Saturday, January 30, 2010

Re-Read Challenge Review: Duncan's Bride by Linda Howard

Reece Duncan lost half his ranch and all his dreams to his ex-wife, so when it came time for a family he did the logical thing: he advertised for a bride. She had to be willing to work, to bear his children and to settle for lovemaking in place of love. It sounded perfect -- until Madelyn Patterson arrived.

One look and he had to have her. Never mind that she was New York and nightlife to his own plain-spoken Montana ways. She was willing to herd cattle, wax floors and bake biscuits by the dozen. She was even willing to bear his children -- but at a price he couldn't pay. She wanted love -- and he was a man who had no love to give.
Duncan's Bride by Linda Howard is one of my favorite category romances. It has almost all the ingredients that makes it a favorite read for me personally and I couldn't help but choose it as the first book to review for Nath's Re-Read Challenge. Why is this a favorite romance read for me? Well, Linda Howard seems to hit the nail on the head when it comes to the characters and the development of Maddy and Reece's relationship.

This couple doesn't know each other from Adam. Reece makes a calculated decision to marry based on his needs, but as a rancher he doesn't have the time or the inclination to court someone. He decides to advertise for a wife and is up-front and honest in what he needs -- a wife who will help him in his isolated Montana ranch and who is also willing to have a family. Reece doesn't promise love. He is too embittered by his past experiences with his ex-wife and doesn't want to give anything, except his body. Reece is nothing if not honest throughout the whole story and I appreciated that about him.

Maddy lives in New York City, works at her brother's successful company in a redundant position created just for her, and doesn't know what she wants to do with her life. She is financially solvent and answers Reece's ad out of curiosity and a need for change. Maddy doesn't really expect anything to come out of her impulsive actions until she meets Reece. Both Maddy and Reece are physically attracted to each other once they meet and click on a more personal level as well, but at that point only Maddy is willing to take it further. Reece doesn't think she's the right woman for him and tells her straight out. Despite Reece's initial misgivings, eventually they end up together and Howard develops the relationship through months of hardship and beautiful intimate moments at the ranch.

Reece is a drop-dead gorgeous alpha hero with a high sex drive. He is very sexy, but he's also very stubborn and used to having his way. He has his honesty going for him, but boy does he have a chip on his shoulder about the ranch, his ex-wife and everything he lost. Reece does everything possible not to make the same mistakes twice. He's one of those heroes who you want to kiss and shake at the same time a few times along the way, but that isn't necessary; Maddy is there to do it for us.

The description of Maddy in the book blurb above is deceptive if you're thinking Maddy is a doormat willing to do anything for Reece. On the contrary, she is one of the most likable heroines I've encountered. Maddy is deceptively smart, persistent in her love, relentless when it comes to not giving up on Reece, the ranch or their marriage and she never, ever backs down from Reece. She does what needs to be done and the best part of it all is that Maddy does it all her way. Maddy's character makes this story and this relationship work for me.

Howard uses both sexual tension and some intense passionate love scenes in Duncan's Bride to develop Maddy and Reece's romance -- I loved both. As a matter of fact, there's a scene that takes place on the back of Reece's pick-up truck that ranks high on my list of favorite explosive love scenes and it has nothing to do with it being graphic. (Pages 128 through 133)

Of course Reece carries so much baggage from his previous marriage, we know the conflict will come to a head at some point. When it does, there are begging scenes in this book where Howard hits the perfect tone. If you enjoy well balanced begging scenes you'll love these.

Was this book perfect? No, of course not. However for me personally, the small flaws I noticed did not take away from the immense enjoyment of re-reading Maddy and Reece's romance again. For me this is a Grade A read and one I highly recommend.

Duncan's Bride is a 1990 Silhouette Moments release by Linda Howard, and an Award of Excellence winner. My copy of the book has the above cover, 1st Silhouette Books printing September 1990 (thanks to a wonderful friend), but I found two other covers for this book. You can look for it at your local library, but in my opinion it's worth hunting through the used bookstores to find a copy.

Linda Howard doesn't have a website. Find a list of the author's books here.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

'In Death' Challenge Review: Naked in Death by J.D. Robb

I'm beginning Christine's In Death Challenge by reading Naked in Death, Book #1. This is my first ever, J.D. Robb read, so I'm starting with a blank slate. I've heard and read many comments about Eve and Roarke and how "hot" Roarke is, but frankly I haven't really paid much attention to the details in this series since I wasn't following it, so before reading this book I was really an In Death virgin. No more! :)

Eve Dallas is a New York police lieutenant hunting for a ruthless killer. In over ten years on the force, she's seen it all - and knows that her survival depends on her instincts. And she's going against every warning telling her not to get involved with Roarke, an Irish billionaire - and suspect in Eve's murder investigation. But passion and seduction have rules of their own, and it's up to Eve to take a chance in the arms of a man she knows nothing about - except the addictive hunger of needing his touch.
I'll begin by addressing what I enjoyed the most and what worked for me after reading Naked in Death -- the characters and the world.

What type of character is Eve? In Naked in Death Eve is introduced as a cop above all -- she believes in justice and the law. She herself says that if she is not a cop, she is nothing. Being Lieutenant Dallas above all things doesn't allow for too many friendships and Eve has few of those in her life. However, as expected, she is portrayed as the best at her job, a tough cop with experience. What makes Eve interesting is that she has a heart to go along with that outward and real toughness. Her vulnerabilities are not apparent, but they are there to see for those she might allow knowing her. Eve's nightmarish childhood explains some of what drives her, but it seems to me there's much more to her.

I'll just have to keep reading as J.D. Robb gave enough information in this book about Eve's personality, her past and her hang-ups to hook me, but left enough unsaid that she still remains a mystery. Eve Dallas' character certainly caught my attention.

What type of character is Roarke? Roarke is a gorgeous, Irish alpha male, sexy as heck and a multi-billionaire to boot. It's obvious that he is used to getting what he wants and doing what he wants, when he wants it. He is a brilliant, successful businessman with a murky past, who has obviously broken the law more than once and sees the world in shades of gray. Roarke doesn't have too many real friends and doesn't give of himself easily -- in that, he seems to be very much like Eve. However, I found him to be more willing to show his vulnerabilities to Eve and that was a pleasant surprise coming from this type of male.

Robb does the same thing with Roarke's character that she did with Eve's. We learn just enough about his childhood, his past and his present financial circumstances to satisfactorily develop this story, but the details are left unsaid. We'll have to get to know Roarke and what really drives him in future installments.

What about the world? I found the world Eve and Roarke inhabit an interesting one. First, it's New York City, a place I'm very familiar with, so it was fun to imagine all those floating vendors selling their wares on the crowded streets. That particular description reminded me of a scene in the movie The Fifth Element, where Bruce Willis is buying Chinese food from his high-rise building window from a vendor who is floating by. Neat! Second, I liked that Robb used technology that is advanced enough to give the book a futuristic atmosphere, but everything still felt familiar. The futuristic details did not overwhelm the plot or the character development.

Was there a plot? Naked in Death is a who-done-it that begins with a murdered licensed companion or licensed prostitute, and before we know it, it's full of political intrigue, corruption, a family's dirty little secrets and a cold, calculating murderer who is keeping a close eye on Eve. Eve has her hands full juggling the first murder, as the victim happens to be the granddaughter of a Senator. Between having to deal with the mayor, the Senator, the media, and investigating other murders as they begin to pile up, Eve also has to deal with the suspects as her investigation begins to take shape. Her main suspect: Roarke.

The more Eve gets to know Roarke, the less convinced she is that he is the murderer. However, she doesn't immediately trust her insticts when it comes to him. Eve is very attracted to Roarke and it seems to be mutual. Before Eve even realizes it, she is involved with Roarke on a very personal level as the fascination he initially feels for Eve turns into much more. But is he a murderer? And if not Roarke, then who else fits the profile?

Well, I can definitely see why everyone sighs over Roarke and loves Eve. The beginning of their romance is certainly intense enough that it easily became my favorite part of this book. Roarke is an impressive character -- both sexy and charismatic -- and Eve's combination of toughness and vulnerability makes for a winning combination. Their scenes together were both passionate and touching. One of my favorite little details was Roarke keeping Eve's suit button in his trouser pocket -- that little detail made ME sigh.

Less impressive for me was the murder mystery itself. It was done well enough, but I happen to be a bit picky when it comes to unanswered questions or sloppy police procedures that give away who did it in this type of book. I don't like it when it becomes obvious to me who did it before the end of a mystery, if that's not the intention. That part of the story was not entirely satisfying.

In the end, I loved the characterization and the futuristic atmosphere in this book, and I very much enjoyed the romance and sexual tension. I also enjoyed how J.D. Robb interconnected the romance and the suspense in this book. And although I found the suspense to be predictable, I'm looking forward to reading all about the futuristic police procedures used in the In Death series, as well as the ongoing romance. Grade B.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

YotH Review: Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger

I planned to read and review a historical romance for my first Year of the Historical Challenge review. However, after reading Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger, I decided that since a book set in World War II qualifies by KMont's rules, this was going to be my review for this Challenge. The genre is a bit of a mixed bag, I've seen it tagged as YA, Literary Fiction, Sports Fiction, World War II, Men's Fiction, and well... you decide. I prefer to think of it as Fiction with Historical elements and think it deserves to be widely read. So here it is, my first YotH review.

Last Days of Summer is the story of Joey Margolis, neighborhood punching bag, growing up goofy and mostly fatherless in Brooklyn in the early 1940s. A boy looking for a hero, Joey decides to latch on to Charlie Banks, the all-star third baseman for the New York Giants. But Joey's chosen champion doesn't exactly welcome the extreme attention of a persistent young fan with an overactive imagination. Then again, this strange, needy kid might be exactly what Banks needs.
I loved the first book I read by Steve Kluger, Almost Like Being in Love, and yet Last Days of Summer still managed to surprise me. I don't think I expected to be caught up in the story or the characters in the same way. I was wrong.

Kluger takes us to Brooklyn, New York in 1940 to tell us Joey Margolis' story. He is a 12 year old Jewish boy who having recently moved from Manhattan with his mother and aunt becomes the neighborhood bullies' punching bag. Lacking a father figure in his life, Joey is desperately looking for someone to take that place. He chooses a reluctant Charlie Banks, the new 3rd Baseman for the New York Giants baseball team.

Joey is a smart-mouthed, needy, brilliant little boy who goes to great lengths to get what he wants. His imagination, determination and persistence become legendary throughout the story. Charlie is a baseball player through and through. An uneducated young man who doesn't necessarily make the best first impression, Charlie doesn't seem to be the best choice for hero worship. However, once Joey chooses Charlie he doesn't stand a chance, no matter his reluctance to accept that role. Kluger again uses his favored epistolary style to reveal Joey and Charlie's improbable story of friendship. Through letters, telegrams, report cards, tickets and other means of communication, this beautiful story of friendship and love unfolds as the characters are revealed.

Last Days of Summer accurately details some incredible New York baseball history (Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees, New York Giants) and other teams as well, but baseball doesn't overwhelm the book. Also, through Charlie and Joey we glimpse the history of the times between 1940 and 1942 and slowly experience how things change and develop throughout the country. Kluger covers the slow escalation of World War II in Europe, Roosevelt's New Deal, Pearl Harbor, the Japanese-American's Relocation Centers in California, and finally our troops in the South Pacific. Although again, as with baseball, history does not overshadow the main story.

Atmosphere is important when setting a book during these times. Kluger achieves this by the usage of language and attitude, as well as by incorporating wonderful details such as: music, Broadway shows, famous personages, and using the names of businesses that were around in 1940's New York.

I laughed quite a bit while reading Joey and Charlie's sharp and witty exchanges and their improbable adventures, although I admit that the content itself pulled some emotional strings at the most unexpected of times -- Joey's Bar Mitzvah was one of the funniest and most emotional events and one of my favorite. There were wonderful secondary characters in this book that made this story work, even though Joey and Charlie were always the main focus. I personally fell in love with Joey's Aunt Carrie and the Rabbi (Rabby).

The end of this book was very emotional for me and quite beautiful in its own way. If you want to know why I was surprised, well... it's because this book is not really about baseball and being a baseball fan that's what I expected. Instead, Last Days of Summer is a beautiful story about a boy who needs, and a man who by answering that need fulfills his own.

Last Days of Summer is a book I couldn't put down once I read the first few pages. That makes two keepers by Mr. Kluger for me. Grade A

Visit Steve Kluger here.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Review: At Home in Stone Creek by Linda Lael Miller

Everyone in Ashley O'Ballivan's life is marrying and starting families—except her. But what date can compare to Jack McCall, the man who broke her heart years ago?And now he's mysteriously back. But he isn't who she thinks he is.

After a dangerous mission working for the DEA, security expert Jack McCall rents a room in Ashley's bed-and-breakfast. For her sake, he must keep his distance. But his feelings for her are so powerful that only his heart remains off-limits. To protect her—from his enemies and himself—he has to leave…vowing to fight his way home to her and Stone Creek forever.

It has been a long time since I read a Linda Lael Miller book. At Home in Stone Creek is a Silhouette Special Edition and it is the third book in the O'Ballivan's family series. There are four siblings, Olivia, Brad, Ashley and Melissa. I'm not sure if because this book is part of a series I missed something along the way, but the story involving Jack and Ashley seemed pretty self-contained.

Jack and Ashley have known and been involved with each other since their college days. Jack has been in and out of Ashley's life throughout the years, basically without any real explanation. It's obvious when the story begins that Ashley is in love with Jack, but he disappeared again 8 months before in the middle of the night without saying goodbye. She hasn't heard a word from him during all that time and she's pretty depressed. Ashley is also depressed due to a recent loss in the family and she's emotionally at odds with her siblings over that loss.

Jack suddenly returns to Stone Creek from what we learn was a "mission." He is suffering from high fevers after being shot with an unknown toxin and is almost incoherent. All Jack wants is to be close to Ashley so he can either die or recover at her B&B. Ashley takes him in and soon, after some incredibly fast recovery, they are back at having a relationship again. A relationship her siblings are not happy with, especially since Jack has a dangerous drug lord after him. The storyline gets further complicated by Jack's past, Ashley's family interference, Jack's health and even Jack's family.

In At Home in Stone Creek the loving between Ashley and Jack is sweet and I believed they did love each other. There is also a sense of family that permeates the story. Both Ashley and Jack's families appear in the book and as secondary characters they provide depth to the story. However, I had some major problems with this book.

Ashley is a twin and she is obviously the one without the grit in the family. I kept waiting for her to show some gumption along the way, but I'm afraid it never happened. Ashley was one of those heroines who lets herself be steamrolled by the hero, her family and just about anyone who comes along. Her siblings hurt her feelings, but she doesn't say anything. Her brother Brad makes decisions regarding her relationship with Jack and although upset, Ashley goes along. Jack makes decisions for her, lies to her and she doesn't get upset -- she understands. I was more than a little frustrated with Ashley's character.

My problem with the heroine alone is enough for this book to have been a disappointment. However, Jack was not my favorite hero either. He actually never really explained himself to Ashley truthfully. He gave her only what he thought he could give her, made decisions for her throughout the story and that's not something that changed. There's also a side story about Jack and his family that made him into quite the unsympathetic hero for me. I won't say what he did, but I don't know if I would have forgiven him so easily.

At Home in Stone Creek was a book with some good points, but not a great read for me personally. Grade C-

Other books in the O'Ballivan series:
* McKettrick's Way (Brad & Meg's story)
* A Stone Creek Christmas (Olivia & Tanner's story)

See list of books in the Stone Creek series here. Visit the author here.

ETA: McKettrick's Way as the first book in the series. I finally found the book's title. :)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Readers Block: A bad start to 2010!

I began 2010 with the worst case of readers block I've had in years! There are reasons of course, unexpected health-related family crisis, work piled up after the Holidays, but I can usually read through these things and more. My husband says a bomb could go off and I could still read. As a matter of fact, reading usually helps me relieve stress and knowing myself after all these years, stress is something I can usually work through by using different methods. But not this time, not without my books.

From December 30, 2009 through January 15, 2010 I read a total of one book. ONE book! It took me a total of two weeks to finish said book -- a fabulous one by the way, so I knew it was not the book, it was obviously me. I don't remember the last time I went so long without reading, or without being able to read. It doesn't make me a very nice person to live with... no sir, it doesn't.

I have what I think of as an incredible "to be read" pile of books at home -- at least never having had one until two years ago, it is to me -- one I couldn't wait to get into this year. However, this "thing" whatever it is, hit me like a paralysis. I began and closed up a total of six books... nothing, nothing, nothing appealed. I couldn't even get into my favorite re-reads. Paralyzed, I was paralyzed!

My poor husband couldn't deal with me whining (yes, I was whining), about my inability to read, about how television programming is a disgrace, about well... everything, and told me to buy some new books as he was sure I would find one that would just do it! LOLOL, I think he was more desperate than I was to get me reading again, although he did enjoy my crazy spur of the moment baking. ;P

I bought books, ladies... books, books and more books. I'm ashamed to say that the past two weeks I lost control and just bought books! It's a good thing I had some Gift Certificates left over from the Holidays, and I found a bookstore going out of business selling books for 50% off, so I didn't spend as much as I could have... still, I bought books.

After ALL that, and buying ALL those books, Friday night after work (and after baking chocolate chip muffins) I picked up a "general fiction" book, no romance in it. Well, this book could be considered a few different things, a coming of age book, man's fiction, or YA set in a historical period (World War II). This is a book I already had on my TBR -- a book I purchased a few weeks earlier... "Last Days of Summer" by Steve Kluger. I began to just browse the book to see what it really was about and next thing I knew I was on page 169! AND, next thing I knew it was early morning and I had finished the book and I was crying my eyes out. Just crying.... Yes, the ending to this book is quite emotional, you'll need a few tissues before you're finished reading it, I guarantee it. However, I think I was so relieved that I'd actually finished a book in one sitting that I just couldn't stop myself from using more than a few tissues (drama queen that I am). I went to bed with a watery smile on my face and slept like a log!

The real test came on Saturday and Sunday, though. I chose a favorite re-read in a short format and finished it and THEN picked up another new book I wanted to read and by Sunday, I had finished that one too. So YES, the readers block has been broken! And, what a relief it is my friends... I cannot tell you (or maybe I can) how wonderful it feels to be able to get lost in those pages again.

Last Days of Summer is going to hold a special place on my bookshelf forever and ever. Thank you Mr. Kluger!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Review: Her Secret Fling by Sarah Mayberry

Jake Stevens—star reporter and celebrated literary genius—is a snake. How else to explain the way he turns Poppy Birmingham's hero worship into loathing with a single conversation? So what if she's got a lot to learn about journalism? Aren't they coworkers now? On the same team? Jake can take his attitude and…

Then during a job-related road trip, their relationship goes from antagonistic to hedonistic in no time flat. And suddenly Poppy can't think of anything more delicious than having a secret fling with Jake. But with all this intensity, can she really keep it no-strings-attached?

This Blaze category romance by Sarah Mayberry set in Australia features Jake, a star sports journalist hero and Poppy, a swimmer and Olympic gold medalist who has decided sports journalism is what she wants to do with the rest of her life.

Poppy is naturally insecure about her abilities as a journalist. All she really knows is swimming and her confidence is lacking outside of the swimming pool, but she's determined to make changes and to succeed. On her first day on the job she meets her journalistic hero, Jake Stevens. She has read his book, all his articles, and has a secret crush on the handsome and brilliant man. But Jake is not happy to see Poppy in the newsroom. Oh, she's talented enough as a swimmer and she'll do as a woman, but as far as Jake is concerned, she has no business taking the place of a "real" journalist. Her gold medal doesn't mean she earned the right to be there or the respect due to someone who has worked for it. Jake is blunt and has no problem when it comes to expressing his feelings to Poppy. He even refuses to mentor her.

The antagonistic dialogue and relationship that develops between Poppy and Jake keep the story interesting as the tension grows between them. Jake certainly comes off as a snake at the beginning of the book and we feel for Poppy. During an assignment away from the newsroom, they are thrown together and an unexpected road trip ensues. This is where Mayberry steps up the character development. Poppy and Jake try to outdo each other with snark and as the sexual tension builds and snaps the story gets better... and hotter. This is the point where they begin to really "see" each other in a clearer way.

Neither Poppy nor Jake want to have an "office" affair. They're not interested in a long-term relationship either. They both have baggage they carry from their past that affect their decisions. Yet, these two people can't seem to stay away from each other and before they know it, they are in the middle of a hot, heavy and complicated affair.

In Her Secret Fling, Mayberry again develops a quick paced, full, rich romance in a short format. She gives this couple the time to know each other and a plausible conflict that she resolves beautifully. I love the way she develops Jake from being a total jerk into a lovable, sympathetic character and Poppy into a heroine that is neither too stubborn nor a doormat. There are secondary characters, but the focus is kept firmly on the romance and the main characters. The secondary storylines and some characters are used by Mayberry to give depth to the central characters.

I am loving the way Mayberry writes a contemporary where the hero and heroine don't just fall for each other in one day -- and she does it all in the short category romance format. Another hot, lovely romance by Sarah Mayberry. Grade A

You can visit Sarah Mayberry here.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Review: A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh

Reginald Mason is wealthy, refined and, by all accounts, a gentleman. However, he is not a gentleman by title, a factor that pains him and his father within the Regency society that upholds station over all else. That is, until an opportunity for social advancement arises, namely, Lady Annabelle Ashton. Daughter of the Earl of Havercroft, a neighbor and enemy of the Mason family, Annabelle finds herself disgraced by a scandal, one that has left her branded as damaged goods. Besmirched by shame, the earl is only too happy to marry Annabelle off to anyone willing to have her.

Though Reginald Mason, Senior, wishes to use Annabelle to propel his family up the social ladder, his son does not wish to marry her, preferring instead to live the wild, single life he is accustomed to. With this, Reginald Senior serves his son an ultimatum: marry Annabelle, or make do without family funds. Having no choice, Reginald consents, and enters into a hostile engagement in which the prospective bride and groom are openly antagonistic, each one resenting the other for their current state of affairs while their respective fathers revel in their suffering.
A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh immediately caught my eye when I saw the above blurb. There's something about the story and the characters' actions that seemed different from other Balogh stories I've read.

We begin with Reginald Mason, a young man who is the epitome of the dissipated ton buck. He is more concerned with fashion and his matched pair of grays than he is with paying gambling debts or responsibilities. He is not Balogh's usual hero -- the man of honor whose family is most important and whose judgment is impeccable, if questionable when it comes to love. Instead, Reggie is meeting with his father who is giving him an ultimatum -- he must marry whoever his father chooses or his funds will be cut off. Things have gone too far.

We then meet Lady Annabelle Ashton, the beautiful daughter of an Earl who opted to run away with her lover -- a coachman -- instead of marrying the man her father chose for her. She is another departure for Balogh whose heroines are usually women of character willing to sacrifice themselves and their love for their families. But not Annabelle, she would rather be ruined than marry the wrong man. However, Annabelle is alone and has gone too far to have any real choices left opened to her. Her father is shutting her away in a Scottish country state, alone. After none other than Reginald Mason, Senior offers his son Reggie up for marriage, Annabelle must agree to marry this "lesser" man or end up as a shut-in in Scotland.

The enmity between the two fathers in the story is key. The Earl is arrogant and entrenched in the class system that makes him superior to Mr. Reginald Mason, Senior. Mr. Mason is a coal merchant and although his wealth is vast, he is considered presumptuous when he purchases the estate next door to the Earl. For thirty years these two men and their families ignore each other, and the enmity and resentment grows with the years on both sides. After all, the Masons are not considered good enough to be acknowledged by the Earl or his family -- not even in church. Mr. Mason, Senior has been waiting for just such an occasion to make the Earl pay for years of public humiliation.

This novella was quite short and a quick read -- 196 pages, 1.5 spaces between lines, slightly bigger font than usual -- yet, this little book is a complete romance. Reggie and Annabelle's characters and their story are both developed through a series of small flashback chapters weaved throughout the book. We go from the present to the past and get progressively close to the present as we reach the end, closing the circle and getting a complete picture. I don't usually like flashbacks in a book, but it worked beautifully in this little story.

This begins as an antagonistic relationship since the main characters are being forced into a marriage. Yet because of the way it is written, there's no question of believing Reggie and Annabelle's "happily ever after" when it comes. The class structure in the Regency era is central to this story and central to all the relationships. Ms. Balogh uses this exploration in class differences as the main conflict in the romance and it works quite well. There's a twist at the end that I won't give away, but it made me love this couple.

A Matter of Class is a little gem of a book that I've already re-read. I thoroughly enjoyed Reggie and Annabelle's short, but complete little romance. This novella by Balogh is a keeper for me. Grade A

You can visit Mary Balogh here.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

2010 Year of the Historical Reading Challenge

I've joined the 2010 Year of the Historical Reading Challenge hosted by KMont from Lurv a La Mode. I love history and romance, so where's the challenge? Well, for many years I gave up on reading historical romances, instead I opted to read other genres. There's a period of time between the 1980s and 1990s that's a blank for me when it comes to certain authors and books. The challenge for me is to catch up with authors and books from that period of time that appeal to me. I've accumulated quite a few and have them on my TBR pile, I just need to read them.

The other part of this Challenge I love is that it's historical not just historical romance. I've been meaning to return to reading one of my favorite genres, historical fiction. This is a genre I have a passion for and one I have neglected for far too long. I hope this Challenge will help me get back on the historical fiction reading horse again.

KMont's rules are pretty basic:

a) 1 book per month for a total of 12 books. Review posted last week of the month.
b) Books can be new releases, old releases or re-reads.
c) Historical romance and historical fiction (any historical period).
d) Adult fiction or young adult.

I'm ready. Let's see how well this goes for me. Below, I'll be posting a list of books read with links to reviews as I go along. This should help keep it all organized and easy to manage. :)

January:  Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger (WW II) Review here
February: Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas (Re-read) - Review here
March: Dark Angel/Lord Carew's Bride by Mary Balogh - Review here
April: Courting Miss Hattie by Pamela Morsi - Review here
          Her Colorado Man by Cheryl St. John - Review here
May: The Endearment by Lavyrle Spencer - Review here
June: Lavyrle Spencer: Morning Glory and Years - Review here
July: Love in the Afternoon (Hathaways, Book 5) by Lisa Kleypas - Review here
August: Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage by Jennifer Ashley - Review here
September: Lady Sophia's Lover by Lisa Kleypas (Re-read) 
                    A Separate Peace by John Knowles (Re-read) - Minis for both here
October: The Doctor's Wife by Cheryl St. John - Review here
November: Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt - Review here
December: A Bride in the Bargain by Deeane Gist - Review here

'In Death' Reading Challenge

The 'In Death' Reading Challenge is hosted by our own Christine from The happily ever after...

I was a bit reluctant to join this Challenge. I've avoided reading J.D. Robb for years! You see I've been a Nora Roberts fan for years, but I've always been a bit intimidated by the extensive backlist, and frankly there are other concerns. I'm afraid that because I love Roberts' writing I'll become obsessed with this series and won't be able to stop reading it -- and there are ALL those books to read! When would I stop?! Could I stop myself?! Or would I spend the rest of the year hunting used book stores, libraries and/or book stores trying to find the whole series? We'll see... we'll just have to see... I can become obsessive when it comes to reading the next book, and the next, and the next...

The bottom line is that it is high time I read this much acclaimed series. I have to start somewhere. I already have the first 5 books in my TBR pile and I'm ready to begin. I'll be starting at the beginning, so I have a long way to go.

Christine's rules are pretty simple. Read one book per month, post a review or commentary and link it to her blog post.

I'll be keeping track of all my reads and reviews below:

January:  Naked in Death - Review here
February: Glory in Death - Review here
March: Immortal in Death - Mini-Review here
April: Rapture in Death - Review here
September: Ceremony in Death & Vengeance in Death - Reviews here
October: Holiday in Death - Review here
November: Midnight in Death Novella



Thank you Christine for getting me to finally give J.D. Robb and this series a chance! :)

2010 Re-Read Challenge

The Books, Books and more Books: Re-Read Challenge 2010 is hosted by one of my favorite bloggers, Nath.

I didn't join the Challenge last year, I came to blogging too late to do so. But, I followed this Challenge from beginning to end. It became a favorite and every month I looked forward to reading reviews by those who participated. I loved reading reviews of books that I'd already read and I found new-to-me books and authors through this challenge. Visiting every single one of those bloggers who participated, weather I commented or just lurked, was fun and became routine.

I tend to re-read books that I love, my keepers and comfort reads. I think most people do the same -- and that love and comfort usually comes through in the reviews. I'm really looking forward to participating in this wonderful Challenge.

Nath's rules are very easy. Re-read and post a review by the last day of the month and post a link to the review at her blog. That's it! To make things easy for myself, I'll be using this post to keep track of my reads and reviews for the year.

January:  Duncan's Bride by Linda Howard - Review here
February: Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas - Review here
March: Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson - Review here
April: Three Sisters Island Trilogy by Nora Roberts - Reviews here
May: To Beguile a Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt - Review here
June: Mine to Possess (Psy/Changeling, #4) by Nalinin Singh - Review here
July: Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling - Review here
August: Rising Tides (Quinn Brothers, Book #2) by Nora Roberts - Review here
September: Minis: Lady Sophia's Lover by Lisa Kleypas, A Separate Peace by John Knowles, Almost Like Being in Love by Steve Kluger, Cullen's Bride by Fiona Brand, Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard - Minis here
October: Rising Moon by Lori Handerland - Review here
November: If You Desire by Kresley Cole - Mini here
December: A Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist - Review here

I'm looking forward to participating in this Challenge. Most of all I'm looking forward to reading all future entries. Thank you Nath for hosting it again!

The 2010 Big Book Challenge

The 2010 Big Book Challenge is one of the most creative Challenges I've seen out there, and isn't that the coolest looking banner/button? I love it! Our creative host is the lovely Orannia from Walkabout.

This is a great Challenge, especially if you have a door stopper of a book laying around the house and don't know when or how to tackle it. This Challenge might be the one to help you do it. :) I have just such a book in my TBR pile and couldn't resist joining in.

Orannia's rules are quite easy. All you have to do is read ONE book -- a really BIG book with more than 500 pages, before the end of 2010. A review is not required and the book can be from any fiction genre. The book can be changed at any time, and anyone can join this Challenge at any time.

My choice for this Challenge is:

Title: Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline Carey
Genre: Fantasy
Release Date: June 24, 2009
# of Pages:
Reading Start Date: August 26, 2010
Reading Finish Date: DNF

Title: Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows (Re-read)
Genre: YA Fantasy
Release Date: July 2007
# of Pages: 759
Reading Start Date: July 1, 2010
Reading Finish Date: July 3, 2010
Review: July 25, 2010 - Link to review here.

Title: The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan 
Genre: YA Fantasy
Release Date: May 4, 2010
# of Pages: 516 
Reading Start DateAugust 17, 2010
Reading Finish DateAugust 21, 2010

Orannia made this a relaxed and fun Challenge -- no pressure. I love it!

2010 M/M Romance Challenge

Anezthezea from I Heart Paperbacks is again hosting the M/M Romance Challenge this year. This is the only Challenge I joined last year and I enjoyed it so much, I signed up for it again for 2010.

I used the Challenge last year to read books written by new-to-me authors whenever possible and it turned out to be a great experience. I plan to do the same this year. Plus, I have many books in my TBR pile still lingering from last year's Challenge -- time to read them.

2010's Challenge is easier. It doesn't have a 5 month deadline, instead the timeline is set from January 1st through December 31st 2010. There are different reading levels to choose from. You can choose 5 books or 20+ books. I've signed up for 20+ books this year again. Books chosen can be any length, sub-genre, or format. eBooks, paperbacks, young adult books, audio books, and re-reads are all okay. Lots of choices that makes this an easy and exciting Challenge.

I've decided not to choose my books ahead of time this year. Instead I'll be posting my books as I read them and my reviews as I post them below.

1. Fool for Love Anthology edited by Timothy J. Lambert and R.D. Cochrane
2. Best Gay Erotica 2010 edited by Richard Labonte selected by Blair Mastbaum
3. The Boy Can't Help It: Sensual Stories of Young Bottoms by Gavin Atlas
4. Fatal Shadows (Adrien English Mysteries, Book 1) by Josh Lanyon
5. A Dangerous Thing (Adrien English Mysteries, Book 2) by Josh Lanyon
6. The Hell You Say (Adrien English Mysteries, Book 3) by Josh Lanyon
7. Death of a Pirate King (Adrien English Mysteries, Book 4) by Josh Lanyon
8. The Dark Tide (Adrien English Mysteries, Book 5) by Josh Lanyon
9. Crossing Borders by Z.A. Maxfield
10. Cheating Chance by James Buchanan
11. Carbon and Ash by Chris Owen (Read-read)
12. Henry and Jim by J.M. Snyder
13. Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman
14. Bound by Blood (Soul Mates Book 1) by Jourdan Lane
15. Deceptions (Soul Mates Book 2) by Jourdan Lane
16. Sacrifice (Soul Mates Book 3) by Jourdan Lane
17. Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories by Sandra McDonald
18. Zero at the Bone by Jane Seville
19. A Strong and Sudden Thaw by R.W. Day
20. A Hidden Magic by Angela Benedetti
21. Unfinished Business by Angela Benedetti
22. Caught Running by Madeline Urban and Abigail Roux

Wish me luck!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

2009 Numbers & Goals Reached

This is my last 2009 summary and it was actually the toughest. Don't laugh (or go ahead and laugh) the following are just numbers, but I keep track of my reads on a simple list of books read throughout the year, in order of books read, by month. Trying to break that out into categories, etc... and weeding out re-reads and non-romance/pertinent books gave me a headache! I'll be better prepared next year.

Well, after taking out the re-reads and other books, these are the numbers.

Total books read for the year: 159

Contemporary Romance: 41
Historical Romance: 27
Paranormal Romance: 17
Urban Fantasy: 11
Sci-Fi/Fantasy: 9
Young Adult: 5
Mystery: 1
Romance Suspense: 1
Historical Fiction: 1
Erotica: 4
LGBT Fiction/Romance/Erotica: 43

My personal reading goals for 2009 were quite easy.

1) Read more Contemporary Romances and Sci-Fi / Fantasy.
I did well with this goal. I read 41 contemporary romances in 2009 vs. approximately 10 in 2008.

When it comes to Sci-Fi Fantasy I met my goal, but barely. I read 9 in 2009 vs. 8 in 2008. I bought lots of books and my TBR pile is bursting at the seams, but I never got to them. So this is a genre that I want to continue exploring in 2010.

2) Give Urban Fantasy a chance. Begin 3 UF series.
I thought this was going to be a tough goal to reach for me. It turned out to be an easy one. I not only met my goal, I exceeded it by starting and catching up on 5 UF series in 2009. I'm not planning on starting too many new series in 2010, but I'll definitely continue reading this new-to-me genre. I'm loving it!

3) Finally get to some authors that have been lingering on my list of authors to try. Read one book, and if I like it, go for the backlist.
Now this goal I reached and exceeded also. I read 52 new-to-me authors. Many of them in the LGBT genre during the M/M Reading Challenge, but most of them were authors I'd had on my list of authors to try for a while. It was a great year for new discoveries. 2010 promises to be another great one as I have more new-to-me authors on my ever growing list to enjoy.

That's it! The end of 2009... now I'll just look forward.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

December 2009 Reads & Minis

Here are my last reads of 2009 for the month of December. As you can see I didn't have much time to review or even give my impressions on most of them, but one. December was a busy, busy month and I found myself writing other posts and not reviewing my books! Now I'm behind, but I'll be catching up with these in January. So, here's my list such as it is.

1) Aftershock by Jill Shalvis - B

Another category romance in Jill Shalvis' firefighter series -- this is a Harlequin Temptation Heat -- I'm really enjoying these! This one is about Dax, the arson investigator that makes an appearance in some of the installments I already read, Flashpoint and Flashback. Again, Shalvis does a good job with this book. The relationship between the couple doesn't just happen, these two have to work for it. They meet under extraordinary circumstances, have a passionate encounter and then meet again a year later. Dax made for a likable and sexy hero, however the heroine wasn't easy to like, I thought. Some of her actions throughout the story were questionable and she let her fear and insecurities affect her decision-making one too many times. That took away from some of my enjoyment of the story. However, the book itself was well done and the HEA was a good one.

2) The Mountains of Mourning by Lois McMaster Bujold - A

3) Demon Night by Meljean Brook
Upcoming Mini

4) Deliverance by Aleksndr Voinov (Forbidden Love Anthology) M/M
Upcoming Mini

5) Simple Jess by Pamela Morsi
Upcoming Review

6) La Playita by Gavin Atlas M/M
Upcoming Mini

7) England's Perfect Hero by Suzanne Enoch - B

I enjoyed England's Perfect Hero. Lucinda and Robert were a very nice couple and once they got together, they had some wonderful scenes together. The one in the garden was an unexpected treat. I specially loved the hero in this book and how the relationship developed -- it wasn't rushed, instead I found it to be sweet and beautiful. I enjoyed the sexual tension and the attraction between them. Although I more than enjoyed the romance and loved the interaction between Lucinda and Robert, I thought the villain of the piece was quite predictable and was disappointed with that aspect of the book. I haven't read the previous installments in the Lessons of Love series, but I will be looking for them.

8) Wanting by M.L. Rhodes M/M - B+

This story was about a pair of college room mates who have been best friends for four years. A familiar theme but one that I enjoyed more than others. One room mate is gay and one thinks of himself of as straight, but this book is not necessarily a "gay for you" story. It's more of a coming to terms with the truth and coming out romance. Rhodes set it up very well. It's a short story but the characters, Jeremy & Ben (specially Jeremy), go through quite a few changes in this story and not all the changes are related to his coming out. I've always liked the way Rhodes makes her characters three dimensional even when she's writing a seemingly "over-familiar" plot in a short story format.

9) Heaven, Texas by Susan Elizabeth Phillips - B

This was an interesting read. The story of Bobby Tom, ex-football player, and Gracie Snow. These two made me laugh quite a bit in the story. I really don't know where I would place this book in my SEP list, but definitely not at the top of my favorites so far, although I did enjoy it. Bobby Tom is a likable, not so likable, likable/egotistical, likable, should get kicked, likable type of hero. Gracie had his number and still had the hots for him... which turned out to be a good thing all around -- a frustrating, enjoyable read. I laughed and wanted to smack Bobby Tom at the same time. But then Phillips tends to do that, she comes up with these thoroughly flawed characters and through character development sooner or later makes them sympathetic. In this case Gracie, the heroine, was the key. Still, it was not my favorite book from Phillip's backlist.

10) A Perfect Game by Reno MacLeod and Jaye Valentine (M/M)
Upcoming Mini

11) Breathing Room by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Upcoming Review

12) A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh
Upcoming Review

13) Her Secret Fling by Sarah Mayberry
Upcoming Review

14) Home for the Holidays by Sarah Mayberry - B+

My last read of the year was Home for the Holidays by Sarah Mayberry, a Blaze category romance. This book, as in many of Mayberry's categories, offers great characters. This is not your regular holiday plot either. The hero and heroine are a bit different, she's a mechanic who rides a Harley and he's a single father who has been a widower for two years. The plot is hot and amusing for most of the book and it felt as if I'd read a much longer book, so the development was excellent. I was a bit disappointed towards the end when I felt the author threw in an emotionally manipulative storyline that I didn't feel was necessary. It jerked me out of the story just as the book was about to end (last two chapters), but it didn't really take away from my enjoyment of the book as a whole. All in all a pretty enjoyable read.

December was actually an excellent reading month for me -- it exceeded my expectations. I read some beautiful books and unlike November, I didn't have any deep disappointments. How about you? How did your last month of the year go? Any good/great reads?

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010: To Beginnings!


Wishing you all the best

for the new year and

the new decade!

A toast...

To Beginnings. Cheers!