Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Review: The Lady's Secret by Joanna Chambers

So yes, I read The Lady's Secret by Joanna Chambers as soon as it released. In case you don't know this yet, Ms. Chambers is long-time romance blogger "Tumperkin." I knew she had a book releasing and meant to read it because of course I've been curious. However, interestingly enough this book was with my recommendations at Amazon and I placed it in my "Wish List" without realizing it was "Tumperkin's" book! I can be so clueless at times! But since it caught my attention all on its own, I'm sure Ms. Chambers won't mind too much.

The Lady's Secret
by Joanna Chambers
London, 1810
Former actress Georgiana Knight always believed she and her brother were illegitimate—until they learn their parents were married, making them heirs to a great estate. To prove their claim, Georgy needs to find evidence of their union by infiltrating a ton house party as valet to Lord Nathaniel Harland. Though masquerading as a boy is a challenge, it pales in comparison to sharing such intimate quarters with the handsome, beguiling nobleman.

Nathan is also unsettled by Georgy's presence. First intrigued by his unusual valet, he's even more captivated when he discovers Georgy's charade. The desire the marriage-shy earl feels for his enigmatic employee has him hoping for much more than a master-servant relationship...

But will Nathan still want Georgy when he learns who she truly is? Or will their future be destroyed by someone who would do anything to prevent Georgy from uncovering the truth?
Joanna Chambers uses a true and tried trope for her debut historical romance novel The Lady's Secret, the one where the male protagonist falls in love with the cross-dressing heroine. Oh yes, you might say we've seen this done before, particularly in those old medievals where the girls attempted to hide waist-length hair and some impossible-to-hide female attributes. However, that's not what you'll find in this book at all, instead you'll find that Chambers makes some of those impossibilities possible and makes this trope her own with details, details, details.

Georgiana grew up in a theater and works as a stagehand. She tried her hand as an actress, but stage fright kept her away from following in her mother's footsteps. However, these are skills that serve her well when the time comes for the biggest role of her life. Georgy and her brother Harry know they are the true heirs to the Earl of Dunsmore fortune and title, but before they can claim either proof that their dead parents were legally married must be found.

As Harry travels from parish to parish trying to find that proof, Georgy plans to take their investigation further by going through the Earl of Dunsmore's own home, hoping to find something there. Her plan is to pose as a servant but there are no openings. The opportunity presents itself when Lord Nathaniel Harland, who is in need of a personal valet, is heard to be invited to the Dunsmore's Christmas celebration. Georgy disguised as a valet applies and is hired for the position and the deception begins.

Now think of what it means to be a personal valet. It's not just dressing the man, it's performing all those personal, everyday tasks for him that create intimacy -- shaving, supervising his bath, bringing him breakfast in bed, taking care of him when he's sick, sharing his personal space and all the small intimate details that reveal the man behind the Lord. This is what Georgy shares with Nathan before he even realizes she is a woman.

The key words above are "intimate details." Joanna Chambers truly gives the reader that sense of intimacy between the two characters during this time. And details also take center stage when it comes to Georgy's masquerade. I admit that I kept looking for those moments when you say "aha! the girl gave herself away"... but no, in Georgy, Chambers creates a female character that truly fits her role perfectly. I'm not just talking about Georgy's physical attributes, but the way she carries herself as well. Chambers doesn't place her character in impossible situations either. I don't want to give away too many details or spoil it for the readers, but if you decide to read the book you'll know what I mean.

Besides the fact that the female in the story fits her role as a valet beautifully, one of the reasons this plot works so well is because the deception doesn't go on for too long, and once Georgy is discovered the romance really takes off. However, before she's discovered the intimate scenes serve to build up sensuality -- the head massage scene in particular comes to mind. Too good... just too good!

Nathan is not necessarily attracted to Georgy when she's the valet, but well... there's something about "George" that doesn't quite seem right to Nathan. Once Georgy is unmasked, all that intimacy makes for some excellent, sizzling sexual tension between Georgy and Nathan. I really liked this couple. It's all great fun!

The plot takes place in different settings: London, the Earl of Dunsmore's country home, and later on Nathan's own country estate. I loved the scenes in London and everything that happened at the Earl of Dunsmore's home. The Christmas get together for the servants was a wonderful scene. It's interesting experiencing a romance from both points of view at the same time: the upstairs and downstairs. My one quibble is the couple's behavior while they stayed at Nathan's country estate. As for the rest, well... for me the final resolutions to the conflicts were all satisfying in the end.

The Lady's Secret by Joanna Chambers is a historical romance that I'll remember for the way the intimate atmosphere heightened the romance between two great characters, and for a true and tried plot that stood out because the author really took her time with the details. I enjoyed Ms. Chambers debut novel from beginning to end and will definitely read her next book.

Category: Historical Romance
Series: None
Publisher: Carina Press/November 7, 2011 - Kindle Edition
Grade: B+

Visit Joanna Chambers here.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Contemporary Minis: Sarah Mayberry, Victorial Dahl and more...

Happy Sunday! I hope all who celebrated Thanksgiving had a wonderful long weekend! I certainly did. Today I've grouped four recent contemporary romance reads from Harlequin and am sharing them via mini-impressions -- two recent releases and two older ones. The grades range from B+ to B- so they all turned out to be enjoyable reads for different reasons.


All They Need by Sarah Mayberry

I really enjoy Sarah Mayberry's contemporary romances, but I was hesitant to read All They Need because well... it deals with Alzheimer's and that kind of hits home. However, Mayberry seems to explore these serious subjects with sensitivity and in the end that's what changed my mind. It was an emotional read for me and of course that touch of realism hit me hard, but the romance balanced it out. That's what Mayberry does so well.

Mel and Flynn's romance develops nice and slow. Flynn is a heck of a guy. At times I thought he was too perfect, but that's not necessarily true. I think it's good that he shows his self-absorbed side at the beginning because for the rest of the story, he's pretty much understanding, sweet, passionate and loving. Mel? Well, Mel has been traumatized by her marriage and the psychological abuse her ex-husband dished out during all that time. She's not ready for a long term relationship, and although she allows passion to rule her relationship with Flynn, her heart and head are another matter. That becomes the real conflict between them. Lack of trust and real emotion. I had a couple of issues with this romance, mainly to do with Mel's change of heart and unseen character growth. However overall, I found this to be another solid contemporary romance by Ms. Mayberry. (Harlequin, November 1, 2011): Grade B


Real Men Will (Donovan Brothers Brewery #3) by Victoria Dahl

I liked Eric Donovan when I first met him in Good Girls Don't. I know... I know... he was tough on the kids (and kids they were, and to me they still are at the end of this series if you go by their immature and self-centered regressive behavior), but to me both those kids needed a good kick in the butt. True, he didn't always handle things correctly, but then when taking into consideration the circumstances he did the best he could and should have been admired for it. His siblings didn't really seem to appreciate Eric's position and that was a real shame. But anyway... enough about the frustrating sibling relationship and on to the romance.

I was happy that Eric found himself a woman, and Beth was definitely good for him. Their relationship began as a one night stand based on a lie, and later on continued as a steamy and sensual sexual relationship between adults that slowly developed into more. These two people had baggage and they both had to struggle to make a complex relationship a success, so as it turned out it was even sweeter when at the end it did. This was a highly enjoyable contemporary for me because I really liked both central characters and their romance. (HQN Books, October 25, 2011): Grade B+


I also read two contemporary category romances that are older releases, but turned out to be quite fun! The first one is Sex, Straight Up by Kathleen O'Reilly (Blaze #388), the second book in the Those Sexy O'Sullivan's trilogy and Daniel O'Sullivan's story. I was really surprised at how good and sexy this story turned out and I liked it more than the first book. Why? Well, mainly because Daniel is a widower still grieving for his wife who died during the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11 and he was so reluctant to let her go. However, in this book (as opposed to the first one where the male was the only reason for my grade) the female character, Catherine Montefiore, made a difference and provided balance. She turned everything around and made this story really work for me. I found this one to be a sexy, emotional and satisfying read. (Harlequin, April 1, 2008): Grade B


The other book is By the Book by Nancy Warren (Blaze #85). Now this one was fluffy, fun and just what I needed to read at the time. Shari decides she's going to have a hot date and maybe a night with the hunky downstairs neighbor, but when she sees that he sent for a book with the title "Sex for Total Morons" she changes her mind. Luke is not about to let her, so he asks her to help him get through part of the book, and hmm.. she becomes his tutor -- just for the first few chapters. Riiiight! Of course, we all know who wrote the book, yes? This one turned out to be a book where characters have lots of preconceived ideas on all sides, with lots of fun dialogue, funny situations and sexy circumstances. As I said above, fluffy, fun and read at just the right moment. (Harlequin, May 1, 2003): Grade B-

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving and some Pamela Morsi Americana...

Tomorrow we will be celebrating Thanksgiving. I'm getting ready for my family get together tomorrow. Everyone in my family is going to be here. My brother is traveling from Florida, so all my brothers, their wives and children will be present this year. Nice! I just got home from work, but the cooking and baking are already underway. Of course we'll be having the traditional American meal of turkey with all the trimmings. It's a wonderful holiday, and I wish all of you celebrating tomorrow a Happy Thanksgiving with your families.

And because this blog is all about books and reading, I would like to follow that up with the nice surprise I had when I arrived home today. Last year I read and loved some excellent Americana historical romance. I fell in love with quite a few authors. One of those authors is Pamela Morsi. Well, I finally found some of her back list books, ordered them and they are here!

  • I loved, loved Simple Jess. It was my very first Pamela Morsi read (the way the same friend who sent me the Balogh books, introduced me to Ms. Morsi's works by sending me that book. Isn't she the best?). The Marrying Stone is the book that comes before Simple Jess in sequence and I've been wanting to read it for about a year now. It's the romance between Jess's sister Meg and Roe Farley. I can't wait to go back to Marrying Stone Mountain in the Osarks! 
  • Here Comes the Bride is another book that I've had in my sights for about a year now. This is the romance between Augusta Mudd and Rome Akers and this one is set in a small town in Texas. The description of the book reminds me a little bit of Courting Miss Hattie (my very favorite Morsi read) and I can't wait to read it. :)
  • The Love Charm is another book I've had on my wish list for a long time. The setting alone sounds too intriguing to pass up. The story is set in19th Century Louisiana and the characters are Acadian. There seem to be a few romances going on at the same time in this story, but the main characters are Armand Sonnier and Aida Gaudet. 

Sooo, I have lots of great books to read! I wonder which books will call to me in the next couple of weeks. Notice that all of them are historical romances. Interesting.

Besides Pamela Morsi, I enjoy works by Lavyrle Spencer and Cheryl St. John. How about you? Who is your favorite Americana historical romance writer?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Book Haul! Mary Balogh Heaven & A Special Thanks

It's that time of the year! This is Thanksgiving week and the Christmas holidays are approaching fast. For me that means reading Mary Balogh historical romances. A few years ago, a friend introduced me to this habit of hers... she has been reading and enjoying Balogh's Christmas stories for years! Well, I find that I not only love to read Balogh's holiday books, but all her stories do it for me during this time of the year. In 2009 A Matter of Class was one of my favorite December reads, and last year A Christmas Promise was also a hit with me.

Anyway going on to that haul... that same friend and I have been swapping books for a few years now, and this year she really, really indulged me! This weekend I received a little package consisting of Mary Balogh backlist books I've yet to read. Here are my precious for this season:

  • A Regency Christmas VII is obviously a Christmas anthology. This is the 1995 Signet edition, and it contains the following stories: "The Christmas Ghost" by Sandra Heath, "The Rake's Christmas" by Edith Layton, "Lady Bountiful" by Laura Matthews, "A Mummer Play" by Jo Beverly and "The Surprise Party" by Mary Balogh. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to reading this anthology for the holidays!
  • The Gifts of Christmas is another anthology, this one a 1998 Harlequin edition containing three longer, thematic stories. "A Handful of Gold" by Mary Balogh, "A Drop of Frankincense" by Merline Lovelace, and "A Touch of Myrrh" by Suzanne Barclay. It's the three kings! This is another must read for me. :) 
  • Then there's Longing! The 1994 Topaz edition. This novel is set in Wales and it's the story of Sian the illegitimate daughter of a lord and Alexander, Marquess of Craille, a widower with a daughter who hires Sian as his daughter's governess. I love the fact that this story is set in Wales, there's mention of ironworkers, poverty, passions, desire and well... I can't wait to get started on this one!
  • Truly (1996 Berkley edition) is another romance set in Wales! This time between a wealthy lord and a minister's daughter. It looks like I'm going to be enjoying historical details about Wales along with a sweeping romance full of adventure.  
  • Silent Melody (1997 Berkley edition) is the second book in the Georgian set, the first book is Heartless. I haven't read the first book either, so I have no idea if that will make a difference to my enjoyment. However I do love books set in the Georgian period, plus the story sounds fascinating! The heroine in the story is deaf/mute and I can't wait to find out how Balogh handles the story and romance. 
  • And well... Unforgiven (1998 Jove edition). This is the third book in the 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' series. I read the first book, Irresistible and really enjoyed it, but have not been able to get my hands on the second book, Indiscreet! Believe me, I'm ecstatic to finally get my hands on the third book! 
I'll have to pick and choose which of these books to read, if not all of them! On this Thanksgiving week when we give thanks for everything we've received and for all our blessings (and this year I have to give lots of thanks), I would like to specifically thank my friend for her generosity throughout the years. But today? Well, today I'm a happy reader!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

...On Chulito by Charles Rice-González

I was able to finish reading one book last week while surrounded by stressful family situations, mainly because that book just wouldn't let me go even through all my worries and stress. That says something about a book, yes? Of course, this is by no means a perfect book, plot-wise there are a couple of questions that are not answered by the end, but this is a minimal complaint from me compared to what it offered.

That book is Chulito by Charles Rice-González. This author co-edited and included a story in the From Macho to Mariposa: New Gay Latino Fiction anthology that I reviewed recently. However, Chulito is not a pure fiction read, although the excellent writing and the in-depth exploration of characters and their motivations certainly places it in that category. Chulito takes center stage in this story as he comes to terms with his sexuality and his developing romance with childhood friend Carlos. So there's a coming-out story with a romance between two young adults -- sixteen and seventeen years of age -- with sexual content and mild violence included. How the author goes about telling his story? Well, that's what this is all about.

There are quite a few aspects of the book that grabbed me from the beginning. Rice-González develops the romance and especially Chulito's slow journey toward coming to terms with his sexuality by using the South Bronx as the backdrop for his story, so his characters are for the most part Puerto Rican kids from a Latino neighborhood. First, he really captures the neighborhood's atmosphere -- both the sense of belonging and the claustrophobia felt by the residents of Hunt's Point. Second, his focus and grasp of Latino macho culture is excellent. The author depicts how the extreme macho Latino's attitude manifests itself toward women. However where the author really succeeds is in his main focus which is in showing how the gay sub-culture is viewed and the effects that macho attitude has on gay Latinos.

Rice-González explores this macho culture from the inside out by making Chulito a Latino "thug in the making," one who has to make a decision between being what it's expected of him in front of his "boys," or being true to himself and his very confusing feelings for his childhood friend Carlos. As you can well imagine, this is not an easy decision for Chulito to make, not when he has been brought up to believe that being a "pato" means rejection and possible violence from the very people that mean so much to him.

Carlos represents the smart, educated Latino young man who left the neighborhood to go to college. He's also gay, out, proud and ready to leave the neighborhood, except that he himself is pulled back not only because his mother and Chulito live there, but also because of that sense of belonging. Carlos is an admirable character in this story, not only because he is 'out' in the neighborhood and doesn't care what anyone thinks of him, but because he refuses to compromise his beliefs. Interestingly enough, to a certain degree even Carlos can't help but be attracted to and admire the beauty of Latino men. The macho attitude is a big turn-on for him, Chulito's in particular.

There's a section in the book where Chulito is dreaming and Rice-González conducts an in-depth exploration of the different degrees on the "macho" scale. This is also where the author begins to bring some balance to the equation.
Then they had a quote from the woman who invented the Macho Meter: "All men have macho in them. Even gay ones, but there are varying degrees, and while most forms of macho are lethal to the progression of the world and society, there are some acceptable levels, very low levels, that can sometimes be useful." 
There are female characters included in the story and Rice-González mixes it up by portraying sad, dysfunctional and healthy relationships between men and women to round up this story. There are also examples of different types of males used across the board. From the drug dealer Kamikaze and the would-be macho thugs hanging on the corner, to ex-convicts and the hard working men who populate the neighborhood.

Also key to this story are the gay characters that live in the neighborhood: Julio or La Julia owns the local travel agency and serves as an example and mentor to the younger men. Puti is the sad and lonely local drag queen. Lee from the Chinese restaurant, and one of the best characters in this story, Brick. Brick is a tough ex-drug dealer who got out of the game and whose best friend is Julio. He's flawed with positive and negative sides to his character, but serves as a great example of the Latino uber macho whose masculinity is not threatened by his close friendship with a gay man. Overall there's a wonderful mixture of characters.

Rice-González takes his time developing this story. Chulito's background, feelings, the challenges he faces on a daily basis are all explored in-depth. His life in the neighborhood as a runner for Kamikaze, the local drug dealer and Chulito's mentor. The relationship he has with his "boys" from the neighborhood. The deep love he shares with his mother Carmen and the resentment and indifference he feels for his dead father. Coming to terms with his sexuality is not an easy step or a ride in the park, and his romance with Carlos is riddled with deep disappointments, betrayal, tenderness, passion, yearning (like you wouldn't believe), angst, and deep love.

Ever since I read From Macho to Mariposa I've been looking for other books to read by gay Latino writers and well... I thought this book might be the perfect beginning. It was. Chulito is a great mixture of gay fiction and romance with a focus on the gay Latino experience. I highly enjoyed Charles Rice-González's writing style and his down to earth, no holds barred depiction of characters, culture, sub-culture, circumstances and setting in Chulito. I will keep my eye on this writer, hopefully there will be more books like this one from him in the future.

Category: LGBT - Gay Fiction/Romance
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Magnus Books/September 23, 2011- Kindle Edition
Grade: B

Visit Charles Rice-González here.

ETA: This was not meant to be a review, just my thoughts or impressions on the book (see post title). But, I think it turned into a review in the end, so I gave it a grade... Solid with excellent qualities!   

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Review: Mystery of the Tempest: A Fisher Key Adventure by Sam Cameron

Twin brothers Denny and Steven Anderson love helping people and fighting crime alongside their sheriff dad on sun-drenched Fisher Key, Florida. Steven likes chasing girls. Denny longs to lose his virginity, but doesn’t dare tell anyone he’s gay. Steven has a secret of his own. He lied to everyone, including his own brother, about being accepted into SEAL training for the U.S. Navy.

On the day they graduate high school, the twins meet the handsome new guy in town, a military veteran with a chiseled body and mysterious past. Meanwhile Brian Vandermark, a gay transfer student from Boston, finds himself falling for closeted Denny but hampered by his shyness. When an antique yacht explodes in Fisher Key harbor, all three boys are caught up in a summer of betrayal, romance, and danger. It’s the Mystery of the Tempest¬—and it just might kill them all.
Set in the Florida Keys, Mystery of the Tempest by Sam Cameron is a fast paced LGBT young adult mystery that turned out to be engrossing and entertaining enough that I read it through in one sitting. The main characters, Anderson twins Denny and Steven, are the main focus of the story as they solve a mystery that revolves around the explosion of the antique yacht The Tempest and reveal important personal secrets in this fast moving story.

Denny and Steven are known throughout the island for helping their father, the island's sheriff, solve crimes. So it doesn't come as a surprise to anyone when the twins are smack in the middle of the events that lead up to explosion of The Tempest, or when they follow up afterwards by attempting to figure out what really happened. Soon things become complicated when the boys realize that they are being followed, "accidents"pile up around them, and as everything unravels, lies by friends and family betrayals come to light.

Events taking place in the boys' personal lives further complicate matters. The boys are identical twins but there are differences between them. Stephen is the athlete who dreams of becoming a Navy Seal and Denny is the straight A student with dreams of becoming part of the Coast Guard. But the biggest difference between the two is that Stephen likes girls and Denny likes boys. Stephen's girlfriend Kelsey is ready to go forward with their relationship and agrees to sex after their high school graduation, but Denny is deep in the closet which makes him a frustrated virgin with no hopes of a change in status in the near future.

Everything changes on the night of their high school graduation. Not only does The Tempest blow up, but Denny and Stephen meet a couple of people that will have substantial influence in their lives. There's the gorgeous ex-Navy Seal hanging around Fisher Key that sets Denny to drooling and daydreaming, and then there's the mutual attraction between Denny and Brian Vandermark, the shy young man recently transferred to school from Boston. Of course all the secrets the boys are keeping from family, friends and each other further complicate matters.

Stephen lied to Denny and everyone about his future plans and doesn't know how to reveal the truth. Denny was accepted by the Coast Guard but is keeping the fact that he's gay a secret from everyone except Stephen. As the summer progresses and events become more complex around the boys, their secrets and lies become heavy burdens to carry. This is frustrating for Denny as he and Brian become more attracted to each other every day, and for Stephen who can't share his worries about future plans and whose girlfriend is not what he expected.

Using the third point of view every other chapter is narrated from Stephen, Denny, and Brian's perspectives, making this a well rounded story where all central characters' views are well represented. I particularly enjoyed the young adults' voices and the fact that they're portrayed as young adults, not grown-ups. The dialogue is contemporary but not overdone and the characters' concerns are quite appropriate to circumstances, age and time.

The mystery in this story is enjoyable although I did figure it out before the end. However, the most enjoyable aspects of the story for me were the personal issues to the boys' stories, as well as their revelations. How Denny comes to terms with his sexuality and deals with his frustrations are well addressed issues by the author, as is Stephen's personal situation. I liked that lying about his future and the newness of a sexual relationship with his girlfriend deeply affected this character. And speaking of time-appropriate portrayals, I specifically enjoyed Kelsey's character. Here's a young girl who sets a high bar for sexual interaction based on what she's read and posts all her likes and dislikes on Facebook. If I have one niggle about this story is that when reading this book there's a sense that there have been previous stories about the Anderson twins, however I could not find any other books in this series.

As opposed to many young adult reads, adults are present in this story. Stephen and Denny's parents are not central but are there to support them and Brian's parents are very much a part of the story, but none of them take the focus away from the young adults as central characters. The secondary characters in the story are a good mix of young adults, adults, males and females, with males making the bulk of the significant cast of secondary characters.

This is a different type of read for me, a young adult gay contemporary mystery. Sam Cameron is an author whose short story, "Day Student," I enjoyed in a recently reviewed anthology. In Mystery of  The Tempest: A Fisher Key Adventure, I again enjoyed the way this author captures young adults' voices, particularly the brotherly relationship between Steven and Denny, as well as youth's insecurities and strengths presented through the portrayal of Brian's character and his relationship with Denny. I do love mysteries and this one turned out to be an enjoyable, fresh read for me. Recommended.

Category: LGBT - Gay Young Adult Mystery
Series: Fisher Key Adventures
Publisher/Release Date: Bold Stroke Books/November 17, 2011
Source: Copy of book received from author
Grade: B

Visit Sam Cameron here. Read an excerpt here.

This 'n That: Catching Up, Kindle Fire Likes & Concerns

Hi everyone! Last week I posted almost every day and was rolling and this week I was only able to post one review. Well, yes... this year continues to plague my family with lots of emergencies. My dad was hospitalized for an emergency heart-related procedure. Although it was quite stressful at the time, the good news is that all is well, thank goodness! I am lucky enough to have three wonderful supportive brothers, a husband, sister-in-law and daughter that are there to help deal with the stress. My boss has been quite wonderful in allowing me the time to deal with all the family situations that have cropped up this year as well. Kudos and thanks to her! We are all trying to relax this weekend and hopefully will catch a break for a little while so we can be ready for whatever lies around the corner.

Throughout last week I did have a few distracting, happy moments provided by the arrival of my very special birthday present -- the Kindle Fire. Let me see... so far I have great news and some reservations about this wonderful toy. And it is quite a toy! It's a combination eReader and Pad (very similar to the iPad).

Reading and Device Features I like
  • Size -- it's the size of a paperback and it fits in my bag easier than my other Kindle (K2).
  • Bigger reading screen that allows me to read in portrait or landscape formats by just turning the device.
  • Easier and faster paging. 
  • Color covers for books arranged on shelf - makes it feel as if you're picking them off your own bookshelves. Seeing those beautiful covers makes me want to read books that have been in my old Kindle TBR FOREVER. 
  • The books keep the "New" label until they are opened and read. When sorting books by "most recent", the new books always appear first along with the books just read or recently opened. Love this! 
  • Cloud: Downloading books to the cloud allows me to download them to multiple devices (to both Kindles + my computer) and it allows me to see all my books, but download only what I want to read in a particular device. Love this feature!
  • Highlighting and Dictionary features are better than in old Kindle. Plus, there's the option of going directly to Wiki.
  • I love the touch screen (no breakable knobs parts), but there's a catch to this (see below).
  • Amazon Prime Member Free Library -- WOW, love books in that library.
Other features I love:
  • Music! Uploaded all my music to the Cloud
  • Newsstand -- Already have magazines and newspapers in there
  • Videos -- Great stuff! No videos yet.
  • Docs -- Can have documents in there. I still don't have any
  • Apps -- There are free apps and interface with Facebook, Twitter, and other sites. Can download more! I especially love that I was able to load all my email accounts and am able to read and answer them from the device. I also loaded my office calendar into the device already -- yeah, well.... *g*
  • Web -- Fast and easy... I've bookmarked all my favorite blogs, Goodreads and other sites.
Reservations or Concerns so far:
  • Books can't be sorted by collections. This is a great feature available in other Kindles. If this feature is available for the KFire, I haven't figured out how to use it yet.
  • No PDF Files! The Kindle Fire does NOT read PDF files. The other Kindles read PDF files that are loaded free of charge via USB cable. For the KFire they have to be sent to amazon via email for "conversion" so they can then be read. I have loads of books in PDF format still unread. Why change this feature at this point in the game? 
  • WiFi, not 3G: Books, magazines, music, etc... are downloaded to the device via WiFi services or USB cable. This is easy enough at home or if you have passwords for specific locations (office/friends & family's homes) or free public access, but if there are dead zones or there's no free public access there's no using the Web or multiple apps.
  • Screen is backlit: The screen to the reader is back lit just like a computer, which is great for reading in dark places. BUT, I haven't read a complete book yet so I'm not sure if this is going to affect my vision or give me a headache. This is a concern for me even though I've been told it's all good.
  • Glass-like screen: The screen is glass-like which makes it fragile and breakable (see warranty for this). I have a great case for it with a hard back but it's a concern for me since I take my Kindle everywhere with me. Also because it's like glass, it is reflective (unlike the old Kindles), it's not too bothersome but something I need to get used to.  
  • Battery Time: Charge on the battery only lasts for eight hours of straight reading and it takes four hours for the device to charge fully. Now, I know this is a long time for someone to read, but I read for eight hours straight (and more) on the weekends and if you're listening to music, running other apps, or have the WiFi on at the same time the battery runs down fast.
  • Distractions: I know this is a new toy, but so far I find that having all the different apps together with the reader distracts me from reading. My concentration has been shot! I begin reading a book but then I want to look or hear or see something else -- a bit too much stimuli! Maybe this will change later for me. 
So you ask, have I finished any books in the Kindle Fire yet? Well yes, I finished the one book I was reading when the device arrived, Chulito by Charles Rice-González, and I'll be posting all about this book later on. However, I've not been able to read any other books even though I've begun a few of them. Hopefully this weekend that will change.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Review: The Next Always (Inn BoonsBoro #1) by Nora Roberts

The Next Always: Inn BoonsBoro is the first book in Nora Roberts latest romance trilogy. This trilogy is set in BoonsBoro, Maryland where the three Montgomery brothers, Ryder, Owen and Beckett are in the process of giving the historical Inn BoonsBoro a major overall.

The Inn is described almost as a character who views the town as it changes throughout time and comes alive as it changes throughout this story, and of course as in many old buildings with such history, this one has its own ghost in residence. Both the Inn and the resident ghost seem to like the changes the Montgomery brothers are making. This might be because the gorgeous Montgomery brothers share a dream, know what they're doing and how to go about getting results. Ryder is the constructions expert, Owen the administrator and go to man, and Beckett the architect of the family, but all three of them can put on a tool belt and wield a hammer with the best of them.

Beckett dreams of seeing his designs come alive as the Inn is restored and secretly yearns for Clare. He fell in love with her when he was fifteen and was heartbroken when she fell in love, married and left town with Clint Brewster. After Clint was killed in Iraq, Clare returned home and opened the local bookstore, Turn the Page, to make a life for herself and her three boys. She sees Beckett as an old friend and he turns into a tongue-tied fifteen year old whenever she's around. Everything changes between them after Beckett gives Clare a tour of the Inn and they share a charged moment and an almost-kiss.

Clare sees herself as the mother of her three boys and doesn't really have much time for being a "woman." She's the only one surprised by Beckett's attraction to her and by her response to him, but why shouldn't she be attracted? He's gorgeous, single and as her best friend Avery says, he's been crazy about her for years! Huh?! Clare is clueless. This is a woman totally focused on her daily life -- children, business, home life -- and nothing else. While married to Clint who as a soldier was away for most of their marriage Clare learned to depend on herself and to take care of everything, so that's what she does on a daily basis. Even when drowning from stress, she turns away friends and family willing to help her cope.

Clare and Beckett begin dating as Clare's attraction for Beckett grows. Her children are very much a part of her life and Beckett slowly begins the process of incorporating himself into that life. However, Clare's focus on her daily life and Beckett's focus on the Inn's reconstruction constantly interrupt this romance. They have to schedule minutes to see each other and then are ruthlessly interrupted by friends and family who don't seem to believe in privacy. Clare makes the time to meet with her girlfriends and doesn't miss one single celebratory meeting with them, but always seems to be too busy to meet Beckett. I found that weird to say the least, hmm...

From the beginning this just felt like a one-sided love affair, and it took a long time for me to feel a real connection between Clare and Beckett as a couple. I actually felt more of a connection between Beckett and Clare's boys, and in a way feel that in the end Clare fell in love with Beckett because of that connection. Heartwarming, but not very romantic.

Nora Roberts builds a wonderful relationship between the brothers, both the Montgomery brothers and Clare's boys, the Brewster brothers. I loved those relationships. There are other secondary characters that really make an impact in this story, but of those my favorite has to be Clare's best friend Avery, the owner of the local Italian restaurant Vestra, who speaks her mind no matter what and steals every single scene. I looked forward to all her appearances in the book. There is also a ghost included in this story, and although that plot line affects both the romance and the ending, I thought it was pretty much meaningless as there's really no explanation for the ghost's presence. Maybe in the next book? There's also a villain in this story and I like the way Roberts works in the reality of that situation with light fiction.

And speaking of Vestra, Roberts also does an excellent job of portraying the small town of BoonsBoro, Maryland. Maybe it's because she has taken the town and businesses out of her own life experiences, but they all come alive for the reader. I love her description of the small town, its people and businesses -- Turn the Page Bookstore, Vestra Restaurant, and of course Inn BoonsBoro. Roberts' description of the Inn with its reconstruction and decorations are detailed and you can just feel the love and care that goes into every single detail shared in this book. The small town atmosphere and secondary characters also make an impact when reading the story -- mother Montgomery is a ruthless riot!

Overall The Next Always by Nora Roberts was an enjoyable read for me. I love the small town atmosphere and Roberts' characterization usually works for me, especially when it comes to building relationships between family and friends. It does in this book too. Unfortunately, I found the romance to be lukewarm with an unfinished and rather abrupt ending right after Beckett and Clare's big moment finally comes along. I do think this is a good beginning to Nora Roberts' latest romance series and won't be missing the next book in the series, The Last Boyfriend.

Category: Contemporary Romance
Series: Inn BoonsBoro, Book 1
Publisher/Release Date: Berkley/November 1, 2011 - Kindle Edition
Grade: C+

Visit Nora Roberts here.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

New Releases: November 2011

I'm late with my November releases post, and there were quite a few books that released at the beginning of the month that were "must" reads for me! Of course, I've read a couple of the earlier releases already, but here's a list of the whole month for you.

November 1st was a good day for new releases:

The latest contemporary romance by Nora Roberts, The Next Always (Inn BoonsBoro #1) series. The beginning of a new romance series about the three Montgomery brothers who find their happily ever afters while rebuilding a historical Inn in BoonsBoro, Maryland. I love Nora Roberts' books, so I couldn't miss this book!

The Comforts of Home (Harmony #3) by Jodi Thomas is the continuation of her Harmony series. I enjoyed Welcome to Harmony and couldn't wait to find out what happens to the people in that town. Jodi Thomas has a way of creating fictional characters residing in a small town setting and making them come alive with their secret heartaches, loves and dreams. I'm thinking this book is a perfectly heartwarming read for November, especially with the upcoming Thanksgiving holidays.

Heart of Steel (Iron Seas #2) by Meljean Brook! A highly anticipated book and the continuation of Brook's Iron Seas steampunk series. I loved both the novella introducing this series Here There Be Monsters (Burning Up Anthology), and the first book in this series, The Iron Duke. Now this is the story of Yasmeen, the infamous captain of the Lady Corsair! I began reading it, but had to put it aside... [sigh] I can't wait to read it.

Now, I'm waiting for:

Detours by Jeffrey Ricker releasing November 15, 2011 (Bold Strokes Books). I first read Mr. Ricker's work in the Fool for Love anthology and enjoyed his story. Since then I've read a few of his short stories and continued to enjoy his work, but I've been looking forward to reading a complete novel by this author.
Joel Patterson should be happier than ever. He's just returned from a two-week vacation in London, where he met Philip, who might be the man of his dreams. Instead, Joel's heading to Maine for his mother's funeral. He quits his job to fulfill one last request for his mother: unload his parents' albatross of an RV by delivering it to an old family friend—in California.

Somehow, Joel's high school "friend" Lincoln has invited himself along on the ride—and into Joel's bed. The other person who's invited herself along? The ghost of his mother, who still has plenty to say about her son's judgment (or lack thereof). Joel has to get the RV to San Francisco, get rid of Lincoln, and get back to Philip. It would also make him feel better if he learned what's keeping his mother tied to this earthly plane. However Joel manages it, the route is likely to be anything but straight.

History's Passion: Stories of Sex Before Stonewall by Richard Labonté releasing November 15, 2011 (Bold Strokes Books). Labonté is a favorite LGBT editor and so are three of the four authors included in this anthology. I'm not about to miss it. Here's a short version of the book summary:
Four acclaimed erotic authors re-imagine the past... welcome to the hidden queer history of men loving men not so very long—and centuries—ago.

In "Heaven on Earth," Lambda Literary Award-winner editor and author Simon Sheppard evokes a noirish Depression-era setting for Wichita rich kid Eli: Bonnie and Clyde meet Leopold and Loeb. In "Camp Allegheny," Lambda finalist Jeff Mann recounts a clandestine Civil War romance between two Rebel soldiers. In "Tender Mercies," Dale Chase imagines the world of young Luke Farrow, a failure at prospecting during the California Gold Rush. In "The Valley of Salt," David Holly blends legend with lust in the beautiful city of Gomorrah more than 3,000 years ago.

Mystery of the Tempest: A Fisher Key Adventure by Sam Cameron releasing November 15, 2011 (Bold Strokes Books). This is also LGBT, but for a change it's a young adult mystery. I recently read a short story by Sam Cameron in the Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up anthology and loved it, so I was happy to accept this book for review. I've already read it, so expect a review soon.
Twin brothers Denny and Steven Anderson love helping people and fighting crime alongside their sheriff dad on sun-drenched Fisher Key, Florida. Steven likes chasing girls. Denny longs to lose his virginity, but doesn’t dare tell anyone he’s gay. Steven has a secret of his own. He lied to everyone, including his own brother, about being accepted into SEAL training for the U.S. Navy.

On the day they graduate high school, the twins meet the handsome new guy in town, a military veteran with a chiseled body and mysterious past. Meanwhile Brian Vandermark, a gay transfer student from Boston, finds himself falling for closeted Denny but hampered by his shyness. When an antique yacht explodes in Fisher Key harbor, all three boys are caught up in a summer of betrayal, romance, and danger. It’s the Mystery of the Tempest—and it just might kill them all.

Head Over Heels (Lucky Harbor #3) by Jill Shalvis releasing November 22, 2011 (Forever/Hachette Book Group). This is the continuation of her Lucky Harbor series and a favorite contemporary romance series for me. It's Chloe's story and I'm not about to miss it.
Free-spirited Chloe lives life on the edge. Unlike her soon-to-be married sisters, she isn't ready to settle into a quiet life running their family's newly renovated inn. But soon her love of trouble--and trouble with love-draws the attention of the very stern, very sexy sheriff who'd like nothing better than to tame her wild ways.

Suddenly Chloe can't take a misstep without the sheriff hot on her heels. His rugged swagger and his enigmatic smile are enough to make a girl beg to be handcuffed. For the first time, instead of avoiding the law, Chloe dreams of surrender. Can this rebel find a way to keep the peace with the straitlaced sheriff? Or will Chloe's colorful past keep her from a love that lasts . . . and the safe haven she truly wants in a town called Lucky Harbor?

Fate's Edge (The Edge, #3) by Ilona Andrews releasing November 29, 2011 (Ace)! Boy, I've been waiting a whole year for this puppy. I'm loving this series by the Andrews team and can't wait to get my hands on this book.
Audrey Callahan left behind her life in the Edge, and she's determined to stay on the straight and narrow. But when her brother gets into hot water, the former thief takes on one last heist and finds herself matching wits with a jack of all trades...

Kaldar Mar-a gambler, lawyer, thief, and spy-expects his latest assignment tracking down a stolen item to be a piece of cake, until Audrey shows up. But when the item falls into the hands of a lethal criminal, Kaldar realizes that in order to finish the job, he's going to need Audrey's help...

A Place Called Home by Jo Goodman is releasing December 6, 2011 (Zebra). I know this book is releasing early next month, but for some reason this contemporary romance by a favorite historical romance writer caught my attention and I'm really looking forward to reading it, so I'm highlighting it now. :D
When Thea Wyndham and Mitchell Baker learn they've been named joint guardians for their late friends' three children, they're little more than acquaintances. Barely polite acquaintances, at that. Something about Mitch's forthright intensity has always left ad exec Thea feeling off-balance, while Mitch makes no secret of his disdain when Thea offers him financial assistance if he'll take sole guardianship. Thea is far from heartless. She's just plain terrified of her new parenting responsibilities. Both she and Mitch are romantically involved with other people. Yet the more time they spend together, the less certain she is of her loyalties. There are complications and mis-steps, tears and laughter - lots of it. And somehow, through it all, the dawning realization that the last place she thought she'd find herself could be just where she belongs.

Of course there are other books that released or are releasing that interest me. I read All They Need by Sarah Mayberry, a contemporary category romance that released on November 1st. I also read and enjoyed the debut historical romance novel The Lady's Secret by Joanna Chambers (Tumperkin) which released on November 7th. And on November 22nd Saints Astray by Jacqueline Carey book #2 in her Santa Olivia series is finally releasing. What about you? Any books you can't wait to read in November?