Sunday, December 29, 2013

Review: The Birthday of the World: and Other Stories by Ursula K. Le Guin

Published by Harper in 2002, The Birthday of the World: and Other Stories is a collection of eight stories by Ursula K. Le Guin. The collection begins with a marvelous introduction in which Le Guin provides readers familiar with her works a behind-the-scenes look at each story and new readers, like me, with enough understanding to enjoy them. Six of the eight stories are connected to her Hainish Cycle* series. These stories are all set in the different worlds Ekumen mobiles explore. In three, Le Guin focuses and expands on distinctive sets of social and/or cultural customs, while in the rest her mobiles confront conflicts arising from either observation or active participation in their attempt to understand different civilizations.

Of the stories focused on cultural and social customs, "Coming of Age in Karhide" is a favorite. Set in the frozen Gethenian world where its inhabitants are androgynous hermaphrodites, Le Guin weaves a coming of age piece filled with detailed intimacy and warmth. Le Guin refers to the other two stories, "Unchosen Love" and "Mountain Ways," as "a comedy of manners." They are both set in the world of "O" where the custom is for marriage to take place between four people -- two males and two females. The complexities used as a base to build this society's familial bonds were both intriguing and well thought out, however, neither story kept me as entranced as the outstanding tales where her mobiles discover conflict through observation or confront it through personal participation.

"The Matter of Seggri" is composed of observation reports written by various "mobiles" throughout years or centuries as they witness changes taking place in a society where women outnumber men. With Seggri's world, Le Guin experiments with the reversal of gender roles, as well as with the inevitable consequences arising from a society where "men have all the privilege and women all the power." Does Le Guin's thought experiment using gender imbalance and role reversal lead to a utopia for women? This is a fascinating study that ends the way it should.

"Solitude," also has a bit of that role reversal happening since villages are composed solely of women and children, while males are thrown out into the wilderness to fend for themselves as soon as they reach puberty. Women choose if or when to visit males for sexual pleasure or to have children, but all inhabitants of this planet, males and females, relish solitude. The mobile in this piece pays a high price when she brings her children to live within this society. Le Guin conducts an intricate, detailed exploration of culture, gender roles, and human nature in this favorite piece.

And finally, in "Old Music and the Slave Women," Le Guin takes on the subject of racism and bigotry and turns it on its head by taking the reader to the planet Werel where slavery has always been the way of life. She picks up the story in the middle of a revolution as the slaves are winning. The long-term chief intelligence officer from the Ekumical embassy is taken prisoner by the losing side to be used as a weapon against them. Narrated from the mobile's point of view, his ideological views soon clash with the cruel realities of what a physical revolution entails as he first meets one faction and then the other. Will things really change? Or in the end, is bigotry and racism so ingrained in this society that it won't matter who comes to power?

Of the two remaining stories, including "The Birthday of the World," "Paradise Lost" captured my attention and stayed with me, not only because it deviates completely from the rest, but because the content and writing are fabulous. This is a space voyage set in a generational ship, focusing on the middle generations whose lives begin and end during the journey. Their duties are that of maintenance and ensuring that the journey continues unimpeded to its final destination. Imagine that! To those middle generations the ship is "the world," where they have built their own complex realities, have no real knowledge of their home planet Earth or Dischew, and little interest in their Destination. These generations's only knowledge of Dischew is through virtual reality programs where they learn about dangers encountered by past generations in their home planet through an educational system established by Generation Zero.
In the Fifth Generation
My grandfather's grandfather walked under heaven.
That was another world.
When I am a grandmother, they say, I may walk under heaven
On another world.
But I am living my life now joyously in my world
Here in the middle of heaven. -- 5-Hsing
"History is what we need never do again." Generation Zero attempts to build a future "world" where subsequent generations learn from their past history. There is no organized religion, disease, crime, and people's lives are highly organized and therefore effective -- all is beautiful, perfect and in its place. But, although certain anomalies are considered, they forget that humans learn through experience, that history is often manipulated and lost to future generations, and that what is important to one generation may become obsolete to others. They fail to take into consideration the human factor and, as expected, there is trouble in Paradise. However, in Paradise Lost that human factor also includes love of freedom and the beauty that life has to offer. This is a 115 page-long study of the complexities (the seemingly simple and deeply profound) found in human nature.

As an added bonus at the end of this book, you will find the fabulous essay "On Despising Genres" (a piece that deserves a post of its own), followed by "Answers to a Questionnaire." Both give the reader further insight into the author's personal thought process.

*Related Post
Ursula K. Le Guin & The Hainish Cycle Series

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Reviewed as part of The 2014 Sci-Fi Experience

Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013: Favorite Quotes

My collection of quotes keeps growing by leaps and bounds! I began collecting passages for this post back in February, slowly and carefully choosing my ten (plus one) favorite quotes from some of the excellent novels, short story collections, essays, and poetry volumes I read during the year. Why did these make my favorite list? I have rules! They have to touch me even when taken out of context, either because they are thought provoking and make me ponder or I can relate to them personally, and in other cases, just because they are. . .


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"I go on writing in both respectable and despised genres because I respect them all, rejoice in their differences, and reject only the prejudice and ignorance that dismisses any book, unread, as not worth reading." -- "On Despising Genres," essay by Ursula K. Le Guin
"Writing is the place where I can be as bold and compassionate and wise as I choose." -- Dust Devil on a Quiet Street by Richard Bowes
[. . .] whether we like it or not the act of writing and the act of remembering is a political gesture; whether or not we call it political activism, we are performing it.” -- Red-Inked Retablos by Rigoberto Gonzalez
"I think there is no way to write about being alone. To write is to tell something to somebody, to communicate to others." "Solitude is non communication, the absence of others, the presence of a self sufficient to itself." "Solitude" -- The Birthday of the World: and Other Stories by Ursula K. Le Guin
"I liked myths. They weren't adult stories and they weren't children's stories. They were better than that. They just were." -- The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
"Light is the left hand of darkness and darkness the right hand of light, Two are one, life and death, lying together like lovers in kemmer, like hands joined together, like the end and the way."-- Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
"He wanted to have her to start his days and as dessert to his luncheon, as a mid-afternoon exercise, as an appetizer before whatever entertainment the evening had to offer, and as a nighttime lullaby and a middle-of-the-night drug."-- Edmund, The Notorious Rake by Mary Balogh
"Irrespective of the storm, the soul struck by lightning time and again, throughout the abominable Eighties there they were: compact, beautiful men spreading the cheeks of their asses on beds of gently rushing water." "Irrespective of the Storm" by Mark Ameen-- Best Gay Stories 2013 ed Steve Berman
"The whole world's a ghost factory. We all fade like the paint on these buildings, sometimes from too much sun, sometimes from too little. We blur and blend to the murky shades left behind when something vivid dies." "The Ghost Factory" -- In Search Of and Others by Will Ludwigsen
"We say of some things that they can't be forgiven, or that we will never forgive ourselves. But we do -- we do it all the time." "Dear Life" -- Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro

*****

"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."

excerpt from "Somedays, the Sea" -- Looking from the Gulf Motel by Richard Blanco


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

Review: The Kassa Gambit by M.C. Planck

I purchased M.C. Planck's science fiction debut novel, The Kassa Gambit when it first released. I picked up the 288 page-long hard cover edition of this rather short space opera because the premise looked interesting. It is a quick read, but I found it to be superficially developed without enough details to make it stand out in any way. The sci-fi world-building is rather generic with action that lacks real excitement, and while the characters did not draw me into the story, to a certain extent, the plot did. The Kassa Gambit is your basic mystery set in space with the two main characters separately, and together, fighting their way to find the answers. I love mysteries, so of course once I began reading, I wanted to know the final resolution.

Captain Prudence Falling and the small crew of the small tramp freighter Ulysses answer a distress call from the small planet of Kassa and inexplicably find it to have been decimated by a full-blown attack. Right behind the Ulysses is a ship from Altair Prime's Fleet and with them comes police office Lt. Kyle Daspar of Altair Prime, an anti-League double agent working undercover, sent there on an unexplained mission. While aiding survivors, Kyle, Prudence and her crew discover a crashed, abandoned "alien" spaceship. This discovery means that humans are not alone in the universe and everything will change.

Kyle comes to the conclusion that an unknown someone from the League sent him to Kassa for foul purposes. Hoping that his undercover anti-League role is not blown, he denies knowledge of the find and carefully arranges for another Fleet Captain to conveniently make the discovery. Meanwhile, as Prudence and her crew leave Kassa and run to safety, she spreads bits of news throughout the ports implying that the planet has been brutally bombed and devastated by aliens. The news quickly makes the rounds around the scattered planets as Kyle barely survives a brutal attack. Soon Prudence and Kyle find themselves on the run together trying to figure out who is really behind the attack on Kassa and what the ultimate ramifications may mean to the human race.

The Kassa Gambit is categorized as a space opera, so the first thing I looked for were the science fiction details and world-building. The science fiction information provided such as the superficial touches on sociological, cultural, and political structures, and the more detailed explanations of space travel with spaceships using the gravitational pull of planets to accelerate and decelerate and jumping through actives "nodes," turned out to be good, but predictable. The action is also there with a few space battles and the threat of lurking danger, it's just not exciting action. Additionally, as expected, this is not a character-driven story. Instead, the central characters serve as the key narrators whose roles are to drive the plot forward by providing details and action. These characters, however, need to be engaging to keep the reader interested and invested enough to care about what happens to them. It is unfortunate then that I never came to care for Captain Prudence Falling.

Prudence is a cold, paranoid, self-centered character who doesn't change by the end of the story -- even when we are told she does, I didn't quite believe in her. Her paranoia boosts her skills as a Captain and gives her good insight. However, there are mixed signals given about this character -- telling and not showing. For example, in my opinion, Prudence's attitude toward her crew says a lot about her. Despite attempts to keep her distance, Pru has supposedly found a "family" with her crew, and is particularly attached to simple-minded Jor whom she mothers. But, there is a disconnect there because one minute she's protective of him and the next she's using or willing to sacrifice Jor to save herself.

Kyle's personality traits match Pru's in that he is cold, calculating and paranoid. He is also willing to sacrifice others, but in his case it is so that he may complete his mission to keep his home planet, Altair Prime, safe. A man with a purpose and nothing to lose, Kyle is dangerous but I also found him to possess warmth and a conscience. Unfortunately, his paranoia is so extreme at this point that at times throughout the story, his way of processing information and working through possible political and personal ramifications become a confusing, frustrating mess. The "romantic" touch in this space opera is awkward with Kyle and Prudence developing an almost instant, and not entirely understandable, attachment for each other.

The thing is that the premise for the mystery plot in The Kassa Gambit worked well enough to keep me reading. And I believe that although this book is lacking in those small details that make a space opera shine, if I had thought of it as entertaining, light science fiction, it may have worked for me. I particularly liked a few of the secondary characters that provide Prudence and Kyle with information while they jump from planet to planet, the fast paced evolution of the story, and the twisty revelations and resolutions Planck uses in the end.

Category: Science Fiction
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Tor Books/January 8, 2013

The 2014 Sci-Fi Experience

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

TBR Review: All She Wants for Christmas (Kent Brothers #1) by Jaci Burton

The theme for the TBR Challenge this month is Holiday Books, any holiday. I've had the Kent Brothers' Trilogy by Jaci Burton in my Kindle for a long time, some longer than others. I read all three, but in the end decided to review Book #1, All She Wants for Christmas.

Big Star, Small-town Christmas

Country singer Riley Jensen would never have returned to her small Missouri hometown if her publicist hadn’t come up with the scheme to tape a Christmas special there. So she never would have known that the man who broke her heart at eighteen—causing her to flee to Nashville—was now a widower with a seven-year-old daughter. Riley has ten years of angst-filled hit songs and Grammy awards to prove she doesn’t need Ethan Kent. But suddenly, she can’t help thinking of all she gave up by running away…

Ethan Kent knew Riley had the talent and the drive to make it as a singer. He also knew she wasn’t going anywhere if she stayed in their nowhere town for him. Then one night and one huge mistake sent her running on the road to fame. Which doesn’t mean he ever stopped loving her…

But with so much separating them, can Riley and Ethan find their way back together one magical country Christmas?
I read a few reviews after reading this novella and there seems to be a bias against it because there's a question of cheating involved in the plot, but in my opinion this is a great example of "read the book and make up your own mind."

Riley and Ethan were high school sweethearts. Broken hearted, Riley ran away to Nashville the day after she found Ethan in bed with her best friend Amanda. Riley's songs about betrayal and broken hearts garnered her fame and fortune. Ten years later, the famous country singer is reluctantly returning home to tape a television special, and the last person she wants to see is Ethan. Riley finds an Ethan who is a fantastic single father and takes his share of the responsibility for what happened that night long ago. Ethan never stopped loving Riley and knowing she fulfilled her potential is satisfying, but he doesn't expect understanding or forgiveness and knows that seeing her again is not a good idea.

Throughout this novella, Jaci Burton utilizes Ethan's adorable daughter, his family, and people from her hometown to bring Riley back into the fold and to set up a small town holiday atmosphere. More importantly, deep conversations between Ethan and Riley give them the opportunity to connect again and to dig into a past that hurt everyone involved. Taking into account the page count, Amanda's betrayal, Ethan's guilt-ridden life, and Riley's heart break and tendency to run are all well addressed. Additionally, the sexual tension and chemistry between this couple works and in the end the romance is holiday sweet.

From the personal perspective, however, I did have niggles along the way. The reasons behind Amanda's betrayal are explained by Ethan and I wish there had been another way of learning that truth. Ethan's actions when he was an eighteen year-old young man did not bother me as much as Amanda's for good reason, but the fact that as an adult he continued to live a guilt-ridden life without love, did. And, I don't know if I would have been as understanding as Riley about certain facts that arose along the way.

This novella is first and foremost about getting down to the truth of what happened ten years before between Ethan and Amanda so that there can be forgiveness between Riley and Ethan. I say that because there is no question from the beginning that chemistry and deep love still exists between Ethan and Amanda. All She Wants for Christmas was a mixed bag read for me, with enjoyable moments and a well-developed plot, but with some personal niggles that I couldn't seem to set aside.

Category: Contemporary Romance/Christmas Holiday
Series: Kent Brothers Series, #1
Publisher/Release Date: Carina Press/December 6, 2010
Grade: B-

Series:
All She Wants For Christmas, #1
A Rare Gift, #2
The Best Thing, #3


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Spotlight: Ursula K. Le Guin & The Hainish Cycle Series

About the Author: Ursula K. Le Guin is the author of more than 100 short stories, 2 collections of essays, 4 volumes of poetry, and 18 novels. Her best known fantasy works, the Books of Earthsea, have sold millions of copies in the U.S., the U.K., and have been translated into sixteen languages. Her first major work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness, is considered epoch-making in the field of its radical investigation of gender roles and its moral and literary complexity.

Three of Le Guin's books have been finalists for American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize and among the many honors her writing has received are a National Book Award, five Hugo Awards, five Nebula Awards, the Kafka Award, a Pushcart Prize, and the Howard Vursell Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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In the two science fiction books I read by Le Guin, (The Birthday of the World and The Left Hand of Darkness) she seemed to be significantly deliberate in her presentation of race, gender, culture, and social identity. Her characters, in their majority, are racially and culturally diverse, and the examination and exploration of gender roles and sexual identity take center stage. This exploration largely extends to include the psychological and sociological impact that effects individuals as they first interact with diverse indigenous populations, different environmental issues, cultures, and political structures. In some of her stories the cultural exchange shocks one side, however in others, it has the reverse effect and/or is experienced by both sides.

In the introduction to the above mentioned books, Le Guin refers to some of her stories as "thought experiments." I can see why, and believe that she seems to have found the perfect niche to conduct those experiments within the Science Fiction genre. From what I've read so far, I think of her work as social science fiction, although I understand that she's not fond of labels. However, if like me, you are just beginning to familiarize yourself with Le Guin, then I believe there is a need to point out that her science fiction is not composed of epic space battles or fast paced action. Instead, I found that her books are masterful pieces of science fiction written in gorgeous prose, with stories that will make you think, and then think again.


Hainish Cycle Series
Rocannon's World*, 1966
Planet of Exile*, 1966
City of Illusions*, 1967
The Left Hand of Darkness, 1969 (Hugo and Nebula Award Winner)
The Dispossessed, 1974 (Nebula, Hugo, Locus Award Winner)
The Word for World is Forest, 1976 (Hugo Award, best novella)
Four Ways to Forgiveness, 1995 (Four Stories of the Ekumen)
The Telling, 2000 (Locus SF Award, Endeavour Award)


In the Hainish Cycle series, for example, Le Guin conducts her "thought experiments" by utilizing a whole galaxy of worlds inhabited by different civilizations descended from humans originally born in Terra. Throughout the centuries the inhabitants of these worlds have evolved, sometimes physically to adapt to their environment, but more significantly these civilizations have established different cultural and social structures. Using Le Guin's own words, she has constructed a "loose world" in which a galactic civilization composed of different planets are connected by a central organization called the Ekumen. Le Guin describes Ekumen as a "non-directive, information-gathering consortium of worlds, which occasionally disobeys its own directive to be non-directive."

The Hainish are first and foremost observers and collectors of information about other civilizations -- they learn, absorb, integrate, and as a result grow individually and collectively. Their way is not to interfere with the development of the diverse cultures encountered, instead the Ekumen organization first sends out teams of observers to inhabited worlds to learn language, general culture and assess whether the indigenous population is ready to join their galactic civilization in the trade of goods, advanced technology and education. This process may take centuries. Once readiness is established an envoy or "mobile" is deployed to make first contact and to record his experiences. If the first "mobile" fails, they may send another one later on.

The Hain and their Ekumen travel through space and communicate instantaneously through a device called the "ansible." However, although advanced technology is used, they do not possess that of faster-than-light travel. This combination of slow travel with fast communication gives the worlds within the galactic Ekumen organization the ability to trade, but it also keeps the worlds isolated and independent from each other. So there are no nitty gritty details of advanced technologies, instead Le Guin gives the reader enough information to sweep them along with her "mobiles" as they travel and experience different alien worlds, giving her the opportunity of putting into play the exploration of race, gender roles and sexual identity, culture, and social identity, as well as the psychological and sociological impact, I mention above.

**********

I've had The Dispossessed (1974) in my Kindle for a while, but I decided to explore Le Guin's work through short stories (just a taste first, I thought). As a result, I began reading this series from back to front and then proceeded by picking up a book out of sequence.

I picked up The Birthday of the World: and Other Stories (2002) first, a collection of short stories of which six of the eight are connected to the Hainish Cycle series. I read the first two stories plus the last one, stopped reading the collection, picked up The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), went back to the collection and was hooked. Now, I have the entire series in my possession (some in print and others in ebook format) and hope to read as many books as I can this winter (in order!).

My December posts will all become part of my participation in the 2014 Sci-Fi Experience hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings.


*The Worlds of Exile and Illusion omnibus contains the first three novellas of the Hainish Cycle series: Rocannon's World, Planet of Exile, and City of Illusions.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Joining: 2014 TBR Challenge


The 2014 TBR Challenge hosted by Wendy from The Misadventures Of Super Librarian is one of my all time favorite challenges around. It makes me take a second and a third look at books I've purchased and that have been lingering in my shelves and Kindle for way too long!

I've joined this Challenge for the past two years and can tell you that just by looking for that one book to read and review for my monthly post, I've been able to cull books from that big pile permanently. But more importantly, I have found hidden treasures.

The rules are very loose and simple. You can check them out  (here), and if you like, join us.

This is a really fun challenge in which you can choose your own book, or one that fits Wendy's suggestion for the month. Following is the schedule for 2014:

January 15 - We Love Short Shorts! (Short stories, Novellas, category romance)
February 19 - Series Catch-Up (pick a book from a series you're behind on)
March 19 - New-To-You Author (an author you've never read before)
April 16 - Contemporary romance
May 21 - More Than One (An author who has more than one book in your TBR pile)
June 18 - Romance Classics (classic book, classic author, classic trope/theme etc.)
July 16 - Lovely RITA (past RITA winners or nominees)
August 20 - Luscious Love Scenes (erotic romance, erotica, a "sensual" read - leave those "just kisses" books alone this month!)
September 17 - Recommended read (a book recommended to you by someone)
October 15 - Paranormal or romantic suspense
November 19 - Historical romance
December 17 - Holiday themes (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day, it's all good!)

A big thanks to Wendy for hosting the TBR Challenge again!

Joining: The 2014 Sci-Fi Experience & Vintage Science Fiction Month


It's that time of the year when we join challenges and non-challenges for the upcoming year. I have once again decided to join one of my favorite non-challenge events, The 2014 Sci-Fi Experience hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings.

Carl's love of science fiction is contagious and he is again inviting readers to:

a) Continue their love affair with science fiction
b) Return to science fiction after an absence, or
c) Experience for the first time just how exhilarating science fiction can be.

This year, however, he threw all of us a curve ball by changing the dates and began early. I'm already behind! The experience is running for a two month period which already began on December 1, 2013 and will end on January 31, 2014.

I have books and books that I've been saving for this event, so now I just need to get started with reading and reviewing. One of my goals for this experience is to explore Ursula K. Le Guin's backlist, an author whose works I've been meaning to read for a long time. I just finished reading her collection of short stories The Birthday of the World (2002) and The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), and I do really want to get to The Dispossessed (1974) before the end of January.


I will also be joining the Vintage Science Fiction Month , a non-challenge limited to the month of January 2014 and hosted by the Little Red Reviewer. Vintage in this case means science fiction books published before 1979! I have Le Guin's books in mind, of course, but I also need to look at my stack of books and ebooks before making a final decision on the rest of my reads for January.

I again look forward to indulging my love of science fiction by participating in both of these events in 2014.

If you are a sci-fi fan and are interested in joining either of these events, please click on the links above and head over to sign up, or just check out the review pages, you will find loads of great books read and reviewed during the next two months!



Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Review: Light by 'Nathan Burgoine


Light is 'Nathan Burgoine's full-length debut novel. I've read most of Burgoine's short stories in different LGBT anthologies, so I'm quite familiar with his writing style. What I have found is that he has a knack for writing tight, complete short stories within the LGBTQ romance, spec-fic and erotica genres and that the gay themes central to his stories, whether YA or adult, are always pertinent to contemporary issues. This is a great combination of talents. In Light, Burgoine utilizes these talents to great effect.

Gay massage therapist Kieran Quinn is taking his yearly vacation to enjoy and participate in all the great events going on during Pride Week in his hometown of Ottawa, Canada. Kieran is cute but his love life is not necessarily blooming with life and ends up going to the opening ceremony with a not-so-impressive blind date. Besides being cute, a great therapist, and having a knack for a snappy, dry quip or two, our man possesses what he considers to be a few weak powers of the psychokinetic and telepathic kind, with an ability for refracting light and bending it into rainbows. He has hidden these abilities from others all his life, that is until the homophobic religious zealot Wyatt Jackson, or Stigmatic Jack, misuses similar powers to hurt the crowd during the opening ceremony and Kieran comes forth to defend his community with a burst of light and rainbows. Yes, this is the story of a hero in the making.

During the aftermath, Kieran aids wounded leather man hunk Sebastien LaRoche, Pride Week's events organizer, and one of Kieran's fantasies comes to life when a thank you turns to heat between the two men. Unfortunately, Stigmatic Jack is still a danger to the LGBTQ community and Kieran is not about to let him hurt anyone if he can help it. But, can he stop Stigmatic Jack, and how long can Kieran hide his identity?

Despite the fact that I'm familiar with Burgoine's writing style, I was still surprised at how well everything just clicked in his debut full-length novel -- possibly because from past experiences I know that not all great short story writers can make a full-length novel sing the first time around. That's not a problem I found here at all!

Burgoine utilizes that tight writing style and knack for keeping the reader engaged by incorporating action at just the right moments, making central, secondary, and peripheral characters distinctive and pertinent, and using the very contemporary issue of religious zealotry and homophobia as a central gay theme. The thing is, that all of this is achieved with humor, excellent dialog, and the excitement found in a superhero romantic adventure story. Additionally, and not surprisingly, Burgoine effectively uses sexual tension to build the chemistry and evolving romance that heats up between Kieran and Sebastien without relying on the expected graphic sexual scenes.

Kieran is a well constructed character with depth. He's also just fun to know. I believe that what I liked about this character is that although he is portrayed as being an out and proud gay man, there are still things he hides from others about himself, about what he really wants and who he is -- he can still surprise himself and others.

My first impressions of Light, right after I finished reading it, were:
"Fabulous, fun, entertaining and absorbing. Read it in one seating. Loved Kieran! Great debut novel."
Those impressions are just right. Light by 'Nathan Burgoine not only kept me entertained and absorbed throughout, I finished it with a smile on my face. What fun! Now, I'll just look forward to reading Burgoine's next novel.

Category: LGBT/Gay Action Adventure/ Fantasy Romance
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Bold Strokes Books/October 15, 2013
Grade: B+

Visit 'Nathan Burgoine here.

Friday, December 6, 2013

November 2013: Reads & Minis

November means rainy days, Thanksgiving, the end of Fall and my youngest niece Natalia's birthday! She is now one year old. That's her  picture, wearing her father's hat during our family's Thanksgiving get-together. She's a hoot!

November is also a cozy reading month with all the cold, rainy days, and early evenings. This is the time of year when I begin to crave holiday books, science fiction, and romance. This year, November turned out to be a mixed bag. Half of my reads were average or below average, but I also read some fantastic books. Following is a list with comments.

Total books read: 21
Contemporary: 10 (Fiction: 2, Romance: 4, Erotica: 4)
Historical Fiction: 3 (Romance: 1, Erotica: 1)
Historical Nonfiction: 1
Paranormal Romance: 1
Science Fiction: 1
LGBT: M/M Romance: 4
Literary Fiction (Reread): 1

Top November Reads:


Duke of Midnight (Maiden Lane #5) by Elizabeth Hoyt: A
With a strong heroine, a brooding hero, and a great plot, this book became one of my favorite in this already favorite historical romance series by Hoyt.

Now or Never (A Last Time Romance) by Logan Belle: A
Highly recommended by Wendy, Now or Never is the first in a new contemporary erotic romance series by Logan Belle, an author whose works I've enjoyed in the past. This is a fantastic story that became an instant favorite. I wrote a mini, or you can read the review that convinced me to pick up the book in the first place at The Misadventures of Super Librarian.

The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle #4) by Ursula K. Le Guin: A
Ursula K. Le Guin is a new-to-me author within the science fiction genre and believe me, I am already a fan! Her prose is fantastic, and the core this story kept me riveted. This is not your typical forceful, action packed, science fiction, but a slowly built masterpiece. This book is from Le Guin's backlist, but definitely one of my favorite books of the year.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion: B+
I picked up The Rosie Project after reading Leslie's review at Leslie's Psyche. I didn't know at the time that this was quite the popular read! I'm glad I picked it up because it turned out to be a great read for me. Don is one of those memorable characters that stayed with me.

Promise Me Texas (Whispering Mountain #7) by Jodi Thomas: B
A sweet western historical romance that is all about warmth, laughter, and love. This is a solid read that I just enjoyed from beginning to end.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt: B
Now, this was a long and interesting read. Tartt is a new-to-me author recommended to me by one of my brothers because her latest book, The Goldfinch, is making waves at the moment (I have it in my TBR). I want to review this book, so I won't say much about it, except that I found the format she used for this "whydunit," and the intense focus on the rather unlikable characters rather interesting.

How I Met Your Father by L.B. Gregg: B
This is definitely an L.B. Gregg novella. You can tell because her humor is all over it, as well as her knack for getting the reader to fall in love with her couple and involved in the story right off the bat. Fun, fun read.

Christmas in Snowflake Canyon by RaeAnne Thayne: B
I really like Thayne's contemporaries and this was among my favorite Christmas reads last weekend. I really liked the character growth, as well as the romance in this one.

Erica's Choice by Sammi Lee: B
This is an M/M/F erotic triad piece by Sammi Lee, and a highly enjoyable one. It's emotionally wrenching with highly charged erotic moments. Lee did a great job of making this triad work. Solid piece.

Once Upon a Haunted Moor by Harper Fox: C+
Fox is a favorite M/M romance writer for me, and this Halloween read set in Scotland turned out to be really spooky. It's well written, which is not a surprise, but it's rather short with a romance that was too quick to develop.

My Own Miraculous by Joshilyn Jackson: C+
Joshilyn Jackson is a favorite women's fiction writer, and My Own Miraculous is a short prequel novella that introduces the main character to her novel, Someone Else's Love story, a book I have in my TBR and want to read in December. This prequel works well as an introduction, but of course it needs more detail.

Dark Witch (The Cousins O'Dwyer #1) by Nora Roberts: C
The first book in Nora Roberts' latest contemporary paranormal romance series, Dark Witch is nothing more than an average read. It is predictable for those who know her works well. There is really nothing new here. I recommend it to new readers of this author.

What the Bride Didn't Know by Kelly Hunter: C
A contemporary romance read with likable characters, a great premise, and a wonderful setting, but with so many tropes used that it just fizzled and ended up being an average read for me.

The Night Before Christmas by Kelly Hunter: C
A nice Christmas novella that was too short and where the main focus of the romance is interrupted with... filler.

From the Ashes (Fire & Rain #1) by Daisy Harris: C-
The basis of this MM romance by Daisy Harris is very familiar. It reminded me of "By the Numbers" by Chris Owen, and that threw me off from the beginning, additionally neither main character really grabbed my attention. The fireman lives with his family and lets them rule his life and the young man he takes home after his apartment burns down is not independent of mind enough for my taste. Actually, neither of them struck me as independent adult males for some reason. The romance is okay, but the characters bugged me.

Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie: D+
This is a read that may be appreciated by some readers who are not keen on historical detail, but would enjoy snippets written in a chatty style. It's a beautiful looking book, but one that just did not work for me personally.

Second Chances (When Second Chances Count) by D.L. Roan: D
This is an M/F/M/M erotica piece with three brothers that find that one woman who will make them happy. It reminded me of the original August Brothers by Lora Leigh, although I believe it resembles Maya Banks' Coulters' Woman much more. This was way too similar and not as well done.

The Lord's Lover (Regency Triad #1) by Jenna Rose Ellis: D
This is a Regency historical and no, it is not a triad, but an M/M romance between a lord and his best friend who happens to be a servant. Somehow they bridge the gap between the master/servant AND homosexuality conflicts that arise. I had a tough time buying this story because of the historical time period and the way it all works out at the end with these men just living together as if all was well with the world.

The Reddington Scandal by Renee Rose: D
Historical M/F Erotica with a virginal bride and D/s flavor that just did not work for me, although it begins with a good premise. The woman's submissiveness and the male's aggressiveness with all the spanking because he needs to take his frustration out on her in the bedroom just bothered the heck out of me in this piece.

Stealing the Bride by Brynn Paulin: D-
SPOILER: This M/M/F erotic piece barely escaped an F or DNF from me. It's short and perhaps that's the reason I finished it. The "bride" goes on a camping trip right before her wedding and her two gay roommates show up to talk her into not going through with the wedding. After having shared an apartment for a few years, these two men confess they are really bisexual, not gay! Funny that nobody ever noticed!! Of course the boys want her and despite the fact that she's engaged, monkey sex ensues. The "groom" shows up to the wedding, but guess what? HE turns out to be gay! What? I can't recommend this one.

Reread:
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
I have a whole post written covering my reread of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, but I'm thinking of just posting it at Quotes and Thoughts. This reread was a major success for me. It goes to show that sometimes rereads are worth the time.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Review: Promise Me Texas (Whispering Mountain #7) by Jodi Thomas

On a midnight train, four hours away from her wedding, Beth McMurray discovers the devastating truth about the powerful senator she's about to marry. Convinced nothing could make this stormy night worse, the train wrecks, and she tumbles straight into the arms of an outlaw.

Andrew McLaughlin doesn't believe in loving except between the pages of his writings. He loved deeply once and thinks he'll never survive another loss. To save a friend, he climbs aboard a train heading toward Dallas. In the moment before the train crashes, he saves a beautiful woman and is injured in the fall. He wakes up to find she’s claimed him as her fiancé—and now they’re both on the run, and destined to do everything it takes to make an unexpected promise of love come true.
I'm a fan of Jodi Thomas's western historical romances. I like her characters and the loving warmth in her stories, which makes a great change from the gritty and sweepingly passionate romances that I usually prefer. Promise Me Texas, the romance between Teagan McMurray's youngest daughter Beth and Andrew McLaughlin, qualifies as one of those romances.

This romance begins with a betrayal and a lie. First, when Beth impulsively rides to surprise her fiancé, a powerful Texan senator, on the train that will take them both to Dallas where she has agreed to secretly marry him, while eavesdropping, she finds out what he really thinks of her and why he chose to marry her -- the words "dumb and spoiled" are a few words he uses to describe his future wife to male companions. Disgusted with her poor judgment and fiancé, Beth leaves the rail car, only to be saved when the train crashes by a man who, as part of a gang, is attempting to rob the train.

Both Beth and her savior survive the crash, but he is injured and to save him from hanging she lies to the Sheriff and doctor by claiming the stranger as her fiancé. With that one little lie, Beth changes her life and that of Andrew McLaughlin. As the story progresses, Beth's and Andrew's lives get even more entangled when she claims him as her husband in order to stay with him at the hospital where he is treated for his wounds. One lie leads to another, until the McMurray family gets involved, Beth begins to think she's really married to Andrew, and he begins to wish they were.

I really enjoyed this western historical romance by Thomas with its outlaws, con men, and the general chaos that ensues as a result of Beth's initial lies. It's like a comedy of errors or a snowball that grows as it plunges down a mountain to disaster. I don't know who I liked more, Beth with her naiveté and bravado, or Andrew with his infinite patience and willingness to take on, not only Beth, but everyone else she picks up on the road -- the two young boys Levi and Leonard, and the young girl and the cowboy, Madie and Colby. They make a rag tag group at best, and Andrew as an outlaw/writer has the patience of Job in his dealings with Beth, the crew, and later on, her family.

The romance is sweeeet as it evolves! There are sweet good night kisses, passionate kisses, laughter, and more "dears" than I can count, so that the outcome is absolutely adorable - cute, sweet, and worth the read. I love that even with all the other characters that accompanied Andrew and Beth throughout their adventure, they spend most of the book (maybe all of it?) together. Those "dears" did make them sound like an old married couple after a while, and took a bit of that young, passionate loving feeling away from the romance, but that is a minor complaint. Overall, this is a heartwarming, loving romance that I enjoyed.

Category: Historical Romance/Western
Series: Whispering Mountain
Publisher/Release Date: Berkley/November 5, 2013
Grade: B

Visit Jodi Thomas here.

Series:
Texas Rain, #1
Texas Princess, #2
Tall, Dark, and Texan, #3
The Lone Texan, #4
Texas Blue, #5
Wild Texas Rose, #6

Monday, December 2, 2013

Xmas Reads: RaeAnne Thayne, Kelly Hunter, Shirlee McCoy, L.B. Gregg

Christmas in Snowflake Canyon (Hope's Crossing #6) by RaeAnne Thayne
No one has ever felt sorry for Genevieve Beaumont. After all, she has everything money can buy. That is, until she discovers her fiancé has been two-timing her and she's left with two choices: marry the philanderer to please her controlling father or be disinherited and find a means to support herself.

Genevieve's salvation appears in the most unlikely of prospects: Dylan Caine, a sexy, wounded war vet whose life is as messy as hers. Dylan's struggling to adjust after his time in Afghanistan, and the last thing he needs is a spoiled socialite learning about the real world for the first time. True, she may have unexpected depths and beauty to match. But he knows he could never be the man she needs…and she knows he could never be the man she thinks she wants. So why are they each hoping that a Christmas miracle will prove them both wrong?
Christmas in Snowflake Canyon is the sixth installment in the Hope's Crossing series by RaeAnne Thayne, however in my opinion, as a holiday piece it can pretty much be read as a stand alone and it works beautifully as a Christmas story. I only read the first book of this series and had no problem enjoying the story.

Genevieve is Mayor Beaumont's spoiled daughter and her reputation around town is that of a 'cold bitch' with more beauty than brains whose ex-groom cheated on her right before their big wedding two years prior to this story. She and Dylan Caine, a physically and psychologically scarred war vet, meet during a bar fight where Genevieve ends up punching the local District Attorney as Dylan comes to her rescue -- it's a great beginning to the story. They are both arrested and agree to one hundred hours of community service at the local center for war veterans, A Warrior's Hope, and the romance begins.

This is truly a heartwarming Christmas story. It's most definitely a romance, but it's also about Genevieve slow growth as a person, her redemption, and Dylan's slow progression towards healing. I found the building friendship between these two different people both entertaining and sweet, and Thayne struck the right tone and pacing as she developed the romance and yearning between Dylan and Gen. This is definitely an enjoyable holiday read. Grade: B

The Night Before Christmas by Kelly Hunter
In this Christmas prequel novella by USA TODAY Bestselling author Kelly Hunter, meet estranged sweethearts Jess and Boyd…

Hardworking and independent Jess Turner has come home from the bustle of Sydney to enjoy a quiet Christmas. But after running into an old school friend, she finds herself talked into attending a lavish Christmas Eve party—and running straight into the only man to ever break her heart.

Rebel with a heart Boyd Webber thrives on the adrenaline rush of riding motorbikes for a living, but giving into love has never been a risk worth taking. Until he sees Jess again. Their chemistry is still electric and Boyd can't give up the chance to rekindle what they once had. But if they're going to have a future together, they'll have to find a way to get past old hurts in time for Christmas Day…
As it says in the summary above, this Christmas novella is a prequel to Kelly Hunter's "What the Bride Didn't Know." Jess and Boyd were best friends from childhood until high school, and fell in love when they were teenagers. Boyd, however, broke up with Jess during their senior year in high school. Now, as adults, they are both back home and attending a fancy Christmas party at the West home with old friends Jared, Trig, and Lena. Is the love still there? Can Jess forgive him for walking away from their friendship?

I loved the sections of this novella that had to do with the romance between Jess and Boyd. Their reunion, love, and real friendship jumped out of the pages and satisfying enough, but too short. Why? Well, this short novella was divided between their romance and sections dedicated to young versions of Jared, Trig, and Lena, and although it was cute to read about them 'then,' their section wasn't meaty enough to keep my interest and it took the much needed focus away from Jess and Boyd. Regardless, a cute Christmas novella. Grade: C

The House on Main Street (Apple Valley #1) by Shirlee McCoy
Interior designer Tessa McKenzie has built a good life far from her Washington hometown. She intends to get back to it—as soon as she sells the cluttered Victorian house and antiques shop she inherited from her sister, Emily. But leaving Apple Valley a second time won't be so easy. There's her grieving nephew, Alex, to consider. And there's Sheriff Cade Cunningham, the adolescent crush who could easily break her heart again if she let him.

To Cade, Tessa was simply his high school sweetheart's kid sister. But now there's no denying she's a beautiful and caring grown woman, one he'd like to get to know. Except that Tessa is determined to leave again. If Cade wants to change her mind, he'll have to show her that small-town life has its lovable side—and that he does too. Most of all, he'll have to convince Tess they're good together, and that every step has led her right where she was always meant to be…
The House on Main Street is one of those Christmas romances that takes place in a small town that's almost too good to be true -- picture post card perfect. Tessa returns to town after her sister and brother-in-law are killed and name her guardian to her nephew Alex, a 10 year-old with autism, and she also inherits the old Victorian home on Main Street where they started an antique shop that turns out to be more of a dump. The conflicts in this story come from Tessa's old feelings for her childhood friend Cade, who is now totally taken with her, and from childhood baggage.

Bickering between Tessa and her aunt is the word of the day in this story -- sometimes it's funny, but after a while the lack of communication gets tiring. And talking about communication, I know that Tessa doesn't know anything about 10 year olds or kids with autism, but a little initial effort on her part would have gone a long way -- maybe calling the school? Talking and/or listening to Alex? The romance is better in a heartwarming sort of way. I did like Tess, though, and also liked Cade a lot, and the story about the missing "angel" and introduction of the townspeople was nice enough with that Christmas(y) flavor. McCoy writes inspirational romances, but don't expect anything overtly inspirational in this Christmas story, in that respect it strikes the right tone. Grade: C

How I Met Your Father by L.B. Gregg
Former boy band member Justin Hayes isn’t looking for a man. He just wants a quiet, scandal-free Christmas at home in Chicago, out of the public eye. But his best friend and bandmate is subjecting everyone to his destination wedding, and Justin can’t dodge the “best man” bullet. All he has to do is get to the island on time, survive the reunion, and get Chuck to the altar with as little drama as possible. What could possibly go wrong?

Jack Bassinger’s own plans for a quiet Christmas have been dashed by the summons to his daughter’s hasty wedding with a man Jack has hardly met. On the bumpy flight to the island, he finds himself comforting a nervous—and extremely attractive—young man. One hasty sexual encounter in an airport bathroom later, they both feel much better. No one ever has to know, after all.

Now Justin and Jack must find a way to explore their attraction, despite the distractions of disapproving family members, unexpected announcements, an impromptu concert, and an island paradise that proves there’s no place like home.
Okay, I loved the premise for this novella -- it is the reason I wanted to read it in the first place. Justin and Jack meet on the airplane on their way to the Caribbean and when they arrive at the airport have hot, anonymous bathroom sex. To Justin's dismay, they meet again at his best friend's bachelor party where he finds out that Jack is the bride's father. Ooops! Life gets complicated! The old "boy band" performs, panties and pink condoms fly, a steamy hike gets out of control, family gets involved, and smitten Justin and super-hot Jack get it from all sides!

This was such a fun Christmas novella. The characters are great, the Caribbean atmosphere is wonderful, the situation is controlled chaos, and the story is amusing, hot, and definitely lived up to my expectations. Did I want more time with Justin and Jack? You bet! They are one hot May/December couple. Grade: B  

Additionally, 20% of all proceeds from How I Met Your Father are donated to the Ali Forney Center in New York, whose mission “is to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) youth from the harm of homelessness, and to support them in becoming safe and independent as they move from adolescence to adulthood.” To learn more about this charity or to donate directly, please visit http://www.aliforneycenter.org/