Monday, June 30, 2014

Night of the Phantom by Anne Stuart

Night of the Phantom (American Romance, #398)Night of the Phantom by Anne Stuart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reread completed on Kindle Text to Speech between June 11th and June 29th, 2014.

I am working my way through the Anne Stuart's Out-of-Print Gems collection on my Kindle, and it's wonderful to spend time with my favorite author of all time. I already read The Soldier And The Baby and chose this one next. I remembered not loving it the first time I read it. I don't know why, it just didn't stick with me.

I think that listening to a book the second time adds to the experience. I would admit that the robotic voice of Kindle Text to Speech in itself isn't a dramatic aid, but hearing the words of an author spoken out loud employs the auditory senses. Anne Stuart's writing feels good to the ears. She is a spare writer, but she is a master at creating imagery with a minimum of words. And atmosphere. This book seethes with Gothic atmosphere, and it's a perfect fusion of "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Phantom of the Opera." Except Megan is neither the unearthly beauty and pure-hearted goodness of Belle nor the sheltered innocent, and easily victimized Christine Daae. Regardless, this story still works. Megan is a mature woman in her twenties who is wearied from taking care of her immature father who had done something very bad with this construction company, involving the architectural designs of reclusive Ethan Winslow. He manipulates his daughter into going to plead with Winslow to save his skin. Megan knows her dad is manipulating her, but it's a set habit to take care of her dad. Ethan Winslow's world is a dark place with a shadow lover, and a small-minded, vicious town fed into a frenzy by a religious fanatic preacher. Megan knows Ethan is no good for her, in the end, but she is drawn to him in a way that she cannot deny. His lonely heart cries out to hers.

Readers who enjoy that vibe of Beauty and the Beast and Phantom of the Opera with a tortured, disfigured, lion with a thorn in his paw recluse will find themselves drawn to the story for that reason. However, Stuart adds her own stamp to the novel with the Gothic elements and the suspense and tension of Megan being initially imprisoned in Ethan's house and surrounded by strange phenomena and even stranger people.

Despite the short nature of this story, Stuart deals with serious themes of prejudice, the danger of intolerance and mob mentality and violence, and the misuse of religion (not faith or belief in God, which is a very different thing). Ethan is a very angry, vengeful man. He has reason to feel that way, but loving Megan opens a possibility for him to have a real life outside of the prison of the strange house he designed and the prison of his mind and past.

I hate prejudice and bigotry and my heart went out to Ethan for being despised for something that he had no control over. The small-minded meanness with its ugly results of the townspeople was infuriating and sad that they could see no other way to be, and that they felt justified in their hatred of Ethan for no reason (although he did taunt them some).

This story was very romantic. It touches on the fantasy of the shadow lover who is both dangerous and alluring, and the appeal of being in a world of their own making. Their sensual encounters are well-written and passionate, drawing me into the story as I listened, and I could vividly see the story unfolding in my mind.

The characters are sketches in some ways. You can assume more about their personalities than Stuart reveals. I don't mind though. I am easily able to fill in the blanks based on their descriptions, actions and mannerisms. I liked Megan more this time. I can appreciate her personality more now at my age. I respect her independence and her intrinsic sense of right and wrong, and that she's not an innocent girl. She knows what she wants and is mature enough to know what she's sacrificing to have it. And even though I stubbornly wanted Ethan to go after her, I think she showed a lot of bravery to go after the man she wanted, especially with the fact that he would never be the Prince Charming one expects in the fairy tales. He's her Dark Prince, and that's better, in my book.

While this won't ever be a favorite of mine by Ms. Stuart (too many contenders for that), rereading has upped my rating for this novel. I can appreciate it in a way that I didn't before. I think that it has a lot to say about society and the petty mean-spiritedness that people are capable of, and its costly effects to all involved. The atmosphere is fantastic, dark and sinister and Gothic. But also enticing and seductive. The dark can be both depending on the person, their frame of reference. I know for me it is definitely both. I love the night, the velvet of the dark sky, the cooler breeze, and the quiet and settled feel of the nighttime. I feel a sense of peace communing with nature in the dark. But sometimes, the dark inspires fears of the unknown. The things that go bump in the night. Both are evident in this novel. Ethan will always be a creature of the night, but Megan is fine with that. they can create their own world in the night, where their love is inviolate.

Worth a read, in my book.

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Constantine Volume #1 by Jeff Lemire, Ray Fawkes, Renato Guedes

Constantine #1 (Constantine: The New 52 #1)Constantine #1 by Jeff Lemire
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was a bit underwhelmed with the New 52 version of Constantine. While it does retain the darkness of the prior incarnation, it lacks some depth. I think that Constantine has a tendency to be the Trickster, always working angles and not above double-crossing people when it give him an advantage. However, there wasn't enough explanation to go along with the visuals in this graphic novel. I think the writing could have been clearer and more expansive. The storyline itself was interesting, although there were certain aspects that I didn't like much. What happens to the kid that goes along with Constantine on his quest initially, was really hard to get past. I mean, Constantine is not a likable guy, but I hated him for what he did. Even if he felt he had good reasons. I did like how it's evident that Constantine knows he's a b*stard. But I don't think knowing you are a jerk and doing anything to change the situation is that big an advantage. Constantine doesn't mind playing dirty to outwit the dirtier magicians/sorcerers that he goes against. If you like an antihero, then you have to face that aspect of his nature. While I'm not always okay with his methods, I can generally acknowledge that its the nature of Constantine. However, I think maybe he goes too far this time.

I'm not sold on the artwork just yet. And the storyline is a bit obtuse. I'll have to see where this series goes. I won't write it off just yet.

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Ruthless Tycoon, Innocent Wife by Helen Brooks

Ruthless Tycoon, Innocent WifeRuthless Tycoon, Innocent Wife by Helen Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Honestly, the name is unfortunate. It is like a 'kinda, sorta, nutshell' version of what the book is about. But considering that this is a fairly deep story, I think the title shortchanges the story. This title is a vestige of that time period when the Harlequin Presents titles were pretty ridiculous, and even staunch fans joked that Harlequin used a title generator algorithm or computer to come up with them. Fortunately, that's in the past, and we have moved into a period of much better titles that are poetic and they also touch on the themes of the stories and capture the sensibility of the Harlequin Presents line.

Wow, I totally digressed there. Let's get back to the review. Helen Brooks writes stories about mature men and women who have grown-up relationships, even though they struggle with some of the issues you might expect in this genre of romance. She manages to give the stories a credibility because she doesn't resort to tactics. Instead, the drama is dealing with human emotions and relationships. I like that Marianne is a whole person with a thriving career long before she met Rafe.

Marianne has no idea about the history between her mother and Rafe's father, until he explains it to her in cynical terms that she refutes from the bottom of her heart. She insists he has her mother all wrong, and they have to agree to disagree and put it aside in order to go forward with the deal to convert her family's house into a hotel (a way to save the house and keep it in the family). However, there's no way that either can settle for being merely business partners, not with the attraction and deeper emotion that simmers beneath the surface of every interaction they share. The problem is not just that Rafe has misconceptions about her mother's past relationship with his father, but the fact that Rafe has sworn off marriage and serious relationships, happy to settle for sexual affairs, and Marianne would never settle for anything but a relationship that leads to marriage.

There are things I didn't love about this story, but the quality of writing causes me to rate it four stars. I respected the depth of the characters and that they actually talk to each other and work through their issues, and not settle for drawn conclusions and decisions based on misunderstandings. I think my least favorite kind of hero is the man who goes through women as sexual playthings. I can understand that Rafe was going through a phase and acting out because of the way he was so wounded by his marriage, and I had to take that into consideration. I do like that Marianne didn't settle and didn't try to change him. Instead, she made it clear that she wouldn't change to accommodate his relationship style, and they didn't have a future together. Since Rafe had to face the fact that he had strong feelings for Marianne, he had to decide if he wanted to be with her bad enough to reevaluate his ideas about casual relationships.

So I guess this book is not really my favorite kind of story, but it was well-written and the characters were complex and well-defined. I have to give the author props for taking a tried and true theme and giving it a maturity that gives the story an appeal that is more than face value.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Zatanna, Volume 2: Shades of the Past by Paul Dini

Zatanna, Vol. 2: Shades of the PastZatanna, Vol. 2: Shades of the Past by Paul Dini

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These Zatanna graphic novels are great.  I like the sense of whimsy and fun mixed with the intrinsic warning that magic can have an allure and be misused and abused by dark forces.  While I am more afraid of clowns than puppets, I can completely see Zatanna's trepidation when it comes to puppets. And it turns out she has excellent reason for it.  The story arc about the puppet was spooky in a good way, and it had plenty of twists to it. 

Zatanna's stories go from humorous to very dark, and while Zatanna is a character with an inner light, she is very well equipped to handle even the worst magical bullies.

Unfortunately, this series got cancelled with the 52 reboot, so we don't get to see the conclusion of the Brother Night story. I hope that they come out with more Zatanna adventures outside of her work with the Justice League Dark. I really like her style.

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The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas

The Burning Sky (The Elemental Trilogy, #1)The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sherry Thomas has proven herself as an author who uses the written word with a palpable love and respect for its power.  I haven't had much luck with Young Adult books lately (with a few exceptions). They don't delve as deep as I would like, and rely on conventions and mechanisms that I find irritating. With "The Burning Sky", Thomas has encouraged my long held belief that young adult books can be vibrant, intelligent, thought-provoking, engaging, and have the substance I long for in a book.

The world-building in this book is careful and thorough without being too dogmatic or dragging down the narrative pace. I appreciated the manner in which Thomas layers her storytelling so that it feels as though I can delve deeper into this world, if I so choose, without the foundations falling apart or revealing nothing but wooden planks or steel girders. Instead, I felt as though this story is barely scratching the surface.  At the same time, she doesn't resort to the most hated of all YA devices, the cliffhanger.  Yet, this is obviously a story that promises to continue into at least a few volumes, but she concludes it in a satisfying manner that allows the reader to choose to read the next book, instead of being blackmailed into continuing the series.

I also loved the characterization. Iolanthe is a heroine who feels real. She has strengths and weaknesses. She is sympathetic, without being perfect. "The chosen one" storyline can get a little stale, but it's well handled in Thomas' hands.  I root for her to find her way in a crazy reality and to be herself, but also do what is right.  Titus is about the most perfect prince I've read.  Perfect in the best way. He's got an edge that I love. He's flawed but also incredibly appealing.  His inner vulnerabilities have been camouflaged very carefully by an arrogant, bitingly sarcastic mien.  I had to remind myself that he was jailbait, because I was seriously crushing on him. He's a man with a mission, and nothing will sway him from it, not even the threat of his future demise. Even though Iolanthe has a valid reason to dislike him, I can identify with her struggles not to fall in love with him.  While Titus is using Iolanthe and he knows it, it's clear he wishes he could be with her free of the rigid burden that binds them together, but also drives a wedge between them.  But he's willing to do the wrong thing for right reasons. I loved that about him. Watching these two fall in love was very satisfying in a way that I crave from a good romance novel. The great thing is the love story is a viable and intrinsic part of a smart, intelligent epic-style fantasy. 

The fantasy elements stand up to close scrutiny.  Readers who loved the Narnia and Harry Potter series, along with fans of Howl's Moving Castle will be very happy with this novel. The concept of a mage world that borders on the mundane, human world has always appealed to me.  I often wished my closet hid a doorway to a fantasy world. I freely admit it.  And there is also an alluring nod to fairy tales in that Prince Titus has a book that allows him and his new protege Iolanthe to train and hone their mage skills. While Titus acts as a mentor to Iolanthe, she doesn't sacrifice any strength or identity in the process. It's clear that Titus can't help but look up to Iolanthe as a gift who can bring restoration to his world, and he is willing to take incredible risks and sacrifices for her to achieve her potential.

The action and fantastic scenes are beautifully described. I felt like I could see them on a big movie screen. The use of legendary creatures made me shriek in joy in a very ladylike fashion inside.  I didn't care about being a princess, but I sure did love the Pegasus, unicorns and dragons.  I would like to see this series as movies, well done, of course.

I can't say enough good things about this novel. I'm ashamed I put off reading it for so long.  But it's one of those great accidents that I read this when I needed to. While I admire Thomas as a historical romance novelist, I hope she continues writing fantasy, Young Adult or otherwise, since that is my second love.

I highly recommend this novel.

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Deadpool Volume 1 by Various

Deadpool Volume 1Deadpool Volume 1 by Daniel Way

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an expansive volume that includes so many interesting points in Deadpool's story.  He takes on dicey adversaries like Wolverine and Bulleye. The former seems to be an exercise in futility, with two evenly matched opponents, considering that both of whom are more or less immortal.  The writing and art play things up for laughs, but there is also a deadly seriousness in that both Wolverine and Deadpool are equally formidable in their own ways, and not above showing ruthlessness to their enemies.  I liked the Wolverine storyline because it has some juicy tidbits of Wolverine's own personal history.

Bullseye I don't like at all.  Bullseye and Deadpool almost become friendly adversaries in that they earn each other's respect.    It's true to Deadpool's history of being, shall we say, morally flexible, that he could become 'friendly' with someone like Bullseye.

Deadpool takes on the Skrull invasion.  He manages to out-think his enemy in that they assume that Deadpool is no good tactician. He is.  And he's also got nothing to lose.  That makes him a deadly enemy.  Along with his penchant for insanity and trickery.

Deadpool goes after Norman Osborn in the aftermath of Deadpool's work to take down the Skrulls' invasion.   Obsorn manipulated the situation to make himself look like a hero, and has subsequently wrestled control of SHIELD away from Tony Stark and renamed it HAMMER. He sends his team of villains turned questionable heroes the Thunderbolts after Deadpool to save his own butt.   Although he's outgunned and outnumbered, Deadpool refuses to stay down for long.

I liked how the end of the book has a history of Deadpool as a character.  His story is long and tragic in some places. In others, showing how Deadpool is not quite a hero, but not a villain instead.  He trods the line between them both and continually steps over in either direction.

While Deadpool is a formidable warrior, and there is plenty of violence and action, this book isn't for readers who don't appreciate ridiculousness and a hero who's perpetually cracking jokes, many fairly low brow and crass. Even some of the action scenes are played for laughs. As well as Deadpool's worldview tinged by his mental illness carrying over into absurdity and cartoonish imagery.

This is one superhero (in the broadest of terms) who stands out from the crowd.  I'd recommend this graphic novel to readers who don't have an aversion to the ridiculous.

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Irredeemable Volume 2 by Mark Waid

Irredeemable, Vol. 2Irredeemable, Vol. 2 by Mark Waid

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The retelling of the downfall of a superhero continues, and it only gets more distressing.  This story unfolds like layers from an onion. We learn that as Plutonian destabilizes further, dark desires and obvious mental dysfunction is revealed. But the thing that makes this an even better read is that while each person is accountable for their actions, we can also see how others can harm and injure a person until they are closer to snapping and going to the dark side.  And each of the members of the Paradigm have something to hide.

Plutonian is guilty of trusting the wrong people to do the right thing, and wanting a life that doesn't belong to him.  This along with the untenable burden of being a savior for mankind from every thing designed to harm them (and the repercussion of his failures), has put too much strain on this once superhero.

This book is painful to read in some ways.  I keep thinking, if only he hadn't done that, and someone hadn't hurt him that way, then maybe he wouldn't have become a mass murderer and a truly evil supervillain.  But it's not that simple is it?  We always have a choice.  And as Peter Parker's sage uncle said, "With great powers comes great responsibility."  So Plutonian as a man of such great power, had even more responsibility, even if he lacked the steadfast character to maintain as a paladin and protector of the world.

This graphic novel is far from light reading, and it undermines the golden image of superheroes in a way that is deeply affecting.  But even while it's the way you never want to see superheroes, it's a powerful story and graphic novel in its own right. The artwork is gorgeous, and the storytelling excellent.   It's like one of those mysteries where you start out with the dead body and the culprit, but you go back in time to see how everything happened in the first place.

I'm in this for the long run now.

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Pregnant with the Billionaire's Baby by Carole Mortimer

Pregnant with the Billionaire's BabyPregnant with the Billionaire's Baby by Carole Mortimer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a mediocre book by an author who I feel has written some excellent books in her time.  I think the whole set up was underwhelming.  I have always felt the scenario of falling into bed together shortly after meeting due to an ungovernable attraction a hard one to pull off. Not an auspicious start to a true love story, in my opinion.  I can't see why Luccy was so compelled to allow Sin to jump her bones.  Especially for a woman who was so cautious about men and circumspect in her love life.  Yeah, he was good-looking and he helped her in an awkward situation, but she should have listened to the voice that said, 'Go back to your room.' Of course, if she did, the book would have ended a lot sooner.

Sin's arrogance is a strike against him for me.  He thinks the world is his oyster.  Admittedly as the only son of a billionaire empire, maybe it is. However, he has the flaw of being unable to conceive that a woman could want him for himself, and that she could be a legitimate businesswoman who would get by on skills and competence as a photographer, instead of coercing clients into contracting her services with her sexuality and lies.  Highly insulting.  And to make it worse, Luccy downplayed herself as a secretary as if she was ashamed of the fact that she was a self-made businesswoman.  Left a bad taste in my mouth.

You wonder sometimes how a person can believe that someone wants you when they act like they hold you in perfect contempt.  Of course, you don't want them in your life, or want to open up to them, or 'gasp!' be intimate with them.  Of course, your dreaded hormones act against you.  I didn't root for Sin to win over Luccy at all.  I kept thinking she should just go back to England.  He wasn't worth her time or energy.  I'm not entirely sure that his declaration of love at the end had much of an effect on me. Good thing they have a happy epilogue at the end.

Probably being too hard on this book. But that's my opinion and I'm sticking to it.  For me, three stars is a rating for a book with serious flaws, but it wasn't a bad book.  Definitely could have been better though.

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Astonishing X-Men, Vol.2: Dangerous by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday

Astonishing X-Men, Vol. 2: DangerousAstonishing X-Men, Vol. 2: Dangerous by Joss Whedon

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I watched the motion comic on Netflix not too long before I read this, and it was like déjà vu for me.  That is to say, the motion comic suits this series very well.  As with the first volume, Whedon's unique voice comes out in his writing.  Emma Frost's bitingly sarcastic comments are very suited to Whedon's similar style of humor.  The artwork of John Cassady is perfectly paired to Whedon's prose.

Funny enough, the members of this team of the X-Men aren't ones I'd think of as my favorites, with the exception of Wolverine.   But, I enjoy the dynamic between them.  Emma Frost has emerged as a dark horse as one of my new favorite female X-Men. Maybe it's because she hides a dark secret identity.  Even when she's doing good, you get the impression she might have a secret agenda and that she isn't entirely trustworthy.  Even so, Scott has fallen for her and started to depend on her, and to her surprise, she has feelings for him that a diamond-hard opportunist and realist like herself might find quite dangerous. I like Kitty Pryde aka Shadowcat quite a bit. Even for a noncombatant, she is a crucial part of the team and as a teacher at the school.  Her relationship with Piotr aka Colossus is sweet.

The idea of the Danger Room having a living conscience is completely scary.  Her motivations and her powers make her a formidable enemy.  It's a challenge for the X-Men to outthink her, when she knows how their minds and their defensive and offensive tactics work, and she's tested them all. And even when she's defeated, she will sow seeds of dissension among the team that won't be easily healed.

I freely admit that Artificial Intelligence gives me the heebie-jeebies.  The idea that humans would trust sentient machines with so much of their lives, with the unerstanding that AI's can learn and adapt and make the right decisions.  Maybe they have adapted past being tools of humanity and wipe us all out.  Meet the Sentinels, ladies and gentlemen.  Meet Danger.  Welcome to my nightmare.

Much more intense and dark than the previous installment, but I enjoyed this one even more.  Sad news is I don't think my library has the next installments. :(

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Friday, June 20, 2014

Bad Medicine Volume 1 by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir

Bad Medicine #1Bad Medicine #1 by Nunzio DeFilippis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This promises to be an interesting read for fans of TV shows like "The X-Files" and "Fringe." It's a little bit of both, I think. It has a racial/ethnic diversity that I really appreciated. The leads include Doctor Randal Horne, whose decision to use a trial drug killed a patient out of arrogance and an unchecked desire for scientific inquiry without regard to the needs of the whole patient. He's gone on a walkabout and tapped into the interesting questions of the world that doesn't always adhere to strict scientific inquiry. His companion is the ghost of the woman whose life he inadvertently ended. A strange case brings him back to the United States. He works with a NYPD detective and two doctors from the CDC to solve the case of a corpse with an invisible head. From there, it's a segueway into more baffling scientific cases.

I liked the artwork and the story ideas. I'm sure I could poke holes into some of the science if I delved too deep, but I won't. I like the idea of a graphic novel series that follows in the path of weird case of the week shows I love so much. You have a good mix of characters: the scientist who was forced to open his mind; the older pathologist who is by the book and detail-oriented; the tough female cop who isn't close-minded to strange phenomena, but she's not too much of a believer; and the smart alecky younger doctor who provides a little comic relief. By the end of this graphic novel, there is hope for a procession of weird cases for the team to solve.

I'll be happy to follow this series as long as my library keeps new volumes on the shelves.

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Unlocking Her Innocence by Lynne Graham

Unlocking her InnocenceUnlocking her Innocence by Lynne Graham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is an incredible coincidence that I read two Lynne Graham books within days of each other, and each has a hero named Vito and a heroine who is a redhead and who has a strangely similar family history (with a few differences). Honest to goodness, I didn't do that deliberately. It was just one of those serendipity things.

I know some readers might be annoyed by the fact that the plot is slightly recycled. I wasn't. I think that in a long writing career, that's bound to happen to a prolific writer. I know that in my own writing I work out issues I see in life and that affect me on a deep level. So I'm not dismayed to see this in writers I follow.

Ava doesn't have an abrasive personality, and she probably would be entitled to it, considering her past. She carries a burden of guilt that has stripped that away from her, if she ever had it. It's heartbreaking what she suffered, and when it's revealed what truly happened, it makes it even worse. I think that Vito could have been a more sympathetic hero. I didn't love him, although neither did I hate him. He was kind of 'meh' for me. He was a bit too cold and unemotional (detached) to me. I felt that he loved Ava by the end of the book, but I didn't feel like he deeply needed her the way I like to feel from a hero. I think his attitude about sexuality was a turnoff. He was too much of a womanizer for my tastes. I think that his actions were initially motivated by a desire to get Ava in bed, even if he didn't want to acknowledge it on a deeper level. I'm not saying he didn't grow in his feelings for her, but I don't like when the heroes' feelings start merely as sexual (and his felt a bit lecherous to me).

Also, Vito didn't seem to want to believe the best of Ava. All along, he was willing to think she was everything that the past seemed to dictate, but he didn't consider how much his brother Olly loved and respected Ava and take that seriously enough. Let me put it this way, if my sister has a high opinion of someone, I take it very seriously. I guess that's why I was not 100% satisfied with this book. When it is revealed how badly Ava was wronged, I wanted to feel more remorse and regret for what she went through from Vito.

This story is pretty heavy and dark for a Lynne Graham book, surprisingly so. It really shows a profound degree of familial dysfunction. I kind of liked that, but I think things were wrapped up a bit too smoothly with a bow to balance out the really dark nature of this storyline. While I see love between Vito and Ava, I didn't get enough of a love payoff in this book. It's still a four star read because it was captivating and kept my interest. I was deeply enthralled with Ava's story and I wanted the best for her. I think she's a happy woman as far as the book ended, but I wasn't 100% satisfied. So it's a weak four stars.

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A Vengeful Passion by Lynne Graham

A Vengeful Passion (Harlequin Presents, #1696)A Vengeful Passion by Lynne Graham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lynne Graham excels in getting the reader's juices flowing, particularly in her older books.  I pulled this one off the pile as part of my Harlequin Presents Binge because I knew I'd get something cathartic.  I wasn't disappointed.

I liked the fact that Vito is quite sympathetic.  He is actually a nice guy, although he does tend to want things his way. He did and said things the wrong way to Ashley, but He had no idea about how traumatic her upbringing was.  So I can't really hold that against him.

Even though Ashley was hard to get along with, I liked that about her.  I get tired of the heroine who is the hero's dumpbucket, there to be kicked around except for in bed.  Ashley isn't shy about standing up for herself or telling Vito what for.  Her aggressiveness about certain topics is 100% linked to her past, and I think that if she had felt free to open up, I don't think they would have broken up in the first place. 

I think Ashley is definitely one of Graham's most tortured heroines, despite her flaws. Frankly, her homelife sucked, and the abandonment she faced by her family was lousy. Because of her parents highly dysfunctional marriage and her father's abuse (both mental/emotional and at times physical), she has a low opinion of marriage and any sort of commitment, and she was raised to disdain anything feminine.  I like to think that Vito could have been the family she lacked, if he had been given full disclosure on her past. Instead, he thought the worst of her instead of digging to the deeper issues beneath her posturing. He took her aversion to commitment and marriage as a sign of a moral failing in her, instead of a sign of emotional scars.  They missed out on three years together as a result. 

While Ashley is still argumentative and abrasive, she genuinely loved Vito and was heartbroken about their breakup and a loss she suffers shortly thereafter.  She has the time to revisit her past strong opinions about marriage and family, realizing a lot of them weren't her own.  But now Vito has cast her in the role of heartless jade, although he never got over her.   I like that Vito still went after her, even though he thought the worst of her and knew she could hurt him. It showed that his love for her hadn't died.  And this time, he wasn't going to settle for a non-committed sexual relationship.  He wanted marriage, as he had before, and he wasn't afraid to blackmail to get it this time around.  

There is a lot of tension, both sexual and relationship, and plenty of drama in this book.  I don't know if I ever read this back in the day. I didn't own it, and I think I would have remembered if it had read it.   The feels like Classic Lynne Graham and is worth having in the collection of serious fans of hers. 

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Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Ultimate Seduction by Dani Collins

The Ultimate SeductionThe Ultimate Seduction by Dani Collins

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I haven't decided how I feel about this book. One one level, it was a very satisfying read. But there is something I felt didn't quite ring for me.  I pretty much loved Tiffany from page one. She was a real person.  She had emotions that were authentic considering what she'd gone through. I liked that while she had valid reasons to run in the other direction from a relationship (especially the one he was offering) with Ryzard, she was also brave enough to come out of her half-life she'd lived since her terrible accident on her wedding day. Also the cocoon her family kept her in.  I like that Tiffany is a modern woman but her values aren't too out there where I can't sympathize. I'm not here to judge, but I don't like promiscuous heroines who don't have any twinges about casual sex.  In all fairness, I don't like that in a hero, and I'm not into double standards. But as a woman, I think it bothers me in a different way and more personal when it's the heroine. I was worried at first that the book would go in that direction, considering the way she and Ryzard first got together. But surprisingly, I didn't have any qualms about it.

I am not a fan of affair romance stories. I like to know that the couple will stay together, and they don't have one foot out the door the whole time they are together.  I think that was one thing that bothered me about this book.  I could understand both characters were deeply wounded emotionally, but I felt a pang every time they would reference that their time together was a short-lived affair. I feel that Tiffany deserved better than a man who couldn't give her love or his heart because he was hung up on a dead woman. Especially with all she'd gone through and the double standards her family forced on her. 

Yes, I think that was the issue I had with this book. Ryzard didn't realize until the end how much he was shortchanging and cheating Tiffany out of. While she wasn't a punching bag and she showed a lot of maturity and self-possession, it was clear she fell in love with him, and he was holding that back, while demanding everything he could get from her.

Ryzard wasn't a bad hero, but he's not a great one either. I like a hero who is completely head over heels for the heroine (or at least has strong feelings for her that develop reasonably early), and I didn't feel that from Ryzard until later on. There was something that compelled him about her, and while he kept telling himself to walk away, he couldn't. But I think it felt mainly sexual to me for most of the book.  In some ways, Tiffany needed the confidence of having a man who was so attracted to her, but she needed a man who loved her deeply (with the attraction part flowing out of the emotion), considering her past.  So he didn't quite live up to my expectations in that regard. I did like that he was a different sort of hero. The survivor of a revolution, who was trying to put his country back together.

I'm kind of confused about the Q Virtus club.  The author's descriptions left me in the dark about how the club worked.  I think the descriptions could have been clearer.  It's an interesting concept to build a book series around. I hope it doesn't end up being too much of a sex/illicit encounters storyline throughout this series, because that doesn't appeal to me.  If there is a way to build a story that goes beyond that idea of sybaritic luxury and discretion used for sexual gratification, I think this will turn out to be a fun concept.  I would love to see some sort of spy angle involved with this series, considering the high tech nature of the club.

With all my misgivings, I was very drawn into this book and I couldn't put it down.  So I would give this one 3.5/5.0 stars.  Overall, I think Dani Collins is a new writer with promise.  Collins can write a very effective, sexy love scene and she also writes a passionate love story, and I like the way she developed Tiffany. I will read more of her books.

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Wild Flower Wind by Morgan Patterson

Wild Flower WindWild Flower Wind by Morgan Patterson
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I think I would have rated this book higher had I not read it sandwiched between two really intense HP books. This story is a thoughtful one about two lonely souls who build a powerful connection after a chance meeting and realize they are the soulmates they were searching for. And they realize what home really is. It's a person and a relationship, not a building.

Markie grew up in a series of foster homes and it made her a careful nomad who never allows herself to get too close to anyone or stay in one place too long. By chance, she camps on land owned by Daniel, and when a surprise blizzard hits, she's forced to seek shelter in his house. Over the time of being snowed in, casual strangers become cautious friends, and love develops slowly and intensely.

There really isn't anything wrong with the writing in this book. It just didn't touch me as emotionally as I would have liked. I hate to think I am becoming a drama addict. But I admit I do prefer the more intense Harlequin Presents. I also feel that it's just because of when I read this in my reading schedule (during a Harlequin Presents binge). If I had reached for this separately, I think it would have hit the spot more.

Markie is a very likable character. Considering or because of her tough life, she has a lot of character and fortitude. She has a habit of denying connections with others and she spends a lot of time initially feeling like she had to pay Daniel back because she didn't like feeling obligated. I can completely understand that. I liked how Daniel patiently breaks down the walls between him and Markie, earning her trust, slowly but surely. He gives part of himself to her in exchange for taking parts of her. I really liked the mutuality of their relationship, and how caring Daniel was. Initially, he was gruff, but I think he's a marshmallow hero deep down (can't resist them). He is the kind of hero you can't help but love because he is 'all in' with the heroine as soon as he realizes there is something worthwhile about their connection.

I liked that they were both creative people with public personas that they tried to keep separate from their private lives. I won't say any more because I don't want to spoil the book. But it was fun seeing them hang out and be creative together.

This is actually a good book, and I feel I am slightly underrating it. Unfortunately, I am an emotional reader, so I rate based on how much a book impacts me emotionally when I read. I didn't feel that impact I would have liked, although the writing was good and I liked the characters a whole lot. As such, I would give this book 3.5/5.0 stars I do plan on tracking down a copy of Morgan Patterson's other book when I get a chance.

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Wild Flower WindWild Flower Wind by Morgan Patterson
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I think I would have rated this book higher had I not read it sandwiched between two really intense HP books. This story is a thoughtful one about two lonely souls who build a powerful connection after a chance meeting and realize they are the soulmates they were searching for. And they realize what home really is. It's a person and a relationship, not a building.

Martie grew up in a series of foster homes and it made her a careful nomad who never allows herself to get too close to anyone or stay in one place too long. By chance, she camps on land owned by Daniel, and when a surprise blizzard hits, she's forced to seek shelter in his house. Over the time of being snowed in, casual strangers become cautious friends, and love develops slowly and intensely.

There really isn't anything wrong with the writing in this book. It just didn't touch me as emotionally as I would have liked. I hate to think I am becoming a drama addict. But I admit I do prefer the more intense Harlequin Presents. I also feel that it's just because of when I read this in my reading schedule (during a Harlequin Presents binge). If I had reached for this separately, I think it would have hit the spot more.

Martie is a very likable character. Considering or because of her tough life, she has a lot of character and fortitude. She has a habit of denying connections with others and she spends a lot of time initially feeling like she had to pay Daniel back because she didn't like feeling obligated. I can completely understand that. I liked how Daniel patiently breaks down the walls between him and Martie, earning her trust, slowly but surely. He gives part of himself to her in exchange for taking parts of her. I really liked the mutuality of their relationship, and how caring Daniel was. Initially, he was gruff, but I think he's a marshmallow hero deep down (can't resist them). He is the kind of hero you can't help but love because he is 'all in' with the heroine as soon as he realizes there is something worthwhile about their connection.

I liked that they were both creative people with public personas that they tried to keep separate from their private lives. I won't say any more because I don't want to spoil the book. But it was fun seeing them hang out and be creative together.

This is actually a good book, and I feel I am slightly underrating it. Unfortunately, I am an emotional reader, so I rate based on how much a book impacts me emotionally when I read. I didn't feel that impact I would have liked, although the writing was good and I liked the characters a whole lot. As such, I would give this book 3.5/5.0 stars I do plan on tracking down a copy of Morgan Patterson's other book when I get a chance.

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The Dark Side of Desire by Michelle Reid

The Dark Side of DesireThe Dark Side of Desire by Michelle Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It seems as though I automatically reach for the really intense and dramatic Harlequin Presents books when I need to escape in a book. "The Dark Side of Desire" is definitely a book of that caliber.

Rebecca and Jay learn that you can only run from a painful past for so long. Rebecca had excellent reasons for leaving the small village she'd lived her whole life, the man who she adored so much. She was driven away by ugly lies and collusions of people who didn't want her and Jay to be together. She worked hard to raise a healthy, happy son and build a life for herself, determined never to look back. Until she sees an announcement that her mother is sick and they are looking for her in the paper. Reluctantly, she returns, and Jay is there at the train station waiting for her. Like a living nightmare, every intense emotion and memory comes back to her. She believes she hates him, and in her mind has plenty of reason to do so, but that intense love of her youth had never died.

To her surprise, Jay seems to hate her just as much, but he's also still very much obsessed with her, and from the beginning, seems to want her back. But for Rebecca, there is too much water under the bridge, especially when Jay believes something really horrible about her. And then he finds out about their son. Wow, Jay's reaction packed a punch. I don't like secret baby books much, because I don't like the idea of the hero not knowing he has a child so long. In this case, I don't blame the heroine because of the circumstances. But that is probably one of the most memorable reactions I've read thus far.

This book is super intense and passionate and emotional. You can't help but feel for both Rebecca and Jay. Jay really has this powerful hate/love thing going for Rebecca. I didn't like when he slapped her, but otherwise, I think he mostly treated her very well (other than a couple of nasty things he says to her). He was definitely obsessed with Rebecca. It makes you wonder how he managed to stay away from her for ten long years. Jay had a way of using his sexuality to affect/manipulate Rebecca. I guess on one level that is a pet peeve of mine (I don't like manipulative characters/people), but it didn't bother as much because it's obvious how deeply in love and susceptible to Rebecca he was.

I was kind of iffy about him seducing a sixteen-year-old as a twenty-three year old. I know the age of consent is lower in Europe and there are plenty of teens having sex in the US, but it still made me cringe. I think it helps that Rebecca seemed mature for her age, but still.

I liked how much Kit, their son was in the book. I think anytime a book is about a family with kids, the kids should have a significant role in the book. I don't believe in making children plot points in a story.

I liked how Rebecca had to face her mother and learn to forgive her mother for something that she did that was very wrong. It wasn't as hard as one would expect, because Rebecca had always wanted to have a close relationship with her mother, but her mother was old fashioned and chained by her antiquated societal beliefs. It was good to see them mend fences.

I liked the way the supposed OW was dealt with, especially her poisonous lies and character assassination of Rebecca. While Jay's father wasn't alive to deal with his part in the situation, I think that otherwise, the past situation was laid to rest in a satisfactory way.

In my mind, this is classic Michelle Reid. An emotionally intense and passionate read that sucks you in. There is nothing tepid about the rocky and passionate relationship between Rebecca and Jay, and for a good escapist read, I wouldn't have it any other way.

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Friday, June 13, 2014

The Wayward Bride by Daphne Clair

The Wayward BrideThe Wayward Bride by Daphne Clair
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a surprisingly poignant vintage Harlequin Presents. I didn't expect the depths of anguish that Trista was hiding. I think that it's a good lesson about how people are judged because of what people assume about them. People had pegged Trista as a spoiled rich girl who refused to grow up. Who toyed with men out of boredom. But her actions were the result of deep, unresolved hurt.

Pierce is a good hero. While he attempted to maintain a distance from Trista, he couldn't help falling in love with her. He plays some emotional games to an extent to protect himself from being ripped to shreds like Trista's other suitors. But when the cards fall, he shows her the love and understanding that she truly needed.

I can't say what Trista's issues were without spoiling this book. And truly it's worth delving in to explore her character for the reader. Pierce is a more betaish hero, which is great. I like beta heroes a lot, and he's the best kind of hero for a wounded soul like Trista.

While Harlequin Presents can be dramatic and intense, sometimes the depth isn't there. In this case, there is not a lot of drama but a lot of emotional depth. For a short novel, Clair does a lot of character exploration and with very complex characterization, and delivers a very satisfying book that was also in its own way thought-provoking. I'd recommend seeking this one out to Vintage Harlequin Presents fans and collectors.

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Contest by Matt Reilly

ContestContest by Matthew Reilly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I will never forget the moment I formed a bond with an Australian author named Matthew Reilly. It was a spur of the moment thing. If I had not grabbed a book off the shelf of the San Diego Public Library called Ice Station, I might not be writing this review. But I did, and it changed my life.

I cut my teeth on action movies. I started watching them when I was very young, and they hold a special place in my heart. While I am a romance novel and fantasy book fan first and foremost, I have always loved a good action yarn. But I had no idea that they had books that gave the adrenaline jolt that a good action movie could deliver. Matt Reilly taught me differently.

But I can admit I did feel a bit nervous to read his first book. I think it's different when you read a first book first from an author you come to love and buy the telephone book if he/she wrote it. You see their talent and writing skill develop and progress for the better. But when you go back, even when you love their writing, you still feel like you'll cringe at the boo-boos because you have their later work to compare to it.

I like that Reilly wrote an afterword and explained the process of getting this published, and admitting that he revised it, and what was changed and what wasn't. I can see that his writing has improved, but what makes him a favorite of mine is essentially there. He has a way of building a story methodically and setting the scene without extra frills. Nothing is introduced for a lack of reason. It all plays a role, sooner or later. I like that about his writing. I love that he can keep me on the edge of my seat, and he has a way of sustaining tension. I go from thinking the character is toast, and then watching the situation turn around so they manage to get out of that tough situation.

While Reilly's writing is not exactly focused on character development, but always he gives us a main character who gains my loyalty. That was the case with Swain. Swain is a normal guy who steps up to the plate to be a hero when the situation calls for it. It's this trait that gets him into the bizarre situation of being chosen as the third human in 6000 years to compete in the galactic combat competition that takes place in the New York Public Library. He had to compete and he had to make it to the end, but that didn't mean he'd compromise his ethics in the meantime. In that way, character development is crucial even in this fast-paced book.

I liked the twist that Swain's daughter is present. I think it changes the dynamic considerably. He not only has to watch out for himself, but keep his daughter safe, and that changes the decisions that he makes throughout the story. I have a soft spot for heroes who are dads, so that definitely warmed me to him. Holly is not just a prop or a plot point, she does play a significant role in this book, within reason, for a seven-year-old in such a dangerous situation.

I was curious to see who the other combatants would be, and I admit, I was a tad disappointed with the makeup. I wanted more sentient combatants. But Reilly says in his afterward that he wanted to write a monster story, so that explains why the other combatants are mostly monsters. At any rate, I still liked what I got, and I especially liked that Swain was outnumbered and outgunned, but he still managed to turn things around. His way of doing it was cool too. He wasn’t a pumped up muscle man, but a thinker and an analyzer, from beginning to end. Some of his success was due to providence, luck, and assistance from others, but overall, you get the impression that Swain was the right guy to handle the situation.

“Contest” is surprisingly less gory than some of Reilly’s later works. I’m kind of glad about that, since I cringed when characters I liked died violently in his later books. I’m not putting him down. I love the guy, but I do wish his books weren’t so gory at times.

“Contest” is a roller-coaster ride, good old science fiction action adventure with monsters. While it broke my heart to see the beautiful library and its priceless books destroyed, I’m glad it was just fiction, and in a way, it’s cool to blow up something like that with impunity in a fiction story (I guess). My book-loving heart can’t stand the idea of a library getting nuked, and I mourned it along with the deaths of other characters in this book.

I’d recommend this book to readers who really like action/adventure and an everyman hero who is in over his head, but still manages to save the day.

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave (The Fifth Wave, #1)The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How much can a person survive before their humanity is destroyed?

Cassie is a young woman who will learn exactly what makes her human and what would cause her to lose the intrinsic element to her nature. She goes from being a normal teenager who has nothing more to worry about than whether her epic crush on Ben Parrish will be returned, to losing nearly everything, and living in a earth decimated by an alien invasion that is nothing like the ones showcased in movies and books thus far.

The aliens want the earth, and view humans as pests, much like we view cockroaches. Their solution, to kill off the majority with cataclysms and world-wide pestilence, and let hysteria and suspicion do the rest of the work.

What happens when humans can't trust each other and start viewing each other as the enemy? It's not much longer before humanity becomes extinct.

Cassie learns the hard way that she is safer alone, trusting no one, but she made a vow to her brother, and she will do anything to keep that vow. When her life is saved by Evan Walker, every hard lesson she learned to stay alive in the earth devastated by the alien invasion will be tested. Can she trust, when trust has led to betrayal?

My Thoughts:

This is a bleak and heartbreaking read. I listened to the audio, and I would highly recommend this medium because it makes the story that much more personal. The narrators, Phoebe Stohl and Brandon Espinoza allow us to view the story through their eyes, and feel their pain. Their voices portray the passion and pain, the angst and longing, and the violated innocence of young people who are in a horrible situation that they cannot escape.

While this is okay for the older end of the young adult audience, I don't feel that subject matter is appropriate to kids younger than 14. The atmosphere is dark and desperate, and people die in this book. Lots of them, and many in horrible ways. Not only that, but people are forced to kill others to survive or as part of the consequences of the invasion. But don't misconstrue me to be saying this is full of gratuitous violence. Many who have read Yancey's Monstrumologist series know that Yancey is not afraid of gore, but he doesn't take that tactic in this book. Instead, his tone is frighteningly realistic. Don't think that just because the majority of the characters are children, that he will take it easy on them. You'd be lying to yourself.

As a reader, I was sucked into this world, and I asked myself how I would adapt or deal with the circumstances that our characters faced. I am amazed at the resilience of the young. That Cassie could stay strong in heart and her mind whole after seeing what she's seen and being forced to make decisions she never would have faced before. That Ben could find the strength to keep living under his burden of guilt for surviving when his family and many others didn't. That they both could deal with the massive betrayals they suffered.

While clearly science fiction, the use of technology is minimal, but it feels credible. Enough that the presence of the alien invaders is undeniable. But not so much to blunt the realism of the novel.

The tension is neck-breaking, sustained until the last words of the book. I honestly had to take my time listening to this. It's so bleak and depressing at times, it doesn't make for 'fun' reading. But at the same time, I can say this was a fantastic and moving book. I think this book shows what can be achieved in young adult literature. Showing teenagers and young people in a scenario where as much is demanded of the reader as is of the characters. Not lightening the subject matter just to get a YA rating, or fantasizing or sensationalizing the story either to get more readers. From the beginning, I was engaged in this novel, and even when things got harrowing and I feared for what would happened next, I couldn't turn off the CD player and refuse to finish the book. I had to know what Cassie would do next, how she would handle the next situation. If she would find her brother and save him.

Yancey made me care about these people. He made me rage that children had to make these kinds of decisions, but at the same time, he didn't give me a convenient villain, not in the easy way that can happen in fiction. Instead, I was continually forced to reevaluate the situation and my hypotheses, along with the characters. There were times, I just gave up on making a guess on what was going to happen and I just kept listening and decided to let the chips fall where they may.

You wonder what an author feels when he puts his characters through the depredations seen in this book. Does it hurt like he's hacking off a limb? Does he smile gleefully at the computer screen? Or does he feel the grim determination of a surgeon who is cutting into their patient to save its life? This is a question that books like this make me ask. In a strange way, I feel more connected to the writer of a book like this, because I can imagine that the creative process was a demanding one. The they sweated and shed their own blood to write a book just for me to read.

I recommend this book fully to readers who are prepared to face the bleak, upsetting content of this novel. To walk in the shoes of these young people who have to face the end of the world head on, and can't close the book and read something else when it gets too painful for them.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Daredevil, Voume 2: Visionaries by Frank Miller, et al

Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller, Vol. 2Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller, Vol. 2 by Frank Miller
My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

This is comic book history. It really is. Frank Miller tells an epic love story that a few sad people who have never heard of Daredevil and Elektra will never know. It starts with two idealistic college students who meet and fall in love, and ends with them on opposite sides of the law.

I don't think I am exaggerating by saying that Elektra is one of the most lethal women ever written on paper. She is an accomplished assassin who uses her pointed sais to end the lives of those who either become her target, or get on her bad side (although she is not a psychopathic killer who murders at will). Like Daredevil, her entire body is a weapon. Elektra has renounced the law after the death of her father, so she sees nothing wrong in working for the highest bidder. This puts her in extreme contradiction to Matt Murdock/Daredevil, who believes in the law and supporting it even to his detriment (while he is a masked avenger, his work is to uphold the law). As such, Daredevil has sworn to bring her to justice.

What I liked about this book, among many things is that Elektra and Daredevil are like moons that continually encounter each other as they follow their individual gravitational paths. While their romance is doomed, it's clear that they cannot forget or disavow each other completely. In fact, they save each others lives more than a few times in this book. While they are enemies, their hearts are never parted from each other. It's romantic in the deepest sense.

The artwork was really good. I was especially impressed with the motion and energy of such athletic and graceful characters as Elektra and Daredevil. Elektra herself was extremely visually stunning. She is so iconic in her complete look in this graphic novel, I can see no need to change her look that much even so many years later (although it was done in the two movie incarnations, which I liked to varying degrees). Honestly, I liked her artwork in this better than in Elektra: Assassin, which looked muddy to me. When I started painting last year, Elektra was one of the first characters I attempted, because her look strikes me so profoundly.

The emotional landscape of the characters was very clearly portrayed through the artwork and narrative. Elektra's desolation at her father's death and the fact that Matt is everything she wants but cannot have, that he has moved on. Matt's determination to follow his hard path, despite the fact that his heart wants something else. And the end of their tumultuous love affair, it's brutal and abrupt, and Miller is unapologetic about it. And Matt is not ready to move on from Elektra, despite confirmation that she is denied to him in every way.

Some episodes in this volume were a bit more cartoonish than others. The character of Turk, a two-bit thug that is continually humiliated in his encounters with Daredevil, is clearly played for laughs. Matt's friend and partner, Foggy, is almost always drawn rather goofily, but even he has some very serious moments. I honestly didn't like Matt's girfriend, Heather, at all. Her personality seems very dated to me. Even though Elektra is a ruthless killer, I think she's a much better love interest for Matt. There is a deadly seriousness to the stories that feature Kingpin and Bullseye, two major adversaries to Daredevil. The first a methodical career criminal who veers more towards sociopathy, the latter a complete psychopath with some serious malignantly narcissistic tendencies. Kingpin has a vibrancy and a power, a charisma that comes off the pages at the reader. I don't like him, but at the same time, I liked looking at him and reading his dialogue. I can't stand Bullseye for reasons apparent and some I can't get into.

In my opinion, this is a groundbreaking series of comic books. Miller has given us the comic book antiheroine we always longed for, but assumptions about gender held many back from delivering. Even twenty plus years later, I think that Elektra will always stand out. She touches on the inner ninja that every girl secretly wants to be, even when we have been told that girls don't do that. This wannabe ninja is cheering!

Overall rating: 4.25/5.0 stars--Not quite 4.5 stars, but better than 4.

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Avengers Forever by Kurt Busiek, Carlos Pacheco, Roger Stern

Avengers Legends, Vol. 1: Avengers ForeverAvengers Legends, Vol. 1: Avengers Forever by Kurt Busiek
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh, dear. I shouldn't have put off writing this review for so long. There is a lot going on in this book, because of the complexity of the storyline. It revolves around Rick Jones, a sort of honorary human sidekick of the Avengers who has some very traumatic moments, as well as having saved the Avengers himself a time or two. Immortus, a villain from the future fixates on him Rick Jones with the intention of killing him, and Rick uses his mental abilities to pull various Avengers from different time periods to help him, because helping him will save time itself.

This is my first official Avengers comic book. That was a good and a bad thing. It was good in the sense that it gave me a crash course in Avengers history. It was bad in the sense that there was so much information, I can't really say what is canon and what is specifically part of this storyline and the fact that Immortus can manipulate timelines.

This was a long book. I checked this out of the library, but regardless, I can definitely say I got my money's worth. The stories are quite different from my exposure to the Avengers from movies and TV shows, and I ended up getting introduced to a lot more members than I would have if it focused solely on the traditional team.

Honestly, I feel like it's a full time job for Marvel comics developers to keep track of the massive Marvel universe. So much happens, and it impacts the Marvel characters more or less across the board. I think writing this book was probably a huge challenge and it may have caused some serious migraines as the authors worked to keep it straight. At the same time, it was clearly a labor of love and a loving homage to the Avengers to people who really care about the stories and the characters.

The artwork is bright and descriptive, a bit dated looking compared to newer books, but still appealing. Clearly a lot of effort was put into drawing the same characters from different timelines as related (as in same character), but different due to their different experiences. There are some scenes that must have taken a long, long time to draw in all the characters, so that was a wow for me. Also, I like that there were footnotes that described the characters involved in the panels and when they first appeared and referenced which book they were featured in; as well as and the major events related to the various panels. That why I said earlier that this was like a crash course in Marvel history, Avengers and otherwise.

While I am quite sure that I prefer the newer artwork, and I think I will probably stick with the newer graphic novel publications for that reason, this book energized me to dive in headfirst (even more) into the Marvel Universe. I'm quite happy my library had this and I gave it a chance, even though it was a bit older book.

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Sunday, June 08, 2014

Civil War: Captain America by Ed Brubaker

Captain America: Civil WarCaptain America: Civil War by Ed Brubaker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think that reading this alone out of the whole series doesn't give you the entire picture. I feel like I have some holes in my understanding. I am hoping my library has all or most of these. I like the idea of presenting the situation through the eyes of various characters in the Marvel world. Each one would have a different vantage point based on their worldview and life experiences.

It's not a big surprise that Captain America and Iron Man come out on different sides of the issue. However, Captain America stands against the Superhero Registration out of sheer belief that it is wrong and it goes against the principles of a free society. As a true patriot, he is willing to fight for the rights of others. Iron Man doesn't have a POV in this story, so it's hard to argue his viewpoint, but I believe in his own way, he thinks he's doing the right thing as well. That's the anguish of the situation, that there are good people on both sides, although the baddies like HYDRA and Dr. Doom are going to use the discord to advance their own agendas.

The Winter Soldier has a big role in this book, as well as some protegees of well known superheroes, such as the next Hawkeye, Kate Bishop. Even Namor, who fought with Cap back in WWII shows up. It was neat to read more about TWS after seeing the excellent movie a couple of months prior to this. I hadn't even heard of him until the movie came out and from watching Marvel's Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes.

The artwork is lovely and the writing touches on the emotional battlefield that Captain and others around him face. Civil War is an apt title for this series, because we are seeing the Marvel heroes well and truly divided.

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Air Bound by Christine Feehan

Air Bound (Sisters of the Heart, #3)Air Bound by Christine Feehan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book!

I am seriously in love with the Prakenskiis, and I have to say that Maxim is my favorite now. He's a mad, bad, dangerous man but he loves so good! I had no clue that this tough, lethal man that we met at the beginning of this book could be such a sweet, gentle, loving guy to Airiana. I think that is Feehan magic, how she creates this guys who are lethal and ruthless, but then they are so deeply in love with their heroines, that I end up sighing as I read the book. Now this won't work for some readers, but I am such a sucker for the mix of action and suspense and romance, and Feehan has delivered both in such a delicious combination in this book.

I will confess that she's autobuy for me and I didn't even read the synopsis. I was there because I knew it was a Prakenskii hero. I didn't read the blurb until I opened the book to read it, and I was like, 'cool.' So I didn't have much preconceived notions, but I was just in it for the ride, and what a fun, wonderful ride it was.

Most of the book takes place away from Airiana's sisters, but I didn't mind that. I think that the situation was crafted very well to the lead characters. While somethings will always be the same about Feehan's books (but those things are why I read her), the situation felt different in an appealing way. Maxim is in no way a carbon copy of his brothers. And Airiana is also distinctive from her 'sisters'. Despite her air element, she's actually quite cerebral and far from flighty and hippie-chick, like I was suspecting. I liked the backstory of her life and how it ties into Maxim's story. Airiana is a tough young woman. For such a small, delicate person, she can hold her own and she was quite the action heroine in this book. She's really a very cool, down to earth, mature for her age woman. She gets my seal of approval.

I feel that Feehan does a good job of plotting and tying her stories together. and this fits very cohesively into the series. She makes the idea of the 'Sisters of the Heart' all ending up with Prakenskiis a lot more plausible than one would expect. I'll admit that I am fine with it because I can't get enough of these guys.

I liked that the love scenes come later in the book. Considering how dangerous Airiana and Maxim's situation was, it made a lot more sense. I can't stand when they take an inappropriate 'sex break' in romantic suspense novels. When the the love scenes come, they are blisteringly sexy but also very romantic. Although both are wounded, the 'getting busy' part isn't implausible. the love scenes say so much about the love journey of these two characters. You can see how much Maxim cherishes Airiana and you can also see that Airiana truly trusts Max and gives her heart unreservedly. That makes me sigh happily.

There is a really cool twist in this book that I really liked, and it adds to the believability of Maxim settling into a normal life, which he never had because of his family and their tie to the Russian government. There was some horrible tragedy and wrongness in this book, but I think that Max and Airiana were in exactly the right place at the right time and they will make things right.

I really can't say enough good things about this book. I wanted to read it again right after I finished it. Lately, I've felt less sucked into books, and this book certainly breaks that trend for the better. I rejuvenates my romance novel juices and makes me want to go on a reading tear. I have a need for more high octane romance novel action books like this, with a yummy hero and heroine I really like for this long, hot summer I am facing! Please write the next book soon, Ms. Feehan!

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The Soldier and the Baby by Anne Stuart

The Soldier And The Baby (American Romance, No 573)The Soldier And The Baby by Anne Stuart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a comfort reread that I completed on my Kindle Text-to-Speech between May 21 and June 8th, 2014.

Anne Stuart is my all time favorite author. Her skill with writing romance is evident in her category Harlequin books as much as her mainstream books that she writes now.  She has a way of combining romance with edgy danger and suspense to make the kind of book that a romance fan who loves action, thrillers or suspense can enjoy for equal components.  She shows the knowledge of key elements to a scintillating romance story:  A compelling hero, a likable and identifiable heroine, a scenario that allows tension to grow and culminate into a lifetime love, and plenty of moments of enjoyable, sigh-worthy scenes between said hero and heroine along the way.

Reilly is the kind of guy you'd want to be stranded in the jungle alongside (if you want that at all). He's the strong silent type, and beneath the rough edges, he is a decent person with a firm moral compass.  He's also sexy and strong and appealing in that luscious romance novel hero way. He's got more than enough bad boy appeal (or otherwise this wouldn't be an Anne Stuart book).  I pretty much hate being hot and sweaty and dirty, so a jungle doesn't sound fun to me, but I love reading books where the hero and heroine slog together through a jungle because they are so much fun.

Carlie is one of my favorite Stuart heroines.  She's actually rather innocent (courtesy of spending nine years in a convent), but also has plenty of emotional scars from the tragedy of her past.  She's soft but also strong, and not a pushover that makes a dominant hero like Reilly seem like a bully when he acts all gruff and grumpy.  She's taken a lot of licks in her life, but she keeps on ticking.

The chemistry between Reilly and Carlie is electric as it can only be in an Anne Stuart book. Even though the love scenes aren't that descriptive, they feel steamy to me. Because Stuart is so good at building tension.  You can feel their attraction (reluctant at first) and the slow slide into love that makes it clear that neither will be able to walk away when they get back to safety.
I had a happy, sappy smile of satisfied romance lover when I finished the book, even though I've read this at least twice before now (probably more).

Timothy, the baby is an integral character. He reveals the vulnerabilities of both characters, and personalizes Reilly as a man who is tough as nails but also can be gentle and caring with an orphaned child. 

The scenario is exciting and fun, although more energy is focused on the romance since this is a shorter-length category romance. There is more than enough atmosphere present to buy the sense of risk of being in a war-torn country south of the border. 

Although this is from the 90s, it doesn't feel dated, but moreso classic. One of those tried and true romances from that period that I consider a sure thing when I need an escapist romantic pick-me-up.

I am biased in the sense that I am a diehard Anne Stuart fan, but this is definitely one of my all-time favorites by her.  Recommended!

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Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Avengers: Endless Wartime by Warren Ellis and MIke McKone

Avengers: Endless WartimeAvengers: Endless Wartime by Warren Ellis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my second Avengers comic book read, and it's closer to the movie adaptation, which might attract readers who are coming to the series from the Marvel movies.  To my joyous surprise, Wolverine is fighting with the Avengers, along with Captain Marvel, aka Carol Danvers.  Of course, the old gang is there, minus Black Panther, Ant-Man/Giant Man and the Wasp.  Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Hulk make up the rest of the team.

Captain America is morose about his sense of hopelessness about his identity. What is he if he can't change the world by fighting the good fight, and with rules of engagement that are totally different form his day. Also there is corruption at the government level, where one nation can throw enough money into destablizing a smaller one for selfish reasons.  He has an uneasy partnership with Tony Stark, who admits that he was involved in such murky events.  But they bond over past regrets and a determination to make things right and protect the world.  Hawkeye is making the wisecracks that one associates with his comic book persona, not so much with the more serious Jeremy Renner incarnation. But of course, he has all the formidable archery skills that we know and love, and the snazzy purple outfit.  Captain Marvel reminds me of a mix between Wonder Woman and Superman, with a bit of the patriotism of War Machine thrown in.  Of course, Wolverine is his usual laconic, snarky, lets get it done self.  Black Widow is all business as usual. And Bruce Banner is barely holding 'the other guy' back for strategic use. Thor is very tortured, since he has an intimate acquaintance with the menace they face, along with Cap.  He feels a personal responsibility and shame about it all, and he's not his usual hearty, arrogant self.

The storyline is pretty weird.  Demons from Thor's realm mixed with technology created by the Nazis back in WWII.  Although weird, it's an interesting idea.  Along with the beautiful artwork, it makes for an exciting read. For lack of a better word, this graphic novel looks very cinematic.

An underlying theme is the morality of war. While some fight for the good of humanity, others do it for profit and a sheer love of the danger and glory.   Through Wolverine we see that some people are tasked to do the darkest, bloodiest work for good reasons, even though they are often judged for it.

I liked this one a lot. I think it's a good starter graphic novel for people who loved the recent Marvel movies.  Since I don't have a background in reading the older Avengers comics, I can't say how a veteran Avengers fan would feel, but my mom got excited about it when I was reading it, and she is reading this now.

I give this a thumbs up!

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X-Force, Volume 1: Angels & Demons

X-Force, Vol. 1: Angels And DemonsX-Force, Vol. 1: Angels And Demons by Craig Kyle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As dark as the X-Men Universe gets!

The mutants need protectors who aren't hesitant to cross the line, and that's why the X-Force exists. Lead by Wolverine, their mission is to deal with the Purifers, a religious radical group determined to wipe out mutant kind. Wolverine has walked on the dark side, along with X-23, but Wolverine wants better for her, a chance to be normal, instead of the cloned killing machine she was designed and trained to be. But Cyclops puts her to work despite Wolverine's determination to 'save' her. Along with James Proudstar, aka Warpath and Rahne Sinclair aka Wolfsbane, they take on the deceased Reverend William Stryker's successor, William Risman and their fanatical followers, who have executed an extreme solution to the mutant 'problem.'

My Thoughts:

This is a newer arc in the ongoing storyline, taking place after the = M-Day storyline, when many, many mutants lost their lives. There is a clear sense of despair and bleakness to this graphic novel. The artwork has a savagery that is also beautiful. Although quite violent, it's not glorifying of the violence. Between the art and the dialogue/narration, the characters and their motivations are communicated with clarity.

To think I didn't even know much about X-23 until recently. She's a pretty cool character, a ruthless assassin who is playing for the heroic team, and with many of Wolverine's abilities. Of course, Wolverine is always awesome. Warpath has a tortured past that is intricately tied into the X-Men via his brother, and Rahne takes the cake with her own demons.

The negative light that the Purifiers cast on the Christian faith is wince-worthy, but it doesn't come off as an attack on the faith so much as the issue with extreme fundamentalism, or rather, people using religious beliefs as a platform for their prejudice and hatred of others. I have to say that I wanted the X-Force to take them all out with extreme prejudice. I take it personally when people claiming to be of the Christian faith act like that.

The vision of angels is nightmarish to say the least, and I can't say anything more or I'll spoil it. There are some beautiful and terrifying images along those lines in this book.

I found the story very intense, and I was captivated. I was afraid to keep reading, but I couldn't stop. Things end with an understanding that while there was some victory, the worse battle is to come. I just hope my library has all these!

Probably needless to say that this one is not for the faint of heart, but I will say it all the same.

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