Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Review: Bonds of Justice (Psy/Changeling Series) by Nalini Singh

It is no secret that the Psy/Changeling series by Nalini Singh is one of my favorite paranormal romance series. As with all the installments so far, I was anxious to get my hands on this book, so I would like to thank KMont from Lurv a la Mode for being a absolute sweetheart and sending me her ARC copy. Thanks Kenda!

In Bonds of Justice, Nalini Singh highlights Max Shannon, a human Enforcement detective she first introduced in Mine to Possess, and the best detective New York Enforcement has to offer. Born with natural mental shields that protect him against mental invasion from even the most powerful of Psys, Max is able to work his cases with a clear conscience. When Psy Council member Nikita Duncan's advisers begin dropping like flies, Max's mind and his status as an outsider make him the perfect man to investigate the murders. Unexpectedly, Max finds himself working for the deadly Nikita, but not on his own.

Nikita assigns Max an intriguing Psy partner, Sophia Russo a J-Psy whom Max previously met while working his last case. As a J-Psy, Sophia's job is to shed light on the guilt or innocence of those accused of the most heinous crimes. As a telepath, she can both retrieve memories from criminals and then project them to others. However, the job and all those dark memories have taken a toll and Sophia's time is almost up -- her shields are severely fractured and complete rehabilitation is around the corner.

I was so surprised by Max Shannon! For some reason I didn't expect to like this human cop as much as I did. Max is attracted to Sophie when he first meets her but not just for her beauty. He appreciates the whole person, understands her abilities and sees through the Psy coldness she attempts to project. I love the way Singh develops this relationship, there is an instant deep attraction but it doesn't translate into "insta-lurv" for humans. Max is hot, hot, hot... but because he cares for Sophie and takes the time to understand her, he's not just passionate, but unselfish and tender as a lover from beginning to end. The man won me over.

I really liked Sophie too. We get to know her when her shields are already severely fractured and she has broken Silence. A damaged and desperate woman with little time left, Sophie is direct with Max when it comes to wants and needs. Max is a direct man himself so there's no game playing in this romance, making Max and Sophie a great couple. Singh uses Sophie's circumstances to build up the sexual tension between the two to a fever pitch, making even a simple touch an erotic experience. Have I mentioned before that I love the way Nalini Singh writes this type of romance? I do.

As in all the Psy/Changeling books, the storylines in Bonds of Justice are multi-layered. As Max and Sophie investigate the murders of Nikita Duncan's advisers, they're also simultaneously following up on the case of a human sociopath, Gerard Bonner. A serial killer already behind bars, Bonner is still quite dangerous. As a character, he is chilling, cold and evil seems to ooze from his pores every time he appears on the page, making him an excellent villain. This is a device previously used by Singh and a bit repetitious, however this time the sociopath is human instead of Psy. I ultimately liked the way this particular thread was dealt with -- Bonner's humanity didn't make him less of a monster or a danger to Max and Sophie.

Secondary characters are well used, as always. Kaleb Krychek is highlighted in this installment and plays an important role. More information about him is disclosed making this character even more intriguing than before. The Psy Council continues to jockey for control and power, and the PsyNet continues to deteriorate and split affecting the Psy as a whole. Changelings play a secondary role with Sascha taking central stage and Faith making key appearances.

The resolution to Sophie's dilemma is interesting, if not surprising, and I do wonder how Singh will use it in the future. There's an underlying theme of bad/good motherhood and hope in this book that I found quite interesting. Not surprising, Singh maintains her tight worldbuilding and introduces some great changes for future installments -- I can't wait to read more about them! Bonds of Justice was a winner for me and keeps the Psy/Changeling series at the top of my paranormal romance list.

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Psy/Changeling Series, Book 8
Release Date: July 6, 2010
Source: ARC copy received from KMont - Lurv a la Mode
Grade: B+

Visit Nalini Singh here.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Review: Mine to Possess (Psy/Changeling) by Nalini Singh

I chose Mine to Possess as my re-read this month in preparation for the new release in Nalini Singh's Psy/Changeling series, Bonds of Justice. This is the book where Max Shannon is introduced and I wanted to refresh my memory.

I remember thinking what an interesting couple Clay and Tally made the first time I read this book. Clay seems like your typical DarkRiver changeling sentinel, possessive and protective, but there's more to him. Clay is half human and grew up as a human, depriving him of a healthy changeling environment, and except for Talin's, he did not have the touch and affection so necessary to changelings throughout his childhood. He killed to defend Tally and lost her with that one act of violence. His experiences during those formative years were traumatic and shaped him into a man with dark spaces, a loner in danger of going rogue.

Talin was abused and terrorized as a child and although she has come a long way and is now a determined woman with some strengths, it is clear that she's still traumatized by her past. She is a fragile and damaged woman, both physically and emotionally. Talin is a social worker with the Shine Foundation and as her children begin to disappear, twenty years after their separation she decides to approach Clay, the one man she feels is strong enough to help her. A man she both fears and loves, a man she lied to.

I must admit that Clay was always one of those changelings I found intriguing. His love for Tally from the beginning, his tenderness, passion, possessiveness, protectiveness and what he is willing to do for her had me at hello. On the other hand, it took me a while to like Tally. She rationalized her reasons for lying, fearing and rejecting Clay, and it seemed as if in every other chapter Tally changed her mind as to those reasons or came to a new realization. This was used to build up the sexual tension, but for me it became frustrating after a while. However, there is character growth for Talin and eventually she did grow on me.

I thought that as a couple they were both hot like new lovers can be, and sweet and comfortable like friends who have known each other forever. I loved that they were so jealous and protective of that friendship and wanted to keep it intact.

Mine to Possess is where Nalini Singh introduces the history of the Forgotten and the Shine Foundation with its director Devlin. I loved this part of the story and how Singh continued to expand the history of the Psy to include those who did not accept Silence, something that made absolute sense. Devlin had a small part in the book, but one that made an impact. Max Shannon, the human Enforcement detective with the impenetrable mind shield who is helping Talin track the missing children is also introduced and plays a smaller part. Ashaya, the M-Psy who is running Protocol One experiments for the Psy Council and her assistant Ekaterina play key roles in the outcome of the story.

This is a solid installment to the Psy/Changeling series that focuses on the romance while addressing the overall storyarc. Quite a few key characters are introduced in Mine to Possess, as Singh expands her worldbuilding to include the Forgotten and the human race as an important part of that world.

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Psy/Changeling, Book 4
Released: February 5, 2008
Grade: Solid B

Nath's 2010 Re-Read Challenge

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Quotes & Thoughts: Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey

Santa Olivia's worldbuilding and some of the possible realities Carey used to weave this fantasy stayed with me long after I finished reading the book.
They said that the statue of Our Lady of the Sorrows wept tears of blood the day the sickness came to Santa Olivia. The people said that God had turned his face away from humankind. They said that saints remember what God forgets about human suffering.
Of course they said that in a lot of places during those years.
The sickness -- a pandemic. This worldbuilding device has been used countless times and doesn't seem unique at all. Except this story is set in the U.S. / Mexican border where violent and controversial events often take place, plus I couldn't help but think of the recent swine flu pandemic scare and all those sad, terrifying and unfortunate deaths in Mexico from the virus. Thinking about those events made this worldbuilding device in Santa Olivia one that I could relate to and ultimately effective.
The day the soldiers arrived, Our Lady's tears dried to rust in her shrine. There were bullhorns and announcements about a wall, a new wall to the north to bracket the wall to the south. 
The walls. With the building of those walls, Carey strays further into possible realities. In this case, the one wall built around the Mexican border to prevent aggression from the south and the other to the north for further security brought to mind current debates about just this subject. The building of a wall to the south has been suggested many times by both politicians and citizens as an answer to security problems and illegal immigration. Given the circumstances presented by Carey in Santa Olivia, I could see it happening.
"We are at war!
This is no longer a part of Texas, no longer a part of the United States of America! You are in the buffer zone! You are no longer American citizens! By consenting to remain, you have agreed to this! The town of Santa Olivia no longer exists! You are denizens of Outpost No. 12!"
Carey then incorporates the fact that the residents of Santa Olivia effectively exchange their freedom and civil liberties for what they believe is security. This is yet another contemporary issue that has been debated in recent times by our generation. Here, Carey explores abuse and manipulation by those in power vs. gullibility and ignorance of the masses.

The consequences to this particular aspect of her worldbuilding are key to the story. The people's dependency on the soldiers for safety and its evolution as these same soldiers degenerate from saviors to jailers and as the townspeople become prisoners in their isolation, is used by Carey as an extreme, if useful, example of what can happen when freedoms are surrendered. There is also a dehumanizing process that takes place as the people's absolute hopelessness morphs into greed, violence and perversions. In Santa Olivia the monsters are of the human sort not the fantastic, making them that much more effective.

Carey begins with possible realities as a base, some of which we can understand and relate to, and then in small increments expands and creates a future that is horrific in its simplicity. This base then strengthens the fantasy and science fiction aspects that Carey successfully incorporates in creating Santa Olivia's world.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Review: Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman

In Vintage: A Ghost Story, Steve Berman writes a chilling tale of ghosts, mixes it with urban myth while capturing Goth youths' subculture, bittersweet first love, teen angst and the small town setting perfectly. A haunting and touching coming-of-age story full of dark humor that encompasses not only the unique struggles of gay teens, but the awkwardness, fears, anxieties and a sense of wonder that all teens can relate to.

The story is told in the first person point of view from our main character's perspective, an unnamed teen. It all begins at midnight on a chilly autumn night on a lonely New Jersey highway. Our young man encounters a gorgeous boy dressed in 50's clothing and after a short conversation the boy seems to just... disappear. This gorgeous apparition dazzles our main character, a shy and insecure young man. He finds out that Josh is an urban myth, the ghost of a young man who died decades ago and has hunted the same stretch of highway ever since. Curiosity, a wish to see beautiful Josh again, and the beginnings of a crush push our character to return the next evening to the lonely highway with his best friend Trace as he hopes for another encounter. He gets his wish... and more. Josh follows him home and our chilling story really begins.

What did I like about this book? It is fast paced, chilling and a real ghost story, no question about it. Josh is not the only ghost to populate this tale and as you can imagine some are nicer than others. There are Ouija boards, an exorcism and a scene in a cemetery that gave me the creeps! There's an offbeat cast of friends who give this story depth and definitely help with the chilling effect -- Second Mike definitely stands out in that respect. Trace, a gorgeous multi-faceted Goth goddess is also a key character in this tale. Liz and Maggie, a young teen lesbian couple, provide a good balance to our main character's personal struggles.

But there's more to Vintage than the chills and thrills. Real-life issues that affect teens are also addressed, some with a light touch and others with a bit more depth. Our cast of characters, from our unnamed young man to his friends, are either plagued by self-consciousness, low self-esteem, peer pressure and/or family issues, as the gay characters have their own added pressures. The social issues and the ghost story are well integrated, as one doesn't overwhelm the other. The characters' struggles and part-resolution become an integral part of the overall speculative urban myth that Berman creates.

Berman's writing style has a lot to do with my enjoyment of this story. Although there are minimal details when it comes to the background and history of the characters themselves, their essence and the most essential part of their past history are captured without lots of unnecessary detail. The same can be said for plotting, the substance is there but it's all done in a precise, sharp and minimalistic style that I enjoyed thoroughly.

Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman is a young adult book originally released in 2007, and re-released through Lethe Press Books. A 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, this is a book that had been on my reading radar for a while and after reading it, I can see why it has received so much attention. I definitely recommend it.

Gender: LGBT YA Horror
Series: None
Source: Lethe Press Books
Grade: B+

Visit Steve Berman here

Monday, June 21, 2010

Book Haul! Some 'Ole Skool' Romance & Other Surprises

I got some of that 'ole skool' romance! Well, actually thanks to fellow Jersyan and blogger Mariana from Hips Like Mine, who was very generous indeed, I was able to replace some oooold favorites I read and gave away a long time ago due to my back and forth cross-country moves, including The Flame and The Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. I was also lucky enough to acquire books by some authors whose backlists I've been attempting to collect for a while. The haul is so extensive that I didn't think listing them would be plausible, so I decided to take some pictures instead. 

Johanna Lindsay's Ole Skool Romance

I'm excited about Angel, A Heart So Wild and the five novels from the Malory series. There's the great, the good and the... hmm... in that bunch -- The Pursuit is in there, lol! 

Elizabeth Lowell Mira Contemps, Historicals & Romance Suspense, 
more Lindsays

Julie Garwood Historicals & Romance Suspense, plus Lucy Monroe Contemps

Sooo excited about Ransom, One White Rose & One Pink Rose by Garwood.

Linda Howard Silhouettes and Romance Suspense

I'm excited about ALL the Linda Howard books, specially the Silhouettes! The Cutting Edge, Against the Rules, Come Lie with Me, and I did get another book from the McKenzie series on print (I have the digital copies). 

Anne Bishop's Black Jewels Trilogy!

I'm really excited about this one (dying to read it), although it's a fight to see who keeps it, lol! My daughter who went to Mariana's house to help me with the books is challenging me for this book. I missed it on my original list and she said she saw it first, so she might have a point. But, I think I'll win custody of it, although of course generous person that I am, I would let her read it too. Hmmm... we'll see who wins this one. :D

Nora Roberts' original Silhouettes!

This was just pure greed from a Nora fan. I already have these books, but the original Silhouettes? I saw these books, my eyes glazed and I just had to have them. Specially Irish Rebel, one of Nora's first Silhouettes (I'm not quite sure if it was her first?), and The Heart of Devin McKade, my favorite book in the McKade Brothers' series. 

J.D. Robb's In-Death Books!

And except for very few books, tons of In-Death books for my Challenge! Of course, if you notice these are not on my bookshelves and that's because my daughter won custody of them. She's reading them much faster than I am, and frankly there's no room for them on my shelves. So, I'll "borrow" them as I go along.

Thank you Mariana for your time and generosity! Such fun!

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