Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010: Favorite Books & Authors (Part II)

The end of the year is here already! It's time to post that pesky list of favorite books and authors.

As you may have noticed, I split my posts and posted my favorite LGBT list separately. This list was originally one, but LGBT took a life of its own, as I had so many favorites in that area. After a while it became obvious that those books should have their own post and I think it worked out better this way.

This year, I'm taking my favorites from 2010 releases only, making my task an easier one. Every year I read both new releases and back list books by new-to-me authors and/or books that have been accumulated in my "TBR" pile. This year was no different, as a matter of fact most of my reading came from my TBR -- I really cleaned up quite a bit! I'll list my favorites in that category (which abound) at the bottom of this post.

Here are my top 5 books and authors for the year:

1. Magic Bleeds (Kate Daniels, Book 4) by Ilona Andrews - Urban Fantasy (2010 Ace)

I chose Magic Bleeds by Ilona Andrews as my top new release of the year back in June, and by end-of-year, that still holds! There was nothing about this book that disappointed me. I loved everything about this story! Kate, Curran, secondary characters, plot and even the romance. This is an urban fantasy series that just gets better as it goes along. I impatiently anticipate the books and know the next one will be just as good or better than the last. The next installment, Magic Slays, releases on May 31, 2011 and I can.not.wait. to read it!

The Ilona Andrews writing team also wrote another book that I thoroughly enjoyed in 2010. Bayou Moon (2010 Ace) was the second book in their Edge fantasy romance series. Their next installment in this series has become another highly anticipated book for me in 2011, taking this prolific writing team to the top of my list for 2010. 
Other Urban Fantasy Favorite read in 2010:
Roadkill (Cal Leandros, Book 5) by Rob Thurman- (2010 Roc)

2. The Iron Duke (Iron Seas, Book 1) by Meljean Brook - Sci-Fi/Fantasy Romance Steam Punk (2010 Berkley Trade)

Last year I fell in love with Meljean Brook's writing, but then I didn't expect that I would be choosing one of her books as my top read in sci-fi/fantasy romance steam punk in 2010. The Iron Duke undoubtedly fits all those categories. This book has the excellent world building, sci-fi and steam punk details, romance and adventure that I love in this type of book, and there's no question that it's at the top of my list.

And I can't mention The Iron Duke without mentioning Here There Be Monsters, the novella included in the Burning Up Anthology (2010 Berkley) that served as an introduction to The Iron Seas series. Talk about wetting the appetite! My only regret is that now I have to wait almost a year for the next book in this series, making the next installment one of my most anticipated books of 2011!

However, that's not all when it comes to this author. She also writes one of my two top favorite paranormal romance series, The Guardian Series. I loved catching up to the last book and everyone knows I couldn't stop recommending it. Demon Forged, Book 5 (2009 Berkley) and her latest release, Demon Blood, Book 6 (2010 Berkley) were favorites, making Meljean Brook a "must read" author for me.

3. Play of Passion (Psy/Changeling, Book 9) by Nalini Singh  - Fantasy Romance/Paranormal (2010 Berkley)

Nalini Singh has been a favorite writer in this category for a long, long time. This is one of my long-time favorite paranormal romance series, and I'm happy to say that it still holds. This year, Ms. Singh released two books. I really enjoyed the first book, Bonds of Justice, Book 8. But then, I read Play of Passion, Book 9 and had no other choice but to give it a top spot on my list! I haven't written a review for this book yet, but I can tell you that I loved, loved the romance, both Indigo and Drew were excellent, strong characters and the book as a whole was tough to put down.  I can't wait for Hawke and Sienna's book, Kiss of Snow which releases in June 2011!

4. Wicked Intentions (Maiden Lanes, Book 1) by Elizabeth Hoyt - Historical Romance (2010 Grand Central Publishing)

Wicked Intentions (Maiden Lanes, Book 1) by Elizabeth Hoyt was a passionate and dark piece that reminded me why it is that I love Ms. Hoyt's writing. I loved the setting and atmosphere, the assorted and intriguing secondary characters, the passionate romance and the plot from beginning to end. I can't wait to read Notorious Pleasures, the second installment in the Maiden Lane series, which releases in February 2011, and am hoping for more of that same slightly Gothic(ky) feel.

5. Love in the Afternoon (The Hathaways, Book 5) by Lisa Kleypas - Historical Romance (2010 St. Martin's Press)

If Wicked Intentions is the beginning of a series, Love in the Afternoon is an ending. If Wicked Intentions is stark and dark, then Love in the Afternoon is romantic and sweet. These two books are quite different, yet they both reached me in the historical romance category.

Lisa Kleypas released two historical romance books this year, and they were both related to the Hathaway series. The first, Married by Morning (The Hathaways, Book 4), was Leo and Catherine Marks' story and boy did I enjoy that book. I loved Leo! But then the following month, came Love in the Afternoon, (The Hathaways Book 5). Beatrix was the one character that had intrigued me from the get go and as it turned out, her story was worth the wait for me. I loved the sweet romance (the letters), the characters and the way Kleypas ended this series.
Interesting, right? So many different categories read, yet the books on my top five this year are limited to four categories. I was not only surprised by this turn of events, but also by the fact that my top read from the new releases was urban fantasy and not romance. Plus, I don't have any contemporaries up there, and believe me, I read plenty of them this year! What happened? Most of my favorite romances came from back list reading and were released in previous years. See my list below:
  1. Courting Miss Hattie by Pamela Morsi - 1991 Historical Romance/Americana
  2. The Endearment by Lavyrle Spencer - 1982 Historical Romance/Americana
  3. Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair - 2007 Sci-Fi Romance
  4. Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie - 2000 Contemporary Romance
  5. Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger - 2007 Young Adult Historical Fiction
  6. Years by Lavyrle Spencer - 1986 Historical Romance/Americana
  7. Morning Glory by Lavyrle Spencer - 1989 Historical Romance/Americana
  8. Moonstruck by Susan Grant - 2008 Sci-Fi Romance
  9. See Jane Score by Rachel Gibson - 2003 Contemporary Romance
  10. Vengeance in Death by J.D. Robb - 1997 Sci-Fi Romance/Police Procedural 
That does it for me. 2010 brought some excellent surprises and a few disappointments, but best of all there were good, solid books and time for reading and enjoying them. I hope yours was just as good as mine. Now, I'm looking forward to those 2011 reads!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

2010 LGBT: Favorite Books & Authors

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas. We are having a snow storm/blizzard today, so we missed having a "white Christmas" by one day! I've been reading and enjoying my days off... relaxing mainly. I hope you are all doing the same after the holidays. Since there is less than a week left to the year, I decided to go ahead and begin recapping 2010 and am beginning with a sub-genre that I love.

2010 was an interesting year for me when it comes to LGBT. I didn't read as many M/M Romance books as I did last year even though I have books galore in my TBR pile! However, that's not to say I didn't read LGBT, I did! Plenty. But, I seemed to have veered in a different direction and read more speculative fiction -- fantasy, horror -- mysteries and anthologies/collections. Of course I also read romance and erotica, how could I not, and those categories are also represented here. I love the fact that LGBT has it all! So, it shouldn't be a surprise that I've included all those categories on my list of favorite authors and works this year.

Sandra McDonald - LGBT Speculative Fiction

Sandra McDonald wrote one of my favorite speculative fiction books of 2010. Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories was a new 2010 release by Lethe Press Books. This is a book that stayed with me after I turned that last page. As a matter of fact I truly couldn't put it away and re-read it almost immediately. I loved the fantasy world, the unique characters, plus the circumstances that McDonald created for this collection of stories. 

As an interesting aside, and unrelated to LGBT, this year I also enjoyed the first book in McDonald's Sci-Fi/Fantasy series, The Outback Stars (another genre I love!), so you know this is an author that I will definitely look for in the future.

Other Favorites:
Timothy Lambert and R.D. Cochrane - LGBT Romance

In the LGBT romance category there's no question that I have one favorite this year, and that's an anthology. If you visit my blog regularly, you might have noticed the February LOVE blitz that occurred around here for Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction edited by Timothy Lambert and R.D. CochraneThis book was a 2009 release by Cleis Press that I read in 2010. There are short stories by different authors with different styles of writing, but I can tell you this much, I loved it so much that I read it and re-read it for three full months, from January through March. And, I still go back to the book and read certain stories every so often.

So it's tough to choose one author as a favorite here. I loved them ALL. Instead in this category, I'm choosing the editors for putting together an amazing group of writers and stories: Timothy J. Lambert and R.D. Cochrane.

Other favorites:
Josh Lanyon - M/M Romance Mysteries

And who else would I mention in this category, but the Andrien English Mysteries by Josh Lanyon? Talk about addiction! I became so addicted to this series that I read and re-read these books over and over again during what I termed my Adrien English Obsessive Cycle. After that, well... I've tried to read as many of Mr. Lanyon's books as possible, both TBR reads and new releases. And still, I can't say that I've been disappointed.

My other absolute favorite book in this category is also by Mr. Lanyon: Somebody Killed His Editor: Holmes and Moriarity, Book 1. There are still more than a few books in that TBR, but you know that I'll get to them in 2011.

Adrien English Mysteries - 2007/2009 Loose ID LLC
Somebody Killed His Editor: Holmes and Moriarity - 2009 Samhain Publishing, Ltd

Gavin Atlas - LGBT Erotica

In this category my top read this year was another 2010 new release by Lethe Press BooksThe Boy Can't Help It: Sensual Stories of Young Bottoms by Gavin Atlas. This was an excellent collection of Mr. Atlas' works, featuring erotic fantasies and highlighting his writing style. And, although I read a few other anthologies, and single books in this category that were good or excellent, this is the book that stayed with me throughout the year. There are still single stories in this book that I revisit from time to time. ;P

Other Favorites:
Who were your favorite LGBT authors of 2010? How about your favorite books?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday Reads!

Well is everyone ready for the holidays? I hope you all have the best of holidays with your families. I'm preparing myself for a few days of rest and relaxation, and am hoping for a quiet celebration with friends and family.

December has not been a great reading month for me, so hopefully this next week will yield a few hours where I can sneak away and read a few Christmas or holiday-themed books. I'm in the mood for those this year.

I'm planning to read, or re-read some old favorites and/or books that I've had in my TBR for a while. 

  • A Christmas Promise by Mary Balogh will definitely be a re-read! I read it back in November when it was first re-released and recommended it as an excellent read. This is a Christmas historical romance full of family joy, warmth and traditions. I think this magical story should really be enjoyed during this week and plan to do so. 
You can read a full review of this book here.

  • Next on my list is a book that I first read about two years ago in 2008. A Virgin River Christmas by Robyn Carr is a short story that truly embodies everything you'll find in that series: strong females, dedicated male characters with a service or military background and healing storylines. This was the first story I read by Robyn Carr and the one that "hooked" me into reading her Virgin River contemporary romance series. 
You can find an excellent review by JillD who reviewed this novella recently at Romance Rookie.

As far as new reads are concerned, there are two on my Kindle that I hope to read this weekend. These are books that were previously released, but that I'm getting to now:

  • Under the Mistletoe by Mary Balogh is a collection of short Christmas novellas and one of those older Signet releases by this author that I've been wanting to read for a while. I'm sure that some of stories will be better than others, but since this is Balogh and I love her 'true to period' writing style, I'm really looking forward to reading them. The short format to the single stories are perfect for this week. I can read one or two and continue if there are interruptions. Perfect! 
For this book I found an excellent review by The Romance Reader for you. Or you can always check out  different opinions at Goodreads

  • The Heart of Christmas with Mary Balogh, Nicola Cornick and Courtney Milan is a book I featured last year as one I wanted to read. Well, this was one of those books that I never got to, and I'm definitely reading this year! These three wonderful writers are not to be missed, and I hope to enjoy every single story. 
There are many reviews for this book and most of them seem to be on the positive side. Here is one by AnimeJune from Gossamer Obsessions.

  • For those of you who love the LGBT M/M romance sub-genre, I cannot recommend enough the His for the Holidays anthology featuring Mistletoe at Midnight by LB Gregg, Nine Lights Over Edingburgh by Harper Fox, I Heard Him Exclaim by Z.A. Maxfield and Icecapade by Josh Lanyon. There's something for everyone in there. I don't know if I'll have the time to re-read this whole anthology, but I'll sure try to at least re-read one or two of my favorite stories. Complete review here

My plans seem overly ambitious and I just noticed Baloghs are prominently featured! But hey... I do love her writing and her Christmas stories. What are you planning to read over the Christmas holidays? Romance? Paranormal? Sci-Fi? Urban Fantasy? Or like me, are you hitting the those holiday-themed stories?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Retro-Review: A Duke of Her Own by Eloisa James

This is one of those retro-reviews I promised to post once in a while, this is the perfect time for me! Eloisa James is an author whose historical romances I enjoy -- some books and series more than others. I waited a long time for Villiers story and this was my review of the book when it was released.


A Duke of Her Own is the last installment in Eloisa James' Desperate Duchesses historical romance series. This is the story that we have all been waiting for -- we finally find out what happens to Leopold Dautry, the Duke of Villiers. He is one of the most interesting characters of this series and one I fell in love with from the first.

In Desperate Duchesses, Villiers was portrayed an arrogant Duke with a dismissive and cynical outlook for the ton I couldn't help but admire. He was a man of contradictions who seemed to care much for his outward appearance; a true rake who didn't think twice about having illegitimate children with his mistresses, and an egotistical chess player who thought he was the best and didn't have a problem saying so. Our Villiers didn't have the best of profiles, but he seemed to have the sex appeal and fire to attract the Georgian ladies like months to a flame. Yet, he disdained those around him. The more he was admired, the more cynical he became. How could I not be intrigued?

As the series progresses, our not-so-pretty and not-so-nice hero is jilted by two different fiancés. He thinks love is for fools and it's not something he wants in his life. By this point I just think Leopold deserves some love, weather he wants it or not.

Our story in A Duke of Her Own begins right after Villiers makes the decision to raise his six illegitimate children (yes, six!) under the Ducal roof. In order to achieve this, he needs a wife quickly -- one willing to take on his illegitimate children and strong enough to face down the ton. Only a Duke's daughter will do for him and only two are eligible.

Eleanor, the Duke of Montague's daughter, is both beautiful and intelligent. She is also a woman whose heart was broken at a young age and who thinks she's still in love with her old beau, a man who is now married. She once said she would only marry a Duke and now one is available -- her family is putting on the pressure.

After a first meeting full of sharp, witty dialogue and some excellent sexual tension, Villiers decides that Eleanor will do. Especially since he's under the impression she is his only hope. Leopold wants to make her his fiancé immediately, but she declines and lets him know that there is one other woman who qualifies. Eleanor convinces Leopold, he must meet this woman before making a final decision in regards to the betrothal.

Lisette, daughter to the Duke of Gilner, resides in the country and never comes to town. It is rumored that she's mad. A house party is quickly planned and all our characters retire to the Duke of Gilner's residence. Lisette is a beautiful woman who seems to have a disregard for the manners and restrictions of the ton. She works closely with an orphanage, loves children and seems to possess a vivid imagination. Villiers is immediately taken with her.

There is also an ongoing storyline that pertains to a search for two of Villiers' illegitimate children. Lisette's charity work with the local orphanage makes this a convenient trip for our hero. The children play an important part in this story, with Tobias, his eldest son, as a somewhat key player. Tobias and Eleanor's sister turned out to be my favorite secondary characters.

Once they are all gathered in the country, the story gets interesting. Sparks fly between Leopold and Eleanor... the passion between them is sizzling and I enjoyed every one of their scenes together. Eleanor is sexy and smart but her 'blind love' for that old flame gets old after a while. As a couple, these two are a pair of flawed characters whose wit and passion outweigh their insight and judgment.

I had fun with this book. Villiers was not the keenest of men when it came to understanding women or children, and he knew it. He admitted it to all and sundry and still went ahead and made one mistake after another. As his young son Tobias told him, he was "such an ass!"  I still liked him even though I thought his future Duchess forgave him too quickly. She should have made him beg for at least a year!

The edginess I found in Villiers' character at the beginning of the series was mostly gone by the end of the series. He was a reflection of the man we first met in Desperate Duchesses. Ms. James developed his character throughout this long series and his growth and change took place slowly throughout. In the end, I found myself liking Villiers, but not quite loving his character as much as I did in the beginning. I missed that edge.

All in all this was a good Georgian romp, with a full set of great characters and quite a few enjoyable moments for me. A nice ending to a long series, I give this one a B.

Complete series:
Desperate Duchesses
An Affair Before Christmas
Duchess by Night
When the Duke Returns
This Duchess of Mine
A Duke of Her Own

Visit the author here. Read an excerpt here.

Originally posted at Musings of a Bibliophile September 5, 2009

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Review: Marry Me by Jo Goodman


Rhyne Abbott is fierce, brave, and used to a life of isolation on her father's spread on the outskirts of Reidsville, Colorado. But when, overcome with sickness, she collapses, she knows she must return to town if she is to have any hope of recovery. Only there is no place for her but the new doctor's home, and he wants more than just to heal Rhyne. He wants her hand in marriage.


Doctor Cole Monroe's hands are already more than full with his orphaned little sister to look after, and yet somehow he can't resist the magnetic pull of Rhyne's bewitching eyes—or her tempting kiss. But convincing her to trust him won't be easy. For Rhyne's heart needs as much tender care as her ailing body. And the only cure is the thing she most fears: to let herself fall in love...
I first became acquainted with Reidsville when I read Joe Goodman's Never Love a Lawman in 2009 and couldn't wait to get back there again. I loved revisiting the small mining town of Reidsville, Colorado in the 1800's with all its unusual characters and circumstances, by reading Marry Me. I must point out that although these two books are set in the same town with some characters introduced in the first book, Marry Me can be read as a stand alone novel without a problem.

In 1884, Doctor Coleridge Monroe and his teenage sister Whitley move from New York City to the small town of Reidsville, after receiving and agreeing to a probationary contract with the town for a one year period to become the town Doctor. Cole is a first rate doctor with research experience, and huge responsibilities when it comes not only to the town, but also to his orphaned little sister. Whitley is a spunky, smart young woman with an amusingly deceitful nature who loves her brother above all else. 

While out on a medical visit to the outliers in the mountains with deputy Will Beatty, -- that 'no account Beatty boy' -- Cole comes across an unusual set of circumstances. He meets a young woman in trouble, and with the help of Sheriff Wyatt and his wife Rachel, he takes this young woman home to care for her until she's fully healed. Later, he offers her a job as housekeeper and companion to his troublesome sister Whitley setting up the stage for the romance.

Of all those unusual characters in Reidsville, our female protagonist Rhyne, turns out to be the most extraordinary of them all. She's a deeply troubled young woman when we first meet her having experienced some deeply traumatizing events. Rhyne's change is a slow process throughout the story and I love how the layers to her character are pealed back and how she evolves as a person. Cole and Rhyne fall in love slowly, everything between them developed through trust and friendship first and then on to passion and love. Jo Goodman really took her time exploring these characters and their motivations in this story, so that the reader gets a complete and well-rounded character in the end.

Once Rhyne and Cole fall in love, he wants to marry her. But one of Rhyne's problems is that she doesn't believe she's good enough for Cole because of her upbringing and what she sees as class differences. Goodman addresses these differences and how they are viewed in a small western town like Reidsville. Cole in the meantime explains to Rhyne the "simple premise" behind why he thinks people marry:
That people marry because they find someone they can imagine sharing their life with. Love is part of it, an important part, especially in the beginning, but there must also be admiration and respect, a willingness to act in concert, and an appreciation that sometimes one must act alone. There are mutual interests and separate ones. I've always thought of it as a dance. A complicated one. Missteps. Mis-cues. But in the end, I am convinced if they both hear the same music, it's a satisfying arrangement.
The excellent character development includes Whitley as a key secondary character with depth. I loved her. The dialogue in this book is full of witty moments provided by Rhyne and Cole. However, Whitley also provides much of the amusement throughout the story. She definitely put a smile on my face more than once. Characters from the previous book, Never Love a Lawman, play significant roles without overwhelming the story, as do Reidsville's citizens. And new secondary characters are introduced, including the villain of the piece.

I thoroughly enjoyed this romance. It was well written with well developed three dimensional central characters, and a story that is well-balanced between deeply troubling subjects, romance and humor. All of it kept me reading until that last page. I particularly enjoyed the intimate moments between Rhyne and Cole, as well as the medical sleuthing and problem solving that went with it. 

The storyline involving Rhyne's father was interesting with a good resolution. A thread involving Rhyne's background was left hanging towards the end of the epilogue that had 'unecessary sequel bait' written all over it. Fortunately this was a small enough niggle not to bother me overmuch, and Marry Me turned out to be a highly enjoyable historical romance. 

Genre: Historical Romance
Series: Reidsville Series
Released: December 1, 2010
Grade: B

Never Love a Lawman
Marry Me

Visit Jo Goodman here.

Friday, December 17, 2010

2010 YoTH and Re-Read Challenges - Completed!

I decided to finishing off my completed Challenge posts for 2010 this week.  I only have one more Challenge to complete and I'll be taking care of that by posting my last review of the year for the In-Death Challenge later on this month.

Year of the Historical: A 2010 Reading Challenge - Hosted by KMont of Lurv a la Mode

100% Completed December 11, 2010

I had an excellent time with this Challenge. I initially meant to read some of those books I already had in my TBR, but as it turned out I read a mixture of new and older releases. I explored works by some excellent authors AND found some favorite books through this Challenge: Pamela Morsi, Lavyrle Spencer and Cheryl St. John are three of those authors. Their books along with Steve Kluger's Last Days of Summer, Lisa Kleypas' lovely historical romances and Elizabeth Hoyt's Wicked Intentions also made my list.

Following is a list of books read, with a link to each review. As you can see some months I submitted more than one book and review for this Challenge.

Jan:   Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger (WW II) - Review here
Feb:   Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas (Re-read) - Review here
Mar:  Dark Angel/Lord Carew's Bride by Mary Balogh - Review here
Apr:  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
Jun:  Lavyrle Spencer: Morning Glory and Years - Review here
Jul :  Love in the Afternoon (Hathaways, Book 5) by Lisa Kleypas - Review here
Aug: Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage by Jennifer Ashley - Review here
Sept: Lady Sophia's Lover by Lisa Kleypas (Re-read) 
           A Separate Peace by John Knowles (Re-read) - Minis for both here
Oct:  The Doctor's Wife by Cheryl St. John - Review here
Nov: Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt - Review here
Dec:  A Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist - Review here

Thank you KMont for hosting this Challenge!

The 2010 Re-Read Challenge - Hosted by Nath of Books, Books and more Books

100% Completed December 11, 2010

This was another fun Challenge for me! I tend to re-read books that I love, my keepers and comfort reads. I chose my re-reads at random, depending on my mood. Some of them I re-read before and have become comfort reads, as in Duncan's Bride by Linda Howard, and others I re-read for the first time. My reactions to some of the books were interesting, I enjoyed some of them more the second time around (A Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist) and some of them a bit less (To Beguile a Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt), however my overall initial view of the books usually stayed the same.

Following is a list of the books I re-read, by month, with a link to all reviews posted. 

Jan:  Duncan's Bride by Linda Howard - Review here
Feb: Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas - Review here
Mar: Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson - Review here
Apr: Three Sisters Island Trilogy by Nora Roberts - Reviews here
May: To Beguile a Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt - Review here
Jun:  Mine to Possess (Psy/Changeling, #4) by Nalinin Singh - Review here
Jul:  Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling - Review here
Aug: Rising Tides (Quinn Brothers, Book #2) by Nora Roberts - Review here
Sept: 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
Oct:  Rising Moon by Lori Handerland - Review here
Nov: If You Desire by Kresley Cole - Mini here
Dec: A Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist - Review here

Thank you Nath for hosting this Challenge!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

M/M Romance & The Big Book - 2010 Completed Challenges!

The 2010 M/M Romance Challenge - Hosted by Anezthezea of I Heart Paperbacks

100 % Completed October 2010

I had lots of fun participating in the M/M Romance Challenge this year. Again I read books by new authors whose works I'll be exploring in the future, and some of my favorite GLBT books of the year are included in this list.

That includes my favorite GLBT romance anthology of the year Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction edited by Timothy J. Lambert and R.D. Cochrane; The Boy Can't Help It: Sensual Stories of Young Bottoms by Gavin Atlas, a hot collection with an even hotter cover from Lethe Press; The Adrien English Mysteries by Josh Lanyon, a series that caused a crazed Lanyon read and re-read cycle I've still to overcome! And two of my favorite reads of the year, Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories by Sandra McDonald and A Strong and Sudden Thaw by R.W. Day!

Following is a list of books read. Click on titles to access reviews. I signed up for 20+ books this year, and although I read and reviewed over 20 books, I chose to stop listing them after 22.

1. Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction 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

Thank you Anezthezea for hosting this great Challenge!


The 2010 Big Book Challenge - Hosted by Orannia of Walkabout.

100% Completed August 2010

This was a deceptive challenge, it looked easy but it turned out to be tough for me. All you had to do was read ONE book -- a really BIG book with more than 500 pages before the end of 2010. I was successful and completed the Challenge by reading one new release and re-reading another big book. However, I did not read the book I chose initially. Why? Unfortunately, after over 5 months of not being able to get past page 200, the book became a DNF for me.

Books Completed for the Challenge:

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     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     Finish DateAugust 21, 2010
Mini-Impressions: December 14, 2010 - Link to Mini here.

My initial choice for this Challenge was:

Title: Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline Carey
Genre: Fantasy

Release Date: June 24, 2009
# of Pages:
Reading Start Date: August 26, 2010     Finish Date: DNF

Thank you Orannia for hosting this Challenge! It was a tough one, lol!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Minis: Garcia Marquez, Kresley Cole, Rick Riordan

Today, I have three of my ini-mini, short first impressions for you. These are books that I've read, or attempted to read, but didn't share with you at the time.

In a Latin American port city during colonial times, a young girl named Sierva Maria de Todos los Angeles the only child of the ineffectual Marquis de Casalduero is bitten by a rabid dog. Her father, who has shown no interest in the child, begins a crusade to save her life, eventually committing her to the Convent of Santa Clara when the bishop persuades him that his daughter is possessed by demons. In fact, Sierva Maria has shown no signs of being infected by rabies or by demons; she is simply being punished for being different. Having been raised by the family's slaves, she knows their languages and wears their Santeria necklaces; she is perceived by the effete European Americans around her as "not of this world." Only the priest who has reluctantly accepted the job as her exorcist believes she is neither sick nor possessed but terrified after being inexplicably "interred alive" among the superstitious nuns.
A couple of months back I picked up Del Amor y Otros Demonios by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Of Love and Other Demons) again, Marquez' last work of fiction written in 1996. I've attempted reading this short work twice before and haven't been able to get past the 30th page. This has nothing to do with the quality of the writing, instead I'm affected negatively by the content because of personal baggage. This time I got as far as half-way through the book before going to bed and had nightmares. I didn't have the heart to pick it up again the next day. Maybe later on I'll see if I can finish it, get rid of that baggage, just give it a push, have one more nightmare and see how it all ends. LOL!


Malkom Slaine: tormented by his sordid past and racked by vampiric hungers, he’s pushed to the brink by the green-eyed beauty under his guard.

Carrow Graie: hiding her own sorrows, she lives only for the next party or prank. Until she meets a tortured warrior worth saving.

In order for Malkom and Carrow to survive, he must unleash both the demon and vampire inside him. When Malkom becomes the nightmare his own people feared, will he lose the woman he craves body and soul?
Demon from the Dark by Kresley Cole was an interesting mix for me. I loved the hero, Malkom, in that book. He was just so darn sweet! I don't even know how to say it, but he's hot and sweet at the same time. There he was, a Vemon and considered an abomination (even in his own mind), and after all that time alone considering himself a monster, Malkom's heart and goodness were pretty much intact. I hurt for him and for a while I couldn't stand the heroine -- Carrow -- because she knowingly used him and was going to hurt him. He didn't deserve it. Malkom's character made this story enjoyable for me. The plot was interesting and it did move the overall storyarc forward slightly, so I'll definitely read Regin and Aidan/Chase's story, Dreams of a Dark Warrior. I can't wait to read how Cole redeems Aidan. :)


Since their mother's death, Carter and Sadie have become near strangers. While Sadie has lived with her grandparents in London, her brother has traveled the world with their father, the brilliant Egyptologist, Dr. Julius Kane.
One night, Dr. Kane brings the siblings together for a "research experiment" at the British Museum, where he hopes to set things right for his family. Instead, he unleashes the Egyptian god Set, who banishes him to oblivion and forces the children to flee for their lives.
Soon, Sadie and Carter discover that the gods of Egypt are waking, and the worst of them —Set— has his sights on the Kanes. To stop him, the siblings embark on a dangerous journey across the globe - a quest that brings them ever closer to the truth about their family and their links to a secret order that has existed since the time of the pharaohs.
The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan is another book I read a while back. A buddy review with Nath is on the works for Breezing Through. This is definitely a fast paced adventure and quite exciting. A story about a brother and sister of mixed ethnic background who lose their father and suddenly find themselves in the center of a battle between worlds and gods. There's magic, Egyptian-based mythology, gods, and enough creepy crawlies to make this a really fun read. The premise is similar to the Percy and the Olympians series, but that's about it. The rest is quite original and I didn't feel as if I were reading the same books. The kids are great and different. The situations and villains are dangerous and the action and pace make this 516 page book seem short.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Review: A Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist

Hi everyone! Sorry I disappeared for a few days. I'm afraid that on top of starting a new job and all the changes to my schedule, I had a bit of an unexpected emergency in my family and my blogging and reading time was reduced dramatically this week. All should be going back to normal by Monday, and I expect that I'll be around again by next week. :)

Since I can't go without reading something, I looked through my Kindle and found a book that I read last year when it released and remember enjoying quite a bit - A Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist - and decided to re-read it, slowly as the opportunity arose. I didn't write a review for this book the first time I read it, although I did include a few quick impressions with my Weekly Reads post at Musings.

Because my time is so restricted at the moment and I'm not sure how things are going to work out, this review will serve as an early posting for both my 2010 Re-Read Challenge and my 2010 Year of the Historical Challenge for the month of December.

In 1860s Seattle, a man with a wife could secure himself 640 acres of timberland. But because of his wife's untimely death, Joe Denton finds himself about to lose half of his claim. Still in mourning, his best solution is to buy one of those Mercer girls arriving from the East. A woman he'll marry in name but keep around mostly as a cook.

Anna Ivey's journey west with Asa Mercer's girls is an escape from the griefs of her past. She's not supposed to be a bride, though, just a cook for the girls. But when they land, she's handed to Joe Denton and the two find themselves in a knotty situation. She refuses to wed him and he's about to lose his land. With only a few months left, can Joe convince this provoking--but beguiling--easterner to be his bride?
A Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist is an inspirational historical romance set in the Washington Territory during the Civil War. I don't usually read inspirational books, this was a first and still the only book in the sub-genre I've read. However, this book initially caught my attention because of the setting and the plot, and both turned out to be excellent.

I love Seattle, Washington. It's one of my favorite places and this story is set during the 1860's and highlights that area's history as Ms. Gist uses historical facts to weave this romance. In fact, quite a few of the characters in the book are based on personages who existed during those times and all the newspaper clippings featured in the book are taken from archives.

The story itself is based on truth and one shared by many men and women. Joe Denton needs a bride to keep his land. Ana Ivey is a nineteen year-old orphan from Granby, Massachusetts who lost her whole family during the Civil War. Destitute and desperate, she becomes one of the Mercer girls along with 299 other war widows or orphans. These women go west to marry or work after signing contracts with Mr. Mercer. On the other side of the country, the men also sign contracts and pay for brides or employees. In this case, Joe thinks he paid $300.00 for a bride. Ana thinks she paid $50.00 to work as a cook to Joe and his crew of lumberjacks. They are both deceived by Mr. Mercer.

This story shines when it comes to historical details and the beauty with which Ms. Gist describes the setting and circumstances. The romance itself is warm and there are many conflicts placed in the couple's path to resolve before the "happily ever after" is finally reached.  Joe and Ana are a nice couple and I really enjoyed most of their interactions and the way they slowly fall in love. Joe is portrayed as a good man who loves his land above all else. The land is satisfying enough, but he's lonely and obviously needs Ana in his life. Ana is a young woman, 19 years old, who after losing her whole family during the Civil War, is full of guilt and regret. She is what I think of as a plucky girl who won't back down, but has growing up to do.

As I mentioned above this is my one and only inspirational read. I was pleasantly surprised in that A Bride in the Bargain wasn't overly preachy throughout, instead the "inspirational" side of the story was more of a subtle message. The story wasn't perfect, however, and there were a few frustrating moments for me.

The first time I read the book, I grew a bit impatient towards the last quarter of the book with Ana's character and her lack of maturity. This time around, that section didn't seem to bother me as much as it did the first time -- Ana's circumstances were quite dire and the guilt and regret she felt, made her actions understandable.  However towards the end, there just seemed to be one too many dramatic obstacles thrown in the couple's path to deliver the message, and that did seem contrived and unnecessary. In my opinion by that time, the readers (and characters) had already received it.

Overall, A Bride in the Bargain is a book I would recommend to all romance readers as an great historical romance read - especially for those readers who love Americana and excellent historical details with their romance. This is a beautifully written book and if you're a reader who loves inspirational books, you will definitely love this book. I liked it the first time I read it, but I found that this story was more enjoyable for me the second time around.

Category: Historical Romance/Inspirational
Series: None
Released: June 1, 2009
Grade: B+

Visit Deeanne Gist here.

Nath's 2010 Re-Read Challenge - December Review
KMont's 2010 Year of Historical Challenge - December Review

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

News and more December 2010 New Releases!

Happy Tuesday everyone!

I have some personal news for you today. I started a new job this week and I'm excited! As with all changes, I'll need to make some adjustments to my routine. However, even if I slow down a bit during this first month with my new job, I will continue to read and share my impressions with you.

Today, I want to share three December releases I did not include in my original list of "must reads" for the month. Three books by very different authors in different genres:
  • On the LGBT front, I'll definitely be reading Binding the God: Ursine Essays from the Mountain South by Jeff Mann. I've only read one short story by this author and loved it. I'm not passing up this collection of essays.
  • All She Wrote: Holmes and Moriarity by Josh Lanyon (Book 2). I loved the characters and the first book of this M/M mystery romance series and can't wait to continue reading it. The mysteries and fun!
  • Wedding of the Season by Laura Lee Guhrke is a historical romance and first in the Abandoned at the Altar series. This series attracted my attention and I'm hoping it will be a winner for me.

Binding the God: Ursine Essays from the Mountain South by Jeff Mann
Release Date: December 6, 2010
A much lauded essayist and poet, Jeff Mann writes of the passion and pain of being a Southern gentleman who happens to be invested in many worlds: the hungers of gay Bear culture; the propensities of leather and bondage; the frustrations of academia; and the perspectives of an Appalachian who has traveled the world. In Binding the God, his second collection of essays, Mann offers readers another tour of his consciousness and experiences. This volume includes essays previously published in Arts and Letters, Second Person Queer, Callaloo, Now and Then, White Crane, Queer and Catholic, and other journals and anthologies.

All She Wrote: Holmes and Moriarity, Book 2 by Josh Lanyon
Release Date: December 28, 2010
A murderous fall down icy stairs is nearly the death of Anna Hitchcock, the much-beloved “American Agatha Christie” and Christopher Holmes’s former mentor. Anna’s plea for him to host her annual winter writing retreat touches all Kit’s sore spots—traveling, teaching writing classes, and separation from his new lover, J.X. Moriarity.

For J.X., Kit’s cancellation of yet another romantic weekend is the death knell of a relationship that has been limping along for months. But that’s just as well, right? Kit isn’t ready for anything serious and besides, Kit owes Anna far too much to refuse.

Faster than you can say “Miss Marple wears boxer shorts”, Kit is snooping around Anna’s elegant, snowbound mansion in the Berkshires for clues as to who’s trying to kill her. A tough task with six amateur sleuths underfoot. Six budding writers with a tangled web of dark undercurrents running among them. Slowly, Kit gets the uneasy feeling that the secret may lie between the pages of someone’s fictional past. Unfortunately, a clever killer is one step ahead. And it may be too late for J.X. to ride to the rescue.

Warning: Contains one irascible, forty-year-old mystery writer who desperately needs to get laid, one exasperated thirty-something ex-cop only too happy to oblige, an isolated country manor that needs the thermostat cranked up, various assorted aspiring and perspiring authors, and a merciless killer who may have read one too many mystery novels.

Wedding of the Season: Abandoned at the Altar by Laura Lee Guhrke (Book 1)
Release Date: December 28, 2010
Abandoned at the altar . . .
Lady Beatrix Danbury had always known she would marry William Mallory. She'd loved him forever and she'd never doubted he loved her, too. But when she made him choose between their life together or his lifelong dream, Will chose the latter . . . and left two weeks before their wedding.

Return of the duke . . .
Will has no illusions that Beatrix would welcome him back with open arms, but six years did not dim his love or desire for her. The only problem is, she's about to marry someone else. Someone safe and predictable . . . the complete opposite of Will. But can he stop the wedding of the season and win Beatrix back, or is it just too late?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Review: Cade Coulter's Return by Lois Faye Dyer

When he left Montana thirteen years ago, Cade Coulter swore he'd never return. But Joseph Coulter's first-born couldn't turn his back on the ailing family ranch. Or the woman who'd been given a home at the Triple C.

With his irresistible blend of danger and potent masculinity, Cade was the quintessential cowboy. But Mariah Jones believed that beneath the loner's gruff facade was a man who secretly longed to reconnect with his family. Why else would he have come back to Indian Springs? She'd made a promise to Cade's father—one she intended to keep. And now she was in danger of losing her own heart to the sexy, guarded rancher…
Cade Coulter's Return by Lois Faye Dyer is a Silhouette Special Edition. It's set in Montana and it has that rancher theme I enjoy so much. This is also the first book in Dyer's Big Sky Brothers series. Cade Coulter's Return definitely succeeds in setting up the series. I really enjoyed the first three quarters of the book where Dyer gives all the details for this particular story and sets up the rest of the series about the other three Coulter brothers. This book concentrates on the romance between the oldest brother Cade and Mariah Jones.

The four brothers, Cade, Zach, Brodie and Eli left the ranch right after the youngest brother graduated high school. Their father, Joseph Coulter, became an alcoholic after their mother's death and even though his grief is shared by his sons, the man's abusive behavior became intolerable to them all. Thirteen years later, while working at a ranch in Mexico, Cade receives a letter from an attorney informing him that his father is dead and he and his brothers have inherited the Triple C ranch. However, although the brothers keep in touch, they are scattered to the winds and the only one within reach at the moment is Cade. He returns to find a ranch that is almost bankrupt, with two old ranch hands and Mariah running it.

There is sexual attraction between Cade and Mariah almost immediately, although nothing happens between them. I liked Cade as the rancher and the friend, but I don't know about Cade the man. He is definitely the chauvinistic type with Mariah. She doesn't let him get away with it and that makes their interactions work, but there are still times when it feels as if Cade is indulging her for the moment. Mariah has a sad story and is a bit too good to be true, something that Cade has a problem recognizing or believing. She took care of Joseph through his last years, and after he died she worked as a waitress to take care of the ranch until Cade returned. She knows how to do just about everything that is necessary throughout this story, and of course, does it all quite well.

Dyer mainly uses sexual tension between Cade and Mariah to build this romance. There are very few passionate encounters, and I would say that at best, the sensuality scale in this book is warm. The conflicts presented along the way between the main couple are minimal and quickly resolved. Questions pertaining to the overall storyarc -- saving the Triple C ranch -- are left unanswered. I'm sure those answers will come in subsequent installments, however in the meantime it made this first book a bit of a frustrating read.

Cade Coulter's Return had some of those flaws sometimes found in 'first in a series' books and the couple is not a favorite with me. However, overall this was a good read and I'm still interested in finding out what will happen to the Triple C. I hope to enjoy the romance in the next book.

Category: Contemporary/Category Romance
Series: Big Sky Brothers (Book 1)
Released: October 1, 2010
Grade: C+

Visit Lois Faye Dyer here.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

November 2010 Reads & Mini: If You Desire by Kresley Cole

November was a strange reading month for me. I hit some sort of wall early on and struggled to read the books I finished even though I enjoyed them. On or about the second week, I decided 'reader's fatigue' was setting in and decided to slow down my reading. I took out my yarn, knitting and crocheting needles and alternated between the two for the rest of the month. Then with the Thanksgiving holiday and my impromptu road trip, the reading slowed down even more. The result is that I finished a few knitting and crocheting projects, but didn't really finish reading any books the last two weeks of November, except for a few re-reads for my Challenge.

Challenge Update: I did meet all my Challenges this month. I posted my 2010 Historical Challenge review earlier this month. I read, posted my list and a comment for the In-Death Challenge and I'll be including a late Mini for the 2010 Re-read Challenge in this post.

November Reads:
Total Books Read: 15
New Reads: 12
Re-reads: 3

Favorite books this month?

Nath's 2010 Read-Read Challenge November Mini:
  • If You Desire by Kresley Cole
A while back I enjoyed this historical romance trilogy by Cole about the cursed Scottish MacCarrick brothers and decided to re-read the last two in the series. If You Desire is Book 2 of the trilogy and the story of Hugh MacCarrick and Jane Weyland, a couple who have been friends and in love from a tender age. However, due to a family curse that states that whoever marries a MacCarrick man will die, Hugh takes on a career as an assassin working for Jane's father and the crown and leaves Jane without an explanation. Years later when she's in danger, he returns to protect her and they reunite.

This book was fun, delicious and frustrating. Jane is a 'progressive' and she and her eight female cousins are outrageous and scandalous. They refer to Hugh as 'Tears and Years' because of all the tears and time Jane spent grieving for him. But by the time Hugh returns, she's more furious than heartbroken and once the two of them go into hiding, she makes his life impossible. She does everything in her power to seduce him and there's everything from sexual tension to sexual play and sweetness to hostility throughout the story. But Jane's modern outlook doesn't help her understand Hugh, and she comes off as more than a bit spoiled at times. Hugh loves her without barriers and in trying to protect her, he sometimes gives in too much. However, there's something about Hugh that I really love. It's probably the relentless love he felt for Jane and the whole Highlander aura. Grade B
Balance of Books Read:
  • Fair Game by Josh Lanyon: Solid B
  • The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan: B
  • Faith and Fidelity, Book 1 by Tere Michaels: B
  • The Dickens with Love by Josh Lanyon: B
  • Burning Up by Sarah Mayberry: B
  • Midnight in Death by J.D. Robb (Novella): B
  • Coming Clean by Inez Kelley: B
  • Love and Loyalty, Book 2 by Tere Michaels: C+
  • If You Deceive by Kresley Cole (Re-read): B
  • Wicked Gentlemen by Ginn Hale (Re-read) : A+
So, how was your November? Any favorites or great recommendations? 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Review: His for the Holidays by Josh Lanyon, Z.A. Maxfield, LB Gregg, Harper Fox

His for the Holidays is a collection of four male/male romance Christmas stories. They are all as different as the authors' writing styles, yet all fit the title of the Anthology and provide happy endings set during the holiday season.

Mistletoe at Midnight by LB Gregg
Owen McKenzie has traveled to Vermont to spend an old-fashioned Christmas with his family when he finds himself staying at the same inn as his first love. Owen is disconcerted to realize he's still attracted to Caleb Black but refuses to pursue him. Caleb left him once, and Owen's not going down that road again.

Caleb is ready for a second chance with Owen and gets it when fate and the matchmaking McKenzies conspire to strand the two men in a rustic cabin during a snowstorm on Christmas Eve. Can Caleb convince Owen to rekindle their romance so they can stop spending their holidays apart?
Owen McKenzie is traveling to an Inn in Vermont to spend the Christmas holidays with his family, the meddling McKenzies. His life has undergone recent changes after a break-up with his long-time boyfriend. On his brother's recommendation, Owen purchased a home and is moving from Boston to this small Vermont town where he'll be opening his own veterinarian practice. When Owen arrives late at the Inn, to his jaw-dropping amazement, there in the middle of the McKenzie Christmas revelry is non other than his first high school crush and love, Caleb Black.

Mistletoe at Midnight is a story of first-time lovers reunited. Caleb and Owen, although separated when young, never stopped thinking about each other or being influenced by their experience together. That one relationship affected all others in their lives, particularly in Owen's case. I loved the way LB Gregg weaved a sweet and passionate romance that was still full of amusing family moments and holiday atmosphere. There were conflicts to be resolved and the revelations came slowly but surely. I enjoyed this traditional, family Christmas romance from beginning to end.

Nine Lights Over Edinburgh By Harper Fox
Detective Inspector James McBride is riding high on the belief that he's about to bust a human-trafficking ring. But just five days before Christmas, his unorthodox methods catch up with him and his world comes crashing down.

McBride tries to concentrate on his new day job as security for the visiting Israeli ambassador. He even starts to feel a renewed sense of self-worth when the leader of the Israeli team, the aristocratic Tobias Leitner, takes a bullet for him in the line of duty. But he can't forget the trafficking case, especially when his investigations result in the kidnapping of his own daughter! McBride has no one to turn to for help-no one, except Toby.

Can these two very different men work together to bring about a holiday miracle-and heal one another's heart in the process?
Nine Lights Over Edinburgh by Harper Fox is a holiday story with edge, drama and in the end, hope. I must admit that both plot and characterization grabbed me from the beginning. There's a lot going on in James' life. He is coming to terms with his sexuality after having been married and divorcing many years later, his life is spiraling out of control due to heavy drinking, and to top it all off his career has unexpectedly taken a downward turn. The only light in his life seems to be his daughter. He meets Tobias Leitner and his life will change forever.

James' personal problems, sexual history, the romance and action are all weaved together quite well. By the end of the story I felt as if I knew James and I loved the way he and Tobias found each other in the midst of all the chaos in their lives. James is one of those flawed human characters with redeemable qualities that I enjoy so much, and his happy ending was hard-earned in this holiday story. I also must mention how much I enjoyed Edinburgh as the setting for this novella. Harper Fox's description of the city aided with giving the story atmosphere and the characters a certain realistic touch. This is my first read by this author, but it certainly won't be my last.

I Heard Him Exclaim By Z.A. Maxfield
Steve Adams's heart hasn't been in the Christmas spirit ever since doctors put a stent in it and ordered him to clean up his act. No longer filling out his Santa suit or allowed to make merry, he's forgoing the holidays this year and heading to Vegas to indulge in the few vices left to him: gambling and anonymous sex.

His road trip takes a detour when he encounters Chandler Tracey, who's just inherited guardianship of his five-year-old niece. Overwhelmed, Chandler's on his way to deliver Poppy to his parents. But fate has other plans and, after car trouble, Chandler and Poppy accept a ride home with Steve. Though the heat between the two men is obvious, they put it on simmer while they band together to make Poppy's Christmas as perfect as possible.

Steve soon comes to believe that while Chandler is the right person to look after Poppy, someone needs to look after Chandler. Fortunately, Steve knows just the man for the job.
I Heard Him Exclaim by Z.A. Maxfield is quite the Christmas smorgasbord. We have Steve who plays Santa every year and seems to be a bit confused between what's real and not when it comes to playing the role. After the doctors ordered him to lose weight, he became depressed because who likes a skinny Santa? Then we have Poppy, a little girl who recently lost her parents in a car accident. And last but not least, we have Chandler, Poppy's uncle and guardian. He is over protective and over cautious with her to the point where he is so exhausted and overwhelmed, he has decided to give her up to his parents. These three people meet on the road after Chandler's car breaks down and Steve takes them home where they spend Christmas together and meet Steve's extensive and over-the-top family.

There's a lot of chemistry between Chandler and Steve with a touch of a bear-like attraction going on between them. Both men find what they need from each other. For Steve, it's reassurance that losing the weight won't stop him from performing his Santa duties and for Chandler, the realization that he's the right person to take care of Poppy. Personally, I had a few problems with the story. Due to Chandler's overcautious nature and protectiveness of Poppy, I thought it was out of character for him to get in a stranger's car (no matter how safe he seemed) and take that type of risk with her. I also thought Steve's Santa-like psychological obsessiveness was glossed over to achieve that happily ever after. However overall, this is a sweet Christmas romance.

Icecapade By Josh Lanyon
On the eve of the new millennium, diamond thief Noel Snow seduced FBI special agent Robert Cuffe, then fled into the dawn. Now a successful novelist, Noel uses his capers as fodder for his books, and has modeled his hero's nemesis (and potential love interest) on Cuffe. Though he leaves Robert a drunken phone message every New Year's Eve, Noel hasn't seen or heard from him in a decade.

So he's thrilled when his former lover shows up at his upstate farm one Christmas Eve. Elation quickly turns to alarm when Robert accuses Noel of being responsible for a recent rash of diamond heists. Robert is all business and as cold as ice: it seems his only interest in Noel is to put him behind bars.

Innocent of the crimes, and still as attracted as ever to the oh-so-serious lawman, Noel plans a second seduction-providing he can stay out of jail long enough!
Icecapade by Josh Lanyon is the shortest novella in this anthology, although that certainly doesn't preclude it from being an excellent addition. A story of a retired cat burglar turned successful author and the FBI agent who pursued but never caught him and later became a recurring character in the cat burglar/author's books. During one of his escapades, cat burglar Noel seduced staid FBI agent Robert on a New Year's Eve and has never forgotten their passionate encounter. Ten years later on Christmas Eve, Robert shows up at Noel's horse ranch accusing him of new jewel heists and giving both of them an opportunity to get reacquainted.

I loved this story. Lanyon uses loneliness and a bit of longing to set up the romance between these two men. There's chemistry and you can feel the sexual tension between the two men as soon as Robert steps through the door. I loved the way this couple really gets to know each other, even though they already knew so many details about each other's lives. Well written and developed, this short story was a treat and a perfect fit and ending to this Christmas anthology.

Grade: M/M Romance Anthology/Holiday
Series: None
Release Date: December 6, 2010
Source: NetGalley/Carina Press
Grade: A-