Thursday, May 30, 2013

Review: Wilde Stories 2013: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction edited by Steve Berman

Every year editor Steve Berman publishes one special collection after gathering the best of previously published gay speculative fiction stories written by a wide variety of authors. I've loved Berman's collections in past years and Wilde Stories 2013 is no exception. This year's volume, however, is memorable for the different and interesting young adult speculative fiction short stories included. They provide this volume with adventure, a touch of whimsy, and yes, an edge that I really enjoyed.

Breakwater in the Summer Park by L Lark is a light and fun summer camp story with a mysterious monster in the lake whose presence inadvertently helps two boys whose lives are full of insecurities and personal fears about the future. I enjoyed this story in the Boys of Summer* anthology and although it is one of the lightest stories in this collection, it definitely belongs. The Keets Variation by K.M. Ferebee on the other hand has young adults as main characters, yet the dense narrative and heavy subject matter give this story edge and weight. Tatooed Love Boys by Alex Jeffers is queer fantasy at its best. With a plot that shifts and curves, this story takes the characters and the reader on a wonderful ride.

I initially read Wave Boys by Vincent Kovar in The Touch of the Sea* anthology and loved it so much that it made my 2012 short story "best of" list. This dystopian young adult story is memorable for its fantastic world-building, great adventure, and characters that I feel should be further explored -- it was a pleasure re-reading it again! Another young adult story with excellent world-building is Next Door by Rahul Kanakia. This is an action and anxiety driven futuristic science fiction short set in a society where technology trumps humanity.

Then there's the fantastic and unforgettable story about a boy and his wolf, Sic Him, Hellhound! Kill! Kill! by Hal Duncan. I've never read anything like it. There are some rather ironic references to those dreaded sparkly vampires and the girls who admire them, but what can I say? This story cracked me up, particularly since it is narrated from the dog/wolf's point of view!
---Hello hello hello hello! I love you!
---Yes, I know, I love you too.
---But I really love you! I missed you so much!
---And I missed you too. Yes. I did! Oh yes I did! Now, down you go.
---But I missed you!
From the adult speculative fiction short stories, Wetside Story by Steve Vernon is memorable and the most irreverent in this collection. This fun, creative piece has some crass humor that won't quit. I appreciated it from beginning to end. Imagine a sexy gay squid in love with another squid who has a radioactive smile. Yeah...
Bucky grinned me back a picket fence full of pleasure. The toxic waste that riddled his cavities gave them a wonderfully fluorescent neon gleam. His scales glittered as prettily as those of the dead mackerel had.

My heart went thump. 
Changing gears, in Laird Barron's A Strange Form of Life his talents are displayed in all their glory and can be fully appreciated as, in short order, he weaves a fantastic Lovecraftian horror piece. Grierson at the Pain Clinic by Richard Bowes is such a gripping and unique story, about a man and his rather disturbing Shadow, that I couldn't stop thinking about it. And the fantasy, myth-based, whaling adventure Keep the Aspidochelone Floating by Chaz Brechley is another  story from The Touch of the Sea anthology that made my 2012 "best of" list. Re-reading this well-written, detailed piece full of action, pirates, and a love story between a mariner and his boy was a pleasure.

I had a tough time choosing favorites in this volume of the Wilde Stories series. Steve Berman included a wide range of stories and gay themes, as well as an excellent mixture of writing styles in Wilde Stories 2013. Combining young adult and adult speculative fiction not only added a creative edge but a unique touch to this collection.

Category: LGBT/ Gay Speculative Fiction
Series: Wilde Stories: The Year's Best Speculative Fiction Anthologies
Publisher/Release Date: Lethe Press/June 15, 2013
Source: eARC from publisher
Grade: B+

*See my reviews of:
The Touch of the Sea ed. by Steve Berman
Boys of Summer ed. by Steve Berman

Find this and all speculative fiction titles mentioned above here.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Week in Photos: A Few Days by the Sea

Early foggy morning on The Boardwalk. Now restored.

Saving the New Jersey Shore. Newly planted Sand Dune Grass.

Wind, sunshine, and the sea.

The Sunset.

Our hearts & prayers go out to our friends and neighbors in Oklahoma!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Highlighting: The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Doctor Spencer Black by E.B. Hudspeth

Philadelphia. The late 1870s. A city of cobblestone sidewalks and horse-drawn carriages. Home to the famous anatomist and surgeon Dr. Spencer Black. The son of a “resurrectionist” (aka grave robber), Dr. Black studied at Philadelphia’s esteemed Academy of Medicine, where he develops an unconventional hypothesis: What if the world’s most celebrated mythological beasts—mermaids, minotaurs, and satyrs— were in fact the evolutionary ancestors of humankind?

The Resurrectionist offers two extraordinary books in one. The first is a fictional biography of Dr. Spencer Black, from his humble beginnings to the mysterious disappearance at the end of his life. The second book is Black’s magnum opus:
The Codex Extinct Animalia, a Gray’s Anatomy for mythological beasts—dragons, centaurs, Pegasus, Cerberus—all rendered in meticulously detailed black-and-white anatomical illustrations. You need only look at these images to realize they are the work of a madman. The Resurrectionist tells his story.

E. B. HUDSPETH is an artist and author living in New Jersey. This is his first book.
resurrectionist n (14c) 1. an exhumer and stealer of corpses; a resurrection man 2. one who revives or brings to light again [f. RESURRECTION sb. + -IST. Hence F. resurrectionniste.]
The Resurrectionist is such a gorgeous book! When I first received the print copy all I wanted to do was pet it. It is the size of a coffee table book, and an excellent conversation piece as I quickly found out. The fantastic illustrations rendered by the author E.B. Hudspeth, The Codex Extinct Animalia, that make up the second section of this book steal the show. Of course, there is a story to go along with all those gorgeous illustrations and the aesthetically pleasing package.

Set primarily in Philadelphia in the late 1800's, the first section of the story is the fictional biography of Dr. Spencer Black. Although it is written in a biographical style narrative with journal entries by Dr. Spencer Black and occasional entries by his brother Bernard, the story soon takes a twist into dark fantasy as Spencer comes to believe that mythological creatures are the true ancestors of humans. At age twenty-one, Black is known around the world as a medical prodigy, but as his research grows into an obsession that takes him away from his brilliant works as a surgeon working with operable birth defects and into an entirely different direction, his credibility with the medical community is irrevocably damaged and his mental health rapidly deteriorates.

This section of the book is rather short, at times providing gruesome details of Black's experiments, while at others it leaves blank or unknown details up to the reader's imagination. Black's experiments and descent into obsessive darkness fascinated me to no end and left me disturbed. That is until I looked at those gorgeous illustrations again.

The Codex Extinct Animalia, or second section of the book, is dedicated to those fantastic illustrations I mention above. I wish I could show you instead of telling you about it. There is a page describing each mythological creature, another page with Dr. Black's notes about the creature, and a page dedicated to different illustration plates enumerating bones, muscles, internal organs, and the final sample of said creature. My favorites are the amazing illustrations of the Harpy Erinyes. But as beautiful as the illustrations are, they become deeply disturbing when placed in context with the story or Black's obsession. It is through these that the reader comes to realize the depth of the doctor's madness and realizes just how far he goes with his experimentation. A rather macabre thought...

Now, take the disturbing dark fantasy narrated in biographical style and put it together with illustrations that take the story up a notch into the macabre and you have a winning combination. For readers like me who love a taste of the unique and different, the aesthetically beautiful journey into the dark mind of a madman in The Resurrectionist will most certainly do.

Book Dimensions: 7½ x 10½
Also available as an ebook
Publisher: Quirk Books
Release Date: May 21, 2013

Visit the author's website or for more information go here.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Summer Releases: UF/PNR/SCI-FI/LGBT & More!

There are SO many books I'm looking forward to reading this summer! Here are just a few of the books I can't wait to get my hands on! I mean look at that list of books, authors/editor: Singh's latest Psy/Changeling novel which has everyone on pins and needles; the last book of Corey's thrilling Expanse trilogy; a couple of Berman's excellent anthologies (I'm highlighting one below, but I am also reading Best Gay Stories 2013, releasing June 1, 2013); Gaiman's Fairy Tale; Hart's latest addition to her contemporary fiction works; the last (?) book of the Kate Daniels series by the Andrews writing team (booo); the last (?) book of the Guardian Series by Brook (another booo); and the first book of a new series by Armstrong (yes!), plus a debut (magic realism) novel by a new author. I can't wait!

Heart of Obsidian (Psy/Changeling) by Nalini Singh
Release Date: June 4, 2013
A dangerous, volatile rebel, hands stained bloodred.

A woman whose very existence has been erased.

A love story so dark, it may shatter the world itself.

A deadly price that must be paid.

The day of reckoning is here.

From "the alpha author of paranormal romance" (Booklist) comes the most highly anticipated novel of her career--one that blurs the line between madness and genius, between subjugation and liberation, between the living and the dead.
Abaddon's Gate (The Expanse #3) by James S.A. Corey
Release Date: June 4, 2013
For generations, the solar system — Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt — was humanity's great frontier. Until now. The alien artifact working through its program under the clouds of Venus has appeared in Uranus's orbit, where it has built a massive gate that leads to a starless dark.

Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are part of a vast flotilla of scientific and military ships going out to examine the artifact. But behind the scenes, a complex plot is unfolding, with the destruction of Holden at its core. As the emissaries of the human race try to find whether the gate is an opportunity or a threat, the greatest danger is the one they brought with them.

The House of Impossible Loves by Cristina Lopez Barrios
Release Date: June 4, 2013
An “exuberant” (El Mundo) debut novel of a family bound by searing passions, an earthy magic, and a very unusual curse

The Laguna women suffer from an odd affliction: each generation is condemned to tragic love affairs and to give birth only to girls who are unable to escape the cruel fate of their mothers. One fateful hunting season in their small Castilian town, a young landowner arrives and begins a passionate affair with Clara Laguna, the latest in the family line, daughter of a one-eyed woman known as “the Laguna witch.” He leaves her pregnant with yet another daughter, but the seeds of change are sown. Eventually the long-awaited son—Santiago, the great-great grandson of Clara—is born. A window of hope is opened, but is the curse truly over?

Introducing a cast of memorable, eccentric characters from a bearded, mute female cook to the local do-gooding priest and the indelible Laguna women themselves, The House of Impossible Loves is a feat of imaginative storytelling that marks the arrival of a talented new novelist.

Wilde Stories 2013: Best Gay Speculative Fiction ed. by Steve Berman
Release Date: June 15, 2013*
The solid latest volume in this annual collection of gay speculative fiction includes a dozen stories from 2012, chosen by editor and publisher Berman (Boys of Summer) from various sources. While the only criterion is that each story must have a gay character or theme, a seductive undercurrent involving the sea or water symbolically connects many of the stories. Quality and satisfaction vary, with a few true standouts. Alex Jeffers’s “Tattooed Love Boys” is a powerful, provocative look at fluid sexuality and gender identification, while Vincent Kovar’s “Wave Boys” conjures up a captivatingly strange, futuristic society populated by tribes of semi-feral young men, like so many ocean-dwelling Lost Boys. L Lark’s “Breakwater in the Summer Dark” has a haunting coming-of-age quality, set against the backdrop of a summer camp plagued by sea monsters, and Rahul Kanakia’s “Next Door” is a surprisingly optimistic dystopian piece. With many genres, tones, and styles represented, there’s a little something for everyone.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Release Date: June 18, 2013
A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home and is drawn to the farm at the end of the road where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl and her mother and grandmother. As he sits by the pond ­behind the ramshackle old house, the unremembered past comes flooding back—a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

A groundbreaking work as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out.

The Favor by Megan Hart
Release Date: June 25, 2013*
With characteristic compassion and searing honesty, MEGAN HART weaves a shattering small-town story about what can turn brother against brother, and the kinds of secrets that cannot remain untold.

Janelle Decker has happy childhood memories of her grandma's house, and even lived there through high school. Now she's back with her twelve-year-old son to look after her ailing Nan, and hardly anything seems to have changed, not even the Tierney boys next door.

Gabriel Tierney, local bad boy. The twins, Michael and Andrew. After everything that happened between the four of them, Janelle is shocked that Gabe still lives in St. Mary's. And he isn't trying very hard to convince Janelle he's changed from the moody teenage boy she once knew. If anything, he seems bent on making sure she has no intentions of rekindling their past.

To this day, though there might've been a lot of speculation about her relationship with Gabe, nobody else knows she was there in the woods that day, …the day a devastating accident tore the Tierney brothers apart and drove Janelle away. But there are things that even Janelle doesn't know, and as she and Gabe revisit their interrupted romance, she begins to uncover the truth denied to her when she ran away all those years ago.

Magic Rises (Kate Daniels) by Ilona Andrews
Release Date: July 30, 2013
Mercenary Kate Daniels and her mate, Curran, the Beast Lord, are struggling to solve a heartbreaking crisis. Unable to control their beasts, many of the Pack’s shape-shifting children fail to survive to adulthood. While there is a medicine that can help, the secret to its making is closely guarded by the European packs, and there’s little available in Atlanta.

Kate can’t bear to watch innocents suffer, but the solution she and Curran have found threatens to be even more painful. The European shape-shifters who once outmaneuvered the Beast Lord have asked him to arbitrate a dispute—and they’ll pay him in medicine. With the young people’s survival and the Pack’s future at stake, Kate and Curran know they must accept the offer—but they have little doubt that they’re heading straight into a trap.

Guardian Demon (Guardian Series) by Meljean Brooks
Release Date: August 6, 2013
After a terrifying encounter in Hell destroys her trust in Michael, the Guardians’ powerful leader, former detective Andromeda Taylor is ready to call it quits as one of the angelic warriors and resume her human life again. But when demonic forces threaten her closest friends and she uncovers a terrifying plot devised by Lucifer, Taylor is thrown straight into Michael’s path again…

To defeat Lucifer, Michael needs every Guardian by his side—and he needs Taylor more than any other. The detective is the key to keeping his own demonic side at bay, and Michael will do anything to protect her and keep her close. And when Taylor manifests a deadly power, her Gift might tip the scales in the endless war between Heaven and Hell… or it might destroy them both with a single touch.

Omens: A Cainsville Novel (Omens &Shadows) by Kelley Armstrong
Release Date: August 20, 2013
#1 New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong begins her new series with Omens, featuring a compelling new heroine thrust into a decades-old murder case and the dark mysteries surrounding her strange new home. Twenty-four-year-old Olivia Taylor Jones has the perfect life. The only daughter of a wealthy, prominent Chicago family, she has an Ivy League education, pursues volunteerism and philanthropy, and is engaged to a handsome young tech firm CEO with political ambitions.

But Olivia’s world is shattered when she learns that she’s adopted. Her real parents? Todd and Pamela Larsen, notorious serial killers serving a life sentence. When the news brings a maelstrom of unwanted publicity to her adopted family and fiancé, Olivia decides to find out the truth about the Larsens. Olivia ends up in the small town of Cainsville, Illinois, an old and cloistered community that takes a particular interest in both Olivia and her efforts to uncover her birth parents’ past.

Aided by her mother’s former lawyer, Gabriel Walsh, Olivia focuses on the Larsens’ last crime, the one her birth mother swears will prove their innocence. But as she and Gabriel start investigating the case, Olivia finds herself drawing on abilities that have remained hidden since her childhood, gifts that make her both a valuable addition to Cainsville and deeply vulnerable to unknown enemies. Because there are darker secrets behind her new home and powers lurking in the shadows that have their own plans for her.
*NOTE: Books read, upcoming reviews.

I'm scheduled to go on vacation this upcoming Sunday for a little over a week. I'm taking books with me this time around and will be reading just so I can make room for all the books I want to read in June! How about you? Do you have a long list of books you want to read this summer?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

TBR Review: Unexpected Family by Molly O'Keefe

This month's theme for the TBR Challenge is "More Than One -- author who has more than one book in your TBR pile." I've had this Harlequin Super Romance by Molly O'Keefe in my TBR pile since last year, as well as a few of her other books. Since I have never read a book by O'Keefe, just purchased books because they appealed to me, I decided it is about time I read the first one! :)

Jeremiah Stone: rodeo superstar. Good-time guy. Father of three? That's one pair of boots Jeremiah never expected to fill. Then his three nephews are orphaned, and his entire life changes. Not only is he now playing parent, he's also running the family ranch. It's almost too much for this cowboy.

Until he encounters Lucy Alatore.

He recognizes that look in her eye and knows a steamy fling could make him feel more like himself. But the intense heat between him and Lucy is distracting him from three little boys who need his undivided attention. He's forced to choose one over the other…unless he can convince Lucy this family isn't complete without her!
I enjoyed Unexpected Family. Molly O'Keefe weaves a romance where both the main and secondary characters are flawed and in dire need of love and support. Jeremiah is "playing" parent to his three orphaned nephews, but misses his life as a rodeo superstar and resents giving up the limelight. Lucy and her mother Sandra returned to the ranch they called home, but Lucy is lying to everyone about her business failure in Los Angeles. Jeremiah's nephews, Aaron, Ben, and little Casey miss their dead mother and feel unloved by their uncle. Ben in particular is resentful, angry and acting out. It soon becomes clear that Jeremiah doesn't know what he is doing with the boys, and when Lucy attempts to help, she's not great at it either! Jeremiah's life is a mess and a half. Additionally, Lucy and Sandra live with Walter who not only owns the ranch but is an alcoholic refusing help and in love with Sandra. So there you have it, a mess all around.

O'Keefe makes some great lemonade out of these lemons though. Lucy may be deceitful and crazed over the failure of her business, but she's a loving daughter, a caring woman, and straightforward in what she wants from Jeremiah, plus when the time comes she calls him out on his bullshit too. Jeremiah is lost when it comes to the boys, which I like because what the heck does a self-centered, single, rodeo superstar know about parenting? Particularly since he is repeatedly advised not to seek help from outsiders. I like that he tries and is vulnerable and insecure about his role as a parent. I also like that Jeremiah is human enough to resent the sudden changes in his life, but still takes the responsibilities seriously. That doesn't mean he doesn't make an ass of himself with Lucy and the children more than a few times, he does.

Lucy is crazed and sometimes rather immature, but she's fun and her humor and straightforward wickedness with Jeremiah made her character likable. I mean this girl just goes out and seduces that man until he is a puddle of nothing! This is a Super Romance and there are not too many bedroom scenes, but the ones included in the book are hot! Extra points for the excellent kissing scenes, and building sexual tension. Yeah...

This is the part I wasn't sure I liked though. I don't know exactly when Lucy and Jeremiah fell in love. The "I love yous" felt rushed and not quite organic -- Lucy's thoughts of love definitely were! I believe Lucy and Jeremiah liked each other, became great friends who cared for one another, and had delicious, passionate chemistry. In other words, this was an excellent beginning to something more. O'Keefe finds a satisfactory resolution with a "happily for now" not resolved until a year later in an epilogue. So, the reader goes through the initial conflicts, but the real work that takes place to build love between our romantic couple is not part of this story.

You know what I really like about this romance? I like how O'Keefe handles a complex family situation with a large cast of characters while building a romance. The characters came alive for me in this story and kept me reading. I came to care for them! All in all this was a very good read for me.
May 2013 - More than one

Category: Contemporary Romance
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Harlequin/June 5, 2012
Grade: B-

Visit Molly O'Keefe here.

Monday, May 13, 2013

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

Kira Brady created a memorable world-building for her Deadglass trilogy in the first book, Hearts of Darkness. I particularly enjoyed the fusion of paranormal romance and urban fantasy that I found there. In Hearts of Shadow, Brady maintains a fine balance between the gritty atmosphere and paranormal elements while focusing on the romance.

Grace Mercer walks on the dark side. She is an angry, traumatized woman who lost much in her life and is driven by that anger and loss. At age sixteen, Grace became Sven Norgard's blood slave and fell in love with the mad Dreki regent. It is clear that although Sven was a manipulative, lying monster, Grace, blinded by infatuation and thoughts of revenge initially became his willing blood slave and bed partner. Later when he abused that bond, she came to resent and hate both him and the bond, cementing Grace's hatred of the Dreki.

Grace needs to continue her work on the streets, keeping humans safe by wraiths by fighting and vanishing wraiths. Leif Asgard may say he's different and not at all like his brother Sven, but along with the regent's crown he also inherited the ring that keeps Grace a blood slave, now tied to him. She's not about to trust another Dreki. That lack of trust becomes a problem when she gets to know Leif and the attraction grows.

Indeed, Leif is not happy about inheriting the position, the blood slaves, or the war that looms in the horizon between humans, the Kivati and the Dreki caused by the Unraveling triggered by his power-mad brother. Now, wraiths, ghosts, and a power-hungry demi-god from the other side of the Gates roam the streets of Seattle possessing humans and causing further havoc. Leif is a scientist and prefers working in his lab developing new gasworks that will eventually light up Seattle. But between the attraction for Grace that drives him to keep her safe and the responsibilities that keep piling up, Leif has no choice but to take the much detested crown.

I didn't have a problem picking up the story where it left off after the first installment, or remembering the already established world. Additionally, Bradley's characters made enough of an impact during the first book that I remembered details about both Grace and Leif, making Hearts of Shadow a quick, easy read. I liked both Grace and Leif. Grace is a kickass human heroine with the training and ability to fight humans possessed by supernatural beings. This "acquired power" is well explained by Brady, it doesn't just happen. Grace is secretive but when revealed she is a determined and willful woman with a soft spot for the downtrodden and a weakness for the gorgeous Leif. She fights the attraction relentlessly and is blind to the differences between Leif and his brother Sven. As a matter of fact, Grace dwells on Sven a bit too long if you ask me! But eventually the romance between Grace and Leif works rather well...

Leif develops an insta-sexual attraction for Grace that begins through the blood slave bond, turns into curiosity about the woman and moves from there. He's younger than his brother and has not yet been affected by the darkness that the beautiful but soulless dragon-shifters are known for, so he's gentler and hopeful. But, Leif is contradictory in his actions (he ruminates about this throughout the story) -- one moment acting the gentleman, and the other playing the overbearing male. Grace pushes him to the edge, though. This back and forth play between the couple makes for good tension, and eventually some hot coupling scenes.

Of course the book is not just about Leif and Grace's conflicted romance. There is a whole complex story arc that began in the first book and ended there with the Unraveling but continues in this installment with the rise of a new evil demi-god. The Kivati and humans are involved in the fight as are the Dreki. Secondary characters abound, but the most notable are the Kivati, of which the Raven Lord Corbette and his intended Lucia make the most impact because of decisions they make that will affect the last book of the trilogy. Although I must admit that I really like Lord Kai.

There are many ins and outs in this story that I enjoyed, and others that were just a bit confusing. The climactic scene in particular is somewhat confusing or muddled. I'm not exactly sure what happened to Grace. I re-read that scene a few times and never came away with a clear answer. Additionally, I had questions about abusive behavior toward women when I reviewed Hearts of Darkness, and Grace's character was my main concern. Although it is made very clear that a blood slave can only become one by his/her own will, the past sexual relationship between Grace and Sven combined with the fact that it was manipulative in nature implies non-consent. In the present relationship, however, Brady clearly goes to great lengths to ensure that Grace maintains the upper hand when making decisions in regards to sexual matters.

Hearts of Shadow is a quick read full of action, paranormal details, and that gritty urban fantasy atmosphere I like so much. The romance is conflicted with a push and pull that creates both friction and sexual tension. Brady follows through quite well with the overall story arc, although I truly found the climactic scene confusing. Corbette and Lucia are not favorite characters so far, but the Kivati as a whole are fascinating to me. I'm hoping that the characters will grow on me as they are revealed in the last book of this trilogy.

Category: Paranormal Romance
Series: Deadglass Novel
Publisher/Release Date: Zebra/May 7, 2013
Source: Kensington Books
Grade: B-

Visit Kira Brady here.

BONUS NOVELLA: Hearts of Fire
There is a bonus novella included with the mass market paperback copy, Hearts of Fire. In this prequel novella, Kira Brady goes back to the time when Norgard first settled in Seattle with a colony of dragon-shifters and Corbette's father was still the Kivati Chief. This is a short but very informative and emotional novella covering the romance between Corbette's sister, Alice, and newly arrived Dreki, Lord Brand. This little romance is quick with a passionate love at first sight developing on both sides, but Alice is an strong female character and Brand a lovely, lovely male, particularly for a dragon-shifter. Additionally, this novella sets the stage quite well for the series and for the next book. Grade C+
Hearts of Darkness, #1
Hearts of Shadow, #2
Hearts of Fire, #0.5

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Buddy Review: Slashback (Cal Leandros #8) by Rob Thurman

I stopped and let them circle me, first because it was intriguing and, second, because, honestly, what could they do? Only knives, but all armed, and that made them even more interesting. Interesting. Fun.


Taking on bloodthirsty supernatural monsters is how Caliban and Niko Leandros make a living. But years ago—before they became a force to be reckoned with—the brothers were almost victims of a very human serial killer.


Unfortunately for them, that particular depraved killer was working as apprentice to a creature far more malevolent—the legendary Spring-heeled Jack. He’s just hit town. He hasn't forgotten what the Leandros brothers did to his murderous protégé. He hasn't forgotten what they owe him.

And now they are going to pay… and pay… and pay.…

A few years ago, Leslie of Leslie's Psyche introduced Nath of Books, Books and More Books and me to the Cal Leandros urban fantasy series by Rob Thurman. The three of us enjoyed it so much that we began Buddy Reviewing it together. The series is now on the 8th installment and we are still reading and reviewing it together!  You can read our Buddy Review of Slashback at Breezing Through.

Thank you ladies!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Impressions of a Reader is 4 years-old!

It has been a good four years! I'm still here!

In reflecting back and looking at changes that have taken place, I realize that Impressions of a Reader is first and foremost a romance blog, but today it is more eclectic than four years ago. As you may already know, I'm a fluid reader and different reading interests have taken me in many different directions. That fluidity serves to keep my enjoyment of different genres fresh and the reading excitement going. So in future, Impressions will continue to reflect my reading preferences. As my fifth year as a blogger begins, I invite you to come by, look around, read about, or find, the books that most interest or excite you!

Thank you readers and friends for your support throughout the past four years! And, a special thanks to my husband for being so understanding, supportive, and encouraging, even when I spend a fortune in books! Cheers!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Review: Changing Lanes by Kathleen Long

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 fiancé, 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.
In the book summary for Changing Lanes by Kathleen Long the female protagonist is presented as a woman whose 'perfect life' unravels all at once so that she must shift gears to accommodate all the changes that come along with the unraveling. The words perfect, imperfect, and planned life are prominently used in the summary. I wanted to know what this woman believed a perfect life would entail. Additionally, a few questions immediately popped up: what drives a person, in this case Abby, to plan the details of her life to the point that she doesn't know the people around her (her fiancé) let alone herself, so than when life's little surprises come along they indeed become disasters?

Abby Halladay is the type of woman who plans her life in minute detail and believes that being thought of as "predictable" is a compliment. Her life goes into a tailspin when she loses her job as a syndicated advice columnist and finds out that the beautiful Victorian home she's supposed to move into is riddled with termites. But as she arrives at her parents home in Paris, New Jersey where she'll be staying temporarily, Abby's life goes from disaster to catastrophe when her fiancé Fred calls to say that he is in Paris... France! The reason he gives for leaving two months before their planned wedding? He is. . . "bored!" This humiliating moment is magnified as it is witnessed by high school friend and next door neighbor, Mick O'Malley. Abby hasn't seen Mick since he left town years ago in disgrace right after a graduation party. Now Mick is back in town to care for his mother Detta.

Abby's family offers temporary solutions to her problems. A place to stay, a job driving her retired father's taxi cab, and 24 hours after getting dumped by Fred her mother begins inviting men to dinner so Abby can "move on with her life!" Abby is in denial, she doesn't want to drive a cab, nor does she want to move on. . . she wants to talk to Fred to find out if he will be back before the wedding! What? Why is she not angry with Fred? But Abby's family doesn't talk things out as a rule. It's a loving family that always kept masks firmly in place. Abby recognizes this, but she herself is very much a part of the family.

I couldn't understand certain aspects of Abby's rather frustrating personality. She plans everything and for her it is all about doing what is right, being nice and polite, and making sure everything falls into place in her life. Image is key to Abby. Even as the 30 year-old woman who returns to Paris, she won't take responsibility for a mistake if it damages her image. Kathleen Long takes her time with Abby's character growth so that even as this character takes steps forward, moments of doubts and lack of confidence return. Questions: Why does Abby refuse to see Fred's actions for what they are? Why is she still contemplating marriage when Fred returns from France?

It takes a village to help Abby change lanes. First, an encounter with Mick's mother Detta changes her perspective after they share a magical moment. Later, her family -- mother, father, sister, and grandmother -- all contribute to Abby's decisions about her future. As Abby begins to see her family members anew, she also begins to appreciate life's moments and discovers what she wants out of life. This is the bulk of the story with Abby driving the cab, helping her family and others around town see their own happy moments, and using Mick as a sounding board when needed. Question: Why does Abby go around town fixing other people's lives so easily and naturally when she can't figure out how to fix her own?

You wonder if there is a romance in this story? Well, yes and no. Mick and Abby reveal pieces of their lives to each other, but they leave much unsaid in between the lines. Their conversations are always left unfinished or end abruptly with either one or the other not saying what they really have to say. So, although there is a romance and a happy ending, it is not a satisfying one where the characters' feelings for each other are explored in-depth. On the other hand, although as a character Fred has little page time, his presence is felt from beginning to end and drives much of what happens in Abby's life. This off-page secondary character is well done. Question: Why doesn't Abby show her anger when she confronts Fred?

Despite the fact that Kathleen Long introduces some pretty heavy subjects as the core to Changing Lanes, she approaches this women's fiction story with humor and a light touch. It is a quick read and not heavy at all. As a matter of fact, in my opinion, the heavy subjects are treated with too light a touch and not enough substance. Were my questions answered? Some were, others were left unanswered.

Category: Women's Fiction
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Amazon Publishing/May 14, 2013
Source: ARC for review
Grade: C

Visit Kathleen Long here.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Poetry: Looking for The Gulf Motel by Richard Blanco

I finally read Richard Blanco's collection of poems, Looking for The Gulf Motel. Simply said, I connected with Blanco's poetry, his search for cultural identity and love of family. These are the notes I wrote right after reading the book: Blanco 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.

However, although in the first section of the book Blanco explores his childhood, family relationships, and Cuban cultural ties, the second section is dedicated to struggles with family, sexual identity, and the gay lifestyle, while the last section turns introspective and is dedicated to loss, particularly the loss of those family members who are irreplaceable not only because they are deeply loved, but also because they maintain necessary cultural ties alive and kicking.

As the introductory poem to the first section of the book where Blanco features poems about his childhood, "Looking for The Gulf Motel" is particularly memorable. In this poem, Blanco searches for a place where with his parents and brother, he once spent a happy, almost idyllic vacation by the sea. He finds that although happy memories remain, everything changes with time and loss. "[. . .] I want to find The Gulf Motel exactly as it was / and pretend for a moment, nothing lost is lost."

In that first section where Blanco explores and searches for cultural identity, his poem "The Name I Wanted:" is a classic example of cultural ambivalence, and "Betting on America" brought back personal childhood memories, the last line of the poem in particular "¿Donde está Ohio?" is just classic! However, it is in "Cousin Consuelo, On Piano" that Blanco truly captures the sense of displacement felt by a first generation of children born to immigrants.
Cousin Consuelo, On Piano

[. . .]¡Guantanamera! . . .
I had to listen to my grandmother
caterwaul, dabbing the corners of her eyes,
her voice cracking over a country I didn't
know yet that had to love like Tía Miri did,
singing about el campo I never saw yet had
to feel Consuelo's notes rising into
mountains, resting in valleys, the click of her
nail-tips on the keys like rain falling in the
room, on my father. [. . .] I had to sing with
him like a real Cuban, had to feel displaced,
broken, beautiful -- and clap for more, had to
make Consuelo play Guantanamera twice,
three times, [. . .]
In the second section with such poems as "Playing House with Pepín," "Afternoons with Endora," and "Queer Theory: According to My Grandmother," displacement is intensified by a sense of not belonging as Blanco explores struggles with sexual identity and family views. In "Love as if Love," Blanco goes further with his poem about Elizabeth. ". . . / loving as if I could lover her." But of all these, I love "Thicker Than Country" best, a poem depicting Blanco's life with and love for partner Mark after they move to Maine. The last section of the book dealing with painful loss and remembrance is specially touching and contains some of my favorite poems, ending with the gorgeous"Since Unfinished." Following is an excerpt from one of those poems:
Some Days the Sea

[. . .]
I'm still a boy on this beach, wanting
to catch a seagull, cup a tiny silver fish,
build a perfect sand castle. Some days I am
a teenager blind to death even as I watch
waves seep into nothingness. Most days
I'm a man tired of being a man, sleeping
in the care of dusk's slanted light, or a man
scared of being a man, seeing some god
in the moonlight streaming over the sea.
Some days I imagine myself walking
this shore with feet as worn as driftwood,
old and afraid of my body. Someday,
I suppose I'll return someplace like waves
trickling through the sand, back to sea
without any memory of being, but if
I could choose eternity, it would be here:
aging with the moon, enduring in the space
between every grain of sand, in the cusp
of every wave and every seashell's hollow.
☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

About the Author: Richard Blanco was selected as the 2013 inaugural poet for President Barack Obama. He is the author of two other poetry collections: Directions to The Beach of the Dead, winner of the PEN/Beyond Margins Award; and City of a Hundred Fires, winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize. Exploring themes of Latino identity and place, Blanco's poems have appeared in Best American Poetry 2000 and Best American Prose Poems and have been featured on NPR. He is a fellow of the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, recipient of two Florida Artist Fellowships, and has taught at Georgetown and American universities. A builder of cities and poems, Blanco is also a professional civil engineer.

Category: Poetry
Series: Pitt Poetry Series
Publisher/Release Date: University of Pittsburgh Press; February 28, 2012

Read interview with Richard Blanco at La Bloga. Visit Richard Blanco here.

All poems © 2012, Richard Blanco 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Cover Highlight: Clarkesworld's "Desert Dragon"

I don't post too many cover highlights, but I had to share this one. The title of this fantastic cover for Issue 80 of the SF Clarkesworld Magazine is Desert Dragon. And what a magnificent dragon it is! When this issue of the magazine arrived on my Kindle yesterday and I first saw this cover, my imagination whisked me away to a fantasy realm.

The artist is Julie Dillon, a freelance illustrator working in Northern California. She creates science fiction and fantasy artwork for books, magazines and games. Julie is a 2013 Hugo Award Nominee for Best Artist.

Check out complete Clarkesworld Magazine Science Fiction and Fantasy Cover Gallery here.

Enjoy the beauty!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

April 2013 Recap: Books Read

Wow! April was a long month... wasn't it? So much happened that it feels as if the month lasted forever! I began the month going through a 'reading funk,' but somewhere along the line the gods took pity on me and I was able to concentrate on reading again. Of course finding books that caught and held my attention from beginning to end helped too!

Here are the books I ended up reading in April:

Total Books Read: 15
 Contemporary: 5
 Historical Romance: 3
 Science Fiction: 1
 Poetry: 2
 LGBT: 4

Death by Silver by Melissa Scott & Amy Griswold: A
Looking for The Gulf Motel by Richard Blanco: B+
Tales from the Sexual Underground by Rick R. Reed: B+
Here Comes the Bride by Pamela Morsi: B
My Dear Watson by L.A. Fields: B
Senegal Taxi by Juan Felipe Herrera: B
"The Fountain" Asimov SF Magazine G. David Nordley: B
Whiskey Beach by Nora Roberts: C
Against the Odds (Novella) by Lisa Kleypas: C
A Family Affair by Mary Campisi: C-
Higgins, Kristan - The Best Man by Kristan Higgins: D+

Upcoming Reviews:
The Favor by Megan Hart
Changing Lanes by Kathleen Long
When Love Comes to Town by Tom Lennon

Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas (Re-read): A-

My favorite book in April was Death by Silver by Melissa Scott & Amy Griswold. I read the book and loved it so much that I wrote my review immediately and had to post it early. I don't usually do that! The other book that really touched me was the small poetry volume by Richard Blanco, Looking for The Gulf Motel. I know that many readers don't go for poetry, but I can't see too many not enjoying Blanco's narrative, biographical style. 

Tales from the Sexual Underground by Rick R. Reed was a particularly memorable book. I read it while commuting back and forth from work and some stories were a hoot! "Sick Day" anyone? Reed combines non-fiction essays with some of his fiction stories. Both essays and fictional pieces explore extreme sexual subjects which Reed manages to imbue with raw humanity, dark humor, and straight forward candor. Excellent full-length review at Indie Reviews!

Of my C & D reads the most memorable are Whiskey Beach by Nora Roberts because Roberts is a favorite writer whose latest release turned out to be an average read for me, and The Best Man by Kristan Higgins because, don't we always remember books that end up as major fails? I do.

That is it for my April recap. I look forward to May and more great reads!