Monday, January 31, 2011

Review: Passions of a Wicked Earl by Lorraine Heath

Known throughout for his prowess in the bedroom, Morgan Lyons, the eighth Earl of Westcliffe, cannot forgive an unpardonable affront to his honor. Discovering his young bride in the arms of his brother was a staggering blow—so he banished the beautiful deceiver to the country and devoted himself to the pursuit of carnal pleasure.

Claire Lyons was an innocent, frightened girl on her wedding day, seeking chaste comfort from a childhood friend. Now, years later, she has blossomed magnificently and has returned to London with one goal in mind: the seduction of her notorious husband. Unskilled in the sensual arts, she burns nonetheless for the kisses too long denied her. And she has but one Season to win back the heart of the rogue she betrayed.

They are masters of seduction, London's greatest lovers. Living for pleasure, they will give their hearts to no one . . . until love takes them by surprise.
Passions of a Wicked Earl is the first book in Lorraine Heath's latest historical romance series, London's Greatest Lovers. It's an excellent beginning to a series that focuses on three brothers, their dysfunctional family relationship, sensual exploits and eventual happy endings.

Plotting devices used: the big misunderstanding; the brooding, jealous, possessive, passionate hero; the innocent, virginal, strong, passionate heroine; the wicked mistress; the estranged brothers; the scandalous family. Heath makes all these devices work with few exceptions.

The series begins by focusing on Morgan Lyons, the Earl of Westcliffe, and his troubled marriage to Clare Lyons. As the book summary above explains, this couple is estranged with good reasons. Morgan believes Clare betrayed him with his brother Stephen on their wedding night and there's no way he can forgive her. Clare understands his position and feels guilt, but is determined to make him understand her own position, gain forgiveness and a true marriage.

Clare and Westcliffe's marriage was arranged by contract. Clare was engaged to Westcliffe at birth and neither had a real choice. The difference is that although Westcliffe needed Clare's dowry, he was also content with the choice that was made for him. On the other hand, at barely seventeen years of age Clare was terrified of her serious husband-to-be. The events that occurred on Westcliffe and Clare's wedding night devastated their lives and in the process ruined the brothers' relationship.

Three years later Clare leaves her exile in the country and comes to London in the hopes that Westcliffe will help her sponsor her sister's first Season, and will give their marriage a second chance. Heath develops Clare and Westcliffe's relationship throughout the story. They don't become a "couple" for a while and as such, they grew on me slowly. I was initially taken with Westcliffe's feelings and situation. His was more of an emotional character than I expected and Heath did a wonderful job in conveying his deep pain, his passion for Clare and the reasons he was so reluctant to admit those feelings. Westcliffe was a dark, brooding and passionate character. Of course, he was also unfaithful to Clare throughout their marriage, but this was also understandable and part of their desperate situation.

At first I had my doubts about Clare, however she grew on me quite rapidly. She knew it would be tough to go to London and regain Morgan's trust, yet she took the chance for her sister's sake and for herself. Clare showed both strength and maturity and was admirable for both. Even when she became aware that Westcliffe had a current mistress, Clare didn't give up on her marriage and fought for it.

Morgan's relationship with his mistress Anne is where I find the weakness in this story. It didn't bother me that Westcliffe was having this relationship while married to Clare, Heath explains that situation quite well. However, the relationship just goes on for too long after he knows she is not for him. I know Anne's the wicked mistress, but I couldn't make up my mind weather Westcliffe was being wishy-washy or bordering on cruel by keeping Anne on the side for that long. I found the final resolution to Anne and Westcliffe's relationship unexpected and overly dramatic.

My favorite secondary characters are Westcliffe's scandalous mother, the Duchess of Ainsley, and her younger lover Leo. The most intriguing secondary character for me is the Duke of Ainsley, Westcliffe's youngest brother. I can't wait to find out what makes him tick.

I really enjoyed Passions of a Wicked Earl. It's a quick read and an enjoyable historical romance with interesting characters and a passionate story line. I like the way Heath uses standard historical romance plotting devices and makes it all work. I'll be reading the second book, Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman, Stephen's story. His was the most superficial character in this first book, but hopefully there's more to him.

Category: Historical Romance
Series: London's Greatest Lovers
Release Date: Avon - October 26, 2010
Grade: B+

Visit Lorraine Heath here.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Review: In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming

It's a cold, snowy December in the upstate New York town of Millers Kill, and newly ordained Clare Fergusson is on thin ice as the first female priest of its small Episcopal church. The ancient regime running the parish covertly demands that she prove herself as a leader. However, her blunt manner, honed by years as an army pilot, is meeting with a chilly reception from some members of her congregation and Chief of Police Russ Van Alystyne, in particular, doesn't know what to make of her, or how to address "a lady priest" for that matter.

The last thing she needs is trouble, but that is exactly what she finds. When a newborn baby is abandoned on the church stairs and a young mother is brutally murdered, Clare has to pick her way through the secrets and silence that shadow that town like the ever-present Adirondack mountains. As the days dwindle down and the attraction between the avowed priest and the married police chief grows, Clare will need all her faith, tenacity, and courage to stand fast against a killer's icy heart.
In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming is the first book in a contemporary mystery series with an 'updated' cozy style. The setting is the small New York town of Millers Kill in the Adirondack Mountains which provides this story with wonderful atmosphere. The place is perfect for the mystery/police-procedural plot as well as the interesting situations and characters.

The characters are what really caught my attention in this initial installment, particularly Clare. She is Rev. Clare Fergusson, the new priest at the town's Episcopal church. However she doesn't turn out to be your typical priest, Clare is also an ex-military helicopter pilot and you can tell there's history there. She's a tough, down-to-earth, no-nonsense woman who wants to know her community and give them more than spiritual guidance. The other central character is Chief of Police Russ Van Alystyne. He is more typical of this type of character: middle-aged, fairly good looking, married, ex-army, a bit cynical and disenchanted with life, but protective of his small town.

Ms. Spencer-Fleming's focus in this first installment is in developing the relationship between the central characters and to some extent revealing parts of their lives. The secondary characters are also well drawn and memorable. Having said that, it is also interesting how the author draws key characters that hover invisibly yet don't appear in the story. For example: Russ' wife, Linda, and his mother are both mentioned repeatedly. Linda in particular is a presence, yet neither character makes a single appearance even though they live in a small town. I'm hoping to meet these characters later on in the series.

The author's focus pays off and there's excellent development in the way the friendship between Russ and Clare evolves. As the friendship deepens, their commonalities come to the surface. Military background is the initial factor, but slowly they realize that even though one is a cop and the other a priest, both need to serve their community. Russ feels responsible for the town and its people -- protect and serve. Clare feels responsible for their spiritual lives and personal well-being -- serve and provide.

Despite the fact that Clare is a priest and there are moments in this book where spirituality comes into play, the fact that Russ is agnostic seems to balance the scales in that respect and the story doesn't come off as preachy. In fact as their friendship evolves, what Clare most appreciates about Russ is that he sees/treats her as a regular person (as Clare) and not as a priest. In turn, Russ appreciates the fact that he can find understanding when sharing his professional burdens with Clare. The reader experiences the great connection between these two people as they become friends, as well as a slow-building, subtle chemistry.

The mystery plot is a bit of ride. A baby is abandoned at the church steps and a young girl is found murdered. Clare and her parish are involved in both these events from the beginning and she and Russ wind up investigating both situations together. During the investigation, Spencer-Fleming touches on social issues, mainly on the plight of underprivileged pregnant teenage girls and what can or should be done to help educate them to stop the cycle of poverty.

There's a slew of suspects, red-herrings are used as a device, and Russ acts a bit like a typical cynical cop while Clare refuses to believe good people are capable of murder. They both err, but Clare makes grave mistakes along the way and her impulsive actions gave me more than a few anxious moments. It's interesting because I usually chuck these actions to lack of judgment, but in Clare's case I saw them more as part of her humanity and in some instances due to her "vocation." I had a few other niggles to do with the mystery, but nothing significant.

This is not a romance. Russ is married, Clare is a priest and they're friends. Yet, as I mentioned above, there's chemistry and a building attraction between these two people. This is interesting and a bit controversial with the Chief married and Clare a woman of the cloth, yes? I certainly want to know what happens next.

This was an enjoyable mystery with well-developed and interesting human characters, plotting and a lovely setting. I definitely want to see how this series evolves and will read the second book, A Fountain Filled with Blood.

Thanks to Orannia for the recommendation.

Category: Mystery
Series: Rev. Clare Fergusson and Chief of Police Russ Van Alystyne Mystery, Book 1
Release Date: Minotaur Books; April 1, 2010 - Kindle Edition
Grade: B+

Visit Julia Spencer-Fleming here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Mini: Deeply, Desperately (Lucy Valentine, Book 2) by Heather Webber

Lucy wants to breathe new life into her family's Boston-based matchmaking company. But how? Even though she comes from a long line of ancestors blessed by Cupid with psychic abilities, a freak accident left Lucy with only one special skill: finding things. Car keys, socks in the dryer, needles in haystacks...and now, in a stroke of professional genius, lost loves!

It's not long before Lucy's on a winning streak, helping old flames reunite and create new sparks. Business is booming. But when Lucy finds herself involved in a possible case of murder, she realizes she's in too deep. Enter Sean Donahue. Lucy's handsome fire-fighter-turned private eye neighbor, Sean is just the man she needs to help her on the job. Could he also be the man she's been looking for all along? When it comes to Valentine, Inc., falling in love is always serious business...
What can I say, I love Lucy Valentine's character. Deeply, Desperately is the second book in Heather Webber's mystery/romance series. This is a light mystery series where the main story line is woven into the central character's personal life as other issues arise. The cast of characters, situations, dialogue and interactions are what make the story interesting. The way Lucy processes information (first point of view) and her personal relationships with parents, friends and Sean are what make these stories so enjoyable for me. I enjoyed Deeply, Desperately more than the first book and that's probably due to the fact that the Truly, Madly served as the "set-up" book for the series.

I really like the way Webber is developing Sean and Lucy's relationship. The romance is slow-going, fun and light. There's a bit of self-analysis on Lucy's part with plenty of kissing and "fooling around," but so far there are no explicit sexual encounters in these books. In this instance, the lack of heavy sexual scenes mesh well with the rest the plot, making the whole light and balanced.

In this book, I especially loved the way Lucy patiently and maturely fought for Sean and their relationship. Smart girl! The mystery is lighter and less of a factor than in the first installment, but it was still fun to follow Lucy's adventures. Particularly as it features Lucy working with Preston Bailey, the female reporter who drives her up a wall. I loved the turn of events with her childhood girlfriends, and the personal revelations in this book should make the next book, Absolutely, Positively, an even more interesting read.

Category: Contemporary Paranormal/Mystery
Series: Lucy Valentine Series
Released: August 3, 2010
Grade: B

Visit Heather Webber here.

Truly, Madly, Book 1
Deeply, Desperately, Book 2
Absolutely, Positively, Book 3 (Coming Feb 1, 2011)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

On Winning and Book Shopping!

Last week I won a gift certificate after completing the 2010 Re-read Challenge. Nath was quite generous! So, you all know I went book shopping! I decided to purchase some books I had on my "books to buy" list.

Quite a few of these books are recommendations by other bloggers. Here's my haul:

Earlier this month I mentioned that I wanted to continue reading the Guild Hunter series by Nalini Singh. I took this opportunity to buy the second book in the series, Archangel's Kiss. If I like it as much as I did the first book, I'll be sure to buy Archangel's Consort soon enough. :D

Simply Irresistible by Jill Shalvis is a book I've been wanting to buy ever since I saw Leslie's review! I've read a few of Shalvis' books and category romances and love her style, so this is a book that will be read soon quite soon.

And continuing with recommendations from other bloggers, I read an excellent review by Lori for The Perfect Family by Kathryn Shay and immediately wanted to read this ohhh so interesting sounding contemporary.

Then of course I had to buy one more contemporary, and this one a recommendation from Nath! Welcome to Harmony by Jodi Thomas was not a book that received high scores, but it was one that, nevertheless, caught my attention. It just seems to be the type of book I will enjoy. Let's see. :D

I loved A Perfect Hero by Suzanne Enoch and when I heard Rules of an Engagement was coming out I was quite excited! Of course I placed it on my "to buy" list and it stayed there... now I have it and will read it. :D

Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman is the second book in Lorraine Heath's London's Greatest Lovers series. I've heard MUCH about this series (Leslie!) and I have the first book in my TBR already, but on the hopes that I will love it, went ahead and purchased the second book. :D

AND, last but not least, Worth Any Price by Lisa Kleypas is a replacement purchase. My old copy was well... old, and used and... old! I decided that as a tribute to the Re-Read Challenge I would replace a book that I love to re-read.  It was time to replace this one with a fresh copy so I can re-read it and enjoy it for a long, long time. :D

That's it! I think I did pretty well with that gift certificate. Thank you Nath!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Review: Shadowfever (Fever Series, Book 5) by Karen Marie Moning

I'll begin by saying that there's no way to write this review without giving away some spoilers. This is the last book in a series of five, plus in order to really get into the story and express my thoughts, I must refer to characters and events.

Book Summary:
Shadowfever begins where Dreamfever ends, with Mac killing the Beast that protected her while she was lost in one of the Silver's dimensions. As the Beast turns into a human, she finds out this beast is none other than Jericho Barrons. Mac is grief-stricken and through that grief, comes to terms with her feelings for Barrons and comes to the decision that she wants him back. The outcome of her deep, dark grief is again one more transformation. When she looks into herself, she accesses a dark place where she can conjure runes to protect herself and/or bind others, mainly the Fae.

Mac proceeds to align herself with Darroc, the Lord Master, in order to get whatever information he has gained about the Sinsar Dubh. He appears with the Unseelie Princes, and after coming to an understanding, agrees to take Mac out the Silvers. In order to get back to Dublin, Darroc must use a Silver and he takes Mac through the Unseelie King's concubine's White Mansion where some of Mac's buried memories come to the forefront.

But all is not as it seems, and Barrons is not dead. A chain of events unfolds where, through reading different translated prophecies and experiences dreams and recollections, Mac ends up questioning her origins. In the meantime, after Mac rescues the Seelie Queen from certain death, the hunt for the Sinsar Dubh is redoubled and all the interested parties assemble in Dublin. The McKeltars come from Scotland and join the fray, Rowena and the Sidhee-seers are at the center of it all, as are V'lane, the Seelie and Barrons men. Everyone wants the Sinsar Dubh, and most of them want Mac dead.

I'm a fan of Karen Marie Moning's work and when I began reading this series, I was excited and thought that the story was quite interesting. I still think the story behind the series, the battle between the Seelie and Unseelie, their lore and how humans and the Sidhe-seers come into it, is fascinating. As a matter of fact, I spent countless hours doing background research and I still have copious notes, including the sequence of events, characters, etc. Having said all that, the Fever series as a whole has been inconsistent for me -- I enjoyed the second book and the rest were inconsistent or disappointing.  When it comes to Shadowfever well... in many ways it provided what I know many were looking for: a happily ever after and the answer to some questions. However, for me personally, the book was a disappointment. Here is why.

By the time Mac finished processing the fact that she killed the Beast, or Barrons, I was already tired. Where did that come from? I understand that she felt guilt, that there was lust between them and dependency on her part. But where did love come into it? The long, interminable diatribe we were treated to at the beginning of the book served no other purpose than to set up the following scene. Mac's transformation, again! Yes... because of her actions, guilt, and need to erase those actions, she transforms and (gasp) gains ADDITIONAL powers. This device was used to death in this series, and became a predictable device.

Throughout the series, Moning uses long and involved internal dialogues to develop Mac and to narrate her story. However, in Shadowfever this style is used to an extreme. There are pages and pages where Mac contradicts herself over and over again throughout the whole book. This often served to confuse and distract the reader. After a while, all it achieved was frustrate me and yes... I wanted to skim Mac's prolonged and contradictory self-analyses. I couldn't stand her thoughts any longer and just wanted to get on with the story. Period.

As a female protagonist/heroine, Mac left a lot to be desired. I was not impressed. She was manipulated by all the males around her, and the ones with the real "Power" were ALL male: Barrons, V'lane, Darroc, the Unseelie King, the Sinsar Dubh (yes), and Ryodan. She depended on them, one way or another, to do what she had to do. They played her like a violin. I don't care how many transformations she had to make her into a "kick ass-type heroine," Mac wasn't strong for herself, instead she was strong for others or because of others.

Then we come to Barrons and the "romance." Barrons treatment of Mac is explained away by making him part Beast, yet even when he is a man... his treatment is questionable. He is often violent, possessive and downright abusive at times (both verbally and physically). They fight and have sex and that's supposedly where they truly understand each other. How is that supposed to be romantic? It's not. Mac's see-sawing, back and forth feelings for Barrons continue in this book! No, it's not over after she realizes he's alive... it goes on and on. Yet, they do come to a sort of mutual emotional understanding and dependency by the end. I still think that in order to call it love, that relationship needs further development.

There are resolutions to some of the threads, and some of those resolutions are good -- some predictable and others not. There's a "happily ever after" for one couple in the book that was unexpected,  and there are plenty of betrayals by both friends and foes. We are told there are battles, although few of those are shown, and characters from the whole series make appearances.

As to the rest of the storyarc, there were threads left incomplete left and right, and some that didn't seem to serve a real purpose. For example: The McKeltars were a waste of pages read, what was the point? Christian McKeltar plays a key role in this book and series, yet his story is left incomplete. Barron's story is also left incomplete -- although some details are revealed about his past to pacify readers, there's no meat to his story, no in-depth details or revelations. Dani has her own point of view in Shadowfever, yet she disappears and is absent at the end, leaving the reader wondering what happened to her. And last, but certainly not least, the most important story line of them all! The Seelie and Unseelie, the wall and their battle? Incomplete.
    So what does that tell this reader, apart from the fact that the book finishes with "The End .... for now?" Well, it says that either this series' "ending" is riddled with holes, or that there will be a continuation that will involve all the above mentioned story lines. And for me neither is acceptable, not when this book was supposed to be THE END to this series.

    Category: Urban Fantasy/Romance
    Series: Fever Series, Book 5
    Release Date: January 18, 2011
    Grade: D

    Visit Karen Marie Moning here.

    Challenges & a Thank You!

    I would like to thank Nath of Books, Books and More Books. Nath hosted one of my favorite Challenges last year, the 2010 Re-Reading Challenge.

    Last week she had a big surprise on her blog! She gave away a $50.00 Gift Certificate to the person who completed the challenge on time every month. That lucky person was me!

    So, thank you Nath not only for your generosity, but for all those hours of re-reading pleasure I enjoyed in 2010 because of your Challenge.

    2011: In-Death Challenge

    It's that time of the year again where we announce Challenges joined for the new year. Well, a little late for me, since it's almost the end of the month, but better late than never, right?

    There are many wonderful challenges out there this year that I wanted to join (the TBR Challenge!). Unfortunately, due to my limited time, I've decided to keep my participation down to the already announced 2011 Book Club: The Women of Fantasy and the following monthly challenge.

    This is a Challenge that I began in 2010 and I will continue in 2011. The In-Death Challenge is hosted by Christine of The happily ever after... and it's one where new readers begin and continue with this wonderful series, or fans can re-read along or just pick up the new releases and join in. It's fun!

    Last year, I read the first 7 books in the series and am hoping to read at least 12 in 2011. I already have a page where I keep a list of books read with links to reviews, and will continue to use it. You can read the details for this challenge and follow my progress here.

    Saturday, January 22, 2011

    2011 Book Club: The Women of Fantasy

    I've been dithering this whole month about weather or not I should join Challenges or Book Clubs. Mainly due to my new work schedule. If I make a commitment, I always do my best to come through unless it's out of my hands. However, The Women of Fantasy Book Club, hosted by Erika of Jawas Read, Too!, is just the perfect fit for me this year.

    Reading more fantasy is a personal goal I set for myself at the beginning of the year. I was planning to read some of the books and/or works by authors that are listed as part of this book club. So, why not join, right? Plus, Erika made it easy... not all 12 books need to be read for the year, only those that interest me.


    All year we’ll be reading books published by female authors in the Fantasy genre. Some are older titles, some newer, but all look to be amazing reads. Participants can join in the discussion in one of the months, all twelve, or a random selection from the entire year. It is up to the reader!

    There will be 12 books—a different one for each month. Readers will have the entire month to read that selection. At the end of each month, there will be a review/discussion post at Jawas Read, Too! where Erika (1) reviews the book and (2) welcomes comments and discussion. Discussions pertaining the book will be held. Comments or links to reviews (if one is written) every month or any month are not necessary in order to participate.

    Instead of having links in several different locations all of the pertinent information for this challenge will be on this page. It will serve as a hub for easy access to previous month’s reviews and discussions throughout 2011.


    So what books do I want to read? Well, I actually have the first book on the list The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jesimin in my TBR pile and will read it this year. However, I just began reading the first book Elizabeth Bear's Promethean Age series, Blood and Iron, and want to finish it this month. This is a series I've had in my TBR for a while and really want to explore, together with series by other female fantasy writers, Robin Hobb, Tanith Lee, and others. I will eventually read other books included in the list provided by the book club, but for now I've chosen the following four:

    March 2011
    Prospero Lost
    L. Jagi Lamplighter
    April 2011
    Four and Twenty Blackbirds
    Cherie Priest

    June 2011
    The Dark Mirror
    Juliet Marillier
    September 2011
    Mercedes Lackey

    Check it out, this is a fun Book Club! Plus, it's being done in conjunction with Dreams and Speculation's 2011 Book Club: The Women of Science Fiction.

    I will keep you all updated on my progress at the bottom of this page with links to my reviews. And a cross link from my review to this page in future posts.

    1) Prospero Lost by L. Jagi Lamplighter - DNF
    2) Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cheri Priest - Grade B-
    3) The Dark Mirror by Juliet Marillier - DNF

    Tuesday, January 18, 2011

    ARC Review: The Sea Thy Mistress (The Edda of Burdens Series, Book 3) by Elizabeth Bear

    This direct sequel to Elizabeth Bear’s highly acclaimed All the Windwracked Stars picks up the story some fifty years after Muire went into the sea and became the new Bearer of Burdens.

    Beautiful Cathoair, now an immortal warrior angel, has been called back to the city of Eiledon to raise his son--Muire’s son as well, cast up on shore as an infant. It is seemingly a quiet life. But deadly danger approaches…the evil goddess Heythe, who engineered the death of Valdyrgard, has travelled forward in time on her rainbow steed. She came expecting to gloat over a dead world, the proof of her revenge, but instead she finds a Rekindled land, renewed by Muire’s sacrifice.

    Book Summary:
    It is fifty years after Muire sacrificed herself and became the Bearer of Burdens. Cathoair is an einherjar and lives a life of service on the road helping others, as an almost dead world slowly comes to life due to Muire's sacrifice. But Cathoair returns to Eiledon after he's informed that he and Muire had a son. Raising Cathmar gives him a reason to settle into a quiet life by the sea.

    A few years later, their idyllic life is disrupted when Cathmar becomes a teenager and dark changes befall them. The goddess Heythe has returned just as promised when she abandoned the world she destroyed and as the Children of Light fought their last doomed battle by the sea. She travelled through time to find proof that her destruction was complete. Instead two thousand years later, Haythe finds a renewed world saved by Muire, the new Bearer of Burdens. Heythe the destroyer won't stop until this new world is erased from existence. Unbeknown to Cathoair and Cathmar, she targets and torments them in the hopes that the Bearer of Burdens will come to their rescue. But Mingan, the Grey Wolf, knows his old nemesis Heythe has returned and this time he'll do whatever is necessary to defeat her.

    Impressions of The Edda of Burdens Books 1 & 2:
    In All The Windwracked Stars, an unforgettable book that captured my imagination, Elizabeth Bear began this series of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic endings and new beginnings by focusing on Muire's quest and weaving a story that was both dark and full of hope. There, Muire witnessed an apocalypse and the destruction of her brothers and sisters, the Children of Light. In a renewed world that was again dying, she fought an old evil in the Grey Wolf and a new one in the Technomancer and through battle, sacrifice and forgiveness saved the world from a second apocalypse.

    In the second installment, By The Mountain Bound, Bear goes back in time and writes a tragic tale worthy of Norse mythology giving the reader a better understanding of her world and characters. Although the events unfold through all three central characters' points of view -- Muire the Historian, Strifbjorn the Warrior, and Mingan the Wolf -- it is the invaluable in-depth insight into the Grey Wolf's motivations and history that resonates in this story. By the Mountain Bound ends where All The Windwracked Stars begins giving the reader a complete understanding of events past and present and making it a darkly emotional, compelling tale of love and betrayal, particularly as the reader already knows how the story ends.

    With The Sea Thy Mistress, Elizabeth Bear concludes The Edda of Burdens trilogy by going forward in time to about fifty years after Muire's sacrifice and completes this post-apocalyptic trilogy by returning -- to a lesser extent -- to the cyberpunk fantasy style and atmosphere found in the first book. She seamlessly joins the story lines from the two previous books and focuses on Cathoair as the central character.

    As with the first two books in the trilogy, there's a dark, doom-like sense and atmosphere that permeates the story. But unlike what happens in By the Mountain Bound, there's hope and light by the end. Having said that, the journey to the light is a tough one. These are tormented characters and in this book Cathoair's past as an abused child and male prostitute come back to haunt him. Bear doesn't stint when it comes to digging deep into this man's damaged soul, his guilt, self-loathing or pain. She thoroughly explores that pain and in turn the sensitive subject of abuse. The characters' internal struggles parallel those of the world that surrounds them. Losing would mean a final end to Valdyrgard.

    The story is told in short chapters and shifts from character to character, as seen from their points of view. This gives the beginning of the story a choppy feel and slows the flow and pacing until about page 74 where the points of view are reduced and the plot begins to concentrate on Cathoair and Cathmar. This is also where the pacing and my interest in the story picked up. Even with the choppy beginning, I was surprised when I found myself fully emerged in the story, wanting to know more about Cathoair and getting what I wanted.

    In-depth characterization is also found in secondary characters and knowing what ultimately motivates them provides a sense of completion to the book, and in turn the trilogy. Most important of these characters are the Imogen, Selene the moreau with the soul of a Valkyrie, and Aethelred, with Cathmar thoroughly developed as a new, key character. Heythe's need for revenge and destruction are explained, however her real motivations seemed both obscure and rather futile to me. There is no further development for Heythe, making her the weakest character of this story.Bear also gives the reader a full, final view of a redeemed Mingan. He and Cathoair again share deeply emotional moments, bringing the story to a fully closed circle.

    Ms. Bear's talents for in-depth characterization, while weaving a fantasy tale with mythology, are impressive. These characters, although obviously patterned after those of tragic Norse mythology, are unique and Bear's own. A tale where everyone seems to win by losing what they love most, by acceptance of self and others and ultimately through forgiveness, The Sea Thy Mistress is a deeply nuanced story and a solid conclusion to this trilogy.

    Category: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Speculative Fiction
    Series: The Edda of Burdens Series, Book 3
    Release Date: February 1, 2011
    Source: Tor/Forge Books
    Grade: B

    Visit Elizabeth Bear here.

    Sunday, January 16, 2011

    Minis: Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie & The Homecoming by JoAnn Ross

    January has been quite busy for me and I haven't been around much. I miss blogging and blog hopping! However, I have been reading a book here and there. Right now, I'm reading three books at a time, one anthology that I'm reading slowly, Songs of Love and Death: Original Tales of Star-Crossed Love, and El Hombre Que Amaba Los Perros by Leonardo Padura. And, in between the short stories, and single chapters of the Spanish language historical fiction book, I'm also reading my romance.

    Here are mini-impressions on two of this month's reads:

    Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie
    Minerva Dobbs knows all about risk management, which is why it's such a shock when David, her extremely logical choice for a boyfriend, dumps her three weeks before her perfect sister's wedding: David was not supposed to be a wild card. So when Min overhears David make a bet with his old nemesis--the gorgeous and successful Calvin Morrisey--that Cal can't get Min into bed in a month, she decides that fate has just handed her a stacked deck: she can make Cal sweat his sex appeal and get a date to the wedding, if she plays along and doesn't fold. What follows is a novel of destiny, chaos theory, Kripy Kreme donuts, the spirit of Elvis, Chicken Marsala, and a gamble for the highest stake of all: true love.
    Oh goodness, I loved Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie! This was a fun and, at times, overwhelmingly crazed romance with multiple secondary characters playing key roles. I enjoyed every single minute of it. Both Min and Cal were worthy main characters in this crazed farce. She with her personal, self-esteem, weight problems, and he, with his own subtle ones. They were perfect for each other. Coming to that realization was the fun part.

    Crusie again writes a fun contemporary romance in Bet Me. This was an involved romance with multiple secondary characters who are predisposed to judge those who are, or appear to be, different. She touches on dyslexia and a few other subjects, however, this time Crusie focuses mainly on a contemporary issue that affects many modern women -- weight, self-esteem and romance. How women view themselves, how they are affected by society at large and by those who claim to love them.  She achieves this by creating fun, ridiculous situations and does it with a masterful touch. I couldn't look away from the pages until the end. In Bet Me, the balance of characters, story, atmosphere and romance worked for me. Grade: A

    The Homecoming: A Shelter Bay Novel by JoAnn Ross
    This book was a gift from Nath, thank you!
    Former Navy SEAL Sax Douchett returns to his home town and is hailed as a local hero. But starting over is difficult when he unearths a long- buried secret that reunites him with a past he's never forgotten. She's Sheriff Kara Conway, a girl who's always held a special place in his heart. But as he cautiously reconnects with Kara and bonds with her young son, another long-held secret in Shelter Bar threatens their second chance at a life together...

    The Homecoming by JoAnn Ross is a contemporary romance set in a small Oregon coastal town. This is really more of a small town, family type of romance with a bit of suspense, than a full blown romance. There's sexual tension and some sexual content, as well as that bit of that suspense I mentioned. The romance is warm and the suspense light. The fact that the story doesn't really focus on one or the other, or that it's not outstanding one way or the other, makes this an average read for me.

    I liked it, though. It's lulling and warm and flows with nice, interesting secondary characters and atmosphere. Sax and Kara's relationship progresses at a good pace, and there is chemistry between them. There's a great relationship between Sax and Kara's son, Trey, and key to the family oriented atmosphere. There's also a secondary romance involving the Deputy and Kara's widowed mother that progresses rather rapidly, but that in the end helps to resolve personal issues between mother and daughter. A side story involving Sax's experiences in the war and ghosts didn't seem to really serve a purpose in the story. Or better yet, the purpose it served could have been achieved without using those ghosts. Nonetheless, The Homecoming was a quick, pleasant read and I'll look for other books by JoAnn Ross.  Grade: C

    Wednesday, January 12, 2011

    Retro-Review: Angel's Blood (Guild Hunter Series, Book 1) by Nalini Singh

    I won an ARC of Angel's Blood by Nalini Singh at her website before the book first released in 2009. At that time, although I didn't have my blog, I wrote a reader's review and posted it on a message board.

    I loved this first book and I can't believe I'm behind on this series, especially since I also read and loved the follow-up short story Angel's Pawn.  I decided to read this review to refresh my memory about the series and the book and decided to post an edited (shorter *snort*) version of my original review. I will definitely be catching up with this series!


    Nalini Singh, known for the tight world building in her paranormal romance Psy/Changeling Series, doesn't disappoint with Angel's Blood. In this, the beginning of her new UF/Romance series, expect to find the starting blocks to a new intriguing world full of possibilities. And what a start it is! Singh has already proven that world building is one of her many talents, and Angel's Blood is obviously just the beginning of another great series.

    Singh uses an alternate earth where archangels, angels, vampires, vampire hunters and humans live in relative harmony and out in the open. Here's how they all interact with each other. Called the Cadre of 10, there are only ten archangels in existence, but they are powerful and rule the world by territory. Archangels and angels are the only ones who can make vampires. Vampires are then bound to the angel who “makes” them for a period of 100 years through a "contract." Vampire hunters work for the Guild of Hunters and their job is to hunt down those vampires who break contracts (or run away) with the angels before the 100 year deadline expires. Humans mix with vampires socially, marry them, and feed them if they so desire (or in some cases even if they don’t).

    Raphael, the Archangel of New York, is our hero and he is ruthless, cold and feared. He is old, although not the oldest of his kind. He is also a beautiful, arrogant, sexy hawt and complex character; one that I loved from the first. Through Raphael, Ms. Singh gives the reader an understanding of what the immortals are, or could be. Although there are still mysteries about him at the end of the story and getting to know him is a slow process, Raphael's character is well developed.

    Elena, our heroine, is a born vampire hunter – not trained -- and is considered the best at her job within the Guild of Hunters. She can smell, sense, track, and capture vampires, plus as a warrior is stronger than a regular human. Her past is both sad and terrifying and that gives her a vulnerability that makes her a more sympathetic character. There are some aspects to Elena’s character that I still don’t understand and hope to see explored in the future. It took me a while to appreciate Elena's character, however once I did, I fully embraced her as the heroine.

    There's also a cast of gorgeous and dangerous secondary characters that I know we’ll be encountering in future installments. Some of these secondary characters were better developed than others, but all were fascinating. Other characters were kept in the periphery and not developed yet, although there's no doubt we'll see their full development in the future.

    Raphael engages Elena for a dangerous mission. He wants her to hunt, not a vampire, but another Archangel. This is a suicide mission, since Archangels are immortal and this particular one is more dangerous than most. Both Elena and Raphael prove themselves to be worthy of being our protagonists when confronted with this challenge. Raphael’s commitment to what must be done is admirable, even when confronted with tough decisions, and Elena definitely lives up to her reputation of being the “best.” There are no moments where you wonder why she was chosen for the mission. She delivers the goods, and does it by whatever means necessary. This part of the story line develops slowly and, at times, too slowly for me. I found myself eager to get to the action. The last third of the book finally gave me what I was waiting for.

    Ms. Singh labeled this series an Urban Fantasy/Romance. The first thing that I noticed about this book was that it is not written in the first person from the female’s point of view, as most UF books are presented. Refreshing, I’m sure, for most UF readers. Singh, however, keeps some of the elements that make UF the genre that attracts so many readers: the strong heroine, the urban setting, a conflict that will not be easily solved and therefore will need further installments in the series for it to be properly addressed.

    She managed to do all of the above, while writing a romance worth reading as well. Yes, there IS romance in this book, one with a satisfying conclusion. The interactions between the Archangel Raphael and Elena are fraught with tension and heat from beginning to end. Raphael is powerful, ruthless, frightening and one sexy archangel. Elena's personality is complex and full of contradictions. She is strong talented and hardheaded, yet she's also vulnerable, frightened and sexy. Elena also tends to alienate almost everyone she encounters on her way. Together, Raphael and Elena make for an explosive combination.

    Ms. Singh has done an excellent job of combining the best of both worlds, UF and Romance, with this installment. I am more than looking forward to the next installment.

    Category: Urban Fantasy Romance
    Series: Guild Hunter, Book 1
    Release Date: March 3, 2009
    Rating: A-

    Original review posted on The Phade February 2, 2009

    Sunday, January 9, 2011

    Review: Happy Ever After (Bridal Quartet, Book #4) by Nora Roberts

    As the public face of Vows wedding planning company, Parker Brown has an uncanny knack for fulfilling every bride's vision. She just can't see where her own life is headed. Mechanic Malcolm Kavanaugh loves figuring out how things work, and Parker is no exception. Both know that moving from minor flirtation to major hook-up is a serious step. Parker's business risks have always paid off, but now she'll have to take the chance of a lifetime with her heart...
    Happy Ever After by Nora Roberts is the last of her Bridal Quartet contemporary series, and as the name suggests, the book wraps up everything neatly for the four friends by providing a happy ending for Parker Brown.

    Parker is the brains behind Vows, the successful wedding planning business that she runs out of the Brown Estate with her three childhood friends, Mac, Emma and Laurel. In Happy Ever After, the story begins by giving the reader a retrospective of how Vows was conceived by Parker after her parents were killed in a tragic automobile accident. Throughout, the protective and parental roles played by Mrs. Grady and brother Del are highlighted, as well as the supportive and familial roles played by Parker's three childhood friends.

    Parker is already attracted to Malcolm Kavanaugh, her brother's friend and mechanic to the whole gang. He is a self-made man with a bad-boy aura and reputation, and not her usual "type." She likes easily controlled and sophisticated businessmen, and there's nothing of the easily controlled gentleman about Malcolm. Malcolm is obviously attracted to Parker and not intimidated by her attempts to reject him. He knows there's passion under all that ice.

    Happy Ever After is a nice, light romance. Not surprisingly, Parker is a perfectionist who finds the perfect job and performs it to perfection. She is loyal, loving and here's the one surprise, much softer than I expected. Parker also turns out to be a private person -- an interesting turn of events when you take into consideration how much she likes to interfere in her friends' lives. But other than that, what new information did we really learn about Parker, other than what we already knew? Not much. The same can be said for Malcolm. He is a good self-made man who had a rough childhood. He is powerfully attracted to Parker and has a tough time opening up about his past, but although some details are provided, again, we knew most of this information about him already from reading the previous books. There are no real surprises there about him.

    There's very little conflict to this story, if any. Happy Ever After is a nice, light, superficial romance where the last of these four friends, Parker, finds her "happy ever after," and in the process the book serves as the perfect happy ever after for all four friends and their partners in their beautiful, perfect world - the perfect wrap-up to the Quartet. (Note how many times I use the word "perfect). There's no in-depth characterization or character growth to be found either. Although this book, and series as a whole, works quite well as a contemporary fantasy fairy tale.

    This is Nora Roberts and because she is one of my favorite contemporary romance writers, I have certain expectations that were not necessarily met with this series. However, that's not to say that the details are not there, they are. All the characters are likable and there are some amusing moments found throughout. All the bases are covered and there are no holes or hanging threads left open; and Vows, as a wedding planning business, is described in minute detail -- although again, those details overshadow the romance. The friendship between the four friends is wrapped up nicely. And yes... Happy Ever After is just that, the "happily ever after" book to the Bridal Quartet series.

    Category: Contemporary Romance
    Series: Bridal Quartet, Book 4
    Released: November 2, 2010
    Grade: C

    Complete Bridal Quartet Series:
    Vision in White, Book 1
    Bed of Roses, Book 2
    Savor the Moment, Book 3
    Happy Ever After, Book 4

    Visit Nora Roberts here.

    Friday, January 7, 2011

    New Releases: January/February 2011

    It is time again for those new releases! And it's a really good time of the year, there are lots of upcoming releases and you know I want to read them all. However since that's not possible, I'll be highlighting a few of the books I'm really looking forward to reading for January and February. A few of my favorite writers have new releases and that's exciting!

    Call Me Irresistible by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
    Release Date: January 18, 2011

    Lucy Jorik is the daughter of the former President of the United States.

    Meg Koranda is the offspring of legends.

    One of them is about to marry Mr. Irresistible—Ted Beaudine—the favorite son of Wynette, Texas. The other is not happy about it. Not happy at all....

    But even though Meg knows breaking up her best friend’s wedding is the right thing to do, no one else seems to agree. Faster than Lucy can say, “I don’t,” Meg becomes the most hated woman in town. A town where she’s stuck with a dead car, an empty wallet, and a very angry bridegroom.

    Broke, stranded, and without her famous parents at her back, Meg is sure she can survive on her own wits. What’s the worst that can happen? Lose her heart to the one and only Mr. Irresistible? Not likely. Not likely at all....
    Let's begin with Susan Elizabeth Phillips' new contemporary romance. SEP is one of my favorite contemporary romance writers and I've been waiting for her new release for a while. I will be buying Call Me Irresistible while it's hot off the presses!

    Shadow Fever by Karen Marie Moning
    Release Date: January 18, 2011

    MacKayla Lane was just a child when she and her sister, Alina, were given up for adoption and banished from Ireland forever.

    Twenty years later, Alina is dead and Mac has returned to the country that expelled them to hunt her sister’s murderer. But after discovering that she descends from a bloodline both gifted and cursed, Mac is plunged into a secret history: an ancient conflict between humans and immortals who have lived concealed among us for thousands of years.

    What follows is a shocking chain of events with devastating consequences, and now Mac struggles to cope with grief while continuing her mission to acquire and control the Sinsar Dubh—a book of dark, forbidden magic scribed by the mythical Unseelie King, containing the power to create and destroy worlds.

    In an epic battle between humans and Fae, the hunter becomes the hunted when the Sinsar Dubh turns on Mac and begins mowing a deadly path through those she loves. Who can she turn to? Who can she trust? Who is the woman haunting her dreams? More important, who is Mac herself and what is the destiny she glimpses in the black and crimson designs of an ancient tarot card?

    From the luxury of the Lord Master’s penthouse to the sordid depths of an Unseelie nightclub, from the erotic bed of her lover to the terrifying bed of the Unseelie King, Mac’s journey will force her to face the truth of her exile, and to make a choice that will either save the world . . . or destroy it.
    And what about Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning? I've been waiting for the end of this series for quite a while! As a matter of fact, I haven't read Dreamfever yet, WAITING for this book just so I can finish the series in style, making this a highly anticipated book for me.

    Notorious Pleasures (Maiden Lane, Book 2) by Elizabeth Hoyt
    Release Date: January 25, 2011

    Their lives were perfect . . .
    Lady Hero Batten, the beautiful sister of the Duke of Wakefield, has everything a woman could want, including the perfect fiancé. True, the Marquis of Mandeville is a trifle dull and has no sense of humor, but that doesn't bother Hero. Until she meets his notorious brother . . .

    Until they met each other.
    Griffin Remmington, Lord Reading, is far from perfect - and he likes it that way. How he spends his days is a mystery, but all of London knows he engages in the worst sorts of drunken revelry at night. Hero takes an instant dislike to him, and Griffin thinks that Hero, with her charities and faultless manners, is much too impeccable for society, let alone his brother. Yet their near-constant battle of wits soon sparks desire - desire that causes their carefully constructed worlds to come tumbling down. As Hero's wedding nears, and Griffin's enemies lay plans to end their dreams forever, can two imperfect people find perfect true love?
    Notorious Pleasures by Elizabeth Hoyt is the second book in her Maiden Lane series. I loved, loved Wicked Intentions, the first book... and can't wait to read Hero's story, so this is another highly anticipated book.

    Scandal of the Year: Abandoned at the Altar by Laura Lee Guhrke
    Release Date: January 25, 2011

    One tryst was all she wanted . . .

    From their very first meeting, Julia knew that Aidan Carr, the oh-so-proper Duke of Trathen, had a bit of the devil in him, a devil who secretly yearned for what he could not have, a devil who harbored a desire for her. So when she needed to be caught in a compromising situation, Aidan was the answer to her prayers.

    One tryst just wasn't enough . . .

    Aidan is supposed to be looking for a bride, yet his scandalous liaison with Julia is all he can think about. Hot, erotic memories of kissing her skin, falling into her bed, pulling her naked body on top of his own continue to torment and tempt him. What is it about this brazen seductress that he finds so hard to resist? And how can he stop himself from falling into her bed a second time?
    I already have the first book in this series Wedding of the Season in my TBR. I'll probably wind up reading both of these books as a set, one after the other. I don't know why, but the summary for Scandal of the Year just calls to me. :)

    The Sea Thy Mistress by Elizabeth Bear
    Release Date: February 1, 2011

    This direct sequel to Elizabeth Bear’s highly acclaimed All the Windwracked Stars picks up the story some fifty years after Muire went into the sea and became the new Bearer of Burdens.

    Beautiful Cathoair, now an immortal warrior angel, has been called back to the city of Eiledon to raise his son--Muire’s son as well, cast up on shore as an infant. It is seemingly a quiet life. But deadly danger approaches…the evil goddess Heythe, who engineered the death of Valdyrgard, has travelled forward in time on her rainbow steed. She came expecting to gloat over a dead world, the proof of her revenge, but instead she finds a Rekindled land, renewed by Muire’s sacrifice.

    She will have her revenge by forcing this new Bearer of Burdens to violate her oaths and break her bounds and thus bring about the true and final end of Valdyrgard. She will do it by tormenting both Cathoair and his son Cathmar. But Mingan, the gray wolf, sees his old enemy Heythe’s return. He will not allow it to happen again.
    AND, oh boy! This is the last book in Elizabeth Bear's latest trilogy. I read and loved All the Windwracked Stars, Book 1, really enjoyed By the Mountain Bound, Book 2, and The Sea Thy Mistress, Book 3 is the end of this wonderful cyberpunk fantasy trilogy, with all its mythological details and characters. I received an ARC from Tor/Forge Books and will post an early review for this book.  :)

    Absolutely, Positively (Lucy Valentine, Book 3) by Heather Webber
    Release Date: February 1, 2011

    “Exposed” by a Boston Herald reporter, Lucy is suddenly the talk of the town. Long back-story short: Even though the rest of her Valentine ancestors were blessed by Cupid with psychic abilities, Lucy’s only special power lies in her ability to find things. This skill has proven quite a blessing for those who come to her matchmaking agency in search of finding their long-lost loves. Now that Lucy’s secret is out, she has more new clients than she knows what to do with. But soon a certain man of mystery steals Lucy’s spotlight…

    No, it’s not Sean Donahue, the sexy fireman-turned-private-eye who’s stolen Lucy’s heart. It’s a masked man in a cowboy hat, dubbed “The Lone Ranger,” who’s been throwing handfuls of cash across the Common. Now all of Beantown’s abuzz. Can Lucy unmask the mysterious money man, track down all her clients’ old flames, and turn up the heat on her love life? Absolutely, positively…
    And last, but certainly not least, is the next installment in the Lucy Valentine series, Absolutely, Positively by Heather Webber. I read the first book in this series late last year and loved Lucy! (No pun intended). I have the second book already, and hope to catch up with Lucy and Sean's light and fun adventures with this book.

    I might add more later if something I adore catches my eye, but that's it for now! What about you? Any great releases you're looking forward to reading?

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011

    2010 Numbers, Goals Reached & Final Recap!

    This is my last 2010 summary. It was much easier to crunch numbers this year as I kept one of those handy-dandy spread sheets -- faster and quite efficient! My numbers are broken down by category. Since I joined the Re-Read Challenge in 2010 and I included those numbers monthly for that purpose, however for this year-end recap I deducted them from the bottom line. 

    Total Books Read: 154

    Contemporary Romance/Romance Suspense: 49
    LGBT Fiction/Romance/Erotica: 36
    Historical Romance: 26
    Sci-Fi/Fantasy Romance: 17
    Paranormal Romance: 13
    Young Adult: 5
    Urban Fantasy: 4
    Fantasy: 2
    Mainstream Fiction: 1
    Biography: 1

    1) Challenges Met:

    I met 4 out of the 5 Challenges I joined at 100% with the exception of Christine's In-Death Challenge. My goal there was to read one book per month. I read 7 books out of 12.

    This is an ongoing challenge that I will be continuing in 2011. I'm still hoping to read at least 12 books for the year, weather I read them monthly or not is another matter. I'm going with the number for now, lol!

    2) Personal Goals Met:

    I didn't really have many of these as I'm pretty free-wheeling when it comes to reading. However, I did want to read more Sci-Fi/Fantasy Romance in 2010. I did well with this personal goal and read 17 books in 2010 vs. 9 in 2009.  I still have quite a few in my TBR and will continue to try for more in 2011. I'm always, always looking for good recommendations in this category, so if you have a good title don't hesitate to let me know. :D

    In 2010 I read more contemporary romances than in the previous year (2010= 49 vs. 2009= 41), and tried quite a few new-to-me authors in that category. I love, love this genre and I'm looking for those autobuys again. I'm glad to report that I've found a few. :)

    New-to-me authors and TBR pile. I keep a list of authors whose work I want to read at some point. And I do get to them! Well, this year I read 40 books by new-to-me authors, some of them taken from my TBR pile and others were new releases or recommendations from friends or bloggers. Of course I added more names to my list, so this is an ongoing personal goal for me. In the process, I also cleaned out 32 books from my TBR pile - not great, but not bad either. 

    That's it! The end of 2010... now I'll just look forward.

    Saturday, January 1, 2011

    Happy New Year! December 2010 Recap & Minis

    Happy New Year, everyone! Best Wishes for 2011!

    The year is over and I can't believe it, but here we are, the first of the year and still recapping 2010. I'm taking the opportunity today to finish off with my December reads.

    December was not a prolific reading month for me: new job and schedule, family emergencies that took me away from home, and the holidays in between. But somehow I seemed to have managed to sneak in a few books here and there, as well as a few posts and reviews, although not as many as I would have liked. Hopefully, things will settle down into a routine and January will be better.

    Maybe it already is! I've won three books at the fantastic DIK Giveways! Song of Seduction by Carrie Lofty, and today I received word that I won two Super Romances: From Friend to Father and Beginning with Baby by Tracy Wolff. Excellent way to begin the year, wouldn't you say? Thanks to Tracy, all the DIK ladies, and participating authors. :D

    Since I didn't read much and didn't review most of the books read either, I'm including small Mini-Impressions with this recap (lots of enjoyable B's):

    Total books read: 9
    Re-reads: 2
    New Reads: 7

    1. Play of Passion (Psy/Changeling Series) by Nalini Singh: A-
    (Upcoming Review)

    2. Happy Ever After (Bridal Quartet, #4) by Nora Roberts: C
    (Upcoming Review)

    3. Marry Me by Jo Goodman was a highly enjoyable historical romance, and if you read my review you'll see why. Goodman certainly knows how to develop her characters and how to weave a good story. I would like to thank Tabitha for letting me know that this book was free at Amazon for the Kindle. With my busy schedule, I would have missed the opportunity. Thanks Tabs! Grade: B

    4. A Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist was a re-read and I reviewed it as the last submission for the Re-Read and Historical Challenges. I enjoyed this book more this time around than the first time I read it. I love it when that happens -- discovering new details or character traits that I didn't quite "get" or see the first time. This is one of the reasons I love to re-read. Grade: B+

    5. A Virgin River Christmas by Robyn Carr was also a re-read. I loved this novella the first time I read it, and it was no different this time. A year after Marcie's husband dies due to injuries received during the war in Afghanistan, she decides to search for the Marine who saved her husband's life and brought him home. Ian disappeared after bringing Bobby home and no one has seen him since. Marcie is relentless in the way she pursues Ian so she can find closure, as well as to offer him that peace he so desperately needs. This novella has funny, fun moments, deep, touching moments, as well as warmth and love. I enjoyed re-reading it through the holidays. Grade: B+

    6. Binding the God: Ursine Essays from the Mountain South by Jeff Mann was a huge surprise to me. I began by just skimming through the first few pages of this book and next thing I knew I was half-way through. It was a fascinating and absorbing read!

    Mr. Mann is a man full of contradictions, and his life and lifestyle make for some interesting and informative reading. As he often says in his essays, he belongs to two minorities: he is gay and Appalachian. On top of that, he also belongs to the "bear/leather" sub-culture within the LGBT community and still lives in the politically conservative south where he teaches at Virginia Tech. You can imagine that he has a lot to say and he does! -- quite candidly and directly. He explores the different aspects of his life in these essays, as well as the differences between the "bear/BDSM" lifestyle, and that of what he refers to as the "mainstream" LGBT culture. Expect some repetitiveness from one essay to the next (they were written at different times), but note that although some information is repeated, each essay focuses on a different subject matter and develops that subject in-depth as the book moves along. Quite a read! Grade: B

    7. All She Wrote: Holmes and Moriarity, Book 2 by Josh Lanyon was another book I enjoyed. I loved the characters in these books (Christian and JX), and Kit's bumbling attempts at crime solving, his insecurities and acerbic sense of humor in Somebody Killed His Editor. JX is just as sweet, loving and HOT as he was in the first book... but, I must say I didn't get caught up immediately by the characters or story. The humor was there in some sections, but lacking compared to that first installment. The plot itself also took a while to capture my attention, as did the secondary characters. Having said that, after a while, the story got going, the mystery picked up and Christopher and JX worked that bumbling mystery-solving and passionate magic. Grade: B

    8. Life After Joe by Harper Fox. My introduction to this author was through the novella she wrote for the "His for the Holidays" anthology: "Nine Lights Over Edinburgh." Let me tell you, that story was quite a surprise! I'm really liking this author. She creates and develops some tough, flawed characters that might not necessarily be likable, lovable or heroic, yet she makes her romances work. After reading Life After Joe, I will definitely purchase more of her books. Thank you Mariana for the recommendation. Grade: B+

    9. I won "The Sentry: A Joe Pike Novel" by Robert Crais in the Goodreads "First Reads" program and releases on January 11, 2011. Following is my Goodreads Mini:

    This is the second book I've read by Mr. Crais, and although both books are part of the Elvis Cole series, they are Joe Pike Novels. The first book I read was The Watchman: A Joe Pike Novel, and the first book featuring this wonderful character. Well, I fell in love with Joe Pike in 2007, and of course wanted to read this book as soon as I saw it up for grabs.

    Joe Pike again plays the tarnished, taciturn knight. I love the way Crais maintains this character a bit of a mystery by using spare dialogue and what seems like little emotion, and yet conveys the man's true character through his actions. The balance between Joe and Elvis Cole's characters serve as an excellent contrast.

    While playing "Good Samaritan," Joe Pike saves a man from a beating. Simple, right? Well... not quite. Saving this man sets up a chain of events and like falling dominoes next thing he knows, Joe is falling for a woman and tangling with local gangs, the local police, the FBI, Mexican and Bolivian drug lords and a relentless assassin. The twists and turns in this story come fast and furious and nothing is quite what it seems. The quick pacing keeps the reader turning the pages and wondering what's going to happen next. I want more Joe Pike! I'll definitely read the next one. Grade: B

    That's it for December and 2010!