Monday, February 27, 2012

Impressions: Shards of Honour by Lois McMaster Bujold

Cordelia Naismith is enjoying a baptism of fire. Her first mission is to captain a throwaway warship of the Betan Expeditionary Force on a mission to destroy an entire enemy armada. Discovering deception within deception, treachery within treachery, she is forced into an uneasy peace with her nemesis: Lord Aral Vorkosigan. Discovering that astrocartography is not the soundest training for a military leader, Cordelia rapidly finds herself the prisoner of the Barrayaran Captain Aral Vorkosigan, also known as 'The Butcher of Komarr'. But the notorious captain is not quite the beast Cordelia was expecting and a grudging respect develops between the two of them. As captor and prisoner on an abandoned outpost planet, the honourable captain and the resolute scientist must rely on each others' trust to survive a trek across dangerous terrain, thus sparking a relationship that shares the struggles of culture and politics between their worlds.
I finally began reading the Vorkosigan science fiction saga by Lois McMaster Bujold. Although I understand that Miles, their son, is the main character throughout the rest of the series, I decided to begin at the beginning by reading Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan's story. I figured the backstory would help me understand Miles' character better later on. I think it was a good move.

As the first full-length novel in the series Shards of Honour is key. It serves two purposes: one is to give the readers of this series Miles' family history from both sides, and the other is to introduce the complex political, military and cultural differences between the Barrayaran and the worlds they war against, the Betan included.

Bujold uses the slow developing and low-key romance between Cordelia and Aral to build her world through exchanges of information and conversations between the two main characters. They first meet as enemies, but slowly the need to fight for survival in an alien planet brings them together and Cordelia and Aral form a bond of trust through honor and finally affection.

Honor and valor are also key to this story. It is what drives Aral and what he finds in Cordelia -- that, plus strength and will. Cordelia is not only Aral's ideal of a warrior's wife, but everything he himself would like to be as a warrior. Yet, she is not a warrior but a scientist. Aral is a man of honor through and through, but he is also a military strategist and in his heart, a politician. As such, he must make tough decisions that bruise his sense of self. Cordelia understands him and soothes his soul.

Barrayar's politics are quite complex in this story, and what begins as an attack on Cordelia's scientific party in an alien planet balloons into a disproportionate situation that places more than just a few people in danger. There are betrayals behind betrayals, secrets, and massive amounts of people die or are tortured, planets go to war and in the end Bujold leaves the reader with gray areas as to where responsibilities really lie for the loses and slaughter, and even Cordelia must make a tough choice between her own world and Aral's.

Shards of Honour is most definitely a science fiction novel though. Bujold incorporates the necessary details seamlessly into her worldbuilding. Beginning with the alien planet where Cordelia and Aral meet, and where they both use whatever futuristic science there is to survive, and ending with the space ships and developing edgy science used to win and lose wars.

However, I walked away from Shards of Honour thinking mostly about characterization and complex plotting. The romance that Bujold developed between two mature adults that grows from admiration to an almost quiet, deep love was rather enjoyable, and the complex political circumstances and militaristic Barrayaran culture fascinating. So I'm on my way and can't wait to continue by reading the second book in the series, Barrayar.

Category: Science Fiction
Series: Vorkosigan Series, Book 1
Publisher/Release Date: October 1, 1991/Baen Books
Grade: B

Visit Lois McMaster Bujold here.

Read as part of The 2012 Science Fiction Experience.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

This n' That: NJ Bloggers + Surprises & Thanks!

A week ago today, I had the pleasure of meeting with my fellow New Jersey bloggers. We are trying to meet at least once per season, if not more often, depending on our busy schedules. It was a pleasure meeting with Christine, Mariana and Natalie again!

This time Mariana chose the place and we met at The Melting Pot in Hoboken where they serve everything fondue! Cheese fondue -- just look at Christine's smile in the picture above! ;p We ended up having a yummy lunch filled with ooohs and ahhhs. Lunch was good, but the dessert was the piece de resistance! The Yin & Yang combination of melted white and dark chocolate was a sight to behold and I don't think there was enough left at the end to lick the bowl. LOL! We all loved it, and I walked away dreaming of strawberries and cheesecake dipped in chocolate. Check out my grainy pictures, doesn't that dessert look yummy?

Of course we also discussed books and our latest reads. Christine shared how much she enjoyed her latest read Eon by Alison Goodman, and she and Mariana recommended it to the rest of us. Natalie shared her surprise with her enjoyment of latest read Homefront by Kristin Hannah, and that turned out to be great because I just happened to have a book by this author in my bag of goodies that she took home with her! Mariana was all about our latest Internet Book Club read The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan, and I was waxing poetic about He Will Laugh by Douglas Ray and the merits of poetry (lol), plus the latest release by Victoria Alexander, My Wicked Little Lies.

We didn't exchange books this time, instead I just brought something for everyone and that helped me make room in my bookshelves. It worked out perfectly for all of us. :)

Thank you ladies for a great time! It was a wonderful, wonderful afternoon!


I do have two other great ladies I would like to thank. Back in November I put up two posts -- one post was about Pamela Morsi books I purchased and the other post about Mary Balogh books I received from my friend Reny. In one I mentioned that I had been looking for a particular book by Ms. Balogh, and in the comments area of the other there were some great recommendations from the wonderful readers/bloggers that visit.

As a result, I received two books in the mail from two generous and thoughtful ladies!

In the comments area of the Morsi post, JenM recommended The Charm School by Susan Wiggs (1999). When I mentioned that I had only read contemporary romances by this author, but had never read her historical romances, she offered to send me the book and did so immediately. I was quite touched by Jen's generosity!

At that time Jen also recommended Conor's Way by Laura Lee Guhrke, the latest rage around the web (going by all the reviews, lol). Hey Jen! I finally got that book at a great price... 0.99 cents for my Kindle. Thanks for the recommendation. :D

Then! I mentioned that I was missing Indiscreet (The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse #1) by Mary Balogh (1997), to complete the series, but that it was next to impossible to find the book at a reasonable price. Well, I received a wonderful surprise on Valentine's Day when a copy of this book arrived at my door all the way from Canada from sweet Ames! She found it at a used book store and thought of me. She made my day!

Thank you JenM and Ames for your generosity and thoughtfulness!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mini: My Wicked Little Lies by Victoria Alexander

Evelyn Hadley-Attwater has it all ---a genteel Victorian life replete with loving husband, ball gowns and elegant parties. No one, including the man she married, suspects that she was once "Eve," a spy for England's most enigmatic inteliggence agency. Summoned for one final assignment, the excitement of her former life and memories of her mysterious, flirtatious boss "Sir" prove too tempting.

Adrian Hadley-Attwater is a respectable, dignified gentleman. But even the most proper gentlemen have secrets of their own. Secrets from the rest of the world, from their families, from their wives. Secrets that have a price. Now, as a veil of secrecy frays, a tantalizing game of cat and mouse will test the bounds of unfailing love...
My Wicked Little Lies by Victoria Alexander is an amusing, witty historical romance with lovely central and secondary characters. The main couple is happily married and very much in love with each other. Yet, their lives are also full of secrets that lead to misunderstandings, lack of trust, impulsive actions and hurt feelings.

I enjoyed this book for the "game of love" that takes place between the two main characters. There's much to be said about the way in which Ms. Alexander made this story work by taking two married people who love each other deeply, and basically just need to reinforce that one very important truth to each other. The romance is also quite well integrated with the "spy" storyline, actually it can be said that one cannot be separated from the other. That is how well integrated it is. Very well done! And, the secondary characters in this story add sexual tension (as in the case of Max and Celeste), or family atmosphere (as in the extensive Hadley-Attwater family), without taking the focus away from the main couple.

Was this book a perfect read for me? No. There are a few niggles here and there, the pace slows down somewhat through the middle of the story, and there's some question about lack of sexual tension between the two main characters. However overall, this is a solid book that I recommend as a delightful historical romance read.

Category: Historical Romance
Series: Sinful Family Secrets #2
Publisher/Release Date: Zebra
Source: Kensington Books
Grade: B

Visit Victoria Alexander here.

Buddy Review at Breezing Through:

I'm doing something different this time! I posted a Mini above, but if you would like to read my complete thoughts on My Wicked Little Lies by Victoria Alexander, please head over to Breezing Through where I was invited to do a buddy review with the lovely Nath!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cover/Author Spotlight: Purgatory by Jeff Mann

During the Civil War, two young soldiers on opposite sides find themselves drawn together. One is a war-weary but scholarly Southerner who has seen too much bloodshed, especially the tortures inflicted upon the enemy by his vicious commanding officer, his uncle. The other is a Herculean Yankee captured by the rag-tag Confederate band and forced to become a martyr for all the sins of General Sheridan's fires. When these two find themselves admiring more than one another's spirit and demeanor, when passions erupt between captor and captive, will this new romance survive the arduous trek to Purgatory Mountain?
Purgatory: A Novel of the Civil War by Jeff Mann

I know... I just posted a review and it has been a looong time since I highlighted one book or a cover in this blog, but I couldn't help myself after receiving a newsletter announcing that this book is releasing in March. I've been keeping an eye out for it ever since I first saw the cover highlighted at Lethe's website.

There's something about this cover that just does SOMETHING for me. Maybe it's the eyes, the beard or the gorgeous eyebrows on that soldier (that face!), or maybe it's the composition of the picture, but I love, love this cover. It makes me want to hold the book in my hands.

Of course there's the most important part of it, the content! This book is by Jeff Mann. Just read the blurb. If anyone can do justice to a Civil War fiction yarn and make passions erupt convincingly between a Confederate and a Yankee soldier, it's Jeff Mann. Cant't wait!

Book releases March 15, 2012
Gay Historical Romance
Bear Bones Books

ETA: Read My Review Here

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Review: The Master of Seacliff by Max Pierce

A gothic mystery with a decidedly masculine point of view.

The year is 1899, and Andrew Wyndham is twenty years old—no longer a boy, but not yet the man he longs to become. Brought up by a harsh and stingy aunt and uncle in New York City after the death of his parents, young Andrew dreams of life as an artist in Paris. He has talent enough but lacks the resources to bring his dream to fruition. When a friend arranges for him to work as tutor to the son of a wealthy patron of the arts, Andrew sees a chance to make his dream come true and boards a train heading up the Atlantic coast. His destination is the estate called Seacliff, where he'll tutor his new charge and save his pay to make the life he dreams of possible. But danger lurks everywhere and nothing is quite as easy as it seems.
The Master of Seacliff by Max Pierce is an American gay gothic historical mystery with a romance. We've all read gothic historicals before, right? Pierce reeled me with great atmosphere, a multi-layered mystery and some excellent characters.

Let's begin with the setting. Our main character Andrew travels from New York City to an unnamed place up the Atlantic Coast to Seacliff, a doom and gloom estate that just reeks with atmosphere and a personality all of its own. As soon as the place is described you just know the place is either full of ghosts or something awful is going to happen.

Then there are the characters. There's the young and naive young hero, the handsome and brooding master of the household, and what I thought was a rather large cast of characters for a gothic. Pierce works them all into the mystery, and either uses them as red herrings to throw off the reader or incorporates them into the story to give it depth. The characterization is excellent and I came away from the book thinking of all these characters as having quite distinct personalities. Well done!

There's Duncan, the unhappy, unconventional master rumored to have killed his father to gain access to the business, and young Timothy, born out of wedlock, is a terror with no manners. Then there are brother and sister Leo and Elena from the neighboring estate who initially seem to be a breath of fresh air, but are they really Duncan's friends or is there something else going on? And then there's the staff who range from the downright creepy to those with tragic histories and/or secrets.

The story is definitely traditional gothic historical mystery. Our young and very naive hero is talented but poor Andrew Wyndham. He dreams of going to Paris to paint but lacks funds, so he secures a temporary three-month position at Seacliff as tutor to Timothy, son to the Duncan Stewart, Master of Seacliff. Seacliff and its inhabitants, however, are about to make those three months tough for young Andrew.

Secrets abound at Seacliff, and as Andrew begins to unravel them danger lurks everywhere, and to top it all off sensual undercurrents and confusing feelings place him in an awkward position. Who is the murderer? Who can he trust? As the bodies begin to pile up, Andrew can't decide and he needs to find out fast or he might be the next victim. Pierce leads the reader all over the place with this story, it's great! I can tell you that I guessed and changed my mind numerous times along the way and was never certain who did it until the very end.

Although the mystery in The Master of Seacliff definitely takes precedence over the romance and you won't find explicit sexual scenes, there is plenty of sexual tension between our central characters -- especially when our yet-to-become sexually aware Andrew becomes a bone of contention between brooding Duncan and sexy Leo. The romance between our two protagonists is developed slowly throughout the story and woven quite well with the mystery. I particularly like that when it comes to the romance Pierce went along with tradition and Andrew, although young, is not easy and in the end holds out for true love.

It has been a while since I read a gothic historical mystery, and frankly I enjoyed The Master of Seacliff. The American setting and the great atmosphere were both a plus for me as was the excellent characterization. And even though in some levels I found this to be a standard gothic historical, the male perspective gave this story a fresh feel, and the multi-layered mystery with its great twists was a joy to read as was the happy ending to the romance.

Category: LGBT - Gay Gothic Historical Mystery/Romance
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Lethe Press/January 16, 2012
Grade: B

Visit Max Pierce here.

Monday, February 20, 2012

New Releases: Historical Romances Feb-May 2012

It's time to highlight a few upcoming 2012 new releases. There are quite a few upcoming historical romances releasing within the next few months that I'm really looking forward to reading. Here are just a few of them, beginning with the end of February and ending with May 2012.


Title: The Temporary Wife/A Promise of Spring by Mary Balogh
Release Date: February 28, 2012
In two classic tales of Regency-era romance from New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh, the vagaries of love have a way of challenging the most convenient arrangements.

Miss Charity Duncan has no illusions about Lord Anthony Earheart’s proposal. The arrogant aristocrat has made it painfully clear what he wants: a wife who will enrage the father he despises and then disappear from his life. In exchange, Charity’s family will receive the money they desperately need. But after Charity agrees to this mockery of matrimony, she soon discovers a startling fact: She has fallen for Anthony, and breaking their marriage vows may also break her heart.

Grace Howard has every reason to be devoted to Sir Peregrine Lampman. After all, the gallant gentleman rescued her from poverty by making her his bride. Even more nobly, he did not withdraw his affection after she confessed to a youthful folly that had compromised her virtue. But Grace did not tell the whole truth about the handsome lord who betrayed her—and now the one thing she’s kept from Perry threatens to destroy her last chance at true love.
The Temporary Wife (1997) and A Promise of Spring (1990) were originally released by Signet. They have been out of print forever! Dell is re-releasing both of those books under one cover, and as I'm a Balogh fan, this is a "must buy/must read" for me.

Title: The Surrender of Miss Fairbourne by Madeline Hunter
Series: The Fairbourne Quartet, Book #1
Release Date: March 6, 2012
A woman running a prestigious London auction house? Preposterous! But that is exactly what Emma Fairbourne intends to do when her father dies, leaving her the reins of this fabulous enterprise. Of course, she is not addlepated enough to do this openly and scare away her wealthy collectors. So she and her friend concoct a deception, hiring a handsome and charming front man who will do her bidding...

All would have proceeded smoothly--if it weren't for the maddening interference of Darius, the arrogant Earl of Southwaite, who has been her father's "silent partner" and now shares ownership of Fairbourne's. An earl, of course, has no interest in running an auction house--and Darius is certainly not interested in allowing the lovely Miss Fairbourne to run it either, her ludicrous scheme notwithstanding. Clearly the business must be sold.

But the headstrong Emma is like no other lady he has ever encountered, refusing to follow his dictates. Holding his temper in check, Darius decides to attack on a different front. There is another way to achieve her surrender, one far more pleasurable for both of them...
I like Madeline Hunter's books. It has been a while since I read any of them, although I do have a few of them in my "to be read" pile. But this is an opportunity to begin with the first book of a new series. I'm getting on the bandwagon.

Title: The Rake by Mary Jo Putney
Release Date: March 27, 2012
Fate has given a disgraced Rake one final chance to redeem himself--by taking his place as the rightful master of an ancestral estate. But nothing prepares him for his shocking encounter with a beautiful lady who has fled a world filled with betrayal. Now he will awaken in her a passion more powerful than anything she has ever known--a passion that can doom or save them both if they dare to believe.
Here's another re-release! The Rake is one of Mary Jo Putney's most popular books. This book was originally released by Super Regency Signet in 1989 under the title "The Rake and the Reformer." It won the Romance Writers of America RITA Award for Best Romance in 1990. The book has been re-released since then under the title The Rake, and now it's coming out again. I don't own this book, so I'm definitely getting this new version of the old classic. :)

Title: The Duke's Perfect Wife by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Highland Pleasures, Book #4
Release Date: April 3, 2012
Lady Eleanor Ramsay is the only one who knows the truth about Hart Mackenzie. Once his fiancee, she is the sole woman to whom he could ever pour out his heart.

Hart has it all--a dukedom, wealth, power, influence, whatever he desires. Every woman wants him--his seductive skills are legendary. But Hart has sacrificed much to keep his brothers safe, first from their brutal father, and then from the world. He's also suffered loss--his wife, his infant son, and the woman he loved with all his heart though he realized it too late.

Now, Eleanor has reappeared on Hart's doorstep, with scandalous nude photographs of Hart taken long ago. Intrigued by the challenge in her blue eyes--and aroused by her charming, no-nonsense determination--Hart wonders if his young love has come to ruin him . . . or save him.
And.... yay! Hart's book is coming! Am I going to miss the fourth book about the Mackenzie brothers? No way! I've liked Hart from the beginning and can't wait to find more about him. Plus I really liked Lady Eleanor in the last book. I'm curious, really curious. This is a "must read" for me.


Title: The Proposal by Mary Balogh
Release Date: May 1, 2012
In Mary Balogh’s engaging and seductive new novel of drama and romance, a woman comfortable in her solitude allows temptation to free her heart, when a daring war hero shows her how truly extraordinary she is.


Gwendoline, Lady Muir, has seen her share of tragedy, especially since a freak accident took her husband much too soon. Content in a quiet life with friends and family, the young widow has no desire to marry again. But when Hugo, Lord Trentham, scoops her up in his arms after a fall, she feels a sensation that both shocks and emboldens her.

Hugo never intends to kiss Lady Muir, and frankly, he judges her to be a spoiled, frivolous—if beautiful—aristocrat. He is a gentleman in name only: a soldier whose bravery earned him a title; a merchant’s son who inherited his wealth. He is happiest when working the land, but duty and title now demand that he finds a wife. He doesn’t wish to court Lady Muir, nor have any role in the society games her kind thrives upon. Yet Hugo has never craved a woman more; Gwen’s guileless manner, infectious laugh, and lovely face have ruined him for any other woman. He wants her, but will she have him?

The hard, dour ex-military officer who so gently carried Gwen to safety is a man who needs a lesson in winning a woman’s heart. Despite her cautious nature, Gwen cannot ignore the attraction. As their two vastly different worlds come together, both will be challenged in unforeseen ways. But through courtship and seduction, Gwen soon finds that with each kiss, and with every caress, she cannot resist Hugo’s devotion, his desire, his love, and the promise of forever.
Mary Balogh is coming out with a new book, and I will not miss reading The Proposal. This is a long summary! It's about a Lady and a soldier. Ms. Balogh likes her soldiers and I love the way she portrays them. I will be looking for a fresh approach to her portrayals. I'm really looking forward to this book. :)


So these are just a few of the upcoming historical romances I'm looking forward to reading from now until May 1st. How about you? Is there a historical romance you just cannot wait to read?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Review: He Will Laugh by Douglas Ray

He Will Laugh traces the intense love between two young men. From the excitement of their first meeting to the aftermath of a tragic suicide, the speaker searches for grace and understanding amid his grief and the wealth of memory that remains.
He Will Laugh by Douglas Ray begins with the end. After reading that first gripping poem I dare anyone not to keep reading, as it is almost immediately apparent that this little book is more than a poetry collection, it is a contemporary story of love found and lost written in prose.

In the aftermath of his lover Issac's suicide the narrator takes the reader through a journey. From that first meeting to its tragic conclusion, through prose, Ray is relentless in wringing out emotion from the reader. He does so magnificently by conveying grief, the devastation of loss, sensuality, joy, frustration, and finally bittersweet understanding and closure.

This 82 page collection is divided into three sections, Now, Then and Time Unredeemable. Each section is introduced by a poem that sets the tone for that particular section. A hunting, sorrowful poem that in the end also brings closure, "November 8" serves as the perfect introduction to the first section, Now.

Now recounts the present events and the grief and loss that the narrator experiences after his young lover dies. "Salo" is one of the most gripping poems in this section, as the narrator recalls Isaac's appreciation for Pasolini's film Salò and begins by describing the scene at the end of the film and ends the poem by describing Isaac's suicide and the narrator's regrets. However, from "Get that in Writing," to "How We Grieve," and from "Still" to "You say, There's nothing special about 20" [...Call me Hadrian. Antinous, his lover, died at 20, and Hadrian deified him a daemon of arts, like Pan and Bacchus...], the poetry in this first section makes a deep, strong impact on the reader.

Then begins with a poem that says it all with its title, "Find the Precedent in Childhood." This section addresses the past, the joy of that first meeting, the sensuality, passion and yearning of a lover, as well as the frustrations that came with the long term relationship between the narrator and young, troubled Isaac. Some of my favorite poems are found in this section, as our narrator goes from sublime happiness to depths of despair as the relationship's reaches its inevitable conclusion.

In Time Unredeemable the poet ends with one single poem that captures the present, the past and the "what ifs," or all those possibilities that will never be realized, "Chaconne for Neuroses." And yet, at this time, at the end, I returned to the beginning and ended my reading experience with the first poem, November 8. I kept coming back to that one poem, possibly because I find it to be such a complete piece.

One of the most interesting aspects of Ray's prose in He Will Laugh is that it is both distinctly contemporary and yet it manages to convey the rather timeless flavor found in works by poets throughout the ages. He uses musical and religious allegations, Greek and Roman historical figures, and often cites the Spanish poet Garcia Lorca, while mixing popular figures like John Waters and other cinematographic figures and classic films in his poetry. His prose is lyrical and prosaic, contemporary and classic, quite an arresting combination. Certainly the timeless yearning, joy and grief that comes of love found and lost are well rendered.

The outcome is that I cried and grieved with this lover who lost, felt his immense joy at finding love, as well as his anger and frustration, and yes... fell a little in love with Isaac too. He Will Laugh is a magnificent debut by Douglas Ray and this poetry collection with it's particularly poignant and relevant view of the contemporary gay man's experience is a must read. Highly recommended.

Here are excerpts from two of my favorite poems.

This is the day the gates to the underworld
open [...]

Remember your name, the miracle
of laughter. Bring pleasure to the sad gods,
though you leave this world to grieve,
to replace your intricate streams of blood
with methanol and formaldehyde.
                  November 8 (excerpt - page 11)

You are a symphony, love, stretched
from clef to double-line, which summons
silence. Your feet, placed apart neatly,
consonant as thirds, each toe nimble,
articulate enough to play a tocatta complex
as Widor's.
                Sight Reading (excerpt - page 38)

About the Author: Douglas Ray teaches at Indian Springs School, a boarding and day school in Birmingham, Alabama. He received his B.A. and M.F.A. from the University of Mississippi.


Category: LGBT Poetry
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Lethe Press/February 2012
Source: Lethe Press
Grade: A-

Friday, February 17, 2012

Poetry: Konstantinos P. Kavafis... Days of 1903

Days of 1903

I never found them again—all lost so quickly...
the poetic eyes, the pale face...
in the darkening street...

I never found them again—mine entirely by chance,
and so easily given up,
then longed for so painfully.
The poetic eyes, the pale face,
those lips—I never found them again.

by Konstantinos P. Kavafis

Translated from the Greek by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

TBR Review: Anyone But You by Jennifer Crusie

TBR Challenge 2012 February Theme: Recommended Read

I read my first novel by Jennifer Crusie in September 2010 thanks to Tracy who sent me a copy of Welcome to Temptation. The following month in October 2010, Nath came to visit and recommended and gifted me with Anyone But You (plus quite a few other books in Crusie's backlist). The book has been sitting in my TBR pile ever since. So, thanks to both Tracy for convincing me to read this author, and to Nath for recommending this book.


She was beginning life fresh -- new job, new apartment. No husband. All she wanted was a puppy. A happy, perky puppy. Instead she got Fred. Part Basset, part beagle, part manic-depressive.

Nina loved Fred. Everything was great. Well, her best friend went through men like tissues and somehow Nina had to single-handedly save the company she worked for, but her life was great. Until Fred brought home Alex Moore -- poster boy for lonely women. No, no, no she yelled at her hormones and her heart. Anyone but Alex.

Still, Fred did have very good taste...
Anyone But You was first released by Harlequin in 1996 under their Love & Laughter line. I chose to read it not just because of the author, but hoping that the story would be filled would love and laughter. It was.

Nina moves to her new apartment after a divorce. She's finally happy with her life as is except that she wants a perky dog to keep her company. But when it comes down to it, instead of choosing a perky little dog to cheer herself up, falls in love with the smelly, depressed-looking Fred in a scene that immediately hooked me on this story. By next day Fred brings home drool-worthy Alex Moore, the gorgeous downstairs neighbor. Soon the attraction turns out to be mutual, and even after Nina finds out Alex is an ER doctor, she keeps reminding herself that he's just a kid.

The two become friends who share their daily concerns and well... Fred. The attraction grows but here's the main conflict between Nina and Alex, age. Nina just turned forty and Alex just turned thirty, so this romance has an older woman/younger man theme. Of course Alex doesn't care about the age difference, but to Nina this is a big deal.

This was an enjoyable read for me with the promised love and laugh out loud moments here and there. The main characters in the story are likable and fun. There are really three main characters: Nina, Alex and Fred. They are a trio, and their scenes together are the best. Oreo cookies, milk, and a special bra become part of their intimate, relationship-building moments, and a watchful Fred doesn't just bring this couple together, he becomes a witness to more than just their movie nights.
He looked at Fred.
"Pay attention. You may pick up some pointers here."
Nina moved against the pillow. "He's just a child. He shouldn't be watching."
Whether you are a dog lover or not, these scenes are there to be enjoyed. :)

Although this is a short, quick read, the romance is stretched out throughout and well developed. Nina and Alex become friends first as Alex basically woos Nina in a sideways sort of way, and Nina accepts that wooing even while telling herself that she's too old for him. I love the apartment window-hopping, Alex's miscalculations when it comes to wardrobe (loved the Daffy Duck shorts), and their movie nights together, plus once they get between the sheets there is more than sizzle between them.

There is a conflict that arises because of those age insecurities mentioned above, both Nina's and interestingly enough Alex's. Having read a few of Crusie's books now, I found it interesting that even this short, fun book touches on certain themes found in her later novels: dysfunctional and unhappy wealthy families, cold, uncaring parents (see dysfunctional families), couples that might not want a family, and a yearning for a simpler life as the ideal for happiness.

There are not too many secondary characters in this short story, but the ones that are highlighted are excellent. I particularly like Alex's brother Max and Nina's best friend Charity, both secondary characters that show personal growth throughout this short romance without taking the focus away from the main couple. Plus the upstairs senior neighbors, Norma and Rich, are a wonderful addition that contribute to the overall story.

Anyone But You is light, funny and fun, and although it is a bit dated with 1990's pop culture references, reading this contemporary romance is a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Plus, if you haven't read it yet, good luck with not falling in love with Fred!

Theme: Recommended Read
February Review
Category: Contemporary Romance
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Harlequin/August 1, 1996
Source: Gift from Nath
Grade: B+

Visit Jennifer Crusie here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Reading: The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan

A sweet and touching modern love story, told through dictionary entries

How does one talk about love? Do we even have the right words to describe something that can be both utterly mundane and completely transcendent, pulling us out of our everyday lives and making us feel a part of something greater than ourselves? Taking a unique approach to this problem, the nameless narrator of David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary has constructed the story of his relationship as a dictionary. Through these short entries, he provides an intimate window into the great events and quotidian trifles of being within a couple, giving us an indelible and deeply moving portrait of love in our time.

Some favorite entries so far:

ardent, adj.
It was after sex, when there was still heat and mostly breathing, when there was still touch and mostly thought... it was as if the whole world could be reduced to the sound of a single string being played, and the only thing this sound could make me think of was you. Sometimes desire is air; sometimes desire is liquid. And every now and then, when everything else is air and liquid, desire solidifies, and the body is the magnet that draws its weight.
basis, n.
There has to be a moment at the beginning when you wonder whether you’re in love with the person or in love with the feeling of love itself.

If the moment doesn’t pass, that’s it—you’re done. And if the moment does pass, it never goes that far. It stands in the distance, ready for whenever you want it back. Sometimes it’s even there when you thought you were searching for something else, like an escape route, or your lover’s face.
beguile, v.
It's when you walk around the apartment in my boxers when you don't know I'm awake. And then that grin, when you do know I'm awake. You spend so much time in the morning making sure every hair is in place. But I have to tell you: I like it most like this, haphazard, sleep strewn, disarrayed.
candid, adj.
  "Most times, when I'm having sex, I'd rather be reading."
   This was, I admit, a strange thing to say on a second date. I guess I was just giving you warning.
  "Most times when I'm reading," you said, "I'd rather be having sex."

Monday, February 13, 2012

Review: Matthew (The Circle Eight) by Emma Lang

A man learns to hold what is his

It is a vast spread in the eastern wilds of the newly independent Republic of Texas, the ranch their parents fought for … and died for. To the eight Graham siblings, no matter how much hard work or hard love it takes, life is unthinkable without family…

In the wake of his parents’ murder, Matthew Graham must take the reins at the Circle Eight. He also needs to find a wife in just thirty days, or risk losing it all. Plain but practical, Hannah Foley seems the perfect bride for him . . . until after the wedding night.

Their marriage may make all the sense in the world, but neither one anticipates the jealousies that will result, the treacherous danger they’re walking into, or the wildfire of attraction that will sweep over them, changing their lives forever.
Matthew is the first book in The Circle Eight, a western historical romance series by Emma Lang. I love westerns, so how could I not read this book, plus I've never read anything by this author before and just had to try it.

Matthew Graham is the eldest of eight siblings. He's only twenty five years old when his parents are brutally murdered at their ranch and his youngest brother, 5 year old Benjamin, disappears. His six siblings range the ornery teenage Olivia,  to the sweet seven year old Catherine, and he's responsible for every single one of them as well as the ranch that his parents worked so hard to build up and maintain. The Circle Eight ranch is his family's future and with the help of his argumentative, frustrating and determined siblings he will do anything not to lose it.

Before his father was murdered, he applied for a land grant to enlarge his ranch but had yet to claim it. Matthew goes to claim the land, but once at the office he's told that his wife also has to sign the papers otherwise the grant becomes null and void. Matthew lies and says his wife.... Hannah... is back home. He is given a 30 day extension to bring his wife back to sign the papers. Backed against the wall, he has to find a wife named Hannah fast or lose his family's future.

Hannah lives with her granny at the local boarding house. She's considered a plain-looking spinster, kind of invisible, with a bit too much at the top and too much at the bottom to be considered attractive, at least that's the way she describes herself. She dreams of a family and a man who will love her, but knows that this is probably not part of her future, until she meets Matt over turnips at the grocer's and hope kindles in her heart.

What do I like about this book? I enjoyed quite a bit actually. The story as a whole and the premise for the series. As a western historical romance this story covers all the bases.There is the romance that remains the focal point with memorable secondary characters that contribute a great deal to the plot. There's are also a couple of outside conflicts: one with a villain that is solved by the end of the book, the other concerning the ranch and the land also resolved, and another conflict that stays unsolved and that will be recurring throughout the series.

The main characters in this romance are both likable, particularly the female protagonist and that's also a positive for me. I specifically liked that the heroine, Hannah discovers her inner strength and shows marked growth from beginning to end. She begins as a shy woman who seems to be afraid to show her true self to others, and grows into a woman who is not afraid to fight for herself or for those she loves. She gives of herself to others, but also knows that she deserves to be loved and respected. Now, the fact that she has her granny there to give her a push in the right direction when she wavers is a great addition to this story too. Heather's grandmother's input and advise is invaluable to her personal growth.

Matthew well... I love that although he married Hannah to claim the land and because she happened to have the right name, he was really attracted to her from the beginning and let her know. He couldn't keep his hands off Hannah even when he tried. I love how he gets lost whenever he kisses her, and frankly I think that Lang truly conveys the enthusiasm in a sexual relationship between a 25 and a 23 year old free to indulge in daily sexual bouts for the first time quite well! Lots of passion there.

The relationship between the siblings is quite important in this story. It was very well done. They all tease, argue, frustrate, and love each other just as siblings do. Healthy ones, anyway. The underlying understanding they have for each other even as they argue and complain, particularly with the eldest sister Olivia who's hostile to everyone, including herself, and winds up blaming everything on Hannah, is quite believable.

Did I have niggles and problems with the book? Well, yes. There's repetitiveness found throughout the story, particularly during the times when the main characters' inner dialogue or thoughts come into play. For example: Matthew's and Hannah's internal musings and/or reasoning as to why they can't allow themselves to love each other, particularly Matthew's. And when it comes to plot points that I thought were slightly off, I found the siblings' reactions to losing their baby brother Benjamin, including Matthew's, a bit unnatural in its lack of urgency, particularly because they are such a close-knit family.

Overall, however, Matthew by Emma Lang is a quick, enjoyable and solid western historical romance with a passionate and likable couple and memorable secondary characters. I am quite curious to find out how this series will turn out and look forward to the next book.

Category: Western Historical Romance
Series: The Circle Eight, Book 1
Publisher: Brava/February 1, 2012
Source: Kensington Publishing
Grade: B

Visit Emma Lang here.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Review: We the Animals by Justin Torres

We wanted more. We knocked the butt ends of our forks against the table, tapped our spoons against our empty bowls; we were hungry. We wanted more volume, more riots. We turned up the knob on the TV until our ears ached with the shouts of angry men. We wanted more music on the radio; we wanted beats; we wanted rock. We wanted muscles on our skinny arms. We had bird bones, hollow and light, and we wanted more density, more weight. We were six snatching hands, six stomping feet; we were brothers, boys, three little kings locked in a feud for more. "We Wanted More"
With his short, 128 page debut coming-of-age novel We the Animals, Justin Torres packs a powerful punch.  This is one of those little books that I had in my queue of electronics books to read last year, and didn't get to until December. Once finished, I was sorry I didn't get to it earlier.

Where do I begin? Do I summarize the story first? No. I'll begin by giving you my impressions of the book itself. There's such velocity and power in the narration that it's tough to put this short book down for even one minute. The characters in this story are so rich and vibrant that they jump off the pages and the reader can't help but want to go on to know how the story ends. Torres' sparse writing style, like negative space in a painting used to emphasize shade and color, is highly effective, as what is not said is just as powerful as what is written.

The story is about three little boys, three brothers who are basically raising themselves as their mother works the evening shift and sleeps during the day, while their Paps is in and out of their lives. Their father is Puerto Rican and their mother is white, and the relationship between these parents is volatile, unstable, sometimes loving, confusing and ultimately traumatizing. Their parents are originally from Brooklyn but they live in upstate New York where families like theirs are not the norm.
"This is your heritage," he said, as if from this dance we could know about his own childhood, about the flavor and grit of tenement buildings in Spanish Harlem, and project in Red Hook, and dance halls, and city parks, and about his own Paps, how he beat him, how he taught him to dance, as if we could hear Spanish in his movements, as if Puerto Rico was a man in a bathrobe, grabbing another beer from the fridge and raising it to drink, his head back, still dancing, still stepping and snapping perfectly in time. "Heritage"
The brothers grow up almost as a unit, with wants and needs that they scrimp and scrape to find on their own. There's a self-absorbing love within the family unit that keeps them in a fierce sort of protective vacuum for years. They grow up learning how to avoid their parents' battles, their father's belt, how to tiptoe while their mother sleeps during the day, making up their own games and getting into mischief as a unit. Torres effectively conveys joy, as well as the dysfunction in the boys' lives through their games, whether they are flying trash kites, smashing tomatoes or pretending to be "the magic of God."

As the story quickly moves along and the brothers grow in the midst of a chaotic household, physically and psychologically abused by self-absorbed parents, they begin to see beneath the surface of the fights and into the real dysfunction that permeates their family. The brothers' relationship begins to splinter ["When we were brothers..."], and although the two older brothers remain close, our young narrator feels more and more like an outsider, separate, alienated. As the story races to its climactic ending to uncover the reasons behind the boy's alienation, the story gains speed and by its conclusion the reader is left breathless and more than a little heartbroken.

The story is sectioned off into vignettes or short stories narrated in the first person point of view by the youngest brother. The narration is powerful, the sections are short and to the point with a sparse prose that makes We the Animals a quick, if powerful read. Is the book perfect? Of course not. There is a section at the end of the book where the point of view shifts to the third person, distancing the reader from the most poignant and heartbreaking moment in the story. Whether the author's purpose was to place that distance there or not, the abrupt change in perspective broke the spell I was under and interrupted the immediacy and urgency of that first point of view perspective that is so effectively used up to that particular point.

We the Animals by Justin Torres is a unique coming-of-age story that will leave you breathless with its content and speed. This is a heartbreakingly memorable story and one I highly recommend.

Category: Literary Fiction/LGBT
Publisher/Released: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/August 30, 2011 - Kindle Ed.
Grade: B+

Visit Justin Torres here.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Poetry: Konstantinos P. Kavafis

I’ve Looked So Much....

I’ve looked on beauty so much
that my vision overflows with it.

The body’s lines. Red lips. Sensual limbs.
Hair as though stolen from Greek statues,
always lovely, even uncombed,
and falling slightly over pale foreheads.
Figures of love, as my poetry desired them
.... in the nights when I was young,
encountered secretly in those nights.

by Konstantinos P. Kavafis (1917)

Translated from the original Greek by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Mini: His Secret Past by Ellen Hartman

This is one of two books I picked up and read immediately after last month's TBR Challenge. I'm posting my mini-impressions of the book and links to a few full reviews for you at the bottom of my post.


This Harlequin Super Romance (2008) turned out to be a great read. The fact that it's set in New Jersey just made it that much more fun for me! Mason Star is an ex-rock star who has been living out of the limelight for a long time. He has bad memories of that time and secrets he won't reveal to anyone. Since leaving that life, he has poured his soul into the Mulligan's community center and into making sure he's a good father to his son Christian.

Anna Walsh is well-known for making documentaries, and she wants to make one about Mason Star the rock star, specifically about an incident that affected Anna's own life. Mason doesn't talk about his past to anyone, but Mulligan's is in danger and to save it he makes a deal with Anna that might come at a high personal price. 

This romance was so very well developed for such a short read. Hartman's protagonists get to know each other and work on their internal issues, as well the external conflicts presented by the author as the romance moves along.

Anna and Mason's attraction is believable, as is the ending. I like the way the happy ending for this couple turns out to be realistic. The father/son relationship between Mason and Christian is just as important to this story as Anna and Mason's, at least it was to me. The focus of the story is shared, but this doesn't take away from the overall story, on the contrary, in my opinion the development of that relationship enhanced the story and the romance. A great read! Grade B+

For full, complete reviews visit:
Phyl's Quilt & Books
The Good, The Bad and The Unread 
Dear Author

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Review: Sweet Stuff by Donna Kauffman

Riley Brown never imagined she would find her bliss on Georgia's quiet Sugarberry Island after years of Chicago's city life. With a new career and fantastic new friends, she's got it all - except for eligible men. But a gig staging a renovated beach house delivers a delicious treat - six feet of blue-eyed, gorgeous writer as delectable and Southern as pecan pie. Quinn Brannigan has come to Sugarberry to finish his latest novel in peace, and suddenly Riley has a taste for the bad boy author that no amount of mocha latte buttercream or lemon mousse will satisfy...

Riley's friends are rooting for her to give in to her cravings and spice up her life, but it's Quinn who needs to learn that life's menu just might include love, in all its decadent, irresistible flavours...
Okay now, doesn't everything about this book look and sound over-the-top sweet? The title: Sweet Stuff. Cover: Baby blue background, featuring light pink and frothy white cupcakes. The setting: Sugarberry Island, Georgia. Well, let me assure you that although Donna Kauffman uses sugar and cupcake baking to set up this series, the story itself is not so sweet that it will give you a toothache. Although you might gain a couple of pounds just by reading the cupcake recipes printed at the back of the book! Yum!
"Later she would blame the whole thing on the cupcakes."
The story begins and ends with the cupcakes, after all this is the second book in the Cupcake Club Romance series. Riley Brown stages homes for a living and as the story opens she is working on a cottage for the local Sugarberry realtor, "Scary Ruth," when she spies a treadmill and decides to give it a try. Mistake! Riley is very clumsy, so it's not surprising when it all goes wrong. It's her fault for getting on the darn machine, but somehow blames it all on the cupcakes of course. Just as she thinks she's going to be found dead from a heart attack on a runaway treadmill, gorgeous writer Quinn Brannigan makes an entrance and her little escapade ends up in a hilarious disaster.

Quinn Brannigan writes thrillers with a touch of romance (yes, he does!). Years ago Quinn's grandparents were residents of Sugarberry Island, and he spent many a summer with them. After many years away, he has returned to the island for quiet time to finish his book and make a decision about his career. On his first day there, he meets the clumsy, voluptuous Riley Brown and proceeds to lose his concentration. I love that scene when they first meet, her clumsiness followed by his helpless attraction to her and how it all ends with such sexual tension between Riley and Quinn.

Unfortunately, all that heat is somewhat diffused for a while as these two work out their issues. Riley has trust issues after having been dumped by a long-term fiance two years before and still hasn't gotten over it, and Quinn seems to be waiting for a relationship like the one his grandparents had and so far hasn't found it. Riley is hot, but Quinn is at Sugarberry to concentrate on his work and doesn't need the distraction. Hmm... that doesn't really work for him for long.

While these two are working out their issues separately, Riley's crew of friends either blatantly interfere by approaching Quinn, or encourage Riley to proceed with a relationship. Kauffman works this relationship well by having the couple meet a few times while they're working on their attraction and building up the tension, but each time they meet it's all sizzle and burn between the two.

Quinn and Riley don't jump each other right off the bat, as a matter of fact they don't even kiss for quite a while even though they're panting to do so. They don't dance around their attraction either, instead they talk about it and make decisions about weather it's a good thing to take their attraction to another level or not. During this section of the story the characters carried out long conversations as intimate scenes were about to happen, at other times inner dialogues interrupted the flow of those same scenes. I couldn't help but find this a bit distracting and it slowed the read down a bit for me. However, Kauffman develops the relationship, and once these two decide to go for it, it's fireworks. Quinn turns out to be not only hot, but a sweet, wonderful man. Riley on the other hand works on her troubling issues and personal insecurities all the way to the end.

The story is set in the South and the food is one of the aspects of the story that gives it that southern flavor, otherwise the atmosphere is that of a seaside town. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that Riley's temporary home is a boat in an island. Riley has an adorable, if huge, dog called Brutus that has his own personality and plays a great role.

There are some interesting secondary characters and some memorable ones, I liked all of them. I didn't read the first book of the series, Sugar Rush, but I don't feel as if I missed much by not doing so. This story is pretty much self contained, although those characters make appearances as secondary characters in Sweet Stuff and contribute to this romance. Lani, the owner of the Lani's Cakes by the Cup bakery where everyone meets for their weekly baking club and the crew are all part of the story. I particularly loved Ms. Alva, an older lady who turns out to be an interfering, matchmaking hoot.

Overall, Sweet Stuff is an enjoyable, solid contemporary romance with a likable couple, sprinkled with some humor, great friends as secondary characters, more conflict than expected and yes... some sweetness too.

Category Romance: Contemporary Romance
Series: Cupcake Club Romance
Publisher/Release Date: Brava / February 2012
Source: Kensington Publishing
Grade: B

Visit Donna Kauffman here.

Sugar Rush, Book #1
Sweet Stuff, Book #2
NOTE: Donna Kauffman features two cupcake recipes at the back of the book: Reverse Caramel Apple Cupcakes by Donna Kauffman, and the other is the recipe that won the Original Cupcake Recipe contest, Sweet Peach Tea Cupcakes by Stephanie Gamverona (Winner from South Korea). For all types of cupcake recipes visit Cakes by the Cup.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Minis: Magic Gifts by Ilona Andrews, Pricks and Pragmatism by J.L. Merrow

It's Super Bowl Sunday in the US! For those of you who love football, I wonder if you're excited about this year's game? It's an East Coast battle this year, New England Patriots v. New York Giants. My chosen team is out of contention, but I'll be watching my husband and brothers root for the home team. Enough about football, there's sufficient hype about it on our local TV programming, right?

Today, I'm posting a couple of minis for two novellas I read in January -- urban fantasy and gay romance. Neither was perfect, but interestingly enough, both were quite enjoyable for different reasons.

Magic Gifts (Kate Daniels #5.4) by Ilona Andrews

Magic Gifts was a free Christmas present from the authors to fans of the Kate Daniels series. The novella serves as a bridge between Magic Slays and the upcoming book Gunmetal Magic where Andrea will be the central character. Magic Gifts, however, is all about Kate and Curran, and Andrea only plays a small role. I believe we will find out exactly what happened to her in this story in the upcoming book.

The story begins with a date between Kate and Curran at a local restaurant. The date quickly deteriorates into a battle with vampires when a female vampire navigator is choked by a magic necklace given to her by her boyfriend. When a child is placed in danger by this same necklace, an investigation and a race to save the child's life ensues.

The Andrews team takes the time to incorporate mythology in this novella, as they bring into the picture the Nordic Vikings and their fun, rather superficial society. They also showcase the growth that continues to take place in Kate and Curran's relationship in both intimacy and team play, as well as Kate's increased role within the Pack. As always, the characters are well drawn, the plot well developed, particularly for a novella, plus I found the pacing and action to be quick and exciting. My one concern? Kate's involvement with the Mercenary Guild seemed to be unnecessary, although it's understood that their help will probably be necessary in the upcoming battle. However, how many roles is she supposed to play? Where exactly are they going with Kate's character? Is she supposed to be Queen of Atlanta by the time this series is over? And, why didn't Jim take on that role? He easily could have.

I'm a glutton for Kate Daniels and once I began reading this novella, I wanted more! More story, more Kate and Curran, more Jim, more Julie, more depth, more everything! So, now we wait for Andrea's book in 2012, and the next Kate Daniels installment in 2013! Ahhhh... Grade: B


Pricks and Pragmatism by J.L. Merrow

I liked this novella by J.L. Merrow. Pricks and Pragmatism's main character is Luke, a young man who is accustomed to exchanging sexual favors for a place to live. His usually type is the well-to-do sugar daddy. However, when his current roommate finds a replacement and tells him it's time for him to leave, an old flame hooks him up with a friend willing to let him stay at his place. His new roommate Russell is a geeky engineer and not Luke's type at all, and when he makes it clear from the beginning that he doesn't want sexual favors in return for room and board, this confuses and angers Luke.

In the span of this novella Russell attempts to show Luke his worth as a man and a human being, and Luke learns about himself and ends up yearning for a new type of relationship based on friendship, real attraction and understanding. The story is told from Luke's perspective, and I enjoyed witnessing Luke's growth as a person and experiencing that all-important emotional connection with Russell along with him. I just couldn't help but wish that there had been more depth to Russell's characterization, or that the couple's happy ending had been less abrupt and a bit more satisfying. Overall, however, this was an enjoyable short by Merrow. Grade C+

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Review: The Horizontal Poet by Jan Steckel

Nominated for a Lambda Literary Award, The Horizontal Poet (Zeitgeist Press, 2011) is Jan Steckel's first full-length poetry collection. I found Steckel's poetry to be personal and quite intimate, and the collection as a whole ambitious in its undertaking.

While reading The Horizontal Poet I found that Jan Steckel is passionate about her poetry, but through her poetry it's obvious that there is more. Steckel is a retired doctor suffering from a disability, an activist for bisexual and disability rights, and a writer. Steckel's personal experiences and interests are reflected in her poetry, and she weaves in medicine, social issues and concerns, as well as personal and relationship experiences, all in a rich, sensual, down to earth style.

I loved that this collection is not divided into sections and that her poems are interwoven. Both the intimacy of Steckel's poetry and the format serve to make that all-important connection between the reader and poet. It's almost as if the reader were looking through a window into the poet's life and thoughts as events take place, life evolves, and her memories come to life. For example, you will find a love poem "The History of Our Love" next to one filled with her social concerns, "The Wind and the Boy," or another where she bears her soul about losing a patient, "Swallowing Flies," alongside a poem where she indulges her love of hanging out in strip joints, "The Naked and the Dread."
The California Founding Fathers, in their wisdom,
reckoned a red-blooded working man
could control himself under the influence
of hooch and boobies, or coffee and coochie,
but not hooch and coochie both.
   "The Naked and the Dread"(Excerpt - Page 7)
Steckel's prose throughout this 57 poetry collection is both lyrical and direct as she uses a mixture of both the narrative form of verse and rich poetic metaphors. While you will find that in some of her poems Steckel uses medical terminology in a rather unique way, it is her compassionate and haunting poems depicting experiences during her medical career -- "Swallowing Flies,""Charity and the Hurricane," and "The Underwater Hospital,"
Too much water on the inside,
nothing but water on the outside,
and not even a Diet Coke to drink.
I'm just going to sit down here.
I'm just going to put my head in my hands.
I'm just going to let my shoulders shake.
I'm not crying.
I'm too dry.
  "Charity and the Hurricane"(Excerpt - Page 14)
and others depicting her own personal, physical pain --""Halloween Wedding,""Nightkeeper"-- that impacted me the most.
No St. George of the scalpel's
been favored by God to hack it out.
No poppies can put it to sleep for long.
No song of self-care, no meditative mantra,
no hypnotic chant or New Age cant
can touch the invisible beast hunkered
over its leg of woman, chewing,
   "Nightkeeper" (Excerpt - Page 46)
There are whole poems in this collection that left an impression, and then there are others where only certain lines stayed with me. I read and re-read this book a few times before reviewing it. The bottom line is that Steckel's poetry is distinctive in that it can be read from her perspective as the bisexual poet, the disabled poet, the medical poet, or for its social content. In The Horizontal Poet you get it all, and in the end I found that reading Jan Steckel's poetry from the woman's perspective as a whole, this collection makes an even stronger statement.

I will leave you with excerpts from two of my favorite poems.


Who will tell
what sank into the sand here?
We have become
liberators of souls from bodies.
We will be welcomed
to the land of the dead
with garlands of fingers and toes.

In the land between two rivers
where lists were first written,
who will list the names of the dead?
Who can explain the reasons we came?

Who will sing sorrow? Sing sorrow.
The flood has passed over us
and our mouths are stopped
with sand.



So light her touch
so soft her tongue
blue-veined ankles
vellum skin
cover her mouth with yours
pin her to the sheets
unleash in her the riot in you
make her feel what you feel
make her twist under your hand
till she bursts like a muscat
with a sweeter taste than summer

On the day I step from the balcony,
on the day I yield to the sea,
I will remember (beast that I am)
I was more of a man than he.

About the Author: Jan Steckel is a retired Harvard- and Yale-trained pediatrician, an activist for disability and bisexual rights, a poet, and a writer. Her poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared widely. Her Mixing Tracks (Gertrude Press, 2009) won the Gertrude Fiction Chapbook Award. The Underwater Hospital (Zeitgest Press, 2006) won a Rainbow Award for lesbian and bisexual poetry. She lives in Oakland, California with her husband, Hew Wolff.
Category: LGBT Poetry
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Zeitgeist Press, December 2011
Source: Received from author for review
Grade: B+

Visit Jan Steckel here

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

January 2012: Reads + Updates

Fra Angelico
La Anunciación (detalle)
h.1425-1428. Madrid,
Museo Nacional
del Prado
It's time for last month's recap. January was a good reading month and a great way to begin the year.

January was surprising in that I read more than expected, blogged more than expected, and all of it while having a heck of a busy month! As you will see below, I read lots of science fiction and really enjoyed myself! I posted an overview, a mini and one movie review in this category. The experience of reading "almost" a whole series in one sitting (I'm missing the last book) was fun.

Of the books read and reviewed in January, I really enjoyed The Thorne and The Blossom: A Two Sided Love Story by Theodora Goss. That was a beautiful little love story with a rather unique format. Head Over Heels by Jill Shalvis was not a disappointment and boy... was I glad about that! Particularly since the second book of the Lucky Harbor series was a favorite last year. And while reading reviews posted by other bloggers for the 2012 TBR Challenge, I found two books that I purchased and read immediately: His Secret Past by Ellen Hartman, reviewed by Phyl, and Because of the List by Amy Knupp, reviewed by Lori. I really enjoyed both books! Thank you for the recommendations ladies. :)


Total Books Read: 20
  Contemporary Romance: 7
  Science Fiction: 6
  Erotic Romance: 2
  Urban Fantasy: 1
  Fantasy: 1
  LGBT: 3 (Romance: 1, Erotica: 1, Poetry: 1)

1.   Frat Boys: Gay Erotic Stories Anthology edited by Shane Allison: B-
2.   Old Man's War (Old Man's War #1) by John Scalzi: B
3.   The Ghost Brigades (Old Man's War #2) by John Scalzi: C+
4.   After the Coup by John Scalzi: C-
5.   The Butcher of Anderson Station: A Story of the Expanse by James S.A. Corey: C+
6.   Light the Stars (Cowboys of Cold Creek #1) by RaeAnne Thayne: C-
7.   The Thorne and the Blossom: A Two-Sided Love Story by Theodora Goss: B+
8.   Lover's Leap (Eternity Springs #4) by Emily March: C+
9.   Pricks and Pragmatism by J.L. Merrow: C+
10. Head Over Heels (Lucky Harbor #3) by Jill Shalvis: B+
11. The Sagan Diary by John Scalzi: C
12. The Last Colony (Old Man's War #3) by John Scalzi: C
13. Magic Gifts (Kate Daniels) by Ilona Andrews: B
14. His Secret Past by Ellen Hartman: B+
15. Because of the List by Amy Knupp: B
16. The Summer Garden (Chesapeake Shores #9) by Sherryl Woods: B
17. The Horizontal Poet by Jan Steckel: B+ (Upcoming Review)
18. Sweet Stuff by Donna Kauffman: B (Upcoming Review)
19. Love's Fortress (Brother's in Arms #7) by Samantha Kane: C
20. Love's Surrender (Brother's in Arms #9) by Samantha Kane: C-
    Upcoming Reviews:

    Reading at the Moment:

    The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman: I began reading this book for my Internet Book Club in January, but unfortunately was not able to finish it in time. That last week of migraines killed my reading momentum. However, so far I'm enjoying this read! I loved Hoffman's Practical Magic, but this book is different. The book is composed of short stories that are tied to one another. Hoffman's prose is quite beautiful and I'm enjoying how the short stories are connected by making the town of Blackwell the central figure. So far, Hoffman's usage of magical realism is subtle and rather beautiful. I like how she ties it to nature instead of culture. But, I still have to finish the book to figure out what it is that she's trying to convey with the whole.

    He Will Laugh by Douglas Ray: I received this LGBT collection of poetry for review and began reading it  last week. However although the book is thin, because it is poetry I tend to take my time with each poem, so this book will be read slowly and carefully. I'm about half way through and can tell you that so far there are poems or lines from certain poems that have stayed with me for days now. That's good news. :)

    That's my update and my recap for January. How was your month? Did you find any gems? Any great new releases you would like to recommend?