Friday, November 27, 2015

Mini: Ransom Canyon (Ransom Canyon #1) by Jodi Thomas

Ransom Canyon by Jodi Thomas is one of the books I thoroughly enjoyed reading this past summer. It's a classic Jodi Thomas contemporary with multiple points of view and different story lines running parallel to each other. The setting is a small town, but it does not have the same small-town atmosphere found in her Harmony series. Instead, Ransom Canyon is a western contemporary series, with an emphasis on that western atmosphere.

The different story lines include a heartfelt and lovely romance between, what most readers would consider, a mature couple, while another thread follows a hardworking, college-bound young man and the beginning of a would-be romance with the sheriff's daughter. The sheriff's daughter has her own problems as separated parents face conflicts that affect their lives at home. Additionally, a quirky young ex-con passing through town finds himself beginning a new life at the town's senior citizens' trailer park. Conflicts arise involving all the characters, and a combination of old and modern western-style climax ties everything up.

The romance has its happy ending. However, the rest of the threads are left open-ended to be addressed in subsequent installments. I am particularly interested in Yancy, the young ex-con. He is quirky, cynical, knowledgeable about crime and street life, yet somehow totally inexperienced in what it takes to lead a "normal" life. I gave Ransom Canyon 4.5 stars, or a B+, at Goodreads, so this is a highly recommended read.

I would like to direct you to Nath's review of Ransom Canyon at Books, Books and More Books. Hers is a thorough review that makes some fine points about the romance and main characters. Please read it and enjoy!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Juliet Marillier | Blackthorn & Grim Series: Dreamer's Pool #1, Tower of Thorns #2

SERIES RECAP: Bitter magical healer Blackthorn makes a deal with a fey, the powerful Conmael, in order to escape the bowels of a foul prison. In exchange, she reluctantly vows to set aside her plans of vengeance against the man who destroyed her loved ones agrees to assist anyone who asks for her help, as magical healer or wise-woman, for a term of seven years. As she travels north to Dalriada, she is followed by a former prison mate, the hulking, silent Grim, whose only mission in life has become to protect her. Together, they settle in a cottage bordering a mysterious, magical forest and the lands of the Crown Prince of Dalriada.

In Dreamer's Pool, the first book of this fantasy series, a hardened, embittered Blackthorn helps Oran, the Crown Prince of Dalriada, find happiness with his beloved future wife Lady Flidais. Using a mixture of magic and folklore, Marillier weaves a fairytale-style story alongside that of Blackthorn's dark tale of loss, grief, and thirst for revenge. By the end of this first book, Blackthorn and Grim are established companions, not lovers. They become a team whose combined resources -- ingenuity, insight, magic, and loyalty to each other -- are admired and respected.

The story of Blackthorn and Grim in Dreamer's Pool highlights Marillier's excellent writing style, specifically in how she incorporates a fairytale about a prince fighting for his love, into a darker fantasy filled with magic, the elusive fey, and ancient Irish folklore. There is nothing common about this prince's battle though, as there are lies and twists that lead to dangers and dark magic. Blackthorn is the most interesting character in this first book, as the events leading to her devastating, personal story are slowly revealed. Her companion Grim is just as intriguing, however, although we learn enough to love his directness and loyalty, Marillier leaves the details for later. Grim, as a character and as companion to Blackthorn, becomes a grand revelation in Tower of Thorns.

Tower of Thorns continues as Blackthorn and Grim settled in Dalriada, waiting out the seven years' bond to Conmael. They hope that trouble won't find them. Unfortunately, Lady Geiléis and her men arrive from the North seeking help from the Crown Prince. Hers is a strange story about a howling creature trapped in a tower surrounded by an impenetrable hedge of thorns. This creature's howling casts a sort of dark spell on the Lady's lands, killing animals and causing its inhabitants to suffer from terminal depression and disorientation. He has been present for almost two years, and all attempts to drive him away by ordinary means have failed. The prince consults Blackthorn and Grim, and against their better judgment they set off to solve the puzzle of the monster in the tower. Meanwhile, Blackthorn finds herself conflicted when an opportunity arises to seek revenge against the man who destroyed her loved ones and held her in his foul prison, but to do so, she feels the need to lie to Grim in case she has to leave him safely behind.

Although Tower of Thorns again incorporates a fairytale-style storyline along with Blackthorn and Grim's ongoing thread, there are quite a few differences to be found. Marillier's fairytale is not only darker than in her first book, but also more complex. The 'monster in the tower' surrounded by a thicket of thorns sounds familiar, yet it is unique. The writing has a dreamy quality at times, and yet at others, there is an earth-bound sense to it. Marillier achieves this by utilizing different points of view. Lady Geiléis provides part of that dream-like quality through characterization, as well as through her slow narrative of events leading to the advent of the 'monster in the tower.' Meanwhile, Blackthorn's and Grim's points of view, Grim's in particular, bring the reader back to reality within the boundaries of this fantasy.

The main and, most importantly, the key secondary characters involved, are on the grey side, not black and white. Blackthorn and Grim are further developed in this second book. In Marillier's hands, Blackthorn's bitterness becomes a palpable thing, however as her courage is challenged, the depth of her inner strength and vulnerabilities are revealed. Grim's emotionally devastating backstory, on the other hand, is fully disclosed to the reader in Tower of Thorns. As this story progresses, his character becomes a stronger force within this series, as well as more endearing to the reader. Hidden agendas are a theme in Tower of Thorns, ensuring that Lady Geiléis' character, unlike Oran's in Dreamer's Pool, is as grey as grey can be. She is not the only one though, because the fey, and even the monster and other characters involved in this excellent fantasy, play a double game.

The events, as they unfold, are rendered in such a way as to convey a real sense of danger to both Blackthorn and Grim. It keeps the reader wondering about that final piece to the puzzle. There are unexpected twists to the end of the fairytale, as well as to Blackthorn's plans for revenge. So that, even if the reader believes predictability will factor in, they may just change their minds once the end is reached.

Conclusion: Although I enjoyed Tower of Thorns a bit more than Dreamer's Pool due to its complex plotting and characterization, both books in this series are highly recommended.

Note: I read Dreamer's Pool back in March 2015, and Tower of Thorns this month, November 12, 2015.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Update, Brown-Eyed Girl by Lisa Kleypas, Him by Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy

I've been away for a couple of months on an unscheduled hiatus due to more changes taking place in my life, good ones this time. In September, I gave notice at my old job and that triggered a super busy time for me since I had clean-up to do before leaving, causing other concerns and stress factors. Then, at the beginning of October, my new job began at a new law firm and that has thrown my whole schedule off kilter. I am adjusting, but it all takes a bit of time. Additionally, October was a month of personal anniversaries that I needed to get through. I did just that with help from family and friends.

READING UPDATE: My August reading was prolific compared to other months in 2015. My favorite books were Ru by Kim Thúy and Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy. In September my reading took a dip again but I still managed to read more than a few books, with From the Ashes and Bloodlines (Boystown #6 & #7) by Marshall Thornton making it to the top of my list. And, as expected, October was not a great reading month. I read 2.5 books during the last days of the month with Persuasion by Jane Austen, a highly enjoyable reread, as the sure favorite.

I am going to begin again by posting short reviews for two books I read in August. I will continue by posting reviews of my latest reads and impressions of selected books read within the past few months.

Brown-Eyed Girl (Travis Family #4) by Lisa Kleypas

Brow-Eyed Girl ties up the Travis family saga with Joe Travis as the romantic hero, however, the main focus is the heroine Avery Crosslin from whose first point of view perspective the novel is narrated.

Avery carries baggage affecting her as an adult. In her case, its neglectful parents and a traumatic experience with an ex-fiance. Add those negative experiences and the result is a woman who no longer believes in love and has zero interest in developing relationships with men. Avery is a woman in hiding. She hides her curves behind unfashionably large clothing and avoids men by turning them down flat. No problem, right? Well, not when it comes to Joe Travis.

Avery runs a successful wedding-planning business and meets Joe Travis at a wedding for wealthy clients. Outwardly, Joe seems to be an easygoing man whose purpose is to live a "normal" happy life without the excess the inherited Travis fortune affords him. Whatever it is about Avery that strikes Joe's fancy, whether it is her physical appearance or personality (we don't really know), Joe is relentless in his pursuit. Joe is understated in his pursuit, but it is understood that he is used to getting what he wants. Avery plays a game of dodge until they end up having an affair. Joe does not seem conflicted about his feelings, however, while Avery begins to fall for Joe, her reluctance to commit to a serious relationship becomes the main conflict between them.

I read Brown-Eyed Girl when it first released and enjoyed reading it. As a light contemporary romance, the book works, and as such I recommend it. I was able to understand Avery's cautious stand to a certain degree, while liking Joe for his easy going, loving understanding, and subtle but relentless pursuit. The secondary romance, involving Avery's half-sister and business partner Sophia, is definitely a plus to this contemporary romance as it provides tension and some lovely romantic drama.

Unfortunately, as part of the Travis family series, Brown-Eyed Girl is a much lighter read. It lacks the impact, emotional depth, and memorable characterization Kleypas achieved with Sugar Daddy and Blue-Eyed Devil.

Him by Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy

How do I say this? I could just say I loved, loved this book, but know more must be said. Him is fun, cute, sexy, and romantic. It is one of my favorite reads of the year. A sports-related gay romance that provides just enough hockey details for fans, but does not overwhelm readers who do not follow the game.

Wes and Jamie met as boys at hockey camp and became best friends. A homosexual encounter during their last summer at camp results in estrangement and hurt feelings. They meet again as college seniors as opponents on the ice. The rest is one of those unforgettable "friends to lovers" romances filled with memorable characters, amusing situations, plausible conflicts, and sexual tension along with sexy and romantic moments.

Bowen and Kennedy collaborated to create this New Adult gay romance and, in my opinion, created two beautiful characters. However, because there are two writers involved format and dialog must be considered. In Him, the alternating chapter format works, as it avoids that confusing head hopping style I so dislike. As a result, the characters' voices and personalities are distinctive, and thoughts and emotions are clearly conveyed to the reader. Wes and Jamie are portrayed as neither too young nor too old for their age. Culturally, they fit right in with young men within their age group. The secondary characters make a positive impact, however, because this romance is written from the first point of view perspective of the two main characters, the focus is firmly maintained on Wes and Jamie, as well as on the emotional changes taking place in the friends to lovers relationship. Highly recommended.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Best Gay Stories 2015 ed. Steve Berman

I enjoyed reading all 17 short stories, essays and/or articles in Best Gay Stories 2015 ed. by Steve Berman.

It has been said that life is "nothing more than an accumulation of moments or events," some pivotal in a lifetime while others just occur with no real beginning or end. I am always searching for short pieces capturing those unique or pivotal moments in a character's (or a real person's) life, and for authors with the talent to write in the spare, well-constructed, elegant prose necessary to create gems out of those pivotal or flash-in-the-pan moments. Personally, I prefer stories that wring a response from me: thought-provoking, positive, negative, emotional. I found much of or all of what I search for between the pages of this anthology. Here are a few examples:

"Outing" by Allan Radcliffe is hard to forget as it tenderly focuses on a special moment in the life of an established, older gay couple whose first kiss in public is inspired by two young men kissing at a train station. Touching and beautiful. In "Lovely Company" by Ron Schafrick a too cautious man makes the wrong decisions for his father and himself. This sad, realistic piece made me think about the importance of taking risks, living, and enjoying the moment. Life.

"What Did I Know?" by Joseph R.G. DeMarco is a profoundly thoughtful and intimate piece. A childhood trauma causes Joseph to suffer from fear of death, abandonment, and being forgotten. He believes that romantic love is the answer to his personal terrors. However, it is after losing his long-time partner, while going through the grieving process, that Joseph comes to understand the true meaning of love and finally sheds his fears. The intimacy of this piece engenders a connection with the reader. Personally, I re-read the last page countless times.

"Stories I Tell My Friends" by Richard Bowes is a compulsive read, not only because of the content, but because of the style in which it is written. Set in Boston, this is a string of stories, within a story, narrated by the author. They are recollections of events that took place during the narrator's childhood and young adulthood while his family moved from place to place. The narrator's father, cops, firemen and actors feature prominently. Events are intertwined as one story runs into the next until Bowes makes a final point. This is an excellent example of unique short story construction I mention above.

"The Case for PrEP How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love HIV-Positive Guys" by Evan J. Peterson is an article in which the author makes his case for the drug Truvada. The essay lists points made against the drug, however in general it has a positive slant for its usage and interviews, numbers, percentages etc are utilized throughout the article for this purpose. Peterson documents his own choice to use Truvada and the stigma that follows those who make the decision to do so. He gives examples such as public judgments made against it (Truvada has been called the "whore pill"), as well as the fear-driven negative responses to a drug that allows gay men to have unprotected sex without fearing HIV infection. Informative and thought-provoking.

"Needle" by Peter Dubé is a story about a sex-driven, highly volatile relationship based on addiction and mutual violence. This intensely disturbing piece is deeply memorable, more so because Dubé keeps the reader on edge to the very end by utilizing two different settings, a skewed first point of view narrative and a silence presence that makes a strong impact. Excellent read. "Skin" by Joe Okonkwo actually wrung a wow from me at the end of this piece. Oh the hypocrisy!! Okonkwo focuses on ageism and the gay community's iconisation of the perfect body. He touches all the important points, i.e., the invisibility factor and the effect it has on men after they reach a certain age, as well as the love of the "body beautiful" and how it affects gay men who do not fall under that category. Skin is a great read throughout, but the ending makes it unforgettable.

"My Adventure with Tom Sawyer" by Jameson Currier is one of three re-reads for me, the other two are The Balaclava by Nathan Sims and Shep: A Dog by Alex Jeffers, two stories I thoroughly enjoyed. My Adventure with Tom Sawyer, however, has to be the most delightful story in this anthology. Currier is an author whose deft hand at writing a self-deprecating, humorous piece is so well represented with this piece that for the second time around I sat back, relaxed, and settled in for the long-haul forgetting that this is a short story, yet it ends exactly where it should. Excellent execution. Memorable quote: "I was aware that I was having one of those awful motion picture moments when the old- maid spinster realizes her tour guide is someone generations younger than she is. Or worse, finding myself in a country-music version of Death in Venice."

"Smuggler" by Philip Kennicott. "I remember my first kiss with absolute clarity. I was reading on a black chaise lounge, upholstered with shiny velour, and it was right after dinner, the hour of freedom before I was obliged to begin my homework. I was sixteen. It must have been early autumn or late spring, because I know I was in school at the time, and the sun was still out. I was shocked and thrilled by it, and reading that passage from a novel by Hermann Hesse, made the book feel intensely real, fusing Hesse's imaginary world with the physical object I was holding in my hands." Kennicott is referring to"Beneath the Wheel" as he begins this fantastic essay focusing on 19th Century and early 20th Century literature featuring homoerotic scenes or homosexual characters, and the positive / negative effects reading these books had on the author or may have had on other gay readers. He ends with what, if any, the future holds for these classics, particularly after all the recent changes that have taken place in the gay community. I am oversimplifying here friends, but believe me, this is a fascinating, well-thought out, clearly defined, elegant piece begging to be read.

The above samples highlight some of this anthology's diverse content, however, the gay theme is prevalent throughout and there's something for everyone. If you enjoy short fiction and non-fiction the way I do, Best Gay Stories 2015 is an anthology I recommend in its entirety.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Contemporary Minis: Kelly Moran, Delores Fossen, Nicole Michaels, Barbara White Daille

I read quite a few contemporary romances in August, seven of them are books acquired by Nath during the RWA 2015 conference and gifted to me. Nath went so far as to have a few authors sign those books! From this batch, the only signed book I possess is Start Me Up by Nicole Michaels, which says "Enjoy Uncle Mike." I did. Additionally, I purchased A Lawman's Justice by Delores Fossen after having read Surrendering to the Sheriff, another gift from Nath.

Last, but not least, I DNF'd one book from that batch, a Harlequin American Romance, The Bull Rider's Son by Cathy McDavid, which unfortunately did not work for me at all due to not one, but three 'secret pregnancies,' one that caused an almost irreparable rift in a family, another one swept under the carpet by the hero as if it was so much fluff and the right thing to do, and the third by the heroine of the piece, a woman who did not learn anything from her mother's mistakes. A myriad of lies are told by supposed adults within the first few chapters and insta-lust takes place in the first couple of paragraphs. DNF.

Now to my reads. Listed from most to least enjoyable.

Return to Me (Covington Cove #1) by Kelly Moran (Berkley, 2015) 
Return to Me is a second chance at love romance. Moran weaves a story through the past memories and present circumstances of a couple who met while they were young adults and fell in love, only to have that love end in lies, betrayals, and tragedy. The present also begins under sad circumstances as Cole Covington comes home from Afghanistan suffering from injuries, PTSD, and riddled with guilt about the past. Mia Galdon, now a nurse, is roped by his sister into helping with his recovery.

Set in the South with modern, politically involved, wealthy society taking its toll on the help. Rich kid falls in love with the help's daughter, unscrupulous mom disapproves, and it all ends in tragedy for everyone.

This is a bittersweet romance with many conflicts to resolve before the happy ending is reached. Cole? Cole is a damaged hero in love, and I admit that those types of heroes always make me swoon a little. Mia, on the other hand, has serious responsibilities in her life that may or may not interfere with her love life -- she has sole custody of a younger sister with down syndrome. Mia loves wholeheartedly, but understandably those responsibilities hold priority. In the present, some of the same obstacles from the past still hold sway, and as adults Cole and Mia must make tough decisions. I like that when the time comes, Cole is an adult about making those decisions and although Mia takes the tough road, she makes the right decision for her. I enjoyed the main characters and romance, as well as the secondary characters in Return to Me. I plan to read Kelly Moran's second installment in her Covington Cove series, All of Me. Recommended.

A Lawman's Justice (Sweetwater Ranch #8) by Delores Fossen (Harlequin, Intrigue, 2015) 
The conclusion to a highly dramatic Harlequin Intrigue romance series by Delores Fossen, A Lawman's Justice was both predictable and entertaining. I only read the installment released right before this one, Surrendering to the Sheriff, and was able to catch up with the overall story arc without a problem.

In this installment FBI Special Agent Seth Calder, Jewell's beloved stepson and Whitt Braddock's youngest daughter, relentless journalist Shelby Braddock, the woman responsible for uncovering the evidence that placed Jewell behind bars, finally collide in an investigation that threatens both their lives. The investigation throws  them together and ignites passion where before there had only been hostility and a mild attraction. Eventually their combined investigation leads to the truth behind Whitt Braddock's death and answers to the question of Jewell's guilt. High family drama ensues!!

Like the last installment, A Lawman's Justice is filled with action, a high body count, shootouts, and more than enough family drama. Although, truthfully, the only 'laugh-out-loud' moment related to the drama came when I read the word "amnesia," (Oh noes!!) yes, this lived up to my expectations of the soap-opera style writing style I expected. It had the over-the-top ending and intricate family relationships I was looking for, as well as hidden agendas and dramatic revelations. If you are a fan of this sort of "intrigue," this series is for you. I certainly enjoyed the last two installments. (Tongue-in-cheek: I was disappointed that the evil twin-sister device was not used). Recommended.

Start Me Up (Hearts and Crafts #1) by Nicole Michaels (St. Martin's Press, 2015)
Anne Edmund is a Do-It-Yourself single mother. She has a well-known successful crafty 'mommy blog' with two girlfriends as contributors. Anne is confident when it comes to craft projects, work, and life with her daughter, but not when it comes to herself or relationships with men. That becomes more than abundantly clear when she meets her daughter's best friend's uncle, the drool worthy Uncle Mike. Mike Everett owns a car body shop where he restores classic cars for collectors and wealthy clients. He is a contented single man with no plans to get involved with a woman for more than a one-night stand or a single date until he meets the gorgeous Anne.

When I read a romance, the female protagonist usually makes or breaks the romance for me. In this case, Anne has left over baggage from the breakup of her marriage. It left her feeling insecure about her looks and paranoid about the time she devoted to her blog. As a result, she continually obsesses about her lack of beauty, avoid and later lies about her blog to Mike. Additionally, Mike is younger than Anne by about three years, and this fact also makes her feel insecure about younger women, particularly since he is such a good looking man. Anne is a woman with curves, and the personal insecurity about her looks is of course baseless, since Mike, other men, and her friends find her gorgeous -- they tell her and show her throughout the story. This sort of personal insecurity may be understandable as not everyone is self-confident about their looks or sees themselves as others see them. Anne, however, uses her insecurity as a shield to avoid making a commitment to Mike almost to the very end. This drove me nuts!

Mike, on the other hand, falls for Anne like a teenager in love for the first time, and this side of the romance is worth reading. However, I found this to be an unbalanced romance. Anne just takes too long to trust Mike with her real self and I don't even know if in the future she won't allow her personal insecurities to interfere with the relationship. Mike will have to do a lot of hard work to keep this going.  Overall though, there are other aspects of the novel that makes Start Me Up a cute contemporary romance. It is a nice, light, fluffy read, and I loved "Uncle Mike." Recommended with caveats.

A Rancher of Her Own by Barbara White Daille (Harlequin, American Romance, 2015)
This western contemporary romance has the word "city slicker" in the summary when referring to the heroine. That turned me off right there. However, I went ahead and began to read it anyway. Unfortunately, that darn little phrase turns up all over the place throughout the story until it became thoroughly annoying. If you are a seasoned romance reader, just by that little phrase you may already have an idea about the content of this book.

Pete Brannigan is ordered by his boss to play tour guide to his granddaughter, photographer and 'city slicker,' Jane Garland while she photographs the family home turned Inn for a new website. He lusts after her but resents it because his ex-wife abandoned him and his two children for a life in the city. Eventually he falls in love with her but won't trust her with his heart or his children. Jane lusts after Pete as well, gets involved with his children despite his repeated warnings not to do so, but still wants her life in the city anyway. Pete's little girl ends up getting hurt by everyone: her selfish mother, fearful father, and Jane who abandons her just like her mother did when she returns to her life in the city. Grandpa who began it all by playing matchmaker worries these two people will never get together. They do despite the obstacles. This romance has its moments. I enjoyed the ranch house atmosphere and intimate family portrayal more so than the actual 'romance.' Not for me.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Deceptions: A Cainsville Novel (Book #3) by Kelley Armstrong

I devoured Deceptions, not just because of the emotional roller coaster that goes on between Olivia and Gabriel, but because there are quite a few important revelations. The most important ones are directly connected to Olivia's parents and to the responsible parties for the murders. I was extremely surprised by a few of the answers revealed in this book. I thought that was well done. Armstrong also ties up other threads and gets rid of a few characters. So, Deceptions is a 'must read' for fans of the Cainsville series.

The triangle between Olivia, Gabriel and Ricky gathers strength in this installment. Olivia takes her physical pleasure from Ricky and her emotional fulfillment from Gabriel. However, up this point the men have been best of friends and have not interfered with each other's roles in Olivia's life. That changes somewhat in this installment and may change further in the future, but for some reason I believe that no matter what happens these three will remain friends.

Personally, Gabriel's tortured and emotionally stunted character is my very favorite, and that is probably because to me he is the one in need of emotional growth. More of his personality and emotions are revealed in this installment which I liked. Olivia, who is great at figuring out clues to mysteries and omens, is clueless when it comes to men and Gabriel in particular. She seems to be a fan of instant self-gratification and her rush to get physically involved with Ricky is a disaster waiting to happen. More so because she has allowed that relationship to deepen when in fact her feelings for Ricky are not what they should be. There is nothing to dislike about Ricky and I don't believe there will be, on the contrary, he is a great guy and deserves better from Olivia, but I can't help but wish he wasn't there. That is impossible, of course, since he has become key to the overall story arc not just part of Olivia's personal life.

Don't get me wrong, this installment is not all about relationships, it has plenty of action as Armstrong focuses on a particular mystery and the overall story arc evolves. However, as I mentioned in my review of Visions, the characters and relationships do drive the story. The people of Cainsville, Huntsmen, Olivia's parents the Larsens and other beings make key contributions to this interesting, fast read. I read the book in one sitting. The hints of Welsh folklore that began in previous books are further developed and we learn more of what awaits Gabriel, Olivia, and Ricky. At the end, however, we again go back to Olivia's pesky emotional/physical relationship with her men. The overall story arc depends on three people with problems: Olivia with her lack of judgment, need for love and ingrained fear of betrayal, Gabriel with his stunted emotions, neurotic fear of abandonment, and denial, and charming/ruthless Ricky, a young man with something to prove, just now coming out of the dark. The question here is what is destined to be vs. free will. I wonder.

Despite my personal niggles about Olivia's character, this is a fast paced UF installment that moves the overall story arc forward in a big way. Armstrong maintains that edgy atmosphere I loved in the first two books, and the interaction between characters, main and secondary, continue to keep that sense of mystery alive. For those of you who want to know, in her website Armstrong posted that books 4 and 5 have been sold, and she will wrap up the series by then. Good news! Recommended.

Cainsville Series:
Omens, Book #1
Visions, Book #2
Deceptions, Book #3

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Surrendering to the Sheriff (Sweetwater Ranch #7) by Delores Fossen

Surrendering to the Sheriff by Delores Fossen is the 7th installment of an ongoing Harlequin Intrigue series. I have not read the rest of the books, however, it wasn't too tough for me to follow the mystery driving the overall story arc, or the relationships between all the different characters. Fossen explains the situation with enough detail to satisfy.

There is bad blood between the Braddocks and O'Neals, a sort of feud that began when Whitt Braddock was murdered twenty-three years ago and his mistress, Jewell became the suspect. Now there is proof that may convict Jewell of the murder. In Surrendering to the Sheriff, Whitt's son, County Sheriff Aiden Braddock, and Jewell's half-sister, Kendall O'Neal, become the target of unknown hired goons/kidnappers attempting to force Aiden to destroy evidence against Jewell.

This romance suspense is highly dramatic with a soap opera style that had me hooked from the beginning. Let me give you an example from the first chapter:
Kendall opened her mouth. Closed it. Then swallowed hard. "I thought Laine might have said something."

Aiden shook his head. "My Sister? What does she have to do with this?"

"Laine saw me coming out of the doctor's office. I swear Aiden, I was going to leave town next week. I wasn't going to put any of this on you. I know how you and your family feel about me."

There was a gun trained on him, but Aiden went some steps closer so he could look Kendall straight in the eye. "What the heck are you talking about?"

She made a sound. Sort of a helpless moan that came from deep within her chest. "They took me because I'm pregnant. Because they knew they could use that for leverage."

Kendall's breath shuddered. "Aiden, the baby I'm carrying is yours."
In that scene, I visualized an imaginary camera close up of a surprised Aiden trying to play it cool and imagined dramatic music soaring. In case you want to know, Kendall is pregnant with Aiden's child after a night of drunken sex when the two finally give in to a twenty-three year old attraction.

Aiden and Kendall go through different scenarios with would-be kidnappers, investigating, finding and dismissing suspects, with both Aiden and Kendall saving each other repeatedly before everything is resolved. The close contact between the couple brings them together and a resolution to their romance is found by the end.

There are quite a few shoot out scenes and Fossen keeps the "intrigue" going by throwing in false but viable trails until the very end. I was definitely entertained by all the action as well as the dramatic soap-opera secrets that kept popping out of the woodwork. The action and family drama overshadows the lukewarm romance. For some reason, I expected less control and more unbridled passion from this couple after all those years of waiting. Truth be told, Aiden and Kendall have much to deal with in their personal lives, including some psycho family members. He is a 'baby daddy' looking forward to becoming a father and wants to be part of his child's life. He lusts after Kendall, but there is a personal element of surprise, a rather passionless one at that, when it comes to love and commitment to a serious relationship. Kendall, on the other hand, has been in love with Aiden since they were teenagers and has fantasized about their being together for 23 years. To be fair, the family feud and bad blood is a mood killer.

This Harlequin Intrigue felt meaty and a much longer book than its 216 pages. I enjoyed the high-drama and soap opera factors, the suspense became much more intriguing to me than the romance. However, I did like the main characters: Aiden as an honest man who takes his responsibilities seriously, and particularly Kendall as a heroine who needs to be protected but doesn't sit around waiting to be saved, instead becoming proactive in dangerous situations. Grade B-

NOTE: This book was a gift from Nath's RWA 2015 Book Haul. Thank you Nath!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Summer Reading #1: Oldies by Bujold, Heath, Marillier, Gellis

This summer I am indulging myself. The bulk of my reading has consisted of books that I've been wanting to get to for a long time. I caught up with some oldies but goodies. Today I am highlighting a few of the books that made an impact.

The Warrior's Apprentice and Ethan of Athos (Vorkosigan Saga) by Lois McMaster Bujold. I have so many different editions of The Warrior's Apprentice and yet they've all gone unread for years. Finally, I settled for the audio book. I'm loving this series. I keep asking myself, why did I wait so long? This is such a fantastic science fiction book. Miles is a brilliant young man who doesn't allow his disfigurement and/or disabilities to stop him from achieving what he wants and/or having fun on the way there. I love Miles, the humor, adventurous plot, political games, and fantastic secondary characters. Everything.  Overall, a fabulous creation by Bujold. A 5 star recommendation.

Ethan of Athos is a shorter story that doesn't include Miles, although it does include one of his mercenaries. It is however, a wonderful, adventurous little story with Athos, a planet inhabited exclusively by males, as the base for the story. Bujold's main character, Ethan, is a scientist attempting to resolve a scientific glitch in Athos's artificial reproductive system. To find a resolution, he must travel away from his planet to find it. In his adventures, Ethan faces bigotry as well as his own misconceptions about life away from his planet and women in particular. A 4.5 star recommendation.

I also went on a Lorraine Heath western historical romance kick and read four of her books, including the Texas Trilogy of which Texas Destiny (Book #1) was my favorite and a 5 star read. Amelia Carson, a mail-order bride, travels to Texas to marry the eldest, handsome, Leigh brother. Houston, the scarred middle brother, picks up Amelia at the train station and shares a three-week adventure-filled ride home and the two fall in love. This is a post American Civil war romance with a tortured hero, fantastic sexual tension and chemistry between the protagonists, and a brave, kind, admirable heroine. This is the type of western historical romance I love. A sigh-worthy read!

Parting Gifts is another western historical romance novel by Lorraine Heath, but this one is on the sweeter side. In this romance Maddie is rescued from a life of prostitution by Charles Lawson, a a dying widower in need of a mother for his children. It is a marriage of convenience without sexual intimacy. Charles' older brother Jesse, however, doesn't trust Maddie even as a strong mutual attraction blooms between them. This is a heartwarming, endearing romance with a few well-kept secrets, a couple of cute kids, two brothers, one woman, lovely sexual tension, and a sweet ending. It did not impact me as strongly as Texas Destiny, but still a 4.5 star recommended. I am loving Heath's western backlist! PS: The Fulfillment by Lavyrle Spencer also has the two brothers, one woman plot line. It is not necessarily the same, but I have it in my TBR and need to read it.

Daughter of the Forest (Sevenwaters #1) by Juliet Marillier was also a great read for me. I decided to read it because everywhere I look whenever readers write a review or leave a comment for a Marillier book the first disclaimer is: "This is not as great as the Sevenwaters trilogy, but…," and I wanted to find out what the hoopla was all about. Overall, I am loving Marillier's prose. As far as this first book of the Sevenwaters trilogy goes, I particularly enjoyed the unique way in which she based her fantasy on The Wild Swans fairy tale. I thoroughly disliked the manipulative Fair Folk in the story and the needless loss of innocence, beauty, and talent that came of it all. Having said that, Sorcha and Red as the main romantic couple are fabulous and I found myself reading the book compulsively until the very end. Highly recommended.

Roselynde (Roselynde Chronicles #1) by Roberta Gellis - I decided to reread the first two books of the Roselynde Chronicles by Roberta Gellis. I first read Roselynde back in the early 80's and in my opinion this reread stands the test of time. I still love young Alinor the Intrepid and Simon the Honorable. This book has the fantastic historical fiction details that Gellis is known for, excellent characters all around, and a plot that kept me engaged from beginning to end. I gave it 5 stars at Goodreads and recommend it for readers who love historical fiction set during the times of Richard the Lionhearted, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the Crusades with a romance between fictional characters at its center to spice things up.

Alinor (Roselynde Chronicles #2) by Roberta Gellis - I love the historical details in this book, particularly as they pertain to women's rights to inherit, widows and their children, and King John's reign. Gellis' attempt to capture the medieval mindset is particularly notable in this second installment. Alinor is again the main character, as well as the romance heroine and I still love her. Simon's loss was just as sad during this reread as it was the first time I read the book. The romance between Alinor and her second husband Ian has its moments. Ian's enduring love for Alinor is sweet and passionate. I admired both Alinor's realistic outlook once she became aware of her precarious position, and her attraction to Ian despite the love she still felt for Simon. The romance, however, seems to be plagued by the lack of real communication which leads to one too many misunderstandings. There is a heavy contrast between second husband Ian's youth and first husband Simon's maturity. Regardless, this is my second favorite book of the Roselynde Chronicles. A 4.5 star recommendation.

A note about the Roselynde Chronicles: If as a reader you do not enjoy detailed battle scenes, court intrigue, or political maneuvering with your romance, these historical fiction/romance books may not be for you.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

I'm back! Vacation, Friends & RWA '15

Hi all! I've been away for two months! Much has happened. I was hospitalized for a stubborn kidney stone (that was darn painful!) and under the weather for most of June, recuperated nicely, went back to work, and then on to a much needed one week vacation. I returned last weekend relaxed, rested, and ready to blog again.

My favorite beach. Long walks, sun, swimming, reading, resting!
This week Nath, her sister Emilie, friend V, and Ames are down from Canada to attend the RWA 2015 Conference in NYC, and we have been hanging out, going to dinner, and having a good time. I did not attend the conference and missed Literary Signing and Wendy's Bar Bash on Wednesday, but luckily Friday night was able to meet up Ames, Nath, her crew, and KristieJ for dinner and later had a fabulous time at the hotel bar discussing books and conference highlights with Wendy, KristieJ, Rosie, Nath, AmesJessicaL.B. Gregg, and more. Wendy and KristieJ recommended a nice long list of western historical romances by authors Maggie Osborne, Patricia Potter, Rosanne Bittner, and Maureen MaKade.

Ames, Hilcia, Nath, V, Emilie 

Wendy, Rosie, Nath, KristieJ
I have been reading on and off throughout these past couple of months. Expect a short(ish) update highlighting standout reads soon.