Tuesday, August 31, 2010

New Releases: September/October 2010

I only have two new releases in my list for the month of September, so I've decided to combine my list for September and October and as you'll see it's a small one at this point.

I would like to highlight a book I previously neglected to mention, a book that I've been waiting for with bated breath -- KILLBOX by Ann Aguirre!

I had this book down as a September 2nd release and didn't realize somewhere along the way the date changed and it turns out the book releases today, August 31st! So, I'm getting my Sirantha Jax and Science Fiction/Romance fix a few days early. I cannot wait to read this book!

The rest of the books I'm looking forward to reading are a mix of Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Steampunk, Young Adult Fantasy and Historical Romance.

Bayou Moon (The Edge, Book 2) by Ilona Andrews
Release Date: September 28, 2010
Cerise Mar and her unruly clan are cash poor but land rich, claiming a large swathe of the Mire, the Edge swamplands between the state of Louisiana and the Weird. When her parents vanish, her clan’s long-time rivals are suspect number one.

But all is not as it seems. Two nations of the Weird are waging a cold war fought by feint and espionage, and their conflict is about to spill over into the Edge—and Cerise’s life . William, a changeling soldier who left behind the politics of the Weird, has been forced back into service to track down a rival nation’s spymaster.

When William’s and Cerise’s missions lead them to cross paths, sparks fly—but they’ll have to work together if they want to succeed…and survive.
Visit Ilona Andrews here.

Double Cross by Carolyn Crane
Release Date: September 28, 2010

Justine Jones lived her life as a fearful hypochondriac until she was lured into the web of a mysterious mastermind named Packard, who gifts her with extraordinary mental powers—dooming her to fight Midcity’s shadowy war on paranormal crime in order to find the peace she so desperately craves.

But now serial killers with unheard-of skills are terrorizing the most powerful beings in Midcity, including mastermind Packard and his oldest friend and worst enemy, Midcity’s new mayor, who has the ability to bend matter itself to his will.

As the body count grows, Justine faces a crisis of conscience as she tests the limits of her new powers and faces an impossible choice between two flawed but brilliant men—one on a journey of redemption, the other descending into a pit of moral depravity.
Visit Carolyn Crane here.

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook
Release Date: October 5, 2010
First in an all-new series where seductive danger and steampunk adventure abound in the gritty world of the Iron Seas.

After the Iron Duke freed England from Horde control, he instantly became a national hero. Now Rhys Trahaearn has built a merchant empire on the power-and fear-of his name. And when a dead body is dropped from an airship onto his doorstep, bringing Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth into his dangerous world, he intends to make her his next possession.

But when Mina uncovers the victim's identity, she stumbles upon a conspiracy that threatens the lives of everyone in England. To save them, Mina and Rhys must race across zombie-infested wastelands and treacherous oceans-and Mina discovers the danger is not only to her countrymen, as she finds herself tempted to give up everything to the Iron Duke.
Visit Meljean Brook here.

The Heroes of Olympus, Book One: The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
Release Date: October 12, 2010
After saving Olympus from the evil Titan lord, Kronos, Percy and friends have rebuilt their beloved Camp Half-Blood, where the next generation of demigods must now prepare for a chilling prophecy of their own:

Seven half-bloods shall answer the call,
To storm or fire the world must fall.
An oath to keep with a final breath,
And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death.

Now, in a brand-new series from blockbuster best-selling author Rick Riordan, fans return to the world of Camp Half-Blood. Here, a new group of heroes will inherit a quest. But to survive the journey, they’ll need the help of some familiar demigods.
Visit Rick Riordan here.

A Christmas Promise by Mary Balogh
Release Date: October 26, 2010
(First released in 1992 as a Signet Regency)
Weddings are supposed to be joyous occasions—especially when a couple seems as well matched as Randolph Pierce, Earl of Falloden, and his bride-to-be, Eleanor Transome. Ellie brings to the marriage a vast dowry, while Falloden, though distant, is handsome, tremendously desirable, and possessed of a title most young ladies can only dream of sharing.

Yet Ellie is not most young ladies. She knows that she must honor her dear father’s dying wish for her to wed the proud earl, but she dreads a lifetime in a union without love—and how can Falloden claim to love her when he married her only for her fortune? As Christmas descends upon the Falloden manor, the warmth of the season may yet melt away the trappings of duty and wealth, leaving behind only a man and a woman destined for each other’s arms.
Visit Mary Balogh here.

What are you looking forward to reading in September and October? Any good suggestions?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Review: Rising Tides by Nora Roberts (Re-Read)

This month's re-reads were books that "called" to me. Does that happen to you? I began thinking about the characters in both books and just had to revisit them and their stories. One is a historical and the other a contemporary romance and both by favorite writers: Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas and Rising Tides by Nora Roberts.

What do these books have in common? Although quite different on the surface, at the core Derek Craven and Ethan Quinn share similarities, neither thinks they deserve happiness with the woman they love because of their past actions and violent beginnings. They are both hardworking men, content with their achievements, if not with their lives as a whole. They both love and yearn for their women with their whole hearts, and both find women who love and see them as they really are. I think it's interesting that these different stories written by two different authors with different writing styles called to me, yet in the end they did share a few common threads. As much as I would love to write about both books, at this time for Nath's 2010 Re-Read Challenge, I've chosen to write my review on the contemporary rather than on the historical romance.

Of the three brothers, it was Ethan who shared his father's passion for the Maryland shore. And now with his father gone, Ethan is determined to make the family boat building business a success. But amidst his achievements lie the most important challenges of his life...

There is young Seth, who needs him more than ever. And a woman he has always loved but never believed he could have. But beneath Ethan's seemingly still waters is a dark and painful past. He must learn to see around the shadows to accept who he is. Because through Ethan's past lies the future -- and his one chance at happiness...

Rising Tides by Nora Roberts is the second book of the Quinn Brothers trilogy. This story focuses on the romance between Ethan Quinn and Grace Monroe. Why did this story call to me? Well, although this is the middle book and many will say not the very best of the three, in my opinion Rising Tides definitely glues this trilogy together. I loved the characters in the first book Sea Swept, but reading this book is where I fell in love with the Quinns as a family.

I personally love Ethan's character. He is a quiet, strong and hardworking man with a rough abusive past that makes him vulnerable. The brother who stayed behind and works the Chesapeake Bay as a fisherman, and  the type of man that once healed, any woman would love to have by her side. Ethan is also a one-woman man. He fell in love with Grace when she was a teenager and she is "it" for him. So there's unfulfilled yearning going on in this story that makes Ethan and Grace's coming together that much more effective when it happens. Grace herself secretly felt the same way about him, so it's a double-whammy in that respect.

The other reason I love this book is the relationship factor. I've always admired Nora Roberts ability to create, build and sell relationships, and I've always thought the Quinn brothers as one of her best. The relationship between the three older brothers with all the arguing, fighting, teasing and loving is enough to make this a wonderful trilogy. But, their developing relationship with the youngest Quinn brother Seth, as he's introduced into their family after the death of their father Ray, takes the stories to a higher level.

For me, this is where Rising Tides comes in. I always felt that this is where Seth is really brought into the family fold, and Ethan is the one brother who really made Seth feel safe, accepted and truly acceptable to the Quinn family. Roberts cleverly accomplishes this by intertwining Ethan's and Seth's storylines and having both characters work out their issues while the romance between Ethan and Grace is developed.

Of course there's also the relationship between Ethan and Grace. There's lots of yearning and not a little interference that goes on this romance. Both characters carry baggage, some of them heavy and issues must be resolved before there's a happily-ever-after. Grace and Ethan, although in love, are both stubborn and each has his and her own battle to fight and win, providing the reader with both frustrating  and satisfying moments as their relationship develops and they come together. This is a well-rounded book about love, family and healing -- a book I revisit once every so often when it calls to me.

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Quinn Brothers Trilogy
Released: Jove 1998 Edition, 1999 Hardcover 3-1 Edition, 2001 Edition
Grade: B+

Visit Nora Roberts here.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Review: Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage by Jennifer Ashley

Lady Isabella Scranton scandalized London by leaving her husband, notorious artist Lord Mac Mackenzie, after only three turbulent years of marriage. But Mac has a few tricks to get the Lady back in his life, and more importantly, back into his bed.

Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage is the second book in the Mackenzie brothers series by Jennifer Ashley. The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, the first book in this series, was a wonderful story and I was really looking forward to reading more about Mac, Isabella and the Mackenzie brothers.

This is a story about a second chance at love, a trope I usually love. Mac and Isabella are married but have been separated for a few years after a turbulent marriage. They still love each other, but there's a history of pain and lack of forgiveness between them. Mac made mistakes during their marriage and Isabella is unwilling to give him the second chance he needs. In this story Mac finds a way into Isabella's life again, and he does everything possible to win her back fully. She, on the other hand, struggles between wanting and enjoying Mac physically, and accepting him back into her life as a true husband.

Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage was an average read for me. The story itself is interesting, the characters are likable, and I enjoyed the family dynamics between the Mackenzie brothers, Beth and Daniel. Unfortunately, I had a problem with the way Ashley uses flashbacks to incorporate Mac and Isabella's past history into the story. Right in the middle of a conversation and even in the middle of love scenes, the characters flash back to a past scene or reminisce about a past event. This happens repeatedly throughout the story, diminishing the impact of the scenes and the characters' present situation. This frustrated me personally, particularly when it happened in the middle of the love scenes. There's a mystery that ends with lots of predictable drama.

Although this is not my favorite book of this series so far, I did enjoy the interaction between the Mackenzie brothers. I'm still looking forward to reading Cam's story and will continue to follow this series.

Genre: Historical Romance
Series: Mackenzie Brothers
Release Date: July 6, 2010
Source: Copy of ARC received from Tracy - Thank you!
Grade: C

Visit Jennifer Ashley here.

KMont's 2010 Year of the Historical Challenge

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Minis: Three Harlequin SuperRomances by Beth Andrews

During the last year I've been on the look out for new category romance authors to add to my list of old favorites. Recently, Wendy mentioned A Not-So-Perfect Past by Beth Andrews as a book she recommended and after doing a bit of research I decided to read the following three books by this author.

The following three SuperRomances by Beth Andrews are all related, although they can all be read as standalone books. They are all set in the small town of Serenity Springs. The protagonists from all three books are related to each other -- brothers and sisters. With the exception of two characters, our protagonists are introduced in the first book. 

Not Without Her Family
She claims she has to make things right... It's nothing but trouble for Jack Martin, chief of police, when Kelsey Reagan blows into town. Her ex-con brother just became the prime suspect in a murder, and this reformed bad girl vows to prove he's innocent. She even blames herself for her brother's jail record for her brother's convicted crime.
And now Jack's precocious young daughter is beginning to idolize Kelsey.

But an error in judgment nearly cost the widowed cop his career once; he's never going to let that happen again. Not even for a gorgeous troublemaker like Kelsey.

Kelsey's a former bad girl and comes to Serenity Springs to make peace with her brother Dillon. She has a past history of making mistakes and is here trying to make things right with the only family she has left. The first person she meets when she blows into town is Chief of Police Jack Martin and he's one suspicious man, never mind that he's gorgeous.  Jack can't help but drool over the woman he finds at his sister's bar while it's unattended, but he's a cop and no easy target, even when later the attraction turns out to be mutual.When Kelsey turns out to be Dillon's sister, the only ex-con in town, and Dillon becomes the suspect in a murder, Jack suspects that Kelsey will use their attraction to sway his good judgment.  He's a widower and a single father and can't afford to make mistakes that will affect his daughter or his career.

Not Without Her Family is a story full of suspicions and self-doubt. Both Jack and Kelsey have baggage and their vulnerabilities are explored in this story. As a cop, Jack used bad judgment once before and he's afraid that Kelsey might influence his actions while investigating the murder. Kelsey on the other hand has good reasons to distrust cops, is not the motherly type or ready for a commitment -- she has a tendency to run when things get hot and heavy. Dillon (A Not-So-Perfect Past), who is introduced in this story, is a brooding and bitter character who doesn't even want to see or talk to Kelsey. The scenes between the brother and sister are tense and heartbreaking.

I enjoyed some of this book and characters. The murder investigation was well developed and taken to a good conclusion. However, by the end of this book, I wasn't really sure that Kelsey was ready for a stable, committed relationship with a man, least of all with a single father. Although I enjoyed part of the storyline, I thought her character and the relationship between Jack and Allie needed a bit more development to make this story complete. Grade C+

Other Reviews:
Dear Author


A Not-So-Perfect Past 
Nina Carlson knows all about Dillon Ward. Knows he served time in prison. Knows nobody put out the welcome mat when he moved to Serenity Springs. But that doesn't stop her from renting him a place to live. And when someone crashes into her bakery, he's just the man to fix the damage.

And Nina isn't the only one who thinks Dillon's the perfect man for the job: her two kids have taken a shine to him. Still, she can't afford to get close to Dillon, even if he is tempting her to toss out her goodgirl shoes. Because it's not that she doesn't trust him. It's that she doesn't trust herself.

A Not-So-Perfect Past, is Dillon's story. He's Kelsey's (Not Without Her Family) brother and an ex-convict who did time for murdering his step-father. After living and working as a freelance carpenter in Serenity Springs for a few years, his only friend is Allison Martin (A Secret Agenda). And after being accused of a murder, he has become a pariah and no one in town is hiring. When his beautiful landlady Nina Carlson asks him to vacate the premises above her bakery, Dillon has had enough and decides to leave town. Nina a divorced mother with two children, allows her ex-husband and family to influence her actions and to avoid a confrontation with them, asks Dillon to move out. But when a young man crashes his fosterparents' truck into the bakery, Nina asks Dillon's help and he comes through for her.

This was actually a wonderful book and even though Dillon is introduced in the first book of this series, it stands alone quite well. As a male protagonist, Dillon was well developed and I liked him from the beginning. He broods and is clearly traumatized by his past experiences, as the story goes along his vulnerabilities are slowly exposed and his tenderness, loyalty, passion and love come shining through. I loved seeing this character unfold and grow with the story.

Nina on the other hand grew on me as the story developed. She's a woman who has no self-esteem and lets her family and ex-husband run all over her -- a frustrating situation at the beginning of the story. However as with Dillon's character, there's marked growth in her character by the end of the story and I was quite happy with her development.

This was a wonderful couple that had a lot to overcome and they did it very well. Some of the secondary characters were better developed than others. I especially enjoyed seeing Kelsey and witnessing a final resolution to some of the questions I had in Not Without Her Family. This book had a beautiful ending and I can see why it came highly recommended. Grade B+

Other Reviews:
Wendy - The Good, The Bad and The Unread
KristieJ - Ramblings On Romance


His Secret Agenda 
Dean Garret is about to break the number one rule of undercover work. And it's all because his new "boss" is as pretty as a professional cheerleader and has a do-gooder's heart. Who can resist that combination? Still, Dean suspects Allison Martin is hiding something behind her dazzling smile. That something being the runaway mother and son he's been hired to find.

To get the job done, he needs to gain Allie's trust. Only, the lawyer-turned-bar-owner isn't cooperating. But she can't remain immune to his good ol' boy charm and sexy drawl forever. Because Dean never fails. And he'll do anything to solve a case. Even if it means he has to break all the rules.
His Secret Agenda focuses on Allison Martin, Jack Martin's sister. She is first introduced in Not Without Her Family, but as Dillon's best friend, her character makes appearances in all three stories.

Allison is an attorney who gave up her practice in New York City to run a Bar and Grill in Serenity Springs. No one knows exactly why she gave up her successful career and although they suspect there are deeper reasons for her actions, they accept her brief explanations that she needed a change. However, her past is about to come back to haunt her when good 'ole boy Dean Garrett blows into town. Dean was hired to do a job and getting close to Allison is the only way to it. He's used to using his charm to get his way, but he has never broken the rules. But as the tension builds and times goes by, the sizzling attraction between the two makes this a tougher assignment than he thought possible.

Now here's a relationship built on lies. Allison is known to be a soft touch, she hires people who are in need instead of those who are qualified. Dean suspects Allison broke the law when she was an attorney, and he needs her help to find his quarry. However instead of asking her directly, he goes undercover and as he falls for her, proceeds to have a relationship with her built on lies and deception. Allison, makes mistakes in judgment and refuses to accept them along the way throughout this story. She also lies to her friends and family.

I initially liked both Allie and Dean, but frankly after a while I didn't love either one of them. Although these two have some great sizzling moments and I enjoyed the sexual tension and build up between them, in the end there's little room left to sympathize with these characters. There's no real change in Allie by the end of the story -- she continues to show poor judgment and only sees the consequences when they are pointed out to her by others, and she never comes clean with her family. Although Dean has reasons for his deception and he did show some personal growth along the way, the timeline was so quick that I thought this story didn't feel complete. The "happily ever after" felt rushed and abrupt without too many insights and the forgiveness and realizations didn't feel real to me.

I did enjoy revisiting with the secondary characters Dillon, Kelsey and Jack. Especially Dillon, who as Allie's best friend plays a good part in this story. His Secret Agenda was an average read for me. Grade C

Other Reviews:
Wendy - The Good, The Bad and The Unread

Visit RITA Award Winning Author Beth Andrews here.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Review: True Love and Other Disasters by Rachel Gibson

I seem to be cycling back to craving those contemporary romances again. For me contemporaries are like a favorite candy, the more I eat... the more I want. Lately I've been reading quite a few of them and I hope to post some reviews for you this week. True Love and Other Disasters by Rachel Gibson is a book I've had in my TBR for over a year and finally read in July.

Hard knocks and hunger taught Faith Duffy not to believe in love. Still, when she married her very wealthy—and very old—husband, she became the perfect wife. He gave her security; she gave him fidelity and loyalty, but not her heart. And then he went to that big bank in the sky, leaving Faith with a lot of lonely nights, a pile of money, and a total mess of a pro hockey team. Heck, Faith doesn’t even watch hockey!

But most of America and half of Canada is watching Ty Savage, team captain. His lethal sex appeal and deadly right hook make him the favorite of hockey fans. For most of Ty’s life, he’s dreamed of winning the Stanley cup. The last thing he needs is a gold-digging bimbo messing up his plans.

Faith loathes Ty on sight, but she can’t stop thinking about him all day…and all night. Then a night of temptations ends with Faith in Ty’s bed, and she begins to see there’s more to him than sex appeal and slap shots. Ty discovers there’s far more to Faith than beauty and billions. A relationship with Faith is impossible, and falling in love---would be a disaster.
True Love and Other Disasters by Rachel Gibson is all about Faith Duffy who in the past was a stripper and playboy centerfold. When her 81 year old rich husband dies and she inherits the Seattle Chinooks hockey team and millions of dollars, her days as a trophy wife are over. The captain of the hockey team, Ty Savage resents Faith's ownership and fears for the team's future, especially since she doesn't even know the basics about hockey. Faith finds herself struggling to adjust to her new status as a widow, the changes in her life, her nasty step-son, the team, the media and sexy Ty.

This sports romance had a familiar feel to it. It reminded me a bit of Susan Elizabeth Phillip's It Had to Be You, except that the characters were not as strong and I thought it was a weaker version all around. Faith's character had some good points, but overall I found her to be weak. Yes she was a stripper and a Playboy bunny who married an 81 year man for his money, however she was not ashamed of her past, her years as a trophy wife, or her acquisitiveness. Her reasons were her own and heck they were hers and I personally didn't think she should be judged for those, as opposed to everyone else in this story including Ty. Faith decides to keep the hockey team against her better judgment and hires an assistant to learn as much as possible about hockey and the team, there's character growth there for her. All good so far, right?

Ty and Faith fall for each other despite the fact that Ty tends to think of Faith as a bimbo who can ruin his career, and a hot affair ensues. Initially Ty comes off as the typical macho sports hero, and he definitely treats Faith as a gold-digging bimbo. He's more concerned with his career than he is about a relationship, and he has baggage that comes out in the book. Ty wasn't exceptionally likable to begin with, but he grew with the story and although flawed, he made strides by the end of the story. Faith is a different story altogether.

Here's where I have a problem with Faith. Due to her insecurities, she can't seem to defend herself against those who insult her personally, she can't seem to say no to those who take advantage of her, and in the end she can't resolve her own problems. Someone else has to come and take care of Faith -- THAT doesn't change and neither do the other problems I've outlined above. Examples? Charity ladies (and others throughout the story) insult her to her face and she won't respond; her mother abuses Faith's trust and uses her blatantly but Faith never fights back; and when her step-son puts pressure on her, she folds. The big Captain of the hockey team has to save the day and take care of business because Faith folds.

The build up to the romance, sexual tension and scenes were good between Faith and Ty and I enjoyed the overall sports theme as well as a few of the secondary characters. However because of the problems I had with the characterization in this book, my overall enjoyment was limited and it falls more under the good but not great category for me.

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: None
Released: April 28, 2009
Grade: C-

Visit Rachel Gibson here.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Review: Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories by Sandra McDonald

A writer of whimsy and passion, Sandra McDonald has collected her most evocative short fiction to offer readers in Diana Comet & Other Improbable Stories. A beautiful adventuress from the ancient city of New Dalli sets off to reclaim her missing lover. What secrets does she hide beneath her silk skirts? A gay cowboy flees the Great War in search of true love and the elusive undead poet Whit Waltman, but at what cost? A talking statue sends an abused boy spinning through a great metropolis, dodging pirates and search for a home. On these quests, you will meet macho firefighters, tiny fairies, collapsible musicians, lady devils and vengeful sea witches. These are stories to stir the heart and imagination.
I've read one book by Sandra McDonald, The Outback Stars a military science fiction fantasy. I loved her writing and eye for detail, and her ability to create fantasy and human characters. In Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories, Sandra McDonald uses all those talents to their full extent. The result is a collection of unique, reality-based fantasy stories that are just plain gorgeous.

There are fourteen short stories in this collection, some are obviously related and some seemingly stand on their own, however all of them share the same fictional setting. Although the characters in this collection are varied and unique in each story, the most prominent and the one who binds this collection, is Diana Comet. The intrepid Diana is a gorgeous transgendered character who is fearless in her love and beliefs.

McDonald begins with a Prologue that sets the whimsical tone to this collection, and continues with the story of Graybeard and the Sea, a sentient wooden figurehead who longs for what he can't have, and where he first meets his young friend Cubby, a story that seems light and fantastical. As the book progresses, the subject matter in the stories gain depth with each telling and by the time Women of the Lace is read, the realization sets in that all the stories have been neatly and cleverly tied up by the writer.

McDonald's unique characters are as diverse as their stories. There are statues that come to life, terrifying sea witches, bewitched music boxes and aliens, rooting this collection firmly on fantasy. And then there are the highly effective human characters that populate these stories and give them that touch of passion and reality: Landers, the gay cowboy hiding his nature from society in Diana Comet and the Lovesick Cowboy, Lieutenant Teague and her Sergeant Liss fighting attraction in the middle of a war in The Goddess and Lieutenant Teague, Cubby and Rev. Sawberry Chicken's interactions in The Land of Massasoit, the general's fear in The Instrument, Jaleesha's family as they struggle between conforming and having the courage to fight the status quo in Kingdom Coming, and Diana dealing with grief, changes and taboos in Diana Comet & the Collapsible Orchestra.

Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories felt different and unique and I re-read it once before writing this review. I loved this book and there's no doubt in my mind that this was essentially due to Sandra McDonald's writing and execution. She reels the reader in with the light fantasy and then goes deep, while using a light touch as she addresses contemporary issues through fantasy. Some characters and stories make more of an impact than others, but undoubtedly as a whole, this collection is a winner.

Genre: LGBT Fantasy
Series: None
Released/Source: June 1, 2010 by Lethe Press Books
Grade: A

Visit Sandra McDonald here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Review: Burning Up with Angela Knight, Nalini Singh, Virginia Kantra, Meljean Brook

Burning Up is an anthology with Angela Knight, Nalini Singh, Virginia Kantra and Meljean Brook. I've enjoyed books by all four of these writers and looked forward to reading their short stories.

"Whisper of Sin" by Nalini Singh is a short story related to her Psy/Changeling series. This prequel features Ria and Emmet's romance. Ria is attacked in Chinatown where she lives with her family and DarkRiver changelings, including Emmett and Dorian come to the rescue. Upon meeting Ria, Emmett immediately becomes protective and defying her family, he becomes her personal bodyguard. An outside gang is in San Francisco challenging DarkRiver's right to their territory and the changelings are sure Ria and her family will be targeted again.

I enjoyed Ria and Emmet's romance, it was quick and although their attraction was the instant kind, Singh took her time developing their characters and the relationship. Ria's family plays a large part in the story and as secondary characters they give depth to this short tale. Singh features Ria's dual Chinese/American culture in this installment, giving her female protagonist family situations focused on her culture. I loved the way Singh showcased the passion as well as the differences and commonalities between Ria and Emmet. I also enjoyed the glimpse we get as readers into the changeling world before DarkRiver's power was established. This was a lovely romance full of delightful characters. Grade B+

Angela Knight's "Blood and Roses" fits the anthology's title quite well in that it's hot, and more erotic than a straight romance. It's a story about vampires, magic and monsters. The vampire Raniero is a knight and the king's Chief Investigator. He's traveling with his men to Lord Korban's lands to investigate rumors that he is cooperating with the Varil monsters. Waiting to ambush them is the evil Vampire Tannaz, two Varil and Tannaz' Blood Rose daughter Amaris. Blood Roses were created to mate with vampires and to keep them happy enough not challenge their king. Raniero is captured and taken to the castle where he's kept unconscious through a spell. Meanwhile, Lord Korban uses Amaris' three year old sister as hostage and blackmails Amaris into seducing Raniero, hoping he'll send the king a message stating that all is well, buying him time to complete his evil plans with the Varil.

This story was a page turner and the worldbuilding was actually quite detailed. However, the relationship between Raniero and Amaris, although quite erotic, began and was based on sex and it never really moved from there into romance. Everything in the story happened quickly and there didn't seem to be time for any real development. I do enjoy Knight's erotic tales and this story qualifies as one, so I'll say I enjoyed the world, fast pace and the erotic part of this story. Grade C

Virginia Kantra's "Shifting Sea" was a prequel to her Children of the Sea series. This story takes place in Scotland in 1813 as Major Jack Harris, a soldier and survivor of a siege has recently taken over an unexpected inheritance. While out on a horse ride by the sea, he finds sexual solace with a beautiful woman. At first he thinks she's the town whore, but when they meet again his feelings change and soon Jack finds he loves Morwenna, one of the finfolk. This was a well told tale, full of the selkie myth atmosphere that Kantra weaves so well. However although the romance was enjoyable and pleasant, I found it lacking in impact. Grade B-

The novella "Here There Be Monsters" by Meljean Brook serves two purposes, it's the introduction to her new Steampunk series and it's the story of the pirate Eben "Mad" Machen and Ivy Blacksmith. A desperate Ivy needs to escape London and goes to Mad Machen for help. He refuses to take her aboard his pirate ship and when she offers herself as payment and he accepts, Ivy realizes she's over her head. Unexpected help arrives just in time and she flees from both London and Mad Machen. Two years later, we meet Ivy again as the relentless and furious Machen finds her hideout.

This was actually the story I enjoyed the most in this anthology. I love the way Brook takes her time to build the relationship, sexual tension and trust between Eben and Ivy. Theirs is a both a romance and an adventure. This story is not only full of the wonderful mechanical inventions and Victorian details that make Steampunk such a treat to read, but it's also full of action, passion and romance. I thought Brook did a wonderful job of combining all of these elements and introducing the worldbuilding to her new Steampunk series. Of course, all is not explained in this novella, there's still a lot of worldbuilding to do and I expect to see that in her upcoming release The Iron Duke. However, now I'm really excited and can't wait to begin this series. Grade A-

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: None - Anthology
Release Date: August 3, 2010 - Kindle Edition
Overall Grade: B

Monday, August 16, 2010

Review: Dark and Stormy Knights edited by P.N. Elrod

Dark and Stormy Knights is an anthology I was looking forward to reading. Previously, I'd only read the work of one author included in this anthology (Ilona Andrews), but you know me... I'm always looking for new authors and new books to add to my list, and I find that an anthology is a great way to get a taste of an author's writing style, or that one series that I've been thinking of reading. 

The first short story "A Questionable Client" by Ilona Andrews is all about the first meeting between Kate Daniels and one of my favorite secondary characters in the Kate Daniels urban fantasy series, Saiman. In this prequel, Kate is still working for the Mercenary Guild and she's sent by them to act as Saiman's bodyguard. Russian mythology is used in this little installment. The story was well developed and the reader gets a great sense of who the characters are in this little short. Saiman in particular is well-defined, and the events here give a clearer and greater understanding of his character. The story itself was both gripping and entertaining in the way I've come to expect from the Andrews writing team. Grade B+

"Even Hand" by Jim Butcher is a short story related to his Harry Dresden series. It's told from Marcone's point of view, a criminal and Dresden's nemesis. In this short, Marcone commits a crime and then proceeds to save Justine and a child from a Mag. I enjoyed this story and Marcone's voice, as well as looking into the world and mind of Dresden's enemies. I've not read this series, although I did watch the television series and I do have the first book to read. I wonderful story from this character's perspective and one that persuaded me to pick up that first Harry Dresden book. Grade B+

Shannon Butcher's "The Beacon" is the story of Ryder, a man whose inheritance is to kill Beacons. Beacons are people who unknowingly open portals into our earthly plane for evil monsters called Terraphages to come and eat and butcher people and entire towns. They are next to impossible to kill, so by killing the Beacon first, Ryder saves thousands of lives. This story had a good concept, however quite a bit was left unexplained. We don't know exactly where this monsters are coming from or why. Some of what happened between Ryder and the Terraphage was muddy and quite confusing and even after re-reading that part of the story I still couldn't quite make sense of it. This was one of the weakest stories in this anthology for me. Grade C-

"Even the Rabbit will Bite" by Rachel Caine was a great story. The last dragon and the last dragon slayer leftover after centuries of battling. The dragon slayer is an old woman and she's training her replacement while keeping an eye on the dragon through a Dragon's Eye. He has been at the Egyptian desert for centuries doing absolutely nothing. I enjoyed both the story and the characters, it was a true knight's tale in many ways. However, I had one question at the end and that was from whose point of view the story was told. Grade B 

The anthology continues with "Dark Lady" by P.N. Elrod. Her contribution is part of her Jack Fleming vampire sleuth series. The series is set in 1930's Chicago and it's all mob related. Jack is asked to help a distressed lady whose fiance has betrayed Gordy, one of the biggest mob bosses in Chicago and Jack's friend. I just loved this short story and Jack Fleming's narrative voice, as well as the intriguing secondary characters. This short story had me at the introduction where Jack explains who he is and says: "Now and then I'll step in, against my better judgment, and attempt to lend a hand; just call me Don Quixote with fangs." This was one of my favorite stories in the anthology, and I've already ordered the first three books in the series. Grade A

"Beknighted" by Deidre Knight was a true knight story and not part of a series. It's all about a knight who sold his soul for Templar-grade gold, a villain, and an artist. I enjoyed all the twists and turns in this story and the way it was developed from beginning to end. Grade B

"Shifting Star" by Vicki Petterson is part of her Sign of the Zodiac series and told from Skamar's point of view. In this short story Skamar is getting used to having a body and being hunted by a Tulpa. She is also fighting an attraction for a flirty neighbor. Young girls have been kidnapped and Skamar and the neighbor, who turns out to be a cop, team up to investigate their disappearance. This was not my favorite story in the anthology. It's obvious that it's part of a series and as a short story it does not stand well on its own. I'm sure all will be clear to those who do read the series, however for this reader the whole world seemed quite confusing. As a result, it was impossible to connect with the characters or care about the story. Grade C

"Rookwood and Mrs. King" by Lilith Saintcrow was another favorite story for me. In this story Rookwood goes after the vampires who attempted to turn him and enlists Mrs. King's help. Mrs. King was betrayed by her own husband, who is now a vampire. This story kept my attention both with the action and the intrigue and I was hoping there would be some books on either Mrs. King or Rookwood. When I couldn't find either, I decided to purchase The Demon's Librarian by Ms. Saintcrow and give that book a try. :) Grade B+

And the anthology ended with "God's Creatures" by Carrie Vaughn, another enjoyable read. This story is part of Ms. Vaughn's Kitty werewolf series, and told from Cormac's point of view. Cormac is called by a farmer whose cattle is being slaughtered by an unknown predator. He proceeds to follow the trail of what he knows is a werewolf to the town's Catholic church. This was a well written story that stands well on its own, where the main character's internal dialogue certainly kept my attention. Grade B

Conclusion: I thought the Dark and Stormy Knights anthology was worth purchasing and an enjoyable read all around. There are definitely some great stories that held my attention, but that will not get me to read the author's work, and others that did. Most of the stories definitely stand well on their own even though they're part of a series, and still other stories are obviously not part of a series and were written for this anthology. However, they all fit well with the Dark and Stormy Knights theme.

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: None - Anthology
Released: July 20, 2010
Overall Grade: B

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Quotes & Thoughts: New Normal by Jeffrey Ricker

"Something's not missing from my life. Something's missing from my death."

Don't you just love it when a book makes you think about what's beyond the obvious? In the short science fiction story New Normal, Jeffrey Ricker writes about a character who died, but whose consciousness has been transplanted into a new body. Not another person's body, mind you, but a body that was grown to look exactly like his old one. But although his body's the same, and he recognizes his mother and lover, his emotions don't seem to be engaged in the same way as they used to be. What could be wrong?

Ricker's character goes through literal death, and his reactions are those of a man that has gone through death, yet there is more there. At least there was more there for me.

I've always thought that we experience symbolic deaths throughout our lifetimes... at least I tend to think of them that way. We change, evolve, leave things, places and people behind and move on with our lives. This character seemed to be going through one of those moments... putting away the old self and going on with his new life. And I wondered if I would be able to connect with those selves I've buried along the way again. Like Ricker's main character, after going through those "deaths," the memories are still there, but could the emotions ever be engaged in the same way again? Food for thought.

Visit Jeffrey Ricker here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Review: One Season of Sunshine by Julia London

Adopted as an infant, Jane Aaron longs to know the identity of her birth mother and why she gave her up. Her only clue is the name of the small Texas town where she was born, so she’s come to Cedar Springs for answers.

Handsome ad executive Asher Price lost his wife, the beautiful, mysterious Susanna, in a terrible car crash eighteen months ago. When he hires Jane as the nanny for his two children, sparks fly. Jane finds herself falling in love with both Asher and his children, but begins to suspect that Susanna was not the perfect mother and wife the family portrays her to have been.

As Jane gets closer and closer to finding out the truth about both her own and Susanna’s past, devastating secrets begin to emerge that may be more than anyone can bear. Will the truth bring Jane and Asher closer together or tear them apart forever?
One Season of Sunshine by Julia London is supposed to be a contemporary romance, and in many ways it is, but there's more to it. I would say this book is a combination women's fiction/contemporary romance.

Jane is a 30-year-old woman who was adopted at birth and is driven to find her birth mother. She has a great life -- a wonderful, loving family, a great career as a teacher, and a loving boyfriend in Jeremy. Yet she leaves it all behind and moves to Cedar Springs, the small town where she was born, to find out who she really is. Jane can't seem to move on with her life until she uncovers that piece of her that seems to be missing. After her move to Cedar Springs, Jane lands a temporary job working for Asher Price as a live-in nanny to his two children, Riley a 12-year-old girl and Adam a 5-year-old boy. The children lost their mother Susanna in a terrifying car accident and Asher owns a business that demands much of his time. He leads a life full of guilt and loneliness. Things progress from there.

This is an all around difficult story with likable and not-so-likable characters. London is actually quite ambitious in her exploration of serious subjects in this book: adoption, death of a spouse, bipolar disorder, guilt-ridden father, traumatized children, dysfunctional families and a romance to tie it all up. First we have Jane, whose sole purpose seems to be "finding herself" no matter the cost. She is portrayed as a woman who at times seems lost, ambivalent and often self-centered while on her quest. Throughout her journey Jane knowingly hurts the people who love her, and while her needs are understandable, her actions are often questionable.

We then have Asher, his traumatized children and his marriage to Susanna. All three are key to this story as are the characters. Asher is portrayed as a man who adores his children but who is pulled in all different directions due to his business commitments. He carries more baggage than an Airline on an overbooked flight. Asher feels guilt because he can't be there with his children who are obviously traumatized by their mother's death and his continued absence, he is lonely and depressed after a horrible and unsatisfactory marriage, and he's surrounded by self-centered people who are detrimental to his children's welfare. There are a lot of toxic people surrounding this family.

Susanna, although dead, is definitely a big part of this story. Through her character, London explores the long-term effects that bipolar disorder has on the family. The children, especially Riley whose character is well defined in this book, are featured prominently and their problems are well integrated both with the overall story and the romance.

Frankly I didn't know how Jane and Asher were going to work things out until the end. The romance between them took a while to get going, although the attraction was there from the beginning. The romance itself worked for me on some levels because London didn't give these flawed characters an easy romance or an easily obtained happily ever after.

One Season of Sunshine turned out to be one of those books full of flawed characters, questionable actions and complex subjects, yet I read it in one sitting and became invested in both the story and the characters. I wanted to know what happened to them all and once I finished the book they stayed with me for a while -- that was unexpected. Definitely an interesting read.

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: None
Released: June 29, 2010
Grade: B

Visit Julia London here.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mini: Her Best Friend by Sarah Mayberry

This was a category romance with the friends-to-lovers trope, a favorite trope and a triangle -- not a favorite romance device for me -- so this was a mixed bag. I'm really loving Mayberry's writing and in some ways this was no exception -- she puts together a good book in a few pages.

Quinn and Amy have known each other since they were born -- neighbors in a small Australian town. Amy develops a crush on Quinn at age 14 and she's pretty sure he feels the same way until Lisa moves to town. Lisa becomes their friend and she and Quinn become high school sweethearts and eventually marry. Amy spends 16 years secretly in love with Quinn, her friend Lisa's boyfriend and then husband. It's so uncomfortable and painful for her that she decides to distance herself from her best friends. A year after Quinn and Lisa separate and while they're going through a divorce, Quinn returns to town to help Amy achieve her dream and things change. Quinn is definitely attracted to Amy but things get complicated when Lisa comes back to town.

I liked the main characters and Mayberry again fleshes out her characters and the story. I enjoyed Amy and Quinn's rediscovering their friendship and going from friends to lovers. As always with a Mayberry book, there's sexual tension and build-up and she knows how to write those sensual scenes.

However, although there's no question that Quinn had deep feelings of friendship and then lust for Amy, I did have a tough time buying the true love part of it all -- the "you are the love of my life" and "I want to marry you" love. I don't know... I wasn't quite sold on that. For me, it had a lot to do with the length of time Quinn was involved with Lisa, and the fact that he didn't give Amy a second thought in all that time -- that pesky triangle. The timeline used to develop Amy and Quinn's romance was also a factor.

Although I enjoyed some aspects of the story, first my reservations about Quinn's feelings took away some of that enjoyment, and later Lisa's return and actions gave Her Best Friend a sense of predictability that made this read a mixed bag for me.

Genre: Super Romance/Contemporary
Series: None
Release Date: April 13, 2010 - Kindle Edition
Grade: B-

Visit Sarah Mayberry here

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Review: A Strong and Sudden Thaw by R.W. Day

R.W. Day's beautiful prose, characterization, the post-apocalyptic fantasy world she created and the young adult, coming-of-age story in A Strong and Sudden Thaw caught both my attention and imagination from page one and I couldn't put the book down until it was done.

Approximately one hundred years after the Ice nearly ended civilization, the people of Moline, Virginia are still recovering from the catastrophe. The cold and snow still plague the north, but Virginia is a place where people can live, if not thrive. In some respects there's a regressive quality to life in Moline, as the people lead a life comparable to that lived in early 1800's America, with no electricity or running water, a one-room school house, a healer instead of a doctor, and the communing having adopted hardworking and god-fearing conservative values that at first glance seem quite familiar, but that later are revealed to be reactionary and extreme.

Using a beautiful narrative voice I fell in love with, A Strong and Sudden Thaw is told from David Anderson's point of view. David is the son of a Moline farmer and almost 17 years old. In Day's world, as in olden times, when David turns 18 he'll be considered a man in his community. When we first meet him, he's conflicted about his future and his straitlaced mother's plans to marry him off to the schoolteacher's daughter. David is part of a beautiful family -- all of them key secondary characters that complete this story.

David meets the new healer's assistant, Callan Landers, during a visit to the healer's house and they forge a bond through their love of reading and books. As the friendship grows, David slowly begins to feel a confusing attraction for Callan. During one of his visits to Callan, while accompanied by Elmer, a combination town bully and liar, he's shocked when he surprises the local artist, Taylor, performing oral sex on Callan. Elmer immediately runs to the authorities and Taylor and Callan are arrested for sodomy.

Following a painful trial, Callan is paroled with the condition that he will have no further personal contact with David. This is where David's loyalty and strength of character come to the forefront and we begin to see real character growth. He finds ways to see his friend Callan, and during this time both discover their love for each other. But a relationship between them is dangerous, if not impossible, and as they face dangerous situations and self-doubts, they also discover other sinister events that will have a profound effect on the people of Moline and their surroundings.

David is a well-defined central character. The reader follows David as he struggles to discover his strengths and becomes who he wants to be, an honest, independent-thinking David. Callan is also a well-drawn character, although as seen from David's point of view he doesn't come across as clearly defined. Besides David's family, Day develops other secondary characters within Moline's community to give this story depth.

Although R.W. Day maintains the focus of the story on David and Callan, there's a lot more to this book. The people of Moline are dealing with different threats: a pair of dragons have mysteriously appeared and are killing livestock and small children; the local representative from the Department of Reintroduction and Agriculture denies the existence of the dragons and refuses to help; and a neighboring town is suddenly abandoned without explanation. Day integrates all these threads, including Callan's sodomy arrest and trial, to create a cohesive story.

A Strong and Sudden Thaw was a page-turner full of adventure and one that drew deep, conflicting emotions as the author swept me to the end and a partial resolution to the conflicts. Although those resolutions are satisfactory, it is obvious that there will be a continuation to the overall story arc. The sequel Out of the Ashes will be releasing soon and I personally can't wait to read it.

Genre: LGBT YA Sci-Fi Fantasy/Speculative Fiction
Sequel: Out of the Ashes (coming soon)
Re-released:  January 30, 2009 by Lethe Press
Grade: A-

Visit R.W. Day here.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

July 2010 Reads + Two Minis

Was July the longest month of the year so far or is it me? Maybe the torturous heat, haze and humidity that came along with the sunshine had something to do with it. I had lots of distractions this month, after all it is summer and even with the over-the-top heat, there were gatherings and events to attend. Nice! As a result of all the activity, I've been reading -- indoors and outdoors -- but I'm still behind on my reviews. I think the sun fried my reviewing mojo! Or at least slowed it down, lol.

July was a great reading month for me quality-wise. I read 6 new releases this month and I'm happy to report none of them were huge disappointments, in fact they were all enjoyable. Here's my summary of reads for the month:

Total books read in July: 15  (Click here to see full list of books read & grades)

My favorite reads of the month?
I really liked this book! A book with tons of head hopping going on... back and forth... that I didn't seem to mind, why? Well, Jake and Brandon are great characters and theirs is a wonderful story, it's that simple. Jake's the high school P.E. teacher, baseball and football coach and Brandon is the science teacher. They went to high school together and one was the jock and the other the nerd, so there's a history there. I love the way Jake and Brandon get together -- neither is what you would expect. Urban and Roux did not give this couple "magic gaydar" so the friendship and attraction develops before the hotness begins. Both characters are likable, although Jake is definitely a favorite with me. This is an M/M book that, although flawed, is already a favorite and will go on my list of comfort reads. Great story and characters, both central and secondary -- added bonus, baseball! Thanks to Tracy, Mariana and AA for recommending it. ;P  
My biggest disappointment?
  • Zero at the Bone by Jane Seville: B-
I had high expectations for this book, and in my opinion that can be a recipe for disaster. In this case, I found Zero at the Bone had many good qualities to recommend it and not all my expectations were dashed -- good action, love, angst galore and good character development -- so it wasn't a great disaster, but still... a disappointment. The uneven/choppy pacing that yanked me out of the story more than once, a character whose personality got on my nerves the more I read the book, and an ending that was not only never-ending, but that seemed out of place, awkward and ambivalent, frustrated me to no end. Endings can make or break a book for me, and unfortunately this ending spoiled a lot of what I did enjoy.
Anezthezea's 2010 M/M Romance Challenge 

What about you? How did your reading month go? Any favorites?