Friday, July 26, 2013

One Rough Man by Brad Taylor

One Rough Man:  A Pike Logan Thriller - Book 1One Rough Man: A Pike Logan Thriller - Book 1 by Brad Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One Rough Man sounds like a strange title on first glance, but it fits the character of Pike very well. Pike is a tough guy who went through a very horrible personal tragedy that made him even more rough around the edges. He's kind of like John McClane, with added military training. He's the guy who's there at the right time (although not exactly your first choice), and the one who has to save the day.

Initially, this was a slow start. The author gave us a lot of intel into running surveillance operations and some inner operational lingo and dynamics that were a bit sluggish to read, and one might be tempted to think this was going to be a military/spy procedural. But once you keep reading, you realize there is plenty of action. I think that's par for the course when you read a new author and learn their way of telling a story.

We get an inside look at terrorist and their methodology, which I appreciated, because it doesn't make a lot of sense to me. However, in their mind, there is a twisted method behind what they do, and at least I got a glimpse into that. And it seemed plausible. It gives me shivers that folks like that are walking around planning to unleash chaos all around us.

Reading the afterward was enlightening. Apparently Taylor took some ribbing from friends in the military over this book, but at least they read it and told him what he had gotten wrong, which was good. Since I have no military background, I don't know enough to catch errors, so it's good to know that an author does his best not to make them. And better yet, no military secrets were exposed in the making of this book! I hate when I see stuff on tv that could affect US operational security and I always worry if terrorists are taking notes!

As far as Pike, he isn't always likable. Well, he's grumpy. I like grumpy heroes, but I know that doesn't work for everyone. He had lots of reasons to be surly and unfriendly, considering what he was suffering. I like that Jennifer kept it real with him and told him he was a jerk when he needed to hear it. Pike is a bad@$$, a man with a well-deserved reputation, and seeing him in action was great. I had some good laughs and some fist pumping moments. Yet despite his tough guy nature, he had moments of doubt and fear, believing he was a dead man a time or two. But at least he kept his cool. He was able to handle his fear and work through it. His sense of honor might be shaky, but it never abandoned him, and that made me love him even more.

I really liked Jennifer. She was pretty well-developed, with her own inner turmoil and angst. Boy was she brave. I liked that she was a companion that more than held her weight with Pike, even after she had met her obligations to him and vice versa. They made a good team, communicating well and looking out for each other's back. I liked how they had a meeting of minds and while there was a connection, their actions made sense for their situations.

The villains were interesting. Not just the expected villain, but someone who should have been doing the right thing. I was kind of shocked at some of the things the villains did. I can't imagine turning off one's morality like that and doing something so awful as was done in this book, especially when you were part of a group that had such high moral expectations. Maybe I am just naive.

The action was great. Not just shooting, but some good hand to hand combat, and a good sense of risk along the way. While Pike is definitely all over, and Jennifer turns out to be a budding action heroine, they didn't have it easy. There were some moments I was on the edge of my seat, reading as fast as I can.

All in all, a very good read. I would definitely like some more Pike and Jennifer adventures. Not to mention the mega loose end. I can't wait to see Pike rip open a can of you know what on that person.

Recommended to fans of tough guys with the training, smarts and attitude to get the job done.

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Escape Me Never by Sara Craven

Escape Me Never (Harlequin Presents, #872)Escape Me Never by Sara Craven

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I liked this book, but it didn't blow me away. While I appreciate Sara Craven's books, I'm not sure I was quite in the mood for it.  Her heroines are kind of fragile and emotionally needy, and I wasn't feeling that when I read this.  I think I wanted something with a little more pizzazz and chemistry between the characters, and some snappy dialogue, and that's not this book.  However, it's still a good love story. 

This book relies heavily on the misunderstandings between the main characters.   As with many of the older HPs, we don't get much POV, so we have to decide the hero's motives solely based on his actions along with the heroine.  Cass is the 'ideas girl' at an ad agency, and Rohan is the big client they are pitching to.  He immediately takes a liking to her, and she doesn't get why, and she doesn't want a man in her life. Period.  Been there, bought the t-shirt, and no more please. The hero Rohan wants something more, but Cass thinks he just wants sex.  She doesn't stop to think that this guy could have any woman he wants, and he certainly doesn't need put in the effort to go after her.  Especially when it's apparent how complicated her life is.  I really liked how Rohan was totally committed to making an effort to be with Cass, even when he found out how dire her marriage had been and how troubled Cass was as a result. I liked how fast he bonded to her daughter, and how he was at Cass's bedside when she was sick.  It was a loud sign that he was in this for real and for the duration.

I liked Rohan and I liked Cass, but I didn't love either of them. I felt like their bond could have been more intense. The emotions didn't jump off the page at me, which is what I love in a book.  Instead, this was just a pleasant read. 

One thing I didn't like was Rohan's solution to their problem as far as letting Cass's daughter know about their upcoming nuptials.  I'm just persnickety about such things.  Also, some readers might find Rohan a tad manipulative in his approach to winning over Cass.  It didn't bother me excessively.

End Verdict:  A good book by an author I really enjoy, but not a favorite and not a standout read.

Overall rating:  3.5/5.0 stars.

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A Gentle Thunder: Hearing God Through the Storm by Max Lucado

A Gentle Thunder: Hearing God Through the StormA Gentle Thunder: Hearing God Through the Storm by Max Lucado

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Max Lucado has such a way with words. Once again, I have read a book by him that fed my spirit and encouraged me in my walk with Christ, just when I needed it. 

He is graced with the ability to illustrate timely, yet timeless spiritual truths.  His examples are highly relevant without being the slightest bit pedantic or dogmatic.  One of the most penetrating such stories was about a cave full of people who were in the dark and cold, and they were miserable, but didn't know any other way.  A stranger comes and makes a fire and invites the people to come to the fire. Only one woman does, and she does it despite her fears.  She cares for her brethren, feels their pain of being in the dark, and yet, she doesn't want to go back there.  The stranger has a solution. He gives her a torch and she can take the light to them.  This hit home with me because it speaks of what Christ-followers can do in the world. Be light in a dark world.

Lucado speaks on grace, which is the central truth of Jesus Christ's message. That God's resources are unlimited, no matter what you are going through.   His unconditional love for us, and how this can change our lives.  How Christians struggle with things on an everyday basis when we should allow Jesus to carry our burdens and press into him, for he can support the weight of our weary hearts and minds, and the issues we struggle with in life.  And how important the relationship with Jesus is for believers.  He also speaks on how we relate to others and allow barriers to come up within the church and with people who don't share our beliefs,when they are artificial more than anything else.

He knows his Bible, he knows Christ, and he is fully convinced of the reality of God in Jesus Christ and his love for us, and that comes through, loud and clear. But his goal is not to press heavy doctrinal lessons on his readers. Instead, he goes right to the heart of what following Christ means in the every day, nitty gritty.  I appreciate that very much.

This was the right book to read during a tough week, and Lucado helped me feel the love of my Savior just by reading his stories.  He reminded me that I am not alone, but I am deeply loved by God, and he can get me through just about anything I deal with in this life. 

Despite his simplicity and casual charm, I say he achieved something monumental here.

Definitely recommended.

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The One and Only by Carole Mortimer

One and OnlyOne and Only by Carole Mortimer

My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

This was a fun read, in the way that the older Harlequin Presents books can be (a good story and not tied down with the typical overused tropes).  Joy is a very likable heroine. I appreciated that she's just a regular woman, with a job, and takes a week off for a vacation that changes her life in unexpected ways. Although she is wearing borrowed clothes, I think that Marcus fell in love with the real Joy, and not the false image of her.  That part of the story alone was very appealing. Joy is the kind of heroine I would like to see more of. She has a maturity and an independence I appreciated.

I also liked how there is a lot of good sexual and romantic tension.  Long before things get physical, there is a strong connection that I could see building between Joy and Marcus.  I enjoyed every interaction between them.  Even though Marcus could assume the worse about Joy based on the information available to him, he never calls her outside of her name or treats her disrespectfully. In fact, he still stands up for her and looks out for her, even when she is rebuffing him (seemingly for other guys). Despite that, he is definitely a hero who is on the hunt, and I definitely was rooting for him to catch his woman!

I really liked Marcus.  He's a man, not a boy. He's not a playboy, nor is he shiftless and careless, with too much money and too little character, like some of the HP playboy heroes.  I don't need to be reminded of his scores of past conquests to find him sexy. He just is.  Although I don't tend to gravitate to characters who are stars, Marcus wears his celebrity status very well.  I liked the idea that he was an actor with Hollywood stardom, but he chose to live in Britain and lived a somewhat down-to-earth lifestyle. End verdict: Loved him as a hero. His proposal was very sweet.

One and Only was a good, quick, and enjoyable Sunday afternoon read.  I liked everything about it.  It's not a five star read, but a very respectable high four star book that I'd recommend to fans who want something more than the overused billionaire playboy businessman and the arm-candy, beautiful, but not self-actualized heroine in this line of books.

Overall rating: 4.25/5.0 stars.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Line of Fire by Cindy Dees

Line Of Fire (Charlie Squad #2)Line Of Fire by Cindy Dees

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cindy Dees delivers once again for this reader.  I have to say, I was worried initially. I did not like Kimberly at first. She was whiny, critical, and seemed very shallow. She was almost like Carrie Bradshaw in the jungle, but with a deliberate anti-military stance.  I kept reading parts and putting this down for other books and to do other stuff. But since I am a big fan of this author, I wanted to give it a chance. Plus, I definitely liked Tex. 

I would say at about page 75 is when I started liking Kimberly.  I learned more about her, why she is so hard on military men, and why she's determined to work to shut down the special ops units.  When she gets kidnapped with Tex and transported to the Gavarone rain forest, she learns first hand why soldiers like Tex are needed, and worthwhile.

I really liked the survival aspects of this book. Tex proves he definitely knows his stuff as far as being an elite special ops soldier good in the field, keeping them both alive and using what little resources that come their way. The survival elements felt realistic, although I feel that some of the steamy romance seemed less likely, since they weren't able to bath or brush their teeth at first. Maybe I'm too fastidious, but I wouldn't feel sexy if I was dirty, sweaty, hadn't been able to brush my teeth for a couple of days.  But, fortunately, I do know how to suspend my disbelief. And they do pick up ginger root and mint leaves along the way, and find a lovely fountain to bathe in before they actually did the deed.

I will say straight up that I loved Tex. He is all that and a bag of chips.  He's just a bit cocky, just enough to be realistic for a Spec Ops soldier.  But more than that, he is a really genuine, hardworking, resourceful, honorable man who truly believes in protecting others and putting his life on the line for his country and for those who are in need.  He has some vulnerabilities because of a past breakup and his mother leaving when he was a kid, that crop up when he realizes he is starting to fall for Kimberly, who is way 'out of his league.'  I was thinking he was way too good for Kimberly, but she shows that she is a good woman for him, and she embraces who and what he is, and this was shown very credibly in the progression of the novel.

The ending was great, both Kimberly and Tex making gestures that showed how much they loved each other and were committed to spending their lives together.  So I ended up believing in the romance 100%, which is good, since I wasn't feeling Kimberly initially.

As far as the action, it was top-notch. That's one of the reasons I like this author so much. She writes the kinds of books I love, a great mix of action and romance. 

This book was sitting on my shelf a long time, and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it.  Although it took me awhile, this turned out to be a very enjoyable book.

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Grimm's Fairy Tales

Grimm's Fairy Tales: Wolf and the Seven Little Kids/Pack of Ragamuffins/Brother and Sister/Three Snake-Leaves/Boots of Buffalo-Leather/Drummer and OthersGrimm's Fairy Tales: Wolf and the Seven Little Kids/Pack of Ragamuffins/Brother and Sister/Three Snake-Leaves/Boots of Buffalo-Leather/Drummer and Others by Jacob Grimm

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

What an enjoyable quick audiobook! A nice mix of short fairy tales from the Grimms' collection.  I haven't read any of these particular stories, although I am familiar with plot devices and archetypes from more than a few of them.  The narrator was great. She brought these stories to life. There is also classical music to accompany parts of the stories.  I could see this audiobook being very good for kids to expose them to fairy tales. They would enjoy the stories and the narrator's different voices.  I would say these are pretty kid-friendly stories, especially for the Grimms, which can be dark.  Overall, each story has a good lesson about morals and ethics, from hard work, to keeping promises, and not giving up when things get rough.

Listening brought back the joy of reading fairy tales, that I have not ever gotten over, even into my 4th decade.  I'd recommend it!

Overall rating:  4.5/5.0 stars.

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Baltimore: The Curse Bells by Mike Mignola

Baltimore: The Curse Bells (Baltimore, #2)Baltimore: The Curse Bells by Mike Mignola

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This was more creepy than Baltimore: The Plague Ships, and that's saying something.  Baltimore is still on the hunt for his one-eyed, scarred vampire nemesis, but he comes across a cult of demented nuns who follow an occultist bent on rebirthing a powerful sorceress. 

I think this series is for readers who loved the Monster of the Week type programs such as Night Gallery or Thriller, or even episodic television like The Incredible Hulk where our lone hero conquers a different situation each week.  I could see this as a good television adaptation in the right hands.

The artwork is as beautiful as The Plague Ships, and the writing just as atmospheric.  Although this was more scary. It delves deeper into the themes of diabolism and occult dealings with dark entities, and this town that Baltimore goes to is full of a sense of wrongness, death and murky secrets.  I did read this at night and I didn't have nightmares, but that was because I read something else before I went to sleep.

Baltimore has to balance his selfish need for revenge against the greater good, and he teams up with an American journalist who is writing a book about vampires after discovering they were real in the Great War. I thought the reporter looked a lot like Edgar Allen Poe, and I wouldn't be surprised if that was a deliberate choice of the creators of this graphic novel.  Part of the narrative even includes as passage from "The Bells" by Poe. 

I think this was just as good as The Plague Ships if not better, but it's more disturbing and disarming than that prior book in the series. I know that's because it focuses on occultism, black magic, and people who trade the lives of others for ultimate power. Those subjects are inherently more affecting to me than, say zombies and vampires.

Baltimore is a very effective dark hero with an antiheroic bent.  He is the dark hero that fights against the darkness, and strives to recover his own lost soul in the process.  Those kinds of heroes always get me.

I am loving this series.  Keep them coming!

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Married to the Enemy by Ann Major

Married to the Enemy (June Grooms, #2) by Ann Major

My rating: 4 .25 of 5 stars

This was a lovely little contemporary western romance with a prominent Gothic feel. Stormy Jones has not seen her father since she was five years old. In fact, she was told he died.  She has spent the majority of her life in her mother's women-centered commune, with little to no contact with men.  Yet she feels something missing from her life.   When Jonathan McBride enters her life, she is blown away by his rugged male appeal, and has a sinking feeling he is just what he was waiting for.  He's like the proverbial forbidden fruit, a virile male, and the epitome of what scares her mother and her followers about men. 

Jonathan came to Los Angeles to meet his employer's daughter and deliver important news.  Her father is sick and wants to see her before he dies.  One look at her tells her she's trouble.  He saves her life and ends up in her bed. He is sidetracked by an unfortunate attraction to Stormy that leads to a night of passion.  He wakes up the next day, determined to put Stormy at a distance. His experience with love in the past taught him that women could only destroy a man.  He feels enormous guilt at sleeping with Hugh's daughter, and just wants to forget about it. Unfortunately, Stormy is a hard woman to forget or to push away.   Plus, Stormy still needs to see her father, and when she blurts out a confession of her involvement with Jonathan, the conniving old man changes his will to require a marriage between the two at his death.  Jonathan doesn't want another wife, but he does want his inheritance from her father, and marriage is the only way to get it now.  Stormy feels deep inside that Jonathan is a man capable of love, no matter how hard he pushes her away.  And she's carrying his child, so she doesn't want to walk away.  The problem is, someone keeps trying to kill her. Stormy refuses to believe it's Jonathan, despite the cloud of rumors about his last wife's death hanging around him.

I really liked this book. It had a lot of emotion and intensity.  I liked the Gothic vibe, and I enjoyed the push/pull between Jonathan and Stormy. I love when the hero is hard and rough and wants to push the heroine away, but needs her and the love she shows him.  Jonathan was really quite tortured. He'd had a very rough life and it had taught him that loving and trusting others was a dicey proposition.  Stormy's innocent hope and vital passion was just what he needed in his life.  While he fights his love for her throughout the book, it was enjoyable to see him fall for her.

The western atmosphere was very well done as well. I felt like I was on a cattle ranch in Southwest Texas, where the land is closer to desert than anything else.  This book had a lot more suspenseful vibe than I associate with the typical Silhouette Desires, with someone trying to kill Stormy, and Jonathan's dark past.  I miss these old vintage Harlequins which are full of lots of drama and intensity. The newer books just don't have that zing.

I am glad I was able to read this book. Definitely worth looking up if you want a good vintage modern western contemporary romance.

Overall rating: 4.25/5.0 stars.

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Mistress to the Marquis by Margaret McPhee

Mistress to the MarquisMistress to the Marquis by Margaret McPhee
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Mistress to the Marquis was a very absorbing, beautifully-written read. It honestly deals with a relationship between a titled gentleman and his mistress, who comes from very humble origins and has a very scandalous past. Initially Razelby embarked on his mistress arrangement with Alice as a sort of 'last hurrah' before he married and had his heir to meet a 30th birthday deadline that is proven to have a very pivotal effect in his psyche. He is slow to admit how deeply he loves Alice, even though on a heart level, he doesn't want to terminate their arrangement. He does so out of duty. It is time to marry. And he will just have to move on and forget her. But that proves difficult, even impossible in the end. On Alice's side, her feelings are not something she has the agency to dwell on. She doesn't have the power to demand anything more from Razelby, so when he ends it, she has to find a way to be happy in the future without him.

There are things I really appreciate about this book. I am not fond of the trivializing of sexual relationships in romance novels (or the media for that matter). I know that in real life that is how many view sex. However, sex is never as 'no strings' or as 'casual' as we try to make it. Both Alice and Razelby find this out the hard way. I liked that a great deal of this book is about the emotional consequences of ending their affair. While mentally, they have both agreed to move on, their hearts have not agreed, and are in fact in rebellion against their minds.

I was happy with the execution in this book. I appreciate that McPhee makes this book about something more than just illicit passion, which is what you might expect with the subject matter. Instead, she uses the page time to show more than just numerous sexual encounters between the couple that was supposed to be broken up. Instead, McPhee shows how their everyday lives have become intertwined and seeing each other is obligatory. I've always wondered how two people in the same circle who were sexually involved and then break up manage to get past that when they see each other every single day and can't rearrange their lives to not be around each other. That is the case with Alice and Razelby. It's difficult to be around each other without the emotions and the memories impressing on their minds. They both come to realize how important they were to each other in many ways. How their time together wasn't just sexual, but also a deep friendship that blossomed into a profound love affair. It's not so easy to erase that experience. They both come to realize that ignoring what the heart wants is not always possible.

I also appreciated how dimensional the characters were. Instead of Razelby coming off as a heartless rake who enjoys his pleasures without considering the consequences, he is actually a man of consideration, a good man. I mean, he didn't have to end his mistress arrangement, but could have gone ahead and got married. Many did that in reality. But something in him knew that wasn't fair to either his future wife or his mistress. Perhaps in the past he wasn't so considerate, but through his relationship with Alice, he really starts to see her not as a commodity, a piece of pretty flesh for his exclusive and convenient use, or someone that he can use and throw away. Razelby is forced to consider the ethics of the titled gentleman's debaucheries. One of his cronies makes a suggestion to visit a bawdy house and he cringes internally at the thought of how Alice was forced to pursue this profession for her survival. I don't think Razelby could ever see houses of prostitution the same way in the future. This reader can't abide prostitution and particularly hates when it's trivialized as a mere harmless thing. This false conception the idea of a man paying a woman (or vice versa) has no inherent ills associated with it. At the same time, Alice is viewed as a whole and lovable person, despite the fact that she has a past as a prostitute. Many women end up in that life, and there is nothing inherently bad or worthless about them just because they had to make that choice. Razelby is well aware of this past and doesn't think any less of her. It's fortunate that Alice was able to move on from her past and hope for a better future, which is not always the case with women who end up in prostitution, either in the past or now.

I also liked how McPhee shows the the daily life of a woman in the demimondaine. It was interesting to see the rules that they live by and how some of them actually travel in the same circles as the ton, even though they aren't accepted in some places.

At first, I didn't like that Razelby didn't consider marriage to her a viable option. But later, it's revealed that his reasons are as much about her well-being, knowing how hypocritical and cruel the ton particularly the women could be towards a woman with her past, even if she is married to a titled gentleman), as his own status in society.

Frankly, I hate the hypocrisy of this system in which men can act like complete dogs and women are held to a different standard. Women are forced into the sex trade and their world and options shrink and doors close to them because of that, but the men who pay for their services are free to do pretty much whatever they want. It was awkward for both Razelby and Alice to encounter acquaintances who knew them as a couple and now consider Alice fair game or not suitable to be acquainted with. In effect, while Razelby has the option to carry on as usual, Alice is put in the situation of dealing with the fallout of their separation and its effects on her own reputation and future prospects.

I have rambled on big time. I guess that's a good thing when a book gets you thinking so much. I found Mistress to a Marquis that kind of read--involving me in the story, enthralling me with a really good love story, and giving me a lot of issues to ponder. While this is not my favorite theme in romance, it was handled very well in this book, and it definitely a higher rating for that.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Friday, July 12, 2013

Stranded by Pepper Pace

StrandedStranded by Pepper Pace

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I started reading this early this morning when I couldn't sleep, and I finished the whole book in that short time. This is really one of those unputdownable reads.  I was compelled by and drawn into the dramatic situation that Oceans and Marshall faced. 

I always enjoy a good survival on the elements book, and Pace excelled with this novel about two people who end up being stranded on a Caribbean deserted island and have to make a life there for the time being until they are rescued.  This book is incredibly realistic about survival on a deserted island, including the risks and privations that people would face.  Emotionally, Pace goes there. She involves you with Oceans and Marshall, makes you fall in love with them, and walk in their shoes in a way that doesn't leave you unaffected when the book is over.  I can honestly say that Marshall is the kind of man I would want to be stranded on an island with. He steps up to the plate in so many ways. While he isn't a chest-thumping, stereotypical alpha, he shows all the traits that a mature man should have in a desperate situation and when he has a family to protect and care for.  Oceans was also an incredible character.  Her ability to adapt and survive and to use her knowledge of the islands to help them both survive really made me admire her. She is the kind of more realistic heroine I would like to see in romance novels. Not perfect, but perfectly lovable.

One aspect of this story was utterly heartbreaking.  I felt the pain and anguish that both Oceans and Marshall faced, and I didn't think I would recover (it really hurt me on a deep level).  It was one of those situations where I didn't agree with the choice made, but I still love and respected the person who made it, and like the other party involved, I had to decide if I was going to move past it for the greater good.  I was so glad that things ended up working out in the end.  While I still would have loved this book, I love it more the way things ended than if they had gone in a different way, just because that is such a tough, wounding situation to read about. I don't think either party in this book could have walked away whole from that.  I can imagine it's even worse if you lived it.

I loved the fact that love blossoms realistically and intensely, and the sexual content wasn't the focus, although it was a big part of the novel. There were so many emotional depths to plumb that I would have felt cheated if this book was mainly sex scenes. I think a very good point was made about how sex is a way to express intimacy between two people, but certainly not the only way.  And the fact that Pace shows the real consequences of sexual intimacy on a couple, good and not so good. 

This is one of those books that lingers on the mind, making an indelible imprint on the emotions.  I was very glad I got the opportunity to read Stranded, and Pace has upped the bar for stranded/marooned/survival romance for me.  While not a perfect read, it's very close for me.

Overall rating:  4.5/5.0 stars.

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Dust of the Damned by Peter Brandvold

Dust of the DamnedDust of the Damned by Peter Brandvold
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

If you like your Weird West horror Cinemax After Dark-style, you will enjoy this book. Dust of the Damned reminds me of the Longarm westerns I used to read sex scenes out of when I was a kid. Just add some supernatural elements, and there you have it. Plenty of sex and violence, and more sex and violence. Shaken, not stirred.

I found this book too trashy for my tastes. I think there is a way to do sex and violence where it doesn't come off sleazy, but this book doesn't achieve that goal. I really dislike having to write negative reviews, but sometimes you just don't like books and have valid reasons for it.

I don't like to leave books unfinished, so I slugged away (plus the hero's name starts with a U and I need a U hero). And while I didn't enjoy this book that much, it wasn't all bad. The idea of Lincoln employing werewolves to win the War Between the States (and it backfiring) was an interesting twist. The werewolf mythology when not played for cheap thrills was interesting. It has some good western action, and it has some of the character types you expect in a book of this genre. But there was a heavy hand with the violence, and the sex seemed to be on the exploitative side.

The descriptions of the characters reminded me of a low-budget soft-core with violence movie. The author tended to write the female characters in a way that felt very objectifying, and simultaneously the male character descriptions (with the exception of our larger-than-life, oh so manly hero) were largely repellant. Uriah Zane is a fairly likable hero, although I felt that his attributes were described in a way that spoke of godlike awe (or so the reader is supposed to feel) from the unseen narrator. Angel, who is the local female marshal and Uriah's sometime lover was admirably tough and heroic, but I felt like she could have been played by Shannon Tweed, Joan Severance, or Bobbie Phillips (three good actresses who have starred in their share of sex-ploitation films) in the 90s movie version. There were more sex scenes in this book than the average romance novel (which are all labeled as trashy romance, most of which are actually not this trashy). They brought mind the Emanuelle movies from the 80s, at least to me.

I think the idea of a group of werewolf bandidos on a rampage of violence felt authentic to the feel of a weird western adventure (which is why I wanted to read it). There is even a suitably evil and bodaciously sexy witch villainness (if that floats your boat). However, I could have done without the detailed descriptions of these very evil low-lives' actions against their helpless victims, interspersed with 'steamy sex'. These violent scenes also felt exploitative, like the 70s gore galore grindhouse cinematic greats. Lots of gushing stumps from beheaded victims and spilling entrails. Ugh!

Anyhoo. Caveat emptor. There's pulpy and there is sleazy. I think this is more in the sleazy territory. If you're in the mood for this, then you might enjoy Dust of the Damned. If you turn the channel when Tarantino films come on or when Cinemax goes 'dark', then you may want to pass this by.

Overall rating: 2.5/5.0 stars.

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Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Baltimore: The Plague Ships by Mike Mignola/Christopher Golden

Baltimore: The Plague Ships (Baltimore, #1)Baltimore: The Plague Ships by Mike Mignola

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The Plague Ships is bonafide horror.  Not only does our intrepid hero battle vampires, but he also battles Hessian zombies infected from nasty fungal blossoms!  Baltimore is a relentlessly driven man with a soul full of vengeance and hurt.  An act driven out of fear leads to his whole life being destroyed and the subsequent quest for vengeance against all vampires, and in particular one with a vicious scar on his face.

Mignola is an auto-read for me.  His imagination is expansive and he plumbs the nightmares and dreams of the collective consciousness, offering up his resulting creations for the reader's enjoyment and consideration.  This graphic novel is actually more true horror than his Hellboy stories, which straddle the dark fantasy line as much as horror. But the visions in this novel are right from the darkest depths of horror.  The horror is of the more overt kind:  vampires, plague and zombies, but also emotional. The endless quest of Baltimore and his non-healing heart wound from the loss of his family through his own well-meaning actions. The fact that he can never go home again, either emotionally or physically. 

As much as the writing is a strength, so are the illustrations. They have a clarity and a concreteness, even though they are all almost monotonal (blacks, tans, reds). They convey action beautifully, making this graphic novel as much an action work as a horror work.  The dialogue is rather spare, but the pictures give you the whole picture even when there is no narrative.

For readers who enjoy the enigmatic, dark loner on a quest for justice, knowing that he can no longer call any place his home, this is worth reading.  I also recommend it to readers who enjoy the more traditional brand of horror, where the monsters aren't human, and where good fights against evil, even though man often struggles against the evil in his own heart. 

It doesn't feel like a five star book, but it's definitely close. 

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Monday, July 08, 2013

The Warlord Wants Forever by Kresley Cole

The Warlord Wants Forever (Immortals After Dark, #1)The Warlord Wants Forever by Kresley Cole

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reread Completed for Immortals After Dark 2013 Group Reread (July 5-7, 2013)

This is the one that started it all. It's been great to go and revisit the first book of one of my favorite paranormal romance series (and book series) of all time.  Even after rereading again it so many years later, it still holds an enormous appeal. I just fell into this story head-first. I have to say that the world that Kresley Cole has built stands distinctive and very strongly in the genre.  This book reads more like fantasy with sex/romance than just paranormal romance (while there is nothing wrong with the later, a book that can carry itself in the fantasy world-building as strongly as the romance is even better).

I didn't forget how hot Cole writes love scenes. It's funny that although I don't consider myself a fan of erotica, I connect so strongly with her story in which the sex is frequent and blistering hot. Maybe it's because she writes it so well and there is so much else going on along with it. At any rate, this woman has you reaching for a cold drink indeed!

Nikolai Wroth:

Still fantastic.  Still delicious.  While I refuse to choose a favorite IAD hero, Nikolai does retain a soft spot in my heart.  He makes a non-vampire lover into a sign me up first convert. He's rough and unpolished, vengeful towards Myst. But his heart is so vulnerable, and he gives it on the platter very early on.  I can't resist a hard, tough hero with a soft heart.   A girl could not do much better to have Wroth as her devoted husband.  Even though he screws up very badly, oh boy does he make up for it!  Major sigh-worthy points!  Definitely on my hero to die for shelf for all times.


Myst is a woman of delightful layers. She seems callous and cruel at first, but it doesn't take long to see what a big heart she has, her depths of devotion and caring.  Myth's love of Nikolai's warrior-status and hard-earned battle scars was a distinctive part of her personality. At first, I had a problem with how she used her sexuality against her enemies, because I am not big on that, but I can understand the psychology behind it.  What was used against her, she took for her own strength, and it was just one tool in her armament. I sympathized with her over her broken heart when she finds out what Nikolai was hiding from her.  I didn't like what she did to him initially and so I didn't think his reaction was that bad. I think she met him tit for tat and respected his manner of dealing with her, knowing that he was the man for her because of his strengths and how it felt to be in his embrace. 

As a couple, I loved their courtship, warts and all.  When they weren't fighting, there was a lot of tenderness between.  It wasn't just about sexual attraction. Even before sex was possible, I could see that bond forming between them. For a short read, Kresley Cole beautifully builds a powerful love story that is missing in nothing, although I'd be lying if I didn't admit I would have loved a full-length novel.

I can't say too many good things about this novella.  This is stellar reading for this reviewer. The mix of hot romance, oh-so tender love, laugh out loud humor, and familial and friendship bonds really works for me.  I can see how Cole got a series deal out of this story. This is one of those novels that has you coming back for more.

*Pauses to think about the hotness of Nikolai Wroth and fans herself*  Where was I?

My series reread with the Immortals After Dark group on Goodreads is off to a fantastic start!

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Elektra: Assassin by Frank Miller/Bill Sienkiewicz

Elektra: AssassinElektra: Assassin by Frank Miller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Was thrilled to see this on the shelf at my library, since I've been wanting to read it for a while. Mostly enjoyed it, although there were some unpalatable aspects.  A good dose of sex and violence cocktail.  I am not a big fan of that combo.  You may say a duh to that, since Elektra is a sexy assassin.  I think it's all in the execution. 

Elektra was depicted as a whole lot of crazy in this book.  It occurs after her death and is about her resurrection by the Hand.  She becomes a killer designated in service of the Hand, indirectly the Beast (yeah that one). However, she slowly becomes aware of a conspiracy of the Beast to end the world through the use of political puppets and dedicates her exceedingly expert kills in the art of death-bringing to eliminate all involved.  She leaves quite a body trail behind her. 

The artwork is innovative and very stylish, with a use of multiple media to convey the visual message of and along with the narrative in this book.  Elektra doesn't speak much. She retains this mystique that adds to her allure. Most of her narrative was thought processes conveyed on the page. Honestly, I found her psychopathic in some ways.  I wasn't quite sure if what she was experiencing wasn't a psychopathic break, and didn't get clarity until the end. 

I wasn't quite in love with the storyline.  It was way more political than I would have liked.  I think I would have preferred a more intimate storyline.  I certainly didn't like some of the venues and the secondary players in this novel.  Wasn't that in love with Garrett's character or his ex-partner who turns out to be all kinds of icktastic.

Would you like this one? It depends. If you like Sin City (by the same writer), then probably. If you find some aspects of Sin City repellent, you might be like me, where I do like some aspects and others not so much.  Yes, you know you're in for violence and lots of it with Elektra.  I think I was hoping for something a little different in the execution. However, I can't give it less than four stars, because it's quite a work of art overall, the parts that were a turnoff, not withstanding.

At the end of the day, I am still a big fan of Elektra.  A guilty pleasure of mine (since at heart I am not a fan of unnecessary or gratuitous violence).  Yes on one level, I know that's probably wrong of me, but she's a bad@$$ female Ninja assassin who knows her way around a katana and sais (any edged weapon although her whole body is lethal), and can wreak all kinds of havoc in unimaginable ways.  And I have to love her for that!

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Dead Things by Stephen Blackmoore

Dead Things (Eric Carter #1)Dead Things by Stephen Blackmoore
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Dead Things is serious magic noir. The name of this book tells it all. This book is about a man surrounded by dead and the consequences it has on his life and his relationships with the living. The narrative is very cynical, with a main character who has a foul mouth and a dark point of view. Of course, anyone who has his necromantic abilities might tend to lose his faith in humanity and everything else. Despite that fact, I did like this book for the most part. Blackmoore lost me some near the end though. It was too abrupt and I didn't completely like the choice he made with the story. The end does make sense to some extent, and if this is a series, it will be interesting to see how Eric gets himself out of the mess he is currently in as of the end of this book.

I don't like to compare, but for male-lead UF readers, you could think of Eric as the darker counterpart to characters like Dresden and O'Sullivan, probably more like Connor Gray than the former. His gifts are part of him, and they taint his life in many ways. But in the case of Eric, his choices continue to alienate him from those who live and want connection with him. He fears tainting them or destroying them, but by walking away, he endangers them even more. Kind of a vicious cycle and a bound to bring on the existential crisis or dark night of the soul.

The imagery is what got me with this story. The world-building is suitably and necessarily dark for a story about a necromancer. His vantage point of life on the highways and backroads of America, seeing all the ghosts who either wander or who are anchored to their place of dying. In some ways a warrior for the light, but one who exists in the twilight and shadows. Eric sees and deals with many so-called deities and has little respect for them. Unfortunately, he makes a deal with one and will have to pay the piper very dearly.

I hadn't ever heard of Santa Muerte, the Patron Saint of the Narcos (Drug Traffickers) on the Mexican Border. A death goddess who started out in the Aztec pantheon, but found her way into the Narco-influenced border culture where she has plenty of followers. Blackmoore brings this mythology to vivid but disturbing life. A distinctive turn in urban fantasy that fits this very noir read.

I can't say Dead Things is for everyone. This is one is quite violent and kind of depressing in some ways. Lots of swear words and a great deal of irreverence on display, along with moments that border on being nauseating for the squeamish. Eric's choices aren't always admirable, but I did feel for him. He remains a sympathetic character despite his flaws. People around him tend to get hurt, and that's hard for me to read, especially since I can't 100% place that blame on his shoulders. I felt his loneliness and isolation, his front of apathy that doesn't quite hide a fear of being the screw-up that no can love, respect or stand up for. I wish his actions didn't turn this into a self-fulfilling prophecy. I want to continue this series to see what happens next to Eric, and to hope that he turns things around and stops walking away from life and deeper into the world of the dead, while there is still some part of him that has a connection to the living.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Friday, July 05, 2013

In Bed with a Highlander by Maya Banks

In Bed with a Highlander (McCabe Trilogy, #1)In Bed with a Highlander by Maya Banks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading this entire book, I would say the comparison to Julie Garwood's Highland romance books is apt. Yet, it's good to have a new author who writes Highland romance with a lovable heroine and a fierce hero who is not quite tamed, but definitely gives his heart to her. If it works, why not do it?

Favorite aspects of this novel:

*Hands down, I really like Mairin. Who doesn't like a heroine who is genuinely kind and good-hearted? One who is also tough and determined but sweet and innocent as well.
*A hero who does truly love her and shows it, despite the fact that it goes against his well-earned, tough-guy reputation to be a marshmallow for his woman. Ewan happily said I love you, which is awesome! (view spoiler)[Even though he married her for her dowry and heritage, in the end, he was more than willing to sacrifice that just to have her safe and sound with him. (hide spoiler)]
*The suspense was good. The book starts with a bang, and the tension is well-sustained throughout with threats on Mairin's life. My heart was beating very fast towards the end. I literally wondered if I would get the happy ending I expected. Of course, I was not disappointed.
*The bonding between Mairin and Crispen. Too cute how he would sleep in the bed with her and truly adored her. But then, she risked personal injury for his safety. Crispen was a cute kid period.
*I felt like the period was well-represented without going too stereotypical "Highland romance." While I don't mind brogue, it was nice that Banks didn't feel the need to pepper the dialogue with Highlander accents. And the hero didn't wear a kilt. He wore trews. A Highland book but I didn't have to constantly be reminded of that in an in-your-face way.

Wow moments:

*I think Mairin took more lickings than Harry Dresden from the series by Jim Butcher, and boy does he get hurt a lot! If this was a Charmed episode, she'd be rendered infertile by all the injuries she received (for those who watched, you know I'm talking about Piper).
*Evil, evil villain. I did feel cheated that (view spoiler)[ I didn't get to see him get his arse kicked by Ewan, Mairin, or at least someone. My hope is that this is rectified in future books. (hide spoiler)].
*Really like that Rhionna promises to be a bonafide kickbutt heroine. Looking forward to her book.
*The love scenes are nicely steamy! (view spoiler)[ I loved how after their first time is abbreviated by a threat, and Mairin does not have much confidence in Ewan's loving skills, he proves her wrong! (hide spoiler)]

Overall, this is a very good book. I am glad to find some newer Highland historical romance novels to read, since I enjoy them. While it wasn't mind-blowing, it was entertaining and had a novel feel to it so that I didn't feel like I was reading the same book again. The characters were well-developed and the humor touches were good. While Ewan and Mairin both have some miss-steps in their interactions with each other, it was clear that they were meant for each other, and I could feel the love. I also loved how Mairin won over the clan's loyalty.

I recommend this book to historical romance readers, especially those who enjoy medieval, Highlander books.

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