Sunday, March 20, 2011

Review: Saddled and Spurred (Blacktop Cowboys, Book 2) by Lorelei James

Saddled and Spurred by Lorelei James is the second installment in her Blacktop Cowboys series. The story focuses on local Wyoming cowboy and rancher Bran Turner, and down and out beauty queen Harper Masterson. He desperately needs a ranch hand and she desperately needs a job. She has no experience as a ranch hand, he hires her and the fun begins!

Bran met Harper when she blew into town with her mother and sister. He has lusted after her from day one, but for some unknown reason her gorgeous looks always intimidated him and he's always admired her from afar. Harper's mother was a slut who ran out of town with someone else's husband and left Harper holding more than one bag.  Harper's an ex-beauty queen whose lot in life seems to be taking care of others first. She works two and three jobs to take care of herself and her younger sister who's about to graduate and go to college. Taking a job as a ranch hand is no big deal to her, and working for a stud like Bran is no hardship either.

There's lots of story telling and sexual tension before Bran and Harper finally get together and James' signature erotic scenes begin. The storytelling is quite good and includes a large cast of secondary characters that complement this story. I like the fact that this couple spends time together and considers consequences first instead of jumping into a 'blinded-by-lust' relationship right off the bat.

Both Harper and Bran are portrayed as extremely likable characters. Unfortunately, I was a bit underwhelmed by Bran's character development as the real reasons behind his insecurities and trust issues were not clearly defined. Harper is a bit of a contradiction: feisty, sexy and sassy with Bran, and weakly (obliviously?) blind about her sister and herself until the very end.

This is an erotic romance and this is Lorelei James, so let's talk about the hotness in this book! You know I enjoyed that part of Saddled and Spurred. There are no threesomes in this story. Instead, Bran and Harper embark on a sexual adventure as they explore never-before experienced fantasies together. James takes her time by using sexual tension as a build up to the erotic scenes, so that when they do come along they just get better and better. Do not expect some of James' more extreme scenes, but believe me this couple is hot on and off the sheets with all that built-up tension working in their favor.

I'm definitely looking forward to reading the next installment in this series, Abe's story, Wrangled and Tangled.

Category: Contemporary Erotic Romance
Series: Blacktop Cowboys, Book 2
Publisher/Released: Penguin Publishing, March 1, 2011 - Kindle Edition
Grade: B-

Visit Lorelei James here

Corralled, Book 1
Saddled and Spurred, Book 2

Friday, March 18, 2011

New Releases: April 2011

It is time to highlight some of the upcoming book releases that I'm looking forward to reading in April. I've only chosen four this time; a mystery, a western historical romance, a contemporary woman's fiction/romance, and a contemporary romance. I'm looking forward to reading all of them.

The American Café (A Sadie Walela Mystery, Book 2) by Sara Sue Hoklottube
Releases: April 1, 2011
When Sadie Walela decided to pursue her childhood dream of owning a restaurant, she had no idea that murder would be on the menu.

In this second book in the Sadie Walela series, our Indian Country heroine follows in the footsteps of her great-aunt Vera and discovers life as an entrepreneur is not easy. On her first day she is threatened by Pearl Mobley, the town's resident crazy woman, and then Goldie Ray—the former owner of the American Café—turns up dead and Pearl confesses to the crime before killing herself, leaving too many unanswered questions.

Depending on the intuition and perseverance drawn from her Cherokee ancestry, Sadie sets out to get the answers. She reunites with an old friend, Lance Smith, who has just been hired as second in command on a two-man police force. Sadie and Lance—together with an unlikely cast of characters, including a mysterious Creek Indian named Red who always seems to be underfoot, the police chief whose radio handle is Deputy Dawg, Pearl's angry Marine son just home from Iraq, and Goldie's grieving sister and alcoholic niece—all come together to create a multilayered story of denial and deceit.

Uncovering motives like stories of rape, a stolen baby, and under-the table adoption, Sadie strives to untangle old relationships and family secrets, eventually discovering she is untangling far more than a murder.
This looks really interesting, doesn't it? I'm still in the mood for mysteries and The American Café from the Arizona University Press catalogue caught my attention as soon I saw it. I like the different setting and characters, plus the story looks meaty enough for me.

Texas Blue (Whispering Mountain) by Jodi Thomas
Releases: April 5, 2011
Gambling man Lewton Paterson wants to marry into a respectable family. After fleecing a train ticket, Lewt makes his way to Whispering Mountain. But seducing a well-bred woman is hard, and Lewt realizes that to entice a McMurray sister, he'll need to learn a thing or two about ranching-and love.
I have a few books from this series in my pile of books to read, and others in my list of books to buy, but for some reason this book caught my eye and I'll probably read it first!

As a change of pace Jodi Thomas and a western romance might be the best way to get me in the mood to read western historicals again. :)

Slow Dancing on Price's Pier by Lisa Dale
Releases: April 6, 2011
A family learns that time can erase mistakes when the heart remains true- from a refreshing new storyteller.

Fifteen years ago, Garret Sorensen's family, trust, and heart were destroyed when Thea Celik betrayed him and married his brother. Now they are divorcing. Garret's ready to finally mend his relationship with his brother. But being back in Newport, Rhode Island, triggers a lot of memories-all leading back to Thea.

Thea's not ready to let go of the Sorensens-even if it means being around Garret. As they cautiously circle around each other-finding themselves drawn together-they realize following their hearts could cast them adrift.
Oh and I've been waiting for Slow Dancing on Price's Pier for over a year! As soon as I read the book summary I wanted to see how she tackles this story line. I enjoyed Ms. Dale's first two books, really like her writing, and the way she combines women's fiction and romance. This is one book I'll definitely read as soon as it releases.

Any Man of Mine (Chinooks Hockey Team, #6) by Rachel Gibson
Releases: April 26, 2011

Autumn Haven's Las Vegas "to-do" list said to catch a show and play the slots—not wake up married to a sexy jerk like Sam Leclaire. The first moment she saw him eyeing her like a luscious piece of the dessert buffet, her usually responsible self told her run. And she did—right into the wildest fantasy weekend of her life. But Monday morning jolted her back to reality and before she could say "pass the coffee" Sam was gone.

Now a successful wedding planner, Autumn hasn't clapped eyes on the heart-breaking hockey superstar for over two years... until she organizes his teammate's "Special Day," where Sam makes a BIG play to pick up where he left off! But she has vowed any man of hers plays for keeps. Is Sam the man for her or does she banish him to the sin bin forever?
I loved See Jane Score! So, how could I pass up reading this book? I couldn't. There's always room for a good sports contemporary romance in my reading schedule.

Well, these are my highlights for the month. What books are you looking forward to reading in April?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Review: The Perfect Family by Kathryn Shay

I first saw this book featured at I Just Finished Reading..., Lori wrote a gorgeous review that I first missed and read later on. Once I read it though, I wanted to pick up this book immediately. Well, she was right and I'm glad I DID pick it up. This was my top read for the month of February and one I can't recommend enough. Thanks, Lori!

What happens to the "perfect family" when the future suddenly changes in the most unexpected way?

Seventeen-year old Jamie Davidson doesn't think being gay should be such a big deal...until he comes out to his parents and friends. Even as Jamie celebrates no longer needing to hide his true self and looks forward to the excitement of openly dating another boy, the entire Davidson family is thrown into turmoil. Jamie's father Mike can't reconcile his religious beliefs with his son's sexuality. His brother Brian is harassed by his jock buddies and angry at Jamie for complicating all their lives. Maggie, his mother, fears being able to protect her son while struggling to save her crumbling marriage. And Jamie feels guilty for the unhappiness his disclosure has caused. Every member of their “perfect family” must search their hearts and souls to reconnect with each other in this honest, heartwarming, and hopeful look at the redemptive power of love and family.
The Perfect Family by Kathryn Shay is a contemporary family story about the struggle a family goes through while coming to terms with their seventeen year-old son Jamie's sexuality after he discloses that he is gay.

Mike and Maggie Davidson have, what many would consider, the "perfect family." They love each other and their sons, athletic eighteen year-old Brian and artistic seventeen year-old Jamie. Both are excellent young men, well-liked, doing well in school, and getting ready for college. As Mike says at the beginning of the book, they "have so much to be thankful for." However soon after Mike makes this statement young Jamie finally reveals to his family that he is gay and the struggles begin.

Mike, Jamie's father, is a religious man and has always felt the comfort and reassurance that participating in his community church give him on a personal level. Reconciling what his religion dictates, faith (two different things as presented by Ms. Shay), and the fact that his son is gay summarizes Mike's personal struggle. Then we have Brian, a young man who is torn between loving his brother and best friend, peer pressure, and religious beliefs reinforced by his father.

Finally, we have Maggie whose family was torn apart while growing up because of the church. Maggie not only fights for Jamie, but her already negative feelings about the church place her in a precarious position with her husband Mike. On top of that, Maggie must take her son Brian's feelings on the subject into consideration. There's a danger that their family might split apart. Can she find an alternative and keep her family intact? That's her struggle right there.

But of course the family is not only affected by their internal struggles, they also have to deal with external pressures: school, neighbors, family members, church officials and friends affect the Davidsons, making this a well-rounded story as the family experiences disappointments and finds support from the most unlikely of places. Shay balances out the Davidson's issues by showing how different families react to the same situation. She highlights a different side of the story by featuring how Jamie's boyfriend Luke and his family deal with his coming out to family and friends.

The Perfect Family is narrated in the third person perspective, so although the story begins with Jamie's coming out to his family, Shay gives each family member a voice and explores their thoughts and feelings about this subject. As a result the characters are well-drawn, realistic and believable as are the circumstances surrounding them. I personally couldn't stop thinking about them for days after finishing the book.

Kathryn Shay approaches this story from personal experience, although she stresses in the Author's Note that the story is not autobiographical. However, she also points out in the same section that some events that occurred during her own son's coming out experience are used as a base to tell Jamie's story. It is perhaps the author's personal experience, combined with her writing talents, that make the characters and circumstances in this book feel so real and unforgettable.

The Perfect Family is a well-paced and well-written, engaging read. I became so invested in the characters that I didn't want to stop reading until I finished the book. I was impressed with the direct way in which Shay approaches and discusses important subjects; from differing psychological and religious views on homosexuality, to suicide in gay teens, to religious and community based venues that provide support and can be accessed by teens and families. Yet all these subjects are made very "personal" in a way that makes this an entertaining and educational read at the same time.

I see this book as a must read for families whether their teens are coming out or not. Specifically recommended to those who just want to be aware or are interested and want to know how to be of help to that friend or neighbor. Highly recommended to all.

Genre: LGBT Contemporary Fiction/YA
Series: None
Released: Bold Strokes Books - September 14, 2010
Grade: A

Visit Kathryn Shay here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Review: Song of Seduction by Carrie Lofty

Tormented by guilt. Haunted by scandal. Freed by love.

Austria, 1804

Eight years ago, composer Arie De Voss claimed his late mentor's final symphony as his own and became an icon. But fame has a price: fear of discovery now poisons his attempts to compose a redemptive masterpiece. Until a new muse appears, intoxicating and inspiring him...

Mathilda Heidel renounced her own musical gift to marry, seeking a quiet life to escape the shame surrounding her birth. Sudden widowhood finds her tempted by song once more. An unexpected introduction to her idol, Arie De Voss, renews Mathilda's passion for the violin—and ignites a passion for the man himself.

But when lust and lies reach a crescendo, Arie will be forced to choose: love or truth?
What is there not to love about Song of Seduction by Carrie Lofty? There's love, passion, angst, a different and gorgeous setting, excellent historical details and beautiful writing to top it all off.

In Song of Seduction, Lofty weaves a story where both main characters are flawed and in need of redemption and/or forgiveness in one way or another. They need to be accepted and loved as they are, for whom they are and forgiven for past injuries to others. I've always thought that flawed characters provide a writer with a greater opportunity of digging deeper into them, not just into their past histories but even down into their very souls to make them truly three-dimensional and believable. Carrie Lofty achieves this brilliantly in Song of Seduction.

It's 1804 and winter in Salzburg, Austria. Renowned musician and composer Arie De Voss arrives in the city looking for a patron and hopefully some students so he can continue to write his latest masterpiece. That's how he ends up at Lord Venner's home as the entertainment for the evening. Arie is best known for his first symphony, Love and Freedom, a composition that we almost immediately discover, he stole from his dying music master. He is obviously tormented with guilt and self-disgust over his past actions and not willing or able to enjoy the fame that music has brought him.

Arie is socially inept, rude and sarcastic to say the least, and hates and resents having to perform his music in these types of venues. To him these public performances are a necessary evil. Drinking before the performance is the only way he sees himself enduring an evening at the Venners. The only interesting part of the evening turns out to be his introduction to Mathilda Heidel, a widow and close friend of the Venners.

Mathilda first heard De Voss play Love and Freedom when she was sixteen years old and his symphony inspired more than just her inner musician to play the violin. There's hero-worship there on her part, and through the years he's played a central role in her personal fantasies. Tilda is young and alone except for the Venners, who took her into their household after her husband died.

She gave up playing the violin, repressing the inner musician after deciding to marry and lead the life of a doctor's wife. At first when her friend Lady Venner suggests that she should take violin lessons with De Voss, Tilda is reluctant, but after hearing his performance that night she's again inspired and agrees. At first Arie thinks that Mathilda is not really a musician, and just wants an excuse for a seduction. Instead to his complete amazement she turns out to be brilliant both as a violin player and as a composer.

The story has a slow beginning and Lofty takes her time with character development, but believe me it picks up and then it's worth every reading minute. Arie and Tilda don't fall into each other's arms immediately. The music is an important part of their initial relationship, however it creates an intimacy that helps the development of deeper and meaningful feelings on both sides. I love that the characters, especially Tilda, react and behave exactly how I would expect people from that time period to react and behave. As a result, Mathilda's conflicts felt real for a woman that lived in 1804 under her particular circumstances.

The love scenes between Arie and Mathilda are intense and passionate with a capital P. There's a sense of freedom and eroticism in them that I just didn't expect to find in this book, but then... I didn't expect to find the rest either. The love scenes reflect Arie and Mathilda's feelings for each other, as well as the intensity of their musicians' souls -- Lofty conveys this beautifully. Their love and romance is also well done as both Mathilda and Arie learn to love and accept each other as they are with all their foibles and past sins.

The writing is gorgeous too. Not only can this couple’s passion, torment and guilt be deeply felt, but in addition the music can almost be heard coming off the pages as Lofty describes Ari playing the piano and Mathilda the violin. The setting and time period are also so well conveyed that I was transported to the city of Salzburg in 1804, and the historical details and personages are there in spades as well for those readers who enjoy them.

Song of Seduction is a complete historical romance. Despite the slow beginning it has it all, from love and a romance riddled with conflict between compelling characters, to character depth and historical details in a beautiful setting, to excellent writing. I couldn't ask for more.

Category: Historical Romance
Series: Followed by Portrait of Seduction
Publisher/Release: Carina Press - June 7, 2010
Source: I won this book at a Desert Island Keepers book blog giveaway.
Grade: A-

Visit Carrie Lofty here.

Song of Seduction
Portrait of Seduction - May 2, 2011

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Review: Simply Irresistible (Lucky Harbor, Book 1) by Jill Shalvis

Maddie Moore's whole life needs a makeover.

In one fell swoop, Maddie loses her boyfriend (her decision) and her job (so not her decision). But rather than drowning her sorrows in bags of potato chips, Maddie leaves L.A. to claim the inheritance left by her free-spirited mother-a ramshackle inn nestled in the little coastal town of Lucky Harbor, Washington.

Starting over won't be easy. Yet Maddie sees the potential for a new home and a new career-if only she can convince her two half-sisters to join her in the adventure. But convincing Tara and Chloe will be difficult because the inn needs a big makeover too.

The contractor Maddie hires is a tall, dark-haired hottie whose eyes-and mouth-are making it hard for her to remember that she's sworn off men. Even harder will be Maddie's struggles to overcome the past, though she's about to discover that there's no better place to call home than Lucky Harbor.
I waited long enough to read Simple Irresistible, Lucky Harbor, Book 1 by Jill Shalvis, why? I should have known better, since Shalvis is one of my favorite category romance writers at the moment.

Maddie Maddox and her two half-sisters, Tara and Chloe, inherit an inn in Lucky Harbor, a small town in Washington State. After losing her job and her jerkwad boyfriend, Maddie decides to give up on men and leaves L.A. She hopes to run the inn and to make a new life for herself in Lucky Harbor. There are, however, obstacles to her plan: she must convince two half-sisters she barely knows to let her stay, fix up an inn that is badly in need of repair, and Maddie, who's suffering from low self-esteem, must find the courage to do it all.

Jax and Maddie meet right off the bat when Maddie comes to town in a first scene that I absolutely adored -- I mean... Maddie couldn't be more adorable or Jax hotter! Needless to say soon after that, there's an attraction between the two and they are drawn to each other. Jax or Jackson Cullen seems to be a jack-of-all trades in Lucky Harbor, but most importantly, he's the contractor the sisters hire to renovate Lucky Harbor Resort. There's sexual pull between this couple from the beginning and the chemistry continues throughout the story. Shalvis tops all that sizzle by mixing those hot, sexy moments with amusing dialogue and humorous scenes. I personally loved the combination.

Jax and Maddie do have some serious personal issues to resolve before they get to that happily ever after. This is where I had a slight problem with the book where I found that the characterization was slightly unbalanced. We get an in-depth look into Maddie's life, troubles, motivations and the reasoning behind her decisions. There's character depth and growth for her... even though some of Maddie's characteristics were frustrating for me personally. When it comes to Jax, well... I really liked him and his outward persona, plus I loved the way he understood and encouraged Maddie toward personal growth. However, I feel that although his serious issues were addressed to a certain extent, we didn't really get an in-depth look into the past relationships that shaped him and I was left waiting for more.

The three sisters have nicknames and Maddie is the "mouse" for good reason. She is the middle sister who constantly negotiates peace between her two strong, feisty sisters, and yet can't seem to find the courage to stand up for herself. These three women have their mother in common but not much else, and it's lovely to see Maddy fighting to forge a relationship with them, as well as to make a future at the Lucky Harbor Inn. As secondary characters I loved the sisters, Tara and Chloe -- their secrets and fights made this an entertaining read. Ford, Jax' best friend, was a hoot and I loved him too!

In summary, I think that Simply Irresistible was a solid contemporary romance with lots of spark and sizzle, Shalvis style. I loved that although there were strong secondary characters, the story maintained its focus firmly on the main couple, making this a true contemporary romance. The main characters were likable, and although the in-depth characterization was slightly unbalanced in my opinion, this did not detract from making Simply Irresistible a solid romance read. The secondary characters were a big asset and perfect for setting up future installments in this series, and I'm really looking forward to reading Ford and Tara's romance in the next book, The Sweetest Thing.

Category: Contemporary Romance
Series: Lucky Harbor, Book 1
Publisher/Released: Forever, October 1, 2010
Grade: B

Visit Jill Shalvis here.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What am I Reading? The Rifter by Ginn Hale

Ohhh, two posts in one day! But I couldn't help it, I am so excited!

I was lucky enough to win a complete subscription to Ginn Hale's new serial The Rifter. A big thanks to the ladies over at the Desert Island Keepers blog who held another one of their great, great contests, and to Nicole Kimberling of Blind Eye Books for their generosity.

Here's a summary of the overall story and some information on the serial:
When John opens a letter addressed to his missing roommate, Kyle, he expects to find a house key. Instead he is swept into a strange realm of magic, mysticism, revolutionaries and assassins. Though he struggles to escape, John is drawn steadily closer to a fate he shares with Kyle—to wake the destroyer god, the Rifter, and shatter a world.

Written over five years, The Rifter is award-winning author Ginn Hale's new ten-part serialized novel that follows two men transported from modern America to a theocratic world in the throes of a revolution.
The first episode, The Shattered Gates, was released yesterday March 8, 2011. New installments will be released on the second Tuesday of each month and I'll let you know all about the first episode when I'm done, and the rest as they come along.

Available here.

Review: Blackout: A Cal Leandros Novel (Book 6) by Rob Thurman

Well, Blackout was a surprise! After reading Roadkill, I was expecting dark and downright bloody. Instead Rob Thurman takes Cal and the reader on a trip to Neverland. Yes you heard right, it is Peter Pan all over again. The boy who didn't want to grow up and forgets his family because it's so much fun and easier to live a "let's pretend" life, than it is to live with reality. Thurman even reprises her own version of the land of "lost boys."

The story begins with Cal waking up alone on a deserted beach gripping a handgun, a bunch of dead, giant spiders around him and no memory of whom he is, where he is or why he's there. The one thing Cal knows for sure is that he's a killer and that there are monsters in the world -- the gun, the blood, his cool reflexes and the dead spiders prove it. But is he a good killer or a bad one? He searches for this answer throughout the whole story.

Eventually Cal finds out that he is in Nevah Landing, a small town in South Carolina. He is sure he doesn't belong, but although lost and with no memories something tells him he's supposed to be there. Our boy Cal winds up working as a waiter on a diner with Mrs. Terrwyn as her boss, and constantly attempts to convince himself that he is a worthy human being. A different Cal is emerging.
"That meant something. When all you know is that you have snarky tastes in T-shirts and you're a killer of monsters and you pass Miss Terrwyn's good-character test, you had to think maybe you weren't too bad. If I'd killed monsters, then I'd saved innocent people. I defended the honor of teen girls from perverts, even if I overreacted somewhat. I wasn't such a bad guy."
However, this situation doesn't last long as Niko and Robyn find Cal and take him back to New York City. There, he finds out what it means to have a brother and what he really does for a living. Cal's problem? He's having "trouble getting it through his head that monsters or non-humans aren't always evil." He thinks of them as "abominations." This poses a problem for Niko, Goodfellow and the rest of his friends, as they all have to basically lie to Cal while they continue to work on a new contract, hunting down a soul-sucking Egyptian goddess who is after them.

This "new" Cal might be suffering from amnesia, but he is still sarcastic, lazy, sloppy and loves his guns. The difference is that he's an almost happy, human Cal now, less impulsive and more thoughtful. I believe we've caught glimpses of this side of Cal in previous books (particularly in the first book), but never to this extent. Cal without the Auphe. The entire book is narrated from his point of view with his dark, snarky humor, as well as the angst and a certain... innocence and honesty made this character driven novel a different read within this series. The action is still included, but in reality Blackout is more about the changes Cal is going through and his interactions with Niko, than the monster hunting. There are some really funny moments too: Cal wearing a gingham apron; Cal giving Goodfellow fork-phobia; the cats! I loved them all.

Niko also plays a large role in this story, as he goes through some incredible changes along with his brother. He is affected by what he thinks of as losing his brother to amnesia and frankly, I was shocked by some of the things that happened between the two of them in this book, particularly some of Niko's actions. He's just such a lovely character -- too perfect? Yes, and no, sometimes... but still lovely. Goodfellow is his wonderful, egocentric self and I love every instance he is on the page, as he makes the most of his monogamy and being a true friend. The rest of the secondary characters, particularly Promise  who is just a non-issue, don't play much of a role in this book, with Delilah a problem that is obviously being left for later.

On the surface Blackout takes Cal's character backward. He's a blank slate and has to re-learn everything about himself, but in reality this is big leap forward for him. This is where Cal finally comes to terms with what and who he really is, for better or worse. There's much needed character growth for him and in my opinion this was well done by Thurman, even with the repetition found throughout the text and Cal's long internal dialogue.

Blackout was a great addition to this series. I admit to being initially disappointed and not understanding why Thurman was taking Cal's character backwards, I wanted dark Cal back. But as the story went along, the more I read the more it made sense to me. I absolutely loved the ending and that last line! Cal is now ready for what may come next -- Delilah, and/or whatever monsters are lying in wait in the dark, himself included. Bring on the next book!

Category: Urban Fantasy
Series: Cal Leandros, Book 6
Publisher/Released: Roc, March 1, 2011 - Kindle Edition
Grade: B+

Visit Rob Thurman here.

Nightlife, Book 1
Moonshine, Book 2
Madhouse, Book 3
Deathwish, Book 4
Roadkill, Book 5
Blackout, Book 6

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Review: Dust (Jacob's Ladder, Book 1) by Elizabeth Bear

Dust by Elizabeth Bear is the first book in the Jacob's Ladder trilogy, a 2007 release. The trilogy is categorized as science fiction, however I found enough fantasy elements in this first book that places it firmly into the science fiction/fantasy category for me. This didn't surprise me overmuch after having read some of Bear's other works and discovering her talent to seamlessly weave fantasy with mythology, so why not with science-fiction?

Let's begin with the science fiction setting and details. Our characters' "world" is the massive generational colony ship the "Jacob's Ladder.” While on their way from Earth to a new planet, the ship broke down and has been orbiting twin-dying suns for centuries as the inhabitants themselves survived by evolving. This evolution was originally forced on some of the inhabitants by the ship (or ship's computer program) through a symbiosis between nanotechnology colonies and their human hosts, creating the Exalts. These symbionts heal wounds making Exalts nearly indestructible, with the exception of a wound received from unblades or swords created specifically to kill Exalts. Evolution has taken different forms and there are a myriad of characters encountered throughout the story, from winged angel-like humans to sentient entities that are created from nanotech colonies.

When the ship first broke down and the main frame "computer" (Israfel) failed, it splintered into different sections: (Jacob Dust) Memory, (Samael) Biosystems and Life Support, and the ship's (Asrafil) Weapon's Systems. They all work and control the ship, but must be accessed as separate entities.

Now we get into the fantasy aspects of the story and the fun! Did you notice the names above in parenthesis? Each of those splintered computer programs is characterized as an "Angel" in Dust. Jacob Dust is the Angel of Memory, Samael is the Angel of Biosystems and Life Support and Asrafil is the Angel of Blades or Weapon's Systems. They are all that remains of Israfel or as they refer to him, God. Since the Angels can’t agree on how to save the “world,” they are at war with each other and manipulate humans and circumstances to survive. The three Angels have one goal: to consume the other two and gain their knowledge until there is only one left.

Bear takes a broken down ship in the middle of space and creates a whole world out of it with cities, societies and customs. The most recognizable concept in Dust is that of a medieval society. There are the ruling noble houses -- the House of Rule and the House of Engine (or the Commodore's Quarters and Engineering) -- knights, quests, chivalry, honor, political intrigues, inheritance issues, war, swords, servants, ancient bloodlines, and even names like Sir Perceval, Tristan and Benedick. Then Bear mixes in not-so-subtle religious references -- God, Angels and even a depiction of the Garden of Eden -- with a necromancer, a dragon and a basilisk along the way. It's quite the smorgasbord, yet it all fits together and it made this an exciting read.

The story seems simple enough; the world is in danger from two different fronts and it must be saved at all costs. Sir Perceval, a knight from the House of Engine is captured by Ariane, a Princess from House of Rule, and surrenders honorably. Ariane severs Perceval's wings with her unblade, committing a dishonorable act that will trigger a war between the two Houses. Ariane's father, the Commodore, reprimands her for her actions and she responds by killing and consuming him to acquire his knowledge and memories. At this point it's clear that Ariane is making a move to control House of Rule and Engine. In the meantime Rien, a servant girl tending to Perceval, makes a few surprising discoveries and the two girls escape and embark on a journey throughout the ship to stop a war between the two Houses.

Perceval finds herself as the center of the conflict between the "Angels" and the war between the Houses. However, it is Rien who really effects the changes in this story and turns out to be the courageous "knight" of the piece. As the character with the most growth from beginning to end, she became a favorite. Rien begins as a fearful servant who is Remade by Perceval from a Mean (a human who doesn't have a symbiont) into an Exalt, and after unknowingly consuming the memories of the original Chief Engineer and finding her family, her strength of character really comes through. Jacob Dust was also a fascinating character that took me for a ride from beginning to end by just trying to figure him out. I also loved his interactions with the other Angel entities and Perceval.

Of the main characters although Perceval was well developed, she was also my least favorite as I found her to be emotionally weak. On the other hand, there were secondary characters that were key to the story -- Tristen, Benedick and particularly Ariane -- who either piqued my interest or were likable, but whom I thought could have used further development within this first book.

In the other works I've read by Bear, she approaches sexuality openly through her characters. In Dust she includes a hermaphrodite, an ungendered character, one who chooses to be celibate, homosexuality, and taboo subjects. I loved Bear's seamless weaving of science fiction and fantasy and again enjoyed her approach to sexuality through characters and how she makes it all work.

Dust is well plotted, has excellent pacing and fascinating world building. I enjoy Bear’s writing style and this book is no exception. However I did have a problem with the very beginning of the book where I felt the story was bit rushed and lacking in detail. It took a couple of chapters for everything to “gel” for me. Once it did, the story took off and I couldn’t stop reading.

This is the first book in the Jacob's Ladder trilogy and obviously there's more. Bear ties up the most important threads of this particular story -- Perceval, Rien, the war between the Angels and the “world’s” immediate fate -- but there's more. The story ends with a bang, and I mean of epic proportions, and at this point I was glad I had the second book, Chill, available to read immediately as I became obsessed with this world's fate. This is a book I recommend for those who love science fiction, fantasy, or just a great adventure full of creativity and fantastic characters.

Category: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Series: Jacob's Ladder Trilogy - Book 1
Publisher/Release Date: Spectra - December 26, 2007
Grade: B++

Visit Elizabeth Bear here.

Dust, Book 1
Chill, Book 2
Grail, Book 3 (Released 2/22/11)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

February 2011 Reads & Minis

What a month! February feels like it was the longest month of the year. I've been busy working late hours, but happy as things are going quite well for me. :) I do miss my regular blogging and blog hopping, though. Hopefully things will level out soon. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Although the volume of books I read in February is down, the books I did read (or finished reading) in February were good ones. There was not one disappointment in the whole bunch and that doesn't happen often.

There were three books that I began reading and did not finish. These are books that did not quite agree with my "mood" and that I will pick up later when I'm ready to read them, so they're back in my TBR: Blood and Iron by Elizabeth Bear, El Hombre que Amaba a los Perros by Leonardo Padura, and Archangel's Kiss by Nalini Singh.

I also spent a whole week reading nothing but John Donne poetry or essays and studies related to his works. I go through these cycles once in a while, lol!

Here's my recap:

Total New Books Read: 8
Contemporary: 4
Historical Romance: 2
Science Fiction: 1
Poetry: 1

Re-reads: 2 (1 HR, 1 UF)

1. The Perfect Family by Kathryn Shay: A
(Upcoming Review)

2. Empire by Xochiquetzal Candelaria: This poetry collection is part of the Camino del Sol: Latino and Latina Literary Series. I've mentioned this series before as one that I love and collect, and one that features quality writers and works by Latino and Latina writers. This collection of poetry is no exception. I loved the way Candelaria related the history of a family and deeply personal subjects in verse. Grade: A

3. Song of Seduction by Carrie Lofty: A-
(Upcoming Review)

4. Dust (Jacob's Ladder, Book 1) by Elizabeth Bear: This book! I became obsessed while reading Dust by Elizabeth Bear. This space opera is fascinating, full of gender bending characters, taboos and sci-fi details galore. I couldn't help but get the second book, Chill, and am reading it right now. I've already sent for the last book of the trilogy, Grail, which just released too and can't wait to find out how it all ends. Grade B++ (Upcoming Review)

5. Notorious Pleasures (Maiden Lane, Book 2) by Elizabeth Hoyt: Now, I really enjoyed the characterization in this book. Particularly the way Hoyt played with the main characters (Griffin and Hero) and made their dishonorable actions more than palatable to the reader. I also found quite a few contrasts and similarities to Wicked Intentions -- one of my favorite historical romances of 2010. This is a series that I'm definitely enjoying, and having read the excerpt for the next book (something I never do), I am now impatient to read it! Grade B+

6. Absolutely, Positively (Lucy Valentine, Book 3) by Heather Webber is the third book in a series I'm loving and one I think just gets better with every book! It's hard to explain what a wonderful character Lucy Valentine turned out to be after reading that first book. She is not your everyday PI. The stories have a little bit of everything: mystery, a bit of the paranormal, romance and that circle of friends and family that make Lucy's life complete. Absolutely, Positively is my favorite book in this series so far. I liked the mysteries, the romance development, and I most definitely loved the family and friends as secondary characters. The book was not perfect by any means, it's light and there were a few moments plot-wise that were a bit frustrating for me, but overall this was a highly enjoyable read. Grade B+

7. Simply Irresistible (Lucky Harbor, Book 1) by Jill Shalvis: B
(Upcoming Review)

8. Welcome to Harmony by Jodi Thomas: B-
(Upcoming Review)


9. Angel's Pawn (Guild Hunter, Prequel) by Nalini Singh (Re-read): I posted a "Retro Review" for this novella, however I also re-read it in February. As a re-read it worked for me the second time around just as well as it did the first time. It really made me want a whole book about Janvier and Ashwini again! I just love Ash as a female protagonist and can't help but be curious about her past history. Grade A

10. Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase (Re-read)
Ahh Lord of Scoundrels! During Valentine's Day weekend, I decided to read passages from a few of my favorite books and this was one of my choices. My problem? Once I read that first passage (I have quite a few), I couldn't stop reading and re-read the whole book in one day! My favorite scenes? Well let's see:

1) The glove. ('nuff said)

2) Their first kiss in the rain -- lightning bolts and everything! Dain's knees wobbling while he's thinking:
"I've dreamed of you..."
"I've wanted you in my arms since the moment I met you..."
"I need you..."
3) When he walks to a house where she's attending a party just to get a glimpse of her!
"Then what holds you here? he asked himself. What mighty force dragged you here, to gaze stupidly, like a moonstruck puppy, at a house, because she was in it? And what chains held you here, waiting for a glimpse of her?

A touch. A kiss."
The above scenes are all from the first part of the book. However, from the second part I do love the way Jessica figures out and comes to understand Dain after their marriage, and how Dain finally figures out that (crazy, poor blind) Jessica thinks he's beautiful and loves him. I could keep going, but I'll stop here. :) Grade A

I just realized I only reviewed four out of the ten books read this month! I have a few reviews on the works, so hopefully those will be ready to post soon. So how was your February? What was your favorite book of the month?