Showing posts with label 2012. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2012. Show all posts

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Horse Named Sorrow by Trebor Healey

A Horse Named Sorrow
by Trebor Healey 
To a "lost soul" like Shame his horseboy Jimmy becomes a savior, a savior who dies on the AIDS cross for guilty sinners or survivors like him. In order to help with Jimmy's resurrection, Shame goes on the road carrying Jimmy's ashes, a pilgrimage that leads to understanding his own personal truth by retracing Jimmy's journey home and embracing Eugene's silence.

With prose that shifts from the poetic to the mundane, in A Horse Named Sorrow, Trebor Healey creates a vibrant, sexy, deeply emotional journey filled with color, memorable characters, humor, the horrors of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco during the early '90s, and spirituality that grabs the reader by the throat at the beginning and keeps squeezing until the very end. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year! December 2012 Recap + Minis

Cousin Susana & her cake! 
Happy New Year everyone! Hope your 2013 is full of excellent, beautiful stories, happiness and health!

I celebrated the coming new year with my family at my brother's place last night, which means that I had a great time. Did you check out the cake our family member Susana M. (see picture) designed specially for the occasion? We all thought it was a beauty! That champagne bottle was edible and made entirely out of chocolate! Everything on that bottle was edible, and the cake was perfectly yummy...

I have been on vacation during these holidays and today is my last day. I vegged out like you wouldn't believe! Lots of television and movie watching, family gatherings and time spent with the hubby, but hmm... not much reading done. I took a real break from just about everything! As a result, my December 2012 was not quite as prolific on the reading side of things as I expected it to be and I didn't read most of the books I placed on that old coffee table. Be that as it may, here is a list of my December reads!

Total books read: 12
  Contemporary Romance: 1
  Historical Romance: 4
  Speculative Fiction: 1
  Fantasy (Re-read): 1
  LGBT: 5 (Literary Fiction 1, Gay Romance 2, Gay Erotic Anthology 1, Lesbian YA 1)

A Horse Named Sorrow: A Novel by Trebor Healey
I saved this novel as an end-of-year read. It turned out to be one of those fabulous books that I regret not reading as soon as it released. Unfortunately, I read it after my LGBT favorite books and authors list was posted, but before my 2012 Top Reads went up! So yes... A Horse Named Sorrow is one of my favorite Top 10 reads of the year. This is a gorgeous LGBT fiction read that I'm recommending to anyone who will listen. Grade: A-

The Horsemaster's Daughter (Calhouns #2) by Susan Wiggs: B+

The You Know Who Girls: Freshman Year by Annameekee Hesik
This is a wonderful YA read! The author really captures Abbey's teen angst, high school days, and successfully adds the main character's struggles with sexuality to the mix. The characters, central and secondary, are all believable and draw the reader from beginning to end. The You Know Who Girls: Freshman Year is a wonderful story that should be read by all, but specifically by LGBT young adults and their friends. My hope? That Hesik continues to write Abbey's journey throughout her four years at Gila High. Recommended. (Bold Strokes Books, 2012) Grade: B+

 Christmas Beau by Mary Balogh: B

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: B

Men of Smithfield: Adam and Holden by L.B. Gregg
I am such a closet fan of The Man of Smithfield and LB Gregg! I've re-read Gobsmacked countless times (it is still my favorite of this series), but I enjoy all of them. So, how did I miss reading this one? I really enjoyed the characters, the lust, the attraction, the humor, the mystery with all the crazy characters and the messy romance that blooms in the middle of it all. Grade: B
Raising Hell: Demonic Gay Erotica edited by Todd Gregory: B (Upcoming Review)

Fungi edited by Orrin Grey: B (Upcoming Review)

Saving Skylar Hand by George Seaton 
This book was my last read of the year, thanks to Indigene's review (read it here). Saving Skylar Hand turned out to be a really beautiful holiday gay romance read that can be read anytime during the year! Gorgeous characters and writing combined with a touching story. Recommended. Grade: B

My Steadfast Heart (Thorne Brothers #1) by Jo Goodman
My Reckless Heart (Thorne Brothers #2) by Jo Goodman
This is a good, if not great, historical romance series by favorite writer Jo Goodman. I picked up the Thorne Brothers trilogy for eReader inexpensively and read books 1&2 consecutively. My Steadfast Heart, sets up the series and tells the story of how the three Thorne brothers are taken to an orphanage after their parents are murdered during a highway robbery in England and are soon separated. The eldest makes it his life's goal to find his two adopted brothers. I loved him as a character and the brothers' plight! My main problem with this first book is the abused heroine who continues to allow abuse over and over from people who don't deserve her loyalty, yet pushes away and is quite dismissive of people (like the hero), who prove that they mean to help her and do like/love her. I couldn't make sense of this woman. However, overall this is a pleasant historical romance read. Grade: C+
My Reckless Heart has a similar heroine, except that this one is a snob with the hero, while playing the part of heroine in the abolitionists Underground Railroad. She was quite the contradiction, I thought. But I liked this story more than the first one because the heroine grew on me, and I loved the hero. The Underground Railroad thread was quite intriguing, particularly since the story is set in Boston and seen from a northern point of view. The brothers' story continues to be central to the series, AND continued to pull at me. I will read the third book of the series just to find out how the youngest is found. I do love a happy ending. Grade: B-
Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor (Friday Harbor #1) by Lisa Kleypas: C

This is my last recap of 2012! Now, moving on to 2013!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012: Completed Challenges & Fun Events

The TBR Challenge 2012 hosted by Wendy of The Misadventures of Super Librarian was definitely a fun challenge. Not only did I read one book every month to complete this challenge, but throughout the first half of the year found myself buying and reading books recommended by my fellow participants. Then, during the second half of the year, while searching for THE book of the month, it became addictive to read, read, and read a few more of those books lingering in that old TBR pile. I read some great books this year and found some *favorites among them because of this Challenge -- one of them even made it to my 2012 Top Reads list.

Here is a list of the books read and reviewed:

Monthly Review Dates And Theme Suggestions:

January 18 - Light the Stars by RaeAnne Thayne: Category romance
February 15 - Anyone But You by Jennifer Crusie: Recommended Read*
March 21 - Dalton's Undoing by RaeAnn Thayne: Series Catch-Up
April 18 - Almost a Gentleman by Pam Rosenthal: Not on theme
May 16 - The Charm School by Susan Wiggs : Published prior 2000*
June 20 - Logan's Outlaw by Elaine Levine: Western
July 18 - Open Season by Linda Howard: Free Pick Month (Romance/Suspense)
August 15 - Dirty by Megan Hart: Erotic Romance*
September 19 - Storm Front (Dresden Files #1) by Jim Butcher: Genre besides romance
October 17 - On Thin Ice (Ice #1) by Anne Stuart: Romantic Suspense
November 21 - The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey: All About The Hype*
December 19 - Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas: Holiday Theme

Thank you Wendy!


The 2012 Science Fiction Experience hosted by Carl V. of Stainless Steel Droppings, was not a challenge but a two month experience worth of discussions about science fiction reads, movies and well... anything to do with science fiction. It took place from January 1st through February 29, 2012, and I had a blast participating in this super cool event!

You can read a list of books read, movies watched and posts shared for this event in my closing post here. But I can tell you that as a result of this event, I ended up reading and enjoying more science fiction (including post-apocalyptic, sf/mystery, sfr, science fiction opera, and more) in 2012 than I have in a long time!

Thanks Carl V.!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012 Top Reads

This year my top 10 reads were gathered from different categories of books released in 2012 and graded A at Impressions of a Reader or given 5 stars at Goodreads. My top ten favorite books of 2012 are numbered, but due to the fact that I read many different categories this year (and love them all) they are listed in no particular order. Please note that I've included books already listed in my *2012 LGBT Favorite Books & Authors post (read a separate list here). You will also find a list of 2012 Honorable Mention reads that I thoroughly enjoyed this year, and three Grade A 2012 favorite reprint/re-releases.

2012 TOP 10 FAVORITE READS: (Click on titles to read reviews) 

1.   The Witness by Nora Roberts: Contemporary Romance Suspense
2.   Green Thumb by Tom Cardamone: Speculative Fiction*
3.   Slow Lightning by Eduardo C. Corral: Poetry*
4.   Range of Ghosts (Eternal Sky #1) by Elizabeth Bear: Fantasy
5.   Purgatory: A Novel of the Civil War by Jeff Mann: Erotic Historical Romance*
6.   The Last Renegade by Jo Goodman: Western Historical Romance
7.   A Horse Named Sorrow: A Novel by Trebor Healey: Fiction**
8.   The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey: Historical Fantasy Fiction
9.   Captain Harding and His Men, #2 by Elliott Mackle: Historical Fiction/Mystery*
10. Thief of Shadows (Maiden Lane #4) by Elizabeth Hoyt: Historical Romance

**Book read, reviewed after this post. Read in late December and unfortunately not included with my LGBT list of favorites! 

1.   Torn by Lee Thomas: Horror*
2.   Caliban's War (The Expanse #2) by James S.A. Corey: Science Fiction
3.   Riveted (Iron Seas #3) by Meljean Brook: Science Fiction Romance/Steampunk
4.   Her Best Worst Mistake by Sarah Mayberry: Contemporary Romance
5.   Immobility by Brian Evenson: Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction/Fantasy
6.   The Last Policeman: A Novel by Ben H. Winters: Science Fiction/Mystery
7.   The Heart's History by Lewis DeSimone: Fiction*
8.   This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz: Literary Fiction
9.   Hearts of Darkness (Deadglass #1) by Kira Brady: Paranormal Romance
10. The Boy Kings of Texas: A Memoir by Domingo Martinez: Non-Fiction

1.  The Temporary Wife by Mary Balogh (2012 Dell): Historical Romance
2.  It Takes Two, #1 by Elliott Mackle (2012 Lethe Press): Historical Fiction/Mystery*
3.  The Rake by Mary Jo Putney (2012 Kensington Publishing): Historical Romance

Saturday, December 22, 2012

2012 LGBT: Favorite Books & Authors

If you read Impressions of a Reader, then you know that I absolutely love my LGBT books. Every year I wish that I had more time to read and review all the great books released, but due to time restrictions and other commitments I can never read everything I purchase or in some cases review everything I read. There is never enough time!

From the list of books read and reviewed during 2012, I have chosen 9 top books and authors representing my favorite within each category. They are listed below in no particular order. And because I read so many short stories, this year as my number 10 I'm including a short list of favorite short stories chosen from anthologies and collections read and reviewed in 2012. (Click on book titles to read reviews) 

TOM CARDAMONE: Queer Speculative Fiction
Green Thumb  (2012 print & digital ed.,BrazenHead)
Green Thumb by Tom Cardamone is an original, creative, queer speculative fiction novella that takes a curve and ends up in that space we refer to as the Weird. It's a favorite combination that Cardamone handles first with subtlety and then with grand beauty, making this novella my favorite speculative fiction read of 2012. In Leaf, Cardamone created an unforgettable character and in Green Thumb a magnificent story.

Slow Lightning (2012 print ed., Yale University Press)
Slow Lightning won The Yale's Young Poet's Prize in 2012. In the foreword Carl Phillips says: "Corral resists reductivism. Gay, Chicano, 'Illegal-American,' that's all just language, and part of Corral's point is that language, like sex, is fluid and dangerous and thrilling, now a cage, now a window out. In Corral's refusal to think in reductive terms lies his great authority." I don't think anyone can describe Mr. Corral's point better than that! This is one of my favorite books of 2012.  I've re-read it and will continue to do so.

JEFF MANN: Erotic Historical Romance
Purgatory: A Novel of the Civil War (2012 print & digital ed., Bear Bones Books)
One of the most memorable reads of 2012 for me, Purgatory: A Novel of the Civil War is an erotic historical romance that reads more like an erotic historical fiction novel containing gorgeous research about the Civil War and a distinct Southern flavor. The talented Jeff Mann integrates graphic violent situations yet shows a loving BDSM relationship in progress between captive and captor. A fantastic love story. 

ELLIOTT MACKLE: Historical Fiction/Mystery
Captain Harding and His Men (Captain Harding #2) (2012 print & digital ed., Lethe Press)
Elliott Mackle has become one of my favorite writers within a very short period of time. I absolutely adored Captain Harding and His Men and can't deny that I'm in love with the main character. All of his books (all of them) are worth reading. I'm including the three books I read by Elliott Mackle in 2012 in my favorite list, making him one of my favorite authors this year. That includes: It Takes Two, Book #1, (reprint digital ed., 2012, Lethe Press) and *Only Make Believe (It Takes Two, Book #2) (2012 digital ed., Lethe Press), two magnificent historical fiction/mystery romances set in the South during WWII.

Torn (2012 hardcover print ed., Cemetery Dance Productions)
Lee Thomas has the ability to make me visualize both the subtle and horrific situations described in his books. I love the way he juxtapositions prosaic events from everyday life with moments of desperation and horror that leave the reader bug-eyed, but always saying more and adding depth to the plot. I loved this horror novella by Mr. Thomas, as well other short stories included in different anthologies. Example: "The House By The Park"(Wilde Stories 2012 Anthology).

Point of Knives: A Novella of Astreiant (2012 print & digital ed., Lethe Press)
Point of Knives flawlessly bridges the gap between the two classic fantasy novels Point of Hopes and Point of Dreams originally written by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett. Ms. Scott further develops the romantic relationship between the two main characters and also gives fans and new readers a fantastic new mystery to solve within a magnificent pseudo-Renaissance fantasy world. I absolutely loved this novella.

MEL BOSSA: Romance
Split  (2011 digital ed., Bold Strokes Books)
Split was released in 2011. I am including it with this list because I read it in 2012 and it is also my favorite gay romance. Split has excellent characterization and plotting, plus the emotional connection I need in my romance. This is an author whose other works I followed throughout the year and whose talent I learned to appreciate even more after reading her second novel, also recommended, Franky Gets Real (2012 digital ed., Bold Strokes Books).

The Heart's History (2012 print ed., Lethe Press)
Lewis DeSimone's The Heart's History is a story that stayed with me for a long time after I read it. In this novel DeSimone displays a talent for delving into his individual characters so that their portrayals become three-dimensional. The connection DeSimone establishes between those amazing characters is extended to the reader, and that makes them and their inner struggles, unforgettable. I know Edward is the center of this story, but who can read this novel and forget Harlan? I still can't. 

ERIK ORRANTIA: Gay Fiction with Romantic Elements
Taxi Rojo (2012 digital ed., Cheyenne Publishing)
Taxi Rojo by Erik Orrantia is a novel where the characters, portrayed as survivors of everyday struggles, are placed in extraordinary circumstances. Their individual stories are so gripping that I couldn't stop talking about them for weeks after I finished the book. Additionally, I found Orrantia's depiction and incorporation of Tijuana, Mexico as almost a secondary character, brilliant. A story that stayed with me.

FAVORITE SHORT STORIES: Miscellaneous categories from Anthologies & Collections

ARTHUR WOOTEN: The "Dear Henry Letters"
(Arthur Wooten's Shorts, 2012 digital ed. Galaxias Prod)
SIMON SHEPPARD: Heaven and Earth
(History's Passion, Richard Labonté, 2011 print ed. Bold Strokes Books)
JOEL LANE & MATT JOINER: Ashes in the Water
(Wilde Stories 2012, Steve Berman, 2012 print ed. Lethe Press)
CHAZ BRECHLEY: Keep the Aspidochelone Floating & VINCENT KOVAR: Wave Boys
(The Touch of the Sea, Steve Berman, 2012 print ed. Lethe Press)
(Boys of Summer, Steve Berman, 2012 digital ed. Lethe Press)

That is it for my favorite LGBT reads of the year. What about you? Do you have a favorite LGBT book that you would like to recommend?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Tis the Season: Holiday/Christmas Favorites

I don't know about you, but I usually love to get into the whole Christmas spirit by reading a few stories that really inspire me. Last year I read some stories early, before Thanksgiving, and that didn't work for me, so this year I started reading my holiday-themed books after Thanksgiving. So far I've only read four new full romances set during the Christmas season, but I also have favorite reads from the past that I keep on my shelves (or my Kindle) that I love to re-read. (Click on titles to access links to reviews)

Mary Balogh's Christmas stories are my favorite hands down, so it has become a tradition for me to begin the season by reading one of her Regency Christmas romances. This year I read and recommend A Christmas Bride and Christmas Beau. Both are old Signet Regency Christmas romances written in Balogh's signature style. I truly enjoyed both stories. Dell's re-release edition includes both books which is handy since the originals are so hard to find. And from past years I recommend A Christmas Promise, a real favorite.

From last year there are two favorite reads that I'm planning to re-read during the Holidays this year because I loved them! Tis the Season To Be Sinful by Adrienne Basso and the Snowflakes and Stetsons Anthology with Jillian Hart, Carol Finch and Cheryl St. John. Tis the Season to be Sinful is a beautiful historical romance that I loved for its mature protagonists, the passion that I found there, and the gorgeous Christmas theme. And Snowflakes and Stetsons is a sweet western anthology with stories that hit the spot for me and that just happens to be written by three excellent authors.

When it comes to LGBT and M/M Romance, since 2010 it is becoming a tradition for me to re-read His for the Holidays with LB Gregg, Harper Fox, Josh Lanyon and ZA Maxfield. I have my favorite stories from that bunch, but for some reason I read them all last year and will probably read them all this year again. Additionally, I've already bookmarked Christmas Eve at The Powers That Be Cafe by Xavier Axelson. This is an atmospheric, intense and sexy M/M Romance novella that takes place during WWII. I loved this short piece by Axelson and hope to enjoy it again this year.

I also added a new story to my list. This is a FREE read and a holiday gift from the author to her readers. Sandra McDonald, author of the Lambda Award Winner and one of my favorite LGBT books of 2010 Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories, has released a brand new Diana Comet story for the holidays: Diana Comet and the Christmas Quilt. I plan to read and savor this little story as well as Ms. McDonald's flare for storytelling during the holidays. You can read it online here, or download the story from Smashwords.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

TBR Review: Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor (Friday Harbor #1) by Lisa Kleypas

I had a tough time choosing a Christmas themed book to read for the TBR Challenge this month. I have quite a few, don't get me wrong, but most of them are by Mary Balogh and I've already reviewed enough Balogh books to make a salad!! So, in the end I settled in with a contemporary Christmas romance novella by another favorite writer, Lisa Kleypas. A novella that has been lingering in my TBR pile for quite a while.

Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor (Friday Harbor #1) by Lisa Kleypas

One rain-slicked night, six-year-old Holly lost the only parent she knew, her beloved mother Victoria. And since that night, she has never again spoken a word.

The last thing Mark Nolan needs is a six-year-old girl in his life. But he soon realizes that he will do everything he can to make her life whole again. His sister’s will gives him the instructions: There’s no other choice but you. Just start by loving her. The rest will follow.

Maggie Collins doesn’t dare believe in love again, after losing her husband of one year. But she does believe in the magic of imagination. As the owner of a toy shop, she lives what she loves. And when she meets Holly Nolan, she sees a little girl in desperate need of a little magic.

Three lonely people. Three lives at the crossroads. Three people who are about to discover that Christmas is the time of year when anything is possible, and when wishes have a way of finding the path home…
Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor is the first book in Lisa Kleypas' Friday Harbor contemporary romance series. The novella introduces the three Nolan brothers as well as the beautiful setting, the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest. This novella focuses on the eldest Nolan brother Mark, his newly orphaned niece Holly, and Maggie Collins. The summary of the story above is quite accurate and I'm not going to repeat it, instead here are my impressions of this holiday romance.

Maggie, Holly and Mark are all in the process of recovering from grief and loss, and in each other they ultimately find love and hope for a bright and happy future. Mark comes from a dysfunctional family and doesn't believe in love until he falls deeply in love with his orphaned niece Holly and becomes a father. Slowly he recognizes that there is a big difference between what he feels for local toy store owner Maggie and what he feels for his girlfriend Shelby. And that is one of my problems with this romance, for most of the story Mark is committed to someone else while his attraction for Maggie evolves into a friendship and suddenly more. Maggie is immediately attracted to Mark, but she takes longer to come around and is not necessarily willing to love again after losing the love of her life. 

As always Kleypas knows how to pull those heart strings, particularly when it comes to Holly. I found, however, that the story is too short and the characters and this romance not developed enough. There's baggage on both sides. Deep feelings of loss, grief and doubts to overcome on Maggie's side are addressed but I'm not sure that she's really ready to fully commit to Mark by the end of this novella. Mark's background is explored with a light touch. And although there are references to a dysfunctional family and a tough childhood that affected all three brothers to attempt to justify his cynicism when it comes to love, not enough details are given to really understand him.

Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor begins a few months before the Christmas season and it includes a very funny Thanksgiving scene, as well as a Christmas family reunion between the three brothers, Holly, and Maggie. The hope for happiness at the end of the novella gives this story that holiday touch and Holly's circumstances and character provides sweetness. Unfortunately, there's just not enough in this story to make it a memorable holiday read for me.
Theme: Holiday

Category: Contemporary Romance/Holiday
Series: Friday Harbor #1
Publisher/Release Date: St. Martin's Press/ October 2010
Grade: C

Visit Lisa Kleypas here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Review: The Horsemaster's Daughter (Calhoun Chronicles #2) by Susan Wiggs

Here are my impressions on a little gem I read while searching for this week's TBR Challenge read. I began skimming and couldn't stop reading until I finished it.  

The Horsemaster's Daughter by Susan Wiggs.

Southern plantation owner Hunter Calhoun gambles the success of his Virginia horse farm on an Irish stallion; unfortunately, the animal arrives crazed and unridable after the stormy sea crossing. Desperate, Hunter turns to Eliza Flyte, the horsemaster's daughter, who has inherited her father's gift for gentling horses. Her ability to heal wounded spirits with her compassion and wisdom is amazing, and when Hunter convinces her to leave her isolated island and return home with him, she soon applies that gift to the bitter man and his grieving, motherless children. But what future can a woman raised alone by her father with only the sea, animals, and a few books for companions have with a man who grew up as a rich, upper-class son of the South? It seems unlikely that Eliza could ever fit into Hunter's world and just as unlikely that he would give up his privileged life for her world. It just may take a miracle for these two mismatched lovers to find a way to live happily ever after.
The Horsemaster's Daughter by Susan Wiggs is the sequel to her highly enjoyable historical romance, The Charm School. In that novel, I loved the twist on "The Ugly Duckling" that Wiggs used to develop the romance. In The Horsemaster's Daughter, Wiggs combines two classics: The Tempest by Shakespeare is very much a part of the first part of the book when Hunter and Eliza first meet at Flyte island and Wiggs introduces the reader to the innocence and magic of Eliza's upbringing and personality which contrasts with Hunter's cynical and tortured soul.

Later on once Eliza is forced to leave the island and Hunter takes her to his dilapidated mansion in Virginia, Wiggs incorporates Bronte's Jane Eyre along with The Tempest into the rest of the romance as Eliza becomes "governess" to Hunter's motherless children. Wiggs further develops Hunter's dark side, and through Eliza's efforts at healing, the reader learns what haunts him and his family. Wiggs beautifully combines both tales into a pre-Civil War romance.

I loved Eliza's character. There's an innocence and a sense of wonder about her, but it is all mixed in  with insight, deep knowledge and compassion. Eliza's capacity to love is boundless, yet she is not easily trampled and doesn't allow herself to be used or abused. Eliza is a giver and does so without holding back, yet she tries to be realistic about her circumstances. Her understanding for gentling horses, Eliza's deep understanding of the children and her open, honest passion and giving love for Hunter all make her a winning heroine, but the way she deals with those Virginia belles? Well... that makes her a champ in my eyes!

Hunter on the other hand is a man who has allowed loss and guilt over what he sees as past mistakes to embitter his life. He has become a functioning alcoholic and when  not drunk, a workaholic. As a result his children and personal life are both severely neglected. Eliza's arrival changes everything for Hunter and his children. Hunter Calhoun is a good man and soon enough we know to whom his passion and heart belong, but he is stuck and has wallowed in an emotional swamp of denial for so long that admitting he's wrong, and confronting his weaknesses and mistakes, have almost become an impossibility. It's a tough road to a happy ending for Hunter.

There are secrets upon secrets to unravel within this romance. The dead haunt the living. Lacey's death and her secrets haunt Hunter and their children, and Henry Flyte left the world and Eliza without revealing secrets that come back to haunt and change her life forever. Wiggs' portrayal of Virginia's pre-Civil War society and the facts introduced about the Underground Railroad used by abolitionists give this romance more than just atmosphere, these facts give it depth. The characters in this novel stayed with me, Eliza and Hunter, Blue, Noah and Charles, and yes... Lacey Beaumont Calhoun and Henry Flyte. This time around there was no surprise on my part as to why I enjoyed Ms. Wigg's historical romance. This time I just sat back and enjoyed the great ride from beginning to end. Grade B+

The Charm School, Book #1
The Horsemaster's Daughter, #2

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, directed by Peter Jackson 
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Poster
I am a Tolkien fan. I'm a complete Lord of the Rings nut! I read the complete Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy almost every year during the holidays -- Christmas through New Year's -- or sometimes during the New Year's weekend if I'm not on vacation. In recent years watching the Peter Jackson movie trilogy (the director's cut of course) has also become a tradition.

My favorite poster
The Dwarves
But people! THIS year, Peter Jackson's movie of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is releasing today, 12-14-12. Actually, although The Hobbit or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien is one book, in the movies the adventures of Bilbo Baggins will become a trilogy. I do understand that information included in the Appendices from the Lord of the Rings trilogy books that pertain to The Hobbit will be incorporated into the movie trilogy. I can't wait to see how Jackson and his crew consolidate the information.


The Hobbit or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit
There and Back Again
by J.R.R. Tolkien
As far as the book The Hobbit or There and Back Again goes, I read it a long time ago in school and remember enjoying it, but frankly this is not a book that I re-read. While discussing this with my husband, who is also a Tolkien fan, we both wondered why neither of us really re-read The Hobbit. We both came to the conclusion that it is because we think of it as a children's or young adults' story. A bit light in content compared to Lord of the Rings. Regardless, I decided to re-read it last week before the movie release.

What I found while reading The Hobbit is a lighter and less detailed version of Tolkien's world than that found in Lord of the Rings. The story has its dark moments, don't get me wrong, but for me there is something missing from the overall adventure. I definitely appreciated this book more when I was a younger reader.

On the positive side, The Hobbit is a tighter story than The Lord of the Rings, after all it is one book with a beginning and an end. It serves as a magnificent introduction to Tolkien's world of hobbits, wizards, elves, dwarves, and great heroes. The war of good against evil is there, but so is the pull of men's greed, nature in all its glory and the darkness in men (or the representation of men) that taints nature, and of course there are Tolkien's heroes -- the small, insignificant characters who battle and conquer fear, insecurities and incredible odds to beat immense evil.

Bilbo Baggins makes a great Tolkien hero. He is reluctant of course, and thinks he is too small, insignificant and cowardly to play the role of burglar needed by the dwarves. Bilbo is a proud hobbit though, and part Took, not just Baggins. Tooks take to adventures, so he accepts the challenge and goes off with thirteen dwarves to reclaim treasure stolen by Smaug the Dragon and to restore the King of the Mountain. The dwarves are led by Thorin, the her to the mountain's kingdom and they are all led by Galdalf the Grey, wizard extraordinaire.

Gandalf the Grey and Bilbo are both central in this adventure. The thirteen dwarves are named and described in the book, but only a few of them are really well characterized. The rest are pretty much interchangeable and don't get many lines throughout the whole adventure. Tolkien says that "Dwarves are no heroes," and for much of the story they are not, and neither is Bilbo! The adventure is all about the journey as they all find their hearts and courage.

Some of the adventures are more exciting than others. One of the most detailed chapters in the book where the reader actually feels the danger is "Chapter V: Riddles in the Dark," where Bilbo finds "the Ring" and meets Gollum. The two engage in a series of creepy and wonderful riddles that provide the reader with a dark, eerie and a true life or death moment for Bilbo. The other adventure that really pops takes place in "Chapter VIII: Flies and Spiders." This is where Bilbo begins to find his courage, an ability to lead and gains the respect of the dwarves.Of course there are the scenes with Smaug the Dragon... but I won't go into those, you'll have to read the book.

Overall this is a great adventure and I still believe that it is geared toward young adults. However, I can't think of anyone who loves Tolkien's works who won't read The Hobbit as an introduction to the amazing, incredible world he created. Worldbuilding? Tolkien was the master! !

Going back to the movie(s) by Peter Jackson, I can't wait to see how he depicts Bilbo's adventures and all the great characters he meets on his way. For example: the Necromancer was a bit of a mystery in the book, but I understand that he makes an appearance in the movie, so I'll wait and see how that turns out. And, Smaug the Dragon? I can't wait to see that sly old beauty...


This post is for my daughter who is a Tolkien fan-a-tic and whose birthday just happens to be today! 

Happy Birthday, Vanessa!!!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Review: Light and Shadow by G.L. Roberts

Light and Shadow
Award winning architect Cody Andrews was in a relationship moving out of control. Although his partner loved the fast life in LA, Cody wanted to slow it down and try to enjoy life with his partner. After two years of fighting, Cody found that all he could do was leave the relationship to save his sanity and self respect. Moving out of LA seemed to be his best bet, so he bought an abandoned lighthouse in the Pacific Northwest and left his high powered life behind. Fixing up the lighthouse is enough to keep Cody’s mind occupied enough to forget everything he’d left behind, then he meets Nick Stanton.

Nick Stanton and his partner Ray leave Chicago for a relaxed vacation on the Oregon coast. For Nick, it’s a time to reconnect with his partner and mend their ailing relationship; for Ray, it’s a tiresome getaway with little-to-no excitement. While Nick tries to enjoy the coastal surroundings, Ray begs to go someplace with a hopping club or a circuit party. And then they meet Cody.

When they meet, Cody finds Nick and Ray to be a reminder of his own failed relationship. But Cody misses interacting with gay men, and finds Nick enjoyable and Ray to be tolerable. But the more time he spends with them, the more volatile Ray becomes. For Ray sees that Cody has everything Nick longs for, and everything Ray does not want. On a rain soaked and windswept highway a decision is made, and the lives of three men are tossed about like a tiny boat on an angry sea.
Light and Shadow by G.L. Roberts is a complicated romance between two men who connect and recognize each other as soul mates almost as soon as they meet. Roberts sells this connection as well as the growing physical attraction that develops as the romance progresses. The conflict comes in when the third party involved won't step aside and will do anything and goes to great lengths to stay in the picture.

The title Light and Shadow is quite appropriate for this romance. The main characters are both artists-- Nick a well-known painter, Cody a well-known architect -- and Roberts references their combined talents throughout the story. She particularly highlights this novel's light and shadow theme when describing the restoration of the lighthouse where light comes to symbolize happiness and a hopeful future, and the storms that batter the coastline symbolize unhappiness and something a bit more sinister. All of the above is tied together by Roberts' characterization of Nick, Cody and Ray, particularly Cody who comes to symbolize the light and hope in Nick's future, as Ray plays the role of shadow.

Like it happened to Cody in his past, Nick is in a dysfunctional relationship with Ray. However, unlike Cody who chose to move away from a relationship that was dragging him into a pit of depression, Nick seems unable to walk away from manipulative Ray. Nick allows Ray to dictate how he lives and slowly all the life and light is being sucked out of him. Ray is manipulative, yes, but there is something else there. . . and I wondered while I read the story how long Nick would have waited to end the relationship, or do right by Ray, if he had not met Cody and fallen in love again. I believe Nick would have drowned in the shadows with Ray.

Roberts' romance is moody and atmospheric with a descriptive narrative that is quite beautiful at times. I specifically love her rendering of the Oregon Coast, the small town with its wonderful residents and her depiction of the lighthouse. As a reader, I was transported to the place. The story is narrated mostly from Cody's perspective, and while there is dialog, narrative prevails. For the most part this narrative works well, however I sorely missed dialog during key emotional moments when connections needed to be made with the characters whose points of view the reader doesn't often experience intimately -- as in Nick and Ray. As a result it was tough connecting with these characters, particularly Nick who is one of the protagonists.

Having said that, as a whole I found Light and Shadow to be an interesting romance that presented a bit more than the usual conflicts, a good long-term resolution that worked well for all concerned, and a beautifully moody and rich atmosphere that captured my attention.

Category: LGBT/Gay Romance
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Seventh Window Publications/November 2012
Grade: B-

Visit G.L. Roberts here.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Review: Christmas Beau by Mary Balogh

Christmas Beau
Not even the warm, forgiving Christmas spirit can stop the Marquess of Denbigh from settling his score with Judith Easton: The beautiful young widow injured Denbigh’s pride years ago by jilting him for another man. Now that Judith is free from a nightmare marriage, the handsome marquess has her in his sights—and wants her in his arms. But to trust the tender words on his lips, Judith must not only see past the hardness of his heart, but learn once again to trust her own heart’s desire.
Originally published in 1991, Christmas Beau is the second half of the recently released A Christmas Bride/Christmas Beau by Mary Balogh.

As the above blurb states in Christmas Beau the main trope is revenge. Years ago Judith Easton jilted Max, the Marquess of Denbigh, to marry a man she found to be more accessible and less frightening, a good looking, charming, and rakish man. Now that she's a widow, Max returns to London with revenge on his mind. The plan? Make her fall for him and then leave her high and dry, just like she left him all those years back. He's willing to do anything to achieve this, including gaining and manipulating the affection of her two small children and her spinster sister-in-law to get to Judith. Eventually he gets her to go to his country estate for Christmas, but as his plans begin to take shape Max struggles between the darkness within and the happiness that could be his for the taking.

Where I disagree with the above blurb is in that it says that Judith "injured Denbigh's pride," that is not really accurate. Judith injured Max's heart . . . she broke his heart and almost broke the man when she so blithely jilted him without wondering if her actions wrought emotional damage. This heartbreak is apparent and known from the beginning of the story, just as Judith's fear of Max and lack of concern for his feelings are readily apparent.

This is an interesting story with revenge central to the plot. But there is more involved as Balogh brings to the equation heartbreak, thoughtlessness and lack of judgment, trust and forgiveness. Balogh also uses role reversal in this angsty Christmas novella by making the hero the suffering heartbroken protagonist. Max is the one full of emotions, yearning, unfulfilled desires, not just physical, but actually more like longing for a family and the heroine's love. I liked that, and as a result fell in love with Max.

Balogh gives Max a conscience so that he is not at all comfortable with his actions. So that this man of conscience combined with the giving man he became after almost breaking due to Judith’s betrayal make him a memorable hero. Additionally, his love for Judith and the way he falls for her children make him lovable. Max is a man whose capacity for love, giving, and kindness struggle with the pain and darkness that drive his plans for revenge until the very end. There are human flaws, but nothing cruel about this man.

Judith plays the role of the clueless person who is unwittingly thoughtless and seemingly unconcerned about her past actions and the consequences. Her youth, lack of experience, fears and assumptions are to blame. However her lack of concern for Max's feelings -- whether pride or otherwise -- was puzzling to me. Particularly after she gets to know him as a giving, loving, and sensitive person beneath the serious, intense surface. Judith is a somewhat frustrating character and although her growth comes at a slower pace, by the end the reader believes the happy ever after.

Christmas Beau is an emotional Christmas novella by Balogh. I know that I found the situation between the two main characters emotional and angsty enough to make me cry! And passion? Yes, there are a few descriptive passionate scenes, as well as enough subtle passion in the novella to satisfy this reader. There's a secondary romance involving Judith's spinster sister-in-law that did not touch me for some reason, and a story about orphans incorporated into the main romance that did. The Christmas theme is vintage Balogh and as always I enjoyed it along with its message of love, giving, and forgiveness.

Category: Historical Romance/Holiday
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Dell/November 27, 2012
Grade: B

Visit Mary Balogh here

A Christmas Bride

Summary Comment: Of the two stories, overall I enjoyed A Christmas Bride more than Christmas Beau. However, it's interesting that Christmas Beau is the story that really touched me emotionally. These two novellas are a great pairing, not only because of the obvious titles, but also because Balogh uses role reversal on both stories and they share unusual and/or unique central characters: A Christmas Bride with its villain(ess) heroine and Christmas Beau with its angsty, heartbroken hero.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

November 2012: Reads + Updates

The month of November was a bit of a roller coaster. First there was the shock that was hurricane Sandy to deal with throughout those first few weeks of the month. In our family, however, there was also a birth to celebrate when my niece little Natalia made her dramatic entrance on November 3rd! I'm sharing one tiny little picture. Thanksgiving turned to be a good day for all of us, we were together and yes... the child was the center of attention.

As far as reading goes, November was a good reading month for me with a great mix of genres included and mixed results as far as enjoyment goes. I also mixed up new releases with books I've had in my TBR pile for a while, and classic romances with new and innovative erotic reads.

Let's see how I did:

Total books read in November: 17
   Contemporary: 8 (1 romance, 7 erotic romance)
   Historical: 4 (Romance: 3, Fantasy Fiction: 1)
   LGBT: 5 (Historical Erotica: 2, Historical Romance: 1, Contemporary Romance: 2)

Top 5 Reads of the month:

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey: A-
The Snow Child was my TBR Challenge read and turned out to be a winner for me. This is a historical fantasy fiction book that was released earlier this year and Eowyn Ivey's debut novel. I will remember it for how beautifully she blended magical realism with a fairy tale, the brutality of life as it was for homesteaders in the Alaskan wilds in the 1920's, and the gorgeous descriptions of nature.

Mariana by Susanna Kearsley: A-
This is my first read by Susanna Kearsley but it won't be my last. My favorite aspect of this book is how the time traveling, when it happens, really makes sense. I love that one romance cannot happen without the other and that the happy ever after is such a wonderful surprise for the reader. Kearsley's writing style is also a winner for me.

Conor's Way by Laura Lee Guhrke: A
This historical romance is just beautiful. I love that it is angsty, but not too much so, that there are joy and love, conflicts and resolutions, real history and gorgeous characterization. The fact that it is set in the post-revolutionary American South but it also gives the reader a taste of Ireland, makes this historical twice the winner for me... and the unique hero puts the cherry on the top. Excellent read!

A Christmas Bride by Mary Balogh: B+
This Christmas novella has a unique and/or unorthodox heroine. I have a feeling that not all readers will find her as fascinating as I did -- she's not easy. But, I liked her because she's a departure from Mary Balogh's usual heroine and a former villain. The novella serves as an almost-epilogue for other stories, in particular A Precious Jewel, and it has a beautiful Christmas message about forgiveness and redemption.

Wyatt: Doc Holliday's Account of an Intimate Friendship by Dale Chase: B+
Do any of you watch western movies? I happen to love them! And if they also happen to have Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, Ringo or any mention of Tombstone... well, I never, ever miss them. I even visited Tombstone, Arizona (the real place) during my U.S. cross-country trip a while back. Yeap, I made my husband take the detour (poor guy).... true story! So, do you think I enjoyed this book? Of course, the fact that Dale Chase wrote it is a big plus. A highly enjoyable read!

Destiny Calls by Samantha Wayland: B+
Velvet by Xavier Axelson: B
The Company He Keeps: Victorian Gentlemen's Erotica by Dale Chase: B-
Day of the Dead: A Romance by Erik Orrantia: B-
The Perfect Hope (Inn Boonsboro, #3) by Nora Roberts: B-
Mine till Midnight by Jacquie D'Alessandro: C+
Tart by Lauren Dane: C+
With Grace by Samantha Wayland: C-
Rule of Three by Kelly Jamieson: C-
Laid Open (Brown Siblings #5) by Lauren Dane: D+
Brotherhood of Fire by Elizabeth Moore: D

Upcoming Reviews: 
Christmas Beau by Mary Balogh
Light and Shadow by G.L. Roberts

That is it for my November update. Right now I have the dreaded flu... it finally caught up me. I feel as weak as a kitten. I'm in the process of reading three books, but my head is so stuffy I can't finish any of them! Ugh! How was your November? Find any great books? 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Mini: Wyatt: Doc Holliday's Account of an Intimate Friendship by Dale Chase

Wyatt: Doc Holliday's Account
of an Intimate Friendship
Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday are best known for their gunplay at the OK Corral, but there is far more to their story. The remarkable friendship between upright lawman and southern gentleman turned gambler and killer ignites when Doc saves Wyatt's life in Dodge City and escalates into passion as the two move west to Tombstone where lawlessness reigns. As they work toward bringing to justice a band of rustlers terrorizing the area, they are drawn into the infamous gunfight at the OK Corral and are jailed for murder.

They are cleared of the charges, but the murder of Morgan Earp sets Wyatt on a vendetta where, with Doc at his side, he turns killer not only to avenge his brother but to rid the region of the outlaw menace. The price is high, however. Now wanted men, Doc and Wyatt are forced to flee Arizona, and it is while on the run that they find their relationship deepening into what is ultimately a tragic love.
I seem to love almost everything Dale Chase writes. At this point I think I may have read almost all her short stories set in the West. The key word is "almost" because I'm still searching through Chase's backlist to find them, and that includes her short stories published in Bear erotic anthologies which are usually set in the West. But, an erotic novel by Dale Chase queering Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday? I just knew it was going to be a winner for me!

Chase has such talent for writing historical westerns and that talent is in full display in Wyatt: Doc Holliday's Account of an Intimate Friendship. She weaves the whole history of what happens in Tombstone so well with her own fictional account of Doc and Wyatt's intimate relationship that by the end, the reader wants to believe Chase's version. There are plenty of erotic scenes (with enough spit and poke to please the crowds), just as there are violent scenes on the streets of Tombstone, desperate chases on horseback, and mean, cold gunfights between our heroes and the Cowboys. The sexy scenes after the killing and the chasing are always the best ones!

I love Wyatt and Doc, and Chase brings them and the secondary characters to life in this erotic piece. I love the details she incorporates into her story, the characterization and excellent western atmosphere. Expect lots of erotic scenes to accompany all the cocky posturing and spare macho dialog. If you like westerns, good historical details, great writing, and erotica, you'll love this one. (November 6, 2012, Bold Strokes Books) Grade: B+

Collections by Dale Chase
If The Spirit Moves You: Ghostly Gay Erotica
The Company He Keeps: Victorian Gentlemen's Erotica

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Review: A Christmas Bride by Mary Balogh

A Christmas Bride
It has become tradition for me to kick off the Holidays by picking up one of Mary Balogh's many Christmas novellas. This year two of her old classics have been re-released in one book, just in time for the season. A Christmas Bride/Christmas Beau have been on my list for a while, now I own both. Here is my review for  A Christmas Bride.

The son of a Bristol merchant, Edgar Downes is an attorney and a  wealthy, successful merchant and businessman, a cit. His father believes that there's no better man or gentleman than his son and that Edgar deserves nothing less than a lady for a wife, so it is that at the age of thirty-six Edgar finds himself promising not only to search for a lady willing to marry him, but to bring her home as a Christmas bride. Luckily for Edgar, his sister Cora and brother-in-law Lord Francis Kneller invite him to London for the season, and along with their aristocratic friends plans are made to introduce him to eligible ladies. Aristocratic young ladies with parents willing to marry their daughters to a merchant are found, unfortunately during that first planned event the woman who catches Edgar's eye is the beautiful seductive widow wearing red, Lady Stapleton.

Helena is also shocked when the handsome, powerful and rather imposing stranger catches her eye and soon she maneuvers the situation until he escorts her home, alone, where she promptly seduces him. Almost immediately she regrets her weakness, and soon we are treated to the mocking, self-destructive, sarcastic, and hurtful Helena. Edgar is not much better, he is taken aback by Helena's passionate nature and his own passionate reaction to her. They both know they made a mistake, but soon find that there are consequences to that night of seduction that will change lives and take decisions out of their hands. As Christmas approaches and all make their way to Edgar's country estate, will those changes bring happiness? If it's up to Helena, the answer to that question is no.

Edgar Downes and Helene, Lady Stapleton were introduced in previous novels released by Balogh. Edgar is Fanny's (The Famous Heroine) older brother, and Helene is Gerald Stapleton's (A Precious Jewel) wicked step-mother. Yes, Helene is the villainess in that romance and for much of this romance Helena plays the role of the hurtful, mocking woman who embraces suffering for her past mistakes but takes that self-hatred out on those who attempt to make her happy, in this case Edgar. Helena's hard edges are in full display as she refuses to show a softer, vulnerable side or to embrace happiness because to her way of thinking she doesn't deserve it. And well, there's a good reason for that!

This situation with Helena might have been a total disaster if she had not warned Edgar from the beginning that she did not want happiness or him. She is straight forward and relentless when it comes to fighting deep feelings. He knows this, yet can't stop thinking that they are made for each other because she's a strong woman and he's willing to fight for a future. The man has the patience of Job! Actually Edgar is a man who knows how to control his domineering side quite well... and has no problem showing his softer side. He's a lovely man. Balogh works this rather prickly and rough relationship slowly from beginning to end. It works because although feelings change between the characters, the characters don't really change who they are, instead what is beneath the surface is revealed as the story moves along.

Edgar and Helena are excellent examples of Balogh protagonists with a bit of a twist. She is a woman willing to sacrifice happiness and he is an honorable man of character. I see two differences here from the norm: Helena's sacrifice doesn't come about because she's trying to protect someone else, and she's willing to hurt other people's feelings in order to punish herself. Balogh's usual heroine hurts herself before hurting others and sacrifices her own happiness for the sake of others. I actually found Helena as an ex-villainess who is not exactly looking for redemption, but finds it and doesn't necessarily change into an unrecognizable character, a bit of a refreshing protagonist -- particularly in a Christmas novella. This view of Helena, however, might not be shared by all readers.

Another aspect about this novella also surprising to me is that first seduction scene between Edgar and Helena. That has to be one of the most passionate bedroom scenes I've read so far in a Balogh novel or novella. Balogh's intimate scenes are known to be rather tame, and although in comparison to others out there it won't be considered over the top, in Balogh-land that is definitely a steamy scene!

As a Christmas novella set in the Regency era and written by Mary Balogh, you will find that no matter how non-traditional the trope or the characters in A Christmas Bride might be, her trademark traditional English Christmas scenes in the country are also very much a part of the story. Gorgeous secondary characters with interesting little stories of their own abound, but in this novella the most interesting  aspect of those secondary characters is that most of them come from other romances -- besides the ones mentioned above the group also involves the Duke and Duchess of Bridgwater (The Plumed Bonnet), Jennifer and Gabe (Dark Angel), and Hartley and Samantha (Lord Carew's Bride). It's a happy reunion full of family and friends with the focus always kept firmly on the romance.

I really enjoyed A Christmas Bride with its non-traditional heroine and traditional Christmas story about forgiveness and redemption -- and boy, nobody needed forgiveness and redemption more than Helena! It gave me that kick start I needed to get me into the mood to read all those holiday books I have sitting on my coffee table. Reading now, Christmas Beau.        

Category: Historical Romance/Holiday
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Dell/November 27, 2012
Grade: B+

Visit Mary Balogh here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Review: Mariana by Susanna Kearsley

Mariana by Susanna Kearsley
Originally released in 1994, Mariana by Susanna Kearsley has been reprinted and released quite a few times, including this year's release of the digital edition. Mariana is a time travel romance that takes the reader on a back and forth journey between contemporary times and the 17th Century. The story takes place in Britain on a quaint, bucolic, small village steeped in history and atmosphere.
All day within the dreamy house,
The doors upon their hinges creak'd;
The blue fly sung in the pane; the house
Behind the mouldering wainscot shriek'd,
Or from the crevice peer'd about
Old faces glimmer'd thro' the doors,
Old footsteps trod the upper floors,
Old voices called her from without.
     ---Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "Mariana"
There's much to love about this story and I do believe that it stands the test of time. Kearsley hooks the reader on the story from the beginning by having a child recognize a house she has never seen, in a town she has never visited. In this tale of time travel, she beautifully weaves in Julia Beckett's contemporary story with Mariana Farr's life as it was lived in the 17th Century, reincarnation and time travel -- the movement by a person's soul between two different time periods. This movement is almost seamless and frankly the simple way in which it is done lends a certain plausibility to the story by the end. I actually loved this aspect of the story.

The historical details used to build Mariana's story during the 17th Century are excellent: the plague that hit London, small bits about the King's coronation and politics, religious beliefs and attitudes toward women, children, nobility, and peasantry, plus details about daily life. All of these factors fit the historical times and are captured by Kearsley, setting a distinct atmosphere between Mariana and Julia as they live their lives in the house called Greywethers in Exbury, Wiltshire. When time traveling, I particularly like the fact that Julia cannot change the past through her knowledge of the present or contemporary influences, instead she becomes the woman that was Mariana -- not Julia in Mariana's body. Yet, when returning to the present, she retains knowledge and memories from her expeditions to the past. For some reason, this really made sense to me.

The romance happening in the 17th Century between Mariana and her impossible love, the angst and the beauty of it, accompanied by the brutal realities of those times are well rendered by Kearsley. The fact that Mariana's story is told in spurts, or in a stop and go manner, while Julia lives her contemporary life and deals with what is happening to her, doesn't affect Mariana's story in the least. Her romance is a full, complete story, if a sad one in the end. But is it sad? After all, this is a reincarnation story too... and Julia has the opportunity of righting wrongs in the present.

The secondary characters, Julia's brother Tom, Vivien, Grey de Mornay and Iain Sumner all become an intricate part of the story and Julia's life. Some of the characters, her brother Tom in particular, truly become three-dimensional and just as absorbing as does Julia. And, just as important to the overall story are the secondary characters from the past: Mariana's uncle Jabez Howard, friend Rachel, aunt Caroline and Richard.

When it comes to the overall story, Julia becomes so entranced by the past that her decisions become muddied, fuzzy and confused. But truthfully this story is all about Mariana, because what happened in her life affects Julia's decisions about her present life and her future. Both lives are so tightly woven together that in the end, there is only one happy ending for both women.

Leslie reviewed this book back in September. That review is the reason I picked up this book last week -- thanks Leslie! In her review she called this a "non-traditional romance," and to my way of thinking she hit the nail on the head with that phrase, the unusual ending alone makes it so. That ending will surprise and shock most readers. For this reason alone I strongly recommend not to peek ahead at the end-- it will spoil the whole effect of the story.  Mariana is so intriguing and absorbing that I could not put it down until the very end. It is a great read!

Mariana is my first read by Kearsley, but it won't be my last. I already have The Winter Sea (a book I've seen around countless times) in my possession and will read it next.

Category: Historical Romance-Time Travel/Sci-Fi
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Sourcebooks/April 1, 2012
Grade: A-

Visit Susanna Kearsley here.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Review: The Perfect Hope (Inn Boonsboro #3) by Nora Roberts

The Perfect Hope by Nora Roberts
The Perfect Hope is the last installment in the Inn Boonsboro romance trilogy by Nora Roberts, and where the sexy song and dance that has been going on between Ryder and Hope since the beginning of the trilogy, ends.

What happens? Ryder and Hope already shared a hot kiss during New Year's Eve, but returned to their usual relationship of avoiding each other and bickering when they are in each other's company. That is until Hope's old boyfriend/boss shows up and proceeds to make an indecent proposal. Ryder just happens to be passing by and Hope grabs him and plants a kiss on him to make a point. That kiss ups the ante between the two of them and soon after they decide to have an affair. An affair that to both of them is just simply about sex until Hope realizes that her feelings are involved and as much as he hates to admit it, Ryder comes to the realization that there is such a thing as the perfect Hope for him.

There is much that happens while this romance is developed, though. The whole family gets involved in  the search for the resident ghost's lover, Billy. Lizzy, the ghost, makes appearances and is again used as a device to further the romance between Ryder and Hope. Clare and Avery, Owen and Becket, the children, Justine and Willie B, their dogs and extended family, all play important roles and their own stories are expanded throughout this book. And of course the running of Inn Boonsboro by Hope, and the construction and revitalization of Boons Boro done by the Montgomery family continues so that there are plenty of minute details given about both.

There is nothing complex about this romance, the conflicts are simple enough. They are basically about learning how to negotiate personality differences between the protagonists, resolving past mistakes, and coming to terms with the past. All of those conflicts are resolved in a relatively simple and easy way, either by Ryder and Hope coming to their own conclusions, or more often by committee -- meaning that they both seek advice from the whole family, and listen to their wise and knowledgeable family members and/or friends.

Both Hope and Ryder are likable characters. What is there not to like? Ryder is rough and outspoken on the outside and a marshmallow on the inside. I like that he is a straight talker and displays his flaws to Hope from the beginning. He can't deal with women's tears and sends flowers instead. . . that's about as bad as the man gets, but Hope deals with that quickly enough. Hope is also a likable woman --hardworking (to the point of being a workaholic, but aren't they all?), gorgeous, and also a straight shooter, but not perfect. She is also vulnerable and her insecurities show. I like the way she approaches Ryder first and blows his mind -- that is worth waiting for...

The first two-thirds of the book are taken up with those details I mention above, the running of the Inn takes a lot of page time, as does the construction. This is the beginning of the romance between Ryder and Hope, and except for the first time the two "hook up," the rest of their relationship is told, not really shown. We get an overview of how the relationship develops while getting lots of details about daily life in the Inn and interactions between all the other family members and the work being done all around town on a daily basis. *shrug* My personal note around this point in the story reflects my feelings: "[...]these people are so constantly busy working, and all of it is so minutely described that by the time I finish each chapter, I'm exhausted!" And that's the truth!

The last third of the book is the best in my opinion. This is where Ryder and Hope's love for each other, their feelings and real emotions, are finally "shown" to the reader. The story about Lizzy and Billy is quite nice... I enjoyed how it all makes sense and its conclusion. And as the final installment of a trilogy, The Perfect Hope really rounds off the lives of all the characters involved rather well. The epilogue gives the readers a sense that the circle is closed and Ryder and Hope's romance and this trilogy end on the right note.

In the end, I liked The Perfect Hope a bit more than the first two installments. That has a lot to do with Roberts' all-around likable characters -- central and secondary, how she works the romance during the last third of the book, and the fact that it really serves as a great ending to this rather average contemporary romance trilogy.

Category: Contemporary Romance
Series: Inn BoonsBoro
Publisher/Release Date: Berkeley/November 6, 2012
Grade: B-

Visit Nora Roberts here.

The Next Always, #1
The Last Boyfriend, #2
The Perfect Hope, #3