Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Wilde Stories 2014: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction ed. Steve Berman

The Wilde Stories anthology series edited by Steve Berman features gay themed speculative fiction short stories published during the previous year. This year all the short works included in Steve Berman's 2014 Wilde Stories: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction are written by new contributors. The collection begins with an introduction by Berman, an interesting one at that, however today I am concentrating on a long review that includes all the stories.

The anthology begins with three very good stories that quickly engage the reader, particularly with the short but highly effective contemporary piece "Grindr" by Clayton Littlewood in which text messaging, infused with edgy horror, is utilized as the spec fic element. In "The Ghosts of Emerhad" by Nghi Vo ghosts play a role in a fantasy setting with eerie atmosphere, yet it is not a chilling read, instead this is the redeeming war tale of a man coming to terms with personal loses. And with "How to Dress an American Table" by J. E. Robinson, the collection shifts to a contemporary tale with an unsettling "human monster" at its center, the kind that is often more disturbing than stories about fictional monsters hiding under the bed.

"Caress" by Eli Easton is just an excellent, complete steampunk sff romance piece filled with outstanding details, world-building and "graphic novel" atmosphere. I visualized a graphic novella while reading this romance between a young man with a clockwork heart whose genius and skills save a soldier from a fate worse than death. Following is another excellent story. "57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides" by Sam J. Miller strongly stands out with a unique format that flows effortlessly, and memorable young adult characters, outstanding speculative fiction elements, gay theme, and a plot focused on friendship, bullying, revenge and betrayal.

The collection continues the young adult theme with "Happy Birthday, Numskull" by Robert Smith, a piece that is so freaking interesting because the spec fic elements come from a sensitive, imaginative child’s perceived horrors as he experiences the adult world surrounding him. Everything changes with "Right There in Kansas City" by Casey Hannan, the only story in the anthology that veers into the realm of the weird with dense speculative fiction elements that hit the reader from its inception. There is an obvious sub-text to the story, but take it from me this one is very good and out there.

"The Water that Falls from Nowhere" by John Chu won the 2014 Hugo Award for Best Short Story. A reread, this story stands out for the subtle approach with which Chu uses rain as the speculative fiction element while the main thrust of the story is focused on a committed gay couple attempting to gain understanding and acceptance from the narrator’s traditional Chinese family. I have enjoyed Damon Shaw’s work in the past, and he did it again with "Seven Lovers and the Sea." This is a story I loved for its unique twist on both vampiric and seafaring mythical tales.

Although "The Brokenness of Summertime" by R. W. Clinger may be considered a contemporary horror tale by some or perhaps contemporary with a rather sharp edge (pun intended) after all it depicts ye ole green-eyed monster at its best, my totally warped sense of humor turned it into a highly amusing, insane, demented sort of read -- so, so enjoyable! It was then surprising that "Lacuna" by Matthew Cheney gutted me with its ending and not necessarily with the speculative fiction details. Let me explain, in this story there is a running narrative by a writer as he creates a speculative fiction piece. So, there are two stories at once, one interrupting the other's flow and ending in the writer's reality with a shocking revelation and the reasons why "words are not magic." I must be particularly susceptible at the moment because after this story I stopped reading the anthology for a bit before picking it up again. That's a good thing, it means that the story made a strong impact.

"Super Bass" by Kai Ashante Wilson is a fantastic tale with magical aspects of ancient African religions utilized as the root for the speculative fiction elements. In his story, Ashante Wilson amplifies those magical aspects within a high religious ceremony in which two lovers participate, with one transforming into the Most High Summer King and the other giving him strength through loving. The islanders traditionally marry in threes -- two men, one woman -- creating a gender-mixed society. This aspect of the world-building is not deeply explored. Rather, it is an organic part of its creation and left open to the reader for further thought and speculation.

The last piece with young adults as central characters is a mythology-based story by Cory Skerry, "Midnight at the Feet of the Caryatides," that focuses on a arrogant click of students that choose to abuse the weak and different. I enjoyed the gothic atmosphere and gargoyles, but for me the most memorable aspect of the story is the combination of darkness and tenderness found in the narrative. And the anthology ends with "The Revenge of Oscar Wilde" by Sean Eads, a zombie story with Oscar playing the forceful and introspective knight avenging his lover Bosie's honor to the horrifying, bittersweet end. This is a short story worth reading for its beautiful writing and excellent alternate perspective into Wilde's last days in Paris. . . and on. "If there is a god to them now, he walks this earth and his name is Oscar Wilde."

This anthology ebbs and flows with short works that include contemporary, fantasy, steampunk, magical, and mythology-based speculative fiction – some action-filled, others quieter and more introspective, going from dark to light, and darker yet. Horror-based speculative fiction tales reign supreme with some excellent otherworldly pieces and plenty of stand outs. Personally, I found quite a few favorites as I made my way through this year's edition of Wilde Stories.

Category: LGBT/ Gay/ Speculative Fiction / Anthology
Series: Wilde Stories Anthologies
Publisher/Release Date: Lethe Press/August 2014 - Kindle ed.
Grade: B+

Series:
Wilde Stories 2011
Wilde Stories 2012
Wilde Stories 2013

Monday, August 25, 2014

Review: Visions (Cainsville #2) by Kelley Armstrong

Omens was more of a thriller with an edge of horror and a small dose of fantasy than urban fantasy. I personally loved it. However when reading Visions, it quickly becomes evident that Omens is a very important base whereupon this urban fantasy stands. Key questions and clues are there, while Visions is where the urban fantasy aspects of this series strongly emerge. More importantly, in Visions the main characters take shape, emerging stronger and more intriguing than in the previous book.

Visions begins the day after Omens ends with Olivia finding the dead body of a woman in her car. While waits for help from Gabriel, the body disappears, and she questions whether it was a death omen. Their brand new partnership is broken when Olivia distances herself from Gabriel after learning about his deal with her ex-fiancé James. Feeling hurt and betrayed by Gabriel, Olivia re-establishes contact with James who wants her back, while at the same time beginning a sexual relationship with the young biker and son of the Satan Saints' gang leader Ricky Gallagher. Yet, as the story progresses, Olivia continues to reach out to Gabriel, and it is from Gabriel that she seeks intimacy and with whom she feels complete, settled and happy. That seems to be mutual as Gabriel and Olivia become quietly but fiercely protective of each other.

Armstrong develops the urban fantasy aspects of this series through events unfolding around Olivia's investigation into the disappearance of a local Cainsville girl, a girl who looks just like the dead body she saw in her car and coincidentally a lot like Olivia. Cainsville and the townspeople become central in Visions and the exploration into the mythological side of the series begins in earnest. Olivia's powers are no longer restricted to reading omens, and she experiences dreamlike visions when she stumbles into a mysterious empty house in Cainsville. New players are introduced as Olivia, Gabriel, and even Ricky and James get pulled into an increasingly dangerous game with both Olivia and Gabriel becoming the main targets of some powerful otherworldly beings. But how is all this related to the Larsens? And why? Clues abound in this installment if, as Gabriel says, "you just pay attention."

Visions is driven by the characters and evolving relationships: Olivia, Gabriel, Ricky, and James, and Gabriel, Olivia and Cainsville residents (Rose, Patrick, Ida, Walter, Veronica). The characters and the relationships they establish are the most compelling aspect of this novel. And it is through them that everything else comes to fruition, including the mystery that surrounds the murders and the Welsh folklore Armstrong utilizes to build the magical aspects of the urban fantasy -- omens, visions, horses, hounds, ravens, fairy circles, and more. So far, I am enjoying her modern twist on the folklore. The mystery in Visions is weaker, or let's say less complex, than the one in Omens, however, by the end Armstrong beautifully ties it to the main story arc.

Most of the novel is again narrated from Olivia's first point of view perspective, intermingled with key chapters written in the third point of view from different characters, with Gabriel's chapters providing the most interesting personal views of himself and Olivia. His character is the most attractive and mysterious of this series so far. Olivia ironically refers to herself as a "special snowflake" at one point in the narrative. Well, with Gabriel, Ricky, and James fighting for her attention (and others courting her favor), she certainly fits the description.

I hate triangles even when there is only a possibility of romance involved as is the case between Olivia and Gabriel. I simply love Gabriel's character. James is a dangerous whacko who is being influenced so he doesn't count, but the highly lusty relationship between Olivia and Ricky is surprising. Having said that, I find Armstrong portrayal of both Ricky and Gabriel as males who don't judge Olivia for her personal relationships extremely refreshing. I do wonder if that will last? And, yes, Olivia is strong, intuitive and trying to figure out who she is, but at times I find her to be somewhat immature and impulsive with a touch of arrogance.

I love the ending. There is a step forward for Gabriel. It seems like the main story arc will pick up some momentum now that we have some major players and know a bit more about Cainsville. A new character will be added to the mix and I can't wait to see how that will play out! Do I really have to wait another year for the next book? Sigh…

Category: Urban Fantasy
Series: Cainsville
Publisher/Release Date: Dauton/August 19, 2014
Grade: B+

Visit Kelley Armstrong here..

Cainsville Series:
Omens, Book #1
Visions, Book #2

Friday, August 22, 2014

Review: Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron

Rachel Aaron's Nice Dragons Finish Last is the first installment in her new Heartstrikers urban fantasy series. Aaron’s world-building is based on the return of magic to the world that unleashes ancient magical beings such as dragons, Algonquin, the Lady of the Lakes, and awakens human mages and powerful spirits. As the setting, the new city of Detroit works well with Aaron's world building. Created sixty years ago when the powerful Algonquin’s magic cleansed and marked it as her territory, Detroit is divided into sections with a brand new, shiny surface showing the wealth of successful corporations lying on top of a rotted old Detroit that serves as a wild and dangerous underground where crime and poverty abound, and anything goes. The city as a whole is called the DFZ or the Detroit Free Zone where crimes are committed without real repercussions and most magical beings and practices are allowed with the exception of dragons who are banned and hunted by Algonquin.

The book has a combination of great action, humor, and fun characters with an overall storyarc that only begins to emerge at the end. Julius Heartstriker is the youngest and too nice to fit in with a vast family of ambitious, manipulative dragons. His mother Bethesda the Heartstriker kicks him out without warning and seals his dragon powers, so he can prove himself worthy of the Heartstriker name. As the runt, Julius learned early to hide from his powerful siblings and their draconic power games. Now, however, he has no choice but to get involved or Bethesda has threatened to eat him. Julius accepts to perform a "simple" job for brother Ian -- he is to return a young runaway dragoness to the powerful Three Sisters dragon clan, the Heartstriker clan's bitter nemesis. He immediately gains the help of Marci, a mage just arrived at the DFZ from Vegas, and they are off on a dangerous adventure complicated by mobsters, monsters, and most of all by Julius’s own siblings.

I enjoyed the central characters -- Julius's inadequacies as a dragon and his side kick, the tougher and more worldly Marci. They make a great team. Marci has troubles of her own which Aaron ties to Julius's attempts to redeem himself, blending both threads into one action-filled plot. Note: Marci would make a better dragon than Julius -- she is ruthless, ambitious, and cunning. Love her.

The secondary characters are my favorites and their contribution to the fun and dire situations in this book made for a well-rounded urban fantasy read. Bethesda "the Broodmare" is ruthless, but then so are her children: Chelsea the Enforcer, Ian the Spoiled, Cocky, Clueless Justin, and of course my favorite, Bob (Brohomir) the Crazy Seer. They all contribute to this installment's success with a combination of manipulative ambition and a humorous hidden case of sibling care and rivalry. In other words, they are crazy beautiful.

There are familiar elements to the basis for Aaron’s urban fantasy world-building -- ancient magic returning to the world, etc. However, this is a really fun read and I believe it is a solid introduction to what promises to be an enjoyable series. Additionally, I love Detroit as the setting, as well as the dragons as central characters – contemporary, technically savvy dragons who also hold on to ancient lore and traditions. Romance? There is a hint of romance with a promise of more to come. Nice Dragons Finish Last does not come close to urban fantasy perfection, but you know what? I had lots of fun reading it and I am hooked! Grade B

Thursday, August 21, 2014

TBR Review: Broken by Megan Hart

I'm late posting my review for this month's TBR Challenge. I read the book early this month, but worked extremely late last night and did not have a chance to finish my rough draft of the review until this morning. Regardless, I decided to post the review because I simply loved the book I chose to read. The theme for August is "Luscious Love Scenes." I chose to read Broken by Megan Hart for two reasons: the book has been in my TBR for a long time and I loved Dirty.

Broken is a sort of erotic women's fiction with conflicted characters and a thought provoking plot dealing with issues such as loss of self and emotional cheating. That's a simplistic way of summarizing this gripping, deeply emotional book.
This month my name is Mary. My name is different every month—Brandy, Honey, Amy…sometimes Joe doesn't even bother to ask—but he never fails to arouse me with his body, his mouth, his touch, no matter what I'm called or where he picks me up. The sex is always amazing, always leaves me itching for more in those long weeks until I see him again.
Joe -- A man looking for intimate connection and personal recognition in all the wrong places and with all the wrong people. Once per month Joe and Sadie meet for lunch and Joe plays Scheherazade, regaling Sadie with details of his erotic x-rated one-night stands. For most of the book, the "luscious sex scenes" come from Joe's narrative, as interpreted by Sadie. Initially, through Sadie's perspective the reader perceives Joe as a sexualized character, a manwhore who picks up women for sex on a regular basis. But ever so slowly small details about Joe are revealed through his erotic tales and conversations with Sadie. Eventually, Joe emerges as a man riddled with guilt and hungry for the intimacy that comes through a real connection with another.

Adam -- A man who has allowed tragedy to make him too proud to give and too resentful to enjoy life. Sadie's husband Adam was a brilliant poet with a powerful personality and love of adrenaline that swallowed everyone around him. They met at college and married after Sadie finished her doctorate in psychology. One year later, Adam became a quadriplegic after a tragic ski accident that changed their lives. Years later, he refuses to leave the house or to have physical contact or allow real intimacy with his wife even though it is possible. His love for Sadie is tinged with a large dose of resentment.
My real name is Sadie, and once a month over lunch Joe tells me about his latest conquest. But what Joe doesn't know is that, in my mind, I'm the star of every X-rated one-night stand he has revealed to me, or that I'm practically obsessed with our imaginary sex life. I know it's wrong. I know my husband wouldn't understand. But I can't stop. Not yet.
Sadie -- A giving woman sucked dry to the bone by loving, giving and not receiving, loses herself in the process. Sadie loves her husband Adam. She is a psychologist with a thriving practice, but when she comes home taking care of Adam is her priority. She has no social life and no one to give her emotional support except for paid assistants at home. Once a month, she does what she needs to do to stay sane. She meets Joe for lunch and listens as he regales her with his sexual adventures. Sadie becomes obsessed and in her fantasies, she becomes a place holder for all the women in Joe's x-rated one-night stands. To alleviate the loneliness and increasing sense of isolation, Sadie memorizes details of those stories for later and guiltily uses them as a substitute for pleasure when she is alone.

Physical and intimate emotional connection to another and individuality. Most humans crave that physical and intimate connection with another, but once that connection is broken, the individual is often left floundering. That is what happens to Sadie. The title Broken applies to all three characters, as well as to relationships.

Adam is broken physically and emotionally after his accident. Sadie is broken after she stops being an extension of the brilliant man Adam used to be, and their connection as husband and wife is severed when he stops giving and becomes resentful of her love and care. After Sadie loses that connection with Adam, she also loses herself. Joe is a broken man due to guilt, family disappointment, and lack of intimacy, yet he seeks women who only appreciate him on the surface for his beauty, sexual prowess, or financial security. Should Joe and Sadie's meetings be considered emotional cheating or mutual therapy sessions? Initially, I believe that is exactly what they were because both Sadie and Joe took the missing pieces of their lives from each other.

I loved Dirty, but Broken just goes beyond that for me. Broken is erotic women's fiction at its best because although the sensuality is on the high scale, and sex plays a central role in this evolving drama, the main focus of the story goes much deeper than that. This story ties three people with complex issues, but Broken is all about Sadie's journey -- how due to tragic circumstances, she loses herself through the years eventually finding a way to survive, discovering value in herself as a person and a woman who can finally look in the mirror and recognize her true self again.

"There you are Peter!"-- Hook


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Review: Magic Breaks (Kate Daniels #7) by Ilona Andrews

My Summary: While Curran is away on pack business Kate attends the monthly Conclave meeting with the People. All hell breaks loose when Hugh D'Ambray shows up accusing a shifter of assassinating a key member of the People and declares war on the Pack. A frantic race to discover who committed the murder and to stop the war ensues with pack members suffering terrible wounds, and ends with Kate getting caught and imprisoned by Hugh after the traitor among the pack finally comes to light. Curran comes to the rescue, however, Kate is left with no choice but to finally meet Roland face to face. Is she strong enough to defeat him? If not, what can she do in order to survive and save her friends and loved ones?

Magic Breaks takes this series in a whole new direction. This is a solid transition with a some growing pains. This installment is almost a two-part story with some abrupt transitions along the way -- the biggest one coming out of nowhere at the end. The first part is filled with the unrelenting, fast-paced action we have come to expect from the Kate Daniels series as Kate and her crew battle strange creatures, old frenemies and enemies in order to discover the identity of the assassin. The shifters in their supporting roles are, as always, a fantastic foil for Kate, both as friends and foes. The competitive relationship between Derek and Arcanio as well as the power play taking place between the wolf pack alpha Jennifer and Dessandra are notable. However, also notable in this section is how early in the story the Andrews team begin to tie up old established threads.

In what I think of as the second section, Kate and Ghastek are imprisoned in a grisly tower and Curran's character comes into play. The love between Curran and Kate continues to be beautiful and I believe it doesn't take anything away from either character, on the contrary it makes them both stronger. The action is not as relentless in this section, it is sporadic with moments left for recovery and planning, but of course there are long gruesome battles as well as confrontations with Hugh and Roland.

Hugh's character as one of the villains of this piece is memorable for embodying a few of those gray areas required of villains so they do not become over the top caricatures. He is a compelling character, although not in a sexy way -- at least not to me. Those same gray areas also apply to Roland. Roland, however, is a whole different ball of wax because although we know about his questionable intentions, he is still the big powerful mystery.

What I love most about this urban fantasy series is that Kate's character growth continues, that is most evident in her final acceptance of her true role and self. What I missed most in this installment was the fantastic mythology mystery solving that we usually get with each book. There are bits and pieces intertwined along the way, but those elements are a bit of a rehash this time around. And from the characters, I missed Aunt Bea and especially Kate and Andrea together during the action scenes.

My biggest disappointment has to be Kate's confrontation with Roland in Atlanta, particularly after all the build-up during this series. The resolution to this confrontation is foreshadowed early during the story. And while other installments are memorable for tough, action-packed, grand scale culminations, Magic Breaks ends with an over the top whimper. These observations, however, don't mean that I didn't enjoy this book, I believe Magic Breaks is a solid installment by an Andrews team that has set the bar rather high. Take into consideration that the end with Curran and Kate, yes and Julie too, is abrupt but truly intriguing. I like what it may mean for the future and can't wait to see how it plays out for the characters. Going by past history, it should be spectacular!

Category: Urban Fantasy
Series: Kate Daniels #7
Publisher/Release Date: Penguin Ace/July 29, 2014
Grade: B

Visit Ilona Andrews here.

Series:
Magic Bites, Book 1
Magic Burns, Book 2
Magic Strikes, Book 3
Magic Mourns, Novella (Must Love Hellhounds Anthology)
Magic Bleeds, Book 4
Magic Dreams, Novella (Hexed Anthology)
Magic Slays, Book 5
Magic Rises, Book 6

Related Novels:
Gunmetal Magic (Kate Daniels World #1) 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Books: August/September 2014 New Releases!

At the beginning of the year I highlighted my "most anticipated reads," a few are releasing in August such as Visions (Cainsville #2) by Kelley Armstrong (August 19, 2014) and Lock In by John Scalzi (August 26, 2014), but of course there are always other books for a book addict like me. Today I am highlighting 5 books, most releasing in August or already available, all of them with covers I covet. Check them out.

AUGUST

SALVATION by Jeff Mann (Bear Bones Books)
Category: LGBT - Historical Fiction/Erotic BDSM

The American Civil War still threatens to tear the nation in twain. Private Ian Campbell betrayed his company and his duty because he fell in love with a handsome Yankee prisoner-of-war, Drew Conrad. Both men are on the run, desperate to reach Campbell’s family home in West Virginia, which may have escaped the conflict unscathed and offer them both peace and salvation from the cruelties and prejudices of men heightened by the conflict.

But the trek is dangerous. Both men are wounded, deserters, and their love for each other is viewed by so many as a crime against nature—hanging for any of these offenses threatens every moment they tarry to rest. They must rely on the kindness of strangers, but every household they enter seeking sanctuary for even a single night on a bed and scant provisions for hungry stomachs might betray them should the truth be discovered.

Acclaimed author Jeff Mann’s sequel to his beloved civil war historical novel Purgatory will instill in readers an ardent expectation over Privates Campbell and Conrad’s fate.
First we had Purgatory, now we have Salvation by Jeff Mann. I adored Jeff Mann's civil war historical novel, Purgatory and waited two years for the sequel. The wait is over, this book is available now. And, the cover is just perfect.

A HUNDRED LITTLE LIES by Jon Wilson (August 2014, Lethe Press)
Category: LGBT -- Historical Western Romance

Everyone knows Jack Tulle as a widower, a doting father, and an honest businessman. The problem is, it's all a lie. For eight years Jack has enjoyed the quiet life in the sleepy little town of Bodey, Colorado where he owns and operates the General Store. He sits on the town council. He dotes upon his eight-year-old, headstrong daughter, Abigail. He is even being sized-up as a prospective new member of the family by the bank president. But when the local saloon announces plans to host a grand prize poker tournament, Jack realizes it could spell trouble.

One of the many secrets he's been hiding is that he used to be a con man - mainly underhanded poker, but he wasn't above the odd swindle when the situation presented itself. And a contest like the one his town is planning is sure to draw some old business acquaintances - fellows Jack would really rather not admit to knowing.

Of course there's one man in particular Jack is worried about seeing - Tom Jude is the only person who knows the truth behind all his secrets. Tom wasn't just Jack's partner-in-crime, he was also the love of his life. And Tom knows things - like the fact that the little girl Jack is raising, really isn't his... As Jack scrambles to maintain his deceptions by lying to friends and neighbors as well as the child he has grown to love, he discovers the real truth: when your world is built on A Hundred Little Lies, exposing a single one of them can bring the whole thing crashing down
.
I read A Shiny Tin Star by Jon Wilson earlier this year and loved the author's style, so as soon as I realized that his historical western romance A Hundred Little Lies was going to be rereleased it immediately went on my wish list. The fresh new cover that says western and speaks to the book summary is a big bonus.

SEPTEMBER

THE WINTER LONG (October Daye #8) by Seanan McGuire (DAW, September 2, 2014)
Category: Urban Fantasy

Toby thought she understood her own past; she thought she knew the score.

She was wrong.

It's time to learn the truth.

Okay, I hate it when all we get are three little lines to summarize a whole book, and a whole bunch of advanced review blurbs. Those three lines do not say anything about the book, or anything new about Toby. It seems to me that Toby has very little understanding about her past and is often wrong. LOL! But of course now we are all really curious, aren't we? Because maybe this time she will really learn the truth about her past. By the way, I not only love the cover for this book, I love most of the covers for this UF series.

I KNEW HIM by Erastes (Lethe Press, Tradeback available September 13, 2014)
Category: LGBT-- Historical Thriller

Harry George Alexander Bircham: Not necessarily an infamous name in the annals of gay fictional characters…yet. But readers of Erastes’ newest historical novel should prepare themselves for many pages of suspenseful intrigue as the miscreant Bircham, a man of Wildean excesses and humours, will do anything it takes to bend Fate to his will. And that sinister will is to keep the affections and attentions of another young English lad. If accidents, if murder, are necessary, then Bircham is just the villain. Or anti-hero, as he is quite the early twentieth century charmer.

“If there can be such a thing as too much fun, this is probably it. It’s Hamlet in white tie and flapper dresses, relocated to the country-house circuit between the wars; but nobody quite acts out the roles laid down for them. This is just too good to miss.” —Chaz Brenchley, winner of the August Derleth Award and author of Blood Waters.
The cover for this historical thriller by Erastes is beautifully sinister and matches the book summary just about perfectly. I have been in the mood for mysteries and thrillers lately and this one looks like is going to be a beaut! I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

AN AMERICAN DUCHESS by Sharon Page (Harlequin HQN, September 30, 2014)
Category: Historical Romance

At the height of the Roaring Twenties, New York heiress Zoe Gifford longs for the freedoms promised by the Jazz Age. Headstrong and brazen, but bound by her father's will to marry before she can access his fortune, Zoe arranges for a brief marriage to Sebastian Hazelton, whose aristocratic British family sorely needs a benefactor.

Once in England, her foolproof plan to wed, inherit and divorce proves more complicated than Zoe had anticipated. Nigel Hazelton, Duke of Langford and Sebastian's austere older brother, is disgraced by the arrangement and looks down upon the raucous young American who has taken up residence at crumbling Brideswell Abbey. Still reeling from the Great War, Nigel is now staging a one-man battle against a rapidly changing world—and the outspoken Zoe represents everything he's fighting against. When circumstances compel Zoe to marry Nigel rather than Sebastian, she does so for love, he for honor. But with Nigel unwilling to change with the times, Zoe may be forced to choose between her husband and her dreams.
This is the type of historical romance that I am craving at the moment. The Roaring Twenties is a favorite era, but I am curious to find out if the British setting (as opposed to America) makes a difference in "my love" of romances set during this time. Love, love the cover for this historical romance.
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Clarification: I know this happens all the time and publishers shift release dates -- that is frustrating enough -- but I am REALLY disappointed because I featured THE BURIED LIFE by Carrie Patel with a July 2014 release date and boy was I looking forward to reading that book! BUT, when I went to buy it, the release date had been changed to April 14, 2015 for the paperback, AND, January 1, 2035 for the Kindle release!!! I'm sure that's an error, but I will keep checking and will let you all know when the book is available.

Currently Reading/Next on my reading list:
Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron
Lessons in Love: A Cambridge Fellows Mystery #1 by Charlie Cochrane
Home Fires Burning by Charlie Cochrane
Downfall: A Cal Leandros Novel by Rob Thurman

Just Finished Reading:
Wilde Stories 2014: The Year's Best Speculative Fiction ed. Steve Berman
The Affair of the Porcelain Dog by Jess Faraday

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

July 2014 Recap: Favorite Reads + Updates

July was over a couple of weeks ago, and I am finally ready to post the month's recap. It was a really good reading month with five highly recommended reads, two of them top reads. But as you will see below, the rest are not too bad at all.

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Total Books Read: 18 (4 rereads) 
 Contemporary Romance: 4
 Historical: 3 (Romance/Fiction)
 Sci-Fi/Fantasy: 6
 Urban Fantasy: 1
 LGBT: 4 (Spec Fic/Thriller, Contemporary fiction/romance, M/M Romance & Mystery)

Top Reads of the Month:


My two top reads of the month, although different, kept me at the edge of my seat. Lee Thomas' Butcher's Road, a historical crime thriller with speculative fiction elements, is so fast-paced and edgy that it spoiled my reading momentum for a few days -- I kept looking for another great shot of adrenaline just like it and couldn't find it. I ended up rereading a favorite book afterward before picking up another new read. World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters, a pre-apocalyptic mystery, had the same effect on me for different reasons. The end of a great trilogy, this book's main character, his journey through a pre-apocalyptic world, and the questions he asks through the mysteries he solves, stayed with me for a long while. The last page of this book is just. . .

1)  Butcher's Road by Lee Thomas: A-
2)  World of Trouble (The Last Policeman III) by Ben H. Winters: A-

In July, the B+ reads are all highly recommended. In My Favorite Uncle, I loved Marshall Thornton's excellent writing along with the wit and depth, while in The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine the historical fiction, setting, characters, and atmosphere kept me thoroughly engaged. In Seduced by Molly O'Keefe on the other hand, I loved for the gritty presentation of the characters' post-civil war struggles and the redemptive qualities found in the romance.

3)  My Favorite Uncle by Marshall Thornton: B+
4)  The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine: B+
5)  Seduced by Molly O'Keefe: B+

In the B grouping, there are more solid B's than mixed bags. Of the B books reviewed, Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique and Only Love Garrett Leigh are both strong reads with either solid plotting and/or writing style, characters, and atmosphere that do not let the reader down. And while The Iron King by Julie Kagawa falls under this category with a fantastic world-building and a young adult romance that I believe young adults will enjoy, that same romance was not entirely satisfactory for me personally. I will be reviewing the remaining books soon.

6)  Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews: B
7)  Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique: B
8)  The Iron King (Iron Fey #1) by Julie Kagawa: B
9)  Only Love by Garrett Leigh: B
10) Mr. Right Goes Wrong by Pamela Morsi: B-
11) Waiting on You by Kristan Higgins: B-

My C list is quite short this month. Dissonance is another young adult fantasy piece with an intriguing world-building and a great mystery that kept me reading. Unfortunately the majority of characters are tough to like and the young adult romance that takes center stage did not work for me at all. And unfortunately, although the story in I Want to Hold Your Hand has its highs and positives, I just did not buy the happy ever after, making it a highly frustrating romance read.

12) Dissonance (Dissonance #1) by Ericka O'Rourke: C+
13) I Want to Hold Your Hand by Marie Force: C-

I had a fantastic rereading month in July since all the books I chose are favorite A and B+ reads. All my rereads were highly enjoyed, however, I miss reading good historical romances and Duchess by Night was a treat. I'm also craving mysteries at the moment, so Fair Game was the perfect choice.

Favorite rereads:
14) Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
15) Duchess by Night (Desperate Duchesses #2) by Eloisa James 
16) Countdown City (The Last Policeman II) by Ben H. Winters
17) Fair Game by Josh Lanyon

To be reviewed at a later time:
18) In Your Dreams by Kristan Higgins

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That is it for July 2014. I'm already deep into my August summer reads, and will try to keep up with my updates. Mysteries, mysteries and more mysteries, I'm craving mysteries. :)


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Mr. Right Goes Wrong by Pamela Morsi

Pamela Morsi is a favorite writer whose Americana historical romances I dearly love. In Mr. Right Goes Wrong, Morsi's latest contemporary romance, she takes two people whose lives are made up of mistakes and bad choices and gives them the chance to prove to themselves and each other that change is possible.

Mazy Gulliver has been a doormat and a slave to love her entire adult life. She has chosen one wrong man after another with disastrous results. Mazy returns home with teenage son Tru to stay with her mother, determined to begin again and do right by herself and her son. Mazy's first move is to secure a job at the local bank as a loan collector working for Tad, Tru's biological father. She then visits her best friend Eli who is looking mighty fine these days. Sexual chemistry is still there between them, but Mazy is not sure Eli is for her until later when she slowly begins to believe that Eli may be her Mr. Right.

Eli Latham is the guy next door. He is sweet, nice and dependable and not Mazy's type, except when it comes to sex. Mazy is back in town and Eli's heart can't help but hope, but she is working with Tad the Cad -- does Mazy plan to get back with Tad? Eli still loves Mazy and comes to the conclusion that if she is looking for a new jerk in her life then he, Eli, is going to be her Mr. Wrong.

Morsi's Mr. Right Goes Wrong is both a romance and a personal road to wellness that encompasses both main characters, with Mazy the type of female protagonist that many readers may not like right off the bat. She has gone from one relationship to another, dragging her son Tru along the way. For a large portion of the novel as Mazy attempts to make sense of her life, she slowly turns a corner in her job but is still the clueless doormat I mention above in her newly minted relationship with Eli. She is downright pathetic at times and I admit to gnashing my teeth throughout many scenes. In Morsi's hands, however, there are reasons behind Mazy's actions as well as character growth and a good payoff at the end.

Of the two, Eli may be the most "sympathetic," at least initially. He's a fine, responsible man who loves Mazy unconditionally. Eli is also one of the most beta male characters I've encountered in a while -- caring, giving, and seriously laid back. But in his quest to win Mazy, Eli becomes as judgmental as the rest of those people he hated for hurting Mazy and goes too far. As he goes down the "beta to hard ass" road, Morsi brings Eli's character full circle and he makes a few personal discoveries of his own, not all them comfortable or pleasant.

Morsi excels at incorporating secondary characters from a small town and making their roles count. So we have tertiary characters that make an impact, as well as secondary characters such as Tru, -- a great character by the way and the love of Mazy's life -- Tad the Cad, Mazy's mother, and Eli's family. As a secondary storyline, Morsi successfully adds depth to this story by focusing on Tru's budding relationship with his biological father as well as on the relationship he develops with Eli.

In Mr. Right Goes Wrong, I find that the characters' journeys to personal wellness and happiness are interesting but equally frustrating. Morsi, however, has a talent for creating down to earth characters with depth and infusing subtle humor in her stories even when the issues they confront are complex. I recommend this romance to readers who appreciate Morsi’s writing style and enjoy a well earned happy ever after.

Category: Contemporary Romance
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Harlequin MIRA/August 1, 2014
Source: eARC Harlequin MIRA via NetGalley
Grade: B-

Visit Pamela Morsi here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

July's Minis: Molly O'Keefe, Ericka O'Rourke, Marie Force, Garrett Leigh

As promised, I'm continuing my summer reading updates today by featuring four books I read during the month of July. As you will see below the categories are different and so are my reactions to each one.

I have read quite a few westerns this year within all different categories, and chose to read Seduced by Molly O'Keefe after Wendy brought it to my attention by posting a review at her site (see a link to her review, as well as to Dear Author's at the bottom of my mini). Dissonance by Ericka O'Rourke (new-to-me author) is one of the books I had on my summer wish list,  and both I Want to Hold Your Hand by Marie Force and Only Love by Garrett Leigh (new-to-me author) are books that I chose to read because the book summaries caught my eye.
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Seduced (Into the Wild #1) by Molly O'Keefe: B+

I've read Molly O'Keefe's contemporary romances but that did not prepare me for her post-civil war historical western romance Seduced. It is not at all what I expected, it is much better. Our main characters are Southern Belle Melody Hurst and ex-soldier turned bounty hunter Cole Baywood. Melody's husband Jimmy, sister Annie, and Cole's brother Steven serve as the secondary characters in a self-contained, closed setting that keeps the high tension-fueled atmosphere going even after violence erupts and dissipates.

Melody has been to hell and back and after Jimmy is gone, she has nothing left to give of herself. Melody was a manipulative southern beauty before the war and will do whatever is necessary to secure a future for herself and her sister Annie to keep them safe. Seducing Cole is her answer. Cole can't see beyond the horror of war and everything he lost -- his family and innocence, his true self. All he sees is blood in his hands. Melanie's beauty and company remind him of who he used to be, but Cole will not settle with a woman who can't give him everything.

Gritty, that's the word that comes to mind when I think of Seduced. Melody may have been a Southern Belle in her past, but she's no wilting flower and Cole is passionate and tender but tough and not easily manipulated. The violent scenes at the beginning of this romance are not gratuitous and instead serve to anchor this romance to the historical time. The secondary characters are also explored and contribute much to the story adding to the central conflict of civil war torn lives and the developing relationship between Melody and Cole. This is a gritty, redemptive historical romance with depth of character and feeling, a big scoop of hope, and the beginning of love for our romantic couple at the end. I can't wait to read the second book in this series. (Historical Romance/Western, 2014)

Other reviews for Seduced:
The Misadventures of Super Librarian by Wendy: B+
Dear Author by Jane: B-

Dissonance (Dissonance #1) by Ericka O'Rourke: C+

This YA science fiction/fantasy novel is set in a great multiverse world where music and musical notes are incorporated as a basis for travel between parallel universes. The first book of Ericka O'Rourke's Dissonance series is also heavy on the romance. Expect a few sections with info dump here and there and predictable characterization such as the rebellious, reckless teenager with major authority issues, the love triangle, and the absent, unlikable parents. The characters, with few exceptions, are not immediately likable.

As with other YA romances I have read in the past, I wondered when and why the love happens. There is a disconnect between the sudden crush that turns into a sort of immediate obsession coming from the sixteen-year-old female protagonist, the young male protagonist's lack of awareness of her, and the relationship that develops whereby she is willing to sacrifice it all -- including family, friendships, and world -- for him, while he is willing to sacrifice all for his mother. It comes off desperate and off-balanced to say the least. I don't know how young adults will feel about the romance aspect of this book, but that's how it struck me personally.

Regardless, the premise for the world-building and the overall mystery are both very good, and for those reasons Dissonance was worth a read for me. The story ends satisfactorily, if with a bit of a cliffhanger, ready for book two of the series. (YA/Fantasy, 2014)

I Want to Hold Your Hand by Marie Force: Grade C-

Great premise, but an oddly executed romance where the female protagonist's dead husband gets almost more page time than the hero of the piece. Whatever it is that Hannah feels for Nolan -- lust, attraction, admiration -- her life, her thoughts, even her new relationship, revolve around her "husband" Caleb. And she and everyone else, including Nolan, think of Hannah as "Caleb's wife." She cares more about what her dead husband's family think about her new relationship than her feelings for Nolan or Nolan's feelings for her -- a man who loves her deeply and passionately and waited for her for five years. This is a frustrating read where even at the end I was not convinced that after 7 years of grieving Hannah was ready for a new man in her life.

I believe that Marie Force wrote a good book about the process that widows of soldiers go through when they lose a beloved husband. I also believe that if the timeline for Hannah's and Nolan's romance had been longer, if they had gone through what they experience in this novel and came together later when Hannah was really ready, this romance would have worked beautifully. But as it is, I did not buy it. Nolan, as the new man in Hannah's life has to be more than a saint to accept the fact that he will always be second best -- and that's the way this strikes me. He will always be second best.

Force does a great job with the sexual tension and build-up to intimacy between Nolan and Hannah and I enjoyed that aspect of the story for the most part, until the couple makes it to the bedroom which was a big disappointment. A great addition, the Abbott family and townspeople helped me get through this odd romance. (Contemporary Romance, 2014) 

Recommended book with similar storyline that really works: Joe's Wife by Cheryl St. John

Only Love by Garrett Leigh: Grade B

This is a double hurt/comfort book with tons of angst. A war veteran suffering from an incurable decease and PTSD comes home and moves in with his sister-in-law's brother, a man who suffers from severe epilepsy and is monitored by his trained dog. The two men find solace in each other, with the dog becoming a bonus both to the relationship and the story. This is a well written, multiple tissue read with some surprisingly deep issues and a slew of emotionally draining moments. Only Love is my first book by Garrett Leigh, but it won't be my last. (LGBT/MM Romance, 2014) 

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I will return with more updates. Yes, I read more! My summer reading is going well so far and I haven't even picked up my August 'must reads' yet. :)

Later!

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