Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 Top Reads

Going back through my 2009 list of books read, I realized that I've read some excellent books this year. The tough part? Although I've certainly read plenty of new releases, I've also read my share of books released in previous years. My list of top reads doesn't necessarily reflect favorite books released in 2009, instead it's a list of my favorite books read in 2009. I decided to post my Top 10 Reads regardless of release date, as I think this will truly reflect my preferences. There are only a few books on my list released this year and I'll highlight them.

Also, while reviewing my list, I noticed that I read a lot of excellent books during the first half of the year before I began blogging, and realize I did not review quite a few of them. I've linked the titles of the books I've reviewed, but for some you'll not find links. Maybe at some point I'll re-read some of them and post my thoughts. :)

Top 10 reads:

1) Perdido Street Station by China Mieville (Fantasy)
2) Wicked Gentlemen by Ginn Hale (M/M Fantasy) - 2009 Release
3) Gabriel's Ghost by Linnea Sinclair (Science Fiction/Romance)
4) Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews (Urban Fantasy)
5) Branded by Fire by Nalini Singh (Paranormal Romance) - 2009 Release
6) Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase (Historical Romance)
7) This Heart of Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (Contemporary Romance)
8) Silent Blade by Ilona Andrews (Sci-Fi/Romance Short Story) - 2009 Release
9) Almost Like Being in Love by Steve Kluger (M/M Contemporary Romance)
10) The Edge of Impropriety by Pam Rosenthal (Historical Romance)

Honorable Mention: These are books that I loved and truly enjoyed this year as well. As a matter of fact I had a tough time choosing in some cases between my top 10 and these. So, I just had to mention them. They are not in any particular order, I've basically grouped them by genre. I really loved them all. :)

Hope's Folly by Linnea Sinclair (Sci/Fi Romance) - 2009 Release
The Mountains of Mourning by Lois McMaster Bujold (Sci-Fi/Short Story)
Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews (Urban Fantasy) - 2009 Release
Deathwish by Rob Thurman (Urban Fantasy) - 2009 Release
Demon Night by Meljean Brook (Paranormal/Romance)
Virgin River by Robyn Carr (Contemporary Romance)
McKenzie's Mountain by Linda Howard (Contemporary Romance)
Simple Jess by Pamela Morsi (Historical Romance)
All the Windwracked Stars by Elizabeth Bear (Fantasy) - 2009 Release
Percy and the Olympians Series by Rick Riordan -5 books (YA)*-2009 Release
Rough Cut: Vincent Diamond Collected by editor Richard Labonte and Vincent Diamond (M/M)
ePistols at Dawn by Z.A. Maxfield (M/M) - 2009 Release

Top Re-Read: Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale (Historical/Romance) - A book I read such a long time ago it was like reading it for the first time. One of the best historical romances I read this year (again) and for me an A+ read anytime, anywhere.

I noticed this year for the first time I didn't read enough romance/suspense, historical fiction or mysteries to choose at least two top reads -- something I mean to remedy in 2010. I must admit that previous to 2009, I read so much in those categories (specially romance/suspense and mysteries) that I needed to catch up on other genres.

*YA = Only books read in this category this year. But an A recommended 5 book series.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas and Book Shopping!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas, or Holidays if you don't celebrate Christmas. I had a few days off and really enjoyed them with family and friends. We enjoyed lots of tasty food, wine and best of all some wonderful times spent with family and new memories to treasure.

I did quite well... received books as gifts and bookstore gift certificates this Christmas -- of course I already added a couple of books to the TBR pile -- some I already read! But then I had a few minutes here and there to myself these past few days in between the cooking, baking, get-togethers and shopping. There's always time for reading, right?

One of my brothers gave me a book as a present from a favorite author, it's Leonardo Padura's latest release, "El Hombre que Amaba a Los Perros." Padura is a Cuban author who has received quite a few literary awards and is known for his "Mario Conde" police detective mysteries -- a series I love and one I'll be re-reading and hope to review this coming year. His latest release came out in September 2009 and as far as I know there's no translation available yet, so I'm not sure what the title in English will be, but the literal translation is "The Man who Loved Dogs." It's a historical fiction piece involving Trotsky, his assassin, the Spanish Civil War, their connection to Cuba and of course a modern time mystery. It looks fascinating and pretty ambitious! I'm really looking forward to reading this book. :)

The day after Christmas my husband and I visited our local book store. I've been thinking of getting that tiny, little book by Mary Balogh, "A Matter of Class." It's a hardcover and I finally decided to maybe get it later due to size vs. price, even though I really wanted to read it. Well, my husband surprised me and gave it to me. Wasn't that sweet? He was paying attention! It's a beautiful little book with a great looking jacket, much better looking in person. I read this book already, of course, couldn't help myself. I'll let you know all about it later. *g*

Going back to Leonardo Padura, while at the book store I decided to use one of my Gift Certificates to buy a few books. I began by buying the first book in the "Mario Conde mysteries series "Pasado Perfecto." I bought it in Spanish because it's my preference, however this book has been translated in different languages, English and French included and it's available. Havana Blue (Mario Conde Book 3) is the title in English. A few things don't make sense -- the title for one, the translation escapes me (literal translation "A Perfect Past"), and why this is being called Book 3 when in reality it's Book 1 of the series, it's beyond me. I read these mysteries back in 1999? 2000? I can't remember the exact year, but my brother passed the copies around to me and to our friends and we all loved them. I want my own copies and will be re-reading all of them.

Next, I chose to buy "Naked in Death" by J.D. Robb, the first in the In-Death series. I joined Christine's 2010 In-Death Challenge and although I lucked out and my book sharing buddy sent me books 2 through 5, I was missing the first one. So, now I'm ready to begin reading J.D. Robb, finally!

I also lucked out and saw Sarah Mayberry's January release "Her Secret Fling" and immediately scooped it up! Now, you KNOW that although I have other books by her in my TBR pile, this is one of the books that was read this weekend. It was perfect for the holidays -- short because I didn't have that much time to read and well... it was romance. I'll let you know all about this one later too. :)

And last but not least, I decided to buy Nora Roberts' "Vision in White" in print. I had it in ebook format, but I have "Bed of Roses" in print and these are such beautiful books with gorgeous covers, I knew sooner or later I was going to get that book in print, lol! I know, I know... why buy a book I already read and I already own? Well... that's just me. I collect her books in print -- I should have known better than to buy it in ebook format in the first place. It won't happen again, believe me!

But, hey that's not all! When I arrived home from shopping I had a little package waiting for me from Santa-baby all the way from the North Pole, via Canada! Santa sent me a book I've heard much about and I've been wanting to read, the New Gay Fiction Anthology, "Fool for Love" edited by Timothy J. Lambert and R.D. Cochrane. A gorgeous looking print book I can't wait to read because it's all about the "romance." One of the sweetest surprises I received this Christmas weekend. Thank you for thinking of me, Santa-baby!

Well those were my purchases and gifts, I was looking for other books and was not lucky to find them. The Sci-Fi / Fantasy section and even the Romance section seemed lacking, or maybe they just didn't have the books I was looking for. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to go check out another book store. *g*

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2009: Favorite New-to-Me Authors

I make a point of searching for new authors every year. I make lists and eventually those authors that attract my interest get read. 2009 has been a great year for me when it comes to new-to-me authors as you'll see by my list below. I didn't get to many I wanted to this year, but then, there's always 2010!

Linnea Sinclair - Sci/Fi Romance

In March of this year, after devouring Gabriel's Ghost, Shades of Dark and Hope's Folly, I undoubtedly became a Linnea Sinclair fan and she moved up to the top of my list as a favorite author in the Sci-Fi Romance genre. I still have a few books from her backlist to read, The Down Home Zombie Blues, Finder's Keepers and Games of Command are all in my TBR pile and I'll be reading them in 2010. As you can imagine the new installment in the Dock Five series, Rebels and Lovers is also one of my most anticipated books of 2010. I cannot wait for this book!

Ilona Andrews - Urban Fantasy

Urban Fantasy was a new-to-me genre this year. My goal was to choose and read at least three urban fantasy series -- to give it a chance, something I had been reluctant to do. After much research and thought, I chose the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews as my starter series. In April 2009, I read Magic Bites, and proceeded to devour Magic Burns and Magic Strikes in a matter of days! I couldn't stop reading. After falling in love with the world and the characters Andrews created in the Kate Daniels series, I went on to read more of their work. With the addition of their quirky installment on a new series On the Edge and their excellent short story Sci/Fi Romance Silent Blade, Ilona Andrews moved to the top of the new-to-me favorite authors list of 2009. Magic Bleeds is also on my 2010 list of most anticipated books.

Meljean Brook - Paranormal Romance

Paranormal romance is a genre I enjoy, but don't necessarily love. After a while there just seem to be too many vampires, werewolves and "other" creatures running around, and uniqueness in a series seems to be tough to find. Maintaining tight worldbuilding in a series and balancing it out with the romances taking place in each book seems to be a definite challenge.

This year my paranormal romance reading had dwindled down to three series, but after reading Must Love Hellhounds Anthology, I decided to give the Guardian series by Meljean Brook a try. Well, I haven't been this excited about a paranormal series since I started reading the Psy/Changeling series by Nalini Singh. I began by reading Demon Angel last month and I've already finished Demon Moon and Demon Night. Demon Bound is next on my list and I'll be catching up with this series soon! Brooks is an excellent addition to my paranormal romance list of authors and her series is one I'll definitely continue to follow.

Pam Rosenthal - Historical Romance

I'm always looking for new or new-to-me historical romance writers to add to my list. As opposed to last year when I read quite a few excellent historical romance books, this year most of them fell in the average to the very good category. Pam Rosenthal's The Edge of Impropriety was a surprisingly fresh read, and one I remember even now in a category that too often feels saturated by sameness and predictability. Her backlist is one I will be exploring and I hope to read her new books in the future.

Margaret Campbell Barnes - Historical Fiction

It has been a while since I've read historical fiction, a genre I truly love. Margaret Campbell Barnes' The Tudor Rose: A Novel of Elizabeth of York reminded me not only of that love, but sparked my interest in reading more by this author. She has an excellent backlist and I'll definitely be exploring her work as well as reacquainting myself with other historical fiction authors I've neglected.

Lisa Dale - Contemporary Romance

I cut my teeth reading contemporary romance and to this day it's my favorite genre. My comfort reads are usually contemporary romances. A good contemporary will do it for me every. single. time. But boy are good, straight contemporary romances tough to find these days! The balance is hardly ever there... they are either plagued with suspense (I call it a plague), or the chick lit wave hits them with such force that the romance is lost and they're hardly recognizable. So, to find a contemporary romance writer, one that balances the romance with a good, meaty plot and great characters (including secondary ones), is not that easy. Dale seems to have the potential for reaching this balance. She didn't quite achieve it with Simple Wishes, but she wrote a book I enjoyed regardless. Her It Happened One Night got even closer to reaching that balance, so yes! I'm definitely keeping my eye on this author who only has two books out and whose writing I've enjoyed enough to look forward to that third one.

Sarah Mayberry - Category Romance

After a few years of not reading category romance, 2009 was my year to give this genre another chance. I enjoyed books by different authors, Jill Shalvis, Raeanne Thayne and Lucy Monroe. However of all the authors, Sarah Mayberry was the one who met the requirements most often, that feeling of having read a meaty romance when in fact it was a Blaze. I love the short, quick format for those occasions when I can't seem to find the time or the energy for a long read. Sarah Mayberry left me satisfied after I finished her books. My favorite one is Anything For You, a friends to lovers, which should not be a surprise to anyone who knows me by now. I still have some of her books in my TBR, but I'm saving those for the holidays. :)

China Mieville - Fantasy

After reading Perdido Street Station, I can't say anything but that China Mieville blew my mind. I haven't read any fantasy like Mieville's and I want to read more. I have The City and The City in my TBR pile, but I won't read it. I want to read The Scar and King Rat first, two of his previous books, THEN I'll read The City and The City... I don't know what else to say, but that at some point I'll have to gather my thoughts and write something about this book. I finished it at a time when I did not have the time to do a write up and I wanted to do it justice, so I opted for not reviewing it because it deserved both the time and the effort.

Ginn Hale - M/M Fantasy

Ginn Hale wrote one of my favorite fantasy books of 2009, not just M/M, but fantasy. Wicked Gentlemen is a book that stayed with me for quite a while after a read it. I truly couldn't put it away, the atmosphere, the world, the characters, they all stayed with me and I couldn't shake them. This book is one of two books that received an A+ from me this year, so you know I loved it. Her follow up book Lord Foster's Devils is another book I can't wait to read in 2010.

Steve Kluger, Vincent Diamond and Z.A. Maxfield - M/M Romance

In the LGBT category, under M/M Romance there are many authors I "discovered" and really liked or loved this year. There are many more whose work stayed in my TBR pile or TBB list, so my choices were not easy to make. I made those choices based on how the books I read by these authors affected me and how or if they stayed with me.

Steve Kluger's "Almost Like Being in Love" is a book I had on my TBB list for a while, but had not made a move to buy until last month. Reading the book moved this author to the top of my list with little effort. I'll definitely be checking out his other work, no question about it.

Vincent Diamond's "Rough Cut: Vincent Diamond Collected" is a collection of short stories that stayed with me long after I finished reading them. I followed that up with the Animal Attraction 2 Anthology and Feathers. I'm hoping Diamond will just keep writing although I know editing keeps her busy, busy.

And, last but not least, Z.A. Maxfield's ePistols at Dawn was my first book by this amazing author. A book that also stayed with me, not only for the relationships in the book, but for her amazing study of the way society uses masks, individual fears and insecurities, choices and how to triumph over the whole mess. I have other books by Maxfield in my TBR pile ready for reading and hope to get to them early next year.

Who were your favorite new authors of 2009?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Review: Rough, Raw, and Ready by Lorelei James

Torn between the love he has-and the love he's always wanted. A Rough Riders book. Chassie West Glanzer hasn't been a stranger to drama and tragedy. A year of wedded bliss to sexy-as-sin cowboy Trevor Glanzer has brought her the happiness and contentment she never thought she'd find, and mellowed Trevor's rodeo wanderlust.

Then Trevors old roping partner ambles up the driveway and Chassie's life changes drastically. Trevor never expected to see Edgard Mancuso again, after it became clear he couldn't be the man Edgard needed. Now Edgard is back from Brazil to sort out their tangled past, and Trevor is plagued with feelings he thought he'd buried over three years ago.

Although Trevor is hat-over-bootheels in love with his sweet, feisty wife, the sense his life is missing a piece has always gnawed at him. Chassie's shock that Edgard and Trevor were once lovers turns to fear of losing her husband. Or worse, fear that Trevor will stay with her only out of a sense of duty. Yet as the three of them spend time together, the sins of the past blur and fade, leaving raw emotion and unbridled passion. Passion that could heal-or cause irreparable damage to their future.
The story of Chassie, Trevor and Edgard is an excellent M/M/F by Lorelei James. All three characters in this book have been introduced in previous books. Trevor & Edgard were an integral part of the plot in Long Hard Ride, Book #1 Rough Rider series, and we know from that story the two of them had a long 2 1/2 year M/M relationship. Their relationship ended when Edgard could not deal with Trevor's bi-sexuality and lack of commitment to their relationship. At the end of that book, Edgard returned to his home in Brazil.

In the ensuing years, Trevor met and married Chassie West, a cousin to the McKades, and he loves her passionately. The book begins when Edgard returns from Brazil and shows up at Trevor and Chassie's ranch. Edgard needs to know if there is anything left of the love he and Trevor shared. However, Trevor has not been truthful with Chassie and Edgard comes as a shocking surprise to her. Trevor, Chassie and Edgard have some tough decisions to make.

I was pleasantly surprised in how well James captured the turmoil and emotions that these characters go through. All three of them go through many changes in this story, yet nothing seems rushed or left hanging. The plot is developed slowly and sure enough by the end of the book, these three people become a unit. Trevor works through his ambivalence, Chassie through her doubts and Edgard through his feelings of regret. There is no question in my mind at the end, that they are one happy threesome.

This is not easily accomplished in an M/M/F. I've read quite a few and usually the males, especially if (as in this case) they've had a previous relationship, seem to have the strongest attraction, while the female is usually kept on the periphery. She usually is attracted or attractive to one of the males, but not the other. I thought that's what was going to happen here, and for a while it did. However, by the end, Ms. James had skillfully made me believe in this threesome.

James did a very good job of balancing the emotions and the erotic in Rough, Raw, and Ready -- the erotic part of the book is hot, hot, hot - all of it -- the M/F, M/M and the M/M/F. But as much as I enjoyed all the sexual scenes in this book, where James is once again at her best, the development of the emotional relationship is what really kept me invested in the story. Another favorite in the Rough Rider series by Lorelei James, this installment convinced me to go on to read the next in line, Branded as Trouble, Book #6.

Rough Rider Series by Lorelei James:
Long Hard Ride, #1
Rode Hard, Put Up Wet #2
Cowgirl Up and Ride #3
Tied Up, Tied Down #4
Rough, Raw and Ready #5
Branded as Trouble #6
Shoulda Been a Cowboy #7
All Jacked Up #8

Visit the author here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Review: Almost Like Being in Love by Steve Kluger

A high school jock and nerd fall in love senior year, only to part after an amazing summer of discovery to attend their respective colleges. They keep in touch at first, but then slowly drift apart. Flash forward twenty years. Travis and Craig both have great lives, careers, and loves. But something is missing .... Travis is the first to figure it out. He's still in love with Craig, and come what may, he's going after the boy who captured his heart, even if it means forsaking his job, making a fool of himself, and entering the great unknown. Told in narrative, letters, checklists, and more, this is the must-read novel for anyone who's wondered what ever happened to that first great love.
This book made me both laugh out loud and cry while reading it. It's not a book where you'll find explicit sexual scenes, instead you'll find love -- all types of love. Love between couples, but also friendships that last years without wavering between people who know how to give and take, and love and friendships that are born out of a sense of immediate connection.

The story is told in narrative form from different points of view, but mostly by Travis and Craig. We know what's happening in both their lives throughout a 20 year span from 1978 when they meet at prep school until their present. Somehow, through their journal entries, memos, faxes, e-mails, notes, letters, lists, and other means of written communication we not only get to know them, but the people around them also become well defined characters with unique personalities.

During those 20 years, Travis becomes a history professor, whose use of baseball analogy to teach history is unique and often misunderstood by faculty--although his students are certainly appreciative. His love life is also next to non-existent. Meanwhile, Craig and his best friend Charlene are partners at a successful law firm, where his liberal agenda takes precedence over everything else. Craig has been luckier in love, he has maintained a steady relationship with his live-in partner of 12 years, Clayton.

The central, secondary characters and the plot are so well developed and defined in Almost Like Being in Love, that the characters jump out of the pages and weather you want it or not, pull you into their lives. I know I became invested in all the characters. Besides Travis and Craig (after all, I fell in love with both of them), weather it was Charlene, Jodi, Noah, Gordo, A.J, Clay or Travis' football player students, I wanted to know more about them. They made this novel complete and irresistible.

This is a love story on so many levels. A beautiful novel of first love and how that first love influenced and changed Travis and Craig's lives, even when apart. How in turn that love and those changes affected those around them. Who can't relate to those feelings of first love that Craig and Travis felt at 17? Who hasn't wondered what happened to that one person who made such a difference in their lives?

A gorgeous novel that will hook you and keep you reading, Almost Like Being in Love by Steve Kluger makes it to the top of my list. This was an outstanding read for me and one I highly recommend.

Visit Steve Kluger here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Looking Forward to 2010

I'm truly looking forward to 2010, and I hope Impressions... continues to reflect my passion for books, reading and the adventure the experience represents to me; an experience I want to continue sharing with you. I've always been a curious reader who loves to see what different genres and new or unknown-to-me authors have to offer. You might might find some surprises here every so often, I know you'll certainly find variety.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I've actually come up with a few changes for this blog or "somewhat" of a plan. I say somewhat because I'm flexible and will continue to adapt Impressions... to suit me.

Here are some minimal changes, and policy clarification: :)

1) I will be grading full and mini reviews. I will be keeping the grading system on the side bar.

I've vacillated over this decision for a long time. In the end, after all my experimentation, although I love the freedom of not having to grade a book and leaving that decision up to the reader (after all that's what it's all about), I find that having to come up with that grade provides a better focus when I'm writing a review. It keeps me on my toes. So, here is the grading scale I'll be using:

A = Outstanding. Excellent. Loved it. (+/-)
B = Great Read. Solid. Very Good. (+/-)
C = Good. Average Read. Good but not great.(+/-)
D = Fair. Below Average. Problematic. (+/-)
F = Not Recommended
DNF = Did Not Finish. Not for me.

2) I will also be grading my impressions if I provide enough information about the book to justify a grade. However, I will not grade my thoughts -- (example: see On the Hybrid Zone and Perdido Street Station.) These are my personal thoughts and don't usually include enough information to give the reader a complete view of the book to assess it. I will post my final grade for these books at end-of-month posts.

3) I will also include random posts on my thoughts (see above), if not reviews, on ALL the different genres of books I read, weather they are romance related books or not. That is what I initially wanted to do and would like to go back to it. :) These books will also be included on my list of books read (something I don't do now).

4) All books reviewed at Impressions in 2009 are owned by me, purchased or obtained through book swap, unless otherwise indicated. I did not review nor did I pursue the review of ARCs at Impressions..., although I did review ARCs for Musings of a Bibliophile and announced them here as such. I will continue the same policy in 2010.

5) I've found that I don't enjoy maintaining a schedule to post my reviews or thoughts. I've tried and it takes the fun out of blogging for me, so no posting schedule at Impressions... I've been posting twice per week (slow blogging), and posting more when I have more to say or review. This makes me happy and I'll continue that blogging pattern for now. :)

Of course, who knows what 2010 will bring as I'm still learning and adapting, but for now I think this is a good beginning.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Review: Bed of Roses by Nora Roberts

As little girls MacKensie, Emma, Laurel, and Parker spent hours acting out their perfect make believe "I do" moments. Years later their fantasies become reality when they start their own wedding planning company to make every woman's dream day come true.

In Bed of Roses, florist Emma Grant is finding career success with her friends at Vows wedding planning company, and her love life appears to be thriving. Though men swarm around her, she still hasn't found Mr. Right. And the last place she's looking is right under her nose.

But that's just where Jack Cooke is. He's so close to the women of Vows that he's practically family, but the architect has begun to admit to himself that his feelings for Emma have developed into much more than friendship. When Emma returns his passion—kiss for blistering kiss—they must trust in their history…and in their hearts.
It has taken me a while to process my thoughts, because frankly I don't know what happened to me while I was reading Bed of Roses. The bottom line is that this story did not work for me. For some reason, I didn't really find it romantic, erotic or amusing and I was even disappointed in some of the friendship interactions in the book. Most of the story felt flat, as if something was missing and I could not put my finger on it. I'm not sure if it was me or the book, but let's try and figure it out. Note: I tried my best NOT to include spoilers.

Emma is the florist in the quartet of friends that runs Vows, a bridal planning company. She's also beautiful and a romantic. She has a healthy family background and is looking for that one man, the one she will one day dance with in her fantasy moonlit garden. Jack is an architect with a thriving business and has been Del's best friend since college. Del is Parker's brother and this makes Jack one of their inner circle, part of their family. He comes from a broken home and these friendships mean much to him. Just as Emma is known for attracting men, Jack is known for attracting women and he, like Emma, does not commit to long term relationships. Jack and Emma, however, find that they are powerfully attracted to each other and decide to become lovers with the condition that they'll stay friends after the affair is done.

Let me begin by saying that I think it's a great premise, and the book is full of wonderful characters. I love the "friends to lovers" trope, it has to be one of my favorite plot devices in a romance. However, for some reason it didn't work for me in this book. I liked Jack and Emma separately. They were likable characters who I thought deserved a happy ending -- together, they just didn't do it for me. I didn't buy that Jack was passionately in love with Emma, and that might be because when his admission of love came (I wouldn't call it a realization), it was less than convincing. It felt forced, like he was pressured in more ways than one into making that admission -- it didn't feel as if it came from his heart and soul. I also felt that Emma allowed others to dictate her moves instead of following her heart.

The friendship between the four friends in this book took a turn I definitely did not enjoy, and frankly I think it somewhat spoiled the book for me. In Beds of Roses, the friends' contributions (one in particular) felt more intrusive than supportive. They crossed that fine line that I don't think should be crossed no matter how close you are in a friendship. The fact that Emma allowed them to interfere and went along with her friends -- when aware of their interference -- also bothered me.

Unlike Vision in White, Bed of Roses had less amusing dialogue to offer, with the exception of one or two wedding mishaps to do with Vows. And speaking of Vows, I would like to address the massive amount of flower detail in this book. Yes, Emma is the florist, however, after the first few times her flower arrangements, bouquets and centerpieces were described my eyes began to glaze over. I found myself wanting to skim through those details after a while, and I don't skim Nora Roberts' books. More than once, I found myself wishing for more Emma / Jack time and less Emma / flower time.

Finally the end. I felt the end of the book was rushed and abrupt to say the least and Emma and Jack's last few minutes with each other could have been used a few more pages or even paragraphs. The two of them alone with more to say to each other would have gone a long way, and maybe it wouldn't have left me with that flat, disconnected feeling.

My feelings while reading this book were not all negative. For the most part, I did enjoy the friends' interactions with each other when not connected to Jack and Emma's romance. I really enjoyed Del and Jack's relationship and the "buddy," male bonding that seems to be developing between the males in the series. I still loved the atmosphere and the set up that Nora Roberts introduced in Vision in White and further developed here, and I liked some of the new characters introduced in this installment.

Bed of Roses is not my favorite book in this series so far, but it is only the second one. I particularly liked what I saw of Laurel whose story is next in the series. She seemed a different person from the one I envisioned in Vision in White. I think the next book should be a more interesting "friends to lovers" story and I'm looking forward to reading Savor the Moment.

You can read an excerpt for Bed of Roses here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Review: The Mountains of Mourning by Lois McMaster Bujold

[A Miles Vorkosigan Story] Twenty year old Ensign Miles Vorkosigan plays detective in a murder case, and tests the balance of power as a member of the Barrayaran nobility.

The Mountains of Mourning was originally published as a stand-alone novella in the May 1989 issue of Analog. It was then included as the first of three novellas that make up the novel Borders of Infinity (October 1989). For the novel, Ms. Bujold added a short "framing story" that tied the three novellas together by setting up each one as a flashback that Miles experiences while recovering from bone-replacement surgery. The other two novellas are Labyrinth and The Borders of Infinity.
Here's a short story I highly recommend for those who have not yet read Ms. Bujold's work. It is science fiction, yet this short is written as more of a detective story. The setting is Barrayaran, Miles home planet, and sufficient details are provided to give the sci-fi feel to the story without it overwhelming the plot. The focus remains on Miles and the mystery he is attempting to solve.

Our story begins when a young woman from a mountain village comes to Prime Minister Count Vorkosigan's court to report a murder. This young woman, Harra, appears ragged, hungry and her anger has no limits. She reported the murder to the Village Speaker and he dismissed her accusation as nothing. She then went to lodge an appeal with the district magistrate, but he was absent from his office and not due to return for two weeks. Unwilling and unable to wait that period of time, she now stubbornly sits at the Count's doors and demands her right to be heard by her count's court. Harra wants justice!

Miles, son and heir to Count Vorkosigan, is home after graduating from the Academy and is on leave after receiving his new officer's commission in the Barrayaran Imperial Service. He is the one who comes upon Harra while she is being told by the guard to leave. He facilitates the audience she seeks with the Count.

They are in for a shock as they find Harra is not just reporting murder but a case of infanticide. The motives behind this horrible deed are clear to the Count, Miles, the Countess and Harra, who turns out to be the murdered infant's mother. Ignorance and old beliefs seem to be behind it all and the Count is determined to bring these incidents to an end -- for this is no isolated incident. Miles capabilities are about to be tested in more ways than one. He'll have to use his powers of deduction to solve the murder and he'll have to learn how to use his future overlord powers to impart justice.

I downloaded this short story on to my eReader from the Baen Free Library and it has been sitting on my TBR pile for a while, I'm sorry it took me so long to read it. This short is part of Bujold's novel "The Borders of Infinity" and the novel is part of a larger series about the Vorkosigans, but this short story stands alone very well on its own.

I want to clarify that The Mountains of Mourning is science fiction, not romance. Ms. Bujold manages to give enough detail about the Vorkosigans and their world to make this not only an interesting read, but to also hook the reader into wanting to know more about them, certainly more about Miles' "damaged" character, his trials, tribulations and triumphs. It is an excellent who-done-it with an arresting plot and unforgettable characters. I was definitely hooked.

I already have the other two short stories that make the "Borders of Infinity" novel, plus the book that introduces Miles, Book #1, "The Warrior's Apprentice." I can't wait to find out if the other books have the same quality when it comes to both plot and characterization, plus I really want to explore this world Bujold created.

Find out more about Lois McMaster Bujold here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Looking back on 2009

2009 was a busy year for me and brought many unexpected surprises. For one, I began blogging and reviewing, something I did not plan to do or even thought I would enjoy until Brie invited me to join her as a review partner at Musings of a Bibliophile -- one of my favorite blogs to visit. I always enjoyed reading Brie's insightful and thorough reviews and was both happy and honored when she asked me to join her. I admit to being quite the "nervous Nelly" when I began reviewing at Musings, but was lucky to have Brie to provide support. Brie took a chance on me and I truly appreciate that she took that risk. Thanks Brie, for everything!

Impressions...? Hmm... I didn't really plan on Impressions...! That was a total accident, lol! I won't go into details of how that happened (no, I won't), but once the blog was there, I decided to use it as a personal tool. My latest reads, my current reads, upcoming reads, my favorite blogs, impressions, troubled thoughts and announcements for upcoming reviews, that's how I used this blog in the beginning. I even used it as a place where I could practice how to use and experiment with good old html.;P

I didn't post reviews on this site for a long time and was shocked when someone posted a comment the first time. My vague plan at that time was to use it as a sort of "journal" -- just me and the blank page, short thoughts on what I was reading (impressions), not reviewing or grading books. I thought to include short thoughts on all the different types of books I read -- literature, Spanish/Latin American literature, best sellers, in other words other genres as well as romance, fantasy, sci-fi, erotica and/or M/M.

During the year however, between May and December, Impressions... evolved. My lovely review partner Brie went on hiatus at Musings, and I had to make some decisions once I began posting my reviews here. First, I decided to redesign the blog and I'm happy with the new look, although there are still things I would like change in regards to set up. I also decided to experiment the rest of 2009. The blog has become a mish mash of different things. You'll find full reviews, mini reviews, mini impressions, thoughts, and well... a few blog posts here and there.

I never graded reviews at Impressions..., but I did at Musings, so you'll find that I graded my reviews at the end of the month when I posted my summary. I decided to continue not grading reviews, at least until the end of 2009 and then make a decision about it at the end of the year. It has become a bit confusing, even for me. It makes sense and it doesn't. *g*

After all the experimentation, I've made some decisions regarding this blog for 2010, I actually have somewhat of a plan, lol! Next week, I'll be posting those decisions and hope to make things clearer and easier for myself and for you.;P

I would like to end this post by thanking the readers and bloggers who have been so supportive in all kinds of ways (some of you on a personal level), and for being so patient while I learned and experimented with my blog throughout 2009.