Saturday, August 31, 2013

Wicked Deeds on a Winter's Night by Kresley Cole

Wicked Deeds on a Winter's Night (Immortals After Dark, #4)Wicked Deeds on a Winter's Night by Kresley Cole

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my second read of this book, and my first attempt to review it.  I couldn’t write a review before, because it had been years since I read it, and my feelings were so all over the place. I didn’t think I could write an honest review at the time unless I did reread it. Don’t get me wrong. I love this book, and it’s definitely a five star read, but it challenged me in ways the first three books didn’t.

Bowen is a character we got to know in A Hunger Like No Other, and we followed up on him in No Rest for the Wicked.  I was already emotionally involved with him, so it was exciting for him to get his own story. Despite that fact, Bowen could be a major jerk at times.  I mean a serious clod.  Some of the thoughtless things he says and does towards Mariketa are just loutish.  I really winced at one particular misstep.  An epic fail.  I was just thinking:  Wow, Bowen. You’re like the guy who caught the ball that cost the Cubs their first chance at the World Series in a long time!  Yeah, that bad!

Despite the fact that Bowen commits some serious relationship nonos with Mariketa, he also has some heart-meltingly sweet moments where you can’t imagine not being bowled over by a guy like him wooing you.  I think that combination of ineptness and fan yourself appealing hotness makes him an unforgettable hero.  It means so much that despite the numerous obstacles he faces in his relationship with Mariketa, that he is able to win her heart and keep it, and leave behind all his preconceived notions and reservations about being involved with her.  And I can’t blame him for some of those, just about how insensitive he was in addressing  or dealing with them.

Mariketa is quite interesting as a heroine. Although she’s younger than Emmaline, she’s a lot more modern-thinking and less sheltered.  She embodies the modern twenties-something girl in a more recognizable way than Emmaline, although they both have that dynamic.  I liked that she was more street-smart than Emmaline because Bowen really needed someone who could handle him.  Now, that’s not to say that he doesn’t wound Mariketa, or sorely challenge her.  At times, I could see why Mariketa definitely was not feeling the idea of a relationship with him. She had very good reasons, especially with her abandonment/not measuring up issues and his disdain for witches.  On the second read, I was cheering her on a lot more.  When she called him on his selfishness, she hit the nail right on the head.  I could see why she wasn’t about to let her sexual attraction and maybe a little more feelings for Bowen deter her from the path she’d chosen, especially when Bowen  felt like she had to give up something that was so vital to her identity.

It struck me that this book has a lot more relationship drama than the previous books.  I think that although this is paranormal, some of the relationship dynamics would feel very familiar to a modern person with an active dating life; and they are trying to decide if someone is the ‘one’ they want to spend their life with.  Many readers seem to dislike the ‘love at first/fated to be mated’ concept, but Cole doesn’t use it as a crutch to get out of building a genuine bond between her characters, or as a foregone conclusion.   They still have to work out and through the particulars of cementing and committing to that relationship despite their instincts that they belong together.  Particularly in this book, I seriously wondered how Mariketa and Bowen would work things out. Their problems are pretty enormous despite their volcanic sexual chemistry and growing love for each other.  Since this is a romance, logically I know we’ll get a happy ending, but there is a good haul to get to that destination.

As always, Cole blisters the pages with the powerful sexual chemistry between her characters.  She tantalizes and teases the reader so that they are just as highly expectant for the promised consummation as her main characters. And she doesn’t disappoint when it happens.  I love the fact that Mariketa doesn’t make it easy for Bowen sexually.  She needs his respect as much as the sexual release he clearly can give her. She also needs trust, and that is something a reader can definitely identify with.  It just feels right. Even though the reader can love all the hot stuff, you can also get a connection between the main characters that makes sense intellectually and ethically (if that makes sense).  You don’t want a character who doesn’t respect herself enough to expect respect from a hero.

Wow, this review turned out pretty long. I guess I did have a lot to say.  Everything I love about Cole’s writing is here.  She challenges me in ways, but that’s good.  While this book has a bit more angst than the first three books, it also has some good humorous bits.  The suspense storyline is intense, and it ties together very well.  I liked that I didn’t remember exactly how everything goes together, which is a mark of a good book, that you can see more in the story with each read.  Wicked Deeds on a Winter’s Night is a worthwhile read for fans of well-written, sexy paranormal romance.  

Final Shoutout: Bowen, I’m glad you finally got your act together.  High five!  Mariketa, you go girl!

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Joe Golem and the Drowning City by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden

Joe Golem and the Drowning City: An Illustrated NovelJoe Golem and the Drowning City: An Illustrated Novel by Mike Mignola

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Joe Golem and the Drowning City is a lovely sort of homage to HP Lovecraft and the Jewish golem folklore tradition. One wonders how they can exist together harmoniously in the same work, but Mignola and Golden do exactly that.

New York City is a very different place from the one we know and love in this book.  Some sort of ecological disaster turned half of the city into what is essentially a Venetian-like, water-logged environment.  Downtown flooded, and those who lived there are cut off from the denizens of Uptown and forced to fend for themselves. Like humans are apt and known to do, they adapt to a semi-aquatic lifestyle, living on the top floors of the taller buildings, constructing bridges and mazeways between buildings and using watercrafts to navigate the flooded streets.

This novel is initially about two of its citizenry:  An elderly magician named Felix Orlov, who can communicate with the dead, and his unofficially adopted daughter, fourteen-year-old, redheaded, former street kid, Molly McHugh.  Their somewhat harmonious lifestyle is brutally interrupted when strange, inhuman creatures abduct Felix, failing to capture Molly when she is saved by a big, rough-looking man named Joe.  Joe is special, more than they realize initially. His colleague is the ancient British gentleman, Simon Church, a man who has adapted his failing organs with mechanical parts (added a steampunk-like flair to the story). He also uses a mix of science, machinery, and magic to monitor the supernatural barometer of the city. He happens to detect a very large spike in activity the day that Felix is kidnapped, and Molly teams up with them both to find out what happened to Felix and to save him and save the world in the process.

This is a rather solemn tale.  Joe's past is very tortured, and along with Simon's regrets about the past, and Felix's special legacy, the storyline is fairly dark.  Molly is a spunky and energetic young woman, who's seen more bad things than a person of her age should. She has trouble trusting, with good reason. We feel her pain as she is helpless against forces that pull the man who is as close to a father to her as any man could be away from her by events beyond their control.

In addition to the somber tone, the Lovecraft-type storyline adds a cosmic horror to the story.  While I am personally a bit alienated by Lovecraft's concept of an ancient, extra-dimensional cosmos and its denizens (which are indifferent to our moral concepts and even our right to exist as humanity),  Mignola and Golden add an emotional context that makes this typical idea more relatable and almost heartfelt.

One of the downsides to this book is the villain truly never feels invincible or formidable. He comes off more as a petulant child who is playing with matches (dabbling with magics and science far beyond his ken), than a disturbing force for evil. He felt like a paper tiger, which is a bit of a pet peeve of mine.  I need a villain who is truly formidable--one that I question if the hero will be able to prevail against.   His creations were disgusting, and while repulsive and off-putting, they don't add much in a positive way to the creepy tone of the book. 

Despite being somewhat disappointed with the villain, I was drawn to Joe's character, his painful struggle, his search for identity, and the integration of past and future. I also liked Molly. She feels like 'me' in the sense that she is the everyday person put in bizarre and non-ordinary circumstances. I think a good weird fiction tale needs that kind of protagonist.

Mignola just does it for me, with his stories and his creations. His collaborations with Golden have been unilaterally successful so far, and I add this one to the list.  I hope to see more of Joe Golem and Molly McHugh, and more of the Drowning City.  Recommended to weird fiction readers, and avowed fans of classic horror motifs and loving homages.

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Witness by Nora Roberts

The Witness [With Earbuds]The Witness [With Earbuds] by Nora Roberts
My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

I want to thank Shawna for recommending this book to me. In all honesty, I am not a huge fan of Nora Roberts' romance novels, although I do like her JD Robb In Death series. While this book didn't change my opinion of her on convert her to a must-read author for me, I enjoyed this book, and I can see she is a very good writer. Having said that, I don't find her romance style very moving personally. As far as suspense, she definitely works better for me.

This novel feels like an odyssey. It starts with a very young, innocent teenage girl whose rigidly structured, emotionally vacant life is completely destroyed by one bad decision she makes out of rebellion. Nora Roberts invests us in the emotional and intellectual journey of this young woman, and I completely felt for and loved young Elizabeth. This was highly crucial to go back to when things went pear-shaped so that we could relate to the older version of this character, who is now living as Abigail Lowery.

What didn't work quite as well as the diversion that the storyline takes with the Blake family and their out-of-control son. While this was more germane to Brooks Gleason's (Abigail's love interest) narrative, I don't think it really tied very well into the main plot of Abigail, what and who she was running from, and I'm not sure it was that important to Brooks' characterization. Even at the end, I wasn't convinced that it was necessary to the story. More than anything, it was just added local color.

The romance part mostly worked for me, but it didn't set the page on fire. Roberts idea of romance just isn't dramatic enough for me. Even the sensual scenes didn't have much spark for me. I could see the love between Abigail and Brooks, and I really liked how Brooks was willing to be there for her and to be whatever she needed him to be. Although at the same time, Brooks could be quite obstinate and set in his ways kind of guy and forceful (in an aww-shucks, disarming but I'm a brickwall manner) about getting his way in situations. He was like a immovable mountain about some things, and Abigail had to be the one who changed her viewpoint in those areas. It was funny and kind of cute how he pushed Abigail out of her unemotional/controlled, Fortress of Solitude mien and left her completely discombobulated. I can see their marriage being very interesting, considering the way their personalities are so different. Where Abigail is the analytical, rule-oriented person, Brooks is very instinctive, and emotional. At the same time, he's a very steady guy who you know you can trust. That's highly appealing. I do feel like they were able to meet each other halfway and didn't steamroll each other, which was good. So I could believe they were a perfect match.

Ultimately, what I loved most of all is how Brooks was perfectly fine with earning his way in Abigail's insular life by letting his actions show he was trustworthy and that deserved her love. He also didn't try to take away Abigail's need to make decisions and autonomy in her life, because he knew how important that was. Sometimes, I imagine it was hard for him not to take it personally, but he looked past his own feelings to the whys and was willing to give her that and support her on things she really needed.

As for Abigail, I think loving Brooks helped her to grow in crucial ways. For her to know it was okay not to understand the rules for everything, and to just go with the flow emotionally in relationships that were based on mutual trust. I think the O'Hara/Gleason clan will be good for Abigail, but I think I would find them overwhelming at times. They are quite pushy! I can't imagine Abigail not feeling that way based on her previous familial frame of reference.

The Volkov storyline was very intriguing, but I was left feeling a little disappointed at the conclusion. The resolution made sense, but I was hoping for a more face to face confrontation. I guess that's the action/drama hound in me. I guess that was the best way to handle it, but man I would have loved some buttkicking and a show off. Abigail was kind of a bad@$$, but she never got to show it. Oh well.

Overall, this was a good read.

Things I loved:

*Such a brilliant, analytical, heroine
*Brooks' laid back, but Bulldoggedly stubborn personality and his southern charm.
*The descriptions and imagery built by Roberts writing.
*Russian mafia storyline and how Abigail continually gets one over on them
*Crazy O'Hara/Gleason family dynamics--like watching reality tv
*Abigail's dog Bert
*Small town slice of life

Worth a 4.25/5.0 star rating. I'd recommend it.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

House of Mystery, Vol.#1: Room and Boredom by Matthew Sturges

House of Mystery, Vol. 1: Room and BoredomHouse of Mystery, Vol. 1: Room and Boredom by Matthew Sturges
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up House of Mystery because it was recommended to people who enjoyed Fables, and I can see the appeal. The concept is one of almost existential horror. Five people end up in a strange house, and they cannot leave its grounds. Essentially, they are trapped in a nightmare they can't wake up from. I have had those dreams where I can never get where I'm supposed to go, no matter how many diversions in direction I make. Finally I wake up out of sheer frustration and the futility of the effort. I liken the feeling of this to how the characters must have felt (or still do).

Inside the house is a bar where all sorts of beings (many not remotely human) can enter and drink and eat, and they can leave. They pay for their drinks by telling a story of their choice. The drama of this piece is processing the stories of the visitors, and learning why the five characters ended up in the house.

The newbie is Fig, and she has a very strange connection to the house. She designed it, in fact. A house of her dreams that she was told by her professor didn't make sense. Yet here it is. Despite the fact, she wants out of the house. She'll learn that she's not alone, but the other four have accepted the fact that they won't be leaving the house anytime soon.

The House of Mystery is a cleverly constructed creation in which this strange house and its trapped denizens set the framework for the explication of other stories, told by the visitors to the bar within the house. The stories are varied in tone. One in particular was very gruesome, bringing back memories of dealing with such a situation in real-life veterinary practice. Another takes a very different look at fairy tale princesses and their search for their true love prince--a jaundiced one at that. One is about a mafia assassin who gets the best of his would-be murderers. It's hard to pin these into one genre except by calling the sum total speculative fiction. The artwork conveys much in each story, and about the house and the five people who are trapped within it. This is one of those graphic novels where I trained my eye to examine everything in the picture, so I didn't miss anything important to the story. I liked that different drawing styles and inking/coloration, and lettering techniques are used in each story to convey a narrator change and also the distinct tone of each story.

It's hard to say exactly how I feel about this overall. 'Like' isn't the right word. Let's say I appreciate it for what it is, thus the four star rating. While not all the stories were to my personal taste, I was left with an overall positive feeling towards this graphic novel, and my interest has been perked in continuing this series.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Mercy Thompson: Homecoming by Patricia Briggs

Mercy Thompson:  HomecomingMercy Thompson: Homecoming by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The visual medium has a distinctive way of conveying a story to a reader. Unlike movies, graphic novels encourage a reader to use their imagination based on the visual images presented (we see the artist rendering, but our minds process those pictures into a three-dimensional finished product in our minds). Honestly, I wasn't quite sold on the concept of popular, already published books translated into the graphic novel medium. Now I am! It’s just an additional way to gain exposure to one’s favorite books and series.

It was utterly diverting to see Mercy Thompson's prequel story in the graphic novel format! As most already know, I am a huge fan of Patricia Briggs and this series. Seeing Mercy in action on the page, not to mention the other characters from this series I know and love, just primes the well of my devotion.

The artwork is beautiful, and the script feels like Mercy's voice, which was crucial to connecting to this graphic novel as an authentic part of the Mercy Thompson story. In other words, it was an extension of the series as I know. For readers who are curious about how Mercy ended up in the Tri-Cities, working for Zee, with the oh-so scrumptious Adam Hauptman as a landlord, this book will fill you in on that.

The artists captured the motion and action of a story in which wolves clash with each other over territory--rogues versus Adam’s pack under the aegis of Bran Cornick, the Marrok (leader of all North American werewolves); vampires attacking humans (and one vampire named Stefan befriending Mercy); and a smaller, but incredibly courageous walker (Mercy) who dives in to save the day when necessary. The colors were beautiful, and the artists render Mercy beautifully, revealing her appeal, valor, and strength of will. Stefan is quite creepy-looking. I can see why Mercy was wary of Stefan and his offer of friendship. Zee has a Loki-like mischievous look to his face that fits what I would think of him as a gremlin. Adam is as gorgeous and full of presence as he seems in my mind. The wolves are dangerous and powerful, creatures that inspire fear in others, even the wolves who don’t attack humans. Mercy’s coyote form is small and spry and just what I imagined. I’d say the artists did Patricia Briggs’ characters justice.

Mercy is the kind of heroine you want to give a high five. She's so down-to-earth and fierce in an everyday way. She has to work for a living, and is not afraid to do so. Nor is she unwilling to pay her dues. She's taken steps towards establishing her independence and keeping it. She clearly has emotional wounds from being abandoned by her mother, later losing her adoptive parents and the safety of Bran, the Marrok's pack. She rejects the Marrok's overtures to take her back in, determined to live her own life. You can see how ‘complicated’ her relationship with Adam promises to be. Lots of tension and sparks between them already.

Homecoming is a great addition to the Mercy Thompson series. It successfully captures the spirit of this series for fans. Homecoming takes us back to the start of Mercy’s time in the Tri-Cities, fills in the blanks on what we don’t know about her prior to Moon Called, and exploits the visual medium to tell the story of one of my all-time favorite heroines in beautiful, living color. I need to pick up the other Briggs graphic novels at the library as soon as I have the time to fit them into my reading schedule!

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pacific Vortex! by Clive Cussler

Pacific Vortex! (Dirk Pitt, #1)Pacific Vortex! by Clive Cussler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the foreword, Clive Cussler mentioned that he created Dirk Pitt to be a character in the vein of James Bond, and he certainly brings that to mind.  Not in the most flattering way for me though.  He reminds of the aspects of the Bond films from the 60s-80s I did not like. The casual disregard for women (their relevance mainly relegated to their use as pawns or sex objects), with a little bit of violence thrown in.  Before anyone gets angry, you know what they say about opinions. This is mine.  I just have a button with this type of character, and it was pushed with this book.  Having said that, if I disregard Pitt's womanizing, woman-dismissing ways, this is a pretty good book.

I liked the maritime adventure a lot. I also enjoyed Cussler's highly visual portrait of the Pacific Ocean.  The Pacific isn't a static, inanimate setting in this novel.  In fact, it is personified in ways that I found very affecting.  The Pacific in this novel, is not just a place of awe-inspiring natural beauty, but also a place of violence and hidden menace. 

As far as plotting, Cussler draws out the mystery of the Pacific Vortex very well.  Initially, I was prepared to be believe in the otherworldly phenomena as evidenced. It was pretty creepy, in fact. That ghosts could menace and attack the living.  Pitt is a lot more cynical than I am though.  He doesn't believe it for a minute.  Good thing, because the Navy has tasked him with finding the lost submarine.  This novel progresses in waves, point A moving naturally to point Z, and as it goes the storyline changes.  Eventually, it arrives to a slightly different destination that I expected, but it's fitting in the context of what Cussler's overall goals were in writing this book and creating the character of Dirk Pitt.

I'm glad I decided to keep reading this, even after being turned off by Pitt's behavior towards women.  The adventure drew me in.  I found the maritime/ship components of the storyline interesting.  Although there was a fair amount of jargon, it did not hinder my ability to understand what was going on. Instead, it immersed me deeper into the story. The adventure scenes were good, with many on the edge, hold-your-breath moments.  Not just man versus man, but also nature versus man.  Going back to the overall personification of the deep, infinite Pacific Ocean and all that it holds. There are infinite ways the Ocean can kill you, besides bad guys in the water, and Cussler just scratches the surface in this novel.

My rating takes into consideration the following factors:

:  Good Overall, but I give it an F for romance--totally unbelievable.  All of a sudden, love blooms between getting hit in the groin and socking a woman on the jaw, and meeting twice more!  Sorry, but I can't buy that any woman would fall in love with Pitt that fast, especially after being knocked out with a punch to the jaw.)  (Point deduction for unbelievable romance)

Characters: Fair--Pitt is sometimes unlikable (arrogant and dismissive), and other characters are less developed. He was hard to relate to, which made me more judgmental of his flaws. I wasn't allowed to get to know the other characters very well since they were more like ways to progress the storyline than three-dimensional characters.  (Point taken off for underdeveloped and marginalized female characters and the manner in which the male lead treats females.)

Action/Adventure Scenes
: Very good.  Good emphasis on the dangers of the Pacific Ocean and the use of maritime setting.

Honorable Mentions:  Nice twists in the storyline.  Cool evolution in the identity of the villain and what that person wanted.  Nice blast to the past: This book me back to the 80s where most of us kiddos wondered who would push the button first.

End Verdict:  Pacific Vortex! as my introduction to Clive Cussler didn't blow me away.  I've had it on good authority that he has some excellent books and Dirk's caveman personality isn't representative across the board of typical characterization in his body of work.  It had some good points and some bad points.  Overall a good adventure novel and an entertaining read.  Glad my library had a copy because this isn't a book I feel the need to add to my personal library.  I may have an ongoing love/hate relationship with Dirk Pitt that has nothing to do with my dislike of Matthew McConaughey, since I haven't even seen Sahara.

Ultimately, I am thankful that members of the Action/Adventure Aficionados selected this book for our August Group Read, warts and all.

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Games for Sophisticates by Diana Hamilton

Games for Sophisticates by Diana Hamilton

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Games for Sophisticates is a good name for this book, because it is about playing love like it's a game. Of course we know someone always gets hurt in that particular game.  Quilla is put in the difficult situation of being asked by her brother to attract the attention of powerful businessman and ladies man Fraser McGill so that he will end his affair with her brother's wife.  Quilla loves her brother and would do just about anything for him, but she knows she's out of her league making a play for Fraser.  It turns out Fraser falls for the bait. His eye is on Quilla and he spends the rest of the book pursuing her, in various ways. 

Quilla doesn't like Fraser at all. She has contempt for his love 'them and leave them ways' and she has to balance that dislike with the need to keep him on the hook so that her brother can repair his troubled marriage. Yet the more time she spends with Fraser, it grows harder to resist his seductive allure, and her feelings of dislike are conflicted by growing feelings of attraction to him. Occasionally, glimpses of the gentle, good man show through and gain her affection. However, she soon reminds herself that everyone knows (and he says it himself) he's incapable of staying with a woman and loving her.  Quilla is a love and marriage (eventually) girl. She has no time or inclinations for an affair, even with a sexy man like Fraser.  So, she makes it clear that all she feels for him is contempt as soon as she can.  But Fraser is not a man to be played with.  He gives her an ultimatum that ups the ante, and she has to show her hand or fold.  But no one walks away from Fraser McGill.

This book is quite full of emotional/sexual tension.  I liked that about the book.  Set in the 80s, you can see the change in social mores and dynamics.  While Quilla isn't sexually active, she doesn't come off as anachronistic in her personal morals. Instead, she's shown as a careful, somewhat introverted woman who has been focused on career and family, not playing the dating game. In that sense, it is not unbelievable that she would be susceptible to Fraser. However, she uses strength of will and cruel words to keep herself from becoming sexually involved with Fraser for most of this book.  I didn't blame her for not wanting to get her heart broken by him.  However, I did feel she was very mean and cruel in a lot of things she said and did to him.  Usually, I feel that the hero is the one who is being mean to the heroine. In this case, Quilla takes that role.  Fraser actually is quite nice to her. Of course, he's trying to get her to sleep with him, but he's not given the opportunity to truly know Quilla and her value system because she's stringing him along. He thinks she's up for the usual sort of relationship dynamic.  When he finds out she won't be easily brought to heel, he resorts to some manipulations that aren't fair play, but considering the way she shuts him down continually, I didn't hold it against him.  I felt that compared to how mean Quilla was to him, it was fair play.

I didn't rate this one higher because of the mind games and mean things Quilla said and did to Fraser. I understood why, but I winced at poor Fraser when he gives her something very beautiful and from the heart and she rejects it cruelly.  I also didn't like how her brother was using his fairly sheltered sister against a known rake instead of manning up and saving his marriage the right way instead of manipulating his wife and her so-called lover.  I felt that part was pretty immature and silly.

Overall, this is a good book. I liked Quilla's friend and business partner Nico.  I couldn't quite figure out how he felt towards Quilla and wondered what his intentions were.  I'm assuming he was respecting the friend barrier, but he would have taken things further if he had any indication Quilla was willing.  That was one part I didn't mind, Fraser's jealousy about Nico, although it was mean on Quilla's part at the same time (she told Fraser a lie about their relationship).  As I've said before, I like a jealous hero.  I think that despite a lack of an on-the-page consummation, this was sensual and full of sexual tension.  The end is very good, and I liked that for once, Quilla had to do the work in their relationship.   Poor Fraser deserved as much.

A pretty good HP for readers who like their 80s output.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Touch of Midnight by Lara Adrian

A Touch of Midnight (Midnight Breed, #0.5)A Touch of Midnight by Lara Adrian
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It was great to read the story of how Gideon and Savannah met. I must say that they are one of my favorite Breed couples, and I always wondered how they got together. Overall, I enjoyed this book. I didn't like it quite as much as I wanted to though. I think that was because Gideon is so sex-bombalicious nerdtastic in the other books, I wanted to see more of his oh-so alluring geekiness. Instead, he was much like the other Breed males in his demeanor although there was a cool part about him creating a precursor to the laptop we know and love today (cause guess what I'm typing this review on right now?). Thus, this book didn't really stand out that much from the other books. That was probably my biggest issue and why this wasn't higher rated. Also, I didn't like (view spoiler)[how Gideon promised not to fight in the field because of Savannah's fear of it. To me, it makes her into the bad guy to take that away from him. Fact is, they live in a world with a lot of violence, and I think that Gideon's status as a warrior is honorable and something to be proud of. Yes, there is risk, but he's very good at what he does. I wouldn't want to take that away from him. It does answer why he doesn't fight, but since he had a bullet stuck in his head, that was just as good a reason for him not to fight (hide spoiler)]. Even though Gideon wasn't as geeky, I still liked him a lot. I love his typical British colloquialisms, which we see in this novella as well.

What I loved was getting to know Savannah. I really, really like her. She's very young, but she has a maturity that I respected about her. She's a very intellectual person with a keen mind, and I could see part of why they were drawn to each other. Also her strong sense of right and wrong, and that traditional heroic urge, which is addressed in the novella. When she gets a vision of Gideon by touching his sword, you could instantly feel that bond begin between them, and when they meet, the rest is inevitable.

One thing that stood out to me was that Adrian stays grounded in the 70s setting throughout this book. The scene when Gideon tells her to call the Order, she has to grab coins out of her purse and run outside to a pay phone. That was really well done. At first, I expected her to pull out her cell phone, and I would imagine that would be Adrian's gut instinct to write that, but she remembers that they don't have cell phones at that time. I was instantly reminded that this is set about thirty-odd years in the past. She didn't have to keep hitting me over the head with descriptions of bell-bottoms and stuff like that either.

Ultimately, if you're a fan of the Breed series, I don't see why you wouldn't like this. It has the same feel and intensity of the other books. I think the biggest draw was getting to see Gideon and Savannah's backstory on paper, and although it was a short novella, it was well done and I believe in their love, past, present and future. Of course, it was awesome to see more of Tegan, 'cause I just love him!

And I'm really happy to see a popular paranormal romance novelist who is upfront and comfortable with depicting a loving, committed interracial relationship in her books. Kudos for that, Ms. Adrian.

A respectable four star read for me.

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Connelly's Flame by Alilyah Burke

Connelly's Flame (The Megalodon Team, #3) Connelly's Flame (The Megalodon Team, #3) by Aliyah Burke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finally, I've started this series. I am smacking my head and asking what took me so long. Navy SEALs, interracial. Am I crazy? Well, I have rectified my mistake, and I am a happy camper.

This was a really good book. Aliyah Burke is an excellent writer. Her voice is authentic and polished to the eyes, making for an enjoyable reading experience. Her characters are real life and likable, flaws and all. I loved Dezarae. She was unique and interesting. Her ethnicity was a part of who she was, but she was in no way a stereotype. I liked that she was normal-sized with muscles from the physical work she did, and she was sexy with it. I loved her independence and the fact that she was good at doing something she loved--restoring cars. I've never been into cars, but movies like Gone in 60 Seconds, XXX, and the Fast and the Furious movies have pricked my interest. I recognized the Shelby from Gone in 60 Seconds, which was awesome. I seriously love a heroine who has her own life going on, but at the same time, she's open and warm. Dezarae opened her heart and her life to Ross in two huge ways: she saved his life, and she gave his daughter a safe, warm home. How could you not love her? Another thing I loved about this book was how many male friends she had (and no, not in dirty-minded way). I like to see women having male friends and being able to fit into that world easily because of their mutual interests. They respected her for her personality and her car savvy. They accepted her for who she was and she was happy in her own skin. People do want to be around you when you are confident and outgoing, so it makes total sense. It makes me wonder if I need to get into this kind of hobby so I meet more guys (I'm kidding, mostly)! Too bad I don't have a bit of mechanical car sense other than how not to get ripped off by car mechanics! Anyway, Dezarae had wonderful texture and I loved her as a heroine. I would have loved to understand why she had trouble believing Ross really loved her. I'm guessing it had something to do with her failed relationship with Jack, but this isn't explained. Maybe the fear of loss from her father dying...

Ross was not only deliciously hot, he was a genuinely nice guy. He cracked me up with his possessive jealousy. I like that in a hero, and I like that he wasn't too irrational about it. He had to deal with the fact that his woman was the kind of woman that men liked being around, even on a platonic basis. For all of that, he didn't try to change her or mold her to fit his preconceived notions. He really found her sexy for who she was. I think he was a very good dad, and I liked seeing him with his daughter Charmane (and I feel her part added significantly to the book, and she wasn't just a plot point), and how natural it felt for them as a family with Dezarae. He did have some insecurities about being low on the totem pole in his Team, but he wasn't aggravating about it. Towards the end, he was tripping out some, but I forgive him!

As far as romance rating, I rate this high. It's very steamy and that was great. Burke writes great love scenes: hot and sensual without being a turnoff because of the raunch factor. The steam shows the feelings and the growing love between Dezarae and Ross. You could see although there was intense chemistry between them from the beginning, they don't jump right into bed, which was great. They give their feelings time to be real and not just about sex. And when they do get intimate, it's so much better!

I can tell that Burke does have some real-life understanding of the military. She writes a sexy, credible Navy SEAL hottie hero, but it feels realistic and deals with the hard realities of that life. I loved the friendship between Ross and his Team, and how they open up ranks around his new-found love. Although I haven't read the first two books, seeing the couples from those makes me eager to read them very soon. Of course, I will make sure I get all the books in this series (I think I have most of them already), because I definitely want to read more of SEAL Team Megalodon and the women they love.

I guess I'll have to give this five stars, 'cause I really liked it a lot!

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson

Royal Street (Sentinels of New Orleans, #1)Royal Street by Suzanne  Johnson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Royal Street is a very refreshing and enjoyable urban fantasy read.  I was captivated by the sights and scenery of New Orleans, and the honest and enlightening perspective of the city during and after the Hurricane Katrina devastation.  We did get refugees (both human and animal) from New Orleans around that time in the Austin, and also the poisoned air drifted our way, causing a lot of allergy and respiratory issues.  Seeing the aftermath from a more distant perspective was painful enough. I can't imagine having experienced it firsthand. Ms. Johnson allowed me to do this in reading this book.  New Orleans has such a personality, that it continually establishes itself as a important character in her own right in books.  This reader is not jaded at meeting this beautiful ancient dame yet again.

Drusilla Jaco doesn't cede all the attention to New Orleans. She establishes herself as a likable character whose story you want to learn.  She's neither too strong, nor too weak.  Her strengths and weaknesses balance themselves out, making her a character I want to accompany on an adventure.  Drusilla is a wizard, which is fun.  Usually the tendency is to make a female UF protagonist a witch, which I feel can be a bit sexist. It could also be that I am not a big fan of witch storylines and witchcraft.  I can and do like the idea of wizards a little more, and why can't a woman be a wizard? In this case, she is not just a wizard, but one with a special heritage which comes into play. That was fun to see Drusilla, or DJ, as she is called, come into herself and her genetic inheritance.

As far as other characters, I definitely liked Alex and Jake. Boy howdy, I do not care for love triangles, but this one feels credible.  Both guys have a lot to offer, and you do feel torn. I have made up my mind who I want Drusilla to end up with, but we'll see what the series has to say about that.  Either way, so long as it doesn't turn into bed-switching (which has become almost an UF staple lately), I'm okay with going along for the ride. Now that Jean Lafitte, he's a character. I find him sexy, but it's in a "I'm so wrong to think he's sexy" kind of way.  I mean, he's ruthless and amoral, and he is physically abusive. I'm not feeling that at all. At the same time, he is a cutthroat pirate, so I can't really ascribe 21st century values to him, can I?  Yeah, I'm feeling conflicted.  At any rate, he's an interesting character.  I can't really tell you about one of my favorite characters, who is in fact an inanimate object that DJ calls Charlie.  Let me just say that Lord of the Rings fans will find it very cool indeed!

As far as the urban fantasy action, this book is pretty good on that score although it could have used more showing and more description.  I did feel that the final confrontation wasn't as exciting and as well-executed as I would have liked. Admittedly, I am a stickler for well-written action scenes, so I tend to grade harder in that area.  I did like that Drusilla does get to save the day. It was important for her to be able to do so, even though she did get a bit of help along the way.

Royal Street is a great start to a series that has me excited to read more.  I liked the concept and the characters are appealing and have me interested in reading more, including the Grande Dame of New Orleans. 

Urban fantasy readers looking for a book that would appeal to both male and female readers should find something to like in this book. I know I did!

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Man to Marry by Carole Mortimer

A Man to MarryA Man to Marry by Carole Mortimer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Gee, this didn't really feel like a Carole Mortimer book.  I didn't feel a lot of chemistry between Cat and Caleb, and it wasn't very compelling.  Caleb doesn't have the appeal of Mortimer's typical heroes. He was cute and had an adorable scholarly vibe that I liked.  It was appealing that he wasn't taking no for an answer when Cat was not amenable to dating him. He was persistent and won her over.   

Overall this wasn't bad. I liked the small town vibe, and I am a sucker for a hero who is a good dad (especially a single parent father).  I liked that little Adam was actually in the book a fair amount.  He was a cute kid, so it was good to see him recovering from the angst of losing his mom.  Cat was a nice woman, but she didn't strike me as very memorable. I didn't care much for the big secret that Cat and her roomie Kate were keeping about Kate's grandmother. I didn't think it was that big a deal.  I mean, it was sad what happened to parties involved, but as far as tension, it didn't make for an exciting conflict in this book.

Overall, a decent book, but it lacks the zing and the intensity that I look for in Harlequin Presents books.  Small town charm and a slow-building romance is good, so I can't rate this lower than a three.  Just not enough here to appeal to me.  Definitely an average read.

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The Power of Vasilii by Penny Jordan

The Power of VasiliiThe Power of Vasilii by Penny Jordan
My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

I picked this one up immediately after finishing the companion book, The Most Coveted Prize, because I was very intrigued with Alena's older brother, Vasilii. My instincts about him were correct. He initially comes off as a cold, forbidding, all business type hero. But underneath there is a lot of untapped passions. Laura is the woman to open that door to the intense man that Vasilli keeps tightly leashed.

Sometimes I feel that romance novels just aren't romantic anymore. A sad realization for a die-hard romance novel fan. Like something is missing and the story is just painting by numbers. I don't feel that emotional connection that really makes a romance sing to me. I didn't feel that way with this novel. There was something intensely romantic about this book. I guess it was the fact that Laura and Vasilii seem so lonely and disconnected. You don't expect love to develop between people in their situations, especially together, but it does, so beautifully. The fact that they find each other and realize that they love each other deeply was very appealing.

That is not to say that Vasilii's actions are always ideal. He has the wrong idea about Laura early on, and refuses to change his mind. But slowly and surely, he sees her integrity and honor and the sweet heart of her, and he can't help but fall in love. And honestly, even though he doesn't respect her, he treats her well as an employee. Although he mismanages his sister's development in ways that lead to her situation with Kiryl in the first book, I loved that he was a man who believed in respecting and honoring women. I cheered for him when he refused to allow Laura to be a pawn in his business dealings. He showed how much integrity he had. Even outside of his developing feelings, I could see that he knew that wasn't right to use a woman that way regardless. And even though he pushed her away and hurt Laura when he realized he was falling for her, I could see that she was in his heart. Ultimately, Vasilii was kind of a sweet guy.

I really liked the fact that Laura was a likable, very intelligent, independent woman who was excellent at her job. She understood two difficult languages: Russian and Mandarin Chinese, but also understood the crucial cultural dynamics and facilitated Vasilii's delicate negotiations. I especially liked how she made a connection with the wife of the Chinese businessman, which actually made the deal go through in the end.

This was a lot better than the first book. I think it's because I liked Laura's maturity and composure, and Vasilii has this vibe of being all "still waters run deep". Those are the heroes who really heat things up in books when their iron composure finally melts!

The scene when Vasilii finds out how long Laura has been in love with him, and the significance of the earrings was so sweet. A definitely 'aww' moment!

This is a good one! A lot to like about this book. Overall rating: 4.25/5.0 stars.

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A Summer Storm by Robyn Donald

A Summer Storm (Harlequin Presents, #1408)A Summer Storm by Robyn Donald

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A life-threatening storm brings Oriel into the world of larger-than-life Blaize.  He is the one she runs to for help when her cousin is seriously injured when their camping site floods.  Forced to stay at his house until she recovers and the storm passes, she realizes she's in way too deep as her feelings for the bossy, yet very attractive man turn into love.

Blaize convinces her to be the governess for his young niece, a good use of her excellent teaching skills, but dangerous because the more time she spends with him, the more she loves him. 

Blaize definitely has charisma.  I could see a woman falling under his spell.  He wasn't always likable, but at the same time, there was something that makes a woman want to let him take care of her.  Oriel is a down-to-earth heroine whose very ordinariness makes her relatable.  She's got some self-esteem issues because of her unusual height and gawky, angular frame--the fact that her mother never let her live it down that her only child isn't small, blonde, and delicately beautiful like she is.  In my mind, I could see Oriel having a gorgeous dark-haired beauty like Angie Harmon (except with blue eyes and pale skin).  And a big and tall man like Blaize would probably appreciate having a tall drink of water with legs for days.

This book doesn't have that much going on. Just an intense relationship drama. Donald has definitely written meaner heroes. Instead, Blaize just comes off as a tough, authoritative alpha who is used to getting his way all the time.  I enjoyed his sense of being perplexed that the seemingly meek Oriel doesn't roll over for him like all the women he's known.  He falls hard for her, and this book is just about Oriel and Blaize coming to terms with their feelings for each other and realizing they are mutual. Readers who enjoy tropical scenery will like the descriptions of the New Zealand island flora. 

I would give it four stars because I enjoyed reading about Oriel and Blaize falling in love, and there are pretty good sparks although not a lot of on the page, descriptive love scenes.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

No Rest for the Wicked (Immortals After Dark, #3)No Rest for the Wicked by Kresley Cole

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

2nd Read Completed Between 8/11-8/12/13

There is something about this series that feels like sinking into a comfortable, well-loved pair of shoes, or diving into your favorite comfort dish (think Mac N' Cheese).  These books absorb me like few others.  I was excited to reread it, and hopeful I would feel more connected and like Kaderin more this time around.  It actually happened, so yay!

Before, I felt like she was just so mean to Sebastian and it bothered me. This time, I could put her into context of her life, and what she'd suffered.  Her sorrow and her guilt at losing her sisters.  How she couldn't bring them back, and had to live so many years without them. So she dedicated herself to wiping out those who had taken them from her.  I could see why she was so armored against Sebastian.  And yet, he found his way into her heart. That was a beautiful thing to experience, and it made me love Sebastian even more.  I also realized that I did respect Kaderin.  I think it's really easy to judge people for their mistakes and shortcomings (especially when we really don't know them).  At church this Sunday, the pastor talked about the fact that people are 'holey' and we see all their holes and not the beauty of them as people.  It was such a good message to remember.  Sometimes, we are so 'holey' and those holes our own hurts  cause us to become emotionally callous. As a result, we see others through jaundiced lens and just see what they do wrong, instead of how they are hurting as we hurt. This time around, I saw Kaderin for her pain, and what that pain made her do and act.  The great thing about this story was that Sebastian loved her for who she was, and even when she pushed him away and hurt him, he didn't give up. That made me love him even more.

I also saw Sebastian in a deeper and even more beloved way.  I have much love for Sebastian.  He's everything I would love in a man: a powerful warrior, equally powerful intellectual, thoughtful, caring, and loving!  He's as deep as an ocean, and I find that so sexy.  Absolutely sigh-worthy.  I loved the scene when Sebastian was turned on by the highly intellectual discussion of time paradox with Kaderin, that she could hold her own. My kind of man.  Nerdtastic--my Kryptonite!  Like I said, Lachlain has some stiff competition!

The concept of the Talisman's Hie was fun and exciting. I loved the globe-trotting adventure with a supernatural/fantastic twist.   I liked the intense competition between Kaderin, Bowen, and Lucindeya.  They all did some dirty tricks that made me wince.  The Lore is so fantastically interesting, so learning more about it was fun. I felt bad for Bowen, even though I wanted Kaderin to win. I'm excited to see the sparks fly between Bowen and Mariketa.  Of course, I love the interactions between Kaderin and her Valkyrie sisters, and Sebastian and his brother. It was great to see Nikolai and Myst (happy and together) so much in this book and to hear from Emma (and more obliquely Lachlain).  As always, Cole has me laughing at the Valkyries' antics.

Man, I love those Wroth brothers! *Thud* Times Four!

It's exciting and lovely to see that I love these books just as much (if not more) the second time around.

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**Original Review Below***

Another great book in the Immortals After Dark series. Can I be honest and say that I really disliked Kaderin at first? She is one valkryie with a Valhalla-sized chip on her shoulder (Bad pun, I know).  I felt bad for how she had suffered, and normally I love a strong, kickbutt heroine. But she came off  massively unsympathetic and heartless initially.  I didn't like the way she treated Sebastian, who was the sweetest guy.  I'd love a guy like him. But over time, I grew to like Kaderin as I came to understand why her heart was so cold.  She had watched her three sisters get slaughtered by vampires, unable to do anything to save them. All she had left for over a millenia was a sworn oath to destroy all vampires. In her mind, they were all of the Horde, which are the vampires who have given over to Bloodlust.  She didn't realize that there were good vampires who fought the Horde.

Sebastian is a very loving character, but also a formidable warrior. He is one of the Wroth brothers, and was turned into a vampire by his oldest brothers Nikolai and Murdoch to fight in deposed Vampire King Kristoff's army to regain his kingdom. He was never good with women, being freakishly tall and lanky growing up.  He had only been with two or three women in his life (compared to his playboy brother's Nikolai and Murdoch).  He hated being a vampire, and was considering ending his miserable afterlife. But first he was going to try to win the Talisman Hie and get the Key, which would allow him to go back into the past and save his sisters who had died of plague back during the wars in their homeland Estonia. And then he sets his eyes on his Bride. Vampires are dead from the neck down, essentially. They cannot lust or feel desire for women until they meet their true Bride and become Blooded.  It turns out that Kaderin the Coldhearted is Sebastian's Bride.

He is in love and lust. He cannot think of anything other than wooing and having his bride. He follows her around like a lost puppy. For those readers who like the alpha male bad boys, that may not sound very appealing, but it really is.  Sebastian is a delicious hero. His determination to win Kaderin was very appealing to me.  Kaderin is pretty annoyed and vows to kill this annoying vampire, who keeps trying to protect her, and is helping her to win the Talisman's Hie.  But soon, his attractive intensity, his warrior prowess, and his masculine appeal starts to melt the ice around her heart.

So I started out this book holding Kaderin in dislike.  However, seeing the way that Sebastian wins her over, and also how she is so tortured about the loss of her sisters, helped me to open my heart to Kaderin. She's not my favorite IAD heroine, but I do like her now. 

No Rest for the Wicked is a great follow up to A Hunger Like No Other. Although Kaderin's cold-hearted demeanor may not be to every reader's tastes, this book is a must read for fans of paranormal, especially vampire romances. It certainly opened my eyes to the appeal of a vampire lover.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

The Most Coveted Prize by Penny Jordan

The Most Coveted PrizeThe Most Coveted Prize by Penny Jordan
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I was really excited when Penny Jordan released her two book Russian Rivals series. Russian heroes are an Achilles' heel of mine, after all. Pulled this one out of my bookcase as an impulse read yesterday evening as part of my Harlequin Presents Read-a-thon. Overall, pretty good, but not great.

First of all, I think the late Ms. Jordan (who is a long-time favorite of mine) went overboard with the metaphors in which she compares the emotions and the characteristics of the main characters to aspects of Russian. Don't get me wrong. I love Russian-ness in my Russian reading, but it felt kind of awkward and excessive the way she does it. For instance, she refers to Alena's eyes as the silver of the frozen River Neva a couple of times, and there are other instances where she inserts these awkward metaphors. Okay, we get the idea that this book is about Russian characters and don't need to be beaten over the head with it.

One thing I appreciated is that Kiryl is actually a very credible villainous hero. It was hard to see his deliberate seduction of Alena, knowing his goals. She was like a fly in a spider web, and that wasn't comfortable to read. However, I could see how he wasn't unaffected by the powerful attraction between them, even though he uses it to his advantage against Alena. He does feel a bit conflicted about his cold-blooded plans towards Alena, but they really don't stop him from doing something that dirty to her. In the end, he comes around, and that was much more meaningful, because I saw how he really did change because of her love. Her words to him were pointed and harsh, but needed. He had fixed his whole being on proving his father wrong, and in the process forgot all the good that his mother had instilled in him. Alena told him exactly right, and that took a lot of courage to do.

Alena is a very young heroine, which might not work for some readers. Nineteen-years-old and very sheltered by her older brother. You feel like Kiryl is kicking a puppy. While I can understand her brother's desire to protect her, he did her a disservice allowing her to be so naive that she fell so easily for Kiryl's ploys. Despite her young age, she does show some self-determination and a maturity that transcends her young age and the mistakes she makes along the way. In the end, I ended up liking Alena a lot more than Kiryl, although he showed some strength of character in the end.

This wasn't a fantastic book. It was pretty decent, but I was disappointed with the unnecessary metaphors, which bogged down the narrative instead of enhancing them. More than anything, I was intrigued with Vasilii, Alena's older brother, and it made me want to read his book immediately, which I ended up doing.

I think it's a good read for fans of Russian heroes who are not nice guys until love changes their hearts. The Russian scenery is really great as well.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Italian's Future Bride by Michelle Reid

The Italian's Future BrideThe Italian's Future Bride by Michelle Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book kept me guessing the whole time. Just when I thought I had the story of the Italian billionaire and his blonde Englishwoman girlfriend figured out, Michelle Reid threw me a curveball. The whole aspect of Rachel having had a previous relationship with an Italian the year before, and therefore having a sort of Italian Kryptonite weakness was different. She wasn't some naive, blushing heroine, although that's not to say she's jaded sexually or relationship-wise. Instead, she's a bit older and wiser for her broken heart, and therefore, Rafaelle has to work that much harder to win her over.

Rafaelle doesn't have the upper hand in this book, which is really fun and a nice change. He's just as much at the mercy of his feelings and emotions. He's vulnerable in a way that I wish more Harlequin Presents heroes were. He is immediately put in a place of jealousy because he knows that Rachel isn't naive about him or his type. He has to deal with the fact that she has a past and it's affected her present and future. It's funny how jealous he was, when she really didn't have a lot of past boyfriends he has to run into. Just one who was frighteningly similar to him, which is very bad for his fragile male ego. What irritated me was that Rafaelle doesn't have enough discretion to keep his exes from kissing and telling to Rachel. I think if I was in her situation (which is unlikely for a lot of reasons), I would have been fairly irritated by the fact that not only do his past lovers feel the liberty to exclaim about his legendary skills in the bedroom, they lack the class and discretion not to do so. Rafaelle shrugs it off, but he's not nearly as complacent when Rachel's past lover shows up on the scene. That whole scene was interesting, and had me glued to the page. I didn't really like the feelings that I had while reading it. It's just messy and in a way that really gets to me. I am pretty particular in my feelings about sexual relationships, and that would be a nightmare to have to deal with a bunch of past lovers on either side. Having said that, it did make for a unique dynamic to this book. In a way, it's really irritating when the hero is a major slam-hound and he gets the sweet innocent heroine for his very own, when most of the time, he certainly doesn't deserve the privilege of being her first! It upsets my sense of fair play, even though I can't say I really like promiscuity on either side.

As far as sensuality, this book was blistering hot! Normally Harlequin Presents can be pretty sexy, but this one felt a lot hotter to me. Their first time together, wow! I guess you could really feel the heat between Rachel and Rafaelle, and how it had complicated both their lives. Neither really wanted to be so attracted to each other, but there you have it. I liked that they had to figure out what that meant for both of them. Sex isn't enough. You have to have more, and they both find out how much more there is between them along the way, and if their love for each other is worth dealing with the baggage they both carry.

A different kind of story wrapped in what feels like the typical Harlequin Presents package. Michelle Reid definitely writes very well and draws you into the story. This was a read that kept moving right up to the last page, where I was wanting even more of the story.

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Bedded and Wedded for Revenge by Melanie Milburne

Bedded and Wedded for RevengeBedded and Wedded for Revenge by Melanie Milburne
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Melanie Milburne is starting to win me over as an author. This is another book by her that I enjoyed and which also had a lot of character depth and emotional content that made it a deeper and meaningful read. Readers who long for a heroine who has made mistakes and wasn't always a nice person, would appreciate Gemma. Gemma was a mean girl growing up. She was sharp-tongued and bitter-spirited, lashing out because of her guilt, loneliness, and just plain feeling unloved for who she was. I really respected her for owning up to her past mistakes, and I felt that her journey was realistic and just plain heart-wrenching. Despite her mean acts as a teen, she didn't deserve what happened to her. She was betrayed by a person who should have been there for her, and that escalated into an even worse situation. But at the end, she was still able to forgive that persona and own up to her own wrongs. I respect her madly.

Andreas was a good guy. He started out wanting revenge against Gemma for the past, but he treats her very well from the beginning, even though he wants to get her back for her cruel rejection and the lie she told. He showed a lot of depth, and wasn't just the run of the mill Italian billionaire who can have any women he wants. I think he never stopped loving Gemma, and that love continued to motivate his actions towards her. He was the right man to give her heart to, and he proves it again and again.

This is one of those books you don't want to put down when you start reading it. Love that with Harlequin Presents books, because they are books you can finish in two hours if you are able to. When you get one that makes you want to dive in, and you're sad when it's over, it just feeds the desire to read more. Of course, I had to find and read more Harlequin Presents this weekend as a result.

I'm giving this 4.5/5.0 stars because this really was an excellent book. Definitely recommend it!

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The Fairy Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley

The Fairy-Tale Detectives (The Sisters Grimm, #1)The Fairy-Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

The Fairy-Tale Detectives is a pleasant audiobook read that fans of fairy tales (young and those who are young at heart) will probably enjoy. I liked the idea that the Grimms were actually a real family of chroniclers whose legacy continues into the present. Sisters Sabrina and Daphne make for likeable, fun protagonists. I felt for them in that they had lost their parents and were adrift and lacking family and a home. Their grandmother is the kind of gramps you dream of. Although Sabrina was very argumentative and hard to deal with at first, it's understandable why. She's acting out because of what she's dealing with. She feels betrayed at her parents' disappearance, and a series of bad foster homes, not to mention the burden of having to protect her younger sister. Daphne was far more likable, but then, she is still in that stage where she's more resilient against the cold, cruel world. I liked Granny Relda and Mr. Canis and of course, their dog Elvis.

I liked the inside jokes of the fairy tale characters that are very familiar to those who enjoy the subject. Puck was a lot of fun, and so were the three piggies who are now the law enforcement in town. The author surprised me at the twist on the storyline. I did not expect the direction the story went. It's interesting that I had also read the first graphic novel in the Fables series: Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile, so I saw some of the same characters with storylines that overlapped in interesting ways. While this is a kids series, I think it has enough nuances that an older reader can enjoy it.

Why didn't I rate it higher? I think the narrator and I didn't click very well. I also felt like the story took a while to develop and get interesting, and it never got to that "I have to hear what happens next" phase. Now that doesn't mean I won't continue this series. I'm definitely interested enough to keep going, but this isn't a series I have to read back to back. I'm happy to fill it in amongst other reading adventures. But still, The Fairy Tale Detectives has an interesting concept and appealing characters that do make me want to come back to revisit them in the future.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole

A Hunger Like No Other (Immortals After Dark, #2)A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

2nd Reread Completed 8/1-8/9/13

Looking back at how much I loved this book when I first read it, and how much I loved it on reread, I can say most definitely that this book is an all-time keeper. For me, this story is magic. I didn't have a lot of time to read it, but I actually didn't want to put it down when I couldn't read it. Finally, when I was able to dedicate some time to reading, I more or less read it straight through, except for when I was busy with my review books and Vacation Bible School. At the end of the night, I was excited to get into bed and curl up and revisit Lachlain and Emma's love story, reading late into the night.


Lachlain remains one of my fall time favorite paranormal heroes (and probably of all time). Although I refuse to pick a favorite Immortals After Dark hero, Lachlain makes some steep competition for the following heroes. He starts out a bully, but I can understand why. He literally was insane after being tortured for 150 years. However, it is a testament to his force of will that he didn't do worse to Emmaline, not to mention the power of their bond. Even though he wasn't super nice initially, his charisma was undeniable. As time passes and he realizes who Emma is and how she means to him, above and beyond being his fated mate, he shows just how adoring and capable of caring for his mate he can be. By the time Emma starts to love him, you can understand why. Cole makes you want a Lykae mate of your very own.


Sometimes the heroine doesn't click with me in a romance. But this is not one of those times. I loved Emma. I appreciated her journey of self-identity and coming into her own. She had that awkward feel of a woman on the cusp of maturity in her early twenties. Away from home for the first time, exploring who she is, and finding love. Considering the force of nature that Lachlain is, I think Emma held her own against him, and eventually, she had him eating out of her hand.

I think Kresley Cole writes the best steamy romance out there. Blazingly hot, but not crossing the line into raunchy and distasteful (overshare) language that turns 'sexy' into 'gross' for this reader. Even on the reread, I was excited to see what happened next, and fanning myself with the incredible tension and fire between Emma and Lachlain. I wasn't a huge fan of vampire romance prior to reading this (this being one of the first I read at the time), but the scenes in which Lachlain feeds Emma show how powerful that is between a mated pair, and it's sexy, and not gross like I always thought it would be. I'm not saying I want to take blood or give my blood like in the book, but it's written well and beliveable in the context of the story. It's a very intimate thing, and you could see how it furthers the connection between them.

On top of the fantastic romance, the world-building is complex and fascinating, and I love the camaraderie between the Valkyries and the other characters. You can see the Lore factions aligning before your eyes on the one way march to the Ascension. And though the developing romance is fascinating, it's also great to get glimpses into the past of the long-lived creatures of the Lore.

There's a reason why Kresley Cole is in my top five authors of all time. She knows how to bring it. In the paranormal and historical romance genres, she kicks butt and takes names. You want to keep coming back for more of this wonderful world she has created. I'm glad I was able to revisit this fantastic book and I am jazzed to continue my 2013 reread of the Immortals After Dark series.

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****Original Review Below*********
I bought this book because I had read "If You Dare," by this author and absolutely loved it. Well, lets just say, it made a steadfast fan of me. The Immortals After Dark is one of my all time favorite paranormal series, and part of the reason I'm so crazy about paranormals. Lachlain is kind of crazy, and who can blame him after being imprisoned horribly underground in a fiery pit, being drowned every day and consumed by fire for 150 years. One day he senses his mate, and he does something really painful and desperate to get free, to get to her. I was hooked.

Lachlain is what I call a Sexy, Scottish, Werewolf. What a great combination. His one shortcoming is that he is kind of snobby towards Emmaline at first. He's dismayed that this true mate (Lykae only get one) is a Vampire. Although she's really a halfling, half-vampire, half-valkyrie. Emmaline is as timid as you can get. She's been protected and coddled by her valkyrie aunts her whole young life. She's about 70 years old, which is very young for a vampire and a valkyrie. Despite her penchant for very sexy, expensive lingerie, she's an innocent virgin.

Imagine this crazed, beastly man tearing across a Paris courtyard, and dragging you off with him, and wanting to do things with you of a sexual nature? Very scary thought. This is how this book begins. Cole grabbed me as a reader and didn't let go. I wanted to find out how Lachlain would deal with the fact that his mate was not exactly what he wanted. Would he force her? Would she grow to love him and trust him? They go on a journey to get back to Lachlain's ancestral holdings in Scotland. He is the king of the Lycae and must go back to take his place as ruler of his people. Even though he isn't really happy with the mate that was chosen for him by fate, he's taking her with him. Lochlain has to get used to modern life. He finds he has expensive tastes, and charges up poor Emmaline's platinum card. He really makes the poor girl miserable. But she does manage to fall in love with him. She's not so sure about this Queen of the Lykae deal and having such a dominant mate, though. So it takes some serious wooing, Lykae-style, on Lachlain's part. And Lachlain discovers that having a vampire bride is a great thing, because being bitten by her is ecstasy. Plus, Emmaline is a sweet, loving woman who eases her way into his heart.

This was a fabulous book. I was already werewolf-inclined after reading the MaryJanice Davidson story "Love's Prisoner", Bitten by Kelley Armstrong, and Night Play by Sherrilyn Kenyon, so it really got my attention. This is a spicy read with very hot love scenes, that don't overshadow the growing love between Lachlain and Emmaline. I enjoyed the whole dynamic of reluctant mates, and the crazy, alpha werewolf hero really appealed to me. I loved how Lachlain's feelings towards his bride changed so that he came to adore her and appreciate her. She became his life. I also loved how timid Emmaline comes into her own. She was drifting because she knew neither of her parents. She was afraid and disliked her vampire nature, and had to come to terms with who she is. She becomes quite the warrior queen. Ah, this is a classic for me. It comes highly recommended.

Just a warning to readers. The first book in this series is the story in Playing Easy to Get, "The Warlord Wants Forever." I read this one first and I was scratching my head trying to figure out who Nikolai and Myst were. You can read this first, but you might be a little lost when they bring up Nikolai and Myst as a forgone conclusion.

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Thursday, August 08, 2013

Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire by Mike Mignola

Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the VampireBaltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire by Mike Mignola

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire uses the story within a story narrative very successfully.  Three of Lord Baltimore's close acquaintances, Doctor Rose, Demetrius Aischros, and Childress all meet at a pub, awaiting Baltimore.  They each tell their story about how they came to meet Baltimore and when they became aware of the unnatural evil that exists in the world around them.  Interspersed is the narrative about how Henry, Lord Baltimore, came to be the formidable vampire hunter who is nearly as frightening as the creatures he hunts.

As a huge fan of Victorian horror and ghost stories, I enjoyed the narrative device, which reminded me of MR James's ghost stories and William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki tales.  Except this is a lot darker in content.  Baltimore is a hero who lives in the dark, on the edge of despair, with everything he loved having been destroyed by the same vampires he hunts.  He is definitely a tragic figure, seething with anger and rage.  Yet, he's still sympathetic, which is a feeling underlined by the fact that three of the narrators are men who are still loyal to him, despite having seen him at his worst.  For all his rough edges, he is definitely needed in this world in which the Red King continues to afflict his deadly plague on humanity, and his minions go from town to town, spreading destruction.

The stories that each of the men told were creepy and disturbing, a melange of weirdness and horror, with a vintage feel.  They have an air of dark nightmares, in which you question the reality. However, you know that it happened, because that is why these men are meeting together.  They are survivors of those nightmares, and in different ways beholden or loyal to Baltimore.  Each character is distinctive, their narrative fitting their personality and worldview. 

As the name indicates, the story pays homage to the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Steadfast Tin Soldier.  Baltimore saw himself as that soldier.  A man who had a loving family and a loving wife when he left home to fight in the Great War, but lost everything.  He is that soldier moved around a battlefield by an indifferent creator, who feels nothing for his suffering.  Like the soldier, his beloved is forever denied to him, but still he fights.  This allusion is achingly poignant and beautiful, a needed element in this story of unrelenting darkness and despair. That is not to say that good does not conquer, but the cost is extremely high for those who fight on the side of the light.

Baltimore, in the end, was a good book. Mignola illustrates it with his woodcut/engraving-styled, black and white drawings.  They add somewhat to the narrative, but they are so stylized, it's not the same as a graphic novel, in which the illustrations help to tell the story. However, they bring to mind the woodcuts you might see in a Fairy Tale collection, such as Andrew Lang's fairy books.  I could see that as a deliberate choice on Mignola's part.  One of the other things I really appreciate about this collaboration is that you cannot tell which author is writing which part. It's a seamless finished product, demonstrating much appreciated creative harmony between Mignola and Golden. 

Once again, I'm glad I was able to get this from my library, since these kinds of books are too pricy for my budget. It's definitely worth reading, especially for fans of the above authors and those who enjoy classic horror literature and fairy tales.  Although it's dark reading, it was imaginative and involving.  I'd recommend it.

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Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Welcome to the Jungle by Jim Butcher

Welcome to the Jungle (The Dresden Files, #0.5)Welcome to the Jungle by Jim Butcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow.  This was so fun to read.  I am a fan of the Dresden Files urban fantasy series, and it's wonderful to get some visuals to go along with the prose.   Butcher wrote the foreword, and he said he was very happy with the way Harry comes out, that he'd always visualized Harry Dresden in this medium, since he grew up as a huge comic book fan. I'd tend to agree.  I think the artist did an excellent job of capturing Harry and also Karrin Murphy and Carmichael.  He captures Harry's physicality as well as his self-awareness of both his flaws and strengths.  It was interesting to see Harry perform his typical spellwork and see him in action with his blasting rod and staff, and get a glimpse of his beloved VW Bug.  While I watched the tv show, and I liked it, there were a few things they changed that I didn't care for, so this was a better way to visualize Harry outside of my own active imaginations, and truer to the plotlines of the books.

The storyline was very good. I loved the infusion of folklore and the underlying concept driving the story.  The villain was really quite formidable and very creepy.  Harry shows his heroism, even though he is often the underdog in the battle.  And he definitely faces some serious obstacles, as always. I liked the secondary characters like Will. Of course, being an animal lover, I enjoyed the fact that this is set in a zoo.

Beautiful artwork, and great storytelling. What's not to like about this?  Really glad to see Harry Dresden in the graphic novel medium.  Will definitely read more of these!

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Fables, Vol.1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham

Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile (Fables, #1)Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

There is something irresistible about fairy tales to me.  So fairy tale retellings that capture what I appreciate about the source material and take it in a new and interesting direction are greatly appreciated.

Fables is a great example of what a fairy tale retelling can accomplish.  The artwork itself is beautiful and vibrant.  Truly colorful and appealing--successful in using the visual medium to tell the story..  The writing is sharp and witty, and adult without veering into distasteful elements that take me too far out of fairy tale land.

Willingham shows us what a stranded group of fairy tale character might very well end up becoming in the modern world.  Snow White has quite a backbone, tough and independent (and beautifully illustrated to capture what we see as distinctive to her character), and she's a bit bitter after what her Prince Charming does to her. And who can blame her?  Beauty and her Beast have a trouble marriaged.  Pinocchio is a foul-mouthed boy who never grew up, and he's not happy about it.  My favorite character is the Wolf who ate Grandma, who is now a sheriff in Fabletown. His grooming leaves something to be desired, and he's rather grumpy.  But he definitely has some hero caliber.  I liked the sparks that flew between he and Snow White.  Snow White isn't looking for her prince any longer, so maybe she'll look past that previous attraction to a smooth, handsome exterior to a real man who has something of substance to offer when she's ready to try again. I think she will. In the meantime, they can trade insults and work as a team to solve a mystery that has plagued Fabletown.

While Legends in Exile does deal with dark themes, it's not excessively violent or dark.  Instead, it's realistic and plausible based on what we know about these iconic characters we encountered previously in the fairy tales we read growing up.  For a fairy tale addict like myself, it was fun to guess who each character was before their names are mentioned, and I made notes to look some of them up.  I am working my way through the Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang right now, so it adds to the experience.

As you can tell, I liked the Big Bad Wolf a lot and Snow White. Bluebeard makes an appearance, and did get get a shiver about his pre-Amnesty past, which makes me very suspicious of him in his future romantic endeavors.  Rose Red, Snow White's sister definitely has not fared well in her time in the modern world.  Jack (of Beanstalk fame) is still a rascal. 

I liked that this was essentially a mystery story, with our Wolfish sheriff who serves as the sleuth, with a little help from Snow White and others.  There was also a short story at the end that tells you how our Wolf came to be the man we see today.  It was just as good as the rest of the book. This is a good start to the series, and I am thrilled that my library has most of the series and some spin-offs.  Did I mention how much I love my library? I look forward to continuing and exploring more of the Fairy Tale characters' adventures in the real world.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Sunday, August 04, 2013

The Umbrella Academy, Vol #1: Apocalypse Suite by Gerald Way and Gabriel Bá

The Umbrella Academy, Vol. 1: Apocalypse SuiteThe Umbrella Academy, Vol. 1: Apocalypse Suite by Gerard Way

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one's been in my tbr pile for a long time, and I finally got around to reading it.

I don't follow the music group My Chemical Romance, but I did see one of their videos, and I found it visually appealing.  I can definitely see the artist in Gerald Way from that video sequence, and it carries over to this graphic novel. 

The story takes the concept of superhuman abilities and the onus to protect humanity at one's personal cost and examines it closely.  In this case, it focuses on seven children who were born under strange circumstances, and subsequently adopted by an eccentric older man.  He goes on to raise these children to be superheroes who step in to counter threats against humanity on earth.  The story goes twenty or so years into the future, and the remaining children are dealing with the aftermath of years under the tutelage and dubious parenting of their father.  Each and every one of them is emotionally scarred, but one in particular.  These emotional scars are ruthlessly exploited to create a very vicious instrument that could lead to the apocalypse.

The artwork is by a Brazilian artist (known for his work with his twin brother) based on scripts and concepts by Way, and there is a real meeting of the minds and collusion evident in the pages.  Like a good graphic novel, a mix of dialogue and action tell the story very well.  The story is relatively easy to follow, although it leaves this reader with some questions that probe me to continue the series.  This is dark, but nothing less than expected.  Dark subject matter is the obvious result when a story centers around children who were reared from birth to be superheroes by a poor substitute for a parent who has a specific endgoal and ruthlessly exploits his children to achieve that goal.  Despite that darkness, there is also a bit of welcome and quite quirky humor.  Of course, even with this dysfunctional family, we see a sibling dynamic that feels realistic for the situation. A tenuous, but surprisingly strong bond of loyalty between the erstwhile adopted siblings that is reactivated as a result of their recent reunion and the need to go back to work defending the denizens of earth.

This is a good graphic novel to experience, especially for aficionados of the visual arts.  Different, but recognizable for readers who appreciate the superhero theme.  The characters are tortured and broken, morally conflicted to some extent, but yet no less heroic; and the dark, twisted villains that exist only in the fictional landscape of superhero fiction.

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