Monday, February 27, 2012

Impressions: Shards of Honour by Lois McMaster Bujold

Cordelia Naismith is enjoying a baptism of fire. Her first mission is to captain a throwaway warship of the Betan Expeditionary Force on a mission to destroy an entire enemy armada. Discovering deception within deception, treachery within treachery, she is forced into an uneasy peace with her nemesis: Lord Aral Vorkosigan. Discovering that astrocartography is not the soundest training for a military leader, Cordelia rapidly finds herself the prisoner of the Barrayaran Captain Aral Vorkosigan, also known as 'The Butcher of Komarr'. But the notorious captain is not quite the beast Cordelia was expecting and a grudging respect develops between the two of them. As captor and prisoner on an abandoned outpost planet, the honourable captain and the resolute scientist must rely on each others' trust to survive a trek across dangerous terrain, thus sparking a relationship that shares the struggles of culture and politics between their worlds.
I finally began reading the Vorkosigan science fiction saga by Lois McMaster Bujold. Although I understand that Miles, their son, is the main character throughout the rest of the series, I decided to begin at the beginning by reading Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan's story. I figured the backstory would help me understand Miles' character better later on. I think it was a good move.

As the first full-length novel in the series Shards of Honour is key. It serves two purposes: one is to give the readers of this series Miles' family history from both sides, and the other is to introduce the complex political, military and cultural differences between the Barrayaran and the worlds they war against, the Betan included.

Bujold uses the slow developing and low-key romance between Cordelia and Aral to build her world through exchanges of information and conversations between the two main characters. They first meet as enemies, but slowly the need to fight for survival in an alien planet brings them together and Cordelia and Aral form a bond of trust through honor and finally affection.

Honor and valor are also key to this story. It is what drives Aral and what he finds in Cordelia -- that, plus strength and will. Cordelia is not only Aral's ideal of a warrior's wife, but everything he himself would like to be as a warrior. Yet, she is not a warrior but a scientist. Aral is a man of honor through and through, but he is also a military strategist and in his heart, a politician. As such, he must make tough decisions that bruise his sense of self. Cordelia understands him and soothes his soul.

Barrayar's politics are quite complex in this story, and what begins as an attack on Cordelia's scientific party in an alien planet balloons into a disproportionate situation that places more than just a few people in danger. There are betrayals behind betrayals, secrets, and massive amounts of people die or are tortured, planets go to war and in the end Bujold leaves the reader with gray areas as to where responsibilities really lie for the loses and slaughter, and even Cordelia must make a tough choice between her own world and Aral's.

Shards of Honour is most definitely a science fiction novel though. Bujold incorporates the necessary details seamlessly into her worldbuilding. Beginning with the alien planet where Cordelia and Aral meet, and where they both use whatever futuristic science there is to survive, and ending with the space ships and developing edgy science used to win and lose wars.

However, I walked away from Shards of Honour thinking mostly about characterization and complex plotting. The romance that Bujold developed between two mature adults that grows from admiration to an almost quiet, deep love was rather enjoyable, and the complex political circumstances and militaristic Barrayaran culture fascinating. So I'm on my way and can't wait to continue by reading the second book in the series, Barrayar.

Category: Science Fiction
Series: Vorkosigan Series, Book 1
Publisher/Release Date: October 1, 1991/Baen Books
Grade: B

Visit Lois McMaster Bujold here.

Read as part of The 2012 Science Fiction Experience.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

This n' That: NJ Bloggers + Surprises & Thanks!

A week ago today, I had the pleasure of meeting with my fellow New Jersey bloggers. We are trying to meet at least once per season, if not more often, depending on our busy schedules. It was a pleasure meeting with Christine, Mariana and Natalie again!

This time Mariana chose the place and we met at The Melting Pot in Hoboken where they serve everything fondue! Cheese fondue -- just look at Christine's smile in the picture above! ;p We ended up having a yummy lunch filled with ooohs and ahhhs. Lunch was good, but the dessert was the piece de resistance! The Yin & Yang combination of melted white and dark chocolate was a sight to behold and I don't think there was enough left at the end to lick the bowl. LOL! We all loved it, and I walked away dreaming of strawberries and cheesecake dipped in chocolate. Check out my grainy pictures, doesn't that dessert look yummy?

Of course we also discussed books and our latest reads. Christine shared how much she enjoyed her latest read Eon by Alison Goodman, and she and Mariana recommended it to the rest of us. Natalie shared her surprise with her enjoyment of latest read Homefront by Kristin Hannah, and that turned out to be great because I just happened to have a book by this author in my bag of goodies that she took home with her! Mariana was all about our latest Internet Book Club read The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan, and I was waxing poetic about He Will Laugh by Douglas Ray and the merits of poetry (lol), plus the latest release by Victoria Alexander, My Wicked Little Lies.

We didn't exchange books this time, instead I just brought something for everyone and that helped me make room in my bookshelves. It worked out perfectly for all of us. :)

Thank you ladies for a great time! It was a wonderful, wonderful afternoon!


I do have two other great ladies I would like to thank. Back in November I put up two posts -- one post was about Pamela Morsi books I purchased and the other post about Mary Balogh books I received from my friend Reny. In one I mentioned that I had been looking for a particular book by Ms. Balogh, and in the comments area of the other there were some great recommendations from the wonderful readers/bloggers that visit.

As a result, I received two books in the mail from two generous and thoughtful ladies!

In the comments area of the Morsi post, JenM recommended The Charm School by Susan Wiggs (1999). When I mentioned that I had only read contemporary romances by this author, but had never read her historical romances, she offered to send me the book and did so immediately. I was quite touched by Jen's generosity!

At that time Jen also recommended Conor's Way by Laura Lee Guhrke, the latest rage around the web (going by all the reviews, lol). Hey Jen! I finally got that book at a great price... 0.99 cents for my Kindle. Thanks for the recommendation. :D

Then! I mentioned that I was missing Indiscreet (The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse #1) by Mary Balogh (1997), to complete the series, but that it was next to impossible to find the book at a reasonable price. Well, I received a wonderful surprise on Valentine's Day when a copy of this book arrived at my door all the way from Canada from sweet Ames! She found it at a used book store and thought of me. She made my day!

Thank you JenM and Ames for your generosity and thoughtfulness!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mini: My Wicked Little Lies by Victoria Alexander

Evelyn Hadley-Attwater has it all ---a genteel Victorian life replete with loving husband, ball gowns and elegant parties. No one, including the man she married, suspects that she was once "Eve," a spy for England's most enigmatic inteliggence agency. Summoned for one final assignment, the excitement of her former life and memories of her mysterious, flirtatious boss "Sir" prove too tempting.

Adrian Hadley-Attwater is a respectable, dignified gentleman. But even the most proper gentlemen have secrets of their own. Secrets from the rest of the world, from their families, from their wives. Secrets that have a price. Now, as a veil of secrecy frays, a tantalizing game of cat and mouse will test the bounds of unfailing love...
My Wicked Little Lies by Victoria Alexander is an amusing, witty historical romance with lovely central and secondary characters. The main couple is happily married and very much in love with each other. Yet, their lives are also full of secrets that lead to misunderstandings, lack of trust, impulsive actions and hurt feelings.

I enjoyed this book for the "game of love" that takes place between the two main characters. There's much to be said about the way in which Ms. Alexander made this story work by taking two married people who love each other deeply, and basically just need to reinforce that one very important truth to each other. The romance is also quite well integrated with the "spy" storyline, actually it can be said that one cannot be separated from the other. That is how well integrated it is. Very well done! And, the secondary characters in this story add sexual tension (as in the case of Max and Celeste), or family atmosphere (as in the extensive Hadley-Attwater family), without taking the focus away from the main couple.

Was this book a perfect read for me? No. There are a few niggles here and there, the pace slows down somewhat through the middle of the story, and there's some question about lack of sexual tension between the two main characters. However overall, this is a solid book that I recommend as a delightful historical romance read.

Category: Historical Romance
Series: Sinful Family Secrets #2
Publisher/Release Date: Zebra
Source: Kensington Books
Grade: B

Visit Victoria Alexander here.

Buddy Review at Breezing Through:

I'm doing something different this time! I posted a Mini above, but if you would like to read my complete thoughts on My Wicked Little Lies by Victoria Alexander, please head over to Breezing Through where I was invited to do a buddy review with the lovely Nath!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cover/Author Spotlight: Purgatory by Jeff Mann

During the Civil War, two young soldiers on opposite sides find themselves drawn together. One is a war-weary but scholarly Southerner who has seen too much bloodshed, especially the tortures inflicted upon the enemy by his vicious commanding officer, his uncle. The other is a Herculean Yankee captured by the rag-tag Confederate band and forced to become a martyr for all the sins of General Sheridan's fires. When these two find themselves admiring more than one another's spirit and demeanor, when passions erupt between captor and captive, will this new romance survive the arduous trek to Purgatory Mountain?
Purgatory: A Novel of the Civil War by Jeff Mann

I know... I just posted a review and it has been a looong time since I highlighted one book or a cover in this blog, but I couldn't help myself after receiving a newsletter announcing that this book is releasing in March. I've been keeping an eye out for it ever since I first saw the cover highlighted at Lethe's website.

There's something about this cover that just does SOMETHING for me. Maybe it's the eyes, the beard or the gorgeous eyebrows on that soldier (that face!), or maybe it's the composition of the picture, but I love, love this cover. It makes me want to hold the book in my hands.

Of course there's the most important part of it, the content! This book is by Jeff Mann. Just read the blurb. If anyone can do justice to a Civil War fiction yarn and make passions erupt convincingly between a Confederate and a Yankee soldier, it's Jeff Mann. Cant't wait!

Book releases March 15, 2012
Gay Historical Romance
Bear Bones Books

ETA: Read My Review Here

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Review: The Master of Seacliff by Max Pierce

A gothic mystery with a decidedly masculine point of view.

The year is 1899, and Andrew Wyndham is twenty years old—no longer a boy, but not yet the man he longs to become. Brought up by a harsh and stingy aunt and uncle in New York City after the death of his parents, young Andrew dreams of life as an artist in Paris. He has talent enough but lacks the resources to bring his dream to fruition. When a friend arranges for him to work as tutor to the son of a wealthy patron of the arts, Andrew sees a chance to make his dream come true and boards a train heading up the Atlantic coast. His destination is the estate called Seacliff, where he'll tutor his new charge and save his pay to make the life he dreams of possible. But danger lurks everywhere and nothing is quite as easy as it seems.
The Master of Seacliff by Max Pierce is an American gay gothic historical mystery with a romance. We've all read gothic historicals before, right? Pierce reeled me with great atmosphere, a multi-layered mystery and some excellent characters.

Let's begin with the setting. Our main character Andrew travels from New York City to an unnamed place up the Atlantic Coast to Seacliff, a doom and gloom estate that just reeks with atmosphere and a personality all of its own. As soon as the place is described you just know the place is either full of ghosts or something awful is going to happen.

Then there are the characters. There's the young and naive young hero, the handsome and brooding master of the household, and what I thought was a rather large cast of characters for a gothic. Pierce works them all into the mystery, and either uses them as red herrings to throw off the reader or incorporates them into the story to give it depth. The characterization is excellent and I came away from the book thinking of all these characters as having quite distinct personalities. Well done!

There's Duncan, the unhappy, unconventional master rumored to have killed his father to gain access to the business, and young Timothy, born out of wedlock, is a terror with no manners. Then there are brother and sister Leo and Elena from the neighboring estate who initially seem to be a breath of fresh air, but are they really Duncan's friends or is there something else going on? And then there's the staff who range from the downright creepy to those with tragic histories and/or secrets.

The story is definitely traditional gothic historical mystery. Our young and very naive hero is talented but poor Andrew Wyndham. He dreams of going to Paris to paint but lacks funds, so he secures a temporary three-month position at Seacliff as tutor to Timothy, son to the Duncan Stewart, Master of Seacliff. Seacliff and its inhabitants, however, are about to make those three months tough for young Andrew.

Secrets abound at Seacliff, and as Andrew begins to unravel them danger lurks everywhere, and to top it all off sensual undercurrents and confusing feelings place him in an awkward position. Who is the murderer? Who can he trust? As the bodies begin to pile up, Andrew can't decide and he needs to find out fast or he might be the next victim. Pierce leads the reader all over the place with this story, it's great! I can tell you that I guessed and changed my mind numerous times along the way and was never certain who did it until the very end.

Although the mystery in The Master of Seacliff definitely takes precedence over the romance and you won't find explicit sexual scenes, there is plenty of sexual tension between our central characters -- especially when our yet-to-become sexually aware Andrew becomes a bone of contention between brooding Duncan and sexy Leo. The romance between our two protagonists is developed slowly throughout the story and woven quite well with the mystery. I particularly like that when it comes to the romance Pierce went along with tradition and Andrew, although young, is not easy and in the end holds out for true love.

It has been a while since I read a gothic historical mystery, and frankly I enjoyed The Master of Seacliff. The American setting and the great atmosphere were both a plus for me as was the excellent characterization. And even though in some levels I found this to be a standard gothic historical, the male perspective gave this story a fresh feel, and the multi-layered mystery with its great twists was a joy to read as was the happy ending to the romance.

Category: LGBT - Gay Gothic Historical Mystery/Romance
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Lethe Press/January 16, 2012
Grade: B

Visit Max Pierce here.

Monday, February 20, 2012

New Releases: Historical Romances Feb-May 2012

It's time to highlight a few upcoming 2012 new releases. There are quite a few upcoming historical romances releasing within the next few months that I'm really looking forward to reading. Here are just a few of them, beginning with the end of February and ending with May 2012.


Title: The Temporary Wife/A Promise of Spring by Mary Balogh
Release Date: February 28, 2012
In two classic tales of Regency-era romance from New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh, the vagaries of love have a way of challenging the most convenient arrangements.

Miss Charity Duncan has no illusions about Lord Anthony Earheart’s proposal. The arrogant aristocrat has made it painfully clear what he wants: a wife who will enrage the father he despises and then disappear from his life. In exchange, Charity’s family will receive the money they desperately need. But after Charity agrees to this mockery of matrimony, she soon discovers a startling fact: She has fallen for Anthony, and breaking their marriage vows may also break her heart.

Grace Howard has every reason to be devoted to Sir Peregrine Lampman. After all, the gallant gentleman rescued her from poverty by making her his bride. Even more nobly, he did not withdraw his affection after she confessed to a youthful folly that had compromised her virtue. But Grace did not tell the whole truth about the handsome lord who betrayed her—and now the one thing she’s kept from Perry threatens to destroy her last chance at true love.
The Temporary Wife (1997) and A Promise of Spring (1990) were originally released by Signet. They have been out of print forever! Dell is re-releasing both of those books under one cover, and as I'm a Balogh fan, this is a "must buy/must read" for me.

Title: The Surrender of Miss Fairbourne by Madeline Hunter
Series: The Fairbourne Quartet, Book #1
Release Date: March 6, 2012
A woman running a prestigious London auction house? Preposterous! But that is exactly what Emma Fairbourne intends to do when her father dies, leaving her the reins of this fabulous enterprise. Of course, she is not addlepated enough to do this openly and scare away her wealthy collectors. So she and her friend concoct a deception, hiring a handsome and charming front man who will do her bidding...

All would have proceeded smoothly--if it weren't for the maddening interference of Darius, the arrogant Earl of Southwaite, who has been her father's "silent partner" and now shares ownership of Fairbourne's. An earl, of course, has no interest in running an auction house--and Darius is certainly not interested in allowing the lovely Miss Fairbourne to run it either, her ludicrous scheme notwithstanding. Clearly the business must be sold.

But the headstrong Emma is like no other lady he has ever encountered, refusing to follow his dictates. Holding his temper in check, Darius decides to attack on a different front. There is another way to achieve her surrender, one far more pleasurable for both of them...
I like Madeline Hunter's books. It has been a while since I read any of them, although I do have a few of them in my "to be read" pile. But this is an opportunity to begin with the first book of a new series. I'm getting on the bandwagon.

Title: The Rake by Mary Jo Putney
Release Date: March 27, 2012
Fate has given a disgraced Rake one final chance to redeem himself--by taking his place as the rightful master of an ancestral estate. But nothing prepares him for his shocking encounter with a beautiful lady who has fled a world filled with betrayal. Now he will awaken in her a passion more powerful than anything she has ever known--a passion that can doom or save them both if they dare to believe.
Here's another re-release! The Rake is one of Mary Jo Putney's most popular books. This book was originally released by Super Regency Signet in 1989 under the title "The Rake and the Reformer." It won the Romance Writers of America RITA Award for Best Romance in 1990. The book has been re-released since then under the title The Rake, and now it's coming out again. I don't own this book, so I'm definitely getting this new version of the old classic. :)

Title: The Duke's Perfect Wife by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Highland Pleasures, Book #4
Release Date: April 3, 2012
Lady Eleanor Ramsay is the only one who knows the truth about Hart Mackenzie. Once his fiancee, she is the sole woman to whom he could ever pour out his heart.

Hart has it all--a dukedom, wealth, power, influence, whatever he desires. Every woman wants him--his seductive skills are legendary. But Hart has sacrificed much to keep his brothers safe, first from their brutal father, and then from the world. He's also suffered loss--his wife, his infant son, and the woman he loved with all his heart though he realized it too late.

Now, Eleanor has reappeared on Hart's doorstep, with scandalous nude photographs of Hart taken long ago. Intrigued by the challenge in her blue eyes--and aroused by her charming, no-nonsense determination--Hart wonders if his young love has come to ruin him . . . or save him.
And.... yay! Hart's book is coming! Am I going to miss the fourth book about the Mackenzie brothers? No way! I've liked Hart from the beginning and can't wait to find more about him. Plus I really liked Lady Eleanor in the last book. I'm curious, really curious. This is a "must read" for me.


Title: The Proposal by Mary Balogh
Release Date: May 1, 2012
In Mary Balogh’s engaging and seductive new novel of drama and romance, a woman comfortable in her solitude allows temptation to free her heart, when a daring war hero shows her how truly extraordinary she is.


Gwendoline, Lady Muir, has seen her share of tragedy, especially since a freak accident took her husband much too soon. Content in a quiet life with friends and family, the young widow has no desire to marry again. But when Hugo, Lord Trentham, scoops her up in his arms after a fall, she feels a sensation that both shocks and emboldens her.

Hugo never intends to kiss Lady Muir, and frankly, he judges her to be a spoiled, frivolous—if beautiful—aristocrat. He is a gentleman in name only: a soldier whose bravery earned him a title; a merchant’s son who inherited his wealth. He is happiest when working the land, but duty and title now demand that he finds a wife. He doesn’t wish to court Lady Muir, nor have any role in the society games her kind thrives upon. Yet Hugo has never craved a woman more; Gwen’s guileless manner, infectious laugh, and lovely face have ruined him for any other woman. He wants her, but will she have him?

The hard, dour ex-military officer who so gently carried Gwen to safety is a man who needs a lesson in winning a woman’s heart. Despite her cautious nature, Gwen cannot ignore the attraction. As their two vastly different worlds come together, both will be challenged in unforeseen ways. But through courtship and seduction, Gwen soon finds that with each kiss, and with every caress, she cannot resist Hugo’s devotion, his desire, his love, and the promise of forever.
Mary Balogh is coming out with a new book, and I will not miss reading The Proposal. This is a long summary! It's about a Lady and a soldier. Ms. Balogh likes her soldiers and I love the way she portrays them. I will be looking for a fresh approach to her portrayals. I'm really looking forward to this book. :)


So these are just a few of the upcoming historical romances I'm looking forward to reading from now until May 1st. How about you? Is there a historical romance you just cannot wait to read?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Review: He Will Laugh by Douglas Ray

He Will Laugh traces the intense love between two young men. From the excitement of their first meeting to the aftermath of a tragic suicide, the speaker searches for grace and understanding amid his grief and the wealth of memory that remains.
He Will Laugh by Douglas Ray begins with the end. After reading that first gripping poem I dare anyone not to keep reading, as it is almost immediately apparent that this little book is more than a poetry collection, it is a contemporary story of love found and lost written in prose.

In the aftermath of his lover Issac's suicide the narrator takes the reader through a journey. From that first meeting to its tragic conclusion, through prose, Ray is relentless in wringing out emotion from the reader. He does so magnificently by conveying grief, the devastation of loss, sensuality, joy, frustration, and finally bittersweet understanding and closure.

This 82 page collection is divided into three sections, Now, Then and Time Unredeemable. Each section is introduced by a poem that sets the tone for that particular section. A hunting, sorrowful poem that in the end also brings closure, "November 8" serves as the perfect introduction to the first section, Now.

Now recounts the present events and the grief and loss that the narrator experiences after his young lover dies. "Salo" is one of the most gripping poems in this section, as the narrator recalls Isaac's appreciation for Pasolini's film Salò and begins by describing the scene at the end of the film and ends the poem by describing Isaac's suicide and the narrator's regrets. However, from "Get that in Writing," to "How We Grieve," and from "Still" to "You say, There's nothing special about 20" [...Call me Hadrian. Antinous, his lover, died at 20, and Hadrian deified him a daemon of arts, like Pan and Bacchus...], the poetry in this first section makes a deep, strong impact on the reader.

Then begins with a poem that says it all with its title, "Find the Precedent in Childhood." This section addresses the past, the joy of that first meeting, the sensuality, passion and yearning of a lover, as well as the frustrations that came with the long term relationship between the narrator and young, troubled Isaac. Some of my favorite poems are found in this section, as our narrator goes from sublime happiness to depths of despair as the relationship's reaches its inevitable conclusion.

In Time Unredeemable the poet ends with one single poem that captures the present, the past and the "what ifs," or all those possibilities that will never be realized, "Chaconne for Neuroses." And yet, at this time, at the end, I returned to the beginning and ended my reading experience with the first poem, November 8. I kept coming back to that one poem, possibly because I find it to be such a complete piece.

One of the most interesting aspects of Ray's prose in He Will Laugh is that it is both distinctly contemporary and yet it manages to convey the rather timeless flavor found in works by poets throughout the ages. He uses musical and religious allegations, Greek and Roman historical figures, and often cites the Spanish poet Garcia Lorca, while mixing popular figures like John Waters and other cinematographic figures and classic films in his poetry. His prose is lyrical and prosaic, contemporary and classic, quite an arresting combination. Certainly the timeless yearning, joy and grief that comes of love found and lost are well rendered.

The outcome is that I cried and grieved with this lover who lost, felt his immense joy at finding love, as well as his anger and frustration, and yes... fell a little in love with Isaac too. He Will Laugh is a magnificent debut by Douglas Ray and this poetry collection with it's particularly poignant and relevant view of the contemporary gay man's experience is a must read. Highly recommended.

Here are excerpts from two of my favorite poems.

This is the day the gates to the underworld
open [...]

Remember your name, the miracle
of laughter. Bring pleasure to the sad gods,
though you leave this world to grieve,
to replace your intricate streams of blood
with methanol and formaldehyde.
                  November 8 (excerpt - page 11)

You are a symphony, love, stretched
from clef to double-line, which summons
silence. Your feet, placed apart neatly,
consonant as thirds, each toe nimble,
articulate enough to play a tocatta complex
as Widor's.
                Sight Reading (excerpt - page 38)

About the Author: Douglas Ray teaches at Indian Springs School, a boarding and day school in Birmingham, Alabama. He received his B.A. and M.F.A. from the University of Mississippi.


Category: LGBT Poetry
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Lethe Press/February 2012
Source: Lethe Press
Grade: A-

Friday, February 17, 2012

Poetry: Konstantinos P. Kavafis... Days of 1903

Days of 1903

I never found them again—all lost so quickly...
the poetic eyes, the pale face...
in the darkening street...

I never found them again—mine entirely by chance,
and so easily given up,
then longed for so painfully.
The poetic eyes, the pale face,
those lips—I never found them again.

by Konstantinos P. Kavafis

Translated from the Greek by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

TBR Review: Anyone But You by Jennifer Crusie

TBR Challenge 2012 February Theme: Recommended Read

I read my first novel by Jennifer Crusie in September 2010 thanks to Tracy who sent me a copy of Welcome to Temptation. The following month in October 2010, Nath came to visit and recommended and gifted me with Anyone But You (plus quite a few other books in Crusie's backlist). The book has been sitting in my TBR pile ever since. So, thanks to both Tracy for convincing me to read this author, and to Nath for recommending this book.


She was beginning life fresh -- new job, new apartment. No husband. All she wanted was a puppy. A happy, perky puppy. Instead she got Fred. Part Basset, part beagle, part manic-depressive.

Nina loved Fred. Everything was great. Well, her best friend went through men like tissues and somehow Nina had to single-handedly save the company she worked for, but her life was great. Until Fred brought home Alex Moore -- poster boy for lonely women. No, no, no she yelled at her hormones and her heart. Anyone but Alex.

Still, Fred did have very good taste...
Anyone But You was first released by Harlequin in 1996 under their Love & Laughter line. I chose to read it not just because of the author, but hoping that the story would be filled would love and laughter. It was.

Nina moves to her new apartment after a divorce. She's finally happy with her life as is except that she wants a perky dog to keep her company. But when it comes down to it, instead of choosing a perky little dog to cheer herself up, falls in love with the smelly, depressed-looking Fred in a scene that immediately hooked me on this story. By next day Fred brings home drool-worthy Alex Moore, the gorgeous downstairs neighbor. Soon the attraction turns out to be mutual, and even after Nina finds out Alex is an ER doctor, she keeps reminding herself that he's just a kid.

The two become friends who share their daily concerns and well... Fred. The attraction grows but here's the main conflict between Nina and Alex, age. Nina just turned forty and Alex just turned thirty, so this romance has an older woman/younger man theme. Of course Alex doesn't care about the age difference, but to Nina this is a big deal.

This was an enjoyable read for me with the promised love and laugh out loud moments here and there. The main characters in the story are likable and fun. There are really three main characters: Nina, Alex and Fred. They are a trio, and their scenes together are the best. Oreo cookies, milk, and a special bra become part of their intimate, relationship-building moments, and a watchful Fred doesn't just bring this couple together, he becomes a witness to more than just their movie nights.
He looked at Fred.
"Pay attention. You may pick up some pointers here."
Nina moved against the pillow. "He's just a child. He shouldn't be watching."
Whether you are a dog lover or not, these scenes are there to be enjoyed. :)

Although this is a short, quick read, the romance is stretched out throughout and well developed. Nina and Alex become friends first as Alex basically woos Nina in a sideways sort of way, and Nina accepts that wooing even while telling herself that she's too old for him. I love the apartment window-hopping, Alex's miscalculations when it comes to wardrobe (loved the Daffy Duck shorts), and their movie nights together, plus once they get between the sheets there is more than sizzle between them.

There is a conflict that arises because of those age insecurities mentioned above, both Nina's and interestingly enough Alex's. Having read a few of Crusie's books now, I found it interesting that even this short, fun book touches on certain themes found in her later novels: dysfunctional and unhappy wealthy families, cold, uncaring parents (see dysfunctional families), couples that might not want a family, and a yearning for a simpler life as the ideal for happiness.

There are not too many secondary characters in this short story, but the ones that are highlighted are excellent. I particularly like Alex's brother Max and Nina's best friend Charity, both secondary characters that show personal growth throughout this short romance without taking the focus away from the main couple. Plus the upstairs senior neighbors, Norma and Rich, are a wonderful addition that contribute to the overall story.

Anyone But You is light, funny and fun, and although it is a bit dated with 1990's pop culture references, reading this contemporary romance is a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Plus, if you haven't read it yet, good luck with not falling in love with Fred!

Theme: Recommended Read
February Review
Category: Contemporary Romance
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Harlequin/August 1, 1996
Source: Gift from Nath
Grade: B+

Visit Jennifer Crusie here.