Saturday, October 29, 2011

Review: Snowflakes and Stetsons by Jillian Hart, Carol Finch & Cheryl St. John

Snowflakes and Stetsons is a Christmas anthology with a western historical romance theme that includes stories by Jillian Hart, Carol Finch and Cheryl St. John. This was my first Christmas read of the year and it was a sweet read! I read it early, during a time when I needed some comfort, but be sure to know that this book will be read again this Holiday season.

"The Cowboy's Christmas Miracle" By Jillian Hart

After serving seven years in a Territory prison for a crime he did not commit, Caleb McGraw goes home only to find out that his fiance is dead and that he has a son. That news takes him to Moose, Montana where his six year old son Thomas now lives with the widow Caroline Dreyer where he prevents a robbery and is invited to stay at least until Christmas. Caroline who lost her husband and child, and Thomas who lost his mother are both cheered by Caleb's company, and soon these three unhappy people are making the best of the season. As Caroline and Caleb's attraction grows and she figures out that he is indeed Thomas' father, they grow closer together and share their pain and hopes for the future. But what will happen when Caroline finds out that Caleb is an ex convict and the reason behind his imprisonment?

The Cowboy's Christmas Miracle by Jillian Hart is a lovely, heartwarming holiday story about three people who experience deep loses in their lives and find a second chance at that illusive happiness. Although things happen a bit quickly for these two people and Caroline needs a push to see what is clearly in front of her eyes, I love that Caleb deservedly finds a place where he's respected for the wonderful man he truly is, and happiness with Thomas and Caroline.

"Christmas at Cahill Crossing" by Carol Finch

Beautiful Rosalie Greer is caught in a blizzard on her way to town from a secret Santa shopping trip. It's dark and wolves have her surrounded when Lucas Burnett and his dog, Dog, find her buried under a pile of snow. Lucas takes her to his ranch where as an outcast of society he keeps to himself. He's bitter about the fact that he was a Texas Ranger and helped settle the area, but because of his mixed blood he is not socially acceptable to the townspeople. However, Rosalie is not everybody. She is a respected business owner and despite an initial misunderstanding likes gorgeous Lucas. After he saves her life, she's determined to involve him in the town's events for Christmas and hopefully in her life.

In Christmas at Cahill, I loved both Rosalie's spunky attitude and the fact that Lucas couldn't resist her. Carol Finch brings the whole town into this story, making the Christmas holidays come alive for the reader and including a bit of action by using Lucas' Texas Ranger past. Finch uses sexual tension to build this romance, and later on passion heats up the holiday season in this novella.

"A Magical Gift At Christmas" by Cheryl St. John

U.S. Marshal Jonah Cavanaugh and three other Marshals are on the train to Denver, guarding a gold shipment from a gang of train robbers. Desperate circumstances push Jonah to make the fateful decision to disconnect the mail car from the rest of the train, and let the rest of the train go on to Denver. He decides to guard the car, let the other Marshals deal with the gang and wait for reinforcements. Jonah's plans, however, are complicated when he first finds Meredith Abbott riding her father's Pullman car and on her way to Denver for Christmas, and later finds Hayden and Jillian, two stowaway children, in the baggage section of the car. Jonah, Meredith and the children find themselves in the middle of a blizzard, waiting for a gang of thieves to attack, and hoping for rescue. While the situation is stressful, it also helps to pull them together and as the warmth of the holidays, love and giving make way into their hearts both Meredith and Jonah realize what's really important in life.

I really enjoyed A Magical Gift At Christmas. Meredith and Jonah are strong characters, and the children make great secondary characters in this novella. The train robbery, shootouts and action give this story a real western flavor, yet the wonderful heartwarming, family atmosphere that St. John is known for is right there to enjoy. The Christmas theme is well represented in the middle of all the action, and a romance that begins with admiration and respect as its base, has a sweet, sweet ending.  

Category: Historical Romance/Western - Holiday
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Harlequin Historical/September 20, 2011
Source: ARC received from author
Grade: B

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Review: Flawless (The Christies, Book 1) by Carrie Lofty

Sir William Christie, ruthless tycoon and notorious ladies’ man, is dead. Now his four grown children have gathered for the reading of his will. What lies in store for stepsiblings Vivienne, Alexander, and twins Gareth and Gwyneth? Stunning challenges that will test their fortitude across a royal empire . . . and lead them to the marvelously passionate adventures of their lives.

Lady Vivienne Bancroft fled England for New York, hoping to shed the confines of her arranged marriage to unrepentant rogue Miles Durham, Viscount Bancroft—though she never forgot the fiery desire he unleashed with his slightest touch. And when the gambling man arrives on her doorstep for a little sensual revenge for her desertion, he is met with Vivienne’s dilemma: She must earn her father’s inheritance by profitably running a diamond business worth millions in colonial South Africa. Swept together in an exotic undertaking filled with heated passion and hungry temptation, will Vivienne and Miles discover that the marriage vows they once made are the greatest snare—or the most treasured reward?
After reading and loving Carrie Lofty's Song of Seduction, her historical romances have become a "must read" for me. I'm happy to report that I've yet to be disappointed by one of her books. In Flawless, I again love the fact that Lofty uses a different setting, in this case the diamond mining industry in South Africa. This time the setting is used more as background to give the novel historical context and helps to establish that all-important atmosphere. However, perhaps what I enjoyed the most about this novel is Lofty's depiction of the main characters, Miles and Vivienne, even with their flaws and frustrating qualities.

I really enjoy how Lofty portrays her characters and the fact that they're exciting and yet fit both time and place in both action and manner. Miles and Vivienne are both products of their upbringing and the society of their times. He is the rakish and wastrel son of an English earl, whose upbringing teaches him that no matter his actions a male aristocrat can get away with almost anything. He marries Vivienne for her fortune and a passion that seems to grow with time. However during their marriage, he's very much the aristocrat about town who uses Vivienne's money for gambling and other pleasurable pursuits without compunction or apparent care for her. Tired of it all and caring little for society's judgment, Miles eventually goes too far.

Vivienne on the other hand is the adopted bastard daughter of a self-made man. Born in France, reared in New York and married in London, Vivienne is also a product of her upbringing and the times. Hers is a marriage of convenience that turns into one of passion, but passion is not enough for Vivienne. She needs more from a man. Vivienne wants and needs respectability and safety, and she can find neither of those things with Miles. She also needs a man she can respect and she can't respect Miles, so when he goes too far she leaves him and goes home to New York. But when her father dies and leaves a conditional inheritance in his will Vivienne finds that she will need her husband after all, and Miles ceases the opportunity to solve a few of his problems, most importantly Vivienne and his marriage.

Flawless is a character driven novel with romance as a focus and a background that helps the story along by providing atmosphere, but one that is not as full of historical details as expected. The secondary characters are also helpful, but not truly developed or explored to their fullest. As central characters, Miles and Vivienne are strong and they do carry the novel quite well, with their personal issues as the main conflict, sexual tension that is off the charts and a true passion that manifests itself both internally and externally.

Lofty succeeds in this novel by making two flawed characters, especially that of Miles, understandable and sympathetic to the reader. Vivienne, although easier to understand, can be a bit more frustrating for what may pass as stubbornness and lack of trust, yet she truly reflects her times when it comes to a female's point of view. She is a woman who needs to stand on her own because she doesn't really have any one else to do it for her, (at least that is her initial belief) yet cannot because society won't allow her to do so. Her frustrations feel real in that respect, as do her initial doubts about Miles' supposed change in character.

Having read two of Lofty's previous historical romances I expected a bit more exploration of historical background and further development of some of the more interesting secondary characters, however I enjoyed the romance from beginning to end. Lofty's prose and her approach to a historical romance remains a favorite for me, and without a doubt I look forward to the other books in this series.

Category: Historical Romance
Series: The Christies, Book 1
Publisher/Released: Pocket/September 27, 2011 - Kindle Edition
Grade: B

Visit Carrie Lofty here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Retro-Review: Wicked Gentlemen by Ginn Hale

Here is one of my favorite books read in 2009, and one of the two books ever graded an A+ by me. Ginn Hale's Wicked Gentlemen remains one of my favorite books to date, and there was no change in perspective when I re-read it in November 2010, and again this month. The sequel to this book, Lord Foster's Devils, remains one of my most anticipated books. I hope it releases soon.

Belimai Sykes is many things: a Prodigal, the descendant of ancient demons, a creature of dark temptations and rare powers. He is also a man with a brutal past and a dangerous addiction.

And Belimai Sykes does not work for free and the price of Belimai's company will cost Captain Harper far more than his reputation.

From the ornate mansions of noblemen, where vivisection and sorcery are hidden beneath a veneer of gold, to the steaming slums of Hells Below, Captain Harper must fight for justice and for his life.

His enemies are many and his only ally is a devil he knows too well. Such are the dangers of dealing with the wicked.
Using heavy atmosphere, unforgettable characters and excellent prose, Ginn Hale builds a world in Wicked Gentlemen that grabs you from the beginning and stays with you even after you turn that last page.

Hale builds her world through the first half of the book and using names like "Brighton House of Inquisition," "White Chapel," and "St. Christopher's Park" in Crowncross, the Holy Capitol and"High Tangle," "Low Tangle" "Underchapel Parish," and "Good Commons," in Hopetown (also called Hells Below), we get a sense of an alternate London and its surrounding Parishes. A familiar setting becomes otherworldly and dark.

Hale's Prodigals are descendants of the original fallen Demons who abandoned Damnation (or hell) by signing the Covenant of Redemption. It was the promise of Salvation for themselves and their descendants that made them leave their dark kingdom below. After three hundred years the Prodigals are no longer magnificent and that promise is now a double edged sword.

At the beginning of Wicked Gentlemen, Belimai Sykes seems almost familiar, someone reminiscent of an Arthur Conan Doyle character. The setting where we first meet him is a dark library in his home, in what seems like an alternate dark London with gaslights on the streets. Almost immediately, as part of his personality, we encounter a dry, almost morbid sense of humor and are exposed to his shameful addiction. All these facts together with his occupation, that of a detective, help with this sense of familiarity. However as we go along, although these characteristics are very much a part of Belimai, he emerges as a unique and arresting individual.

The first part of the book -- "Mr Sykes and the Firefly" -- is told through Belimai's point of view and as we get to know his thoughts, we see he is not exactly the nicest of creatures. Indeed with a bit of a twist, Belimai would make an excellent villain. I found him to be an enjoyable, cynical, dry, self-destructive and flawed character.

The moment when Belimai meets Captain Harper is sharp, focused and dark. I loved the exchanges and chemistry between these two -- neither one a nice man/creature, neither one an easy character to like at first. If Belimai is a Prodigal and a demon, then Harper is an Inquisitor and his biggest nemesis, and that is exactly what it sounds like. As in the olden days in this world an Inquisitor is charged with righting religious wrongs, usually through torture. In Hale's world he also dispenses justice and becomes a combination priest and policeman. The Inquisitors in this case are usually in charge of making sure Demons are purified and stay that way. Belimai explains it best:
Harper stood and opened his long black coat, I caught sight of the white priest's collar at his throat as well as the pistol holstered beneath his left arm.

That pairing fit the Inquisition perfectly. The white band proclaimed the captain's authority to judge and redeem the souls of those awash with sin. The pistol embodied the very earthly duty of each man of the Inquisition to enforce and uphold the law. Salvation became far more appealing when damnation was faced at gunpoint.
Belimai and Harper's personalities emerge slowly as they solve a dangerous mystery together and quite a few interesting secondary characters are introduced. A more intimate relationship between Belimai and Harper is also building at this point and the development is slow and well done. This mystery is successfully solved within the first part of the book as Hale continues her world building, character development and introduces a new mystery in the second part of the book.

The second part -- "Captain Harper and The 62 Second Circle" -- picks up at the end of part one and it is told in third person through Harper's perspective. This is where we really get to know what this man is capable of -- his strengths and weaknesses. Harper believes in justice but doesn't have the heart of a zealot. There's a lot to discover and I loved the mystery and darkness in him. The conflict presented in this part of the book was quite intricate and I was happily surprised by the resolution at the end.

The intimate relationship between these two individuals is key to the story. There is sexual tension and there are two encounters between Belimai and Harper, but it is the growing feelings they have for each other and the realization that there could be more for them that really made that part of the story special for me.

In Wicked Gentlemen, Ms. Hale presents a complete book with all the ingredients I look forward to in this type of story; from the world building to characterization, plot and prose, this was a winner for me. There will be a sequel to this book and I'll be waiting impatiently for it.

Category: LGBT Gay Speculative Fiction/Steampunk
Series: Book 1
Publisher/Release Date: Blind Eye Books/October 2007
Grade: A+

You can find this book here.

Wicked Gentlemen, Book 1
Lord Foster's Devils, Book 2 (Release date - to be determined)

Originally posted at Musings of a Bibliophile August 17, 2009

Sunday, October 23, 2011

This 'n That: I'm back, YA LGBT Books Charity Campaign, Vacation

Hi everyone! My computer was resuscitated. I've no idea what happened, but my husband found help and somehow gave it CPR and got it to work again. It's still going in for a nice check up at the Apple store, though.

I've missed almost a whole week of returning emails and posting, although admittedly that had as much to do with cleaning up at work as I get ready to go on my week's vacation, as it did with computer problems. Lots of late nights and exhausting days. But I did finish reading ONE whole book! The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan, the second book in the young adult fantasy series Heroes of Olympus series. I'll be reviewing that book!


In the meantime while away, I found out that Steve Berman editor of Speaking Out, the young adult anthology I reviewed recently, is starting a charity campaign to donate books to school libraries. I love it! This is a wonderful project and one that I wholeheartedly support. There is such a need out there for books like Speaking Out, and there's just not enough inspiration (or literature in schools) for LGBTQ kids. Here are Mr. Berman's own words on the matter:
"According to GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network), a 2009 National School Climate Survey revealed that nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students suffer harassment in school because of their identity.

While there has been renewed calls for legislation to fight homophobia and bullying, while there have been countless videos of "It Gets Better," kids are still dying by their own hand. And some kids are seeing the It Gets Better campaign as a bit empty--they want to know when does it get better.

I edited Speaking Out: LGBT Youth Stand Up to offer teens stories that aren't about coming-out but rather about living life openly as well as overcoming intolerance and bigotry. I wanted to inspire readers, to help them realize that they are not alone or powerless, that their voices can be heard."
Of course as with all campaigns, the more awareness, the more people who see the campaign, the better! So you can spread the word, make a contribution to Mr. Berman's charity campaign or both! Here's the link where you can find out more about this campaign and/or make a contribution:

And last, as I mentioned above I'm going on vacation! Yesss! I mentioned before that I would be around, and later there were plans to leave for a few days for places unknown (lol!), but due to a (another) health-related family emergency that cropped up yesterday, I will be hanging around the area after all. My husband and I will be taking advantage of living across New York City for the week, and will be celebrating his birthday too!


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Computer problems! Reading Update

Well, when it doesn't rain, it pours... and it's pouring! My iMac desktop crashed with a vengeance on Monday and I can't get the reinstall program to work. Sigh... it's only three years old and it has all the latest and greatest updates.

I'm taking it to the Apple Store so, hopefully, they can repair it, but that won't happen until the weekend. In the meantime, I'll have to borrow a computer here or there if possible, if not I will post something for you all on the weekend.

Since I have a minute right now, I figured I would do a quick recap on what I'm reading at the moment:

Well, at the moment I'm reading:
  • Scandalous Desires (Maiden Lane, #3) by Elizabeth Hoyt! Yay! It's out!
  • The Son of Neptune (Heroes of Olympus Series #2) by Rick Riordan -- I'm really, really enjoying this book so far. I'm finding it more entertaining than the first one, and of course it's wonderful having Percy's "voice" back.
  • Down These Mean Streets edited by Gardner Dozois and George R.R. Martin -- This is a wonderful anthology where the focus is urban fantasy, the noir private investigator and the paranormal -- a combination of both (UF). But some stories have an emphasis in one or the other. I'm finding the stories quite interesting so far. Not quite what I expected from this wonderful duo.
I do have next week off (from work), so hopefully all the wrinkles will be taken care of at that time. I don't have travel plans for the week, but I do have plans *g*... lots of relaxation, hopefully. I will be around. Hopefully with a computer that works!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Review: Embassytown by China Miéville

In the far future, humans have colonized a distant planet, home to the enigmatic Ariekei, sentient beings famed for a language unique in the universe, one that only a few altered human ambassadors can speak.

Avice Benner Cho, a human colonist, has returned to Embassytown after years of deep-space adventure. She cannot speak the Ariekei tongue, but she is an indelible part of it, having long ago been made a figure of speech, a living simile in their language.

When distant political machinations deliver a new ambassador to Arieka, the fragile equilibrium between humans and aliens is violently upset. Catastrophe looms, and Avice is torn between competing loyalties—to a husband she no longer loves, to a system she no longer trusts, and to her place in a language she cannot speak yet speaks through her.
In EmbassytownChina Miéville throws the reader onto his science fiction world of aliens, dopples, "immersers" and humans isolated in the Arieka planet at the edge of the known universe from page one. The story is structured in a biographical first point of view format from Avice's perspective, moving between the present and past throughout the first half of the book until the timelines meet, as Miéville slowly unravels his world from the vernacular, to customs, to actions and characters.

There's nothing complacent or superficial about a Miéville novel, although of course there's a surface story. In this case we have a human colony that inhabits Embassytown in the planet of Arieka where there's eventually a breakdown between them and the indigene alien population or "Hosts" they've depended upon for survival for centuries. The break when it comes is violent with the humans' demise an almost certain fact. Avice has a front row seat and witnesses the unfolding debacle -- as both an observer and information gatherer -- that develops when the Bremen send in their own outsider Ambassador(s) to Embassytown. Avice likes to gather information, and although she's an "immerser" who has travelled the universe as part of starship crews outside of Embassytown, she doesn't like to take action. But, survival is important and eventually Avice takes her place with a band of humans attempting to save the Ariekei and Embassytown.

However, this is Miéville we're talking about and there's so much more to the story. There's much emphasis placed on language or "Language" and the effect that references, signification, similes, and eventually metaphors have or eventually come to have on the alien race -- the differences between speaking and that of real understanding, grasping, knowing. That knowing and real understanding applies to more than language though, and not just to the alien race but also to humans. That is because ignorance and dependency are also two strong subjects that apply to both humans and aliens in this story.

Miéville's aliens are intricate and mesmerizing. I've never read anything like them and for a science fiction fan they can become an addiction (I was blown away by his aliens in Perdido Street Station). There is certainly nothing human-like about the Hosts or their environment in Embassytown. Interestingly enough as alien as they are depicted, the Ariekei ultimately represent a colonized indigenous population. As such, although initially they seemingly retain power, they'll never be the same again because of their interactions with the human (or outside) race. However, it is through their interactions with humans, or perhaps because of the contrasts shown, that the aliens in this story are most effective.

The humans also have an intriguing society where ignorance and dependency, whether chosen or cultivated, are both central to their world. The planet depends on the Bremen to provide products and news from the outside world. The people of Embassytown are solely dependent on the Hosts/aliens for everything: from the air they breath, to food, to the space (town) where they live. Yet, they happily remain quite ignorant about the Hosts and the planet as a whole. Humans are also dependent on Ambassador(s) to be the go between for them with the Hosts, placing Ambassador(s) at the top of the hierarchy. Plus, the majority of people remain ignorant (or don't want to know) how things really happen -- political intrigue, power plays, abuse of power or cruelties that include inhuman acts -- as long as their lives continue to move in the right direction.

Does any of this sound familiar? This is one of the aspects of science fiction that I love the most -- how a writer takes and bends current or historical events and places them in what seems like a completely alien world and makes it work.

The way Miéville uses Avice's memory, which of course is colored by distance and personal baggage, is quite effective. Avice makes an interesting biographical narrator and I think in many ways realistic. Some of the information given by her is personal, only relevant to Avice's character including her indifference to people or dismissal of events with her personality shaping the story, and other times relevant to the overall story.

Overall, Embassytown by China Miéville is a fascinating science fiction read where the writer throws the reader into his creative world and slowly reveals it through the first half of the book, with some much appreciated literary content in the middle of it all, and lots of action and somewhat expected results through that second half of the book. This science fiction tale might not be for everyone, but as with my previous experience with  this author's work once begun I certainly couldn't stop reading until that last page was turned.

Genre: Science Fiction
Series: None
Publisher/Released: Del Rey/May 17, 2011 - Kindle Edition
Grade: B+

See biography and list of Miéville's books here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

October 2011: New Releases

Holy great release month! There are lots of books being released this month. I'm looking forward to reading quite a few of them. The list is long and extended.

October 4th alone was a great day for releases. Let's see, here are three books I already have in my possession, although there were a couple of others that I purchased and am not highlighting or decided to get later... one of these books I've already read and reviewed:

Angels of Darkness Anthology with Ilona Andrews, Nalini Singh, Meljean Brook and Sharon Shinn
The Son of Nepture (Heroes of Olympus, #2) by Rick Riordan
Animal Attraction by Jill Shalvis

Upcoming Releases I'm really looking forward to reading:

Scandalous Desires by Elizabeth Hoyt
Release Date: October 18, 2011
Finally, Silence's story in the Maiden Lane series by Elizabeth Hoyt! I'm loving this series and will absolutely read this book as soon as it hits the shelves.
The Famous Heroine/The Plumed Bonnet by Mary Balogh
Release Date: October 25, 2011
This two/fer release by Balogh looks very tempting to me. It's very rare that I miss a release by Mary Balogh, and if I can't find the original books, I will definitely buy this one!
Real Men Will by Victoria Dahl
Release Date: October 25, 2011
This is the third installment in Victoria Dahl's Donovan Brothers Brewery contemporary romance series and another definite read for me. I still have Bad Boys Don't in my TBR, but hope to read it before this one releases. I liked Eric! :)
Holiday Releases
Then there are all the new Holiday books (yes I said Holidays!) that I received for review and that are releasing in October. I always remember that every year there are friends who ask about Christmas or Holiday books, so here are a few new ones. Of the following there are a few that I will be reading and two that I've read or am reading at the moment:

A Texas Christmas with Jodi Thomas
It Happened One Christmas by Kaitlin O'Riley
Season for Temptation by Theresa Romain
Tis the Season To be Sinful by Adrienne Basso
Christmas At Timberwoods by Fern Michaels

Here's one contemporary, and if you like a little heat for your holidays, one erotic romance:

Unwrapped with Erin McCarthy, Donna Kauffman, Kate Angell
Silent Night, Sinful Night with Sharon Page, Melissa MacNeal, Chloe Harris

I had so many new releases this month that I decided to link you to Goodreads for the book descriptions, otherwise the post would have been too long.

So, what about you? What new releases are you looking forward to reading in October?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Review: Angels of Darkness with Ilona Andrews, Nalini Singh, Meljean Brook and Sharon Shinn

The Angels of Darkness anthology was a must read for me, as it contains stories by three favorite authors, leaving only one new-to-me writer and series in the mix. It's a mixture of urban fantasy and paranormal romance with dark angels, guardians, vampires, and of course good and evil.

Nalini Singh's story Angel's Wolf fits in with her Hunter Guild series, and with its happily ever after it further solidifies my belief that this series is leaning more toward paranormal romance and moving away from urban fantasy. This is a romance between the vampire Noel who in an earlier installment was torn into a bloody pulp at the Refuge, and Nimra the Angel who rules the Louisiana territory.

Noel is assigned to Nimra's court to investigate an attempted assassination by someone close to her and while investigating her closest friends and allies the two fall in love. Noel falls rather quickly for this angel who begins the process of healing his deep psychological wounds, and Nimra is taken with the arrogant and rather forceful Noel. Although we are told that as an Angel Nimra is terrifying, there is really little proof to this claim. Instead Nimra is shown to be a rather sweet and quite human-like angel who needs love and gives love and tenderness to those who are under her care. Noel's character was more daunting in this story. The romance is enjoyable and engaging, but not terribly dark or exciting. Grade B-

Alphas: Origins by Ilona Andrews is an excellent beginning to a new series by this writing team. I love the world building in this novella with it's touch of science fiction, genetic experimentation and mutations, that allows for travel or ripping between the known universe and pieces of that universe. There's a war with humans unknowingly in the middle and in danger of extermination if the Ordinators win. This is the world that Karina and her daughter Emily are pulled into one sunny day on their way back from a school field trip -- a violent world of monsters, blood and war.

Karina is poisoned and dying when a monster and three men come to the rescue, she's given a choice: die or become a blood slave to the monster and she and her daughter Emily will live. She agrees. This story is full of interesting characters, including Karina whose rather violent and touching relationship with the monster that is Lucas develops as the story moves along. The world, characters and plot are all dark(ish) and rather violent. This is different from the Andrews writing team's two other series but I think it's just as great! I want more. Grade B+

Sharon Shinn's Nocturne, the story of an angel set in her religious-based world of angels, humans and the god Jovah focuses on two wounded souls. I enjoyed the interesting world building, which I think is explained well enough to pique the interest of a new reader like me. Moriah, the daughter of an angel and an angel-seeker is running and hiding from the angels and a powerful lord. She is working at a school tucked away from everything, out in the desert. She feels safe there even after her curiosity takes her to the head mistress house and Corban, a wounded angel. I really wish that the characters in this story had been as interesting as the world itself, but I'm afraid they just didn't work out for me. Corban pitied himself incessantly and I don't understand how Moriah could stand him after a while. And although there's actually a sex scene in this story, there's a sense of detachment to it and to the ending that left me cold. I do wonder, however, if other stories in this series are better. Grade C

Meljean Brook's novella Ascension is set in her Guardian world. I love the fact that Brook didn't waste the pages in this novella, as she develops a romance plus further explains the world building in this paranormal romance series. Marc Revoire is in charge of guarding the Midwest and senses that there's a demon at work in the small town of Riverbend. Radha comes to Riverbend to ensure that Marc is well after she last saw him alone and distraught as Caelum fell to pieces. Centuries ago, Radha and Marc shared a deep friendship but it all fell apart when they became lovers, and Radha hasn't spoken to Marc since. Now the two of them team up to find the demon and in the process work out their relationship.

I liked both characters in this novella and the way they talked through long standing issues that stood in the way of their passionate love for each other. More so, I'm quite happy about the fact that Brook finally explains the reason behind the Ascension that left the Guardians so vulnerable. In explaining his reasoning for staying behind, Marc also explains quite well some of the Rules and how they apply to Guardians -- it clarifies a few points in a simple and direct way. So, although I thought the demon hunting part of the story was a bit weak, this story as a whole worked for me. Grade B

Overall this is a good anthology with one story that really fits the title "Angels of Darkness" quite well, and three where the angels are not so dark. However, the excellent, creative world building found in all four stories makes this anthology worth the read. I enjoyed it.

Category: Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance
Series: See below
Publisher/Release Date: Berkley/October 4, 2011 - Kindle Edition
Grade: B-

"Angel's Wolf" (Guild Hunters, #4.5) by Nalini Singh
"Alphas: Origins" (Alphas Series, #0.5) by Ilona Andrews
"Nocturne" (Samaria Series) by Sharon Shinn
"Ascension" (The Guardians, #7.5) by Meljean Brook 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Review: Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up edited by Steve Berman

This excellent collection of thirteen stories gathered and edited by Steve Berman for and about LGBT and Q young adults not only features stories that address the difficulties of coming out to friends and family, but most importantly Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up highlights experiences, changes and difficulties that affect and are experienced by young adults after that important step is taken.

The stories are as varied in style and content as are the writers themselves. L, G, B, T, and Q stories are all represented in this collection with gay and lesbian themes seemingly taking center stage, however you will find that the characters in all the stories are as varied as the challenges they face. The stories feature young adults and their struggles, triumphs, realizations, and lessons learned and taught.

I really want to mention all the stories. Instead here are a few as examples of the type of stories found in this wonderful collection. In Lucky P by Rigoberto González, a bisexual young man realizes that there's a difference between a crush and reciprocal love, and learning about pride, accepting support, and dealing with bullies after coming out in an all girl's Catholic high school is the subject of Gutter Ball by Danielle PignataroVictories, acceptance and respect are earned the hard way within the realm of high school sports in the multi-layered coming out story Captain of the World by Alex Jeffers where the focus falls on a Turkish young man whose struggles include battling prejudice against the Muslim religion and homophobia.

In Steve Berman's wonderful story Only Lost Boys are Found about closets and what they hide, two childhood friends fall in love but while one is out, the other needs rescuing when he gets lost and trapped in the maze that is his closet. The Proximity of Seniors by L.A. Fields on the other hand is all about finding that one unexpected friend who shares a mutual struggle and provides support throughout the worst and best of times during and after those high school years. I loved this story about a gay boy and a lesbian girl who become best friends for life.

Subtle Poison by Lucas J.W. Johnson is a fantastic story about the value or toxicity of friendship that features the challenges of being accepted as an FtM transgendered teen and a gay young man's battle with substance abuse, and Sparks of Change by Dia Pannes is all about a brave young woman who teaches her father and small town a lesson about ignorance, intolerance and acceptance of her lesbian teacher and hopefully her future self. Then there's The Trouble with Billy by Jeffrey Ricker, a wonderful story about two young men, one who is 'out' and barely dealing with daily bullying episodes, and the other full of rage. And I really enjoyed the lovely Duet: A Story in Haibun by Charles Jensen told in narrative and poetry style from the perspective of two male high school band musicians who are deeply in love: "how a pair of shoes, reflections of each, share the same body." 

Each story is prefaced by one page with a short anecdote from the author sharing a personal life experience with the reader. These short personalized notes effectively become a part of this collection and with few words all convey key, refreshingly candid moments or the need to have books like Speaking Out readily available.
"The last time this happened was in Decatur, Georgia. At the end of the presentation, a teenager comes up to me and asks in a timid voice: "Excuse me, Mr. González. Could you recommend some books about people like us?" People like us need to keep spreading the word." Rigoberto González.
In his introduction writer and editor Steve Berman says, "voices must be heard," well, they are heard here. Speaking Out is a collection of stories written by writers of LGBTQ young adult literature who not only capture their voice, but also understand the daily challenges they face. This collection is affirming, inspiring and informational.  I highly recommend it. Specifically recommended for LGBTQ young adults and those interested in supporting their friends, parents of both LGBTQ teens and those interested in teaching their teens tolerance, as well as to librarians in general. Pass it on.

Category: LGBTQ Young Adult
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Bold Stroke Books/September 12, 2011
Source: Bold Stroke Books
Grade: A-

Stories and authors in order of appearance:
"Lucky P" by Rigoberto González
"Day Student" by Sam Cameron
"Gutter Ball" by Danielle Pignataro
"Captain of the World" by Alex Jeffers
"The Proximity of Seniors by L.A. Fields
"Subtle Poison" by Lucas J.W. Johnson
"Forever is Composed of Nows" by Will Ludwigsen
"Spark of Change" by Dia Pannes
"The Trouble with Billy" by Jeffrey Ricker
"Only Lost Boys Are Found" by Steve Berman
"Waiting to Show Her" by Ann Tonsor Zeddies
"Duet" A Story in Haibun" by Charles Jensen
"All Gender U" by Sandra McDonald