Showing posts with label TBR Challenge 2013. Show all posts
Showing posts with label TBR Challenge 2013. Show all posts

Monday, January 13, 2014

End-of-Year Recap: The 2013 TBR Challenge

One of my favorite, as well as one of the most productive challenges around, is The TBR Challenge, hosted by Wendy from The Misadventures of Super Librarian.

In 2013, I read and reviewed some fabulous books and also ended up not finishing many others. But, the general idea is to either read or weed out those books that have been lingering in shelves or readers for too long, and in 2013 I read books from my TBR in spades! I also got rid of books that did not make the grade. Unfortunately, I did not (don't usually) blog about my DNF reads. One of my goals is to change that in 2014.

Below is a recap a of my TBR reviews:

January 2013 - Theme: Shorts
Within Reach by Sarah Mayberry: A-

February 2013 - Theme: Recommended Read
Psy/Cop Series by Jordan Castillo Price: B+
I did not read a romance. Instead I read an entire LGBT urban fantasy series and posted an overview of the 6 novels and 5 novellas.

March 2013 - Theme: Series Catch-up
Bone and Jewel Creatures by Elizabeth Bear: B+
I did not read a romance. Caught up on the Eternal Sky fantasy series (prequel novella)

April 2013 - Theme: New-to-Me Author
Here Comes the Bride by Pamela Morsi: B
Did not follow the theme and discarded book after book!

May 2013 - Theme: Author with more than one book in my TBR
Unexpected Family by Molly O'Keefe: B-

June 2013 - Theme: Lovely Rita
Unraveling the Past by Beth Andrews: B-
I did not read a Rita Award Winning book, instead I read a book by a Rita Award winning author.

July 2013 - Theme: A Classic, author, book, theme.
The Notorious Rake (Waite #3) by Mary Balogh: A-
I read three books for review this month including Years and Twice Loved by Lavyrle Spencer, and reviewed The Notorious Rake. This is the only book I officially reviewed for the TBR Challenge that made it to my 2013 favorite books list.

December 2013 - Theme: Holiday (any holiday)
All She Wants for Christmas (Kent Brothers #1) by Jaci Burton: B-
I read the entire Kent Brothers trilogy by Jaci Brothers, and planned on doing an overview of the contemporary series. But in the end, decided to just review the first book.

Did you notice that I did not post in August, September, October and November? During the second half of the year my schedule was off kilter and my posting days did not often coincide with the allotted review days, and in some instances I DNF the books I chose to read. But, I didn't stop reading books from my TBR pile during that time and ended up reviewing many of them after the deadline.

I consider The 2013 TBR Challenge a personal success. I discarded one box of print books and many more from my Kindle, and in the process found a few keepers.

Thanks Wendy!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

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

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

Big Star, Small-town Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

TBR Review: The Notorious Rake by Mary Balogh

The theme for this month's TBR Challenge is "the classics." A classic author, book, and/or category. I read a few books for the challenge this month. Years (May/December romance) and  Twice Loved (triangle) by Lavyrle Spencer, and The Notorious Rake by Mary Balogh (the rake). For me in this case both the authors and themes are classic -- and in the case of Years and The Notorious Rake, the books are also considered classics by many. In the end, however, I chose to review The Notorious Rake by Balogh only because Years by Spencer was a re-read for me (there's a mini here somewhere).

The Notorious Rake (Waite #3)

The Lady and the Libertine

Lord Edmund Waite was everything that Lady Mary Gregg despised in a man. He was lewd, lascivious, mocking—the most notorious and successful rake in the realm. Happily, Mary had nothing to fear from this lord of libertines. A bluestocking like her could never tempt a man whose taste ran to pretty playthings for his pleasures.

How startled Mary was to find herself the object of Lord Waite's determined desires. But even more surprising was her reaction to his shocking advances. How could she remain a lady with this man who knew so well how to make her feel like a woman?
The Notorious Rake by Mary Balogh was originally published in 1992 by Signet and rereleased by Dell in an omnibus this year. It is a 224 page-long character driven Regency historical romance novel, and the last of the Waite trilogy. The first two books are The Trysting Place and The Counterfeit Betrothal. My first impression? After all this time I'm still amazed at the depth of characterization Balogh achieves and the amount of information she packs in so short a novel.

The story begins at Vauxhall with Lady Mary Mornington and Lord Edmund Waite surprised to be included in the same party. She's a not so attractive bluestocking, and he's a disgraced,unacceptable man. Mary, however, accepts his offer to stroll around the gardens out of courtesy. Unfortunately, an electric storm catches them unaware, and even after they find shelter Mary's terrified reaction to electric storms drives Edmund to comfort her. But nothing works until the two are wrapped around each other and end up having an unexpectedly passionate sexual encounter. Still in shock, Mary spends an unforgettable night of passion with Edmund. At least it becomes unforgettable to Edmund, who begins a relentless, and almost stalkerish, pursuit of Mary the very next morning.
He wanted to have her to start his days and as dessert to his luncheon, as a mid-afternoon exercise, as an appetizer before whatever entertainment the evening had to offer, and as a nighttime lullaby and a middle-of-the-night drug.

This novel has the perfect title. Edmund is crude, vulgar, a womanizer who doesn't hide who he is or what he has become. He admits to everything he is accused of by the ton: killing his brother and mother, jilting his fiancée for another woman and getting jilted himself, whoring, drinking, gambling. There's no end to what Edmund has done or won't admit to, he's upfront about all of it when he pursues Mary and hopes she will become his mistress. In Edmund, Balogh creates a self-loathing, unlikable hero. I need to check if there is a more self-loathing one in her repertoire, but Edmund is definitely at the top of the list.

Balogh likes to throw this curve around in her romances once in a while, I know, and I tend to love her hero-centric novels because she makes them work. You see, the thing about Edmund is that he kind of takes the place of the heroine in this romance. He is the one with the angsty past. He's the one with layers to peel behind the mask he presents to the world. Yet, Edmund believes that there is nothing to him and Mary buys it hook, line and sinker. Mary is an independent, strong woman in her own right. She doesn't just dislike Edmund, she despises the superficial wastrel she believes him to be. Mary feels she owes him for rescuing her at Vauxhall but is flabbergasted when she realizes that he is not going to go away easily. She is rude, judgmental, and hurtful to Edmund, but who can blame her. I mean, initially Edmund is obnoxious, insulting, and truthfully those first three weeks when he pursues her in London turn into a debacle when it comes to courting.

Of course there is more to Edmund, and Balogh goes on to peel those layers. It takes a lot to get underneath because this man's belief that he has nothing to offer is ingrained and goes deep. And Mary? With Mary it is a case of her "body" betraying her attraction while she fights her dislike of the man, and yes, she tells Edmund so. Mary is an intellectual, strong and sharp, but I would say that women's intuition fails her -- particularly after she learns more about him.

The Notorious Rake is not one of Balogh's uber romantic novels with the innocent child bride or a woman willing to sacrifice herself for love. It is not one of her novels where the hero is a respectable man of character. Yet, I found this romance to be better than that. It is intense and passionate with conflicted protagonists that are flawed, frustrating, and redeemable. Edmund is a memorable character, and although Mary's "body betrayed her" a few times here and there, she is a ruthlessly frank woman and I couldn't help but like that about her. I can see why so many Balogh fans love this novel.

Category: Historical Romance/Regency
Series: Waite #3
Publisher/Release Date: Dell/April 30, 2013
Grade: A-

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

TBR Review: Unraveling the Past by Beth Andrews

June's theme for the TBR Challenge is books by RITA Award winners or nominees. Believe it or not, this was a tough category for me. I had more books in my TBR by RITA Award winners and/or nominees than expected and couldn't decide whose book to read! Then with Father's Day on Sunday, my time to decide ran out, so I chose a short book, Unraveling the Past by Beth Andrews. However, that was such a quick read that I found time to pick up His Wife for One Night by Molly O'Keefe, and Stand In Wife by Karina Bliss -- both really enjoyable reads too! This always happens to me when I pick up a Harlequin Romance, I can't stop at one! The good news? I cleared out three books from my TBR in one great swoop! But, going back to my TBR review, here it is:

Unraveling the Past by Beth Andrews (RITA Award Winner 2010 for A Not-So-Perfect Past)

This story is the beginning of a series about the Sullivan sisters, Layne, Tori, and Nora. This book covers a romance for the eldest sister, Layne, introduces the Sullivan family, and much more.

I found Unraveling the Past to be a bit ambitious. It has a romance at the center of the story, but the focus is stretched thin as Andrews also incorporates a cold case murder mystery connected to the Sullivan family. Along with the mystery and developing romance, there is a storyline about the hero's teenage niece. Jess has some serious mommy issues that parallel Layne's. Issues having to do with abandonment and neglect that lead both characters to doubt or not accept love when it is freely given. Mind you, I think that Andrews ties these threads together well. The mystery is used to bring the hero and heroine together, and the niece's issues allow the heroine to see her own, however as a result, the romance suffers from lack of focus -- the niece's thread in particular takes a lot of that focus away from the romance.

The hero of this piece Chief of Police Ross Taylor finds himself caught in a rather awkward situation. His attitude about justice and discipline is black and white, leaving little wiggle room for human error or understanding. This attitude makes the relationship with his troubled teenage niece a nightmare, and his attraction for Assistant Chief Layne Sullivan further complicates matters, particularly while the murder investigation takes place. Ross is not the most sensitive of men and a rather frustrating character until almost the very end. Layne is an accomplished woman with a strong personality she utilizes to hide secrets and vulnerable spots.

The initial relationship between Ross and Layne is hostile and prickly with an underlying attraction that neither acknowledges. As the story moves along, the attraction grows until once together, Ross and Layne steam up the sheets and then some! The deep feelings for each other, the love, needed a bit more cooking in order to work for me. What I did like very much is Andrews' handling of the storyline about Ross' niece Jess. Ross is irritating when unbending, but I found myself liking his very real frustrations with a troubled teenager in this novel -- he was very human in those moments. The love and care behind his irritating reactions to his niece, and his willingness to do what is right made me care for Ross.

It is unfortunate that the two sisters as secondary characters are not likable or interesting enough to make me run and buy their romances. However, I would love to find out if Andrew Sullivan and Ross' niece Jess end up together in the future, and of course, who doesn't want to know the resolution to a murder mystery? I want to know if I'm right in guessing whodunit!

June 2013 - Lovely RITA 
Category: Contemporary Romance
Series: The Truth About the Sullivans, #1
Publisher/Release Date: Harlequin/June 1, 2012
Grade: B-

Visit Beth Andrews here.

ETA: CLARIFICATION NOTE: My review is of a book by a RITA award winning author. This book by Beth Andrews did not win a RITA.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

TBR Review: Unexpected Family by Molly O'Keefe

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

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

Until he encounters Lucy Alatore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit Molly O'Keefe here.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

TBR Review: Here Comes the Bride by Pamela Morsi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

TBR Review: Bone and Jewel Creatures by Elizabeth Bear

The theme for this month's TBR Challenge is Series Catch-up. Recently, I found out that the novella Bone and Jewel Creatures by Elizabeth Bear, originally published in 2010, is connected to Bear's Eternal Sky fantasy world. However, I purchased this novella before I realized that connection, it has been in my TBR for a while. With the second full-length novel of the series Shattered Pillars releasing on March 19th (yesterday), I thought this month's TBR Challenge theme presented the perfect opportunity to read this piece.
Dark magic is afoot in the City of Jackals...

Eighty years Bijou the Artificer has been a Wizard of Messaline, building her servants from precious scraps, living with the memory of a great love that betrayed her. She is ready to rest.

But now her former apprentice, Brazen the Enchanter, has brought her a speechless feral child poisoned by a sorcerous infection. Now, Messaline is swept by a mysterious plague. Now the seeping corpses of the dead stalk the streets.

Now, finally, Bijou's old nemesis--Bijou's old love--Kaulas the Necromancer is unleashing a reeking half-death on Bijou's people. And only Bijou and her creatures wrought of bone and jewels can save the City of Jackals from his final revenge.
It is often the case with Elizabeth Bear's books that the covers don’t do justice to the fantasy she conjures in her stories, or to my imagination for that matter -- the exceptions are the two Eternal Sky novels. That is the case with Bone and Jewel Creatures, having said that, the summary is quite accurate. After having read so many of Bear's works I'm fairly familiar with her style, so why did it still surprise me that at the end, this 133-page fantasy novella felt as if I read a full-length story with all the bells and whistles, or in this case, all the necessary jewels and bones?

Messaline, the City of Jackals, is a far away place that lies southwest of the Land of Eternal Skies and just south of the Uthman Caliphate on the map provided at the beginning of Range of Ghosts. It is a city where the Old Bey rules and Brazen the Enchanter flourishes while both Bijou the Artificer and Kaulas the Necromancer decline. The decline of Bijou and Kaulas are at the heart of this piece as is the feral child with a poisonous wound that Brazen brings to Bijou's door to save or die.

Bijou saves the seemingly mute, feral child she names Emeraud, but soon finds herself inundated by walking corpses and infected animals poisoned in the same manner. It quickly becomes obvious that Kaulas the Necromancer, Bijou's old love, is the culprit. A wizard's war is at hand, but can Bijou and her Artifices made out of bone and jewels hold out against the stench of death that fills the City of Jackals?

This is such a well-written novella. Bear's gorgeous prose combined with the excellent magical atmosphere, fantastic characters, and some rather gruesome moments made this novella memorable for me. Bijou's Artifice creations are colorful and intricate, and I love the contrast between the world that exists inside Bijou's isolated little shop and Bear's descriptions of Messaline. The story is told from three points of view, that of Bijou, Brazen, and Emeraud. The shifts flow well, and as a result the characters become alive to the reader – particularly Bijou and Emeraud. I actually got lost in the magic and atmosphere of this place and these characters.

As to how this story relates to the Eternal Sky series, so far the only real connections I found between them is that Messaline is in the map mentioned above, making the City of Jackals a part of this world and the necromancy that ties in to the legend of the Carrion King. Hopefully the culture and its inhabitants (I'm thinking Emeraud) will play a role in future tales.

Bone and Jewel Creatures is what I hope to find when picking up a novella. The prose, world-building, atmosphere and characterization are excellent. The plot is good enough to keep me turning those pages until the very end and leaves me satisfied, but wishing that there's a follow-up book somewhere that will transport me to the same magical place again. Recommended.

Theme: Series Catch-Up
March 2013
Category: Fantasy
Series: Eternal Sky (#0.5)
Publisher/Release Date: Subterranean Press/March 31, 2010 - Kindle Ed.
Grade: B+

Visit Elizabeth Bear here.

Range of Ghosts, #1
Shattered Pillars, #2 (Released March 19, 2013)

ETA: Bone and Jewel Creatures can be read on its own or as part of the series. Having read Range of Ghosts a year ago, I'm sure that I missed some obvious connections to the Eternal Sky series, but hope to find more after reading Shattered Pillars. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

TBR Overview: PsyCop Series by Jordan Castillo Price

For the TBR Challenge this month, I decided to read one book from Jordan Castillo Price's PsyCop series and ended up reading the whole enchilada. These books (the entire series) have been in my TBR for a few years and Jordan Castillo Price's work (or JCP as this author is commonly referred to by readers) has been recommended to me by multiple friends. However, for the purpose of this month's theme I must say that Mariana is the one fellow-reader who has most often recommended both the author AND this series to me. 

So instead of writing a review for one book, I decided to post an overview of the series, which includes books read: Among the Living #1, Criss Cross #2, Secrets #3, Body & Soul #4, Camp Hell #5, GhosTV #6 and various novellas that complete the series only by focusing on certain characters and giving them a bit of depth, but that do not really give away any important information pertaining to the overall storyarc.

The PsyCop series by Jordan Castillo Price is a combination urban fantasy and m/m erotic romance narrated from the main character's first point of view. It sounds pretty standard, doesn't it? But as always when considering urban fantasy world-building must be taken into consideration, and in this case I was quite taken with JCP's world-building, as well as with her wonderful characters.

In JCP's world the action, murder mysteries, and paranormal events that Psychs and Cops encounter take place on or around Chicago's gritty streets. Her world building is that great fusion of alternate contemporary and heavy on the paranormal, with suspense and crime solving always as the center of each book. The other very important aspect of the series, the one I am sure that pulls at most readers, are the characters and the complicated relationships that develop between them. These relationships include both central and secondary characters since they have a tendency to become key contributors to the storylines.

Victor Bayne is a medium and the Psych half of a PsyCop team with his partner being the non-psych or as they are commonly referred to, a Stiff. Vic has a fabulous narrative voice. I don't know of anyone who would not fall in love with the talented but always grumpy Vic with his drug-induced insecurities (or is it his insecurities that cause his tendency to abuse those "feel-so-good" drugs?), vulnerabilities, and snark. I do love that Vic is very much aware of his flaws. But I think that what I've enjoyed most about this series, besides the fact that I'm enjoying JCP's writing style, is that the relationship between Victor and his romantic partner Jacob grows incrementally as the series progresses. By that I mean that although the two of them maintain a sexual relationship, the real trust and balance that makes a true partnership takes time to develop. The same can be said for Vic's relationship with his growing list of friends or secondary characters.

There is also character growth for Victor and Jacob individually, neither remains static as JCP uses the overall storyarc about the Psychs, which she packs with action and exciting revelations, to accomplish this growth. My favorite books of the series are Criss Cross #2 and Secrets,#3, probably because intimate revelations are thick in both books. Camp Hell, a favorite for many readers, was also a great read for me, but left a few holes and important questions unanswered, giving the book an unfinished feel, and GhosTV had a fantastic paranormal atmosphere, but unfortunately the book ended with one of those personal cliffhanger revelations. That was a disappointment, particularly since there has not been a follow up to this book. Hopefully there will be an end to the series.

Theme: Recommended Read
February 2013
Overall this is an addictive series for good reason. Jordan Castillo Price can weave an action-packed story, create a character, and maintain suspense and sexual tension. She can also write some over-the-top steamy scenes! Pheww... those scenes are the reason I decided to label this series UF/Gay Erotic Romance. Do I recommend this series? Absolutely!

Category: UF/Gay Erotic Romance
Series: PsyCop (#1-#6)
Overall Grade: B+

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

TBR Review: Within Reach by Sarah Mayberry

There are many 2012 releases gracing my TBR at the moment. At this point, quite a few of them make up what I'm calling my "regrets list" -- books I regret not reading last year. Well, Within Reach by Sarah Mayberry, a book I purchased as soon as it released but for some reason never read, is definitely one of them. Was it that very bland lavender looking cover? Or was it the predictability of the blurb that did not set this book apart for me?

Being a single dad was never on Michael Young's agenda. Yet with the sudden loss of his wife, that's exactly the role he has. On his best days, he thinks he can handle it. On his worst... Luckily, family friend Angie Bartlett has his back, easily stepping in to help out.

Lately, though, something has changed.

Michael is noticing exactly how gorgeous Angie is, and how single she is. She's constantly in his thoughts and he feels an attraction he never expected. Does he dare disrupt the very good thing they have going? If they have a fling that goes nowhere, he stands to lose everything - including her. But if they make it work, he stands to gain everything!
Whatever the reason, I should have known better from my experience with Sarah Mayberry's writing style and enjoyment of her SuperRomance stories, not just those from Harlequin's Blaze line. I know that she has the ability to turn a long-used plot device that reeks of predictability into an emotionally charged contemporary story about people -- friends, family, and lovers -- that become more than two-dimensional caricatures on the page. I absolutely love that aspect of Mayberry's writing, particularly since she can achieve this... "magic" in a short format.  Of course, that's exactly what happens in Within Reach.

The story's main plot device is riddled with a big romance taboo -- the best friend who falls in love with her dead friend's husband and vice-versa, and the reader gets to meet this best friend in all her glory before she dies. A no-no if I ever heard of one. Angie Barlett's BFF Billie dies suddenly leaving two small children and a heartbroken and grieving husband behind. Ten months later Angie realizes that Michael's grief has taken a turn into such a deep depression that the children are also affected. Billie would not have wanted that at all, so Angie takes charge and with a loving but tough hand tells Michael he needs to shape up fast.

Michael is a great father and reluctantly takes her advice. The two slowly become real friends fond of each other, backing each other up in times of need and talking about their daily concerns. Michael in particular comes to depend on Angie as she makes herself available to help with the children's care when he returns to work. In return, he helps Angie by providing a space in his home when she needs a studio for her jewelry-making business. But all that close contact leads to Angie slowly becoming aware of Michael as a man, and eventually Michael begins to see Angie as a woman. They are both horrified and initially deny the attraction. Angie feels like she is betraying her best friend and Michael feels like he's cheating on his wife just by looking at Angie. They pull back from each other, but when the attraction turns to passion, will Michael forgive himself? Will Angie? Can they keep their friendship? What if it's more than passion?

This was such an emotional read! First because Mayberry actually introduces the readers to Billie and then because Michael and Angie's grief is palpable throughout the development of the romance. When I first began reading this romance and met Billie I didn't think there was any way that I would be able to connect with Angie as Michael's romantic partner, but Mayberry works this relationship beautifully by digging deep into these two people's grief and then developing a true friendship, so that eventually the passion and love that emerges becomes inevitable and acceptable to the reader. There is just no other answer but for Angie, Michael and his children to become a happy family.

Did I mention passion? I couldn't believe how carnal and steamy this romance becomes in the midst of all the emotional and guilty baggage that Michael and Angie carry around. Steam, heat and chemistry abound once this couple gets together and yes, this is surprising particularly for an angsty SuperRomance.

Problems? Yes.... I did have a nagging problem at the end there. I loved that Angie and Michael found happiness together, a love made up of true friendship and passion where Billie's memory could live without being ignored or resented. But.... as much as I loved Billie, I wish (and this is my personal preference) that Michael and Angie had time to enjoy more of that romance, that passion and love without Billie's ghost haunting them. The book ends when that lovely relationship is about to begin... a much deserved happy ever after.

Within Reach is a beautifully developed, meaty contemporary romance with some amazing character development and a subject matter that may push buttons, but that Mayberry works with a deft touch. If you haven't read it yet, please don't wait, it's worth the read.

Theme: Shorts
January 2013
Category: Contemporary Romance
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Harlequin SuperRomance/August, 2012
Grade: A-

Visit Sarah Mayberry here.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Joining: TBR Challenge 2013

Joining again, the TBR Challenge 2013 hosted by Wendy from The Misadventures of Super Librarian! I had such a great time digging through my TBR (to be read) pile of books in 2012 that there's no way I won't join in 2013. Plus my dear friends, I accumulated more books that now 'must' be read in 2013! What better way to get to them?

Wendy makes it easy to join and participate. Dig out one book per month from your TBR pile, read and review it on the date assigned. If you don't have a blog and don't want to review it, you can just leave a comment on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, anywhere online, and leave a link on Wendy's blog. It's that easy. Wendy makes it even easier by assigning themes per month in case we, the participants, can't decide what to read! But what I really love is that the themes are not written in stone and if a particular genre or book is calling... we can read that too.

Here are Wendy's schedule and the theme list for 2013:

January 16 - We Love Short Shorts! (Short stories, Novellas, category romance)
February 20 - Recommended Read (something recommended by a fellow reader)
March 20 - Series Catch-Up (pick a book from a series you're behind on)
April 17 - New-To-You Author
May 15 - More Than One (An author who has more than one book in your TBR pile).
June 19 - Lovely RITA (RWA RITA nominees OR winners)
July 17 - The Classics (Something classic within the romance genre - an author, a specific book, a trope/theme - I'm open to wide interpretations here!)
August 21 - Steamy reads (Erotic romance, erotica, something spicy!)
September 18 - Western (Contemporary or historical)
October 16 - Paranormal or romantic suspense
November 20 - All About The Hype (a book that created such chatter that it was inescapable).
December 18 - Holiday themes (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day, it's all good!)

Thanks Wendy for hosting the TBR Challenge again in 2013!