Thursday, June 30, 2011

RWA Literacy Signing

Susan Elizabeth Phillips,
RWA Literacy Signing,
New York City, June 28, 2011
So I attended the RWA Literacy Signing in New York City on Tuesday after all. It was touch and go all day on weather I would make it or not, but at the end of the day I jetted out of work like rocket! Even with all the bad traffic and aggravation, I got to the Port Authority in time to meet Mariana and arrived at the hotel early enough that the lines were not overwhelming, yet. Although later on I heard they were incredibly long.

I met most of the authors on my list, and a few more... they were all lovely and gracious and I must say it was the best experience. Of course I didn't really take loads of pictures, no time, inclination (or camera, lol), BUT I did take this little picture with Ms. Susan Elizabeth Phillips. She is the most gracious and lovely lady. Mariana and I later met her at the elevator as we were leaving and I had to make sure I didn't make a cake out of myself, we said hello but gave her the privacy she deserved after such a long evening.
My stash

What other authors did I visit? Well, I met the lovely Jacquie D'Alessandro whose book I just finished reviewing... Summer at Seaside Cove. I decided to get the print copy signed by the author... we chatted about the book, and she told me that the next one in the series will be coming out in 2012!  Jennifer Crusie was close by and she was just as gracious (well, they all were) but she took her time to chat a bit, and then she autographed Maybe This Time for me.

I was also quite the fan with Elizabeth Hoyt, Jill Shalvis, Eloisa James, Miranda Neville, Angela Knight, Tess Garritsen, and Thea Harrison, who were all gracious and accommodating! Mariana and I also had conversations with three wonderful ladies, L.B. Gregg (Lisabea), K.A. Mitchell who recognized Mariana from a previous meeting (what a memory!), and Victoria Jenssen who is just as lovely in person as she is online! It was such a pleasure meeting her in person.

What authors did I miss? Jodi Thomas and Madeline Hunter! I lost my list along the way and somehow missed meeting those two authors. :(

However, all in all it was a wonderful experience and I would do it again in a New York minute!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Review: Summer at Seaside Cove by Jacquie D'Alessandro

Summer at Seaside Cove by Jacquie D'Alessandro is the perfect summer read... at least it was for me. I was dreaming of a day, if not a long retreat, at the beach during and after reading this book!

Jamie leaves Manhattan for a month at Seaside Cove in North Carolina after her boyfriend leaves her for her half-sister Laurel. She hopes the time will afford her the opportunity to make important decisions about her future, but when she arrives at the island instead of finding a resort, she finds a rundown, smelly bungalow. And, she is stuck!

Her landlord Nick is both gorgeous and drool-worthy, but Jamie is more taken with his dog, Godiva, than with Nick's personality. They're attracted to each other, but initially develop a antagonistic relationship. Throughout the summer that attraction grows by leaps and bounds, and slowly a relationship grows between the two.

Jamie also gets roped into becoming involved with the community at Seaside Cove and loves every minute. She even begins to appreciate her little bungalow by the sea.  However, just when things are getting interesting, Jamie's mother who is very dependent and needy shows up with a whopper of a problem, her mother's boyfriend follows later on, and soon after her niece, and finally sister Laurel interrupt Jamie's retreat.

I really had fun reading this contemporary romance. The protagonists are likable, plus the setting and atmosphere are a perfect foil for the romance. The snappy dialogue that made the initial meeting between Nick and Jamie antagonistic and fun is maintained throughout the story as their relationship becomes friendlier and then moves to passion. And there is passion! D'Alessandro uses sexual tension that builds and makes you wonder when the yummy Nick and the beleaguered Jamie will finally go for it!

D'Alessandro's descriptions of the beach, the island, and the sense of community she develops give the story that excellent atmosphere that makes the reader feel part of the setting. The couple remains the focus of the story, even though there are those extraneous characters that are part of Jamie's life. As secondary characters, Jamie's family do make an appearance and make an impact in her life, but they don't really become central, although they do interrupt the flow a few times. The pacing is excellent throughout the first half with a lulling, slow middle and what I thought was a great ending.

Oh and how can I not mention Nick's dog Godiva! Godiva was the best secondary character in this book... gorgeous, friendly, drooling, Godiva! I fell in love with an imaginary dog, but who wouldn't?  Ms. D'Alessandro is writing another book set in Seaside Cove featuring Laurel, Jamie's boyfriend-stealing half-sister. I can't wait to see what happens to her.

Summer at Seaside Cove is a solid contemporary romance. I definitely recommend it for a hot, summer day... or even for a rainy day when you need to be transported to that imaginary sunshine. Enjoy.

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Seaside Cove, #1
Publisher/Released: Berkley/May 3, 2011 - Kindle Edition
Grade: B

Visit Jacquie D'Alessandro here

Thursday, June 23, 2011

This n' That: Catching Up

Hi there! I'm here... reading, working and will soon be posting reviews again.

I've had a few bad days all around. Last Thursday, I lost my glasses! I spent three days blind as a bat, trying to work without using a computer, which is next to impossible in my line of work, and then trying to finish my days without taking a bottle of analgesics to calm the headaches. No reading for me during that time at all! Plus, no computer when I got home either.

By the time my new pair of glasses were ready it was Saturday evening. I do the bulk of my reading and review writing during the weekend, and well... the headaches didn't go away until Tuesday of this week. I felt like the man from that Twilight Zone episode, "Time Enough At Last," all those books to read and I couldn't see a thing! What frustration. Whatever happened to my spare pair of glasses?

Of course this week I had to catch up on all the work that was neglected due to my blindness! So, late nights, eating at my desk and lots of files to get through at the office this week. Plus, RWA is next week and I'll be leaving early a couple of days in a row and taking one day off to hang out with fellow bloggers, so I want to get ahead of myself so I don't have to worry about work. It's burnout time!

But hey, before the whole fiasco with the glasses and during this week I did read a couple of books. There's Cheryl St. John's new June release Her Wyoming Man (see my review), which I really enjoyed, and I did finish More Than a Mistress by Mary Balogh. That's a book I've been meaning to read forever. Well, I can tell you that it was worth the read for me personally. Now I'll try to read the second book in the series, No Man's Mistress, before the new release comes out next month. :)

At the moment I'm reading and enjoying a women's fiction book with quite a few interesting characters and situations, Sunset Bridge by Emilie Richards, part of her Happiness Key series.

And, slowly but surely, I'm also reading Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse) by James S.A. Corey, a science fiction opera that's going to take me a while to read as it's 592 pages and it's chuck-full of sci-fi details, plus there's a private investigation in it with a mystery and everything... I can't wait to find out what happens in both these books.

So what's everyone reading at the moment? What are you looking forward to reading in July? I'm waiting for Mary Balogh's The Secret Mistress.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Review: Her Wyoming Man by Cheryl St. John

Courtesan Ella Reed escapes dangerous city life to rural Wyoming and says "I do" to a marriage of convenience! But she may not live the life of a respectable woman for long if she can't keep her past—and her heart—under lock and key.

For a self-made man with political aspirations, love is trivial in a paper marriage. Nathan Lantry needs a wife to secure his election and manage his rowdy little boys. Yet he can't stop wanting more from his irresistible new bride. Then her secrets start to unravel….

In Her Wyoming Man Cheryl St. John again writes a historical romance where passion is subtle but strong, characters are humanly flawed but capable of kindness and love, and where the atmosphere and western setting are the perfect framework.

Ella Reed grew up in a high priced whorehouse in Dodge City, Kansas. She possesses a rare beauty and has been trained since childhood to be a high paid courtesan by Madame Fairchild. Ella has also been kept under lock and key for all those years servicing one "gentleman caller." When the chance presents itself in the form of a newspaper advertisement, Ella, Celeste and a few other working ladies decide to leave Madame's Fairchild's house to live the life of respectable women:
Several gentlemen of means from the Wyoming Territory seek young, intelligent, refined maidens of a loving disposition for the purpose of matrimony. Railroad tickets provided upon acceptance by our liaison. 
Nathan Lantry is a widower, a father of three, and Sweetwater's choice as their representative for the next Wyoming Territory Governor's race. Nathan is not really looking for a wife when he meets Ella, but one look at her and two conversations later quickly change his mind. Two days later Nathan has a new wife and Ella has a new husband, three children and the respectability she craves.

Initially Ella savors everything around her, including her newfound freedom, the children and most of all a man that she truly desires, admires and respects. Nathan is a man of integrity and the best of fathers... and Ella finds herself desiring him more every day. But is she worthy of this man? Eventually Ella has to deal with the fact that her relationship with Nathan is based on deceit.

Nathan is a man with baggage and personal disappointments. As Ella becomes an intricate part of Nathan's life and his passion grows, he realizes how empty that life had become before she came along. Nathan finds in Ella the perfect wife and partner, as well as the perfect mother for his children. Their family becomes exactly what he dreamed it could be. How will he react to her deceit?

In Her Wyoming Man, St. John uses one of my favorite tropes, the mail-order bride where a woman and a man are usually desperate enough to take a huge chance on marrying a stranger, and somehow make the relationship work in the end. This is a classic mail-order bride story.

I love the way these two strangers slowly fall deeply and passionately in love with each other despite their reservations, feelings of guilt, and doubts. I like that no matter how blind they are to their own worth, somehow they can see the other person's clearly. Of course there are always issues to be had with a story line like this one. Thankfully Ella is not portrayed as a calculating woman, even though she is deceitful and therefore manipulative to a certain extent. Ella is a sympathetic character throughout the story even when she's lying. And Nathan? Well, he was deceived so his reactions are understandable. Truthfully although his view of perfection vs. reality gave me a few moments of anxiety along the way, ultimately I liked the way he processed the situation.

Secondary characters don't take the focus away from the main couple, however they are very much a part of this romance. The community's views on what a wife represents and how she reflects on her husband, as well as the social life and class distinctions in a small town are all beautifully detailed. And how did all those other women who travelled with Ella to Sweetwater fare? Those relationships are key to Ella and Nathan's romance and to the overall story.

In Her Wyoming Man you'll find deceit, passion, warmth, love and forgiveness. I find it interesting that even with all those issues to resolve, this isn't an angst-ridden or high tension read. Instead, a sense of buoyancy, happiness and hope for the future seem to permeate the story. I recommend this book to those who love a family-oriented historical romance with a dash of passion that leaves the reader with a warm glow at the end.

Category: Historical Romance
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Harlequin Historical/June 21, 2011
Source: Copy received from author
Grade: B

Visit Cheryl St. John here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Review: Magic Slays (Kate Daniels Series, #5) by Ilona Andrews

Kate Daniels has quit the Order of Merciful Aid, but starting her own business isn't easy when the Order starts disparaging her good name. And being the mate of the Beast Lord doesn't bring in the customers, either. So when Atlanta's premier Master of the Dead asks for help with a vampire, Kate jumps at the chance. Unfortunately, this is one case where Kate should have looked before she leapt.
Magic Slays by Ilona Andrews was one of those highly anticipated books for me. The great part about finally reading it? It wasn't a disappointment. This is the fifth book of the Kate Daniels series and so far there's not one loser in the bunch. Changes seem to be the main focus in Magic Slays. Everyone is going through changes in this story, Kate, Curran, the Pack, Andrea, Julie and even the Magical community as a whole.

Kate is learning how to navigate her new role as the Alpha's Consort within the Pack, worrying about Julie who ran away from school, adapting to her new, intimate relationship with Curran, while simultaneously trying to make a go of her new PI business. The phones are not ringing, Julie is missing in action, the Pack is acting out and Curran... well, he's being his Royal Fussiness.

Magic Slays seems to be a transitional book in this series. Kate, Curran and the rest of our favorite characters are still battling evil, however the quick pace and high volume action is not there, at least not in the beginning. The end result is that there's a slower pace to Magic Slays that doesn't immediately grab the reader as previous installments have in the past, and the overall plot isn't as compelling as those in the previous books where the mythology-based components were more complex. However, that's not to say that this is not a great read, it is. And although not gripping, the resolution to the overall plot is as well done as expected.

Kate is still Kate, and she gets into all kinds of trouble after she and Andrea are hired to investigate their first case which by the way has nothing to do with vampires. The Red Guard hires them to find one missing inventor, but soon they realize he's not the real problem, it's the invention he created and the devastation it can bring to Atlanta. He must be found, but most importantly the device must be destroyed before it's too late.

While all this is going on, Kate finds out that her role as the Alpha's mate interferes even with her new business. Whether it's dealing with magical or human beings, she must follow protocol, and there are consequences for those who mess with her. Curran tends to take an attack on his mate personally... it's not business to him, it's personal. I began to worry about Kate after a while and how all this interference from the Pack, and all this new protocol she has to follow, would curtail her activities as a PI and well... with kickass Kate. No worries though... she handles it pretty well. Not only do I love the way she and Andrea work together as partners in Cutting Edge with all that snark and banter, but Kate and Curran also make an awesome team as the Royal Alpha intimidators.

Kate is still her snarky, kickass self. I love the fact that the Andrews writing team continues to develop this character. A character that has grown emotionally in leaps and bounds since that first book so that by now she's learned how to take the risk of loving others and making them a part of her life. In this story that part of Kate's character development is kicked up a notch.

In Magic Slays, there are important revelations about Kate's background and past that contribute to that continuing growth and that will surely affect her future. Some of the most emotional moments come from the deep sense of betrayal Kate experiences by some of those revelations. They not only affect how she views herself and her past, but also her present relationship with Curran, and eventually how she reacts to Julie's precarious situation in this story. Kate and Curran, well... their courtship might be over, but they still have much to discover about each other. No worries, though, Curran is still sigh worthy and the sizzle between these two is still there.

There's quite a bit of warmth to Magic Slays even with all the action, angst, blood and guts. I usually devour these books in one sitting and later find myself going back to look for the details, this time it took me a while to finish the book. Fortunately, the fact that this book has a slower pace allowed me the time to sit back and enjoy it all the more. It was an interesting trade off. However, I think this is just the calm before the storm -- especially after the ending -- and as always that next book is just as highly anticipated as the last one.

Category: Urban Fantasy
Series: Kate Daniels, Book 5
Publisher/Release Date: Penguin/Ace, May 31, 2011 - Kindle Edition
Grade: B

Visit Ilona Andrews here.

Magic Bites, Book 1
Magic Burns, Book 2
Magic Strikes, Book 3
Magic Mourns, Novella (Must Love Hellhounds Anthology)
Magic Bleeds, Book 4
Magic Dreams, Novella (Hexed Anthology)
Magic Slays, Book 5

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Review: Slant by Timothy Wang

James, an Asian college student who likes video games and romantic comedies, decides he's gay. With his intensely logical and linear MIT mind, he identifies all the parts of himself he believes are offensive to others, and methodically changes them one by one. In the pursuit of total self transformation--including body, skin, hair, clothes, personality, and behavior--James becomes completely lost and bewildered, having lost any trace of the person he once was. Along the way, he betrays himself several times for love, lust, and money--engaging in dangerous drug use and sex to please his first boyfriend, Stan, and manipulating his admirer, Michael, to pay for plastic surgery on his Asian eyes. After Stan dumps him, obsessed with love, he'll do anything to get Stan back...
Slant is Timothy Wang's debut novel. I could say that this is a coming out story because in a way it is, but that would be deceiving and simplistic to say the least. Instead, Wang places the main focus of this novel on racism experienced by Asian men within the gay community. He maintains that focus through excellent writing and by using the strong narrative voice of the main character James, a young man whose initial confusion about sexual identity is compounded by ethnicity.

As the only son of overprotective Chinese immigrant parents who migrated to the Midwest, James finds himself out of his depth, isolated and lost, while attempting to navigate Boston's gay community during his sophomore year at MIT. After meeting and losing his first 'boyfriend' Stan, a gorgeous bad boy who becomes an obsession, James changes.

James hates everything about himself, from his Asian features to his upbringing. The fact that he is often rejected for being Asian in the mostly preppy-oriented Boston gay community reinforces his self-loathing. After losing Stan, he embarks in an obsessive and self-destructive path filled with humiliations, sexual exploits, drugs, and eventually ends up cynically and emotionally manipulating a lover for money.

During this downward spiral into self-degradation, cultural and ethnic shame, Wang strongly conveys the anger and resentment James feels toward himself, his parents, the gay community, and mainstream society.
I was getting an education in gay culture and didn't like the program. I hated the way everything was segmented. For such a small community, people were divided along the lines of the different races and the different types of desires. There were the "potatoes" and "burritos," the "chocolates" and the "rice." Then there were the "bears," the "daddies" and the "twinks." The white jocks that were the most popular in high school were still the most popular in gay clubs, even the gay Asian clubs. Some white guys wanted to be black and some black guys wanted to be white. Some Asian guys wanted to be black or white. But, no black or white guys who wanted to be Asian.
Thankfully during James' raw tirade of 'hates,' Wang doesn't spare his main character from this malady or makes him out to be a victim. On the contrary, sadly through his self-loathing and frustrations James becomes a part of the whole as he exposes his own prejudices with more than a few judgmental statements of his own:
I hated older white men. They somehow thought that, even though they were in their sixties, they could still date an eighteen year old Asian boy. Much to my disgust, some Asian boys would date them.
The characters are strong and compelling in the almost real way in which they're rendered by the author. James as the Asian young man who goes from being awkwardly naive to cynically self-destructive while grasping for an identity; Stan as the charismatic, self-absorbed, reckless 'bad boy' who discards men like yesterday's news; and Michael, the preppy, wealthy young doctor who is portrayed as a good, if somewhat weak man, and is seen as an almost superficial, social snob, easily and ultimately willingly manipulated by James.

In Slant, Wang uses short chapters with a narrative voice that eases the reader into the story and gains strength and momentum as the full scope of the novel is revealed. The story flows as it maintains a quick, excellent pace with a strong plot and compelling characters that draw the reader from beginning to end, ending on a rather ambiguous note.

On a personal note I'll say that I devoured Mr. Wang's debut novel. After closing the last page, those last few ambiguous chapters left me thinking about his characters and their journey. I'm still thinking about James... and that's what it's all about, right? Timothy Wang is working on his second novel, I can't wait to see where he goes from here.

Category: Contemporary Gay Fiction
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Tincture, June 15, 2011
Source: ARC Lethe Press
Grade: B+

Visit Timothy Wang here.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Review: A Marriage of Inconvenience by Susanna Fraser

Left orphaned and penniless as a young child, Lucy Jones learned to curb her temper, her passions, and even her sense of humor to placate the wealthy relatives who took her in. She became the perfect poor relation--meek, quiet, and self-effacing. She clings to her self-control because she can control nothing else.

James Wright-Gordon also lost his parents at a young age. But he became a wealthy viscount at fifteen and stepped into full control of his fortune and his birthright as a parliamentary power broker at twenty-one. At twenty-four, he is serenely confident in his ability to control everything in the world that matters to him.

At a house party in the summer of 1809, James quickly discerns Lucy’s carefully hidden spirit and wit and does his best to draw them out. After being caught in a compromising situation, they are obliged to marry. But can two people whose need for control has always been absolute learn to put love first?
A Marriage of Inconvenience by Susanna Fraser is the story of how orphaned and penniless Lucy Jones and Viscount James-Wright Gordon end up married despite the vast differences that separate them, including their own feelings. This is also the prequel to The Sergeant's Lady and it gives the readers the background to Anna's story.

I loved the first part of this book where the author depicts the interactions between the cast of characters, and conveys how 1809's society viewed both marriage and money through actions and discourse. The meetings between our protagonists James and Lucy, Lucy's interactions with her family, and the contempt with which she is treated by them as one who is less fortunate are all scenes that the reader can almost see in their minds eye because they are so well detailed by the writer. Those are the scenes that impacted me the most.

Lucy is pretty near at the bottom of the social scales, as she has no fortune and lives on her family's charity. On the other hand, James is a wealthy viscount whose father earned his money while working in India. The fact that Lucy is dependent on her family plays a big role in this romance. Even after her much admired cousin Sebastian offers marriage, their engagement is kept secret and Lucy is often ignored or humiliated with the exception of her new friends James and Anna.

The romance between James and Lucy is actually quite lovely. It develops from a new and tentative friendship into what amounts to an unrecognized courtship. I loved their interactions during this part of the story and up to the point when the two are caught in a compromising situation. A situation where Lucy is quite the willing participant. Once that happens, James plays the gentleman and offers marriage on the spot.

Once James and Lucy marry, the focus of the story changes and although the couple is happy in many ways, the conflict shifts to that of trust and control. This is all right, however, part of this trust issue is all about Lucy letting go of herself sexually. This became frustrating, not only for poor James but for this reader as well -- however, I do believe other readers might really enjoy this section. Once that happened, the story picks up again with a well done resolution to conflicts where angst becomes part of the equation.

When it comes to secondary characters, Anna and Sebastian were the main draw. These two characters really caught my attention and I couldn't wait to read their story. Sebastian was such an ass that I couldn't wait to see what happened to Anna in her own story... so I picked up The Sergeant's Lady immediately after reading this book.

A Marriage of Inconvenience is an enjoyable historical romance read. The story is a bit uneven with an excellent beginning and first half, a frustrating middle, and a good resolution. The story ends with a sweet and satisfying epilogue.

Category: Historical Romance
Publisher/Release Date: Carina Press/April 11, 2011 - Kindle Edition
Grade: B

Visit Susanna Fraser here.

The Sergeant's Lady
A Marriage of Inconvenience

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Review: The Sergeant's Lady by Susanna Fraser

Highborn Anna Arrington has been following the drum, obeying the wishes of her cold, controlling cavalry officer husband. When he dies, all she wants is to leave life with Wellington’s army in Spain behind her and go home to her family’s castle in Scotland.

Sergeant Will Atkins ran away from home to join the army in a fit of boyish enthusiasm. He is a natural born soldier, popular with officers and men alike, uncommonly brave and chivalrous, and educated and well-read despite his common birth.

As Anna journeys home with a convoy of wounded soldiers, she forms an unlikely friendship with Will. When the convoy is ambushed and their fellow soldiers captured, they become fugitives together. The attraction between them is strong, but even if they can escape the threat of death at the hands of the French, is love strong enough to bridge the gap between a viscount’s daughter and an innkeeper’s son?
I loved the story of Anna and Will. The setting in Spain during the war with the French was rich with details and Fraser caught the atmosphere by depicting the harsh reality of war and transporting the reader to those moments in time. Even later when Anna returns to England, through this character and those she meets, the reader experiences a different place -- a place where its people are still dealing with the ravages of war and loss.

Anna "follows the drum," and an abusive and controlling husband who serves in Wellington's army in Spain. After he dies she decides to go home, but while on her way Anna is thrown together with Sergeant Will Atkins, a brave, kind soldier who saves her life after their convoy is captured by the French. The two become fugitives and while on the run, their attraction grows and the two embark on a secret love affair that turns into more. Unfortunately she is highborn and he's of common birth, and neither can see a way to surmount this obstacle.

Will and Anna are excellent protagonists. He is the self-educated son of a country innkeeper and she is the daughter of a viscount who made his fortune in India. Society keeps them apart, as he is poor and can't even afford to buy an officer's commission, and she is a wealthy heiress and widow. I loved both of them as central characters. Anna who performed her duty, paid a high price during a cold and abusive marriage, but still recognized a good man and had so much love to give. She's a character that just grew and grew throughout this two-book series. And then there's Will... talk about love and romance! I loved him.

In The Sergeant's Lady the emotional connection between the two main characters was there from the beginning and it pulled at me to the end. There's also passion, tenderness and love. Plus my goodness... there's the desperation of two people who have all those feelings and know they can't have each other! The writing is beautiful and between that, the story, characterization, setting and atmosphere I couldn't stop reading this story from beginning to end.

The end was a bit rushed in my opinion, and there were a couple of things I wanted to know about Anna and Will at the end that were not clarified. However, that's small potatoes compared to how much I enjoyed the rest of this book. Beautiful, this was a beautiful historical romance.

Category: Historical Romance
Series: The Sergeant's Lady, #1, A Marriage of Inconvenience (Prequel), #2
Publisher/Released: Carina Press/August 23, 2010, Kindle Edition
Grade: B+

Visit Susanna Fraser here.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Mini Impressions: May Reads 2011

Here are some of those mini-impressions I usually include with my monthly recap. I decided to post them separately for my May 2011 reads because my post changed, and it turned out to be too long. As you can see they're mainly LGBT and contemporary romance reads.

Homecoming by Rick R. Reed

Homecoming is a story of loss, grief and finally a second chance at love as life goes on. This was not an easy ride, but rather Reed takes the reader for an emotional roller coaster ride. After Toby dies in an accident, his partner Chase is left devastated by loss and grief. Chase's journey to recovery from that grief begins when the couple's friend Mike invites him to visit their old haunts in Chicago with hopes that Chase will snap out of his depression.

There are two love stories in this book, the central one is Chase and Toby's and then there's a more subdued one that develops as Chase finds his second chance at love. I loved Chase and Toby's love story, told through Chase's memories as he both grieves and is haunted by his lost love. I also enjoyed the hopeful ending, but most of all the journey that took Chase to that end. (LGBT) Grade B

Promises (Coda Books #1) by Marie Sexton

I enjoyed this story, the two main characters and the slow building friends-to-lovers trope. It does have a "gay for you" feel to it, although it might be argued that the one character is basically buried in the closet. However, I found the writing lacking in detail and rushed throughout with more "telling" than "showing." As an example, issues and problems between the two main characters are introduced, but the reader never experiences the resolution with the characters, instead they are "told" in a paragraph what that resolution was and the story moves on at a pretty quick pace to next scene. Having said that, Sexton's main characters are likable and the story has enough good moments that I enjoyed it to the end. (LGBT) Grade C+

The Dark Farewell by Josh Lanyon

A good whodunit with a rather distant protagonist and a rushed and dissatisfying ending. That's what I thought of The Dark Farewell by Josh Lanyon. This is one of those novellas that would have benefited from more character development for those secondary characters and fine details, although again the historical atmosphere and particularly the whodunit were well-done. (LGBT) Grade C

Still the One (The Educators, #1) by Kathryn Shay

This was an average contemporary romance read for me. It's a self-published story by Shay that deals with a teacher who falls in love with one of his senior female students, leaves, and years later returns to town to apply for a position as principal of the high school. The young woman, who also had feelings for the teacher, reacts radically when he leaves and basically ruins her immediate future. In the present she is a widow with two boys and a teacher at the school.

Shay takes on the sensitive subject of attraction between teacher and student and deals with it quite well. I also liked the high school student and teacher atmosphere she developed in this series. There's definite chemistry between the two main characters and that's a plus. I had a few problems with the story though, the teacher was 24 years old when he fell for 18 year-old Annie in senior year, however he "had been there for her" ever since she was a freshman. How old was Dylan when he began teaching, 20? When did he have time to get his BA and his teaching degree? I don't know... just one of the little niggles. The bottom line for me is that although there is chemistry between the characters, the romance just doesn't feel well developed and for some reason, I had a tough time connecting with Annie. The fact that even as an adult she blamed Dylan for her downward spiral bothered me to the end. This is a self-published book/series, so expect a few errors throughout the text. (Contemporary Romance) Grade C

Someone Like You (The Educators, #2) by Kathryn Shay

In the second book of The Educators series, Shay goes back to Crystal Corners High School and features another teacher and war widow, Brie Gorman, as she falls in love with her dead husband's best friend and hot coach, Nick Corelli. As with the first book, Shay also makes the students part of the romance and in this one she highlights Matt, a young man with severe issues at home who has turned to cutting as an avenue of escape.

I enjoyed this story a bit more than the first one. The initial dislike and slow-building attraction between the two main characters kept me reading. The teacher/student relationships and school atmosphere were also well rendered by Shay. However, the story takes a few turns where the reader must suspend disbelief in order to finish it. The resolution to Matt's story is one of them. A good read that fizzled toward the end. (Contemporary Romance) Grade: C

Maybe This Time (The Educators, #3) by Kathryn Shay

In this, the conclusion of The Educators trilogy, one of Shay's teachers again confronts tough issues while finding love. This time it's the cool, young teacher who gets her turn. While stuck at Atlanta's airport on her way home, Delaney meets a man and proceeds to have a hot and sizzling one-night stand, that both feel might turn into more. Later, she finds out that this man is non other than her favorite student's father, Gage. Stephanie is not just a favorite student, but a troubled and psychologically fragile teenager who trusts Delaney as an adult. A relationship with Stephanie's father is out of the question, but as the parent and teacher have more contact with each other the mutual attraction becomes a frustrating, losing battle for the couple.

This contemporary romance had good moments with a couple that had chemistry and again, that good high school atmosphere with teachers that care. However, I had just one too many problems with it, including the amount of issues that were thrown into the simmering pot for Gage and Delaney. Stephanie's psychological rebelliousness, the school situation, the way over-the-top drama with Stephanie's friends, Stephanie's mother and how her bipolar illness was handled within the story. Most of all the unplanned pregnancy, which is not one of my favorite devices, and how that affected the romance between the two main characters. So, not a favorite read for me. (Contemporary Romance) Grade: C-

His Hearth (Warder Series #1) by Mary Calmes

An M/M romance that basically, like its characters, couldn't make up its mind which way to go: a contemporary romance through 80% of the story and a paranormal for the last 10%.

This story had one main character who didn't sleep around unless he was in a committed relationship, yet did, and another one who was begging, and I mean begging and pitiful, throughout most of the story. He comes off as weak and manipulative yet later, during the paranormal part of the story, we are supposed to believe this character is somehow a macho, killing machine. I didn't buy any of it. Nothing made real sense, neither the contemporary part of the story, nor the paranormal. A real disappointment for me. (LGBT) Grade: D-

Friday, June 3, 2011

May 2011 Reads & Meeting Nalini Singh

Nalini Singh's Kiss of Snow U.S. Book Tour
June 2, 2011, New York City

May was a great month for reading, reviewing, bookish things and meetings, as earlier in the month I had a wonderful time while meeting my old friend Indie for the first time. Then yesterday, (I know it's June!) I had the pleasure of meeting Nalini Singh, while she is on her Kiss of Snow U.S. Book Tour, at a Barnes & Noble in New York City. It was a wonderful experience and one that I shared with my friend Mariana of Hips Like Mine. The two of us caught the bus after work, met at the Port Authority and shot over to the venue, arriving a bit late due to heavy traffic.

When we arrived, the chat between Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches Trashy Books and Ms. Singh was already in progress, but what we caught was both amusing and informative. Ms. Singh kept her audience rapt by giving just enough hints and information about characters, story arc and future books (three, maybe four before the series ends!). She was warm and just lovely. Ms. Singh was also very generous with her time during and after the conversation, especially during the second part of the event when every single lady had the opportunity to sit by Ms. Singh to chat briefly while she autographed each book(s).

I didn't bring my ARC copy of Kiss of Snow (yes, I was kicking myself) so I purchased a copy, plus a print copy of Play of Passion since that's the only book from her series I read in ebook format. She autographed both of them for me while we chatted briefly and she proceeded to surprise me with her incredible memory for names and details -- meanwhile Mariana took the above grainy picture of the both of us with my phone. So yes, now I own two copies of each one of those books, lol! But I'll save the signed copies for my collection and use the other ones for re-reads -- rationalize, rationalize. :)

Well, that's my experience with Ms. Singh. Now I should go on with my recap of last month's reads which will be a short one this month. I decided to post my usual minis separately since this post is already so long.
Total May Reads: 19
Contemporary: 9 (Romance: 8  Fiction: 1)
Historical Romance: 2
Paranormal Romance: 2
LGBT:  6 (Romance: 4 Mystery: 1 Erotica: 1)
  1. Dragon Bound (Elder Race #1) by Thea Harrison: B+
  2. Somebody Wonderful by Kate Rothwell: B+
  3. Twisted Creek by Jodi Thomas: B+
  4. Driftwood by Harper Fox: B+
  5. Portrait of Seduction by Carrie Lofty (Upcoming Review)
  6. Getting Rid of Bradley by Jennifer Crusie (Upcoming Review)
  7. Summer at Seaside Cove by Jacquie D'Alessandro: (Upcoming Review)
  8. The Heat is On by Jill Shalvis: B
  9. Homecoming by Rick R. Reed (Upcoming Mini): B
  10. The Summer We Came to Life by Deborah Cloyd: B-
  11. On the Line by Kathryn Shay (Upcoming Review)
  12. Under Her Skin Anthology with Jeaniene Frost, Meljean Brook, Ilona Andrews: B-
  13. Love and Rockets by Gavin Atlas: B-
  14. Promises by Marie Sexton (Upcoming Mini): C+
  15. The Dark Farewell by Josh Lanyon (Upcoming Mini): C
  16. Still the One (The Educators, #1) by Kathryn Shay (Upcoming Mini): C
  17. Someone Like You (The Educators, #2) by Kathryn Shay (Upcoming Mini): C
  18. Maybe This Time (The Educators, #3) by Kathryn Shay (Upcoming Mini): C-
  19. His Hearth by Mary Calmes (Upcoming Mini): D-
As you can see my top reads this month are a combination of the genres I read this month and new and old releases: paranormal, contemporary, historical and LGBT romance -- no fantasy or science fiction this month! I began reading War for the Oaks by Emma Bull and although I was enjoying it, didn't finish it before the end of the month. When it comes to science fiction I did try reading Blue Galaxy by Diane Dooley, but I'm afraid that book ended up in my "did not finish" pile. 

What about you? What book stood out for you in May? 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Mini: A Lot Like Love by Julie James

Jordan Rhodes is invited to all of Chicago's best parties, but there's only one the FBI wants to crash. To get her brother out of jail, she agrees to take Agent McCall as her date. But when the mission gets botched, requiring their "relationship" to continue, it starts to feel less like an investigation-and a lot like something else.
Well, I really enjoyed A Lot Like Love by Julie James. In this story James combines contemporary romance and "light" suspense quite well. Jordan and Nick are as different from each other as you can get, yet by the end you believe they belong together.

She's the owner of a successful wine shop and he's an FBI agent who needs her help to catch a crook. Julie James uses Jordan's wealthy background and Nick's preconceived ideas about what that might mean to set up initial tension. Jordan being a woman who works hard for her money, is not ashamed of her father's wealth and has never been spoiled, gives as good as she gets and the result is some excellent snappy and witty dialogue between these two.

A Lot Like Love is a good contemporary romance with lots of amusing moments, likable protagonists, and quite a few sexy moments. I actually loved Nick's slow trip into love, thought his internal dialogue was a hoot and really enjoyed the ongoing joke where everyone refers to him as Tall, Dark and Smoldering (or TDS as I began to think of him). I wish a visit to New York with Nick's mother and brothers had been included, there was some great interaction over the phone with these characters, and it almost felt as if the story was incomplete without their physical presence. This is the second book by Julie James I've read and really enjoyed it, so I'll definitely pick up the next book which will be featuring the Twitter Terrorist himself, Jordan's brother Kyle.

Category: Contemporary Romance
Publisher/Release Date: Berkley, March 1, 2011 - Kindle Edition
Grade: B+

Visit Julie James here.