Friday, June 18, 2010

Lavyrle Spencer: Morning Glory and Years

After reading and loving The Endearment, last week I decided to read two other Lavyrle Spencer books, Morning Glory and Years. I was not disappointed, they were both gorgeous books.

What I'm finding is that this author excels at both writing a story and at character development -- and I mean central and secondary characters. There's no such thing as an underdeveloped thread in a Lavyrle Spencer book, or a two-dimensional character, although I did find a few stereotypical ones along the way.

Both books are Historical Romance/Americana. Morning Glory is set in Georgia during WW-II and Years in North Dakota during WW-I.

In Morning Glory the male protagonist, an ex-con and murderer, falls in love with a widow who has two children and is pregnant. He is drifting around the country looking for work, but he has a record and times are tough. She has land, two children and is pregnant with no man. She places an ad on the newspaper seeking a husband and he answers. There's a theme to this book where the hero falls in love with the "mother/woman" that was both lovely and unexpected.

In Years the female protagonist is an eighteen year-old young woman who becomes the teacher of a one-room school house to a farming community in North Dakota. This is a May/December story, and in contrast to Morning Glory, the theme is that of the male protagonist falling in love with the "girl/woman." I loved reading these books one after another and experiencing the contrast between the two different themes.

I cannot say enough about Spencer's talent for narration and dialogue, or her inclusion of details (both historical and otherwise). Her characters become real after a while and it's tough to let them go.

Morning Glory and Years are both gorgeous stories with unforgettable characters and settings. Both these books were A reads for me, although I must admit to having a slight preference for Years, but then I'm sucker for May/December stories.

I have other books by Spencer in my "to be read" pile and it's tough not to continue reading her books. I'm torn and don't know which one to pick up next: Twice Loved, Spring Fancy or The Hellion.

What do you Spencer fans suggest?

KMont's 2010 Year of the Historical Challenge

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mini-Impressions: Straight from the Hip & Hot on Her Heels by Susan Mallery

Here are a some Mini-Impressions from my latest reads. I would like to thank both Nath and Tabitha for sending me all four books in this series. :)

Straight from the Hip (Titan Sisters Series, Book 3) by Susan Mallery

First, I read Straight from the Hip, the third book in the Titan Sisters contemporary romance series by Susan Mallery. This was an okay read, but still not great. This is Izzy's story, the dare devil in the family. She was partially blinded during an explosion while working on an oil rig during the last book and is now dealing with the blindness. She wallows for a good part of the book in self-pity and seems to be afraid of everything, something that is surprisingly not like the Izzy we had seen in previous books. The hero in this book is sexy, but guilt-ridden, doesn't think he deserves to be loved and is on a self-punishing trip. A woe-is-me pair. 

Again as in the other books, the dialogue is good in this story and I like the way Mallery writes, but I have a problem liking the characters. Evil brother Garth was still the most intriguing character in this book and I couldn't help but hope that he would stay that way. Grade C

Hot on Her Heels (Titan Sisters Series, Book 4) by Susan Mallery

I decided to just finish the Titan Sisters series by Susan Mallery since I already had the book and went on to read Hot on Her Heels. This is Garth's story, the evil half-brother who has been making every one's life miserable throughout the whole series, and Dana the sisters' girlfriend. This is where Garth and the sisters resolve the conflicts, particularly the "daddy" issues that have been plaguing them all. 

In my opinion this is the best book of the whole series. I really liked Dana. She is tough and direct and even though she had a crappy, abusive childhood, she didn't spend the whole book whining about it or feeling sorry for herself. I also really liked Garth and that was a surprise since he was the villain for most of this series. He is still a cold customer, but an interesting one with different dimensions to him. I like that he's sexy and while he's now likable, he doesn't really lose all his edge. Good ending to an otherwise mediocre series. Grade B

Visit Susan Mallery here

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Review: Magic Bleeds (Kate Daniels Series, #4) by Ilona Andrews

Magic Bleeds is one of my most anticipated books of the year, and thank all the deities it was not a disappointment. If you're reading the Kate Daniels urban fantasy series by Ilona Andrews then you know this is the fourth book in the series. If you haven't read Magic Bleeds yet, then you better hold on tight and get ready for the ride, believe me it's a great one!

Magic Bleeds begins exactly where Magic Strikes ends, with Kate fixing dinner for Curran and when things don't exactly work out as she expects, getting royally pissed. But as glorious as Kate is in her anger, she manages to control herself, barely. Instead, she takes a call from the Order of Knights of Merciful Aids to investigate a fight and winds up at the Steel Horse where the remnants of a bar room brawl left behind a dead shape shifter and a common decease that has been magically turned into a disgusting plague-like mess! The perpetrator is long gone and Kate is off on a new adventure, and what an adventure it is.

As in the first three books, Andrews doesn't make it easy for Kate as she and her friends take on larger than life mythology based foes. Only this time she'll be delving into ancient Hebrew and Babylonian mythology and scrolls to find her answers and there's family to take into consideration.

But Kate also has to work with the shape shifters throughout her investigation and her relationship with the Beast Lord is more hostile than friendly at the moment. The outcome of that one scene at the beginning of the book sets up Kate and Curran's interactions for the rest of the book, and we're in for a bumpy ride and an explosive outcome when it comes to these two.

Did I love Kate in this book? You bet! Her internal dialogue and reactions when it came to Curran had me rolling on the aisles at times. I do love the way that woman thinks. There has been real growth in Kate's character and that can be seen in Magic Bleeds in spades, although the Kate we first met in Magic Bites is still very much there. Curran is also a huge presence in this book. His reactions to Kate were delicious although I must admit to being surprised at the final outcome to their slow building relationship in this book -- not that I was disappointed or anything, just that it was a tad unexpected.

The crew of recurring secondary characters, Kate's friends and some common foes the shape shifters, the mercenary guild, the necromancers, Andrea and Saiman are back making this story flow. Although I would say that the intriguing Saiman definitely stole every scene where he was included. Some new shifter characters are introduced and through them we get a new perspective into the shape shifter's world.

I absolutely loved this book. I wasn't sure how the Andrews writing team was going to up the ante after Magic Burns and Magic Strikes, but there's no question that they accomplished it with Magic Bleeds. There's absolutely no waste to this book. The multiple threads are weaved and gathered and not one is left hanging, the action is non-stop making the pacing a quick one. The dialogue and character interaction keeps the reader involved from beginning to end and the characterization is outstanding all around.

It's no secret that this is my favorite urban fantasy series and there's a good reason for it, it's an excellent one. I can tell you right now that Magic Bleeds will definitely make it to my top ten favorite books of the year!

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Kate Daniels series (Book 4)
Release Date: May 25, 2010
Grade: A

Visit Ilona Andrews here.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Minis: James Buchanan & Chris Owen

Cheating Chance (Taking the Odds Series #1) by James Buchanan

I finally read Cheating Chance by James Buchanan, a book I've had on my "to be read" pile since last yearNow this book I really liked. The story of Brandon, a cop from Riverside, California who leads a double life and is definitely in the closet, and Nicky, a Nevada Gaming Officer who is very much out in the open with his sexuality, but who's on the rebound after ending a three year relationship.

Brandon and Nicky were incredibly hot from beginning to end. The story is set in both Nevada and California and while the two of them get involved in an investigation, their rocky relationship evolves. I loved the details and research Buchanan used in this book about both Nevada Gaming and police procedure. The characterization is wonderful as are the dialogue and the plotting. This book doesn't have a "happily ever after" (HEA), it has a "happily for now" (HFN) and it works. Expect some light D/s and rope work in this book, as well as sizzling scenes. There's a second book, Inland Empire,where this couple's relationship is further explored and where they continue their adventures, I'll definitely be reading it.

Genre: M/M Suspense/Erotica
Published: MLR Press - July 18, 2008
Series: Taking the Odds, Book #1
Grade: B+

Visit James Buchanan here

Carbon and Ash by Chris Owen

Carbon and Ash is a short story and a re-read by a favorite author, Chris Owen. I must admit Carbon and Ash is the one story I re-read most often by this author. Why?

Myles and Todd are both single fathers who love to spend time with their little boys participating in different types of activities -- little league, camping, cookouts, movies and overnights. Myles and Todd also hang out together after these events and by now they have established a routine. Todd is a single gay parent and Myles is straight and divorced, but when we meet them this routine includes an occasional meeting of the two on the couch where they touch each other as a type of release. Myles doesn't think this means much until they both think about dating other people and their routine is disturbed. Myles begins to realize that maybe his feelings for Todd are not so casual.

So why do I love to re-read this story? It has more than a few of the ingredients I love in a story -- a taste of summer, baseball, family, true friendship, and the meaning of patience and surrender. Who can ask for more in a short story? But for me it's not just the content I love, it's how Owen writes the story. It's how she captures all of the above mentioned with only the necessary detail to deliver a complete story in a few pages.

Genre: M/M Romance (short story)
Series: None
Published: Torquere
Grade: Solid B

Visit Chris Owen here.

Anesthezea's 2010 M/M Romance Challenge

Thursday, June 10, 2010

...On Romance of Lust by Anonymous

Romance of Lust or Early Experiences by Anonymous is a Victorian erotic tale published in 1873-1876 in four volumes. It is believed that either William Simpson Potter or Edward Sellon wrote it and it's considered an erotic literary classic. The following is the description for the book:
The novel is told in first person, and the protagonist of the novel is Charlie Roberts. The novel begins with “There were three of us — Mary, Eliza, and myself.” Charlie catalogs his sexual experiences with his governesses, various male and female friends, and acquaintances. The book deals with a variety of sexual activities and taboo subjects.
Interesting finds:
  • Use of language and vocabulary
Language and the way it was used made these volumes an unsettling read. The writing flowed and even while describing some of the most erotic or shocking moments in the story the formality of expression used by the writer was often at odds with the subject matter, specially throughout the first two volumes. As the novel progressed and its true focus became clear, the use of erotic terminology deteriorated and became raunchier, however the formality and flow of language remained a constant.
    Words most often used: lascivious, libidinous, lubricity, salacious, gamahuche, voluptuousness and debauchery. References to Venus and other Roman and Greek gods and goddesses are used in conjunction with sexual acts and body parts. French, Italian and Latin are used freely, although many of the common names used by Anonymous are still used today. 
    • Beauty
    As may be supposed, not a bone was to be traced in her upper neck, but all was dazzling in colour and flesh, which is such a beauty in woman. When a woman shows her gaunt collar bones, it is a proof of bad breeding, and a common nature.
    • Social commentary
    1. Hypocrisy of women and how well they are able to mask their true selves by presenting a false front to society and often to men in general.
    2. Society's hypocrisy in general, specially that of the gentry and the aristocracy, i.e., how they are viewed by others vs. how they really are.
    3. Husband's selfishness and disregard for their wives sexual needs. Example:
    It is these insensate cold-blooded husbands who raise, without satisfying, their wife's erotic passions, and drive them perforce to seek salacious comfort in other arms. 
    Controversial finds:
    • Taboo subject matter - the above book summary mentions taboo subjects, what it does not mention is that the main taboo subjects addressed in this book are incest and the seduction and deflowering of minors, both males and females. What it doesn't explain when it says "There were three of us, Mary, Eliza and myself" is that Mary and Eliza are Charlie's sisters; or that Charlie is fifteen at the beginning of the book, and his sisters are fourteen and thirteen respectively. Charlie himself is seduced by an adult and later on he takes on and relishes the role of seducer.
    1. On the subject of incest through Charlie Roberts, Anonymous writes:
    In after-life, I have always found the nearer we are related, the more this idea of incest stimulates our passions, so that if even we be in the wane of life, fresh vigour is imparted by reason of the very fact of our evasion of conventional laws.
    Final thoughts:

    After reading Romance of Lust or Early Experiences, I will never read a Victorian historical romance where there is a dissolute and corrupt character without thinking of Charlie Roberts. He was portrayed as both and as one who not only relishes but also thrives in corrupting those around him. Charlie has to be the most distasteful character I've ever encountered in a book.

    I was able to read the first volume completely and then proceeded to skim through the rest of the volumes, where I basically looked for the information I was interested in finding. The subject matter throughout the rest of the volumes escalated to a point where I could not quite make myself read through the erotic encounters, although I followed Charlie's story through to its unfortunate end.

    This is an erotic fantasy, not to my taste and definitely out of my comfort zone, yet in reading it I still found some things that interested me, those few glimpses into Victorian society were definitely a draw for me. The use of language and vocabulary, their idea of what constituted beauty and the social commentary about the times that were included in these volumes made an otherwise uncomfortable and unsettling read, interesting. I would like to conclude by saying that if the writer's purpose was to shock his audience at the time these volumes were published, I'm quite sure he succeeded.

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010

    What am I reading? Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman

    Yes, at this moment I'm reading Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman. This is a GLTB young adult speculative fiction book from Lethe Press Books. Here's the blurb and some information:
    In a small New Jersey town, a lonely teen walking along a highway one autumn evening meets the boy of his dreams, a boy who happens to have died decades ago and haunts the road. Awkward crushes, both bitter and sweet, lead him to face youthful dreams and childish fears. With a cast of offbeat friends, antiques, and Ouija boards, Vintage offers readers a memorable blend of dark humor, chills and love.

    Vintage was finalist for the 2008 Andre Norton Award for best young adult speculative fiction by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and in the category of Best Novel for the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards!
    I've been looking forward to reading this book. It's set in my home state of New Jersey and I've heard great things about it. Also, it just so happens that in New Jersey there are quite a few legends and myths about ghosts, weird happenings and of course the (in)famous New Jersey devil, so I'm looking forward to experiencing a few speculative thrills and chills along the way.

    What are you reading right now, at this moment? Are you reading something new and interesting or something old and comfortable?

    ETA: Read review here.

    Monday, June 7, 2010

    Review: To Beguile a Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt

    Helen Fitzwilliam has been mistress to the Duke of Lister since age seventeen, and they have two illegitimate children from this relationship, Abigail and Jamie. After years of living in fear, neglect and humiliation, Helen finally finds the courage to take her children and run away from the Duke. With a letter of reference, two bags of clothing, and using false identities, Helen and her children need a place to hide and find themselves in a desperate situation.

    Sir Alistair Munroe, a renowned naturalist, has been residing at Castle Greaves as a recluse for five years with one servant as company. He decided to spare society the sight of his horribly scarred face after returning from a three-year journey in the Colonies where he was a victim of terrible torture during the Spinners Falls massacre. There's no question from Hoyt's physical description of Sir Alistair that he is not a sight easy to behold.

    On a dark and stormy night, Helen and her children arrive at Castle Greaves in Scotland where she plans on becoming Sir Alistair Munroe's housekeeper. During their initial meeting, Helen is left speechless by Sir Alistair's appearance and rudeness. He doesn't expect anything different from her -- this beautiful woman and unsolicited housekeeper who just shows up at his doorstep. However, due to her desperate circumstances, Helen has no choice but to straighten her shoulders and go forth with her plans, if nothing else for her children's sake.

    Alistair and Helen's initial interactions are both highly amusing and sad. Alistair doesn't want a housekeeper, least of all a beautiful one with children -- a lady who is obviously running away from a man and whose children are scared of his scars, an obvious reminder of what he lost. Helen doesn't really want to stay in the dirty, old castle with a beast of a man who is too uncivilized for words and scares her children. The work needed to bring everything up to acceptable standards alone is overwhelming. However she has been left with no choice and in her desperation Helen shows not only courage, but also ingenuity and perseverance. Her perseverance wins the day.

    What is it about this book that I enjoyed so much? In re-reading it, I'll say that the answer to that question is that this story is about second chances.

    Helen made a terrible mistake as a young woman and became mistress to the Duke of Lister. She had two children with this cold man who thinks of her and her children as no more than possessions. Yet after all those years instead of giving up on herself, she has the courage to leave and to think that she is worth more. She makes her own choices and even after she finds real love Helen stands up for what she wants. In Helen, Hoyt creates a female protagonist who erred, but who found the courage to look for that second chance at life and love.

    But there's a second chance for Sir Alistair also. Alistair has no hope for a future due to the way society views his scarred face. He is lonely and has given up on having a life outside of his castle and profession. He doesn't dare hope for a family or love, but on meeting Helen, Alistair has the chance to have both and he flourishes.

    I love seeing how Alistair slowly becomes less aware of his scars around Helen and the children and becomes the passionate man who needs her. The way he becomes more of a teacher and a mentor to the children, and eventually their protector, savior, hero and father figure, even though his is the face of a villain. In this story, not only do Alistair and Helen get their second chance at life, but they also provide a second chance for the children to have a family and happiness.

    The outside conflicts in this story were resolved rather simply and quickly. To Beguile a Beast is mainly focused on the couple, Abigail and Jamie and everything else is really more of a background story. The Duke of Lister and his pursuit of Helen are used as a catalyst, but don't really take much page time. The ongoing mystery of who was the traitor at Spinners Falls is very much in the periphery, although there's a bit of speculation and set up at the end for the next book.

    To Beguile a Beast is not a perfect book by any means. Besides the above mentioned, the secondary characters are glossed over and some of them, as in the Duke of Lister, are two-dimensional, while the main characters are well developed. However, there is something about Helen, Sir Alistair and the children that reached me the first time I read this book and during this re-read. I think it's definitely those second chances at life and love.

    Genre: Historical Romance
    Series: Legend of the Four Soldiers, Book 3
    Release Date: May 1, 2009
    Grade - Original Review: A-
    Re-read Grade: B

    Nath's 2010 Re-read Challenge - May Read Review

    Thursday, June 3, 2010

    M/M Review: Henry and Jim by J.M. Snyder

    A bittersweet short story about a lifetime love affair. Henry and Jim have spent a life in love, from the very first date arranged by Henry's sister, through the rocky times they worked to make ends meet, and into their twilight years.

    Old men now, Henry reminisces about the love they've shared as he learns to cope with Jim's fading memory and his own fear of being forgotten by the only man he's ever loved.
    This is more a post than a review because well... this book touched me on a personal level and it definitely affects the way I view this story. I began reading Henry and Jim by J.M. Snyder and was sobbing by the second paragraph. I had to stop reading before I could continue.

    It's a beautiful short story about an elderly couple, Jim who is exhibiting Alzheimer-like symptoms, and his partner Henry who is the caregiver. Through Henry's point of view, we experience a morning in their present lives, Henry's anxieties about Jim's memory loss and his fear of being forgotten. Through flashbacks, Snyder highlights Henry and Jim's first meeting, part of their life struggles, and some very happy moments. It ends on a high note and it's a beautiful and touching story.

    But for me... well... I couldn't help but think of my own parents. My mom suffers from these symptoms and my dad is the caregiver. They had a beautiful love story and first meeting. They saw each other once, wrote love letters, met once more and then married -- they saw each other twice before making that commitment. They have been married and devoted to each other for over 50 years. And I mean lovingly! As kids and even as adults, my brothers and I would begin with the "Aww mom... dad, stop!" and would end by looking at each other and doing the eye roll.

    The scenes in this little story... Henry's anxiety for Jim; his fear that Jim would get hurt if he were left alone by the stove; his fear that Jim would forget his name, their love and the details of their lives, all of that was so REAL to me. I've seen that fear in my father, and my brothers and I have experienced it too.

    I sobbed throughout much of this story for the loss, and at the same time thought how lucky they were to have found and experienced that love -- the fictional Henry and Jim, the real Henry and Jims out there, and my parents (my brothers and I too). And as tough as it is, I couldn't help thinking how lucky we are to be able to experience closure together -- there are so many Henry and Jims out there who are not so lucky.

    Thank you J.M. Snyder for writing this story and for reminding me of the love that came first.

    Genre: Contemporary Gay Literature
    Series: None
    Grade: A

    Visit J.M. Snyder here. Read excerpt here.

    Anezthezea's 2010 M/M Romance Challenge

    ETA: Thank you Mariana! This story is being highlighted for the real life struggle of Clay and Harold vs. Sonoma County in CA

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010

    May 2010 Reads, New Digs & Catching Up

    May was a good month! I celebrated my 1st Anniversary at Impressions, wrote a bit more than usual, read a little less, but overall there was balance.

    I also redecorated just in time for the celebration and am enjoying the new set up. My old template was giving me problems and it was time for a change. I took the opportunity to create new pages and now My Reviews, Reviews at Musings, 2010 Reads, 2009 Reads, and Disclosure & Rating can be accessed by clicking on the above tabs. 2010 reads are kept by month and 2009 Reads are in alphabetical order by author. There are links everywhere! Yes I know... the organizational bug bit me and I'm enjoying it.

    Then last week the Book Expo America and Book Blogger Con were held in New York City, and although I was NOT able to attend either, I did have the opportunity to meet up with KMont of Lurv a la Mode (and hubby) for drinks and a few hours of conversation. It was a treat and a half meeting up with such a warm and wonderful couple. We had a great time just shooting the breeze. :)

    When it comes to reading, I was a bit lazy. I didn't make two of my challenges this month. I'm late posting my review for the Re-read Challenge, and I'll be doing a two/fer for the In-Death Challenge in June. But hey, a certain little book thief stole Ceremony in Death right from under me so I couldn't read it on time. My daughter has become a huge fan of Eve and Roarke and is devouring the books at an amazing speed. ;P On the bright side, I did a bit of catching up on the M/M Romance Challenge and read and posted a few reviews this month.

    On to my May reads!  Total books read: 15  (complete list here)

    My favorite reads this month? Well, there were quite a few and three of them by Josh Lanyon:
    • Magic Bleeds by Ilona Andrews: A 
    • The Endearment by Lavryle Spencer: A
    • The Hell You Say (Adrien English Mysteries, #3) by Josh Lanyon: A
    • Death of a Pirate King (Adrien English Mysteries, #4) by Josh Lanyon: A-
    • The Dark Tide (Adrien English Mysteries, #5) by Josh Lanyon: A
    The biggest surprise for me in May?
    • Romance of Lust or Early Experiences by Anonymous: NG*  Romance of Lust or Early Experiences by Anonymous is a Victorian erotic tale published in 1873-1876 in four volumes. It is believed that it was written by either William Simpson Potter or Edward Sellon and it is considered an erotic literary classic. However, I found the subject matter to be quite controversial and I'll be posting my thoughts on these volumes later on.
    My biggest disappointment?
    *NG means "No Grade." I have two NG books this month, Labyrinth by Lois McMaster Bujold and Romance of Lust or Early Experiences by Anonymous. 

    Labyrinth by Lois McMaster Bujold is part of the Borders of Infinity novel. After reading this short story, I decided that unlike The Mountains of Mourning, it doesn't stand well on its own. I definitely need to start reading the Vorkosigan series from the beginning in order to do this short story justice. 

    How about you? This was a great month for new releases... did you read lots of good ones?