Sunday, August 28, 2011


Science Fiction:
Dictionary:  (sci-ence fic-tion) (abbr.: SF or Sci Fi) noun: fiction based on imagined or future technological advances and major social or environmental changes, frequently portraying space or time travel and life on other planets.
Wikipedia: A genre of fiction dealing with the impact of imagined innovations in science or technology, often in a futuristic setting. Exploring the consequences of such innovations is the traditional purpose of science fiction, making it a "literature of ideas."
Rod Serling's definition of fantasy and science fiction: "Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science Fiction is the improbable made possible." 

Speculative Fiction:
Wikipedia: Branch of Social Science Fiction/Soft Sci Fi (abbr.: spec-fic or specfic)-- an umbrella term encompassing the more fantastical fiction genres, specifically science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction and alternative history in literature, as well as related static, motion, and virtual arts.

The term has been used to express dissatisfaction with what some people consider the limitations of science fiction, or otherwise to designate fiction that falls under readily stereotypical genres so that it can be pigeonholed within such categorical limits as "fantasy" or "mystery".

Friday, August 26, 2011

This 'n That: Karen Marie Moning's Fever Series Continues, Hurricane Irene & Reading

Today, Karen Marie Moning posted details about the continuation of her Fever series in her Facebook page. This is what she had to say:
"I'm currently working on a trilogy that features Dani, Christian MacKeltar, Ryodan, and the mysterious 'Dancer,' set primarily in Fever-Dublin. Each installment in the trilogy is a stand-alone mystery, however there are larger plot arcs unfolding in the background. Where Mac was introspective and her story could feel somewhat esoteric, Dani is down and dirty in the streets. Lots of details, lots of action. There’s a different feel to the two series, totally different vantage points. I’m having a blast writing it.

For those of you who have been worrying—the trilogy is not YA. If I had to categorize it, I would say it straddles the line between YA and adult uneasily. I don’t pull any punches. It may be controversial in some ways. But whose teen years weren’t? LOL! Many of the questions I left unanswered in the FEVER series are addressed in this new series.

Exciting news: I’ve agreed to write two more books after that. Once the new trilogy is complete, I’m returning to the core story begun in the FEVER series, and will resume writing about Mac, Barrons, V’lane, Cruce, the Unseelie king, the concubine, the Song of Making.

All in all, there are five more books coming about the Fever World!
So for those of you who wondered and can't wait to continue reading this series, there's the answer to your question. There's more "fever" coming your way. You can read the whole post here. Please note that the "bold" lettering is mine.


In other news, after a rocky start to the week with an earthquake that shook our area, we are now getting ready for hurricane Irene! Everyone is preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. I was actually let out from work early today, even though the sun is shining, because traffic is unbearable and preparations need to be made with time.

I'm making sure that there are plenty of batteries for my flashlights so I can read during the evening if the power fails. Stay safe people!!! Wish us luck!


And talking about reading, I've had a terrible reading month so far! I was away from home for over a week taking care of family responsibilities/emergencies plus an unexpected heavy workload for a summer month, and didn't have time to read at all during that time. I managed to post a few reviews that were already on draft, but I'm behind on those for the month, although I hope to catch up by next week. I'm forever hopeful!!

I am reading and have read a few westerns lately, a speculative fiction anthology and a historical romance novella that I really enjoyed.


Oh, and as an aside [nothing to do with reading], I watched that historical baseball game where the Yanks hit three, count them, THREE grand slams in one game -- Canoe, Martin and Granderson. What a feat! They won the game 22-9 against the Oakland A's.

That's it for my news. Are you looking forward to reading the rest of the Fever Series? How's your reading going this month? Do you like reading speculative fiction? Do you really care that the Yanks hit THREE grand slams in one game? LOL!!!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Review: A Lady's Lesson in Scandal by Meredith Duran


When Nell Whitby breaks into an earl's house on a midnight quest for revenge, she finds her pistol pointed at the wrong man—one handsome as sin and naked as the day he was born. Pity he's a lunatic. He thinks her a missing heiress, but more to the point, he'll help her escape the slums and right a grave injustice. Not a bad bargain. All she has to do is marry him.


A rake of the first order, Simon St. Maur spent his restless youth burning every bridge he crossed. When he inherits an earldom without a single penny attached to it, he sees a chance to start over—provided he can find an heiress to fund his efforts. But his wicked reputation means courtship will be difficult—until fate sends him the most notorious missing heiress in history. All he needs now is to make her into a lady and keep himself from making the only mistake that could ruin everything: falling in love....
A Lady's Lesson in Scandal is my very first read by Meredith Duran. The plot is quite dramatic and Ms. Duran definitely went with gritty characters, setting and atmosphere when she wrote this romance. She achieved the gritty, but I had problems with the romance.

Nell is a kidnapped heiress who is taken by her nanny and raised in the poorest of London's slums. Before her "mother" dies, she's told that her father is Lord Rushden and that if she needs help she should go to him. She writes asking for a few pounds to help her mother through her illness and never receives an answer. Once her mother dies, she decides to avenge her death by killing her father. Except that when she goes to Rushden's house to turn her plan into action, there's another Lord Rushden in his place and she finds out that her father is already dead.

The story then turns into a version of "My Fair Lady" in which Rushden decides to save the earldom by turning "guttersnipe" Nell into a lady, marrying her and claiming her fortune. They both agree to this plan, so its not as if Simon is not honest with her from the beginning. He is. However even though Nell agrees, she doesn't really believe when Rushden assures her that she's the missing heiress. Nell doesn't trust him, nor does she trust her own memories and she fights the change and the circumstances through to the end.

A Lady's Lesson in Scandal was a tough book to get through... I did finish it, but I struggled to do so. Why? Although the plot is rather involved, this is really a character driven story (which I usually love) and I never reached a point where most characters did anything for me personally. The male and female protagonists are developed, but the rest of the ensemble or secondary characters did not help them along. Although I don't usually have to like characters in order to enjoy a book, there has to come a point where I understand them and that is not the case here. In this case I also experienced a singular lack of empathy for the female protagonist and therefore felt no emotional connection, making this romance fall flat for me personally.

Nell is resentful and hostile for most of the story. That hostility and the fact that she resents everything and everyone around her oozes out of her pores to the point that even when she finally decides to give Simon a chance, I couldn't feel anything from her other than that. There was a meanness of spirit, the kind that comes from bitterness, about Nell that she never quite overcame, even when she supposedly fell in love with Simon. I found her lack of judgment abysmal and her cowardice matched her twin sister's, even as they were at opposite sides of the spectrum. Character growth for Nell was slow, painful and not enough.

Simon did have some of that important character growth. He wasn't necessarily the type of male protagonist that anyone would call a "hero" at the beginning of the story. However, Simon changes as the plot progresses and as his feelings for Nell grow, especially as he becomes aware of Nell's upbringing and the long-term results. His initial attraction for Nell is a bit incomprehensible, but later on Simon becomes a man who loves and loves well. He is honest and deserves to be admired even when he makes mistakes with Nell. He's the one redeemable character in this story.

The secondary characters on the other hand are mostly hateful and for the most part painted with a "black and white" palette, from the stepbrother and his wife, to the "villain" of the piece, to the twin sister. Gray areas for these characters are minimal or not there and true development is non-existent. None of them are redeemable characters even when an attempt is made to make some of them so, and most of them fall under the two dimensional category.

So why give this book an average C grade when I had so many problems with the characters and struggled to finish the book? Well, there are some aspects of this book that are undeniably good or excellent. Duran's prose is definitely one that's worth mentioning, and although I didn't connect with Nell's character and growth was slow to come for her, both she and Simon were developed characters. Plus the grittiness of the setting and the atmosphere are both excellent, and without a doubt Duran captures the grime, poverty and desperation of life in the London slums and the result that life had on its residents.

In the end A Lady's Lesson in Scandal was not a favorite read for me, at least it's not one that I'll be re-reading. However, there's definitely enough there to recommend it, and if you enjoy Ms. Duran's writing and her characterization this book is probably for you.

Category: Historical Romance
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Pocketstar/June 28, 2011 - Kindle Edition
Grade: C

Visit Meredith Duran here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Review: The Many Sins of Lord Cameron by Jennifer Ashley

A renowned rake, Cameron Mackenzie doesn't care if Ainsley Douglas has a virtuous excuse for sneaking around his bedchamber. He only cares that she's at his mercy. One kiss at a time, he plans to seduce her. But what starts out as a lusty diversion may break Cam's own rules.

I enjoyed the first book of this series, The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, but was a disappointed in the second book, Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage. Thankfully that's not the case with The Many Sins of Lord Cameron. I enjoyed the third book in Jennifer Ashley's Mackenzie Brothers historical romance series much more than that last book!

Cameron and Ainsley's attraction to each other flares under rather interesting circumstances. Cameron finds Ainsley snooping around his bedchamber, and thinking that she's there for seduction decides to please himself and the beautiful Ainsley Douglas. The attraction is mutual and they share a passionate and unforgettable moment. But Ainsley is married and turns down Cam's advances.

Years later, Ainsley is a widow and acting as the Queen's agent in a secret matter of the heart that involves blackmail. As a result during a house party at Hart Mackenzie's home, history repeats itself when she again finds herself in Cameron Mackenzie's chambers looking for a missing letter and gets caught by Cam. The old mutual attraction flares up with a vengeance and as Ainsley continues on her errand for the Queen, she finds in Cam both an ally and a man that's dangerously seductive.

I liked both Ainsley and Cam. Ainsley's life is that of a young woman who married a much older man and as a widow has been left without resources and dependent on her older brother. As the Queen's lady, her life is limited to the court and to service, leaving her with little time for socialization or a personal life. On the surface Ainsley gives the impression of being a demure lady, but in reality she's passionate, intrepid and determined. She's perfect for Cam.  I think it is lovely that although Ainsley was in a marriage of convenience and later widowed, her husband was a man that she both honored and respected.

Cam, well... he's had an angst-ridden life filled with childhood abuse and a marriage to a deranged woman that left him scarred for life. Cam feels more at home with horses than he does with people, and who can blame him after what he went through? He seeks the company of married women with shady reputations and doesn't ever want to marry again.

I love the fact that Cam "sees things in color" when he is with Ainsley as she brings him back to "life." I really liked that while trying to seduce Ainsley, he's caught and falls hard! Cam and Ainsley sizzled with passion too, and Jennifer Ashley really builds up to that passion with plenty of sexual tension. I especially loved the sensuality of those scenes with the buttons (those of you who have read this book know what I'm talking about). Most of all Cam and Ainsley clicked as two people who fall in love but that also become friends and lovers, and I thought that was just so important for Cam after his traumatic past.

Making Cam's son Daniel part of the romance was an excellent move on Ashley's part. Despite the fact that Cam has been portrayed as a rather nonchalant type of father throughout most of the series, Daniel is the most important person in Cam's life as it is revealed in this story. Cam is protective by nature, loving, and passionate. Those parts of his nature, however, were severely damaged by his deranged first wife before she died. So while Cam and Ainsley's romance evolves at a good pace, most of the conflict in this book is about Cam working out issues that were caused during his first marriage so he can find happiness with Ainsley.

The whole "Mrs. Brown" sub-plot was interesting and it served its purpose, but it was not arresting, neither was the blackmail sub-plot. I thought they were both obvious devices to get Cam and Ainsley together and as such they worked well enough without adding much interest to the story.

The Many Sins of Lord Cameron is the type of historical romance you'll love if you're not looking for a lot of controversy between the two main characters, or if you want to feel great about a man who has suffered and finally finds that elusive happily ever after. I love that Cam did.  You won't find a lot of conflict between the protagonists in this book, instead you will find a good, solid historical romance full of passion and emotion.

And what of the remaining Mackenzie brother? Well, I've always liked Hart and now that Eleanor has finally made an appearance can't wait to read their romance. And eventually we will have Daniel's romance to look forward to...I can't wait to see how he turns out. In the meantime, for those of you who love Ian... don't forget to look for the breakfast scene with the honey pot. I loved it!

Category: Historical Romance
Series: Mackenzie Brothers
Publisher/Released: Berkley/August 2, 2011 - Kindle Edition
Grade: B

Visit Jennifer Ashley here.

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, Book 1
Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage, Book 2
The Many Sins of Lord Cameron, Book 3

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Review: From Macho to Mariposa: New Gay Latino Fiction edited by Charles Rice-González & Charlie Vázquez

Prepare yourself to dance in a disco in Silver Lake, check out papis in Orchard Beach, cross the border from Guatemala to Mexico on your way to the U.S., see a puro macho bathe in a river in Puerto Rico, make love under a full moon in the Dominican Republic, sigh at a tender moment in an orange grove in Lindsay, visit a panaderia in Kansas, see a full blown birthday party in Juarez, and be seduced by a young artist in the South Bronx. These are some of the stories in this collection of thirty gay Latino writers from around the United States. There are ''don't mess with me''' divas, alluring bad boys, and sexy teenagers, but also empowered youth for whom being queer is not a question and a family that grows wings on their heads. The infectious rhythms of House music in New York City are adjacent to cumbia in Mexico, next to reggaeton in Puerto Rico, alongside Latin pop in L.A. and merengue in an east coast city. But the spectrum of experiences and emotions that inhabit our days gives these stories dimension and gay/queer Latinos a common ground. The stories are vibrantly varied and clearly connected in this ''era of lost signals'' in which we live.
From Macho to Mariposa: New Gay Latino Fiction is an anthology written and edited by gay Latino writers from varied backgrounds and walks of life. That in and of itself was a huge draw for me. As seen from the gay Latino's perspective, I also hoped to find that great mixture of different backgrounds and countries that make up what we call the Latino culture and what makes our community unique.

The anthology is composed of 29 short stories. Individually you'll find different writing styles and types of stories, from the magical cuento, to love letters, and stories of neglect, loneliness, rejection, sex, drugs, and yes... yearning and love. Through the unique and beautiful rhythm found in the blending of two languages and two cultures that is often found in works by Latino writers, the reader experiences pain, joys, highs and lows.

The stories serve as little windows into the gay Latino experience. Some writers go back to their roots and set their stories in the land of their birth or that of their parents: Puerto Rico, Mexico, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic. These stories serve to set atmosphere and define cultural differences within this anthology. There's La Huerfanita by David Andrew Talamantes, a disturbing account set in Mexico about a little boy who is abused by his father because he's not macho enough... or one of my favorite stories, the beautiful Yermo by Charlie Vázquez, written in letter form, about an unforgettable encounter in Puerto Rico between an islander and a Nuyorican from the Bronx.

Other stories are edgy and creative. There are quite a few of these, however as an example Fairy Tale by Justin Torres is a riveting cuento magico written in the form of a letter to an absent father where fantasy is used to convey neglect, and worth mentioning is A Doomed Gay Marriage where Rigoberto González writes shorts within a short story addressed to "the writer," "the cook," "the musician" and more, depicting reasons a marriage to each in turn would fail.

Among the stories depicting young adult experiences one of my favorite is On the Line by Benny Vázquez. I love the way the writer captures the cultural reality of views and attitudes by family and loved ones toward the two young men's changing relationship through the young man's mami's character. It's a story of friendship and love found and lost in an urban setting. And of course there's Pregnant Boy by Chuy Sánchez, the magnificent story about a boy who has seen and lost too much and yet hopes against hope for love. He is naive and a cynic, an astounding and heartbreaking combination.

The bulk of the stories, however, depict lost loves, past relationships and those regrets that leave empty spaces and "what ifs" behind. I loved Michael Moves to Faile Street by Charles Rice-González, a well-written, and complete story about a man with a need to set things right after having failed his ex-lover, and Requiem Sartajeno by Rick J. Santos pulled me in to the point where I thought I was reading a whole book instead of a short story. However, it was The Fermi Paradox by Ben Francisco that made me say "wow" after I finished it. A story about yearning for lost love while dealing with rejection and hoping there's a way to fill the emptiness left by it all. This was a complete story with excellent writing, pacing, plot and prose that left me wanting more from this author.

Urban settings are quite popular in this anthology, from the East to the West Coast, Chicago to Miami and in between, however there are some stories that do highlight life in those urban settings more than others. Dark Side of the Flame is a dark trip indeed where Danny González explores drugs, sex and loneliness. And, the anthology ends with a bang and on an upbeat note that made me laugh out loud with Orchard Beach by Robert Vázquez Pacheco where Bronx Diva La Joey teaches a mistaken papi a lesson he won't soon forget. "¿Pa' qué fue eso?!"

Taken individually some stories are better written than others and I do have favorites among them -- too few of them are mentioned above. As a whole, however, From Macho to Mariposa: New Gay Latino Fiction is a different kettle of fish altogether. The editors of this anthology Charles Rice-González and Charlie Vázquez successfully capture the differences and commonalities within the gay Latino community and the gay experience from a distinct cultural perspective.

Pulled together, the stories do convey that distinct flavor. Whether it's achieved by highlighting societal views of the gay son, friend, nephew or neighbor within the Latino community as a whole or the importance of la familia -- mami, papi, brothers, sisters, tíos or primos -- the neighborhoods, the different foods or the music, that flavor can almost be felt and tasted by the reader. Most of all I think these gay Latino writers achieve this as only they can by expressing their experiences, with passion, heart and emotion.

Category: LGBT Gay Fiction
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Tincture/August 1, 2011
Source: ARC Lethe Press
Grade: B

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mini-Impressions: Storm's Heart (The Elder Races, #2) by Thea Harrison

During the rule of her murderous Dark Fae uncle, Thistle "Tricks" Periwinkle found sanctuary among the Wyr in New York. Her ethereal beauty and sparkling personality won the hearts of the public, but after her uncle's death, there are those who don't want to see her ascend the throne...

Able to wield thunder and lightning, Wyr sentinel Tiago Black Eagle has ruled the skies for centuries. His massive build and thunderous power make him one of the Wyr's best weapons. And he's the one sent to protect Tricks when she's almost assassinated in Chicago.

Soon, both Tiago and Tricks will fall prey to the stormy hunger that engulfs them- a passion that will shake the very foundation of all the worlds.
In Storm's Heat by Thea Harrison, the second book in The Elder Races paranormal series, Tricks is on her way to claim the Dark Fae's throne. On her way there, one of her cousins attempts to assassinate her and Tricks winds up alone in a motel room where Tiago finds her wounded and drunk out her mind. After a few disagreements and another assassination attempt, Tiago and Tricks begin the journey that will place them in danger and lead them to the Dark Fae's realm. As the heat builds up between the two, they'll fight an unknown enemy, uncertainty, and their own desire.

I liked Tricks in the first book and was really looking forward to her story. I loved the humor in Dragon Bound, and toward the beginning of Storm's Heat I found some of those same amusing moments. I mean Tricks has some great lines. However, to be frank it didn't take long for this character to become a bit of an annoyance. I found her to be a bit too "pouty," needy and superficial. Her "voice" got on my nerves after a very short period of time and that was not good news!

Tiago is a rather forceful alpha character. He was considered a god in the ancient times... but, unlike Dragos, Tiago is quite the softy and once he falls for Tricks (which is rather fast), all he wants to do is please her. He caves in pretty easily to her charm. The one thing he keeps intact is the overprotective bit... and of course, he is relentless once they mate. I liked Tiago, but didn't fall in love with his character.

My biggest problem with this story, however, would be the romance itself. I don't understand why Tiago and Tricks become attracted to each other all of a sudden after 200 years of having on and off contact with each other. What set it off? Why now? There's nothing in the story that explains this. There's no previous attraction or a hint that there was sexual tension or even an awareness between them throughout those years. Again it's the "mating" device that it's so often used in paranormal romance, but without anything to back up the "romance." Unlike the romance in Dragon Bound, I didn't buy this love that sprouted like mushrooms after a hard rainfall.

Overall I found this to be an average paranormal romance read. This particular installment in the series didn't stand out for me like that first book. When it comes to the next book in the series, I'm not sure that I will be reading it right off the bat either. I wasn't enamored of the vampire Carling, and although Rune seems like an interesting character, I think I'll wait and see.  Grade: C

Monday, August 15, 2011

Review: One Good Reason by Sarah Mayberry

It's time to move on...

Any day now Jon Adamson will pack his bags and hit the road. After all, his intention was never to hang around Melbourne once he’d settled his late father’s affairs. Yet he hasn’t moved on. And it might have something to
do with Gabby Wade. The not-so-big office manager with the really big attitude is making Jon’s days…interesting…engaging…fun. It’s impossible for him to resist her.

But he knows himself—long-term commitments and cozy family dinners aren’t his style. If that’s what the future holds, why is he still here? And why is he spending all his days—and nights—with Gabby? Because maybe she’s the one reason strong enough to make him stay.

What if you discovered that all you ever wanted were the things you’d left behind?
I'm so glad I read One Good Reason by Sarah Mayberry. After reading The Last Goodbye, I just had to know what happened to Tyler's brother Jon. It was worth it because as it turns out, I enjoyed Gabby and Jon's romance more than Tyler and Ally's.

After his father's death, Jon is still dealing with the fallout. He finds himself at loose ends and unable to work out serious issues from his past that are not allowing him to move forward with his life. Jon sold his business in Canada and doesn't really know what to do with himself, so his brother Tyler talks him into working for him at T.A. Furniture Designs on a temporary basis with hopes that he'll stick around. There, Jon meets Gabby, the shop's administrator and Tyler's right hand woman. Their first meeting doesn't go well and sets the stage for a hostile beginning to a relationship full of tension.

Gabby is a self-sufficient woman who doesn't really want to need anyone. She can do just about everything quickly and efficiently when it comes to the business. But after her long three year relationship with Tyler, Jon's brother, and the way their relationship ended, Gabby is suffering from low self-esteem. She really likes Tyler's wife Ally, but some residual feelings for Tyler linger and she has to deal with those. The last thing she needs in her life is Jon. As far as Gabby's concerned Jon is a silent, overprotective, too controlled man who reminds her of his brother in too many ways.

I like the increasingly hostile way in which Gabby and Jon demonstrate their initial attraction, it makes for a great explosive scene once they release all that hostility. The dialogue between them helps to build all that sexual tension with all the snap and sizzle, especially with Gabby's sass. Jon, well.. he's the strong, silent, passionate type that turns out to be too sweet for words!

Gabby is a bit of a PITA at times with her uber-independent woman of the year personality, although Jon's over protectiveness of her is a bit much toward the beginning, especially when he doesn't really know her. However, she really is oversensitive and overreacts most of the time with Jon. Now, the fact that Jon questions Gabby's sexuality based on her short hair, her lack of make-up, the way she dresses, her hostility toward him as a male, AND that she's having dinner with a girlfriend, is an assholish thing to do to say the least. That he verbalizes this to her in front of others is really idiotic in my opinion.

However, this book is really not about those dumb moments these two (evenly and briefly) share. It really is about both of them coming to terms with their pasts as they fall passionately in love and move forward together. Jon with the abuse he experienced as a child at the hands of his father, and Gabby with feeling unlovable because of the way her relationship ended with Tyler. Mayberry really digs into both of these characters' fears, guilts, vulnerabilities and strengths. She builds on those one step at a time as they first see themselves for who they've become, and then open up to each other slowly and painfully.

Jon's situation in particular is a painful one and Mayberry does a bang-up job of portraying this man's tough and uneasy journey out of the darkness. His yearning and passion for Gabby and for a life with her is heartbreaking. Gabby's combination of strength, vulnerability and insecurities make her quite human and therefore a great female protagonist for this story.

I thought the timeline for the romance was a bit rushed and I'm surprised because Mayberry usually does a better job with this. However, again the characterization is excellent in this book as both Jon and Gabby are well fleshed out throughout that short time-line. The focus on the couple is maintained throughout, although Tyler and Ally do play an important part in this story as they should.

One Good Reason is a solid, sexy, sweet romance that really hit the spot for me.

Category: Contemporary Romance (Category Romance-HSR)
Series: None -- See below
Publisher/Release Date: Harlequin, August 2, 2011 - Kindle Edition
Grade: B

Visit Sarah Mayberry here

Related books:
The Last Goodbye
One Good Reason

Friday, August 12, 2011

Review: Playing Dirty by Susan Andersen

When high school golden boy Cade Gallari publicly revealed he’d slept with “fat girl” Ava Spencer to win a bet, he broke her heart. Now a decade older and a head-turner with her own concierge business, Ava isn’t the gullible dreamer she once was—and she plans to prove it when Cade, hotter than ever, breezes back into town with an offer she can’t refuse.

A documentary film producer, Cade is shooting a movie about the mysterious mansion Ava inherited. And he wants her as his personal concierge. She’s certainly professional enough to be at his beck and call without giving him everything he wants. Like another shot at having her in his bed. But Ava doesn’t count on Cade’s determination. Because he’s never gotten over her. And he’s not above playing dirty to score a second chance at a red-hot future…
Playing Dirty by Susan Andersen! What an enjoyable contemporary read this one turned out to be... at least for me.

It all begins with one of those dreaded scenes that can only take place in high school between the gorgeous jock and the unpopular "fat girl." I cringed when Ava first began relating her happiness over having slept with hunky Cade. I knew a painful moment was in the offing, and sure enough it hits her like a two-ton truck as she walks into the school cafeteria and finds out that what she thought was a relationship on the making was the result of a bet. Poor Ava! The humiliation! She gave back as good as she got but was devastated in the process.

Thirteen years later and pounds lighter, Ava is a successful businesswoman and part owner of a mansion she and her two friends inherited, and Cade is a well-known, up and coming independent documentary film maker working in Los Angeles. Cade contacts Ava hoping that she will agree to allow him to film a docudrama based on the Wolcott's mystery in the mansion, and to act as the film crew's personal concierge. Although Ava doesn't want to be anywhere near Cade, the jerkwad, he proposes such a sweet deal that she agrees.

Why did I enjoy this book so much? The characters. Both Cade and Ava are likable grownups with vulnerabilities and flaws. Cade was a jerk to Ava when they were teenagers, there's no question about it, but he's not a jerk as an adult. It is clear from the beginning that betraying Ava to his friends and losing her affected him. He knew what he did was wrong and throughout the years attempted to apologize to her without success. I love the fact that to him Ava had always been gorgeous, and that he not only wants her bodacious body but also her joy and laughter in his life. Plus, Cade apologizes prettily and sincerely.

Ava, well... nobody can blame her for not trusting Cade. That's the real conflict in this romance. Ava loved and trusted Cade once, as only a teenager can love, and he betrayed and humiliated her in such a way that deeply traumatized her. That trauma combined with the way Ava's mother nags her about her weight even though she's now a gorgeous and healthy size twelve, makes her less than self-assured once she faces Cade again. The fact that she still burns for Cade is humiliating enough, but when she begins to actually like him? Well!!

Ava is not a character that I would say is defined by her insecurities, though. She is a beautiful, strong, successful woman with a joyful and beautiful personality. She is liked and loved and she knows it. However, seeing Cade again does bring back those painful insecurities here and there. It's a realistic look at a woman whose body doesn't conform to what's considered the acceptable "look" and every so often glimpses the "fat girl" in the mirror. Hmm... if she could only see herself through Cade's eyes.

I liked the fact that both Ava and Cade are portrayed as strong, successful characters who are not perfect. They are equal in that respect so that the characterization is well-balanced. They both suffer insecurities: she with her weight and he with his belief that he's not lovable enough. One of the sweetest things about this story is the fact that they knew each other since they were small children and those memories are made a part of the yearning that Cade always felt for Ava. I loved the way Andersen showed how differently each character viewed the other, as opposed to how they viewed themselves.

The one weakness is a side story line involving a theft in the mansion that really detracts from the rest of this enjoyable romance and interrupts the flow. The rest of the secondary characters make a good contribution to the story without taking the focus away from the main couple. I especially like the way the friendship between Ava, Poppy and Jane is depicted in this book.

Overall I really enjoyed Playing Dirty by Susan Andersen. I loved the characters, the romance, and the friendships. And for all of you out there who are always looking for this type of story, here's a female protagonist who is smart, successful, a size twelve with gorgeous curves and gets the jock and her happily ever after. A great story.

Category: Contemporary Romance
Series: Sisterhood Diaries
Publisher/Release Date: HQN Books/July 26, 2011 - Kindle Edition
Grade: B+

Visit Susan Andersen here.

Sisterhood Diaries Series:
Cutting Loose, Book 1
Bending the Rules, Book 2
Playing Dirty, Book 3

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Minis: Ilona Andrews, Gordon Andrews, Meljean Brook

Magic Dreams (Kate Daniels Series - Hexed Anthology) by Ilona Andrews

Jim and Dali's story... I've been waiting for this one. Tigress Dali, hear her roarrrrr.... lol! She was the best character in this short story... smart, sassy and determined to save the man she wants but thinks she can't have. Geeky Dali with her thick glasses and supposed lack of skills doesn't think she's beautiful enough to get a strong, hunky alpha beast like Jim. She doesn't know that he's half-way in the bag already before this adventure gets going.

This wonderful novella by Ilona Andrews features these two characters and weaves in some fascinating myths in the process. The action is just what you would expect of a Kate Daniels installment, exciting, full of dread and fun at the same time. The villain in this one is a disgusting spider woman and I loved her demise. The dialogue between Jim and Dali was snappy and sarcastic, and that combined with the action made this story a fast-paced read. Although Jim's character playing the "damsel in distress" didn't quite fit my view of him from the other books, Dali's rescue of him was worth it. The romance itself is on the mild side of the scale and I wish Jim's side of the equation had been portrayed with a bit more passion, but I did love the way it ended.

Overall Dali made this story for me and I really enjoyed it. I can't wait to read more about these two, even if it is between the lines, in future Kate Daniels installments. (Urban Fantasy) Grade B+


Fathers and Sons: Companion to Magic Series (Curran POV Vol II) by Gordon Andrews

Well, I really enjoyed this short story where events that took place after Magic Bleeds and before Magic Slays are narrated by Curran. We all know that His Fussiness the Beast Lord was furious when he found out that the Pack challenged Kate while he was down for the count for a few weeks. He demands an explanation from his Alphas but is not quite satisfied. He is especially furious with Mahon, the Bear who became a father figure to him, for allowing it all to happen. Curran is going to teach them all a lesson they'll never forget.

This was such a wonderful story. It's free at the Ilona Andrews' website for those interested in reading it. I thought this novella was better than Vol I and loved the interaction between Kate and Curran, as well as Curran's viewpoint of his relationship with Mahon and his love for Kate. It was quite emotional at one point and I thought it a perfect little story to read for father's day. That's when I read it. :D  (Urban Fantasy) Grade: B


Paradise (Wild Thing Anthology) by Meljean Brook

Okay, so Paradise is a re-read for me. I first read this whole anthology when it released back in May, 2007. However at that time I was not following the Guardian series and didn't relate this story to anything and let it stand on its own. As a stand-alone I remember that, along with Marjorie M. Liu's short story Hunter Kiss where she introduced her urban fantasy series, this was a favorite story. Once I began reading the Guardian series, however, I wanted to re-read it, except... I had given away the book! Well, I just recently got it back through Mariana and re-read it immediately.

Selah is a favorite Guardian character and I remember that I loved Lucas, a nosferatu-made vampire that falls in love with her while they're trying to save his Oregon-based vampire community from a demon. Lucas is an emo vampire and Selah is a no-nonsense Guardian who believes in doing what she has to do while on the job. Poor Lucas didn't have a chance once he met Selah. I totally enjoyed the fact that he fell in lust with her shoes! Ah... yeah. As part of the series, I would say that this is a good solid addition as it gives an in-depth look into Selah's character, while giving the reader a peek at some events that occur in between novels. I fell in love with Lucas and Selah all over again. (Paranormal Romance) Grade: B

Monday, August 8, 2011

Review: Never Cry Wolf (Night Watch #4) by Cynthia Eden

Lucas Simone is not the kind of guy you mess with. He's big, he's strong, and his eyes hint at a wilder side most women can't handle. Of course, that's because his predatory instincts are no metaphor-he's a genuine Grade-A top-quality werewolf, tough enough to fight his way to dominance over the scariest pack on the West Coast. There's only one chink in his armor. Unlike most alpha dogs, Lucas has a reputation for protecting the weak and innocent.

Sarah King is counting on that protective impulse-it's the only thing standing between her and certain death. There are only two problems: one, she's not quite as innocent as she'd like Lucas to believe. And two, if he doesn't stop stoking Sarah's animal lust, it's only a matter of time before her own wild side gets unleashed...
Never Cry Wolf is the fourth book in the Nightwatch Series by Cynthia Eden, but stands on its own quite well. I've not read the other books on this series and had no problems following the story.

Sarah King is on the run and she's counting on Lucas Simone to protect her. Sarah is a charmer whose gift allows her to read wolves's thoughts when they're in animal form, and Lucas is the big tough Alpha of the West Coast pack. She can be an asset to him and figures if anyone can save her from her ex-boyfriend Ralph, it is Lucas .

Lucas can't resist the beauty even though he knows she's not trustworthy and offers her the protection of his pack. Sarah does give him valuable information about a planned coup to take over his territory. According to Sarah, the coyotes are about to break their pact with Lucas and Ralph is at the heart of it all, and the circumstances prove her right. But Sarah is full of secrets and lies. Can he trust her, even though he can't resist her charms?

This was a fun paranormal romance, full of shifters, action and hot, sexy moments. Lucas is the typical alpha's Alpha, with the overprotective instincts and macho attitude. Of course when he falls, he falls hard and that makes it worth it. I always love it when an alpha falls hard for a girl. Sarah is sexy, smart, and she also falls for Luke, but she's a liar and it takes most of the story to redeem her character.

In the meantime, there's lots of action, both in and out of the bedroom. They must prepare for an upcoming war, but that doesn't stop Lucas from claiming Sarah as often as he can, or Sarah from giving in as easy as pie, even though she previously experienced abusive sex with a shifter. But hey, this is Lucas and he's hot!

There are two distinct sections to the story. The first is the shifter section with the set up for the romance where Sarah and Lucas begin the bonding process and both the pack and the upcoming danger are presented to the reader. However, that takes them to the second section of the story. Lucas' life is in danger after he is shot with a silver bullet and he's rushed to a voodoo priestess in the hopes that she'll save his life. This is where the story itself shifts when Eden introduces a different atmosphere by expanding the setting and adds urgency to the situation. I enjoyed this section of the story much more than the first. The action is non-stop, the twists and turns are fun to follow as new characters are introduced, and they all ran around trying to figure out how to save their own lives and that of the pack from the villain.

Never Cry Wolf is a mixed bag -- a pretty standard shifter paranormal romance in that first half of the book, an exciting suspense, action-filled story with new, interesting characters on the second half, and Sarah being the mystery that needs to be solved throughout the whole story. Overall, although the beginning of the book felt like a traditional paranormal romance and my interest wavered a bit, I ended up getting caught up in the story and read it in one sitting. Now I'm curious about the rest of the characters. I hope Ms. Eden will write Josette and Piers' story. And what about Caleb, will he be redeemed? I hope so.

Category: Paranormal Romance
Series: Night Watch
Publisher/Release Date: Brava/July 1, 2011
Source: Kensington Publishing
Grade: B-

Visit Cynthia Eden here.

Eternal Hunter, Book 1
I'll be Slaying You, Book 2
Eternal Flame, Book 3
Never Cry Wolf, Book 4

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Review: The Abode of Bliss: Ten Stories for Adam by Alex Jeffers

Explaining himself to himself and to the man he loves, Ziya tells Adam the stories of his life:

A bilingual childhood and youth in cosmopolitan İstanbul, city of the world's desire, and the Aegean resort of Bodrum. A bewildering trip by ship and train and jet across Europe and the Atlantic to college in America, that strange and terrifying country. Friendships, passionate affairs, one-night stands, rape --- a richly dissatisfying erotic education. A wedding, a death, an act of inexplicable violence --- a meeting.

Intricate as Ottoman miniatures, Ziya's stories reveal a world unsuspected: the world we live in.
Prior to The Abode of Bliss: Ten Stories for Adam, my personal experience with Alex Jeffers' works was limited to reading Do You Remember Tulum? Novella in Form of a Love Letter. I admit that reading that one magnificent piece by this author left me with high expectations.

The Abode of Bliss: Ten Stories for Adam is a compilation of ten self-contained short stories, some which have been previously published. Pulled together in this book, each story becomes a chapter where Ziya, as the narrator, gives his lover Adam a detailed, uncensored account of his personal journey as he attempts to make sense of events and people that influenced or changed his life.

Jeffers focuses much of his in-depth exploration of Ziya's character by slowly unraveling family relationships, and through them and their history, Turkish culture. Ziya's family is financially well off, educated, seemingly stable and strays from Muslim tradition only to a certain extent. The truths, secrets and betrayals that Ziya finds and experiences within his family reflect life as it evolves around him.

Ziya begins his narration with "A Story from Childhood," a seemingly simple story that takes place in 1974 when as a seven-year-old he is vacationing with his family at their home in the coastal town of Bodrum, Turkey. That was the year his brother Mehmet went through the circumcision ritual and the Greeks, led by the military junta and its colonels, threatened to invade Turkey after the events that took place in Cyprus. This chapter firmly pulls the reader into the story as Jeffers establishes the rich setting and atmosphere, and while maintaining the focus on Ziya, introduces key secondary characters.

However, it is in the second chapter, "History," that the main focus of the story is established. This is where as a fourteen-year-old Ziya is enlightened as to what he wants for his future self. Ziya is bilingual. He dreams of attending Harvard and of excelling as a Turkish writer who writes in the English language, nevertheless after taking a tour of the sultans' palace Topkapı Sarayı and visiting Dar-üs Saadet - the abode of bliss -- he weaves in other dreams. This is where he witnesses one single moment of unparalleled happiness between Ben and David, two American men traveling together. As the nature of the friendship becomes clear, Ziya knows he wants that happiness in his own life.

This realization combined with personal discoveries, dissatisfying, and heartbreaking betrayals and experiences connected with the different ways in which sex (not love) between men are regarded by his fellow countrymen, make up the framework for this story as a whole. As Ziya faces a future wherein his faith and love for his family and culture are unwavering, but one that might be different from that of his beloved brother Mehmet, he has to come to terms with the fact that he might have to make some tough choices in order to become the man he needs to be. But, is it worth it? His journey will take him from Turkey, through Europe, and finally to Harvard and America.

Jeffers' is not a straightforward tale. Instead, he has a roundabout style of getting to the point, gathering all the pieces of the puzzle and allowing them to fall into place at the right moment. He reveals the details of his main character's life by peeling one layer at a time while maintaining the reader engaged. Jeffers' prose is intricate and his writing lush and richly descriptive. He plays brilliantly with language, as a single word (or in some cases, words) takes on a deeper significance by the time a chapter ends. At other times, as in the chapter titles "Kindness" and "A Person," it is immediately apparent. However, his focus on language is found throughout the book.

One of the aspects I love about this book is that Jeffers transports the reader to place and time without effort and creates an atmosphere that changes with the setting throughout the story, even as the narrator's voice remains distinctly unchanged. The reader is caught unaware at the most unexpected of moments, giving key revelations a certain shocking value because of the almost nonchalant way in which those moments are narrated. As an example: there's a lack of violence, even when the act described is violent, that tends to leave the reader breathless for that one moment and makes a stronger impact.

In The Abode of Bliss: Ten Stories for Adam, the stories, all ten of them, come together and fit beautifully without the repetitiveness that I've encountered in similar works where collections of short stories are pulled together to form one book. And what of my high expectations? I am happy to say that those were met, and then some. This is a fabulous work of fiction by Alex Jeffers and one I highly recommend.

Genre: LGBT - Gay Fiction
Series: None
Publisher/ Release Date: Tincture/August 1, 2011
Source: ARC Lethe Press
Grade: A

Visit Alex Jeffers here.

Other works by Alex Jeffers:
Safe As Houses 
Do You Remember Tulum? 
The New People 

Monday, August 1, 2011

July 2011 Reads & Minis

July was a hot month in more ways than one... hot temperatures and hot books. I began the second half of the year in good form by reading some excellent books, and as you'll see below, I have four top picks! Of course there were also some deep disappointments, but that's par for the course.

What will I remember about July? All the historical romances I read about Dukes! I read three in a row and it felt as if I had Dukes coming out of my eyeballs, lol! Thank goodness some of them were really worth reading. *g*

I read 16 new books in July and that's too many to recap by writing minis, so I'm highlighting my highs and lows. The rest of my July reads can be viewed here.

I'll begin with my recap:

Total books read: 16
Re-read: 1
Contemporary Romance/Fiction: 4
Historical Romance: 5
Urban Fantasy: 1
Paranormal Romance: 2
LGBT: 4 (Gay Fiction: 2, Gay Romance: 1, Mystery/Romance: 1)

Top July Reads:
  • The Abode of Bliss: Ten Stories for Adam by Alex Jeffers - My top pick of the month and an amazing contemporary gay fiction read. Expect a review this week. (Upcoming Review)
  • Silk is for Seduction (Dressmaker Sisters, 1) by Loretta Chase: I believe this is the first historical romance to receive a straight A from me this year! I loved it, no question about it. Grade: A
  • What I did for the Duke by Julie Anne Long: This is another historical romance that I really enjoyed, both for the romance and the humor. This one helped with my craving for historicals this month. Grade: A-
  • Yours to Keep by Shannon Stacey: I truly enjoyed this contemporary. I can't believe I waited so long to try Shannon Stacey's series about the Kowalskis and then began with the third book! I do have the first book of this series in my TBR and will definitely read it. Grade: B+

Biggest Disappointments:
  • Waking Up with the Duke (London's Greatest Lovers #3) by Lorraine Heath: This was a highly anticipated read for me that didn't quite make the mark. You can find out why in my review. Grade C-
  • Baby, Drive South (Southern Roads, #1) by Stephanie Bond: This contemporary romance just fell flat for me. I didn't like either one of the main characters. The female protagonist couldn't make up her mind between the man who dumped her because she wasn't attractive or young enough for him, and the immature "hero" who attempts to keep her around by lying to her. She was pitiful and he was annoying. I never bought the fact that he fell for her, and couldn't believe that she actually vacillated about staying because the ex-boyfriend might want her back. Pitiful! At this point the only thing that kept me reading were the two other brothers who seemed interesting, and I figured I would read the second book. Grade: D
  • Baby, Come Home (Southern Roads, #2) by Stephanie Bond: Well, I should have known better! The second book was even more annoying than the first one. I wanted to like this book, but unfortunately the female protagonist, whom I really, really hated disliked, and the way the story was going made it impossible for me to keep going. Too bad, I liked Kendall in the first book and thought his story had potential. DNF
  • One Whisper Away (Ladies in Waiting #1) by Emma Wildes: This is another book I really wanted to like. I've enjoyed a couple of stories by Emma Wildes in the past. However, I'm afraid that after reading 59% of the story I couldn't continue. The clichés were far and wide and I couldn't get past them: the American half-breed who inherited the title of Earl, but who although educated in expensive American schools and having resided most of his life in Boston, behaves like a boor when he hits English society. Cliché. Society in America was quite strict at the time and even with the differences in culture, this man's lack of knowledge and his behavior were too unlikely to suffer through and something I didn't expect to find in this book. Riding the London streets without a shirt? Really? *Sigh* I've read scenes like these too many times throughout the years to continue... DNF
Of course I'm not done reading historical romances yet. At the moment I'm reading Meredith Duran's A Lady's Lesson in Scandal, my first read by this author (yes, it is!), and I have a few other ones waiting on the wings, Mary Balogh and Madeline Hunter's latest releases are two of them. Plus, I'll be reading a couple of new gay fiction releases for review in August as well... hmm... so many books, so little time!

My number one pick for July was The Abode of Bliss: Ten Stories for Adam by Alex Jeffers, what about you? What book did it for you in July?