Thursday, September 29, 2011

Review: Supernatural with Larissa Ione, Alexandra Ivy, Jacquelyn Frank, G.A. Aiken

Supernatural is a paranormal romance collection comprised of four stories written by well-known writers. Each story is connected to worlds they've created, where characters from those worlds find their happily ever afters.

In Larissa Ione's Vampire Fight Club (Lord of Deliverance, #1.5), Nurse Vladlena's and the sexy vampire Nathan's tale proves that sometimes revenge is a dish best served hot! This story stands well on its own for those who have not read this series, but it has some interesting tidbits for those who have. Shifters, sexy vamps, demons and plenty of action.

Alexandra Ivy's "Darkness Eternal" (Guardians of Eternity series) is also on the hot side with magic and vamps mixed together. In this novella witch Kata and vampire Uriel find paradise in hell. There is a bit too much of the sexin' going on while this couple is in dire danger, but I do think that the way their plight is resolved is quite creative.

With Kane ( Nightwalkers, # 5.5) by Jacqueline Frank we get more hotness, but this time with lots titillation and revved up sexual tension. Kane knows Corrine is meant for him, but to a demon she's an untouchable human. When he breaks the rules, punishment might just be worth it. I enjoyed the world building in this story, and although I think character development is somewhat short changed in this novella, the characters are both likable and interesting.

Last in the anthology, and easily my favorite story, is "Dragon on Top"(Dragon Kin, # 4.5) by G.A. Aiken. I loved the romance between "kickass" dragoness Ghleanna the Decimator and beta, slightly forgetful Bram the royal. Bram's crushing on Ghleanna from afar is really sweet, but once they get going he's also one of the hottest heroes in this anthology. This is the story with the most involved plot and best character development of the four, as well as the most entertaining with great dialog and secondary characters.

Some of the stories were more enjoyable for me than others, however as a whole all four of them fit quite well into this anthology. Overall Supernatural is a good, sexy collection involving four interesting and very different worlds, hot couples and quick, happily ever afters achieved in that paranormal romance style readers love.

Category: Paranormal Romance
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Zebra/August 30, 2011
Source: Kensington Publishing
Grade: B

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Review: Demon Marked (The Guardians, #7) by Meljean Brook

In this stunning and sexy addition to the world of the Guardians, a man seeks revenge against the half-demon he once loved...

Nicholas St. Croix is familiar with the evil of demons. After his father's death, he was raised by the demon who had taken over his mother's body. Six years ago, his "mother" was responsible for the disappearance of the woman he loved, and Nicholas swore he'd find her--even if he had to go to Hell and back. Except she finds him first--and with one tormented kiss, he knows that she, too, is a demon. Now he is determined to take his revenge.

Ash is a half-demon with no memory of her past or how she got to Hell. All she knows is that Nicholas St. Croix holds the key to her identity. And though he's clearly drawn to her, Nicholas makes no secret of his distrust of her. Yet one kiss at a time, he breaks down her defenses as they battle an array of demons and Guardians. But is Ash's greatest enemy the man at her side?
The Guardian series is a favorite paranormal series and Meljean Brook a favorite writer. I look forward to all her new releases and Demon Marked is no exception. Demon Marked is book number 7 in this series, so if you haven't read the previous books expect a few spoilers.

Nicholas St. Croix was introduced in the last installment Demon Blood as a human whose life became hell on earth after a demon took his mother's place and basically raised him. By the time she was done, Nick's father had committed suicide and Nick's lover Rachel had sacrificed her life to save Nick's. He lives only for revenge and in the hopes that Rachel had been turned into a Guardian because of her selfless sacrifice. When we meet Nick again, the only thing that has changed is that he has become even more ruthless and coldly focused in his search for revenge.

Ash wakes up in a mental institution with no memory of where or who she is. Eventually, after six months of not speaking, she remembers part of her name and slowly begins to exhibit strange behavior and powers that scare nurses, the psychiatrist and other patients. The one thing that's evident is that Ash is very different, exhibits no emotions and has a totally flat affect. Memories flicker on and off and when the psychiatrist won't help, she leaves the institution and ends up at Nick St. Croix's house. The two meet and although she looks like Rachel, both Nick and Ash know that's not who she is. They strike a bargain, Nick will use Ash to lure the demon who killed his mother, and Ash will use Nick to figure out her identity.

At the beginning of the story Nicholas and Ash were quite cold and it took me a while to warm up to both of them. Ash in many ways seemed lifeless and almost robotic, and Nicholas's obsession with revenge made him into a detached and ice cold man with little to no feelings but cold rage. I shouldn't have worried though, Meljean Brook certainly thawed them out nicely. Soon, there were enough human moments between them and surprisingly amusing dialogue to make Demon Marked worthy of this series.

Ash's character warmed up slowly and believably, and Nicholas' thawing personality changed with enough doubt intermixed with his growing feelings for Ash, that it was believable as love and passion grew between them. Although the fiery passion in this book is not as hot as in Demon Forged, as always, Brook revs up the sexual tension and there's a great payoff when the characters finally give in to passion.

The overall story arc worked out well for me with one exception. I found the outcome of Nicholas's revenge against the demon predictable. However, the way the story line is twisted to work in Michael's situation is rather well done. It's quite nice to see characters from the series make appearances as secondary characters, without them taking too much of the focus away from the central characters. It's always great when Lillith and Hugh make an appearance. However, Khavi is still a mystery, isn't she? I still believe that her methods are highly questionable.

I also have many questions as to what the Guardians are doing and how they compromise their principals to achieve their goals. In this particular story the sacrifice of good souls for the one. Thinking back to Lillith and Hugh's story (Demon Angel) at the very beginning of the series, it seems as if somehow the Guardians have been derailed from their true purpose and in many ways they've become as manipulative as the demons, even as it is understood that their whole structure needs change to survive. But how far are they willing to go? It says a lot about Meljean Brook that such gray areas have been building up slowly and are up for debate and about to climax at this point in this paranormal romance series.

I am especially looking forward to Michael's story, as by addressing the very nature of that character's duality the above questions should be answered. However, how Meljean Brook goes about doing so? Well... talk about high expectations!

Category: Paranormal Romance
Series: The Guardian Series
Publisher/Release Date: Penguin/September 6, 2011 - Kindle Edition
Grade: B

Visit Meljean Brook here.

Series to Date:
The Guardians, Novella .5 (Hotspell Anthology)
Demon Angel, Book 1
Paradise, Novella 1.5 (Wild Thing Anthology)
Demon Moon, Book 2
Demon Night, Book 3
The Guardians, Novella 3.5 (First Blood Anthology)
Demon Bound, Book 4
Demon Forged, Book 5
Blind Spot, Novella 5.5 (Must Love Hellhounds)
Demon Blood, Book 6
Demon Marked, Book 7
The Guardians 7.5, Novella (The Angels of Darkness) Releasing October 4, 2011

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Review: Wilde Stories 2011: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction edited by Steve Berman

As we all know, speculative fiction stories are tough to categorize. That is particularly evident in the Wilde Stories 2011: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction collection of 14 stories gathered and edited by Steve Berman, where you will find horror intertwined with weird fantasy, weird fantasy love stories, and even a mix of science fiction and pop culture.

It is also true that often within fantastical, horror-based and science fiction tales, the reader will find underlying pertinent social commentary. There’s no question that weather it is the subject of acceptance of the gay lifestyle by loved ones or society, bullying, child abuse or neglect, loneliness, love or loss, those social commentaries can be found in this collection. However, also present is the subject of love. Gay love or related themes are there for the reader to find in most of the stories, entwined with the fantasy, horror and science fiction.

Two excellent examples of spec-fic fantasy and sci-fi with that underlying social commentary are Map of Seventeen by Christopher Barzac, a story about young woman who struggles to understand her hidden powers, society, and her gay brother's choices, and written for all those who feel they're different or outsiders, How to Make Friends in Seventh Grade by Nick Poniatowski, a touching sci-fi story about two boys, extra terrestrials, a science project, friendships, self-deception, acceptance, and fantastical solutions. And of the weird fantasy stories with an underlying love theme, the surprisingly touching How to Make a Clown by Jeremy C. Shipp has to be a favorite for me, as is Mortis Persona by Barbara A. Barnett's fantastic mythology-based story dealing with love of the "forever" kind.

I love my science fiction and there's nothing like weird fantasy, however horror is not usually the first choice in my reading agenda. Which is why it came as a total surprise when some of the stories I enjoyed the most fell under the horror-based category. Horror-based stories and weird fantasy rule the day in this collection with science fiction coming a distant last with only two contributors -- my one small niggle because of personal preference. However, there’s quantity and then there’s quality and those two science fiction stories are excellent!

From the horror-based stories there's the jewel called Mysterium Tremendum by Laird Barron. This is the longest, and one of the creepiest, most atmospheric novellas in this collection. It kept me on the edge with its compelling rough and tough gay characters, a touch of the occult, and excellent pacing and action to its creepy, heart-pounding end! And of those two excellent science fiction short stories, the highly creative Beach Blanket Spaceship by Sandra McDonald with its combination of fine sci-fi and excellent 1960's pop culture details really worked for me.

There's a lot more in this collection that should be mentioned, such as the Dracula-based vampire historical tale Hothouse Flowers by Chaz BrenchleyAlaya Dawn's creepy romance between a flesh eating zombie and a hunter, Love Will Tear Us Apart, or on the other side of the spectrum a story that haunted me with gentle terror, Joel Lane's All the Shadows. Then there's Oneirica by Hal Duncan, a strangely fantastical story full of allusions to myths and mythological characters that meanders like a dream from one plane to another -- past and present, myth and reality -- until the reader, like the characters who lose themselves through time and corridors, also loses his/her bearings.

With Wilde Stories 2011: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction, Steve Berman gathered a collection that encompasses everything I've come to expect from LGBTQ speculative fiction. There are the thrilling and chilling moments that come from horror, the confusion and sudden realizations that go hand in hand with weird fantasy and that incredible wonder that I never cease to experience when reading science-fiction, all of it successfully combined with pertinent gay themes and wonderful characters. However, none of the above would happen without successful execution by the authors, and Berman included some of the best along with fresh new talent in this collection. I loved it and recommend that the collection be read slowly for better enjoyment. Highly recommended.

Category: LGBTQ Speculative Fiction
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Lethe Press/August 20, 2011
Source: ARC Lethe Press
Grade: A-

Stories and Authors in order of appearance:
"Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Alaya Dawn Johnson
"Map of Seventeen" by Christopher Barzak
"How to Make Friends in Seventh Grade" by Nick Poniatowski
"Mortis Persona" by Barbara A. Barnett
"Mysterium Tremendum" by Laird Barron
"Oneirica" by Hal Duncan
"Lifeblood" by Jeffrey A. Ricker
"Waiting for the Phone to Ring" by Richard Bowes
"Blazon" by Peter Dubé
"All the Shadows" by Joel Lane
"The Noise" by Richard Larson
"How to Make a Clown" by Jeremy C. Shipp
"Beach Blanket Spaceship" by Sandra McDonald
"Househouse Flowers" by Chaz Brenchley

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review: The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa

The people celebrate
and go all the way
for the Feast of the Goat
the Thirtieth of May.

—"Mataron El Chivo"
“They Killed the Goat”
A Dominican merengue

The Feast of the Goat or La Fiesta del Chivo is a fictionalized account of the Trujillo Era written by the Peruvian writer and winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature, Mario Vargas Llosa. This powerful and haunting historical fiction novel depicts the last day in the life of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina who held power over his people in the Dominican Republic between 1930 and May 30, 1961. The original book is written in Spanish, however in my opinion the translation of the book by Edith Grossman is excellent and I do not have complaints when it comes to either the language nor how the translation effected the writer's prose.

Vargas Llosa approaches the story from three different points of view:
  • The present and past memories of the fictional character Urania Cabral.
  • Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina's view of events as they unfold on the day that he was assassinated, May 30, 1961, and his memories of past events. 
  • The point of view of the Trujillo's assassins as events unfold on May 30, 1961, and their memories of the past events that motivated their actions. 
The three perspectives allow the writer to present the full scope of the history encompassing the Trujillo Era in a fast paced style that keeps the reader glued to the pages. The three points of view, which seem disparate at first, alternate and get closer to each other until they merge at the end in a cohesive manner.

Vargas Llosa uses the fictional characters of Urania, Agustin Cabral and their family to bring cohesion to the story, as Urania returns to the city of Santo Domingo after years of absence, and in turn to her memories of the past while confronting her senile and silent father with his past sins. Her memories, accusations and revelations take the reader to a time when the Dominican Republic and its people lived under the mesmerizing power of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina. Vargas Llosa uses Urania as the voice representing Dominican women of her time, as she narrates experiences that are full of wonder, innocence, horror, and ultimately terrible betrayal. The betrayal experienced by Urania is a double edged sword as it comes from her father and from a society that is patriarchal in nature, killing her faith in men.

Trujillo had quite a few nicknames: el Jefe (the Chief), el Generalissimo, the Benefactor, and of course the Goat. Vargas Llosa portrays Trujillo on his last day as an old man in his 70's who is slowly losing control of his body, his allies, the country and its people. It is an intimate and personal portrayal of a man who truly believes his own press: God and Trujillo, Trujillo and God. He believes that he is savior to the Dominican people and that they owe him everything, including their properties, women, children and even their very lives. As the base of his rule there is authoritarianism and paternalism, however this is combined with violence and corruption that ends in immense abuse of power over his people, family, collaborators and enemies alike.
More than anything else, what he could not forgive was that just as he had corrupted and brutalized this country, the Goat had also corrupted and brutalized Antonio de la Maza. - Antonio de la Maza - Chapter 6
The assassins point of view is the most compelling for me in this story. Vargas Llosa portrays the last moments, the history and motives that placed Antonio de la Maza, Antonio (Tony) Imbert Barrera, Lieutenant Amadito García Guerrero, and Salvador (El Turco) Estrella Sadhalá on the San Cristóbal Highway on May 30, 1961 and made assassins out of family men and former trujillistas. Theirs are stories of men who were subjugated first through love and then through fear, and whose spirits were almost broken after years of giving of themselves to a man and a country that took it all and gave nothing in return except terror and betrayal. Their stories are moving, horrifying, and violent, and the individual motivations and the after effects of their collective actions, as portrayed by Vargas Llosa, are fascinating.
"They kill our fathers, our brothers, our friends. And now they’re killing our women. And here we sit, resigned, waiting our turn,” he heard himself say. Antonio (Tony) Imbert Barrera - Chapter 9
Vargas Llosa is known for successfully "depicting the effects of authoritarianism, violence and the abuse of power on the individual." The Feast of the Goat is an excellent example of this theme. He explores it through all three points of view, even that of Trujillo himself, as it is through him that the reader experiences how and why that power is abused and used to control collaborators and enemies alike. Previously I mentioned authoritarianism and paternalism, however Vargas Llosa goes further by portraying the Trujillo Era as a machista-run society and makes a connection between sex and power, where sex is used by Trujillo as a controlling tool to obtain and maintain his power.

Furthermore, in my opinion, where Vargas Llosa truly succeeds with The Feast of the Goat in his portrayal of the Latin American dictator and in his usage of a conversational, fast paced style that makes this historical fiction novel accessible to the reader. His inclusion of violence and torture is key and contributes to the sense of reality the reader experiences when confronted with true horror and terror. Torture and violence are not just words that are mentioned within the narration. Vargas Llosa brilliantly weaves in history and fiction to make this an excellent read.

There's so much more that I could say about The Feast of the Goat. This is a partial re-read for me, I first read it in Spanish, however this is my first attempt at reading the English translation. I would like to thank Mariana for encouraging me to re-read it in English for our book club. A note: I enjoyed this book this time around much more than the first time. Why? Well, the first time I didn't know anything about the history of the Dominican Republic and researched both history and characters as I read the book, this time I just enjoyed it. What I can tell you all is that both times the story haunted me for days after I finished it.

The Feast of the Goat (La Fiesta del Chivo) by Mario Vargas Llosa. Highly recommended.

Category: Historical Fiction
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1 edition / March 4, 2011 - Kindle Edition
First Read: B+
Grade: A

Note: I started a side blog Quotes and Thoughts that I will be using to post write ups on the books I'm reading, as I read them. Not reviews, just thoughts on specific moments in a story that catch my attention, or even to expand on a particular thread in a story while writing a review. I wrote two posts about The Feast of the Goat on that site:

Links to Quotes and Thoughts:
Sex and Power in The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa
The end justifies the means... The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Impressions: Good Girls Don't by Victoria Dahl

Too much of a good thing…
With her long ponytail and sparkling green eyes, Tessa Donovan looks more like the girl next door than a businesswoman—or a heartbreaker. Which may explain why Detective Luke Asher barely notices her when he arrives to investigate a break–in at her family's brewery. He's got his own problems—starting with the fact that his partner, Simone, is pregnant and everyone thinks he's the father.

Tessa has her hands full, too. Her brother's playboy ways may be threatening the business, and the tension could tear her tight–knit family apart. In fact, the only thing that could unite the Donovan boys is seeing a man come after their "baby" sister. Especially a man like Luke Asher. But Tessa sees past the rumors to the man beneath. He's not who people think he is—and neither is she.
Good Girls Don't by Victoria Dahl is a solid contemporary romance with excellent secondary characters. The central characters are the focus, even when the others make an impact. The main female protagonist is a bit immature, but is both fun and passionate. The dialogue and situations are amusing and keep the reader engaged. There were enough conflicts, both internal and external, to keep me interested in the story from beginning to end.

I loved the scenes between Tessa and Luke, they sizzled with passion and steam. Luke was a man worth having and I love the fact that he doesn't care when the brothers' interfere. He respects them, specially Eric, but not enough to give up the budding relationship he has going with Tessa. (LOL on the virgin scene). I loved that he stood up for his partner too without making excuses or having to give up that relationship for anyone.

Tessa is a first class manipulator and control freak and that's the main crux of her problem in this story. Manipulation and control that come by way of her fear of losing those she loves. She begins small throughout her life until she goes too far. Although fun and a bit of a contradiction because Tessa seems to be a rather sexy and independent woman on the surface, her character tends to be frustrating because of her tendency toward those immature actions and reactions, however, Dahl works out those issues satisfactorily in the end for Tessa and Luke.

Eric and Jamie are both strong and compelling secondary characters. Jamie as the spoiled and rather immature younger brother, fighting to show that he can and has changed, and Eric as the older brother that not only took charge of the business when his parents died in a tragic accident, but raised both his siblings and now has a problem letting go of that parental role.

Overall this is a contemporary romance that I enjoyed reading from beginning to end because of its mostly engaging characters and interesting, amusing circumstances. I'm really looking forward to reading the next book in this contemporary series, Bad Boys Do.

Category: Contemporary Romance
Series: Donovan Brothers Brewery
Publisher/Release Date: HQN Books/August 30, 2011
Grade: B

Visit Victoria Dahl here.

Good Girls Don't, Book 1
Bad Boys Do, Book 2 (Releases September 27, 2011)

ETA: Thanks to Leslie for her thorough review, it convinced me to read this book. :)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

August 2011 Reads, Quotes & Minis

Well, summer is officially over! I can't believe it. My August reading was a bit of a challenge, not because the books I read were not good, but because I had to struggle to squeeze them into my schedule during the month due to unexpected circumstances. Interestingly enough, although I didn't review many books during the month, there are a couple there that I predict will be included in my top ten list of favorite books read and reviewed at the end of the year.

This month I've decided to feature quotes from some of the books that I'll be reviewing in the near future. I've been collecting quotes lately, and I'll let you know the reason for that later... but for now, here are my reads for August and some of those quotes:

Totals Books Read: 12
Contemporary: 2 (Romance: 1 Erotic Romance: 1)
Historical Romance: 6
Paranormal Romance: 1
LGBT: 2 (Speculative Fiction: 1  Young Adult: 1)
Fantasy: 1
  • Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up edited by Steve Berman (Upcoming Review): This is an anthology written about and for LGBTQ young adults that is not to be missed. Here's a quote from the Introduction by Steve Berman, he says it best:
"I'm daydreaming as I type this -- the look on a fifteen-year-old Steve's face as future (or is that present? damn, time travel plays havoc with adjectives and tenses) me hands him an anthology of stories, all showcasing the self-esteem every LGBT kid needs. No, deserves. I'd probably be all mumbly-mouth, telling teenage Steve to read this story, that story. Well, I'd recommend he avoid the intro or else the entire space-time continuum might collapse around New Jersey (a risk in any era, let me tell you). That fifteen-year-old me would be able to face high school, then college, then his twenties without much of the fear of being alone, being different, being gay. He would know that the voice he used to entertain himself with odd stories could be heard by many who understood the daily trials (harassment by bullies, hiding from parents and straight friends).

Voices are meant to be heard."
  • Wilde Stories 2011: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction edited by Steve Berman (Upcoming Review): This is another anthology except that this one is all about that wonderful speculative fiction sub-genre that I love! There are some excellent stories in this anthology by authors whose works are new-to-me and that I'll be looking for in the future and others whose works I've read. A quote for you from Oneirica by Hal Duncan (Artefact II):
"I raise my own hand now, feel the weight of wood in it. I do not have to look to know that I'm holding  a mace or sceptre of sorts. I have been carrying it all along, the thyrsus of Dionysus and the club of Heracles, the staff of Prospero and the spear of Longinus, Odin's Gungnir and Sun Go-Ku's Rúyì-Jĩngũ-Bàng. It is the most modern magician's wand and the most ancient spearthrower. I squeeze it in my grasp and it shrinks to a twirlable size, sits comfortably between my fingers, a pen. There is no need for any statement of authority more grand than this, I think, not in this day and age. What was comfortable in one era as a humble reed with a wedge-shaped end, will be comfortable here and now as simple ballpoint. It is the most important of all these objects of power, I think -- though I am prejudiced, I suspect -- the original of all tools for shaping order and chaos."
  • Snowflakes and Stetsons: Western Christmas Wishes by Jillian Hart, Carol Finch, Cheryl St. John (Upcoming Review): This is a holiday anthology of the western historical romance kind... yeap! It's lovely and cozy and warm and just what I needed to read toward the end of this last month.  I know I'll be re-reading it during the holidays too... here's a quote from The Magical Gift at Christmas by Cheryl St. John:
She looked into his eyes.
"I will come back for you."
"I know."
"No one can find you here."
"We'll be fine, Jonah."

He wanted to kiss her. His gaze dropped to her lips, now chapped from the cold and wind, and he wanted to press his mouth against hers and feel her sweet warmth.

She knew what he was thinking, because her eyelids fluttered and even more color than what the cold created rose in her cheeks. "You may kiss me."

She never stopped surprising him.
This is the much anticipated sequel to A Companion to Wolves, a fascinating fantasy book that I read at the beginning of just this year. I'm a fan of Elizabeth Bear's writing, although I've never read anything else by Sarah Monette. I can tell you that this book is obviously the middle of what is shaping out to be a fantasy trilogy with Norse culture as its base, a fascinating study of the bond between man and animal, as well as relationships between the men, plus the social structures that they've built between themselves and those of other beings. It's a fascinating world full of nuances with plenty of room for exploration.
  • Unlocked by Courtney Milan: B-
This novella by Courtney Milan was a mixed bag for me. There were so many things to like... how well Courtney Milan developed both the characters and the situation between them in such short format is one of them. The fact that Evan had the courage to rectify a wrong in front of society was another. The way Lady Elaine Warren led her life and became nothing for a period of ten whole years, and the fact that she only came back to "life" because Evan saved her in front of society was not. There was something lacking in Elaine's character, she allowed herself to be broken by the ridicule of one man and one woman. Was there really no one else to see her for who she really was during those ten years?

There are a few other inconsistencies (the rope scene) and some of the dialogue that pulled me out of the story. I did like the unexpected way in which Evan and Diana worked out their differences, and that Milan developed a friendship between Evan and Elaine before their romance came to a conclusion. This made sense as she at least needed that space of time to reconcile her feelings for Evan. This novella is a rather inexpensive ebook and I would say worth reading.  
  • Temptation Island by Lorie O'Clare: B-
  • It's Always Been You by Victorial Dahl (Upcoming Review)
I read two books by Victoria Dahl in the space of a week, a historical romance and a contemporary. I'll tell you right now that I enjoyed the contemporary much more than the historical... this was a good romance, but not one that will stay with me. I will let you know more about it later. 
That's it for my August reads. Although I have yet to review three of my top reads for the month of August, from the books read and reviewed my top recommendations are The Many Sins of Lord Cameron by Jennifer Ashley, One Good Reason by Sarah Mayberry and Leah and The Bounty Hunter by Elaine Levine. I can tell you that September is already shaping out to be a good reading month for me. How about you? Any great reads in August?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Review: Leah and the Bounty Hunter by Elaine Levine

To Leah Morgan's mind, the last thing her hometown of Defiance needs is another gunman stalking its dusty streets—especially one as sweet-talking and fine-looking as Jace Gage. Despite her warnings, the infuriating man seems determined to meddle in her life and risk his own, all for a town that can't be saved and a heart she locked away long ago.

Professional bounty hunter Jace Gage has cleaned up plenty of corrupt towns in his lifetime, and he knows he can handle whatever Defiance's thugs have to offer. But the town's most lawful citizen is another story. Beautiful, willful and exasperating at every turn, Leah is the one person capable of bringing the ruthless gunslinger to his knees—and capturing his desire with a single kiss. . .
Defiance is a town besieged by gunmen and its sheriff. Most of the good men and women have left the town, although there are a few of them still left. Countless men have died in their attempt to kill the sheriff and save the town. Jace Gage, known as the Avenger, is a bounty hunter and known for cleaning up towns single-handed and moving on to the next one. As a last resort, the Marshal sends him in to take care of the gunmen and arrest the sheriff. Unfortunately Jace has also been charged with protecting Leah Morgan while he's in Defiance. After he meets Leah, Jace realizes that this is a task that might ultimately be tougher to achieve than dealing with the sheriff and his killers.

Leah grew up in Defiance and loves the town and its people. It's the only home she knows or remembers. Her mother died there after many years of taking the sheriff's abuse and her mentor Joseph, a mountain man, taught her how to take care of herself in the surrounding mountains. Leah wears men's clothing, shoots and hunts like a man and takes care of providing meat for the town during harsh winters. She is loved and protected by the townspeople of Defiance where she keeps her own little house and maintains the bread baking business that her mother left behind after her death.

This sounds familiar, the gunslinger and the girl dressed up like a boy, right? That's what I thought when I first began reading the book too. However, I was really taken with the characters and the western atmosphere in this story. The first thing that hit me was the "real feel" western atmosphere and the no holds barred violence used in the gun fight scenes, the meanness of the thugs, and the precarious situation in the town. Elaine Levine didn't skimp on those and it really set the stage for the story and for Jace as a character.

At the beginning of the book we're told that Jace is a bounty hunter and a gunslinger for hire, but pretty quickly Levine shows the reader that he's a real killer and a good one. Jace is a man with a tortured past, a past where he was deceived and paid a horrible price for trusting and loving. Leah also has a traumatic past and problems with trust, so it takes these two people a while to get over their baggage, although Leah holds on to hers longer than Jace.

Jace falls hard for Leah! He goes nuts for her. He's a man whose potential for violence and for going off the edge are well documented by Levine. His love for Leah saves him and he's not sure he can survive without it. I love that Jace doesn't really change but that his true personality comes forth with his love, although you can tell that the killer will always be there under the surface.

Leah's love is a bit more complex and I thought conditional. It takes her too long to see under the facade of the man that is Jace -- not that I totally blame her for not wanting a stone-cold killer as her man. Although tough and knowledgeable in many ways, Leah is immature and quite vulnerable as a woman. The way she grew up and the truths she learns along the way are all part of the problem and Levine shows the reader the reasons behind Leah's actions. Jace and Leah deserved to find each other, and I was glad when they found that happily ever after, especially Jace. I really enjoyed their passionate scenes together, which grow in heat as the story moves along.

The secondary characters are wonderful in this story too. The townspeople play a great role in making this story work, friends, thugs and villains alike. I particularly like the gray areas that Levine uses to develop some of the secondary characters... those pesky good guys that don't always wear the white hats. Good stuff.

All in all Leah and the Bounty Hunter is a western historical romance that I enjoyed more than expected because of its excellent atmosphere, good characterization and pacing. I particularly enjoyed Levine's characterization of Jace and the townspeople of Defiance.

Category: Historical Romance/Western
Series: Men of Defiance
Publisher/Release Date: Zebra/August 1, 2011
Source: Kensington Publishing
Grade: B

Visit Elaine Levine here.

Rachel and the Hired Gun
Audrey and the Maverick
Leah and the Bounty Hunter

Monday, September 5, 2011

New Releases: September 2011

Hey, two posts in one day! I've been away and missed you all... but I've had a few family emergencies that have kept me away from it all lately. We all had a tough month trying to deal with the facts of life and death after a family member was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer early in August and passed away this last week. I've been away from home for almost a week again and just got back. I hope to catch up with all of you soon after I recuperate and get some much needed rest.

But first, well... I haven't highlighted new releases during this whole crazy, busy summer that took over this year. However, summer is almost over and there are quite a few books in September that I'm looking forward to reading and would love to highlight.

As always I read and look forward to a lot more than the books that I feature in my posts, but I do like to feature a good mixture of the books that I read during the month. Here I go:


Title: Demon Marked by Meljean Brook (Guardian Series, #7)
Release Date: September 6, 2011
Publisher: Berkley
Category: Paranormal Romance
Nicholas St. Croix is familiar with the evil of demons. After his father’s death, a demon took over his mother’s body and raised him. Six years ago, his “mother” was responsible for the disappearance of the woman he loved, and Nicholas swore he’d find her—even if he had to go to Hell and back. Except she finds him first—and with one tormented kiss, he knows she too is a demon. Now he is determined to take his revenge…

Ash is a half-demon with no memory of her past or how she got to Hell. All she knows is that Nicholas St. Croix holds the key to her identity. And though he’s clearly drawn to her, Nicholas makes no secret of his distrust of her. Yet one kiss at a time, he breaks down her defenses as they battle an array of demons and Guardians. But is Ash’s greatest enemy the man at her side?
I love, love this paranormal series by Meljean Brook! It's one of my top two favorite PNR series and I've found myself anxiously awaiting this book's release this whole year. I heard that an end to this series has been announced and as much as I love it, I'm fine with that. I prefer a good ending to a great series, than a slow and tortuous death. For me, this is a series that hasn't lost its momentum or appeal. I will read this book as soon as it hits my Kindle on September 6th!


Title: Kissing Comfort by Jo Goodman
Release Date: September 6, 2011
Publisher: Berkley
Category: Historical Romance
Bode DeLong knows that his playboy brother Bram isn't really in love with Miss Comfort Kennedy, even though it's clear that she's enamored with him. With Bram's motives for the engagement suspect, Bode figures the safest place for Comfort to be is in his arms. Now, Bode just needs to convince Comfort that the childhood fancy she has for his brother is no match for the incredible desire that sparks between them every time they touch.
I love my western historical romances (although I don't read nearly enough of them!) and Jo Goodman is one of those authors whose new releases I look forward to reading. Kissing Comfort has been on my list for a while and will definitely be read this month.


Title: Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up edited by Steve Berman
Release Date: September 20, 2011
Publisher: Bold Stroke Books, Inc.
Category: LGBTQ Young Adult - Anthology
Speaking Out features stories for and about LGBT and Q teens by fresh voices and noted authors in the field of young adult literature. These are inspiring stories of overcoming adversity (against intolerance and homophobia) and experiencing life after "coming out." Queer teens need tales of what might happen next in their lives, and editor Steve Berman showcases a diversity of events, challenges, and, especially, triumphs.
This is an anthology that looks great not only because the authors involved are really excellent writers, but because of the content and its importance and relevance for LGBTQ young adults. I'm looking forward to reading all the stories... but hey, some favorite authors are included: Rigoberto González (From Macho to Mariposa Anthology), Alex Jeffers (The Abode of Bliss), Steve Berman (Vintage: A Ghost Story), Jeffrey Ricker (Fool for Love Anthology and New Normal), and Sandra McDonald (Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories). I'm looking forward to "discovering" new favorites in there too.


Title: Snowflakes and Stetsons by Jillian Hart, Carol Finch and Cheryl St. John
Release Date: September 20, 2011 (October 1, 2011)
Publisher: Harlequin
Category: Historical Romance - Holiday Anthology
The Cowboy's Christmas Miracle by Jillian Hart

Wrongly imprisoned, Caleb McGraw is finally free—but the bitterness he holds still makes him feel trapped. Until he sees the beautiful Caroline holding a little boy with eyes just like his own. Discovering his long-lost son is just the start of Caleb's Christmas miracles!

Christmas at Cahill Crossing by Carol Finch

One Christmas night, outcast Lucas Burnett finds a silver-haired angel buried in the snow. But Rosalie Greer is no pale spirit—she's a fiery, independent woman, as wild as the mustangs Lucas breeds. Can she be the one to finally thaw Lucas's frozen heart?

A Magical Gift at Christmas by Cheryl St.John

Meredith has always dreamed of a grand life but, stranded on a train in heavy snowfall with two young stowaways, she unexpectedly finds she has everything she needs with just one strong man to protect her….
Again, I love my westerns, and a good cozy, warm holiday story set in the historical west does it for me too. This anthology features a story by Cheryl St. John, and well... she has become a favorite author for me in the past couple of years because she writes those wonderful Harlequin historical westerns so full of love and warmth and that makes this a read to look forward to already. I haven't read anything by Carol Finch or Jillian Hart before, so those will be new-to-me authors this year and I always look forward to "discovering" those. :)

Note: I have TWO release dates for this book. Well... I found two of them and it can be a bit confusing... Goodreads has September 20th and Amazon has October 1st. I usually go with Amazon's release date, but if you're interested in reading this anthology I suggest you begin looking for it after September 20th. 


Title: a + ɘ 4EVER by I. Merey
Release Date: September 25, 2011
Publisher: Lethe Press
Category: LGBTQ Young Adult - Graphic Novel
Asher Machnik is a teenage boy cursed with a beautiful androgynous face, boys punch him girls slag him and by high school he's developed an intense fear of being touched. Art remains his only escape from an otherwise emotionally empty life.

Eulalie Mason is the lonely, tough-talking dyke from school who befriends Ash. The only one to see and accept all of his sides as a loner, a fellow artist and a best friend, she's starting to wonder if Ash is ever going to see all of her...

a + ɘ 4EVER is a graphic novel set in that ambiguous crossroads where love and friendship, boy and girl, straight and gay meet. It goes where few books have ventured, into genderqueer life, where affections aren't black and white.
This is an LGBTQ young adult graphic novel I have for review from Lethe Press. I haven't read a graphic novel in a long while, this one just looks really good. I've skimmed it a few times, but I'm really looking forward to settling down and reading it from beginning to end.


Title: Bad Boys Do (Donovan Brothers Brewery #2) by Victoria Dahl
Release Date: September 27, 2011
Publisher: Harlequin
Category: Contemporary Romance
Olivia Bishop is no fun. That’s what her ex-husband said. That’s what her smart bob and glasses imply. And with her trademark determination, Olivia sets out to remake her life. She’s going to spend time with her girlfriends and not throw it all away for some man. But when an outing with her book club leads her to a brewery taproom, the dark-haired beauty realizes that trouble – in the form of sexy Jamie Donovan – may be too tempting to avoid.

Jamie Donovan doesn’t mean to be bad. Sure, the wild streak in his wicked green eyes has lured the ladies before. But it’s time to grow up. He’s even ready for a serious romance. But how can that be when Olivia, the only right woman he has ever met, already has him pegged as wrong.
Have you read the first book in this contemporary romance series? It's Good Girls Don't, and it's definitely a solid and true contemporary romance -- when I say "true" I mean nothing chic lit(ty) about it. I'm really encouraged by the fact that I've read a few of those this year. I DO love my women's fiction... and a good "chic lit(ty)" book hits the spot here and there, but, but, but... contemporary romance novels are my bread and butter, my chicken soup, my comfort reads, my all time favorites and I've MISSED THEM!! So this is a good thing. :D


What about you? What books are you looking forward to reading in September? Any good recommendations?

Review: Temptation Island by Lorie O'Clare

Hawaiian Heat

Ric Karaka knows he can transform the rundown plantation house he's inherited into a profitable bed-and-breakfast, but he needs money to get things off the ground. Hopefully he can procure the financing from a wealthy old lady who's coming to Hawaii to meet him for the first time. . .

Tropical Temptation

So it's a shock when the woman who arrives is not only young but gorgeous and incredibly sexy. Ric figures he's got nothing to lose by inviting Jenny to come to the plantation and take a look around. . .

Sultry Surrender

Ric knows his future is at stake, but once they're alone he can't resist exploring every inch of Jenny's beautiful body. With each kiss and caress his lust is aroused and together they begin an erotic adventure they'll never forget. . .
Temptation Island by Lorie O'Clare is an erotic romance with a story. Jenny wins a trip to Hawaii while participating in her Nana's favorite game show Last Chance for Happiness. Nana is the only person left in her life and this makes her happy, so Jenny decides to go on the Hawaiian trip on her own. The flight is late departing and while waiting she meets Samantha, an older wealthy lady who's also waiting to board the airplane. The lady takes a look at Jenny's itinerary and they both realize that there are certain clauses that will make it impossible for Jenny to afford the hotel or expenses if she arrives late to the island.

Samantha orders her assistants to send for her private jet and since she likes Jenny's honesty and candor, she proposes that Jenny go to the island in her stead. All Jenny has to do is meet with the people Samantha herself has in her agenda and then call her with first impressions and thoughts. In return, Jenny can have her Hawaiian vacation. Jenny agrees.

Ric Karaka is one of those people in Samantha's meeting agenda. He's looking forward to meeting with her and hopes she'll fall in love with his banana plantation and agrees to finance his plans to make it a bed-and-breakfast. But there's another more important reason he wants to meet Samantha.

Ric lived in foster care all of his life after his mother died giving birth to him, and after many years of looking found his father's family in Hawaii. Meeting Samantha will give him the opportunity of meeting his maternal grandmother for the first time and he's anxiously awaiting to meet and embrace this woman. Instead at their first meeting he finds Jenny, and his hurt, anger, frustration and feelings of rejection are there for all to see.

I liked both Ric and Jenny. Jenny is from a small town and awed by Hawaii's beauty and the splendor of it all, and she is candid but has excellent insight. She cares about her grandmother and family because she has so little left in that area and appreciates relationships. Ric's childhood and love starved past has scarred him to a certain degree, but he went looking for his family and is forging those bonds with his grandparents, uncles and cousins. He's not too bitter to do so and that's a plus about his character.

Of course the two of them are immediately attracted to each other and there are some really hot scenes in that banana plantation! The two of them do sizzle together with sexual tension and later, once they get going, in their scenes together between the sheets (and out of them). However, I must say that before they get going the first sexual encounter between them is a bit uncomfortable with Jenny saying no, yes, no, yes... and Ric saying yes. That sort of reaction always pulls me out of the moment and this was no exception.

Ric and Jenny do have to deal with more than just his past childhood, the grandmother and their growing attraction. Ric is also dealing with businessmen who want to buy his property and turn it into a resort for the wealthy, limiting income for the local community. Jenny finds herself in the middle of Ric's emotional situation with his grandmother and later on in the middle of his business situation. So there's more than one issue going on in this story and with these characters. I like the way Jenny deals with most of them.

There are enough scenes to make Temptation Island an erotic romance without making it all about the sex. The story behind the scenes is developed enough although left somewhat unfinished with some details missing at the end. However, the atmosphere is good and O'Clare did a great job describing the beautiful setting. The characters are really quite likable with plenty of chemistry, and there's enough there at the end to make me believe that Ric and Jenny will have a future together.

Category: Contemporary Erotic Romance
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Aphrodesia/August 1, 2011
Source: Kensington Publishing
Grade: B-

Visit Lorie O'Clare here.