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.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Contemporary Minis: The Liar, Anticipation, The Deal, Mimosa Grove & Longmire

It has been a while since I've been able to enjoy contemporary romance. But lately I've been able to finish reading a few of them. I'm highlighting the most current releases by posting minis, but I also read a few others:

  •  After the Night by Linda Howard, an old school romance with one of those brutally hot alpha heroes that always makes me question why I enjoy books like these when in reality I wouldn't give a man like that a micro second of my precious time -- sizzling, sexy hot or not. I believe I read this book a long time ago because I seem to remember the hero, but could not remember the details. Kill & Tell (CIA #1) another romance by Linda Howard, this one with a suspense and a romance with a too short timeline. I love Howard's writing style and this book was good enough with a fantastic New Orleans setting. Both of these books were solid reads for me despite niggles and doubts about my personal taste when it comes to a few, select, fictional asshat alpha heroes. 
  • I also read The Wanderer by Robyn Carr (Thunder Point #1) and really enjoyed it. It had a different flavor from Carr's Virgin River series. The over-the-top angst and drama was missing but it kept the close community atmosphere and friendships that I enjoy in her stories. I liked her main romantic couple and even as their romance had a happily for now, rushed feeling at the end, The Wanderer was another solid contemporary read for me. 


Last weekend I also read Nora Roberts' latest romance suspense, The Liar. Ms. Roberts' last two romantic suspense books did not make my favorite list, Whiskey Beach was an average read for me and I did not finish The Collector, so my expectations of The Liar were not great. Perhaps that is the reason I liked this book or it may be that I just fell in love with the extremely likable main characters -- 24 year old, recently widowed Shelby, her adorable little girl Callie, and the gorgeous Griffin -- and enjoyed the romance as well as the Shelby's journey.

The Liar has a Southern small town contemporary romance atmosphere as it is set in the mountains of Tennessee. To help this along, there are multiple secondary characters including Shelby's family, close friends, and townspeople, all of whom play a part in Shelby's troubled homecoming. Griffin is a magnificent male protagonist, passionate, sweet, and in love with Shelby. But I adore him for falling in love with Shelby's daughter Callie and taking her out on pizza and ice cream dates. Sweet! My favorite aspect of Shelby's character is her journey back after having been married to a narcissistic man whose psychological abuse during the marriage devastated her self-esteem. Unlike Abba from Whiskey Beach, Shelby is not an over-the-top perfect character and Griffin is portrayed as an honest, loving, down to earth man whose love and patience is exactly what Shelby and her daughter need in their lives. Despite the predictability found in the suspense with its black and white, unredeemable villain(s), the romance is just right. For the romance reader/lover in me that was enough to make The Liar an enjoyable read.

Next I read a book by another favorite author, Sarah Mayberry. I'm a fan of Mayberry's contemporary romances, and although I haven't read all her books, the majority are in my Kindle. That includes her self-published romances. I was really looking forward to reading Anticipation (Brothers Ink #2) because the trope used here is friends-to-lovers, a favorite. Blue and Eddie have been best friends for years! And Blue has been loving and yearning for sexy Eddie all that time, so it seemed to me that this was going to be a fantastic read filled with sexual tension and emotion. Mayberry has done this before, and she can do it so well! My expectations were high, high, high.

The chemistry between Blue and Eddie is fantastic and there are great moments between them along the way. I particularly enjoyed the friendly banter between Blue and Eddie as old friends. Mayberry can write excellent dialogue, banter, give and take (whatever you want to call it) and Anticipation has it in spades. However, once the great sex is placed aside and romance alone becomes the focus, there are not enough true adult interactions for my taste. For example: Blue and Eddie are supposed to be old friends, yet the lack of trust and real, meaningful conversations are missing from the picture. That scenario goes on for too long, almost to the end, until Anticipation lost all emotional and sexual tension for me and just became a frustrating read. It may be that my expectations were too high. Still this is an average romance from a favorite author whose next contemporary romance I look forward to reading.

Last month Mariana convinced me to read my first New Adult contemporary romance, The Deal by Elle Kennedy and overall it was a good reading experience. Kennedy definitely has a hit with college romance between a jock and a music major. The story struck me as being very up to the moment. While Kennedy addresses subject matters such as date rape and/or parental psychological and physical abuse, she also maintains a fun, sexy style throughout the story that makes The Deal a truly enjoyable read without the expected gloom and doom. As expected from a hormone driven couple of this age, sex scenes abound throughout this story. I personally couldn't help but think, 'what about them grades kiddos?' Somehow time stretches and this couple manages to do it all with gusto. The Deal was a surprisingly light, fun read for me and I already added the next installment of the series, The Mistake, to my Kindle.

I believe Mimosa Grove is my first read by Sharon Sala. Nath has recommended this author at her blog so I decided to give the author a try. Mimosa Grove goes from the rather cold setting in Washington DC to the hot, humid, sexually charged atmosphere of the Louisiana bayou. Sala's heroine Laurel is a psychic. At night, in her dreams, Laurel enjoys hot, passionate sex with an unknown man. During the day she deals with a high profile, skeptic father and a Washington DC society that does not believe in her psychic abilities. Just in time, Laurel inherits her grandmother's home, Mimosa Grove, in Louisiana and she escapes from a hostile environment to a place where her abilities as a psychic are not just accepted but wholly embraced. At Mimosa Grove Laurel also meets Justin Bouvier, the man of her dreams in the flesh.  Laurel and Justin quickly embark on a hot love affair but before everything is said and done they will have to confront death, a killer, and uncover a secret that spans centuries.

Mimosa Grove is a romance suspense riddled with predictable situations. The female psychic possesses some seriously powerful mojo that I found to be perfectly flawless -- Laurel is always right and can do everything from experiencing/seeing/channeling past, present and future events, to feeling, seeing and speaking to ghosts. Additionally, conflict between the romantic couple is non-existent. All seems to be hearts and roses from beginning to end as Sala utilizes the sexually charged dream sequences as a devise to accelerate acceptance of intimacy and the bonding process between the couple. Still, I enjoyed the Louisiana bayou as the setting and the likable protagonists. I would like to read another book by Sala, so if anyone has a book recommendation it would be greatly appreciated. :)


Very rarely do I blog about television programming. But, damn it one of my favorite television programs was cancelled and I need to rant just a little bit about it.

A&E (which supposedly stands for Arts & Literature television) cancelled the Longmire television series. Mind you, Longmire was A&E's highest rated program to date. So why did they cancel it? Apparently the bulk of the viewer audience for the program does not fall within the coveted ages of 18 and 49. Ageist much? The next season, however, has been picked up by Netflix. That is the good news for viewers interested in following up with the program's events after the end of last season's massive cliffhanger! Unfortunately, it seems as if this option may not be available to European fans. They way I see it though, it is A&E's loss.

Fortunately for me and the rest of Walt Longmire fans, Craig Johnson's mystery series is extremely popular and the books, which have much better content than the television program, are always available. As a matter of fact, the 11th installment of this fantastic mystery series, Dry Bones: A Walt Longmire Mystery, just released on May 12, 2015.

If you are new to the book series you need to know a few things about it. Each book contains a different and fabulous mystery. There is also an ongoing personal narrative involving Walt and all the characters that begins with the first book, The Cold Dish. My recommendation is that the books be read in order as characterization and the human factor are so important to the success of this mystery series.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Patricia Briggs: Mercy Thompson Series

My reading is all over the place at the moment. Although it has been prolific throughout the month of April and May so far. I've been reading backlist books and found many new favorites among them. The Mercy Thompson urban fantasy series stands out. I read all the books and novellas with the exception of Night Broken, Book #8. At this point, I'm thinking of leaving that book in my TBR until the next installment is ready to be published.

Briggs' world building is the first thing that jumped out at me. Briggs concentrates and places a heavy emphasis on the wolf pack hierarchy, -- from dominant to submissive -- the biological aspects of being a wolf, as well as the strict rules they must follow. In Briggs' world a wolf's life is not pretty for anyone, not even the wolf pack's Alpha. It is not easy to choose this lifestyle. Unfortunately, the females are royally screwed since the rules the wolves follow were established during prior centuries when a female's worth was next to nil. So, even in modern times single females don't rank within a pack, if mated they take their rank from their mates (i.e., even if a female is alpha by nature, if her mate is submissive the female goes to the bottom of the pack with her mate). To top it all off females are not able to bear children. Their main contribution is limited to fighting and mating. Hurrah for them.

So, it is no wonder that when coyote shifter Mercy Thompson, our Protagonist (with a capital P), comes under the local Alpha's protection and into contact with his wolf pack, everyone resents the heck out of her, particularly the females. A few factors must be taken into consideration: coyotes and wolves do not get along and Briggs captures nature's enmity between these two similar but distinctive species in her world-building. Mercy stands apart, or outside the pack because she is a coyote shifter. However, many conflicts arise from the fact that Mercy is also an independent female who later comes to hold a higher rank than even the males in the pack. Another factor in all of this comes from Mercy's ability to bear a wolf's child. This is key in the series, although from a different perspective.

Mercy's character did not blow me away after reading Moon Called, #1. It took me a little while to shift my viewpoint of her, and it wasn't until late in Blood Bound that I began thinking of Mercy as a coyote instead of a female wolf. When I understood her penchant for causing trouble, playing dangerous games, and came to terms with that aspect of her personality, I enjoyed her characterization much more. The thing about Mercy is that even when she is not looking for trouble, trouble finds her. She is independent of mind but knows how to play games with the dominant/submissive wolves. Mercy grew up within a wolf pack so she understands the rules even as she fears getting too caught up in them.

At the beginning of the series, Mercy is portrayed as vulnerable because of her size and limited power. But what I found as I read along is that Mercy is vulnerable because she cares too much for others, and sometimes not enough for herself. She just wants to lead a normal life, be a mechanic, and love her man. Unfortunately, that's not to be as everything goes into high gear within and without the shifters' world. The worlds of humans, fae, vampires, witches, and shifters are colliding and Mercy along with Adam's pack find themselves in danger from all sides. As the series moves along, Mercy gains power as she gains knowledge about herself as a coyote. Her adventures become dangerous and she, her friends, and Adam's pack are all affected by her actions, mistakes, and triumphs.

Of all the books in the series, Blood Bound, #2 and Iron Kissed, #3 have the most complex plotting of the series thus far, highlighting the worlds of fae, vampires, and wolves alike. The focus on Bone Crossed, #4 is more singular in nature. It is also missing contributions by recurring secondary characters and although the story is solid overall, in the end it falls on the anti-climactic side. Silver Borne, #5 is truly exciting and somewhat angsty, but unfortunately Sam's secondary storyarc lacks all the good, emotional bits pertaining to his romance. This became specially frustrating later after reading the origins novella Silver in Briggs' anthology Shifting Shadows. River Marked, #6 became my favorite for its inclusion of Coyote, Mercy's Native American roots, and Native American folklore -- and let's not forget all the romantic shenanigans. And, Frost Burned, #7 is a solid installment with some exciting action and mysteries. It's worth mentioning that in this book Briggs includes Adam's point of view a couple of times, from the third person perspective. I liked that. Kyle, Warren's human mate was fantastic throughout the second section of the book, which brings me to the fact that Frost Burned shifts directions a few times along the way, unexpectedly so at the end.

Personally I find that contributions by the secondary characters in this series, not just Adam and Sam, are stand outs and invaluable to this series. I have a crush on Mercy's bloody vampire friend Stefan. Bran is a character whose background I would love to see explored in depth, and Zee, Warren and Ben are at the top of my love list.

My one frustration throughout the series is the pack's continued mistreatment of Mercy. Even with all the factors that make Mercy an outsider, there is such a thing as bonding while sharing hardship. Mercy has battled enemies with this wolf pack and has saved them collectively, as well as individually more than enough times to be treated with respect. The continued distrust, jealousy, and bitchiness that goes on should have abated by this point. It is my most fervent opinion that they all need to get over it already.

The romance between Mercy and Adam? I love the way it has progressed thus far. Love them together. And PS: The characters, but most importantly the events in this series fit perfectly with the Alpha & Omega series. Up to date (almost) So. . . another UF series bites the TBR dust.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Impressions Turns Six! The long version. . .

Yesterday, May 8th, Impressions of a Reader had a birthday. I've been blogging at my small space for six years. My overall experience has been positive.

This last year was stressful. My personal life took a hit when my husband of 34 years took ill at the beginning of last year and passed away in October. That stress is reflected on the blog's content for late 2014 and 2015. However, although reading became almost impossible due to lack of concentration and blogging became an almost insurmountable challenge, I doggedly continued trying because reading is a part of me, and blogging has become an act of sharing I thoroughly enjoy.

I was away from the blogging community for months. When I finally returned, it quickly became clear that both the Romance and the SFF blogging communities were badly shaken and experiencing major ongoing controversies, changes, and challenges. It can be downright disheartening to witness such turmoil. And, just. . .  damn, life is too short! But we need do what we love and love what we do. Fight for our beliefs and do it with heart. There are bloggers out there doing just that. . . from different perspectives, but all with conviction. Kudos to you!

Impressions of a Reader is a small reader's blog, a speck in the blogging universe. It is my belief that small reader blogs are the heart of different blogging communities -- Romance, LGBT, SFF, Fiction. But many small blogs are closing down. Today, I am going to play advocate for small reader blogs because it is up to readers like you and me to keep them around. Why? Large publisher backed, multi-reviewer blogs have much to offer. Some are downright fantastic and I follow a few them. They offer the latest news, show the latest releases, and showcase reviews by multiple bloggers (authors & readers alike). However, going by personal experience, nothing compares with the intimacy, candor, enthusiasm, and comfortable environment found in small reader blogs.

These are the places I seek out when I want to participate in a healthy book discussion or just want to read a review. I love the honesty with which bloggers express their pleasure or disappointment in a book. Additionally, once I get to know a blogger, it no longer matters to me whether our points of view match on a particular book because in the end I still respect his or her opinion. So, check out some small reader blogs, find a few places where you feel comfortable, where you can read honest reviews by bloggers with the same, or differing, points of view from your own. A place where you feel comfortable discussing books or heck just lurking and reading the reviews!

Okay, that is done. So what's next for me?
  • For the rest of 2015 my plan is to continue reading and blogging as often as I am able. My reading pace has improved within the last couple of months. That's a step forward. 
  • I am not accepting ARCs until further notice (See Disclosure Page). 
  • I haven't been consistent in grading my reviews this past year, although I am still posting grades along with my end-of-month recaps. 
  • All of the above will be reassessed by the end of 2015. All will be updated by January 2016. 
I would like to thank everyone who drops by Impressions of Reader - the Romance, Literary Fiction, SFF, & LGBT reading communities. Your support is greatly appreciated and never taken for granted.

Top overall posts/reviews, listed by category

Literary FictionDrown by Junot Diaz (#1 overall)
SFFBook Discussion: Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey (Parts III & IV)
  Overview: The Expanse by James S.A. Corey (Leviathan Wakes #1, Caliban's War #2) 
  Overview: Old Man's War Series by John Scalzi (Old Man's War #1, The Ghost Brigades #2) - Picked up under References by Wikipedia (See #10 & #11)
Mystery/FictionTV vs. Books: A&E's Longmire vs. Walt Longmire series by Craig Johnson
Urban FantasyShadowfever (Fever, Book #5) by Karen Marie Moning
RomanceThe Witness by Nora Roberts
  The Endearment by Lavyrle Spencer
  A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh
LGBTFrom Macho to Mariposa: New Gay Latino Fiction ed. Charles Rice-González & Charlie Vázquez