Saturday, February 26, 2011

Review: Notorious Pleasures (Maiden Lane, Book 2) by Elizabeth Hoyt

Their lives were perfect . . .
Lady Hero Batten, the beautiful sister of the Duke of Wakefield, has everything a woman could want, including the perfect fiancé. True, the Marquis of Mandeville is a trifle dull and has no sense of humor, but that doesn't bother Hero. Until she meets his notorious brother . . .

Until they met each other.
Griffin Remmington, Lord Reading, is far from perfect - and he likes it that way. How he spends his days is a mystery, but all of London knows he engages in the worst sorts of drunken revelry at night. Hero takes an instant dislike to him, and Griffin thinks that Hero, with her charities and faultless manners, is much too impeccable for society, let alone his brother. Yet their near-constant battle of wits soon sparks desire - desire that causes their carefully constructed worlds to come tumbling down. As Hero's wedding nears, and Griffin's enemies lay plans to end their dreams forever, can two imperfect people find perfect true love?
I loved the first book in this series. Notorious Pleasures by Elizabeth Hoyt, the second book in the Maiden Lane Series, was filled with intrigue, passion and flawed characters, making this a thoroughly enjoyable book.

I found some similarities and contrasts between the first two books of the Maiden Lane Series. On the surface, the male characters are considered unacceptable and scandalous by society. They are only tolerated because they are from powerful families, and there's a need for both men to be redeemed -- personally and publicly. Lord Caire from Wicked Intentions was sexually depraved and Griffin, Lord Reading, is secretly running an illegal gin in St. Giles plus he's a shameless rake with a shameful reputation.

On the other hand, the women fit their role perfectly. In Wicked Intentions, Temperance seemed to be the perfect widow of her class, performing charity in St. Giles -- a saint. In Notorious Pleasures, Hero seems to be perfection itself as a Duke's daughter and sister. She carries herself in such a manner as to make it so. She is Lady Perfect to Griffin. He is Lord Shameless to Hero.

However unlike Lord Caire who was highly sensual but brooding and not to everyone's taste, Griffin is a gorgeous character. He is charming, likable and witty, as well as passionate and highly sensual. Griffin is the type of male protagonist that almost makes the reader forget that he's ruthlessly and without remorse slowly seducing his brother's fiancé. The fact that his brother Thomas is a flawed character himself and unlikable to boot makes it even easier for the reader to accept the seduction readily.

Hero herself is no "Lady Perfect." She is also ruthless when it comes to deceiving Thomas. She has no feelings for him and is more concerned with finding and exploring how perfect she is not by going along with Griffin's seduction and even provoking it, than weather or not what she's doing is right or wrong. Hero is not concerned about Thomas' pride or feelings in that respect. Neither is she truly concerned about Griffin, not until almost the end of the story. She is, however, concerned with keeping up appearances for the sake of her brother Maximus, the Duke. In that respect, her character is very similar to that of Temperance in Wicked Intentions. They both come to late realizations about love or what love is.

I found it interesting that in both stories the male characters, the depraved Lord Caire and the rakish and seemingly amoral Griffin, fell passionately in love with the women first. In both cases, the women are the ones loving the sex but holding out emotionally.

Hoyt can write explosive sexual scenes as well as scenes full of sensual tension. In Notorious Pleasures you'll find plenty of both. Add to that the fact that the characters are not necessarily noble ones and are having an illicit affair, and the sensuality increases. Then you have the fact that somewhere along the line, Hoyt makes the all-around dishonorable actions of these main characters acceptable to the reader, and the story becomes downright interesting.

Hoyt also plays with atmosphere in this story. Wicked Intentions was full of it with St. Giles and its dark  and filthy cobblestone alleyways as the focus. In Notorious Pleasures, Hoyt jumps back and forth between high society balls, carriage rides, dinner parties and those same filthy and danger-filled alleyways in St. Giles. This contrast between lifestyles gives the reader a well-rounded idea of the environment where these characters dwell, as well as why the events taking place are so important to all those involved. The gin mills, the poor, the orphanage, Parliament, the aristocracy -- they are all interrelated in this story.

As in the first book, I loved the secondary characters. There's a set-up for the next book involving Silence and the orphaned baby Mary Darling. I loved every single mention of these two characters and the orphanage in St. Giles and can't wait for that next book and their story. The Ghost of St. Giles makes another appearance, and I'm still curious.

Notorious Pleasures ends with a bang with lots of action, love and redemption. I truly enjoyed the ending. Most of all I enjoyed the sizzling passion coming from all those flawed characters. Griffin was one of those passionate male protagonists I couldn't help but love and savored every minute he was on the page. Now I can't wait for the next installment in this series, Scandalous Desires, Book 3.

Category: Historical Romance
Series: Maiden Lane, Book 2
Publisher/Released: Vision - February 1, 2011 Kindle Edition
Grade: B+

Visit Elizabeth Hoyt here.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Review: Empire by Xochiquetzal Candelaria

Using both lyrical and narrative forms, these concise verses explore a family history set against the larger backdrop of Mexican history, immigration, and landscapes of the Southwest. The poet's delicate touch lends these poems an organic quality that allows her to address both the personal and the political with equal grace. Straightforward without being simplistic or reductive, these poems manage to be intimate without seeming self-important.

This distinctive collection ranges from the frighteningly whimsical image of Cortés dancing gleefully around a cannon to the haunting and poignant discovery of a dead refugee boy seemingly buried within the poet herself. The blending of styles works to blur the lines between subjects, creating a textured narrative full of both imagination and nuance.

Ultimately, Empire situates individual experience in the wider social context, highlighting the power of poetry as song, performance, testimony, and witness. Addressing themes such as war, family, poverty, gender, race, and migration, Candelaria gives us a dialogue between historical and personal narratives, as well as discreet "conversations" between content and form.
The beauty of Empire lies in the frankness with which Calendaria explores the complex history of a family and its past and present through poetry. It is very much a personal and intimate piece, and yet it encompasses much more by linking those personal experiences to historical events, and placing them in a political and social context.

As the gorgeous summary above explains, Xochiquetzal Candelaria uses both the narrative and lyrical forms of verse throughout her works. The book is divided in three parts and has a total of 64 pages and, yet by the end, the reader has a sense of having read much more.

In Part I of the book, the first lines of her poem Migration was the first poem to snag my attention:
"The white blue of daylight shrinks to a rip, and the geese seem to slip through but don't." 
And then later on there's a line that stayed with me:
"If I can say anything, I'll say I descended from a migrant bird." 
Two pages later I found Cortés and Cannon and was hooked. The strong imagery in this poem makes visualizing that amusing and celebratory moment more horrific by the almost tender momentary sense of connection Calendaria weaves in between Cortés and the Totonacs.

Throughout, there are works that focus on more than the history or the sociopolitical. All of Candelaria's poems are personal, but there are some that touch on deeply personal subjects that reach the reader -- at least they reached this reader.  Of those, I loved Empire #1: Five and Dime Store 1949, Empire #2: Poet, Empire #3: Marriage, and Empire #4: Mirror. I read and re-read Empire #2 - Poet at least ten times, and I know I'll read it again.

Empire is a book that I recommend highly, not for one read or even two -- take your time, think, savor and enjoy. I'll leave you with an excerpt and one complete poem.


Empire #4: Mirror

The sun's reflection in a bucket of water just before
a sparrow plunges headfirst, its thirst breaking the light into bits

Hephaestus knew this was enough. That we wouldn't like
our noses, those bumps along the chin, thin spear of hair calling us

windows, crevasses along the eyes. Why repeat them?
Did he think upon reflection we wouldn't select?

Excerpt, page 54


The Irises

Their green sepals begin like mouths, forming the word
okay, turning over at the tips to say
yes, then oh yes.
Three deep purple petals smoldering give way
to three more giving way.
Fire breaks through as a seam in the center.
These are messengers remembering that to speak
is to bloom and to bloom
is to sing and sing and sing.

About the Author: Xochiquetzal Candelaria shares her first name with the Aztec goddess of love. She was raised in San Juan Bautista, California and holds degrees from UC Berkeley and New York University and is a tenured faculty member at San Francisco City College. Her work has appeared in The Nation, New England Review, Gulf Coast, Seneca Review and other magazines, as well as the online journal, Solo Ella. She was the winner of the 2006 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize, the Louisiana Literature Prize for Poetry, and the Gulf Coast Poetry Prize. In 2009, Candelaria received an individual literature fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Category: Poetry
Series: Camino del Sol - A Latino and Latina Literary Series
Published by/Release Date: The University of Arizona Press - February 24, 2011
Source: The University of Arizona Press
Grade: A

Sunday, February 20, 2011

New Releases: March 2011

It is time to highlight a few of the new releases I'm planning to read next month! I can't believe February is almost over and March is almost here. Well, I'm actually featuring one late February release, but since I just finished the first book of the trilogy and plan to read books 2 and 3 in March, why not, right? Here they are:

Grail by Elizabeth Bear
Jacob's Ladder Trilogy (Book 3)
Release Date: February 22, 2011
Rife with intrigue and betrayal, heroism and sacrifice, Grail brings Elizabeth Bear’s brilliant space opera to a triumphant conclusion.

At last the generation ship Jacob’s Ladder has arrived at its destination: the planet they have come to call Grail. But this habitable jewel just happens to be populated already: by humans who call their home Fortune. And they are wary of sharing Fortune—especially with people who have genetically engineered themselves to such an extent that it is a matter of debate whether they are even human anymore. To make matters worse, a shocking murder aboard the Jacob’s Ladder has alerted Captain Perceval and the angel Nova that formidable enemies remain hidden somewhere among the crew.

On Grail—or Fortune, rather—Premier Danilaw views the approach of the Jacob’s Ladder with dread. Behind the diplomatic niceties of first-contact protocol, he knows that the deadly game being played is likely to erupt into full-blown war—even civil war. For as he strives to chart a peaceful and prosperous path forward for his people, internal threats emerge to take control by any means necessary.
Okay, I just finished Dust, Book 1 in the Jacob's Ladder space opera trilogy by Elizabeth Bear and am totally hooked! I'm reading Chill next and have GOT to find out what happens to the Jacobites when they get to Grail. This book is going to be a definite read for me during the month of March.

A Lesson in Secrets (A Masie Dobbs Novel) by Jacqueline Winspear
Release Date: March 22, 2011
It's the summer of 1932 and Maisie Dobbs has been wondering lately whether she is descending into the doldrums. Those bracing fears are jolted away when she receives an official request to begin undercover work probe activities "not in the interests of His Majesty's Government." After accepting a position as a junior lecturer in the Cambridge philosophy department, she begins observing as students and faculty members vie for political dominance. Matters reach a flash point, however, when her college's controversial pacifist founder and principal is murdered. As officials fumble on with their investigation, Maisie focuses on the Nazis in her midst. A breakthrough book for an award-winning British author whose popularity has grown steadily with each new release.
Besides fantasy and science fiction, I seem to be in the mood for mysteries! This series is set in the UK during the post World War I era, and it looks really interesting. I'm picking up the new release first (this is the 8th book in the series), and if I like it, I'll get the backlist. I DO love the cover, don't you?

It Happened One Season Anthology
Release Date: March 29, 2011
We asked our readers what story they would most like to see from four bestselling authors. They responded . . .

A handsome hero returns from war, battle-scarred and world-weary. But family duty calls and he must find a bride.

A young lady facing yet another season without a suitor never expects to find herself the object of his affections.

It Happened One Season

Four amazing talents: Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, Jacquie D'Alessandro, and Candice Hern have come together to create one of the most unforgettable events of the year. The results are spectacular—each story is as unique as a lover's first kiss.
Ohhh, and I've been waiting for this book for a long time! Did you see that first line? We asked our readers... ? Well, they did! They asked readers to choose a story and the authors would write the romance. Our own blogger friend Phyl from Phyl's Quilts and Books, a Balogh fan, won that contest! I was very excited for her and am really looking forward to reading all of these stories, particularly the Balogh. :D

Children of Scarabaeus (Scarabaeus, Book 2) by Sara Creasy
Release Date: March 29, 2011

The crib is everywhere . . .

Edie Sha'nim believes she and her bodyguard lover, Finn, could find refuge from the tyranny of the Crib empire by fleeing to the Fringe worlds. But Edie's extraordinary cypherteck ability to manipulate the ecology of evolving planets makes her far too valuable for the empire to lose. Recaptured and forced to cooperate—or else she will watch Finn die—Edie is shocked to discover the Crib's new breed of cypherteck: children. She cannot stand by while the oppressors enslave the innocent, nor can she resist the lure of Scarabaeus, the first world she tried to save, when researchers discover what appears to be an evolving intelligence.

But escape—for Edie, for Finn, and for the exploited young—will require the ultimate sacrifice . . . and a shocking act of rebellion.
Children of Scarabaeus is the conclusion to the story that began with Song of Scarabaeous, a science fiction romance book I read and reviewed this month. The first book was highly enjoyable and I can't wait to find out what happens to Edie and Finn in this second book!

The Sweetest Thing (Lucky Harbor, Book 2) by Jill Shalvis
Release Date: March 29, 2011

Two Men Are One Too Many . . .

Tara has a thousand good reasons not to return to the little coastal town of Lucky Harbor, Washington. Yet with her life doing a major crash-and-burn, anywhere away from her unfulfilled dreams and sexy ex-husband will do. As Tara helps her two sisters get their newly renovated inn up and running, she finally has a chance to get things under control and come up with a new plan for her life.

But a certain tanned, green-eyed sailor has his own ideas, such as keeping Tara hot, bothered . . . and in his bed. And when her ex wants Tara back, three is a crowd she can't control-especially when her deepest secret reappears out of the blue. Now Tara must confront her past and discover what she really wants. If she's lucky, she might just find that everything her heart desires is right here in Lucky Harbor.
And last, but certainly not least, I finally, finally, read Simply Irresistible by Jill Shalvis. The first book in the Lucky Harbor series about three very different sisters who end up in a small town, and really enjoyed it! The Sweetest Thing is the second book and I have a feeling I'll be enjoying it just as much, if not more, than the first one.

I'll definitely be reading other new releases, and I might add more later if something else catches my eye! How about you? Anything you absolutely have to read in March?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 14, 2011

Review: Absolutely, Positively (Lucy Valentine, Book 3) by Heather Webber

“Exposed” by a Boston Herald reporter, Lucy is suddenly the talk of the town. Long back-story short: Even though the rest of her Valentine ancestors were blessed by Cupid with psychic abilities, Lucy’s only special power lies in her ability to find things. This skill has proven quite a blessing for those who come to her matchmaking agency in search of finding their long-lost loves. Now that Lucy’s secret is out, she has more new clients than she knows what to do with. But soon a certain man of mystery steals Lucy’s spotlight…

No, it’s not Sean Donahue, the sexy fireman-turned-private-eye who’s stolen Lucy’s heart. It’s a masked man in a cowboy hat, dubbed “The Lone Ranger,” who’s been throwing handfuls of cash across the Common. Now all of Beantown’s abuzz. Can Lucy unmask the mysterious money man, track down all her clients’ old flames, and turn up the heat on her love life? Absolutely, positively…
In Absolutely, Positively, Heather Webber again throws Lucy Valentine into quite a few different adventures. In this book, together with her sexy PI boyfriend Sean Donahue, she investigates one disappearance and one lost love. Of course, she's also curious about the identity of The Lone Ranger, a masked man who's throwing cash around -- literally -- across the Common. And, her personal life is further complicated by friends and changes in the family structure.

Webber took it up a notch with this book. Absolutely. There is a sense of real danger to the lost love story that gives it a sense of excitement. It stops having the awww... factor, when it becomes apparent that it involves ex-foster parents, troubled youngsters, an ex-con, the FBI and a murder. This is also true of the case involving the disappearance of an old artist. A case that turns out to have an interesting, if convoluted, happy ending.

I really like the way Webber is developing Lucy and Sean's relationship. They continue to work on it in Absolutely, Positively and yes, it does go forward with sexy, joyful and scary moments. If only they didn't have so many interruptions! Sean is just lovely and I like the way Lucy thinks. The secondary characters truly make this series what it is by providing the snappy dialogue and showcasing Lucy's personality in other venues besides the obvious.

This series is just getting better, and so far Absolutely, Positively is definitely my favorite. These are light, fun mysteries full of wonderful characters, dialogue and situations. I recommend that the books be read in order to enjoy the progression in the relationship between Lucy, Sean and the rest of the crew.

Genre: Contemporary Mystery/Paranormal Elements
Series: Lucy Valentine, #3
Release Date: February 1, 2011
Grade: B+

Visit Heather Webber here.

Truly, Madly, Book 1
Deeply, Desperately, Book 2
Absolutely, Positively, Book 3

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Poetry: John Donne - The Good-Morrow

John Donne
January 21, 1572 - March 31, 1631

John Donne was an English poet, priest and a major representative of the Elizabethan era's metaphysical poets. He left behind a large body of works known for their sensual and realistic style. They include sonnets, religious poems, love poetry, epigrams, elegies, songs, satires, Latin translations and sermons.

Among his works are the much admired Divine Poems which include the Holy Sonnets. As a matter of fact I've featured the last lines of Holy Sonnets No. 14 at the very bottom of my blog for a while now as it is a favorite line. Here it is:
"Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me."
However, apart from the religious, as mentioned above Donne also left behind sensual, erotic works and yes... some love poetry that I enjoy as well. Among these other works are his Marriage Songs or Epithalamions. Of those, today I'll recommend reading the very appropriate An Epithalamion, Or Marriage Song on The Lady Elizabeth and Count Palatine Being Married on St. Valentine's Day.

From his elegies, Elegy XIX: To His Mistress Going to Bed is one of his most erotic pieces. His use of metaphors and subject matter in this elegy have been analyzed often, as well as highly criticized throughout the centuries. I could and would do a post on this elegy but today is not that time. There is just so much to discuss: the use of imperatives, the mistress and the lover, the metaphors, allusions to religion and sex in the same piece during Elizabethan times, etc., but for now just read lines 25 - 32 for a taste of this elegy.

"License my roving hands, and let them go,
Behind, before, above, between, below.

O my America! my new-found-land,
my kingdom, safeliest when with one man man'd,
My mine of precious stone: my emperie,
How blest am I in this discovering thee!
To enter in these bonds, is to be free;
Then where my hand is set, my seal shall be.

Having given you a taste of the religious and the erotic, it is time for some romance. Donne also wrote love poetry. Tomorrow is Valentine's Day and since I've been reading different types of poetry or poetry-related essays lately, today I would like to leave you with a beautiful Elizabethan love poem by John Donne, The Good-Morrow. Enjoy!


The Good-Morrow

I WONDER by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved ? were we not wean'd till then?
But suck'd on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers' den?
'Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be;
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, 'twas but a dream of thee.

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone;
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown;
Let us possess one world; each hath one, and is one.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemispheres
Without sharp north, without declining west?
Whatever dies, was not mix'd equally;
If our two loves be one, or thou and I
Love so alike that none can slacken, none can die.

by John Donne


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Retro-Review: Angel's Pawn (Hunters Guild, Prequel) by Nalini Singh

Angel's Pawn by Nalini Singh is an e-book and a novella, so it's not too long and a fast read. It's actually called a "companion book" to Angel's Blood. As a companion book, I think it works well. The story works by giving the reader the starting blocks to the Hunters Guild world without giving away too many details -- the ones Singh really gets into in Angel's Blood.

I read Angel's Blood first, so I was already familiar with its main character. The two main characters are Ashblade or Ashwini, a Guilt Hunter, and Janvier or The Cajun, a Vampire, as he is referred to in most of the book. These two characters share a history and some serious chemistry. However, there's not a "conclusion" to their relationship in this novella. My hope is that their will continue to be developed throughout the series because I really loved both of these characters, and unlike Elena -- whom I really liked, but took me a while to embrace -- I liked Ashwini from page one. There's a lot we still need to learn about this character and I'm very curious about her. Janvier is too charming for words and I'm definitely rooting for him.

You'll also meet a mid-level angel in this novella, Nazrach, who rules the Atlanta territory and who's having problems with two different factions of Vampires trying to take control from each other. An old family that has been ruling for centuries and a new, ambitious Vampire who wants to take over. Although the Vampires have autonomy when it comes to their own businesses, etc... they have to ensure that they don't ultimately challenge the Angel who rules them in any way.

The conflict here involves all factions -- Nazrach, the Angel, the Beaumonts, an old Vampire family and Callan, a new and ambitious Vampire trying to take over. Ashwini and Janvier come in to help resolve the problem and in the process make more enemies than friends. They also learn to see each other in a whole new light and gain an appreciation for each other that they didn't have before.

I read this prequel second and Angel's Blood first, so I was already familiar with the worldbuilding. I wonder how it would be to read this novella first? Either way, it's a good one and I personally loved it!

Category: Urban Fantasy/Romance
Series: Guild Hunters Prequel
Released: March 3, 2009 - Kindle Edition
Grade: A

Visit Nalini Singh here.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Featuring SFR Review: Song of Scarabaeus (Book 1) by Sara Creasy

Trained since childhood in advanced biocyph seed technology by the all-powerful Crib empire, Edie's mission is to terraform alien worlds while her masters bleed the outlawed Fringe populations dry. When renegade mercenaries kidnap Edie, she's not entirely sure it's a bad thing . . . until they leash her to a bodyguard, Finn—a former freedom fighter-turned-slave, beaten down but never broken. If Edie strays from Finn's side, he dies. If she doesn't cooperate, the pirates will kill them both. But Edie's abilities far surpass anything her enemies imagine. And now, with Finn as her only ally as the merciless Crib closes in, she'll have to prove it or die on the site of her only failure . . . a world called Scarabaeus.
Song for Scarabaeus is Sara Creasy's debut novel and the first of two books that follows the exciting space adventures of cypherteck Edie and her bodyguard Finn. I love the "kick-ass Captain" as the female protagonist just as much as the next reader, but that's not Edie. No, Edie is a geek and I loved that about her. Now, don't think that because she's technologically brilliant Edie doesn't kick ass. Technologically speaking, she does.

Edie is a half-breed and she grew up as an outcast in the backwater planet Talas. At age 10 she was picked up by the Crib for what they saw as her potential abilities to work with biocyph (biological and cypher technology). By way of computer chips implanted in her brain and body parts, Edie is able to program and decipher complex computer (dry teck) and biological (wet teck) technologies.  Her abilities are rare and valued throughout the universe and she's kept under wraps and well guarded by the Crib. But rovers (space pirates) kidnap her with the aid of serfs who have been promised freedom in return. Finn is one of those serfs.

Finn's serf or slave status doesn't change when they reach the rover's ship, the Hoi-Polloi. The rovers place a boundary chip or leash on him that ties him to Edie. In other words, he can't stray away from her or the explosives implanted on his brain kill him instantly. Also if she dies... he dies, so he has no choice but to guard her with his life, as they are both forced to carry on with the rovers' mission. The mission takes them on to Scarabaeus, a planet that the Crib attempted to terraform years earlier and Edie's secret obsession.

Song of Scarabaeus is not heavy sci-fi. Instead it's an engaging, well-written story with the main focus on those sci-fi details and a touch of romance. I enjoyed Ms. Creasy's sci-fi world building including the space terms that differ a bit from others I've read, but are easy to follow. The action and pacing are excellent. The story begins with action, slows down to build on the plot and picks up to an action-packed finish. I was never distracted from the story and finished the book in two sittings. Some of my favorite scenes take place on the planet, Scarabaeus. There are creepy, eerie as well as action-packed and intense moments. There's nothing like space creepy-crawlies to light my fire when I'm reading sci-fi, lol!

The plot is quite interesting with the overall storyarc detailing how the powerful Crib empire creates a monopoly out of terraforming new planets, populating them and then enslaving Fringe worlds through their dependency on technology. Yet, there are many grey areas presented by the author through Edie's own personal conflicts about the different entities involved, the technology itself and how it's used, as well as characters introduced. Are they good or evil, or are they a bit of both depending on their agenda?

The characterization is well done, especially for a first book where some characters are highlighted more than others. Edie is well developed and a thoroughly likable character. Although not a physical threat, Edie uses her technical abilities, but better than that she also makes great use of instincts by exhibiting good insight and judgment. I love her humanity and the way she chooses to become independent and to go against the odds to achieve her goal. Enough is revealed about Finn for this story's purposes, but he is still a mystery by the end. He's definitely the most intriguing character so far. The other secondary characters are interesting for their "grey" areas with some better drawn than others.

There is a touch of romance and I enjoyed the way that developed. It's not too fast or too blatant, instead the emotional connection and building chemistry between the characters seems like a natural progression. As it turns out, there is a cliffhanger at the end of this book and those usually bother me. However although you can tell there's a continuation coming, the story is not cut off at an awkward moment and it ends well enough. Having said that, I'm glad I don't have to wait long to read the next book, Children of Scarabaeus, Book 2.

The best recommendation I can give Song of Scarabaeus? I couldn't stop reading the book and couldn't wait to finish it. I recommend it to readers who love sci-fi and sci-fi/romance. I think this is an excellent debut novel for Ms. Creasy and will definitely look for her books in the future.

Sci-Fi Romance
February Read
Category: Science Fiction/Romance
Series: Scarabaeous
Published: Harper Collins; April 27, 2010-Kindle Edition
Grade: B

Song of Scarabaeus, Book 1
Children of Scarabaeus, Book 2 - Releasing March 29, 2011

Visit Sara Creasy here.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

January 2011 Reads & Minis

January began as a slow reading and blogging month for me. I'm still getting used to my new working schedule, but somehow it seems as if somewhere along the way I found time to read (and blog). I think the weather and all those snow days helped! As a matter of fact I'm home right now due to a huge ice storm that hit our area in the Northeast. Brrrr..... I hope you're all safe and cozy at home too.

Here's my recap:

Total books read: 11
Contemporary Romance: 1
Contemporary Romance Suspense: 1
Contemporary Mysteries: 2
Historical Romance: 2
Fantasy: 1
Urban Fantasy: 2
Science Fiction/Romance: 1
Anthology (17 short stories - mixed genres): 1

1. Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie was my favorite book of the month. It worked for me on all levels, the story, characters, romance, atmosphere and execution. I will continue to read Crusie's backlist and I hope to enjoy the rest of her books as much as I loved Bet Me and Welcome to Temptation. (That might be a bit much to expect, I know!). Grade: A

2. Passions of a Wicked Earl by Lorraine Heath was a highly enjoyable historical romance with excellent characters. I loved that Heath used standard devices and made them work in this book. I loved both the male and female protagonists, as well as the majority of the secondary characters. I liked it so much, I read the second book, Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman, immediately after finishing this one. Grade: B+

3. Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman by Lorraine Heath: B+
(Upcoming Review)

4. In the Bleak Midwinter (Fergusson & Van Alystyne, Book 1) by Julia Spencer-Fleming. I decided to check out this series after Orannia recommended it here on my blog. I've been wanting to get back to mysteries for a while and after reading the summary for this first book I was hooked. It was a good decision. The central character Rev. Clare Fergusson is unique, plus I enjoyed the "updated" cozy mystery style. There's also room there for some interesting future development in that series. I have quite a few books to read, but I have a feeling I'll be catching up fast. Grade: B+

5. The Sea Thy Mistress (The Edda of Burdens, Book 3) by Elizabeth Bear was the ending to the trilogy that began with All the Windwracked Stars. Boy, did I ever love that book! This was a solid, solid ending to the trilogy and not a disappointment. I liked the way Bear joined the story lines from Books 1 and 2 and the way she again picked up the cyberpunk style and maintained the atmosphere established on that first book. I enjoy her subtle (and not so subtle) touches when exploring the dark and the erotic. Grade: B

6. Song of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy - I belong to the Goodreads Sci-Fi Romance group. Song of Scarabaeus was chosen as the February Book of the Month and after reading the summary, I just had to read it. I finished that book in two sittings! (Upcoming Review) Grade: B

7. Deeply, Desperately (Lucy Valentine, Book 2) by Heather Webber - I think I've said enough about Lucy Valentine for now. These are favorite books when I feel like reading something light and fun. I enjoyed this book and am enjoying this series quite a bit and will be picking up the next installment, Absolutely, Positively soon! Grade: B

8. Songs of Love and Death: All Original Stories of Star-Crossed Lovers by Gardner R. Dozoir: Grade B-
(Upcoming Review)

9. The Homecoming by JoAnn Ross is a small-town romance suspense. I enjoyed the family and small town atmosphere, but the lack of real emphasis on the romance or the suspense made it an average read for me. However, I enjoyed the Ross' writing style and look forward to reading something from her backlist and hopefully her next new release. Grade: C

10. Dreamfever (Fever Series, Book 4) by Karen Marie Moning was a book I waited to read (patiently) for a whole year. I read it the week before Shadowfever released and it paid off as all the details were fresh in my mind. Dreamfever moved the overall storyarc along and I liked that. The repetitiveness found in the previous book is kept to a minimum and that, plus the movement in the story line are huge improvements in my opinion. Details about the main characters, motives and pasts, (Barrons, V'lane and Mac) are still scarce, but there's enough provided to give readers some idea as to upcoming revelations. I had problems with overused devices, lack of real emotional connection between the characters, and being left in the middle of a scene in another huge and unnecessary cliffhanger. Overall the book balanced into an average read for me. Grade: C

11. Shadowfever (Fever Series, Book 5) by Karen Marie Moning is a book that I looked forward to reading since I read that first one, as the end of the Fever series. Especially as it's written by a long-time favorite writer. Unfortunately, although this series began as a favorite, it didn't end that way for me. Grade: D

That's it for January. In the end I'm quite happy with the mixture of genres read and with few exceptions it turned out to be a solid reading month. There are two books I began reading in January and am still reading. They are  El Hombre que Amaba los Perros by Leonardo Padura and Blood and Iron by Elizabeth Bear. Both books are interesting but long and involved, and with my crazy schedule I kept putting them aside to read books that didn't require as much attention. I'll be listing them with my February reads.