Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Reading: Hearts of Shadow (Deadglass #2) by Kira Brady

Grace Mercer’s unmatched wraith-killing ability made her the unofficial defender of a city shattered by supernatural catastrophe. So there’s no way she’ll allow the new regent of Seattle’s most powerful dragon shifter clan to “protect” her from a vicious evil stalking the ruined streets—and keep her from the freedom she’s risked everything to earn.

Leif’s science-honed instincts tell him Grace is the key to keeping shifters and humans safe. But helping this wary fighter channel her untapped power is burning away the dragon’s sensual self-control and putting a crucial alliance at risk. Soon the only chance Leif and Grace will have to save their world will be a dangerously fragile link that could forever unite their souls…or consume all in a storm of destruction.
I enjoyed the first book of this series last year, Hearts of Darkness: A Deadglass Novel, and was looking forward to reading this second installment. I'm enjoying it so far, here's a short peek at the beginning of the second chapter:

Grace wiped volcanic ash off the thighbone with her sleeve and raised her hammer again. "Shine that closer, would you?"

Elsie obliged, moving the lantern so that it illuminated the cool ivory bone and Grace's silver needles. The little bells around her wrist jingled with the motion, warning off spirits. Above them, the sky was black with fifteen thousand crows returning to the roost on Queen Anne.

Grace concentrated on carving the rune --- Eihwaz for protection, Thurisaz for defense --- and not on the debacle of that morning. Her outburst in the council chamber in front of her new owner. he had forced her to speak. Even Norgard --- the bastard --- hadn't shamed her so publicly. She'd tried to stab Asgard. Antagonized him. Called him a liar. Was she trying to get herself killed? She was usually so much smarter than that, but the Regent had thrown her off. It wasn't his looks; they were just as unbearably handsome as all Drekar. Maybe it was his ridiculous manner, like she'd insulted his honor. Ha. Drekar didn't have honor.

Upcoming Release Date: May 7, 2013

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hilcia's Weekly Reads + News

It's Sunday and a beautiful day! Hope you are having a good day too! My schedule is a bit more relaxed and not only did I read this past week, but I had the chance to visit a few of my favorite sites  and found a few interesting bits to share.

Weekly Reading:

My week began with A Family Affair by Mary Campisi. I thought this book might be a romance, but it turned out to be more contemporary fiction with a romance that develops in the middle of the whole angst-ridden storyline about a dysfunctional family. When Chrissy's father dies, she finds out that for fourteen years he had a second, secret family. Devastated, she keeps the information from her mother and goes to confront his father's long-time mistress only to find more than she expected. Campisi uses the dual narrative style, alternating between Chrissie and her Uncle Harry. There's a problem with finding sympathetic or unselfish characters in this story, and the romance felt as if it was tagged on quickly after much hostility between the couple. I would say there's much promise in the premise and some good elements to the story, but the execution doesn't live up that promise. Grade C-

Next I decided to check out Megan Hart's upcoming release, The Favor.

This book is due to release on June 25th, but once I had it in my hot little hands I read it immediately! Why? Well, it's Megan Hart and once begun, I couldn't put the book down but will post my review closer to the release date. I can give this much information to fans of this author as clarification -- so the book can be read with the correct expectations and won't end up disappointing. The Favor falls under the contemporary fiction or literary fiction category, this book is NOT an erotic or a traditional romance. Reading a book with the right mind-set always helps me.

I followed up by picking up the digital edition of When Love Comes to Town by Tom Lennon.This is a "vintage" young adult LGBT book set in Ireland in the 1990's. This coming-out story was initially released 20 years ago.  In many respects it is dated, but sadly, I found that it is also still very relevant. I read this story with both time and place in mind, which was not easy to do. Additionally, despite the title of the book which makes it seem as if it is a romance, I would say that this story falls more under the gay fiction with romantic elements category. I enjoyed it and will review it soon.

I also read Changing Lanes by Kathleen Long. Which did not signify that I really changed lanes in my choice of reading material at all since this book is also contemporary or women's fiction. There is a romantic thread that runs through the storyline but it is not the focus of the story. I love that Changing Lanes is set in a very recognizable New Jersey, but I'll tell you all about that in my review. This book releases May 14th.

But of course I didn't just read fiction the whole week! I also read poetry.

Throughout the week I picked up and slowly read Senegal Taxi by Juan Felipe Herrera, a small volume of poetry that is both political and raw in content. Herrera uses the voices of three children to focus his poetry on the suffering and horrors of war in Darfur. Reading Senegal Taxi was a heart-wrenching experience that has not loosened its grip on me yet. Juan Felipe Herrera was appointed California's 2012 Poet Laureate. Upcoming highlights.

Looking for The Gulf Motel by Richard Blanco
is the other poetry volume I chose to read last week. Blanco's uses a narrative style in this emotional biographical piece that touched and in some ways soothed me. I recognized and connected with many of his personal conflicts as the child of a loving, if tough and judgmental, immigrant Cuban family. I laughed in some places, but strongly felt his emotional anguish and nostalgia in others. This is a book I will definitely re-read. Richard Blanco just won The Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Poetry. Upcoming highlights.

And, I concluded my week by reading the novelette “The Fountain” by G. David Nordley from Asimov's SF Magazine. My first encounter with Nordley's work turned out to be solid. I enjoyed the science fiction details in this piece, but most of all I really like the way Nordley portrays an alien race that is so different from humans, yet end up teaching humans a lesson or two about compassion. I was absorbed by this piece all the way to the end. Read Carl's detailed review at SF Signal here. Grade: B
Replacing Google Reader: I am experimenting with Feedly vs. The Old Reader to see which one works for me. So far, I'm loving Feedly's format. It was a snap to transfer information across devices, and I found that it updates RSS signals quicker than The Old Reader.

Editorial Post: If you haven't check it out yet, don't miss Wendy's post "Libraries, What Are They Good For?" at The Misadventures of Super Librarian. In her excellent post, Wendy tackles controversial reactions to digital lending by authors who see libraries as "The Problem."

SFF: The 2013 Aurora Award nominees have been announced by the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association. The awards will be presented at Can-Con (www.can-con.org) in Ottawa, Oct 4 – 6, 2013. Check out the list here.  From the novels nominated on that list the only book I have in my TBR is The Silvered by Tanya Huff!

LGBT: Congratulations to Trebor Healey for winning the 2013 James Duggins Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Prize and The Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction

 for A Horse Named Sorrow (University of Wisconsin Press)

. I've dubbed this "Trebor Healey Week."

Looking forward to another great reading week!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Review: Death by Silver by Melissa Scott & Amy Griswold

Death by Silver by Melissa Scott & Amy Griswold is a fantasy mystery with an unquestionable steampunk flavor that does not overwhelm the world-building, yet offers enough magic and subtle details to give this story set in a recognizable Victorian London, a very distinct atmosphere. There is quite a lot to enjoy in this well executed fantasy mystery with its delicious twists and turns, red herrings, murders by magic, personal struggles and a question of the heart.

The story begins when metaphysician Ned Mathey's newly established practice is hired by well-known banker Mr. Edgar Nevett to cleanse his family silver of ancient or modern curses. Ned hesitates as soon as he realizes that Mr. Nevett is Victor Nevett's father, the prefect who bullied him and others throughout his years in boarding school. Nevertheless, Ned accepts the commission and finds that the silver is clean of enchantment.

Unfortunately a few days later, Mr. Edgar Nevett is found in his study murdered by an enchanted silver candlestick. Soon thereafter, Victor Nevett himself offers to hire Ned to solve the murder. Ned accepts reluctantly, after all business is business and his name and reputation as a metaphysician must be cleared. With the aid of his assistant Ms. Frost, Ned and closest school friend and sometimes lover Private Detective Julian Lynes rush to solve a murder, a burglary, and the mystery of the enchanted silver candlestick. Ned and Julian face danger, old and new foes, struggle to come to terms with painful past experiences and with feelings they may or may not have for each other.

The absorbing mystery drives the plot in Death by Silver as Scott and Griswold keep clues and details coming at a fast pace with well-executed red herrings, twists and turns. The mystery is well integrated with the world-building and the relationship struggle taking place between the characters. Most importantly, none of the characters in Death by Silver, including the villain(s), fall into the black and white category. Instead, they all display strengths and human frailty. Scott and Griswold effectively explore gray areas and the humanity of their characters through Ned and Julian's perspectives.

The fantasy details are organically incorporated into the world-building throughout the story and make sense from the beginning. For example, details such as a recognizable London as the setting with true to time Victorian morals, behavior, and lifestyle, are subtly blended in with magic, enchantments, automata-building salesmen, alternate institutions, laws, some rather interesting flora, and religious beliefs.

However, the hearts of this story are our main characters and narrators Ned and Julian. The story is narrated from their alternating first point of view perspectives. As a result, Scott and Griswold give the reader an in-depth look into both characters that include personal history, intimate thoughts, fears, and feelings. They also give an excellent view of secondary characters and different perspectives of the unfolding plot. The shifts in point of view flow well as do the intermittent flashbacks employed to show the characters' pertinent past experiences with bullies at boarding school.

The extent of the bullying episodes is revealed slowly and blends in with the mystery, as Julian and Ned confront personal fears and consequences of those boarding school days while working closely with the man who bullied them. Also slowly integrated are our main characters' depth of feelings and insecurities as they circle each other and wonder where their relationship stands. This is not the main focus of the story, still, I love Ned and Julian's "friends and lovers to romance-in-the-making" conflict.

I loved everything about Death by Silver -- the world-building and excellent atmosphere, the characters and their personal struggles, the twisty well-paced plot and the delicious romantic relationship-building elements, all the way to the great ending. I just hope that Scott and Griswold are planning a series because these characters and world are begging for one! Highly enjoyed and recommended.

Category: Fantasy/Mystery - LGBT
Publisher: Lethe Press (ARC for review)
Upcoming Release Date: May 25, 2013
Grade: A

Visit Melissa Scott at Goodreads, and Amy Griswold at her LJ page or Goodreads.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Review: Whiskey Beach by Nora Roberts

It's time for my review of Nora Roberts' yearly contemporary romance suspense release. This year it is Whiskey Beach, a novel set on the coast of Massachusetts near Boston. It has been a year since Eli Landon was accused of brutally murdering his wife Lindsay. While not enough proof was found to arrest him, Eli still lost his career as a successful defense attorney and most of his so-called friends due to a painful year of close scrutiny in the public media. His spirit and will to fight are severely worn down by both the media and the cop who investigated the murder and still hounds him, determined to pin the murder on Eli one way or another.

Eli moves to the Landon family home, Bluff House, in Whiskey Beach after his grandmother Hester suffers an almost fatal accident. There he meets Abra Walsh, his grandmother's housekeeper and the woman who saved her life. Hester entrusted Abra with Eli's welfare but Eli's beaten and hostile demeanor only serves to bring out the nurturing side of this woman who also understands what it is to be hounded and hurt by others. Eli begins to heal, and a romantic relationship with Abra blooms, but their time together is plagued by accidents, assaults, a burglary, and another murder and soon the cops are knocking at Eli's door again. Will he be able to survive another round with the police? Are the murders and incidents related to Lindsay's murder? If Eli didn't kill Lindsay, who did?

Last year I loved Nora Roberts' romantic suspense release, The Witness. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for Whiskey Beach because although there is romance and suspense ala Nora, neither turned out to be exceptional nor above average. Diving into this romance felt like wearing a comfortable pair of old socks, the feelings of warmth and comfort are there, but it is sorely lacking in passion and sexual tension. After they first meet, Eli is hostile and wants some space, but Abra pushes him to get him out of the depression that has been weighing him down -- and I mean she is relentless with the pushing, nurturing and manipulation. The result is that although these two people barely know each other, they quickly begin to act and speak to each other like an old married couple.
Abra - cadabra

Obviously, I wasn't crazy about Abra. In my notes I wrote: I think Abra drank a couple of cases of wine by the time this book ended. I hope she was drinking good stuff! Not that I blame her, I mean the poor woman needed a bit of R&R after her daily schedule because what didn't or couldn't Abra do? She's a personal massage therapist, a yoga instructor, a jewelry maker, a waitress, a housekeeper, the perfect cook, a volunteer and holds jobs doing all of the above. (And I know there are other skills and jobs I missed) So realistically, when does Abra have time to do all that, and still find time to: take care of Eli, sleep, eat, shower, have energetic sex, play with the dog, and drink all that wine (without getting daily hangovers) too? As unbelievable as all that sounds, you have to admire the creation of a woman like Abra, yes? However, once Roberts makes Abra part of solving the mystery and catching the villain, she definitely falls into the perfectly perfect woman category. Unbelivable.

On the other hand, I enjoyed Roberts' portrayal of Eli as a man coming out of a long bout of depression but still consumed by guilt. He allows Abra to manipulate him into eating, exercising and even getting a dog and beginning a relationship with her, all because he has no strength left to fight. But the slow healing process and recovery are well-rendered by Roberts. I loved his relationship with his grandmother Hester and the rest of his family. I adored his interactions with his dog, Bambi! And, the blooming of a new Eli, not the defense lawyer, but a caring man who learns how to live again.

Roberts weaves in the suspense with the romance well. There are no awkward separations of the two at any point during the novel and the suspense plot is technically well crafted, although I would say that it lacks edge and is rather predictable. At least it was to me since I figured it out how it would turn out early on even as specific details eluded me. Of course, Roberts is all about the details and that is as obvious in Whiskey Beach as it is in her other novels. She effectively blends in local history along with research about bootlegging, pirates, and fictional murder without resorting to long sections of info dumping.

Whiskey Beach did not wow me, but it did not overly disappoint me either. Despite my problem with the often annoying, over-the-top perfect female protagonist, the way too comfortable romance, and the technically well-crafted but predictable suspense, overall this romance suspense turned out to be a pleasant, if average read.

Category: Contemporary Romance Suspense
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Putnam (Adult)/April 16, 2013 - Kindle Ed.
Grade: C

Other Nora Roberts Romance Suspense Reviews:
 The Witness
The Search
Black Hills
High Noon

Sunday, April 21, 2013

This 'n That: Reading, Television, News

Happy Sunday! This has been a good week and I'm enjoying a relaxing weekend. How about you? The good news, of course, is that I've been hitting the books again. Yay! And better yet, I had the time to post three reviews this last week. Hopefully, I'll return to my regular blogging schedule. Whatever that is!

I used an old 'remedy' to cure my reading blues, I re-read an old favorite Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas, to help me get back on the romance reading wagon. I think I savored this romance more during this time around than any other time. I really took my time savoring all the characters, scenes, and details. I love Sara, Derek and the romance, but this time I also thoroughly enjoyed the secondary characters and really appreciated their contribution to this romance's success. Of course I ended up sighing over Derek Craven, but then that was the idea behind this re-read.

But reading this book reminded me that I had the Where's My Hero? anthology in my TBR with a related story that I had yet to read. From this anthology, I only read "Against the Odds" by Lisa Kleypas. The novella covers the romance between Lydia Craven (Sara and Derek Craven's eldest daughter) and Dr Jake Linley. Linley is a character from Kleypas' Someone to Watch Over Me.

This is a sweet, short romance that I enjoyed because it serves as a sort of epilogue to Dreaming of You, and I suspect that's exactly what I was looking for. Although Kleypas manages to insert one of her signature hot scenes between Jake and Lydia, the romance itself needed more page time in order to become more than average. Regardless, it was a pleasant read.

What else have I read? Nora Roberts' latest romance suspense, Whiskey Beach and Death by Silver, a marvelous upcoming fantasy/mystery release by Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold. I will be posting my reviews soon! Additionally, I've been enjoying novellas, novelletes and some excellent articles from two of my favorite Science Fiction magazines, Asimov's Science Fiction and Clarksworld. Maybe I'll write a post about a few of my favorite pieces if I have the time!


What else have I been up to? I didn't have the time to watch this program on Monday night when it first aired, but my husband ordered it and we watched it on Friday evening. It's the two-hour pilot movie of Defiance, the SyFy channel's latest television sci-fi program. These are my initial impressions:

SUMMARY: It is 2046. Seven alien races arrived years before and after a war between humans and aliens, Earth has been transformed. In the town of Defiance, old St. Louis, all races are building a new way of life among what is left of old Earth.

MAIN CHARACTERS: Jack Nolan and his Irathient adopted daughter, Irisa.

- The overall combination of the recognizable with a well-defined Science Fiction atmosphere, world and world-building.
- The in-depth introduction of key characters in the pilot.
- An alternate St. Louis as a setting is a refreshing alternative to NY, LA, and/or Chicago.
- Irisa's character.
- The scene where Jack Nolan and Irisa belt out country music! What? No slamming rock?

NOT IMPRESSED WITH: A certain predictability to the plot line and a few character roles.

PROMISING: The overall storyarc and world-building.

CONCLUSION: I love that the SyFy channel is actually (again) releasing an original Science Fiction program with aliens, CGI, and alien technology. The pilot did not blow me away, but it was good enough that I will be watching it.


NEWS: For lovers of "vintage reads."

I received an email from Open Road Media asking me to share their news and I thought some of you might be interested. So here it is:

At Open Road Media, we think a great love story never goes out of style. It’s one of the reasons we are so excited to bring you some of the best titles in romance as ebooks for the first time. And whether you call them “vintage,” “old school,” or even “classic,” these retro romances have stood the test of time.

To spread the word about these great ebooks, we founded Retro Reads, a reader program specializing in digitally reissued romance novels. We are looking for a group of readers interested in exploring the full range of romance—readers who love the genre, who love talking about the genre, and who want to keep up with the latest digital releases.

In short, we are looking for a few good romance readers. Interested? Click here for more details!
That is it for this Sunday. I hope your weekend was as enjoyable as mine. :)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Review: My Dear Watson by L.A. Fields

My Dear Watson by L.A. Fields
Cover Art: Ben Baldwin
I treasure my volumes of Sherlock Holmes mysteries by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, don't you? Needless to say, I was thrilled when I received a copy of My Dear Watson by L.A. Fields for review. This story, however, is not focused on details about the mysteries. Instead, my dear friends, Fields queers the relationship between Holmes and Watson as it evolved throughout the years they worked together as detecting partners.

Fields approaches the queering of these favorite characters from a different and creative angle by utilizing the second Mrs. Watson as narrator. Mrs. Watson's somewhat acerbic narrative voice rivals that of Holmes himself, as do her well-honed powers of observation and deduction -- particularly when it comes to the relationship that existed and still exists between her dear, sweet Dr. Watson and the odious Mr. Holmes. It is most telling that as she begins her narrative, Mrs. Watson casually mentions her acceptance of her husband's flexible sexuality and relationship with the well-known detective, yet when referring to Sherlock Holmes in her journal, she uses the three dreaded capital H's: He, Him and Holmes. What does that tell you?
I can smell a hint of salt from here, so my dear Watson must be overwhelmed with the scent, since he has his face buried in Holmes's shoulder.

They are embracing each other tightly, blissfully, as if they've been a lifetime away from one another. I don't believe I am jealous --- I'm a modern woman, and I knew of my husband's flexible nature before I married him --- but I am rather destabilized by this scene. They just look so desperately happy to be holding one another. It's touching, but it touches one awfully hard.
You see, although Mrs. Watson doesn't openly oppose Watson's relationship with Holmes and says she understands her husband's obsession with the great detective, she believes in her heart that this only came to pass because of Holmes' manipulative nature. Mrs. Watson narrates Holmes' courtship and seduction of an initially unaware, naive Watson who then becomes enthralled and devoted to Him throughout the years. The relationship between the two men fluctuates between happy and deep dark times until their time together at 221B Baker Street ends. The first separation takes place when deeply hurt and disappointed in Holmes, Watson marries his first wife Mary only to be seduced away from her within a short period of time. Mrs. Watson shows sympathy for Mary but understands her sweet Watson, after all "He is rather infectious, Sherlock Holmes. A dark and glamorous thing. "

The story is divided into sections. In the present time Mrs. Watson and her household receive Holmes during his first visit to Watson's home. In other more abundant sections, Fields employs a rather interesting flashback format by having Mrs. Watson narrate the complete history of the men's relationship as it unfolds while they solve mysteries, until the timelines merge in the present. This presentation works rather splendidly as Fields concentrates mainly on the history of the relationship with spare entries dedicated to the present.

And speaking of spare, each chapter/mystery case revealing the building intimate relationship between Holmes and Watson is also short in length. Usually short chapters make for a quick read, however that was not the case in this instance. The relationship as it unfolds between Holmes and Watson and Fields' approach to this story is quite creative. However, while Mrs. Watson's narrative gives the reader an immediate sense of her perceptions and inner emotions, there are sections where it simultaneously creates a certain distance between the reader and the other main characters -- a disconnect -- that slows down the pace.

Fields' characterization of Holmes is notable in that it reveals the man behind the legend by overtly magnifying his weaknesses while subtly depicting strengths. Watson's characterization is not as well defined as that of Holmes, but the portrayal is just as subtle. Fields portrays Watson as an extremely sympathetic character, but look under the surface and you'll find that this depiction is deceiving. On the other hand, our narrator Mrs. Watson becomes as fascinating a character as Mr. Holmes. A contradiction, she's a woman to be reckoned with -- astute and intuitive, possessive and giving, protective, strong and vulnerable -- and I do believe that in the end Mrs. Watson has the last word!

To summarize, I enjoyed My Dear Watson, particularly L.A. Fields' subtle execution and creative approach to building of a complex queer romantic relationship riddled with conflict, jealousy, resentment, love, tenderness, and understanding -- one that involves two of my favorite fictional characters of all time. A solid read.

Category: LGBT/Queer Historical Fiction
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Lethe Press/April 4, 2013
Source: ARC Lethe Press
Grade: B

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

TBR Review: Here Comes the Bride by Pamela Morsi

The theme for this month's TBR Challenge is "new-to-me-author." Unfortunately, I picked up and discarded a slew of books that just did not work for me this month -- an unusual event that I think has more to do with my current "reader's block" that the books themselves. In the end, I decided to read a book from a favorite author's backlist. Pamela Morsi.

There comes a time in every woman's life when she must get herself a man or give up on the idea entirely. Augusta Mudd had reached that moment. Miss Gussie, as she was known to all, was in the spring of her thirty-first year. All through her twenties she had reminded herself that there was still plenty of youth ahead. At thirty itself she had taken comfort in the fact that she was barely out of her twenties. But thirty-one --- thirty-one was definitely an accounting that brought realization, or perhaps even resignation.

"Get it done or past contemplation."
Thus begins Here Comes the Bride by Pamela Morsi. It is the late 1890's in Cottonwood, Texas. At thirty-one, Gussie has inherited a successful ice-making business and property from her father. She has become a keen businesswoman happy with her lot in life, but is missing only one thing to make it complete -- a man. Gussie is also a straight shooter and after walking out for three years with Amos Dewey, she decides that it is past time that he proposes, but since he hasn't, she approaches him with her own marriage proposal. Go Gussie! But, Amos bulks and flees leaving Gussie angry and not a bit humiliated, but not defeated. She thinks about the situation overnight and comes up with a plan to have a perfect wedding and her man.

The next day she approaches her employee, Rome Akers, with a direct proposal: to make Amos jealous and bring him to heel, all Rome has to do is pretend to be Gussie's new beau. As an incentive, Gussie offers Rome the partnership in her business – his dreams come true. Rome admires Gussie for her business sense and straightforward manner and thinks she deserves to be happy. He has certain reservations about this plan, but being an ambitious young man, Rome accepts and throws himself into his role wholeheartedly.

Problems soon arise when both Rome and Gussie realize they have much in common and begin having fun together. Admiration for each other grows and kisses soon come into the equation. In the meantime Amos is fighting his attraction for Pansy Reynolds, the town's wicked widow and Rome's longtime secret lover. Rome and Gussie, Amos and Pansy will have to make decisions that in the end may break their collective hearts.

Here Comes the Bride is another romance where Morsi uses the collective town to both aid and to create conflict while developing the romance. There are two factors that play a major role here, human nature and societal views of the times. Morsi plays one against the other deftly by using two couples whose lives interact closely, but that in the end deal with two very different conflicts.
Morsi's female characters drive the story, and not surprisingly, they also contrast sharply against each other. Gussie is the virginal, sexually naive female who shows strength as a businesswoman with a keen mind and not a few feminist views. However, Gussie works within traditional boundaries set by local society so that she is accepted and respected regardless of her role as a business owner. This stands out only because this historical romance is set in a small town where conservative views prevailed.

Pansy, on the other hand, is portrayed as a widow who loved her husband and was a faithful wife, but became the town pariah after her husband's death when she rejected society's traditions by taking lovers. Pansy is scorned and only allowed to gain love and/or show courage through public self-humiliation. Morsi also makes a point of showing that although men may also be shunned by a conservative society for having illicit liaisons, they are quickly forgiven, particularly if or when that man is a respected businessman. Money, respectability, sex, and religious foundations -- all very interesting subjects that interconnect from a historical perspective in this romance.

The romance between Gussie and Rome is sweet! I loved Rome's admiration for this woman and his absolute adoration and passion for her once the two click. And Gussie's contradictory character is another favorite, as she goes from being an authoritative and driven businesswoman to a woman in love who learns to appreciate passion in her life. The romance between Amos and Pansy on the other hand did not work for me. I believe that is because I couldn't stand Amos and his brutal rejection of Pansy or his lack of understanding/care for Gussie. I did not buy his love for Pansy or frankly, Pansy's love for Amos. I did like Pansy! I liked her loyalty and courage, even though I hated, hated, hated what she did in the end.

Here Comes the Bride is a historical romance that seems sweet on the surface. However, Morsi is sneaky in that she makes her romances seem simple, but by keeping her characters true to the mores of the times, she also manages to make points that make me think in contemporary terms. As always, an enjoyable, solid read, by a favorite author.
April 2013

Category: Historical Romance/Americana
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Avon/July 3, 2000 - Print Ed.
Grade: B

Monday, April 15, 2013

Written in Red: A Novel of the Others by Anne Bishop

Last month when I was suffering from some serious reader's block, Nath recommended Written in Red by Anne Bishop, a fantasy with romance elements or "urban fantasy," and the first book of Bishop's The Others series.

Meg Corbyn is on the run and inadvertently finds refuge at the Lakeside Courtyard where the Others rule and uninvited stray humans can easily become the evening's dinner or next day's "special meat" at the butcher shop. Meg is a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, with a special ability to see visions of the future when her skin is cut. For this reason, she has been kept enslaved her entire life by a Controller in a government sanctioned facility where her visions are sold for profit. Meg knows they won't allow her to stay free for long. Luckily, she finds a job with the Others as Human Liaison and gains their trust and protection.

Simon Wolfgard is the head of the Lakeside Courtyard. He deals with humans because he has to, and although the Courtyard has been set up to bring humans and shifters closer, Simon has little understanding and/or respect for humans. To him they are nothing more than prey. However, when Meg comes in looking for a job and a place to stay and Simon notices that she doesn't smell like prey, he hires her to work in the mail room as their Human Liaison. But he's aware that she is lying about something and her weird smell drives him a little crazy from the beginning. When Meg is discovered, will the Others protect her? Or will she die at the Courtyard as her vision predicts?

I loved the shape-shifters in this fantasy. The Others are not your cutesy, likable shape-shifters, vampires and/or elementals. Oh no! In Bishop's world these are ancient beings who roamed the earth before humans evolved, and humans exist only by the Others' leave. They are portrayed as a rather scary different breed, as unlike humans as they can possibly be, with a disregard for human life and contempt for what we think of as humanity. While the two sides have worked out a livable and workable agreement, in this world the Others are top dogs and humans, the underdogs.

As the head of the Lakeside Courtyard, wolf shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is a total control freak when it comes to keeping his people and his territory safe. He is cold and ruthless with very little understanding or caring for humans (or Others) who break his laws. However as a result of Simon's  interactions with Meg, there is character growth as the story moves along. What I liked about his character is that although he accepts some changes, Simon maintains the edge that makes him different to the end.

Meg's character on the other hand is a bit of a problem for me. She is an extremely likable character both to the reader and to the characters in the story. Meg wins hearts and minds easily with her kindness, naivete, and nobility. I loved the scenes between Meg and the young wolf shape-shifter Sam, the growth that you see in her as she slowly comes out of her shell and makes friends around the community is heartwarming, and those moments when she stands up for herself are encouraging for the future. Throughout and by the end of the story, everyone who knows Meg is willing to do whatever is necessary to protect her life because she deserves it.

My problems? Meg is not a kickass heroine, which is usually okay with me, but she comes off as a bit too naive, nice, sweet and perfect (a Mary Sue), although one with growth potential. But Meg is such a nice and kind soul that her likability factor is on the high end of the scale and I have a feeling that as she stays around the Others, she'll learn how to take care of herself -- that's where the growth potential comes in. Additionally, there are some very strong female secondary characters that serve as a great contrast to Meg. What really became a bit troubling for me is the cutting and the description of how this affects Meg. Cutting is such a serious issue that I'm not quite sure how I feel about the fact that Bishop is using self-mutilation as the trigger for Meg's "special power." I'm actually withholding my final thoughts on that until I see how Bishop works this issue into the series.

There's also a romance building between Meg and Simon in Written in Red. Actually it is more of a special friendship between Simon and Meg that bloomed from hostility and distrust. Simon's wolf actually accepts Meg first, and there is a matter of trust and bonding going on there that I really like. Obviously sweet Meg is not ready for more and frankly I don't think that Simon is ready for an intimate relationship with a human either. I believe he has a long way to go yet.

Written in Red is a well-written, character driven fantasy with a bit of action, mystery, edginess, gore, and a touch of humor that surprised me. The secondary characters -- Monty, Tess, Henry, Vlad, Sam, Jasper -- play significant roles and are worth mentioning because they make this a well-rounded read. The action is limited but makes an impact, and the mystery revealed at the end is well done. However, when it comes to villains I was a bit disappointed as the threat felt more dangerous than the reality, particularly Asia who in my opinion comes off as more TSTL than truly dangerous. Of course there are threads left open to resolve in future installments and I look forward to finding out more! Even with my reservations, my grade is going to be on the high end. I really enjoyed Written in Read as a whole (read  it in two straight sittings!), and see a lot of potential in this fantasy series.

Category: Fantasy/Urban Fantasy
Series: The Others, #1
Publisher/Release Date: Roc/March 5, 2013 -- Kindle Ed.
Grade: B+

Visit Anne Bishop here.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Update + The Best Man by Kristan Higgins

My poor blog! I'm afraid that real life is kicking my butt and my time is limited at the moment. I'm actually doing most of my reading during my commutes in and out of work and right before bedtime. But, I am still also suffering a bit from "reader's block," which is not good. Sigh... Anyway, here are a few blog-related updates.

Since Google decided to discontinue the much loved and nifty Google Reader in July, (Why? Does that make sense to anyone but Google?) I took the time to look around this last Saturday and signed up with The Old Reader. I'm liking it so far because it sort of works like the old Google Reader used to before they upgraded it (just in time to discontinue it). So, I'm all set up and following all my favorite blogs there already. However, I'm not married to it yet, so if anyone has a better recommendation for a FREE reader, please let me know in this post!

I also found the whole "Amazon Buys Goodreads! extra, extra read all about it" piece of news a bit disturbing. I'm hoping that Goodreads policies won't change. I do love keeping track of my books, updates and notes on what I'm currently reading there. Plus, I love interacting with friends at Goodreads. It would be a shame if all that changed. Additionally, linking Goodreads and Amazon accounts (reviews) would be a total deal breaker for me, so I'm going to "wait and see" how this develops.


The Best Man
by Kristan Higgins
But going back to reading, I decided to give "romance" a shot and picked up a couple of books, one of them was Kristan Higgins' latest contemporary romance, The Best Man. Now, this is only the second book I have read by this author, the first one didn't necessarily work for me because although Higgins' portrayal of relationships between family and friends was highly enjoyable, I did not enjoy her style of writing in the first-person point of view perspective and the 'chick-lit' flavor that overwhelmed the story. Additionally I found the romance in that book to be more of a side story. However, I heard some great things about Higgins' latest books, and the fact that she switched to the third person point of view perspective encouraged me to pick up this romance.

There are a few aspects of The Best Man that I liked. It is true that Higgins excels when writing from the third person point of view. The premise of this story drew me to it. Small town girl Faith falls in love with her high school sweetheart Jeremy, the perfect man and after eight years, during their wedding, the best man Levi encourages Jeremy to tell Faith the truth about himself. Jeremy comes out of the closet and tells her that he is gay. Three years later Jeremy is the small town's doctor, Levi the Chief of Police and Faith lives in San Francisco. But all that changes when after many personal romantic failures, Faith is called home by her sister to save their widowed father from an "unscrupulous woman." Faith will have to deal with seeing the "love of her life" Jeremy, with townspeople who still feel sorry for "poor Faithie," and worst of all with that "stiff hemorrhoid" Levi.

It sounds interesting, doesn't it? Well, it is and it isn't. Faith and Levi's romance begins with an antagonistic edge that grows before it changes to passion and love. Higgins binds all the characters in this contemporary romance, Jeremy, Levi, Faith, their families as secondary characters, and periphery characters by providing a deeper and detailed background for the central characters and a general history of the town and its social structure, including how this social structure deeply affects its citizens or featured characters. This is all quite relevant and well done, as is the slow development of the relationship that ensues between Faith and Levi and the strong and true friendship between Levi and Jeremy.

Family relationships and humor are also quite important to the plot and, from my previous experience, this aspect of the story is usually well done by Higgins. Unfortunately in The Best Man, I found Faith's family members and friends to be an extremely unlikable lot (this includes the highly unlovable grandparents who can't stop arguing and calling each other names!), and the overall humor is in poor taste. For example: I didn't find this scene funny at all. Faith is obliviously on a date with a married man when his wife shows up with her toddler to confront her, and both this woman (and the toddler) proceed to call Faith a whore over a dozen times. What is that? This made me uncomfortable while reading it, but in addition I really disliked the way the women related to each other and others in this story. This was a problem for me, but there is more.

I always look for LGBTQ characters when reading mainstream books: romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction... whatever! When well done, it makes for a more realistic and well rounded read. However, in my opinion, the author should at least do his/her homework in order to develop or to incorporate LGBTQ characters successfully into their stories. Making one of them the butt of jokes as Higgins does with a trans character in this book is a major fail and doesn't work. Making the one gay character (Jeremy, the perfectly gorgeous, perfect man) into the town's lovable mascot and Faith's faithful puppy-like, adoring BFF, but giving him no love life to speak of is stereotypical and just down right unrealistic. Additionally, for me, the overall dialog between various characters when discussing Jeremy and Faith's situation is more than disappointing, and Faith's general attitude about her botched wedding is highly frustrating.

Levi is an interesting and strong male protagonist with an excellent backstory that gives him depth. His feelings for Faith are believable in the end. I also enjoyed Levi's close relationship with his sister and thought his strong, loyal friendship with Jeremy as one of the best of this book. However, the negatives outweighed the positives for me. It is unfortunate that I chose to read this particular romance by Higgins. The Best Man began with a good premise, but unfortunately the execution was not to my taste. Grade: D+

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Contemporary & LGBT Releases: April/May 2013

Here are a few recent and/or upcoming releases already in my possession that I'm hoping to read soon!


Contemporary Romance
The Best Man by Kristan Higgins (Harlequin HQN)
February 26, 2013

Sometimes the best man is the one you least expect…

Faith Holland left her hometown after being jilted at the altar. Now a little older and wiser, she's ready to return to the Blue Heron Winery, her family's vineyard, to confront the ghosts of her past, and maybe enjoy a glass of red. After all, there's some great scenery there….

Like Levi Cooper, the local police chief—and best friend of her former fiancé. There's a lot about Levi that Faith never noticed, and it's not just those deep green eyes. The only catch is she's having a hard time forgetting that he helped ruin her wedding all those years ago. If she can find a minute amidst all her family drama to stop and smell the rosé, she just might find a reason to stay at Blue Heron, and finish that walk down the aisle.

Women's Fiction
What Tears Us Apart by Deborah Cloyed (MIRA/Harlequin)
March 26, 2013

Love lives in the most dangerous places of the heart. The real world. That's what Leda desperately seeks when she flees her life of privilege to travel to Kenya. She finds it at a boys' orphanage in the slums of Nairobi. What she doesn't expect is to fall for Ita, the charismatic and thoughtful man who gave up his dreams to offer children a haven in the midst of turmoil.

Their love should be enough for one another-it embodies the soul-deep connection both have always craved. But it is threatened by Ita's troubled childhood friend, Chege, a gang leader with whom he shares a complex history. As political unrest reaches a boiling point and the slum erupts in violence, Leda is attacked …and forced to put her trust in Chege, the one person who otherwise inspires anything but.

In the aftermath of Leda's rescue, disturbing secrets are exposed, and Leda, Ita and Chege are each left grappling with their own regret and confusion. Their worlds upturned, they must now face the reality that sometimes the most treacherous threat is not the world outside, but the demons within.

Contemporary Romance
Love Irresistibly by Julie James (Berkeley)
April 2, 2013

A former football star and one of Chicago’s top prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Attorney Cade Morgan will do anything to nail a corrupt state senator, which means he needs Brooke Parker’s help. As general counsel for a restaurant company, she can get a bug to the senator’s table at one of her five-star restaurants so the FBI can eavesdrop on him. All Cade has to do is convince Brooke to cooperate—and he’s not afraid to use a little charm, or the power of his office, to do just that.


A savvy businesswoman, Brooke knows she needs to play ball with the U.S. Attorney’s office—even if it means working with Cade. No doubt there’s a sizzling attraction beneath all their sarcastic quips, but Brooke.

Contemporary Romance
Big Boy by Ruthie Knox (Samhain)
April 2, 2013
A Strangers on a Train Story
Meet me at the train museum after dark. Dress for 1957.
When Mandy joins an online dating service, she keeps her expectations low. All she wants is a distraction from the drudgery of single parenthood and full-time work. But the invitation she receives from a handsome man who won't share his real name promises an adventure--and a chance to pretend she's someone else for a few hours.

She doesn't want romance to complicate her life, but Mandy's monthly role-playing dates with her stranger on a train--each to a different time period--become the erotic escape she desperately needs. And a soul connection she never expected.

Yet when she tries to draw her lover out of the shadows, Mandy has a fight on her hands...to convince him there's a place for their fantasy love in the light of day.

Contemporary Romance/Fiction
Changing Lanes by Kathleen Long (Brilliance Corporation)
May 14, 2013

Abby Halladay has the perfect life. Or, rather, she will, as long as everything goes exactly according to plan. Abby never leaves anything to chance --- not her job as a syndicated columnist, not her engagement to her fiance, Fred, and certainly not her impending wedding in Paris (New Jersey, that is). Unfortunately for Abby, even the best-laid plans often go awry, like when Fred runs away to Paris (France, that is), her column is canned, and her dream home is diagnosed with termites.

Forced to move back in with her parents and drive her dad's cab, Abby's perfect life has now officially become the perfect disaster. Then a funny thing happens. Slowly but surely, Abby begins letting go of her dreams of perfection. As she does, the messy, imperfect life she thought she never wanted starts to feel exactly like the one she needs.

Poignant and heartfelt, Changing Lanes celebrates the unexpected joys of everyday life and the enduring promise of second chances.


M/M Romance
An Ordinary Boy by Brian Centrone (Seventh Window Publications)
February 23, 2013

Tom Grove’s family is rich, his grandparents are famous, and he’s beautiful. He can have anything he wants, but all Tom really wants is to be an ordinary boy. Like his best friend, Marissa, Tom wants to fit in, make friends and date sexy boys. It would also help if he could be free of his father’s weighty expectations, his mother’s insane demands, and his older brother’s snide remarks.

When Tom begins his first year of college, he believes he’s going to come out and start a new life. But Tom’s plan to come out of the closet and meet hot college boys isn’t exactly foolproof. His new roommate is a straight jock, the gay club at school is made up of outcasts, and the lines between going out to dinner and a date are blurry at best.

If that isn't challenge enough, Tom has to learn how to navigate drunken college parties, the campus social hierarchy, and the attentions of the wrong sort of boys. What begins as a journey to independence turns into a series of mishaps, love, heartache, soul searching, awkward situations and the realization that life is less like an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog and more like the everyday low prices of Wal-Mart.

And to make matters worse, he still has to make it through freshman year.

Historical Gay/General Fiction
My Dear Watson by L.A. Fields (Lethe Press)
April 4, 2013

One of the most famous partnerships in literature yields, over time, to a peculiar romantic triangle. Sherlock Holmes. Dr. John Watson. And the good doctor’s second wife, whom Doyle never named. In L A Fields's novel, Mrs. Watson is a clever woman who realizes, through examining all the prior cases her husband shared with the world's greatest consulting detective, that the two men shared more than adventures: they were lovers, as well. In 1919, after the pair has retired, Mrs. Watson invites Holmes to her home to meet him face to face. Thus begins a recounting of a peculiar affair between extraordinary men.

“You are such a unique person,” Holmes says poisonously. “What a shame that history will most likely never remember your name.”

The question Mrs. Watson faces: Did Holmes simply take advantage of her husband’s loyalty and love, or did the detective return those feelings? And what to do now that the pair are no longer living together at Baker Street and Watson has other claims on his affections? My Dear Watson offers readers a romance that requires as much reasoning to puzzle out as it does passion. Mrs. Watson proves a worthy opponent—in intellect, in guile, in conviction—for the great detective.

Lesbian/General Fiction
Broken in Soft Places by Fionna Zedde (Bold Strokes Books)
May 14, 2013

Some mornings, Sara Chambers wakes in bed next to her girlfriend and her girlfriend’s lover wondering how she ended up there. Beautiful, successful, and a force to be reckoned with at her Atlanta law firm, Sara is still powerless in her attraction to the rebellious and reckless, Rille Thompson.

As college girlfriends, Sara and Rille’s relationship had been incendiary, burning away Sara’s innocence and self-respect even as it widened her world beyond her wildest imagination. Now, almost twenty years later, Rille still pushes Sara beyond her limits, bringing a third lover into their bed and domestic lives when their monogamy gets stale. The hold Rille has over Sara—and their new lover—becomes as powerful as it is dangerous. Can Sara pull herself free in time, or will her life turn to cinders in the wake of Rille’s powerful flame?

AND, looking forward to the release of:

Contemporary Romance/Suspense
Whiskey Beach by Nora Roberts (Putnam Adult)
April 16, 2013
For more than three hundred years, Bluff House has sat above Whiskey Beach, guarding its shore—and its secrets. But to Eli Landon, it’s home…

A Boston lawyer, Eli has weathered an intense year of public scrutiny and police investigations after being accused of—but never arrested for—the murder of his soon-to-be-ex wife.

He finds sanctuary at Bluff House, even though his beloved grandmother is in Boston recuperating from a nasty fall. Abra Walsh is always there, though. Whiskey Beach’s resident housekeeper, yoga instructor, jewelry maker, and massage therapist, Abra is a woman of many talents—including helping Eli take control of his life and clear his name. But as they become entangled in each other, they find themselves caught in a net that stretches back for centuries—one that has ensnared a man intent on reaping the rewards of destroying Eli Landon once and for all…

Monday, April 1, 2013

March 2013 Recap: Books Read

I'm SO happy March is over! Personally, it has been one of the toughest months of the year for me so far. We had two shocking deaths in our family within ten days of each other, and I'm afraid that although I've been "here" sporadically, I've not really been "here," if you all know what I mean.

As far as reading goes, I picked up a couple of romances at the beginning of the month by Ruthie Knox that I enjoyed, and later on a novella by Courtney Milan that worked for me. However for the most part, romance just didn't hit the spot. With so much going on, I focused my reading and reviews on books I enjoyed. As a result, I'm afraid that during the month of March many books ended up going back to the old TBR pile, or were permanently discarded (DNF'd).

Here's my list:

Total Books Read: 11
Contemporary Romance: 2
Historical Romance: 2
Urban Fantasy: 2
Fantasy: 3
Speculative Fiction: 1
Poetry: 1

About Last Night by Ruthie Knox: A-
The Governess Affair (Brothers Sinister #0.5) by Courtney Milan: A-
Bone and Jewel Creatures by Elizabeth Bear: B+
The Queen, The Cambion, and Seven Others by Richard Bowes: B+
Ride With Me by Ruthie Knox: B+
Midnight Blue-Light Special (InCryptids #2)by Seanan McGuire: B
Scandal Wears Satin (Dressmakers #2) by Loretta Chase: C+
Presence by Scott Wiggerman: C
Slashback (Cal & Niko)by Rob Thurman: (Upcoming Buddy Review)
Written in Red (The Others #1) by Anne Bishop: (Upcoming Review)
Before and Afterlives by Christopher Barzack: (Upcoming Review)

Toward the end of March I also joined The Journey as part of the Once Upon a Time VII Challenge hosted by Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings. I needed to read one book to fulfill that challenge and I did so by reading and reviewing "The Queen, The Cambion, and Seven Others by Richard Bowes." It is always a pleasure to participate in one of Carl's challenges. I look forward to reading reviews by the other participants and still hope to contribute a few other posts to this challenge.

From the March releases I read and have yet to review, I recommend Written in Red by Anne Bishop. How about you? Did you find any titles you would like to share?