent the fact that his brother's child might inherit his title. It was only to be expected, since he's a normal human being, not a saint. I couldn't blame him. We don't always have the most unselfish feelings about things, and I would expect no less of him to struggle with this, in light of the fact that he had never been close to his brother, nor had his brother treated him well as an adult, despite his overtures. In the end, he realizes how much he cares for the child Arabella has, more than he even though possible. I liked how he was there for Arabella, despite his misgivings. I liked that he never even considered betraying his marriage vows, despite the fact that Arabella wasn't his chosen bride. Elliott was a very admirable man and I liked him a lot as a hero.
* Arabella came a long way in this book. I could understand her insecurities, uncertainties and misgivings. Going from an overbearing, unloving father, being mistreated by a man who pretended to love her only to get laid, and then dealing with the guilt of a pregnancy out of wedlock and a marriage to that man's brother in order to give her child a family. She had to come to realize she was worthy of love, and that she had the right to demand more. She bloomed beautifully with some security of a good marriage, and that's a good thing.
* I liked the development of love between Arabella and Elliott. It made sense that they had to work through a lot of the issues they faced to find love. I could see their feelings change to something more over time in the way they treated and interacted with each other.

What could have been better:

* I felt a bit emotionally detached from this story. I would have liked more of a sizzle in the story, and I'm not talking loving scenes. The love scenes actually were nicely sensuous, but I didn't feel as drawn into this story overall as I would hope. I merely felt an affection for the characters, not a strong pull towards them.

Overall thoughts:

This was a good romance novel. I liked the handling of the theme of the heroine carrying another man's child, specifically the hero's brother. The fact that Arabella had been intimate and taken advantage of by Elliott's brother wasn't minimized as an issue, but neither was it handled in such a way where I felt like I couldn't get past that to believe in them as a couple. Instead, I felt as though Rafe (the dead brother)'s actions might have resulted in something good in the end, two people finding true love together. At least something worthwhile came out of his selfishness, other than his child. Overall, I was satisfied with this story.

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Monday, May 21, 2012

The Prospective Wife (Harlequin Presents)The Prospective Wife by Kim Lawrence
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This wasn't a bad book. It just didn't inspire any particular fire in me as I read it. I did like that the heroine was a physical therapist. That part resonates because I have been in PT recently. Also the hero recovering from physical injuries. I did find the interactions between Kat and Matt cute. I felt the reasons for them breaking up were a bit contrived, and their getting together seemed rather quick and not well-plotted. I really like reading this author, and I've read some very good books by her, so that's probably why this one didn't impress me that much. I think if this was a book by a new to me author, I would have thought it was good and made a note to read more by her. But in the case of being a long-time fan of this author, I think my expectations were higher than what this book delivered.

In the end, this was okay, but it didn't have enough HP zing factor. A pleasant weekend read, but not anything that hit my reading satiety centers.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Lingering Melody by Patricia Wilson

Lingering Melody (Harlequin Presents, No 1062)Lingering Melody by Patricia Wilson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a book with a wow factor. It has all the elements that make the older HP books sizzle, crack, and pop. The ruthless hero, the great dialogue, and the crazy demands that you can only read about in a Harlequin Presents novel. One of my friends on GRs, you know who you are, raves about this book, and she's never wrong about HPs being awesome. She was right again!

I won't lie about my love of stalkerific heroes, and Matt makes my list. He was just wow. I had no doubts that this man couldn't live without Carrie. I loved the way that Patricia Wilson wrote the interactions between Matt and Carrie. Matt had a way of talking that seemed almost cinematic. I totally got this feeling of intense, once in a life time love between this couple. Because this is an older HP, you don't get the hero POV, but so much intensity emanates off Matt. For Carrie, she doesn't really have a clue how crazy he is about her. She thinks he just wants revenge. But as a reader, that is very clear, even if the sap doesn't can't bring himself to say the words to make that clear.

As far as the reasons for Carrie leaving Matt, I think that was a bit soft. I will chalk it down to her being young and immature. I really think he should have just asked her to marry him back when they first met. I feel that she would have been less insecure about their relationship. For Matt, his reasons for how he initially handled their relationship makes sense towards the end, but I was afraid that he had some deep, dark secret like he was married and that's why they were just living together as "loves". I am so glad that wasn't the case. I hate that sort of deep, dark secret.

This one will probably push buttons for some of the modern HP fans. The heroine is very young and quite submissive to the hero. That's not really my thing, but in this story, it works. Similarly, the whole blackmail thing probably wouldn't go over well to some readers. This one pushes my buttons in a good way. It takes that young, very innocent heroine and older, experienced hero and does it good. Although Matt seems like he has the upper hand, boy howdy, he doesn't. The man is putty. I could feel his need and his profound love for Carrie, even if he wasn't good about showing it. I liked that he wasn't a cruel man, even if he wanted to seem hard. He was so good with the kids, and that got him brownie points, not to mention how he always tried to take care of Carrie. Not the actions of a man who hates a woman and just wants to use her. It could be frustrating at time seeing all the mixed signals and words unspoken, but that was sort of par for the course. It's part of that vintage HP drama, so I go with it! In the end, everything comes together so beautifully, and I will have some of those moments emblazoned on my brain.

This is one of those books where I ask if I want to be loved that way while I'm reading. I'm not sure I do, but I sure do enjoying reading books with this dynamic. Thumbs up from this reader.

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Friday, May 18, 2012

A Deal at the Altar by Lynne Graham

A Deal at the AltarA Deal at the Altar by Lynne Graham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay, I enjoyed this one a lot. I admit I was pretty annoyed at Sergios for most of the book, and highly offended that he expected a wife who would look the other way at his sexual infidelities but wasn't allowed to have her own. Don't get me wrong. Cheating/marital infidelity is a big, fat, huge, no no for me, across the board. But I despised his double standard. Why was it okay for him to 'get some' outside of his marriage but not his wife? No way, buddy! Surprisingly, I could understand why Beatriz agreed to his terms. She wanted to see her mother cared for and she had already started bonding with Sergios' orphaned nephews and niece. Another aspect that had the steam coming out of my ears was how the hotness of Sergios just made Bee melt like ice cream on a Texas summer day. Will power...gone! I respect that you feel an incredible sexual attraction sometimes, but, ugh, I just wish that it didn't made the heroines in these books act so marshmallowy. On the good side, she fought it longer than some do in these books. A good point in this book was Bee. She was fairly mature and grounded. I think she was a bit on the insecure side, but other than that affecting some of her decisions more than I liked, I liked her and respected her a lot. Even Sergios wasn't a total write-off. Although I wished that his feelings for Bee were a bit more obvious to me as a reader earlier on (other than lust), he was a decent guy, for the most part. Even though he started off way too smug about his attractions (a real turnoff even if he is hot), presumptuous, manipulative, and self-absorbed, I could see a discernible change in him for the better, and I loved how he lays his cards on the table near the end. Let me tell you, though, I was seething, wondering if he really did go there on his wedding night. I am pretty certain that I think I would be driven to physical violence were I some of the women in these books. It's a good thing I am not a Harlequin Presents-caliber heroine!

Final Thoughts: This was an enjoyable read for me. I know many long time Lynne Graham fans have not been happy with her newer books, I felt like this one was more or less on par with some of her older books, although it's not a favorite of mine. I like that this heroine is a bit more mature and not dizzy like she tends to do with her heroines. I liked that she knew her mind and she was an independent thinker, for the most part. The romance was good and at the end, I felt like Sergios had proven worthy of Bee. At any rate, I didn't feel like holding him off from her like a maiden aunt with a rolling pin. I'd give this one a thumbs up and a solid four stars. If you like Harlequin Presents novels, you might like this one. I did.

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The Red Heart of Jade by Marjorie M. Liu

The Red Heart of Jade (Dirk & Steele, #3)The Red Heart of Jade by Marjorie M. Liu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is drive-thru paranormal and there is sit down, multi-dish, stick to your ribs and set your taste buds on fire meal eating. Both are good, depending on what you want. As a paranormal fan, I love a book that I can devour in three hours and get my PNR fix. But as a reader who likes to be wowed, I love Marjorie M. Liu's style. I figure if you don't like her writing style, you won't make it past the first ten pages. She writes intricate and textured. Her world-building involves all the fives senses, and includes initial moments that make you wonder where she's going. However, if you keep reading, you'll get your answers. I love that when I was reading this book, I kept asking was this paranormal or urban fantasy. Being a love of both, I'd rather have a paranormal that leans towards UF with the world-building and depth of storytelling, but has a monogamous couple who will get their happy ending together, and love sitting back and reading to see this unfold. This is one of those books where I felt like it was taking a while to read, and I was enjoying myself. When I got impatient, I settled down and experienced the writing for what it was. Again, no fast food here, but a satisfying meal that took some time to consume instead. I wasn't disappointed.

Things that stand out in this book:

* The cultural experiences in this book were to die for. I am a serious armchair traveler. I will tell anyone I know. I haven't had the opportunity to do much world traveling, and so I appreciate doing so in my reading. This book takes place in Taipei, Taiwan, and in Hong Kong and Mainland China. If there is one set of cultures I feel a strong pull towards despite not sharing that heritage, it is Asian cultures. With this book, though I have never set foot outside of the US, I was there, walking the streets of Taipei, Hong Kong, and experiencing the natural beauty of a small town in the mountains of Sichuan. I felt everything as though I was on the journey. Every element tied into the story, and not some random info-dump to proved that the author had done her research on the places she wrote about. I don't doubt that Ms. Liu has been to these places, and I thank her for taking me on a three-dimensional journey along with the characters.
* True love between a boy and girl comes full circle--A strong romantic, I am. I loved the idea that Mirabelle and Dean grew up together, loved each other intensely. Even though they had thought each other dead for twenty years, their hearts never recovered and they never stopped loving each other. When they reunite, the magic is there and although they are older and had different life experiences, their bond is much more strong and richer as adults. I loved that they never doubted each other or their bond, and they didn't try to convince themselves that time had erased that bond. I think friends becoming lovers is one of the most romantic storylines ever written. You know each other so well, that this connection only deepens when you realize that you are each other's happy ending.
* The characters: Dean is tough as nails, sarcastic, quick on his feet, a man who acts more than he talks. From the beginning, I loved him. He was wearing an Optimus Prime Transformers t-shirt, how could I not. And the fact that he loved Mirabelle so much, he'd never gotten over her. Happy Sigh! Mirabelle is a bonafide kick*ss heroine. She doesn't play. Even for an academian, she's not pushover or wilting flower. Although Dean might have saved her a few times, she reciprocates. I found myself saying, "Dang, girl." at the way she handled some of the bad guys. She's my kind of girl.
* I spoke earlier about the impressive world-building, and on top of that, very novel, intricate storytelling, steeped in Chinese dragon folklore with believable archeological aspects.
* Whenever I read Liu, I feel like I am watching action movies, specifically Hong Kong Action movies, where the fantasy elements go hand in hand with the kick*ssery. She couldn't make this movie geek happier. I am sure that she also stayed up late to watch movies like "The Bride with White Hair," "The Heroic Trio," and others. She brings this sensibility to paper so well, it reinforces how much I enjoyed those movies.
* A host of intriguing secondary characters inhabit this book. Good, bad, and somewhere in-between. And ethnic diversity is the name of the game. Thanks for that! Monochromatic UF and PNR is disappointing in so many ways to this reader.

Final Thoughts:

Marjorie M. Liu isn't for everyone. I imagine some readers will lose patience with her writing style. That's okay if she doesn't work for some of those readers. She works for me. What I invest in reading her books, I get back threefold. That's why she's a keeper for me!

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

To Beguile a Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt

To Beguile a Beast (Legend of the Four Soldiers, #3)To Beguile a Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To Beguile a Beast takes a tried and true romance theme and does it justice. In this case, the Beauty is the fugitive mistress of a powerful duke, who takes her children to start a new life, not as a kept woman, but as a legitimate housekeeper. The Beast is a naturalist who was tortured by Indians in the colonies, as the result of an ambush against British soldiers.

The writing flows and compels. The romance not only involves Helen and Alistair, but also the bond that develops between Alistair and Helen's troubled children, Jamie and Abigail. I guess I am just getting older, but lately I really appreciate the idea of a hero or heroine who has children meeting someone who embraces those kids and makes them part of their life in all ways, founding their own parental bond. In this case, I loved how this relationship develops between Alistair and the children. I felt bad for them that their father wasn't really a dad to them at all. He didn't even talk to them or acknowledge them, although they didn't lack materially. They were just possessions to him. Whereas Alistair does spend time with the kids and genuinely cares about them.

As much as I liked this book, I didn't love it as much as The Raven Prince. I think the subject matter might have been a bit more dicey for me. I don't really like the idea that Helen willingly committed adultery with a married man. I understand her actions were those of a young, starstruck girl-woman, and she fully accepted the accountability for those actions. I didn't judge her for her actions, I just felt disappointed for the choices she made, but probably nowhere as near as she did. She threw away a lot for a man that wasn't worthy of her love, and paid the price for it. The one good thing that came out of it was her children, and she decides to make tomorrow a different and better day for herself and her children, which definitely shows character in a person. From a creativity standpoint, it makes sense to have a story for once about the 'other woman', but my deep-seated issues with infidelity give me a bit of heartburn about that. I'm never going to take that subject likely, so I do always feel a twinge when I read a book and the characters go down that road, past or present. Conversely, I didn't like that Alistair gave Helen such a hard time about her past when he finds out. I mean, he really rubs it in her face. Considering that his past is hardly lily white (a man who admittedly has slept with prostitutes (another ick factor for me), it was sort of like kicking a puppy. I know part of his issues were jealousy because he will never be a duke or have the powerful, accepted status in society as a duke. And also, his issues with his disfigurement. For all my disappointment with him, I did love how he rallies around Helen in her time of need and works to ensure the safety of her children from their father.

The other issue I had was I guess I expected the duke to be a bit more sinister. I was waiting for other shoe to fall, and when it does, it's a bit of a thunk instead of a bang. Helen seemed very afraid of the duke, and when he appears, he doesn't have even a smidge of the presence that Alistair has. Stylistically, I would have liked a little more Gothic flavor here. The book sort of begs for it, really. I suppose it's just my melodramatic/drama hound nature. I just felt like I wanted something deeper, more intense in this novel. Maybe more angst and flair than it had. Having said that, I do like the crafty way that Alistair deals with the situation. I love a hero who has as much or even more brains than brawn and uses them to solve a tricky problem.

Despite my misgivings, I found this to be a pleasant, highly enjoyable read. The powerful passion between Helen and Alistair made for good reading, along with the relationship between Alistair and the kids. As before, Hoyt sets an authentic historical tone that really works for this reader. The story of the beast finding love with the beauty will always be timeless and beloved to this die-hard fairy tale lover, and Elizabeth Hoyt gives it a different spin and gives it justice overall.

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Friday, May 11, 2012

The Grunt by Latrivia Nelson

The GruntThe Grunt by Latrivia S. Nelson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book, from page one. Brett is such a sweetheart. He is a tough, formidable Marine, but he's also a caring, warm, emotionally vulnerable man. My heart ached for him because of the way his wife treated him. It seems as though there was little of value to his marriage, but he did keep trying to be a good husband. I can't imagine who hard it was for him to go out on the frontline and have an indifferent, judgmental, unloving wife at home. Never feeling good enough for her or that he had done enough. That's so damaging to one's self-esteem. When he and Courtney make a connection, I was cheering for him. He needed a woman like her in his life. And it was on the best day possible for them to meet. It surely felt like God was answering his prayers.

I also loved Courtney. She was giving, cheerful, honest, lovable, motivated, and open. She had made some decisions that her family gave her trouble about, but I liked that she owned those choices and learned from them, and chose to be a happy person despite the low points in her young life. Considering what she was risking to be with Brett, I think she was very brave. Although Nelson doesn't pretend ignorance about the racial issue, I love the fact that this is not really the issue for Brett and Courtney's relationship. Instead it is the fact that Courtney's father and brother are officers and Brett is happily a grunt in the Marines, not to mention his emotional baggage from a toxic marriage. I liked that Nelson takes the time to show why that was an issue. The detail that Nelson gives about life in the Marines, both as a soldier and as family to Marines comes highly appreciated. There is no patriotic flag-waving per se, but merely telling it like it is. And for a person who is not directly involved in the military, but does admire what the Armed Forces do for Americans, it was welcome.

Even though I loved Dmitry's Closet, I found that this book touched me much more. While Dmitry was more of a modern day fairy tale, The Grunt is steeped in realism, but no less (actually more) romantic. Although Courtney is about Royal's age, she seemed more mature and more textured as a person. While I normally like a sexually inexperienced heroine, I think it was fitting that Courtney wasn't inexperienced in relationships, and she knew what she was getting into with Brett and his son. She had her eyes open and the staying power to see it through. Plus, it's nice to different kinds of heroines get their happy ending, and Courtney works hard for and deserves hers with Brett and Cameron.

As far as sexual tension and love scenes, this book was hot! I was like wow! I love that Brett is both vulnerable and open emotionally, not a playboy, but he definitely can give a girl a run for her money in the bedroom! Dang! That's all I'm going to say! Man I was feeling the heat there. Brett and Courtney had great chemistry, but it was also clear that Brett respected and valued Courtney as a whole person, not just a convenient body or sex object. Ms. Nelson really earned my respect with how she portrayed the sexual part of their relationship, considering the circumstances.

The family dynamics were also well done. I was afraid that Courtney's family would lean so hard on her that she'd break up with Brett, but I love that she stood her ground, and Brett stood up for her and next to her. I like that Brett told her brother like it is. I loved Courtney's mom, Diane. She was a real sweetie, but knew how to handle her husband and son. I loved that Courtney was close to her mother, and that her mother was very supportive and proud of her. I thought her dad and brother weren't as well-developed, but then Courtney wasn't as close to them. I also loved Cameron. What a sweet little boy, but also realistically portrayed. I wanted to give him a hug. (view spoiler)[The one part I still have a question about is when/how is Brett going to explain that Cameron's mom is dead? I guess he'll wait until Cameron is older. (hide spoiler)]Final Thoughts:

Although there were some mild editing issues, I continue to be impressed with Latrivia Nelson's writing ability. I loved the connection she developed and conveyed between Brett and Courtney. It felt like true love, but also realistic. Never does Nelson downplay how hard family life can be in the military, but the power of the love in the relationship between a military person and their spouse gives them the energy and the fortification to go out there and risk their life for us all. I was a very satisfied reader when I finished The Grunt!

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Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Seven Deadly Wonders by Matthew Reilly

Seven Deadly Wonders (Jack West Jr, #1)Seven Deadly Wonders by Matthew Reilly
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Seven Deadly Wonders introduces a new character by Matthew Reilly to me, Jack West Jr. It's very hard to follow in the footsteps of Shane 'Scarecrow' Schofield, because, well, he's the man! But I have to say I really do like Jack. What's not to like about him? He's a fun character. Honorable, intelligent, athletic, dedicated, daring, and lethal to the bad guys. And being a girl who grew up on Indiana Jones, and wanted to be her own version of the adventurer, Jack has an Indiana Jones in a modern setting appeal.

I thought this story was a clever idea. I had watched a documentary on The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and they inspired a great awe in this history buff. To read a story in which our intrepid heroes track down these wonders, not for selfish reasons, but to save the world, was both interesting and exciting. This is one of those books I could not read quietly, which makes me happy I wasn't trying to read it in mixed company. It is full of scenes where I gasped out loud regulary, verbally and under my breath yelled insults at the bad guys, cheered and laughed. This is the brilliance of Matt Reilly. He is one of those writers that engages you and gives you a fun read that takes you out of your regular world and into danger and adventure. It's not always without loss or risk, because sometimes you lose characters you grew fond of along the way. In the end though, I know that good will win out. If it didn't in these books, I wouldn't be a Matt Reilly fan anymore.

I liked the found family that I met with Jack and his team. I am a tremendous sucker for a father figure hero. Even though Jack isn't the touchy-feely type, you can tell he loves young Lily like crazy, not as a mere means to an end or a mission. (view spoiler)[ I almost cried when she called him Daddy and it shocked him in a good way. Yes, I am a sap, which you probably know already! (hide spoiler)]

I have to say, I liked that Reilly wasn't afraid to make the Americans the bad guys. In his Q&A, he explained his reasonings and made it clear he has nothing against Americans. I wasn't mad at him anyway, but I tell you, I was hating on the bad guys something fierce. But honestly, he spread some of the bad guy yuck around evenly.

Warning: If you are a Christian, don't take some of the stuff about the Catholic church and the so called origins of some of the tenets of the church (indirectly Christianity) seriously. Before I started getting annoyed, I just rolled my eyes. It's a fiction book, and I am not trying to take offense at that stuff, and I don't think Reilly was trying to criticize or devalue Christianity itself. He has bit of the Illuminati thing going on, but doesn't call them that. Suffice it so say, if you have any conspiracy theory leanings, you will appreciate some of the elements about secret societies in this book.

The writing style isn't erudite or lofty. It's serviceable and casual. I just went with it, and I have to say that it fits the story. I like that Reilly writes fun books. He's not worried about being a member of the literary elite (which is fine with me because I hate book snobbery). At the same time, I felt like he worked hard to deliver a good quality read, and a lot of plotting went into this story. I appreciate the diagrams and illustrations, because I would have given myself an aneurysm trying to visualize a lot of it.

If you have any ancient history geek leanings like myself, here is a writeup on the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It's exciting stuff, if you're a nerd, anyway.

As usual, there is some blood and violence. That's sort of Reilly's thing, but he doesn't focus as much on it in this book as in the others I read by him because this is more adventure than action. There are a lot thrills as they navigate dangerous ancient traps and pitfalls to get to the artifacts. Good stuff! I don't like gore much, I did the excitement of the over-the-top action scenes. Some parts had me laughing because they were so crazy!

Final Thoughts:

If you want a fun and educational in a 'doesn't take itself to seriously kind of way' read, with a lovable, larger than life (but rather humble) hero, and a great ensemble, with a cute but highly intelligent little girl thrown in, look no further! (Warning: Run on sentence!) If you like ancient history but want to have fun at the same time, this book is for you. If you watched Indiana Jones a lot and still haven't moved on, check out Seven Deadly Wonders!

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars

Richard Armitage as Jack West, Jr.

Horus, Jack's pet Falcon

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Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Simple Jess by Pamela Morsi

Simple Jess (Marrying Stone, #2)Simple Jess by Pamela Morsi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Simple Jess is a simple love story. People tend to think of simple things as unworthy. Not the case at all. In a world where everything is complicated, murky, and it's hard to tell what is real and what isn't, the simple gets taken for granted. Kind of like Jesse Best.

Merriam-Webster lists these definitions of Simple, which I will hide in a spoiler if you don't care to read them...(view spoiler)[ : free from guile : innocent
a : free from vanity : modest b : free from ostentation or display
: of humble origin or modest position

a : lacking in knowledge or expertise
b (1) : stupid (2) : mentally retarded c : not socially or culturally sophisticated : naive; also : credulous
a : sheer, unmixed b : free of secondary complications
c (1) : having only one main clause and no subordinate clauses (2) of a subject or predicate : having no modifiers, complements, or objects d : constituting a basic element : fundamental e : not made up of many like units
: free from elaboration or figuration
a (1) : not subdivided into branches or leaflets
(2) : consisting of a single carpel (3) : developing from a single ovary b : controlled by a single gene
: not limited or restricted : unconditional

: readily understood or performed

(hide spoiler)]

I am a person who puts a lot of importance in education and in using your brain. I can blame that in part on my upbringing, but not completely. I have internalized that message way too much. I think that this book was therapeutic for me. In the rat race of life, I often forget to value what there is in my life that is free from elaboration, unconditional, without guile, fundamental. I put too much importance in achieving, only to feel bereft when those things fail to deliver. At the end of the day, I can still be loved, even if I am not the MVP at my job, don’t have millions of dollars in the bank, listed as a MENSA member, or on Maxim's Hot 100 or People's most beautiful list.

Jesse is the reminder of the steadfast things in life. The pure items of worth and beauty that seem diminished when we look in the horizon and see the greener grass that doesn’t belong to us. His heart is full of love. He’s a man who can be trusted to do what he promises. His ability to forgive is not based on his lack of intelligence but in the strength of his loving heart. When Althea needed help he gave it to her, asking for very little in return. And Althea saw that what Jesse lacked was much less than what he possessed.

Althea thought being alone and independent was better than relying on anyone else. She’d always felt like the unwanted addition since her father left her and went off to remarry another woman. She was the spare relative that had to prove she was worthy of being around. She didn’t want that feeling for her son, and she jealously guarded him, afraid to allow anyone else to influence him. But Jesse showed her that it was okay to trust in someone else, with her son and with everything that was truly of value. It took the kind words of Granny Piggott to get her to see that we need people, even those people who are the hardest to deal with.

I thought about the strange magic that is love. Our tendency to believe that our soulmate will come in a certain package or a specific way. That is if we even believe that love is possible for us. But God has other plans for us. I feel that in this story he was telling me that he gives beauty for ashes. Even though Jess was born diminished, and many folks took every opportunity to remind him of that, he had been given much in return for what he lacked. And that was more than enough to see him safe, loved, and content, and a blessing to others in his life. Another reminder to me that being content is the goal. Appreciating what seems merely adequate, when beneath or through a different set of glasses is pure riches.

I appreciate the simple beauty of this story. In the simplicity, I found true richness of storytelling and a resonance on an emotional level that makes me smile as I type the final words of this review.

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