Showing posts with label Anthology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Anthology. Show all posts

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.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

This n' That: Vacation, Hex Appeal edited by P.N. Elrod + Reading Update

Hey everyone! It sure has been slow around here lately... sorry about that... but, I'm getting ready to go on vacation and have been going a bit nuts cleaning up at work and getting ready for my little bit of summer sunshine and relaxation.

I have been reading, don't get me wrong! I've been relaxing as much as possible in between the craziness. Plus, I've been doing my regular summer young adult reading with the kids in the family. So far, I've re-read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer Stone, Book #1, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Book #2 by J. K. Rowling, with the young ones and following up the books by watching the movies. It has been fun!

Besides the fact that these books are so much fun to read along with the kiddies, I guess what really strikes me about those two books is how age appropriate they are, and how the writing changes, becoming more complex as the characters grow older. But those first two books are perfect for 9 and 11 year old kids.

But those two are not the only books that I've been reading that contain magic or magical beings. I finally finished the Hex Appeal Anthology edited by P.N. Elrod. Here's the summary for the book:

Fall under the intoxicating spell of their hex appeal…

In the magical world that lies hidden beneath our own, witches and conjurers play deadly games. They know just the right spell to kill a man with one kiss—or raise him back again. And they’re not afraid to exact sweet revenge on those who dare to cross them. But what if you’re the unlucky soul who falls victim to a conjurer’s curse? And if you had the power to cast a magic spell of your own, would you use it?

In this bewitching collection, nine of today’s hottest paranormal authors tell all-new, otherworldly tales. Spellbinding stories featuring bigfoot, albino vampires, professional wizards, resurrected boyfriends and even a sex droid from the twenty- third century named Silicon Lily. But as our conjurers are about to discover, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hexed. And sometimes, even the best spun spells can lead to complete and utter mayhem.
This anthology really turned out to be a wonderful read. It includes stories from Ilona Andrews, Jim Butcher, Rachel Caine, Carole Nelson Douglas, P. N. Elrod, Simon R. Green, Lori Handeland, Erica Hayes, and Carrie Vaughn. They are all about characters who have been hexed. My favorite stories are:
Retribution Clause by Ilona Andrews, a story set in the same world as the Kate Daniels' series, but one that introduces new characters and a new city. I absolutely loved this short story, and the characters. The main character is Saiman's cousin -- also of the same species -- but much nicer partners a fascinating, feline-like powerful witch with lots of secrets. The story is scary, full of action with some understated sexual tension between the two main characters and a good ending. I would love to read more about these characters and this city because as it often happens with these writers and this world a short story is never enough for me.

Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden character appears in Bigfoot on Campus. He is another character that so far I seem to love in short stories although I have yet to read the series. In this one, Harry helps Bigfoot, Strength of a River in his Shoulders, by saving his son who is in danger from his vampire girlfriend. Of course there is more to this story! Narrated in the first person, this one is exciting and a bit on the sweet side.

How do you feel? by Simon R. Green. This is a Nightside story that covers Dead Boy's backstory. I really loved this nightmarish, dark story of betrayal and revenge with a touch of futuristic love. A speculative fiction short story that might not be for everyone, but is perfect for me!

Outside the Box by P.N. Elrod was a tale of vampires and the witches who help them. I really liked this one, but wish... oh how I wish that these two characters had their own continuing tale told in the future. They need follow-up. :)
Although those were my favorite stories, all the stories more or less fit the anthology's theme and they were all worth reading. Grade B-.

What am I reading right now? Well, I'm still reading Sexual Revolutions in Cuba: Passions, Politics and Memory by Carrie Hamilton. That book is a trip and a half. I keep swinging from anger to disbelief in some sections, but overall I'm really enjoying it and I'm reading it slowly and only when I can really concentrate. This is a book that will probably be read by my brothers as well as a few personal friends because it's such a great study.

However, in between, I've picked up a few category romances (because of the length) and other contemporary or romance suspense reads.

What books am I taking on my vacation? My Kindle with tons of books in case I get the chance to read. (Yeah, right!) And in print, You Will Meet a Stranger Far from Home: Wonder Stories by Alex Jeffers and 2012 Wilde Stories edited by Steve Berman. Those two books have short stories that I'll be able to read in between other activities. :)

Hope you all have a great week!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Review: The Touch of the Sea edited by Steve Berman

It is summer time. Some of us dream of the sea and the lulling sounds of mesmerizing waves, the smell of sea salt, forever skies, and sunshine. Mariners have always referred to the sea as she . . . but when I picked up The Touch of the Sea edited by Steve Berman, I knew there would be one difference and was ready to sit back, relax, and dream some more while enjoying eleven stories of men, myths, adventures, love, and the magic of the sea.

I found the magic. It is there in mythology-based stories as in Chaz Brechley's Keep the Aspidochelone Floating, the gorgeous seafaring myth-based story full of greedy pirates and an exciting whale hunt that become part of Sailor Martin's adventures along with his obsession and love for cabin boy Sebastian. And in The Stone of Sacrifice where Jeff Mann combines Gaelic mythology with a few of his signature erotic scenes in a story of love lost when a man unknowingly calls the god Shoney and the lure of new love becomes an obsession.

I found the dreams. They are there in stories of mermen luring the incautious or the fated to the sea, as in Out to Sea by John Howard, The Calm Tonight by Matthew A Merendo, and in Ban's Dreams of the Sea where Alex Jeffers creates a mesmerizing fable where through erotic dreams, alluring sea creatures lure men and women into the sea. And again in Air Tears, a beautiful story about changes, choices and looking forward, Damon Shaw weaves a tale where as payment for a kiss and an erotic encounter by the sea, a man may never again return to land.

I found the adventure. It is there in The Bloated Woman by Jonathan Harper and in Wave Boys, Vincent Kovar's excellent seafaring adventure full of boys with tribal rituals, pent-up desires, a kraken, youthful aggression, pride and loss. This is my favorite story of the anthology due to the strong narrative voice, the excellent world building, and characters that drew me in from the first page. I wanted more of this story . . . just more. Then, in Night of the Sea Beast, Brandon Cracraft returns to 1956 and with this period piece, he mixes monster movie making, ala Creature Features, with Greek mythology, a multiple murder investigation, and a wonderful tale of brotherhood.

And of course I found love. There's loving of one sort or another in all the stories, but some are about that second chance at love or lost love. 'Nathan Burgoine's Time and Tide mixes up old Naiad myths with a tale about accepting gifts and love when a man returns home to the call of the sea and an old lover. And there's The Grief of Seagulls by Joel Lane. His is a story of coming to terms with love lost where after grieving for ten years, a man meets his dead lover come to life for one night of passion.

Overall, the stories in The Touch of the Sea are well crafted and while all are entertaining, some tales are downright mesmerizing. They also fit this anthology perfectly so that by the time I finished reading, I could smell the sea salt and feel that sunshine. Fun!

Category: LGBT/Speculative Fiction
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Lethe Press/May 15, 2012
Source: Lethe Press
Grade: B

Visit Steve Berman here.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Review: Boys of Summer edited by Steve Berman

Walt Whitman referred to a "Mad, naked, Summer Night!" In the pages of Boys of Summer, acclaimed editor Steve Berman's latest anthology, talented authors and fresh voices reveal the allure and excitement of the season for gay teens. June always promises romance. July entices with its raw heat, and August offers a languid fire that will burn out before autumn's approach. These are stories of young love and adventure, when the sky's ceiling is a bright blue marvel, when another boy's laughter at the beach can distract from dull summer jobs.

Last year I read and loved Steve Berman's young adult anthology Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up. This year I knew that as soon as the Boys of Summer anthology released it would be purchased and read by me, particularly since it includes stories by already favorite authors. Boys of Summer is all about the butterflies in the stomach and uncertainties that come along with that first crush or first kiss. Hot summer days, sand, surf, camping grounds, fairs, and summer evenings make the perfect settings for our boys to explore and experience.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Swamp Thing by Ann Zeddies
With Shane's character, Ann Zeddies captures a teenager's longing to belong. It takes someone like Chase, an unlikely and unwanted friend, to show Shane that there are better choices. In this solid read about a geek and a gay boy who longs to belong, Chase certainly shows Shane that belonging doesn't always mean being part of the popular crowd. I love the summer atmosphere and the swamp setting, the excellent teenage characterization, and the ending in this story.

Get Brenda Foxworthy by Shawn Syms
In Syms' dark(ish) tale, his characters Dean, Preet and Rickie are on their way to fight back against mean girl Brenda Foxworthy who bullies through psychological abuse and underhanded manipulation. There's a violent edge to this solid story by Syms that I found provocative and one that fits with the YA LGBT theme. I like that it lends a different perspective to this anthology, and that it also gives Dean hope for change at the end.

Cave Canem by Dia Pannes
This is a good story that features Wyatt, a summer volunteer at a local pet rescue. It has dogs, dog fighting, a hot bad boy, and rescuing as a theme. The rescuing applies to both the dogs and the bad boy. There's a definite summer atmosphere, as well as that "I'm crushing on you" trope that I enjoy. The ending is ambiguous and left to the reader's imagination.

Breakwater in the Summer Dark by L Lark
L Lark features two great characters and friends in Cody and Harry. There's a history of friendship and an awkward kiss from the previous summer between them, and this year that awkwardness is compounded by the weird monster in the lake. Lark weaves a rather clever story where he combines the fear of coming out with first love, shy moments, and youthful lust. Both of his characters are plagued by different fears that are alleviated only when Cody admits to himself that he cares for Harry. I ended up loving these two boys together, monster and all.

Brass by Marguerite Croft & Christopher Reynaga
I really enjoyed this cute story about an unknown (could be any) boy who has a crush on fellow high school band member Ben.  Ben plays the tuba and he plays the trumpet. This short story takes place on a hot 4th of July day as our young man makes up his mind to make a move on Ben. There's heat, a balmy evening, a car, a first kiss, and... ohhhh the possibilities that opened up on that hot summer day!

Summer's Last Stand by Aimee Payne
Aimee Payne concentrates her summer tale on bullies, family, and the all important support that young adults in the LGBT community need. She features Corey as a young man leaving for college and dreaming of leaving the suffocating and homophobic small town behind. Except that he'll also be leaving behind his grandmother, sister Emily, and best friend Lisa. During a summer party he also meets Ritchie, the romantic interest in this story, but homophobic bullies interfere. Corey has to make a decision to run or make a last stand. In this short story, Payne captures the importance of family and friends with the promise of romance.

Most Likely by Steve Berman
Most Likely bears Berman's signature writing style. I love that he sets the story in New Jersey and adds a bit of diversity to this anthology by featuring Roque, a hot Latino boy who has the hots for Gregg, a Jewish boy who turns out to be Roque's friend and big "high school crush." Berman's hints of 'the unexplained,' conjures great summer atmosphere and combines it all with Roque's uncertainty about Gregg's feelings and some jealousy that drives Roque to a passionate pursuit. This is a great read.

Leap by 'Nathan Burgoine
Ohhh, I loved this story! I did! Burgoine's boys of summer experience all the right moments: the uncertainty and butterflies that come from that first crush, the vulnerability and desire experienced during the first kiss, plus real friendship and fear for the future. Leap's setting is a Canadian camping ground where Ryan, Angie and Barb spend their summer holidays catching up, having fun, and conducting the usual lazy summer rituals until Will comes along to make this the one summer Ryan will never forget. Burgoine's Leap is a complete, detailed short story that captures all those "first" moments and hot summer days beautifully, leaving the reader feeling great at the end.

Bark if You Like Bad Boys by Sam Cameron
Sean is a secondary character in Cameron's Mystery of the Tempest: A Fisher Key Adventure, a story I really enjoyed, and I can't tell you how glad I am that he is highlighted in this anthology. There's a gorgeous summer atmosphere to Bark if You Like Bad Boys, the setting is perfect and the reader feels as if he/she is there eating ice cream at the beach. Cameron really captures the growing friendship between Sean, Rob and Andrew, and later on Sean's growing concern as events begin to take a serious turn, and the beauty of that "crush" and first kiss. I love this story.
Wheat, Barley, Lettuce, Fennel, Salt for Sorrow, Blood for Joy by Alex Jeffers
Alex Jeffers is a favorite writer and it is no surprise to me that this turned out to be one of my favorite stories. Jeffers combines a contemporary tale with a legend and in the process adds that cultural diversity that I enjoy so much. Luke sales the Aegean seas with his father and stepmother Perla as he lusts for the gorgeous Turkish deckhand, Levent. At night his erotic dreams of Levent progressively intertwine with the tragic legend of Dimuz or Adonis. This is a gorgeous story that transports the reader to the sea and another culture. There's longing, discovery, desire, and passion in this excellent boys of summer story that ends with a surprisingly sweet touch.

Boys of Summer edited by Steve Berman captures and combines those lazy days of summer with the excitement of summer crushes, love and adventures, perfectly. It's a great read for young adults experiencing or hoping to experience these feelings for the first time, or adults who have been there. Remember when? You will if you read it. Enjoy!

Category: LGBT - Young Adult
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Bold Strokes Books/May 8, 2012 - Kindle Ed.
Grade: B

Visit Steve Berman here.

Monday, December 26, 2011

End of Year Reading: Justin Torres and...

Day after Christmas... is everyone shopping? I'm on vacation and yes I'll be shopping later. *g* In the meantime, I've been reading! Yes, between Friday after work, the crazy and lovely Noche Buena and a lovely and lazy Christmas Day, I read. This year it wasn't my turn to cook, bake, or do the honors. That fell to one of my lovely sisters-in-law and one of my brothers. *g* So, I'm enjoying a relaxing holiday season.

What did I read? A couple of GREAT books from my "to be read" pile that I left as end-of-year reads. The first book I read Friday night, and the one that really impacted me the most?

We The Animals by Justin Torres

  • I would say, why oh why did I wait until the end of the year to read this little book? On the one hand I want to kick myself for waiting, but then... it was the perfect time to read it too. We the Animals is not a perfect book, but my goodness this debut novel by Justin Torres certainly makes an impact! I will probably review it or talk about it in January because I think I have to, but yes... a little gem. (2011, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Then of course I picked up some Christmas related romance novellas, and I went with these:

A Regency Christmas VII 

  • From this anthology, I read The Christmas Ghost by Sandra Heath, The Rake's Christmas by Edith Layton, and The Surprise Party by Mary Balogh. These short novellas were perfect. They got me into the holiday spirit as I readied myself for our lovely Christmas Eve celebration with family and friends. (1995 Signet)

Lone Star by Josh Lanyon & Winter Knights by Harper Fox

  • As part of the Men Under the Mistletoe anthology, both of these stories are second chance-at-love stories that take place during Christmas and both of them have that bit of the "miracle" about them. Josh Lanyon's Lone Star, is the story of two childhood friends, a ballet dancer and a Texas Ranger, whose love ended a long time ago when they were young men. His story has a western flavor because of setting, although not necessarily a western theme. A Lanyon-style romance without a mystery to solve at the end. Harper Fox's White Knights is a contemporary Arthurian tale set in Northumberland. As always I enjoyed her characters' struggles and darkish writing style. There are second chances, and then there are second chances... and Fox's characters certainly find out what the term means in this Christmas story. (2011, Carina Press)

And I finished a couple of anthologies I began reading earlier:

Best Gay Stories 2011 edited by Peter Dubé

  • This is an anthology I began reading a couple of months ago and kept on reading slowly. There are some excellent novellas in here. One of my favorite stories by Sandra McDonald is included, and of course other writers whose works I've come to really enjoy as well. I actually became interested in reading the anthology after reading the "blurb" and Mr. Dubé's focus for this anthology. (2011 Lethe Press)
When we tell our own stories, it becomes clear that we’ve moved well past the sentimental coming out story, the boy-meets-boy romance, the dangers and pleasures of sexual adventure, and we’ve done it without having to abandon them--because those things still happen and are still important. But we’ve found new ways of thinking about them, and have more experience to share, a deeper understanding of them, and we’ve added an array of other stories, from other parts of our lives, and dreams, and troubles to them. We’ve moved past the “gay story” and towards “gay stories.”
The other anthology I finished is erotica!

Three to Tango with 
Emma Holly, Lauren Dane, Megan Hart, Bethany Kane

  • This is another anthology I began reading a while back and just finished off! Now, I can tell you that I most definitely have favorites from this collection of novellas where threesomes (M/M/F) give it its name. For me those two stories are Dirty/Bad/Wrong by Lauren Dane and Flipping for Chelsea, the hot, hot story by Emma Holly. Of course, Megan Hart's Just One Night and Bethany Kane's On the Job fit the name of this anthology to the "t" and they are enjoyable as well. So you can pick and choose, but all are good erotic reads. (2011, Berkley Heat) 
So, that was my weekend/holiday reading! These were all short reads, but a good beginning to my vacation reading and a great way to end the year! I have one more week to go, let's see if I find any other little gems before then. :D

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Review: Unwrapped with Erin McCarthy, Donna Kauffman, Kate Angell

Unwrapped is an anthology with contemporary Christmas stories by authors Erin McCarthy, Donna Kauffman and Kate Angell.

Blue Christmas by Erin McCarthy

In Blue Christmas, Erin McCarthy sets her story in Kentucky. While on her way to Florida and a Christmas cruise in the Caribbean, Blue Farrow hits a blizzard and another car while driving through a Kentucky highway. Luckily she collides with Christian Dawes, a hunky gentleman and a Santa in the making. They wind up spending an unforgettable night at the No Tell Motel unwrapping each other for Christmas.

I loved this novella by McCarthy. Blue is a bit of a Scrooge trying to get away from all the holiday craziness, but she can't resist the charming Christian. He's not just hunky, but a fun, funny and charming man who loves Christmas and is on his way home to see his family. This is a novella, but both Blue and Christian get to know each other as they spend a night they'll never forget and by the end the reader gets the sense that these two will be enjoying each other's company for a long time to come. A hot and wonderful Christmas novella.

Santa in a Kilt by Donna Kauffman

Donna Kauffman sets her Christmas novella in the isle of Kinloch, Scotland. Shay Callaghan has been in love with Kira McLeod for a long time, but he's not the type of man who can give a woman forever. Kira is the forever kind of woman. Kira has her eye on Shay and after her best friend's wedding decides that she's going to make a move. Soon the two are having a hot affair, but will Shay realize that he's also the forever kind?

I liked Santa in Kilt, although it seems to be part of a series with other characters making appearances and an impact in the story. Shay and Kira's relationship is quite sexy and the fact that they've known each other for a long time helps with the development. However, as I said above there is a sense that this story is part of a series and at times I felt a bit lost while reading it -- as if I were missing something. The Christmas holidays are depicted in a subtle and meaningful way.

Snow Angel by Kate Angell

Allie meets Aiden on the ski slopes during a Christmas vacation and the two of them have a hot and torrid Christmas Eve together. It's an unforgettable night for Aiden, but before morning comes Allie leaves without a trace. Three years later Allie walks into Dutton's department store on Christmas Eve to purchase gifts for her sisters while a blizzard is raging throughout Chicago and when power is lost she has to wait it out with none other than Aiden! She has a lot to explain and he has secrets to reveal.

Snow Angel is the most romantic of the three stories with a man who could not forget a woman he met three years before. I really like Aiden's yearning for Allie and the tribute to his feelings for her is quite beautiful. Allie is a bit tough at times, although she also comes through in the end. Snow Angel is an enjoyable read full of Christmas details.

Overall Unwrapped hits the spot if you're looking for sexy contemporary romance stories set during the holidays. All three stories are engaging with sexy couples, interesting circumstances and wonderful settings.

Category: Contemporary Romance - Holidays
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Brava/ October 1, 2011
Source: Kensington Publishing
Grade: B

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Review: Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up edited by Steve Berman

This excellent collection of thirteen stories gathered and edited by Steve Berman for and about LGBT and Q young adults not only features stories that address the difficulties of coming out to friends and family, but most importantly Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up highlights experiences, changes and difficulties that affect and are experienced by young adults after that important step is taken.

The stories are as varied in style and content as are the writers themselves. L, G, B, T, and Q stories are all represented in this collection with gay and lesbian themes seemingly taking center stage, however you will find that the characters in all the stories are as varied as the challenges they face. The stories feature young adults and their struggles, triumphs, realizations, and lessons learned and taught.

I really want to mention all the stories. Instead here are a few as examples of the type of stories found in this wonderful collection. In Lucky P by Rigoberto González, a bisexual young man realizes that there's a difference between a crush and reciprocal love, and learning about pride, accepting support, and dealing with bullies after coming out in an all girl's Catholic high school is the subject of Gutter Ball by Danielle PignataroVictories, acceptance and respect are earned the hard way within the realm of high school sports in the multi-layered coming out story Captain of the World by Alex Jeffers where the focus falls on a Turkish young man whose struggles include battling prejudice against the Muslim religion and homophobia.

In Steve Berman's wonderful story Only Lost Boys are Found about closets and what they hide, two childhood friends fall in love but while one is out, the other needs rescuing when he gets lost and trapped in the maze that is his closet. The Proximity of Seniors by L.A. Fields on the other hand is all about finding that one unexpected friend who shares a mutual struggle and provides support throughout the worst and best of times during and after those high school years. I loved this story about a gay boy and a lesbian girl who become best friends for life.

Subtle Poison by Lucas J.W. Johnson is a fantastic story about the value or toxicity of friendship that features the challenges of being accepted as an FtM transgendered teen and a gay young man's battle with substance abuse, and Sparks of Change by Dia Pannes is all about a brave young woman who teaches her father and small town a lesson about ignorance, intolerance and acceptance of her lesbian teacher and hopefully her future self. Then there's The Trouble with Billy by Jeffrey Ricker, a wonderful story about two young men, one who is 'out' and barely dealing with daily bullying episodes, and the other full of rage. And I really enjoyed the lovely Duet: A Story in Haibun by Charles Jensen told in narrative and poetry style from the perspective of two male high school band musicians who are deeply in love: "how a pair of shoes, reflections of each, share the same body." 

Each story is prefaced by one page with a short anecdote from the author sharing a personal life experience with the reader. These short personalized notes effectively become a part of this collection and with few words all convey key, refreshingly candid moments or the need to have books like Speaking Out readily available.
"The last time this happened was in Decatur, Georgia. At the end of the presentation, a teenager comes up to me and asks in a timid voice: "Excuse me, Mr. González. Could you recommend some books about people like us?" People like us need to keep spreading the word." Rigoberto González.
In his introduction writer and editor Steve Berman says, "voices must be heard," well, they are heard here. Speaking Out is a collection of stories written by writers of LGBTQ young adult literature who not only capture their voice, but also understand the daily challenges they face. This collection is affirming, inspiring and informational.  I highly recommend it. Specifically recommended for LGBTQ young adults and those interested in supporting their friends, parents of both LGBTQ teens and those interested in teaching their teens tolerance, as well as to librarians in general. Pass it on.

Category: LGBTQ Young Adult
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Bold Stroke Books/September 12, 2011
Source: Bold Stroke Books
Grade: A-

Stories and authors in order of appearance:
"Lucky P" by Rigoberto González
"Day Student" by Sam Cameron
"Gutter Ball" by Danielle Pignataro
"Captain of the World" by Alex Jeffers
"The Proximity of Seniors by L.A. Fields
"Subtle Poison" by Lucas J.W. Johnson
"Forever is Composed of Nows" by Will Ludwigsen
"Spark of Change" by Dia Pannes
"The Trouble with Billy" by Jeffrey Ricker
"Only Lost Boys Are Found" by Steve Berman
"Waiting to Show Her" by Ann Tonsor Zeddies
"Duet" A Story in Haibun" by Charles Jensen
"All Gender U" by Sandra McDonald

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Review: Wilde Stories 2011: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction edited by Steve Berman

As we all know, speculative fiction stories are tough to categorize. That is particularly evident in the Wilde Stories 2011: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction collection of 14 stories gathered and edited by Steve Berman, where you will find horror intertwined with weird fantasy, weird fantasy love stories, and even a mix of science fiction and pop culture.

It is also true that often within fantastical, horror-based and science fiction tales, the reader will find underlying pertinent social commentary. There’s no question that weather it is the subject of acceptance of the gay lifestyle by loved ones or society, bullying, child abuse or neglect, loneliness, love or loss, those social commentaries can be found in this collection. However, also present is the subject of love. Gay love or related themes are there for the reader to find in most of the stories, entwined with the fantasy, horror and science fiction.

Two excellent examples of spec-fic fantasy and sci-fi with that underlying social commentary are Map of Seventeen by Christopher Barzac, a story about young woman who struggles to understand her hidden powers, society, and her gay brother's choices, and written for all those who feel they're different or outsiders, How to Make Friends in Seventh Grade by Nick Poniatowski, a touching sci-fi story about two boys, extra terrestrials, a science project, friendships, self-deception, acceptance, and fantastical solutions. And of the weird fantasy stories with an underlying love theme, the surprisingly touching How to Make a Clown by Jeremy C. Shipp has to be a favorite for me, as is Mortis Persona by Barbara A. Barnett's fantastic mythology-based story dealing with love of the "forever" kind.

I love my science fiction and there's nothing like weird fantasy, however horror is not usually the first choice in my reading agenda. Which is why it came as a total surprise when some of the stories I enjoyed the most fell under the horror-based category. Horror-based stories and weird fantasy rule the day in this collection with science fiction coming a distant last with only two contributors -- my one small niggle because of personal preference. However, there’s quantity and then there’s quality and those two science fiction stories are excellent!

From the horror-based stories there's the jewel called Mysterium Tremendum by Laird Barron. This is the longest, and one of the creepiest, most atmospheric novellas in this collection. It kept me on the edge with its compelling rough and tough gay characters, a touch of the occult, and excellent pacing and action to its creepy, heart-pounding end! And of those two excellent science fiction short stories, the highly creative Beach Blanket Spaceship by Sandra McDonald with its combination of fine sci-fi and excellent 1960's pop culture details really worked for me.

There's a lot more in this collection that should be mentioned, such as the Dracula-based vampire historical tale Hothouse Flowers by Chaz BrenchleyAlaya Dawn's creepy romance between a flesh eating zombie and a hunter, Love Will Tear Us Apart, or on the other side of the spectrum a story that haunted me with gentle terror, Joel Lane's All the Shadows. Then there's Oneirica by Hal Duncan, a strangely fantastical story full of allusions to myths and mythological characters that meanders like a dream from one plane to another -- past and present, myth and reality -- until the reader, like the characters who lose themselves through time and corridors, also loses his/her bearings.

With Wilde Stories 2011: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction, Steve Berman gathered a collection that encompasses everything I've come to expect from LGBTQ speculative fiction. There are the thrilling and chilling moments that come from horror, the confusion and sudden realizations that go hand in hand with weird fantasy and that incredible wonder that I never cease to experience when reading science-fiction, all of it successfully combined with pertinent gay themes and wonderful characters. However, none of the above would happen without successful execution by the authors, and Berman included some of the best along with fresh new talent in this collection. I loved it and recommend that the collection be read slowly for better enjoyment. Highly recommended.

Category: LGBTQ Speculative Fiction
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Lethe Press/August 20, 2011
Source: ARC Lethe Press
Grade: A-

Stories and Authors in order of appearance:
"Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Alaya Dawn Johnson
"Map of Seventeen" by Christopher Barzak
"How to Make Friends in Seventh Grade" by Nick Poniatowski
"Mortis Persona" by Barbara A. Barnett
"Mysterium Tremendum" by Laird Barron
"Oneirica" by Hal Duncan
"Lifeblood" by Jeffrey A. Ricker
"Waiting for the Phone to Ring" by Richard Bowes
"Blazon" by Peter Dubé
"All the Shadows" by Joel Lane
"The Noise" by Richard Larson
"How to Make a Clown" by Jeremy C. Shipp
"Beach Blanket Spaceship" by Sandra McDonald
"Househouse Flowers" by Chaz Brenchley

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Review: Give Me A Texas Outlaw by Jodi Thomas, Linda Broday, Phyliss Miranda, DeWanna Pace

If Cozette Camanez's groom doesn't show up for their wedding by dawn, she'll lose her family ranch. Trouble is, the groom doesn't exist—until unsuspecting thief Michael Hughes comes along. Never was an outlaw faced with such a lovely—and willing—target. . .

Larissa Patrick, the beautiful daughter of a wealthy rancher, has been kidnapped. Only one man can save her: gunfighter Johnny Diamond. Rescuing Larissa is the easy part—but getting her home without losing his heart will take the discipline of a saint. And Johnny's no saint. . .

Lawman Ethan Kimble is finally face to face with his quarry: socialite and bank robber Savannah Parker. The only thing between them is a Winchester pointed at his heart—and some undeniable sparks. If Kimble can tame the Texas Flame, they may ignite a passion that breaks every rule. . .

When outlaw Shadow Rivers and desperado Odessa Kilmore escape a hail of bullets and team up on a long journey, both are determined to hide their secrets—and their attraction. No easy task as they discover a love more powerful than their enemies combined. . .
The Give Me A Texas Outlaw anthology with Jodi Thomas, Linda Broday, Phyliss Miranda and DeWanna Pace is a book that was on my radar for a few reasons. First, hmmm.... cowboys! It's about cowboys, but not just any cowboys, it's outlaws finding their happily ever after. Everybody knows I love that combination!

In the first story, The Outlaw by Jodi Thomas, Cozette is in big trouble. After a man betrays her trust, she finds herself pregnant and lies to her dying father. Cozette's elaborate lies about a husband who is meeting her soon result in high expectations of a real wedding at the ranch. On the morning of the wedding Michael holds up Cozette at the church as his three uncles steal the wedding gifts and get caught. They make a deal, Michael will marry her and stay until her father dies, and she'll save his three bumbling uncles from hanging.

I loved this story by Ms. Thomas. This is a short novella, but it has all the ingredients I love in a western romance: a villain to fight, secondary characters that are memorable, a romance that focuses on the main protagonists with a female who, although in need of saving, is strong enough to fight in her own way, and a male protagonist who is protective, strong, tender and passionate. The Outlaw is sensual, as a tender and passionate Michael seduces Cozette, and himself, into love. Grade: B+

Trouble in Petticoats by Linda Broday, takes place on the road as Larissa Patrick stubbornly follows the outlaw her father pays to rescue her kidnapped sister Beth. Larissa is the daughter of a wealthy and ruthless rancher, and Johnny Diamond is a man who makes a living using his Colt. They have five days to rescue Beth before a ransom has to be paid, and throughout a desperate trek through a sandstorm, hails of bullets, and dangerous confrontations with the villains, Johnny and Larissa find they have lots in common, including a burning attraction for each other. One note, the blurb provided for this novella is misleading, Larissa is not kidnapped, she rides to her sister's rescue.

There's a lot of western style action and danger in this story: shootouts, sandstorms, and villains left and right. However, Broday makes sure that her protagonists get to know each other in this short novella as they ride to Beth's rescue. Sexual tension prevails throughout although the romantic scenes between Johnny and Larissa are few and true to the circumstances in the story.  Grade B-

In Texas Flame by Phyllis Miranda, outlaw Savannah Parker is tracked down by lawman Ethan Kimble after she robs her father's bank and then goes on a spree throughout Texas with the Texas Flame gang. He finds her protecting a young man whose thought process seems to be impaired. Savannah and Ethan have known and loved each other since childhood, but being on opposite sides of the law makes this reunion a tough one, especially since their feelings for each other have not changed.

Miranda's contribution to this anthology is a friends to lovers story, with a female outlaw and a male lawman, making this was a different read from the other novellas. The past history between the protagonists ensures that the romance is believable. However the rest of the story, although filled with western style action, felt a bit convoluted with stop and go dialogue between the protagonists, as well as misunderstandings. It is obvious that this novella is part of a series and that reading about those other characters and/or stories would make Texas Flame complete. Grade C

Most Wanted by DeWanna Pace is a novella that I found quite amusing and that fit the western style romance perfectly. In Odessa Kilmore, we have a reluctant female outlaw who ran away from home after "stealing" money from a couple. Desperate to get home but with bounty hunters on her trail, she needs a fast gun to help her and finds one in Shadow Rivers, a legendary gunman who is tired of it all and is ready to retire. He is also being trailed, and the question is which of the two is most wanted. As they embark on a perilous journey as husband and wife, these two have to fight villains, dodge bullets and the urge to keep their hands off each other.

I liked Des (Odessa) and Shadow... their adventure was thrilling in a western style and amusingly sensual. Poor Shadow found himself in a bit of a pickle with a rather outspoken, sensual and innocent Des, a madam for a future mama-in-law, and well... you'll have to read the story to find out. Sexual tension is used throughout the story, and the romance is not short changed while the adventure takes place in all its western glory. A highly enjoyable western romance novella by Ms. Pace. Grade: B+

One last comment: I love, love the book cover!

Category: Historical Romance
Series: Western Anthology
Publisher/Release Date: Zebra - July 1, 2011
Source: Kensington Publishing
Grade for Anthology: B

Anthology Series:
Give Me A Texan 
Give Me A Cowboy 
Give Me A Texas Ranger
Give Me A Texas Outlaw
A Texas Christmas - Releasing October 4, 2011

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday Mini: It Happened One Season by Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, Jacquie D'Alessandro, Candice Hern

It Happened One Season was an interesting historical romance anthology, and as with many an anthology a mixed bag for me. All the authors stuck to the one plot line they planned to follow: the second son of an earl who is back from the war and needs to marry to provide an heir for the family because his older brother has daughters and no sons. The female protagonist is considered a spinster, plain looking and has never had a beau or in some cases experienced real love.

However, even though all the authors had to follow the above mentioned plot line, each story is very different and tailored to each author's writing style. I specially liked Stephanie Laurens' novella, The Seduction of Sebastian and Mary Balogh's Only Love. Both novellas had well-plotted stories and romances that grew slowly but surely. The characterization was also excellent for novellas and they both felt like much longer reads. Hope Springs Eternal by Jacquie D'Alessandro was the weakest story in my opinion, with a rushed romance and very little conflict; and Fate Strikes a Bargain by Candice Hern was a good read, but not one that stayed with me.

Congratulations to Phyl from Phyl's quilts and books! Your idea for the book was wonderful and I enjoyed reading how the different authors went about interpreting it.

Category: Historical Romance
Series: Anthology
Publisher/Released: Harper Collins March 29, 2011 - Kindle Edition
Grade: C+

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Review: Songs of Love and Death edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

Songs of Love & Death edited by George R.R. Martin and George Dozois is a gorgeous looking anthology (I personally love the cover) and overall the quality of the writing is excellent -- not unexpected when you take into consideration the authors whose works are included. Personally, I enjoyed some of the short stories more than others, and my grade reflects my personal taste and enjoyment of those stories which I'm sure might differ from that of other readers.

The book is quite long, 468 pages, and as you might expect by the amount of pages although there are only seventeen stories, quite a few of them are extensive and well developed. There's a mixture of genres: fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, historical romance, paranormal and yes... most (if not all) of the stories have star-crossed lovers as the protagonists.

Some of novellas have a "happily ever after" and others don't even get close. I loved the plot diversity in this anthology as there are no two stories similar to another in any way. Here are a few of my favorites among the seventeen.

You and You Alone by Jacqueline Carey is novella related to the Kushiel's Legacy series. This is the story of Anafiel Delaunay, Whoremaster of Spies, who through flashbacks remembers his love for Rolande. This is a beautifully developed tale of star-crossed love between two men, and includes a little bit of everything from emotional angst, to love, to sex and action.

Under/Above the Water by Tanith Lee was a gorgeous fantasy tale of real star-crossed lovers meant for each other, but born during different lifetimes. Is it possible for there to be a happily ever after? I loved Tannith Lee's writing and creativity in this fantasy short story about destiny.

The Thing About Cassandra by Neil Gaiman is about a young man whose lies about a girlfriend come back to haunt him when he meets her years later. An excellent short story with a surprising ending and a twist to the plot that left me gasping.

Hurt by M.L. Hanover was an excellent paranormal story that focused on abuse and/or violence against women. This story was so well written! It wasn't too long, but it bordered on edgy/horror, and I must admit that it gave me the chills. However it had a most excellent resolution. 

Of course there were other stories I enjoyed: Blue Boots by Robin Hobb is a lovely story of star-crossed love between a kitchen maid and a minstrel -- love lost and regained is that much sweeter. Love Hurts by Jim Butcher, featuring Harry and Murphy, was both intriguing and sweet. Rooftops by Carrie Vaughn, a surprising entry about superheroes and a damsel in distress. Courting Trouble by Linnea Sinclair, a fast-paced science-fiction romance story with intrigue and a bit of romantic tension was my favorite sci-fi story in this anthology.

Among the stories that didn't quite do it for me, there was Demon Lover by Cecelia Holland. This is a fairy tale gone wrong and a story that just lost me along the way! Maybe it had something to do with the disconnect between the title and the plot? Not sure. The Wayfarer's Advice by Melinda M. Snodgrass is a sci-fi story with an interesting plot, but where the worldbuilding is a bit too involved for a short story, and most details are left to the reader's imagination. His Wolf by Lisa Tuttle is a paranormal story about a teacher and a drug dealer who rescues a wolf. There's a strong message against animal abuse, however the story felt detached with no real emotion behind it or the romance. And Marjorie Liu's After the Blood is an interesting story with a confusing beginning. It took a while for it all to make sense and in the end it became clear that this novella is the beginning to a new series.

I would say there's enough quality in Songs of Love and Death for the discerning reader and also enough beautiful stories to go around. I love different genres, so for me this anthology was a treat. I will definitely be re-reading some of these stories again at leisure.

Genre: Anthology - Mixed Genre
Series: None
Released: November 16, 2010
Overall Grade: B-

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

New Releases: November/December 2010

Wow, almost end of year! Again I've decided to combine new releases I'm looking forward to reading for the next couple of months: November and December. I don't have too many books on my list, but the ones I do have are the sure thing.

When it comes to genres, this time it seems as if I have one of each and some books are by some of my very favorite authors. In my list I'm including Happy Ever After, the last book in Nora Roberts' gorgeous contemporary romance Bridal Quartet series; Play of Passion, another installment in Nalini Singh's Psy/Changling paranormal romance series; the amazing looking cross-genre anthology Songs of Love and Death, which includes fantasy, science fiction and romance, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, this is not one I'm missing; Marry Me by Jo Goodman, a historical romance that looks sweet and it's set in the West; and The Duke & The Pirate Queen by Victoria Janssen an erotic romance by an author whose writing style I enjoyed earlier this year and want to try again.

Happy Ever After by Nora Roberts (Bridal Quartet, Book 4)
Release Date: November 2, 2010

As the public face of Vows wedding planning company, Parker Brown has an uncanny knack for fulfilling every bride's vision. She just can't see where her own life is headed. Mechanic Malcomb Kavanaugh loves figuring out how things work, and Parker is no exception. Both know that moving from minor flirtation to major hook-up is a serious step. Parker's business risks have always paid off, but now she'll have to take the chance of a lifetime with her heart...
Visit Nora Roberts here.

Play of Passion by Nalini Singh
Release Date: November 2, 2010

Passion and reason collide with explosive force in the newest installment of Nalini Singh’s “mesmerizing”* Psy/Changeling series. As a conflict with Pure Psy looms on the horizon, two powerful wolves fight a far more intimate war of their own…

In his position as tracker for the SnowDancer pack, it’s up to Drew Kincaid to rein in rogue changelings who have lost control of their animal halves—even if it means killing those who have gone too far. But nothing in his life has prepared him for the battle he must now wage to win the heart of a woman who makes his body ignite…and who threatens to enslave his wolf.

Lieutenant Indigo Riviere doesn’t easily allow skin privileges, especially of the sensual kind—and the last person she expects to find herself craving is the most wickedly playful male in the den. Everything she knows tells her to pull back before the flames burn them both to ash…but she hasn’t counted on Drew’s will.

Now, two of SnowDancer’s most stubborn wolves find themselves playing a hot, sexy game even as lethal danger stalks the very place they call home…
Visit Nalini Singh here.

Songs of Love and Death: All-Original Tales of Star-Crossed Love [Hardcover]
Release Date: November 16, 2010

In this star-studded cross-genre anthology, seventeen of the greatest modern authors of fantasy, science fiction, and romance explore the borderlands of their genres with brand-new tales of ill-fated love. From zombie-infested woods in a postapocalyptic America to faery-haunted rural fields in eighteenth- century England, from the kingdoms of high fantasy to the alien world of a galaxy-spanning empire, these are stories of lovers who must struggle against the forces of magic and fate.

Award-winning, bestselling author Neil Gaiman demonstrates why he’s one of the hottest stars in literature today with “The Thing About Cassandra,” a subtle but chilling story of a man who meets an old girlfriend he had never expected to see. International blockbuster bestselling author Diana Gabaldon sends a World War II RAF pilot through a stone circle to the time of her Outlander series in “A Leaf on the Winds of All Hallows.” Torn from all he knows, Jerry MacKenzie determinedly survives hardship and danger, intent on his goal of returning home to his wife and baby—no matter the cost. New York Times bestselling author Jim Butcher presents “Love Hurts,” in which Harry Dresden takes on one of his deadliest adversaries and in the process is forced to confront the secret desires of his own heart.

Discover the many realms of the heart with this extraordinary cast of acclaimed authors: Peter S. Beagle, Jo Beverly, Jim Butcher, Jacqueline Carey, Diana Gabaldon, Neil Gaiman, Yasmine Galenorn, M.L.N. Hanover, Robin Hobb, Cecelia Holland, Tanith Lee, Marjorie M. Liu, Mary Jo Putney, Linnea Sinclair, Melinda Snodgrass, Lisa Tuttle, Carrie VaughnThis exquisite anthology, crafted by the peerless editing team of George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, is sure to leave you under its spell.

The Duke & the Pirate Queen by Victoria Janssen
Release Date: December 1, 2010

Aboard her privateering ship Seaflower, Captain Imena Leung is the law. Ashore she answers only to her employer, Duke Maxime. They are a powerful couple, with an intense attraction neither can disguise or deny. As a nobleman, Maxime is destined to wed strategically, so his seductive advances must be purely for pleasure. And what self-respecting pirate denies herself any pleasure?

Their delicious dalliance is prolonged when Imena is forced to abduct Maxime to foil a political plot against him. At sea, with a stunningly virile man bound in her private quarters, Imena can imagine--and enact--any number of intoxicating scenarios.

The heat between captain and captive is matched only by the perils that beset Seaflower and her crew. Violent storms, marauding corsairs and life-or-death sex games on a desert island--how fortunate for the seemingly insatiable lovers that danger and desire go hand-in-hand.
Visit Victoria Janssen here.

Marry Me by Jo Goodman
Release Date: December 7, 2010

Rhyne Abbott is fierce, brave, and used to a life of isolation on her father's spread on the outskirts of Reidsville, Colorado. But when, overcome with sickness, she collapses, she knows she must return to town if she is to have any hope of recovery. Only there is no place for her but the new doctor's home, and he wants more than just to heal Rhyne. He wants her hand in marriage.


Doctor Cole Monroe's hands are already more than full with his orphaned little sister to look after, and yet somehow he can't resist the magnetic pull of Rhyne's bewitching eyes—or her tempting kiss. But convincing her to trust him won't be easy. For Rhyne's heart needs as much tender care as her ailing body. And the only cure is the thing she most fears: to let herself fall in love...
Visit Jo Goodman here.

As you can see I've highlighted a bit of everything on my list. What about you, any good recommendations for November and December? What books are you looking foward to reading?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Review: Burning Up with Angela Knight, Nalini Singh, Virginia Kantra, Meljean Brook

Burning Up is an anthology with Angela Knight, Nalini Singh, Virginia Kantra and Meljean Brook. I've enjoyed books by all four of these writers and looked forward to reading their short stories.

"Whisper of Sin" by Nalini Singh is a short story related to her Psy/Changeling series. This prequel features Ria and Emmet's romance. Ria is attacked in Chinatown where she lives with her family and DarkRiver changelings, including Emmett and Dorian come to the rescue. Upon meeting Ria, Emmett immediately becomes protective and defying her family, he becomes her personal bodyguard. An outside gang is in San Francisco challenging DarkRiver's right to their territory and the changelings are sure Ria and her family will be targeted again.

I enjoyed Ria and Emmet's romance, it was quick and although their attraction was the instant kind, Singh took her time developing their characters and the relationship. Ria's family plays a large part in the story and as secondary characters they give depth to this short tale. Singh features Ria's dual Chinese/American culture in this installment, giving her female protagonist family situations focused on her culture. I loved the way Singh showcased the passion as well as the differences and commonalities between Ria and Emmet. I also enjoyed the glimpse we get as readers into the changeling world before DarkRiver's power was established. This was a lovely romance full of delightful characters. Grade B+

Angela Knight's "Blood and Roses" fits the anthology's title quite well in that it's hot, and more erotic than a straight romance. It's a story about vampires, magic and monsters. The vampire Raniero is a knight and the king's Chief Investigator. He's traveling with his men to Lord Korban's lands to investigate rumors that he is cooperating with the Varil monsters. Waiting to ambush them is the evil Vampire Tannaz, two Varil and Tannaz' Blood Rose daughter Amaris. Blood Roses were created to mate with vampires and to keep them happy enough not challenge their king. Raniero is captured and taken to the castle where he's kept unconscious through a spell. Meanwhile, Lord Korban uses Amaris' three year old sister as hostage and blackmails Amaris into seducing Raniero, hoping he'll send the king a message stating that all is well, buying him time to complete his evil plans with the Varil.

This story was a page turner and the worldbuilding was actually quite detailed. However, the relationship between Raniero and Amaris, although quite erotic, began and was based on sex and it never really moved from there into romance. Everything in the story happened quickly and there didn't seem to be time for any real development. I do enjoy Knight's erotic tales and this story qualifies as one, so I'll say I enjoyed the world, fast pace and the erotic part of this story. Grade C

Virginia Kantra's "Shifting Sea" was a prequel to her Children of the Sea series. This story takes place in Scotland in 1813 as Major Jack Harris, a soldier and survivor of a siege has recently taken over an unexpected inheritance. While out on a horse ride by the sea, he finds sexual solace with a beautiful woman. At first he thinks she's the town whore, but when they meet again his feelings change and soon Jack finds he loves Morwenna, one of the finfolk. This was a well told tale, full of the selkie myth atmosphere that Kantra weaves so well. However although the romance was enjoyable and pleasant, I found it lacking in impact. Grade B-

The novella "Here There Be Monsters" by Meljean Brook serves two purposes, it's the introduction to her new Steampunk series and it's the story of the pirate Eben "Mad" Machen and Ivy Blacksmith. A desperate Ivy needs to escape London and goes to Mad Machen for help. He refuses to take her aboard his pirate ship and when she offers herself as payment and he accepts, Ivy realizes she's over her head. Unexpected help arrives just in time and she flees from both London and Mad Machen. Two years later, we meet Ivy again as the relentless and furious Machen finds her hideout.

This was actually the story I enjoyed the most in this anthology. I love the way Brook takes her time to build the relationship, sexual tension and trust between Eben and Ivy. Theirs is a both a romance and an adventure. This story is not only full of the wonderful mechanical inventions and Victorian details that make Steampunk such a treat to read, but it's also full of action, passion and romance. I thought Brook did a wonderful job of combining all of these elements and introducing the worldbuilding to her new Steampunk series. Of course, all is not explained in this novella, there's still a lot of worldbuilding to do and I expect to see that in her upcoming release The Iron Duke. However, now I'm really excited and can't wait to begin this series. Grade A-

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: None - Anthology
Release Date: August 3, 2010 - Kindle Edition
Overall Grade: B

Monday, August 16, 2010

Review: Dark and Stormy Knights edited by P.N. Elrod

Dark and Stormy Knights is an anthology I was looking forward to reading. Previously, I'd only read the work of one author included in this anthology (Ilona Andrews), but you know me... I'm always looking for new authors and new books to add to my list, and I find that an anthology is a great way to get a taste of an author's writing style, or that one series that I've been thinking of reading. 

The first short story "A Questionable Client" by Ilona Andrews is all about the first meeting between Kate Daniels and one of my favorite secondary characters in the Kate Daniels urban fantasy series, Saiman. In this prequel, Kate is still working for the Mercenary Guild and she's sent by them to act as Saiman's bodyguard. Russian mythology is used in this little installment. The story was well developed and the reader gets a great sense of who the characters are in this little short. Saiman in particular is well-defined, and the events here give a clearer and greater understanding of his character. The story itself was both gripping and entertaining in the way I've come to expect from the Andrews writing team. Grade B+

"Even Hand" by Jim Butcher is a short story related to his Harry Dresden series. It's told from Marcone's point of view, a criminal and Dresden's nemesis. In this short, Marcone commits a crime and then proceeds to save Justine and a child from a Mag. I enjoyed this story and Marcone's voice, as well as looking into the world and mind of Dresden's enemies. I've not read this series, although I did watch the television series and I do have the first book to read. I wonderful story from this character's perspective and one that persuaded me to pick up that first Harry Dresden book. Grade B+

Shannon Butcher's "The Beacon" is the story of Ryder, a man whose inheritance is to kill Beacons. Beacons are people who unknowingly open portals into our earthly plane for evil monsters called Terraphages to come and eat and butcher people and entire towns. They are next to impossible to kill, so by killing the Beacon first, Ryder saves thousands of lives. This story had a good concept, however quite a bit was left unexplained. We don't know exactly where this monsters are coming from or why. Some of what happened between Ryder and the Terraphage was muddy and quite confusing and even after re-reading that part of the story I still couldn't quite make sense of it. This was one of the weakest stories in this anthology for me. Grade C-

"Even the Rabbit will Bite" by Rachel Caine was a great story. The last dragon and the last dragon slayer leftover after centuries of battling. The dragon slayer is an old woman and she's training her replacement while keeping an eye on the dragon through a Dragon's Eye. He has been at the Egyptian desert for centuries doing absolutely nothing. I enjoyed both the story and the characters, it was a true knight's tale in many ways. However, I had one question at the end and that was from whose point of view the story was told. Grade B 

The anthology continues with "Dark Lady" by P.N. Elrod. Her contribution is part of her Jack Fleming vampire sleuth series. The series is set in 1930's Chicago and it's all mob related. Jack is asked to help a distressed lady whose fiance has betrayed Gordy, one of the biggest mob bosses in Chicago and Jack's friend. I just loved this short story and Jack Fleming's narrative voice, as well as the intriguing secondary characters. This short story had me at the introduction where Jack explains who he is and says: "Now and then I'll step in, against my better judgment, and attempt to lend a hand; just call me Don Quixote with fangs." This was one of my favorite stories in the anthology, and I've already ordered the first three books in the series. Grade A

"Beknighted" by Deidre Knight was a true knight story and not part of a series. It's all about a knight who sold his soul for Templar-grade gold, a villain, and an artist. I enjoyed all the twists and turns in this story and the way it was developed from beginning to end. Grade B

"Shifting Star" by Vicki Petterson is part of her Sign of the Zodiac series and told from Skamar's point of view. In this short story Skamar is getting used to having a body and being hunted by a Tulpa. She is also fighting an attraction for a flirty neighbor. Young girls have been kidnapped and Skamar and the neighbor, who turns out to be a cop, team up to investigate their disappearance. This was not my favorite story in the anthology. It's obvious that it's part of a series and as a short story it does not stand well on its own. I'm sure all will be clear to those who do read the series, however for this reader the whole world seemed quite confusing. As a result, it was impossible to connect with the characters or care about the story. Grade C

"Rookwood and Mrs. King" by Lilith Saintcrow was another favorite story for me. In this story Rookwood goes after the vampires who attempted to turn him and enlists Mrs. King's help. Mrs. King was betrayed by her own husband, who is now a vampire. This story kept my attention both with the action and the intrigue and I was hoping there would be some books on either Mrs. King or Rookwood. When I couldn't find either, I decided to purchase The Demon's Librarian by Ms. Saintcrow and give that book a try. :) Grade B+

And the anthology ended with "God's Creatures" by Carrie Vaughn, another enjoyable read. This story is part of Ms. Vaughn's Kitty werewolf series, and told from Cormac's point of view. Cormac is called by a farmer whose cattle is being slaughtered by an unknown predator. He proceeds to follow the trail of what he knows is a werewolf to the town's Catholic church. This was a well written story that stands well on its own, where the main character's internal dialogue certainly kept my attention. Grade B

Conclusion: I thought the Dark and Stormy Knights anthology was worth purchasing and an enjoyable read all around. There are definitely some great stories that held my attention, but that will not get me to read the author's work, and others that did. Most of the stories definitely stand well on their own even though they're part of a series, and still other stories are obviously not part of a series and were written for this anthology. However, they all fit well with the Dark and Stormy Knights theme.

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: None - Anthology
Released: July 20, 2010
Overall Grade: B