Thursday, August 23, 2012

Minis: Megan Hart, Mel Bossa

I haven't been reading a lot of books lately, but some of the books I've read have been excellent. No question about it! This usually happens to me at least once a year. It's like all the books I'm going to love find me at the same time. I'm in that kind of groove at the moment. I don't know... it might be that I choose to read works by certain authors, or books that are the right fit for me. Who knows? Anyway, here are two minis for you, as well as two recommendations.

Dirty by Megan Hart - Conclusion

Earlier last week I began reading Dirty by Megan Hart and shared my first impressions of the book for the TBR Challenge. Well, I finished it and found the answers to my questions. My final thoughts?

At the midway point in the book I was really enjoying the erotic and sexually charged moments and how well balanced they were with the deeper plot involving Elle's life. I was also loving Hart's characterization of Dan (and I did until the end, great character!), but was hoping to find out more about what drove Elle. Elle's intense, sensual, personal and somewhat frustrating narration kept me reading, and I wanted to know how or if she would overcome her fear of intimacy, and more importantly the dysfunctional family situation plaguing her.

One of the factors that impressed me about this story is that although Dan and Elle's relationship began as one based on sex, and sex continued to be central, it also turned the key to an emotional connection for both characters -- real emotion felt by the reader. Hart uses Dan and those emotions to reveal the broken woman Elle has become. That emotional connection felt between the characters (and the reader) makes a huge difference because without it, Dirty would have been just another erotic piece. That and the depth that went into plotting, as well as in developing Elle's character.

In my previous post I said that Dirty is not an erotic romance, well... it is and it isn't. This book is tough to categorize so I'm not going to try to pin it down for you, except to tell you that it is a beautifully written erotica piece with depth of plot and characterization. If you haven't read it yet, give it a try. I don't know why I waited so long! I'm planning on reading "Broken" next. (2007, Harlequin Spice) Grade: A-


Franky Gets Real by Mel Bossa (Click on title to read book summary)

The title of this novel is Franky Gets Real, but in reality this book is not just about Franky. Mel Bossa brings stark reality back into the lives of five high school friends who after a few years of distance decide to go on a camping trip, just like the good old days. Unfortunately you can never really go back and instead of fun and relaxation, baggage follows them and the trip turns into one where lifelong secrets are revealed, one at a time.

Franky is engaged and works for the domineering Geena whom he wants to escape, but can't or won't. His problem? Confusion about his sexuality and inability to make decisions. Geena is already questioning Franky's sexuality and now his best friend Alek is about to come out of the closet to the whole group. If Alek comes out, Franky will have to admit to himself that his feelings for his best friend are deeper than friendship and he doesn't want to confront reality.

Alek has his own past ghosts to slay, but there's a good reason for his decision to come out to friends and family now. His situation and revelations act as a catalyst for the whole group, as his older brother Wyatt, a man who once was the coolest finally reveals why his marriage and life are slip sliding away, brainy Nevin's seriously pathetic problems come to the surface, and even Holly finds some previously unknown and disturbing revelations about her life. Acting almost as therapists to the group are excellent secondary characters Eli and Vlad, a gay couple the group meets at the camping grounds.

There is a lot of drama in this story, and as with Split, in many ways this book by Bossa is tough to categorize. In Franky Gets Real everyone is revealed for who they really are, secrets, warts and all. I found the characters well rendered with the exception of both female characters: Geena who becomes the screeching girlfriend and (even when there is reason to) tough to sympathize with, and Holly who pretty much plays a secondary character. Franky's confusion about his sexuality, Alek's hurt, insecure feelings and tough circumstances, and Wyatt's present and past horrors take center stage and give this story substance. As it often happens in real life, these characters and the way they confront difficult situations with their insecurities and prevarications can be frustrating at times, but the payoff in the end is worth going through the emotional ride.

I'm enjoying Mel Bossa's gay/bisexual/queer themes, as well as her writing style. Fiction? Romance? Gay? Bisexual? Who cares? Franky Gets Real has a little bit of everything and it is good! (2011, Bold Strokes Books) Grade: B+

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Review: Captain Harding and His Men (Captain Harding #2) by Elliott Mackle

Last year I fell in love with Joe Harding's shenanigans in Captain Harding's Six Day War, so of course I picked up the sequel Captain Harding and His Men by Elliott Mackle as soon as it released. I'm so glad because Captain Joe Harding is at it again at Wheelus and this time the story is even better!

It all takes place in 1969 at the Wheelus U.S. Military Air Base in Libya, and while the Vietnam War is going at full force our man Joe is stuck acting as administrator and right hand man to the current a-hole Colonel in charge. Joe barely survived his last adventures, but this time his problems become even more serious when an unscheduled C-130 airplane crashes on the runway and a VIP dies. Having learned that controlling information is the best way to cover his butt, Joe immediately makes sure he has the original flight plan and crew list in his possession, but when paperwork disappears, the CIA is mentioned,  and one of his fellow officers is thrown from a casino tower instigating an investigation by the Pentagon that will end careers, Joe finds himself in trouble up to his adorable little ass! Of course Joe is devious, cunning, manipulative and when not led by his balls to risk life and career, brilliant. He can figure it all out, right?

Unfortunately for Joe fear of being outed as gay in the military is magnified along with the rest of his problems when his unquestionable lack of control and discretion takes over and he sleeps with almost eighteen year-old Cotton while on leave in Gstaad, placing more than his future on the line when they are discovered in a compromising situation. The thought of ending up in Leavenworth worries Joe enough to make him vomit on the flight home, but being young, virile and with a high libido these worries only slow him down, and soon he's back at Wheelus missing Cotton, but making due by going for his regularly scheduled 'rubdown' sessions with buddy Hal, and throughout the story making a couple of new male acquaintances including one that rocks his world!!

I loved this book. In Captain Harding and His Men Elliott Mackle again excels at immediately capturing the reader's attention as well as time and place to develop atmosphere. However, what I love about this series so far is that the military details are outstanding without making the reader yawn with boredom. On the contrary, both stories are fun and funny while still managing to deal with serious issues pertinent to military life during that specific time in history. Joe's voice as narrator is unmistakable, and in this book in particular I think that narration just gets better. Mackle gives readers an idea of what happened in the first book, however I do recommend that Captain Harding's Six Day War be read first for a better understanding, and enjoyment, of this series.

Captain Harding and His Men is a military suspense full of action with an involved mystery and highly amusing moments provided by the narrator's voice. The mystery/suspense is full of twists and turns with both the main and secondary characters contributing fully to advance the plot, making this story a delightful read while providing some exciting and charged moments. Mr. Mackle interlaces Joe's sexual escapades with the suspense and makes them pertinent to the story so that there are no awkward pauses and no real separation between the two. Joe is a memorable character. I laughed with him and at him, and I worried for him too. I did. I ended the story worried about where he's going next, but confident that Joe being Joe will come out smelling like roses. Will there be more Joe? I hope so. :)

Category: LGBT - Historical Mystery/Suspense
Series: Captain Harding
Publisher/Release Date: Lethe Press/May 17, 2012 - Kindle Ed.
Grade: A

Visit Elliott Mackle here.

Captain Harding Six Day War, #1
Captain Harding and His Men, #2

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Review: The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

It's 1922, the population in Wichita, Kansas is approximately 8,000 strong and the Klan has claimed 6,000 of those citizens. The growing Midwestern city is just beginning to experience a few of the changes hitting the rest of the country influenced by World War I. Women still wear long skirts and corsets from a previous era and flappers with their short hemlines, bobbed hair, rolled down stockings and smoking habits might be acceptable in the big cities, but such things are viewed with a jaundiced eye in Wichita, Kansas. Divorces, condoms, and other means of birth control are unacceptable, Prohibition is in full force, and homosexuality and lewd cohabitation are both illegal.

Cora Carlisle's life with her handsome, prosperous husband Alan, a successful attorney who has provided Cora with everything to lead a comfortable, conventional lifestyle seems to be good. Or so it seems until Cora seeks the position as chaperone to accompany a talented and very ambitious Louise Brooks to the Denishawn School of Dancing in New York City and Alan has no choice but to accept Cora's decision. The further the train takes Louise and Cora from Wichita, the more obvious it becomes that there's something very wrong with both their lives. In this historical fiction tale, Louise Brooks' life is the real tale and Cora's the fictional. However, it is Cora's life that is central from beginning to end with Louise's providing the impetus for change in Cora's life.

Cora has secrets and has become an expert at following the conventional attitudes of her time to avoid being ostracized by the small community where she lives, plus her upbringing makes her understandably judgmental toward the beginning of the story. Moriarty begins revealing Cora's fascinating background through her memories of childhood as she was being transported to the Midwest in one of the "orphan trains" sponsored by The New York Founding Home, ending up in Kansas where she was adopted by a loving farming couple and eventually meeting and marrying Alan. Moriarty weaves these historical events into Cora's life as the real reason for her trip to New York City is revealed.

Louise, whose parents are well off but neglectful and uncaring, is portrayed as a young 15 year-old whose contempt for the world, arrogance, vanity and ambition hide a rather dark past. Her trip to New York City is more of a getaway than an opportunity to study. The 36 year-old Cora and the 15 year-old Louise are two very different women, so that where Louise is brash, aware of her beauty and not afraid to flaunt or use it to get what she wants, Cora sees herself as plain and non-sexual, an expert at wearing a public mask full of secrets, lies and repressed needs locked inside and bound up as tight as her corset. However, during those five weeks in New York City as Cora escorts Louise and experiences new freedoms, makes some soul shaking discoveries and meets new people who make a difference in her life, Cora's perspective begins to change and finds the courage to impulsively grab the only possibility she sees for happiness and a future.

I had a tough time reviewing this book and writing a summary that would give you a sense of the story without giving away spoilers or the wrong idea. The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty is historical fiction, not only because Louise Brooks is part of the story, but because although Cora's fictional character is really the protagonist, Ms. Moriarty also weaves historical events within her life and stays well within the boundaries of time period in detail. The atmosphere is excellent, and Ms. Moriarty also keeps to facts when in comes to the settings, both New York City and Wichita, Kansas.

I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect of the book, as well as how Moriarty develops Cora's character. Once Cora is revealed, she catches up to changes going on in America and we see a portrait of people who lived within the structure of society by necessity, without necessarily adhering to society's rules. Cora found the guts to choose such a life, and yes I was heartbroken that under the circumstances this was the best life Moriarty's characters could find at that time. There's a reason for the first paragraph in this review, all of it is relevant to the story. Secrets and lies. That's what this story engenders in the end. Lives built on secrets and lies in order to survive while outwardly conforming to a repressive society's rules just to find a little happiness.

Louise Brooks plays a pivotal role in Cora's life when they go to New York City, but frankly her contribution is more an aside to Cora's story than anything else. She represented a big change for women during that era, just as she does in this story, but eventually in this book just as in reality, Louise's contribution becomes more "newspaper clippings" and "gossip fodder" than anything else. I found that the sections that cover Louise's life are not as seamlessly woven in as expected and feel that they were more of an interruption to the real story being told than a pertinent contribution. Cora, Alan, Joseph, and Raymond are the characters whose lives and choices held my attention.

My other problem with the story is that it begins in 1922 and ends in the 1980's, covering Cora's long lifespan. The depth and details found from the beginning to the time Cora returns to Wichita to settle her life are fascinating. However after that, the story loses focus and the rest is rushed and lacks real depth, checking off major events in Cora's life, the amazing changes that take place in American society during that time period in history, as well as following Louise's descent into obscurity until the very end.

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty was a quick paced historical fiction read, with a fascinating story involving the fictional characters that provided a small window into tough choices people had to make, women in particular, to find a small modicum of independence and a little happiness during a period in America's history that brought broad changes, but not enough. A mixed bag for me, the story provides the reader with excellent historical facts, atmosphere and background, however the main historical figure's contribution became a distraction, plus the story loses focus due to the long time period covered. Regardless, there is much to be enjoyed in this story, as well as much to think about in terms of the issues presented by Moriarty when placed in both historical and contemporary context.

Category: Historical Fiction
Publisher/Release Date: Riverhead/June 5, 2012 - Kindle Ed.
Grade: B- 

You can find out more about Laura Moriarty here.
See book summary with pictures of Louise Brooks here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

TBR Read: Dirty by Megan Hart

This is what happened...

I met him at the candy store.

He turned and smiled at me and I was surprised enough to smile back. This was not a children's candy store, mind you--this was the kind of place you went to buy expensive imported chocolate truffles for your boss's wife because you felt guilty for having sex with him when you were both at a conference in Milwaukee.

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

I've been hit on plenty of times, mostly by men with little finesse who thought what was between their legs made up for what they lacked between their ears.

Sometimes I went home with them anyway, just because it felt good to want and be wanted, even if it was mostly fake.

The problem with wanting is that it's like pouring water into a vase full of stones. It fills you up before you know it, leaving no room for anything else. I don't apologize for who I am or what I've done in--or out--of bed.

I have my job, my house and my life, and for a long time I haven't wanted anything else.

Until Dan. Until now.
I've been meaning to read Dirty by Megan Hart for years, and it has been in my "to be read" pile for quite a while too. This month's theme for the TBR Challenge is a "steamy read" and boy does Dirty fit that theme so far! Yes, so far. I was not able to finish the book in time to post a complete review due to my usual challenging family life. However, I wanted to post my impressions of what I've read so far and how I feel about it.

Dirty is narrated by Elle and it begins with the above passage when she meets Dan at an adult candy store. She's a brilliant woman with an excellent position, her own home and what on the surface could be a satisfactory life for anyone. But it is almost immediately apparent that inside Elle is broken, and in the past her way of fixing that empty broken space has been through mindless sex with strangers and the consumption of alcohol. She is a "black and white" woman, leading a colorless life and hiding behind a mask by wearing conservative clothes and displaying a distant, detached and bland personality in public, but we know that Elle is a very different woman.

Angel? Demon? Ghost? What is she? Who is she? That is what Dan wants to know once the two of them meet again and following his instructions, as well as inciting the moment, Elle more or less has public sex with Dan on a dance floor. However, Dan soon finds out that although Elle enjoys following directions during a sexual haze, she is not willing to do so when it comes to her personal life. There is no room for intimacy in Elle's broken life. She won't allow it, at least not until Dan slowly manipulates and begins to coax personal information out of her, talking her into seeing him again and again.

I'm absolutely taken with the story and characters. There are some very exciting, erotic and sexually charged moments in this book, all beautifully rendered by Ms. Hart. But frankly, I can't wait to find out the reason behind Elle's behavior. It is obvious to me, that there is a reason behind the fact that Elle has slept with 78 men throughout her young life and has only had 1 boyfriend, and there is definitely a reason behind the nightmares. Elle is an intriguing character.

I'm also curious to find out, why Dan? He's one sexy man! Dan can get any woman's blood pressure up in less than one minute. But, he's also hmm. . . perfect for the circumstances -- willing to unravel the mystery that is Elle without judging her. So you can imagine that at this point I'm loving Hart's characterization of Dan.

I'm about half way through Dirty, and so far I would say that this is not "romantica" (erotic romance), nor is it your typical fluffy erotica read. I'm finding that it's definitely darker erotica with a deeper plot than I expected, intriguing characters and excellent writing. There's a good balance between the erotic moments and the deeper plot that involves Elle's life, all interwoven of course. I'm hooked and can't wait to finish the book!

Theme: Steamy Read
Have you read Dirty by Megan Hart? If you did, what did you think of it? Besides Dirty, what book by Megan Hart have you read and recommend?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

...On Gunmetal Magic (Kate Daniels World #1) by Ilona Andrews

Some people have everything figured out — Andrea Nash is not one of those people. After being kicked out of the Order of Knights of Merciful Aid, Andrea's whole existence is in shambles. All she can do is try to put herself back together, something made easier by working for Cutting Edge, a small investigative firm owned by her best friend, Kate Daniels.

When several shapeshifters working for Raphael Medrano — the male alpha of Clan Bouda and Andrea's former lover — die unexpectedly at a dig site, Andrea is assigned to investigate ... and must work with Raphael. As her search for the killer leads her into the secret underbelly of supernatural Atlanta, Andrea knows that dealing with her feelings for Raphael might have to take a backseat to saving the world ...
In Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews, the first full length spin off book set in the Kate Daniel's world featuring Andrea as the narrator, the Andrews writing team returns to Egypt and a hungry-for-glory god to set up the mythology that provides the action and meat for Andrea's investigation of four shapeshifter's found dead at one of Raphael's working sites. In the meantime Andrea and Raphael are dealing with the aftermath of their breakup but neither is taking it well so that bad decisions, passions and drama ensue.

Andrea - I like her narrative voice and think that she's kickass enough to make a great urban fantasy heroine. She is excellent at handling weapons, her shapeshifting abilities and alpha attitude give her an advantage as a fighter and she can definitely conduct a detailed investigation. Andrea, however, seems to have little knowledge of ancient mythological gods and artifacts to prepare her for situations like the ones she confronted in this story. She is slow in seeking much needed help from the right people which shows poor judgment, and as a result her investigation is needlessly long-drawn.

Arcanio - I love the way Andrea mentors the young bad bouda Arcanio in this story. Their scenes together are a combination of action packed fun times, Andrea setting Arcanio straight, and some surprisingly touching moments. I find it interesting that it is through Arcanio that Andrea's background story is completely revealed and love his reaction to that revelation. Those two bonded and I'm looking forward to a continued "mentorship/partnership" of sorts. His is a character with great potential.

Roman - In this story, the Black Volhv serves as both the magical help Andrea needs to solve her case and the comedy relief (You Shall Not Pass!! Really? LOL). I absolutely love his character. There he is with his black magic and his wicked staff spouting black spells one moment and bad pick-up lines the next, making things funny and light during the darkest of moments. He's a character I want to see again!

Raphael - All along I've liked Raphael's relentless love for Andrea, his deceptive beauty and easy going personality. Raphael takes a back seat in the action during the first half of this story, although he is very much in Andrea's mind and in the forefront when it comes to the romance. His easygoing personality has undergone a severe change and in this story we meet an intense, focused Raphael. He's focused on his businesses for Clan Bouda and pissed at Andrea while simultaneously going through the mating frenzy. So, it's a rather volatile shapeshifter and a definite Alpha we meet in Gunmetal Magic. I liked that about Raphael, even if yeah... his way of getting back at Andrea was messed up!!

As always I love the way the Andrews writing team set up a story, action, and characters. I had no problem with the plotting and didn't think that the story lacked interest. It was a great way of getting Andrea's character to finally make some decisions about herself and her future. What I find rather interesting is the emphasis on romance in this urban fantasy installment. Romance is definitely on the forefront and through to the end with a happy ending. In that way it is very different from the Kate and Curran relationship which took a long time to develop and resolve within the series.

Boudas are passionate, volatile, and very dramatic while they're going through their courtship. In that they are different from the other shapeshifters we've seen so far in this series, and the courtship between Raphael and Andrea is an excellent example of all the drama. As Kate Daniels says in this book, (and I'm paraphrasing here) Andrea and Raphael's courtship "is rather like a Spanish soap opera," -- drama, passion and unnecessary angst, with more drama thrown in for good measure. I loved watching Spanish soap operas at one time, so of course I enjoyed the whole thing. ;P

My one big disappointment? Andrea and Aunt B's confrontation. Although the way things went down made sense (when I think about it, it really did), I expected something more dramatic from these two alpha female boudas when they got together.

Gunmetal Magic was an enjoyable read for me, with Andrea as the central character showing both strengths and weaknesses. The secondary characters were definitely a big plus in this story, and the plot was good, but not different enough to set it apart from others in the Kate Daniels' series to make it really "belong" to Andrea. I loved the passion, drama and unnecessary angst that the bouda shapeshifters Andrea and Raphael brought to the romance, and the fact that said romance was a focus in this story -- that was a surprisingly nice change. An overall solid read.

Commentary: I'm not sure how this book would read as the first book of a separate series -- or a stand alone. I recommend readers at least pick up the novellas Magic Mourns and Magic Gifts before reading this book.

Category: Urban Fantasy
Series: Kate Daniels World
Publisher/Release Date: Ace/July 31, 2012
Grade: B

Visit Ilona Andrews here.

Friday, August 10, 2012

July 2012 Reads: Highlights + Minis

July was a wonderful, relaxing month for me. I took two weeks off from blogging. I feel all refreshed and raring to go again. My reading list below will show that I indulged in reading whatever my mood dictated in any given day, so in that respect the whole month turned out to be a real vacation.

July Total Reads: 13 (+ Re-reads: 2)
  Contemporary: 5 (Romance - 4, Romance Suspense - 1)
  Historical Romance: 1
  Science Fiction: 3
  Urban Fantasy: 1
  LGBT: 3 (Speculative Fiction: 1, Romance: 1, Fiction/Romance: 1)


Here's my list:

  1. Caliban's War (The Expanse #2) by James S.A. Corey: This book was such a wonderful follow up to one of my favorite science fiction books of 2011, Leviathan Wakes, that I went NUTS and posted a huge overview (saga) with reviews for both books! LOL. I couldn't help myself, this is a science fiction world that I'm loving with plotting and characters that really draw me in. Grade: B+
  2. Slow Summer Kisses by Shannon Stacey: This contemporary romance I enjoyed for the wonderful give and take between the main couple, some sizzling sexual tension and the baseball references, but thought that in this case the size (or lack of length) influenced overall development. Grade: C
  3. Open Season by Linda Howard: Ohh, I loved this romance between a "stereotypical" librarian and a small town cop. With excellent humor and wonderful chemistry between the main couple, I thought of this book more as a romance than a romance suspense. This book will definitely go on my shelves under my favorite books by Linda Howard, along with Duncan's Bride, Mr. Perfect, and Son of the Morning. I was a bit conflicted about grading this book because for me this is a Grade A romance read, but the suspense turned out to be weak (Grade C), so in the end... Grade: B
  4. Strike Zone by Kate Angell: I am really loving Ms. Angell's characters and the atmosphere that she creates in her contemporary romances. Unfortunately, she has a tendency to include multiple romances in her books that take the focus away from the main romance leaving all romances a bit on the underdeveloped end of the spectrum. That was the case in Strike Zone for me. Grade: C
  5. The Breach (Travis Chase #1) by Patrick Lee: The Breach, a mystery/thriller, was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I loved the fast paced action throughout the book and couldn't put it down until I finished it, and the science fiction was a big plus. Unfortunately I questioned everything from the beginning, including the main character's actions, role/motives, plot holes that were never answered in this book, plus I found the secondary characters to be two dimensional and obviously underdeveloped. I understand that there are two other books where the author will continue developing the story line and hope the holes will be plugged up, and that overall characterization will take a turn for the better. Grade: C+
  6. Rescue Me by Rachel Gibson: Here's a cute contemporary summer read by an author whose works I seem to enjoy on and off. Rescue Me, however, didn't move from there for me. With a man and a woman who decide to have an affair because neither want or need to commit to a relationship, this romance never really moved from the physical and on to that emotional connection for me. Since the emotional connection was underdeveloped and the ending rushed, this romance was an overall average read for me. Grade: C
  7. Thief of Shadows (Maiden Lane #4) by Elizabeth Hoyt: I just reviewed this historical romance and obviously it was a winner for me. With a lovely hero and a heroine that grew on me as the story moved along, some excellent action and a well integrated plot, Thief of Shadows is one of my top July reads. Grade: A-
  8. Captain Harding and His Men (Captain Harding #2) by Elliott Mackle: I am having a love affair with Elliott Mackle's works at the moment. That's a hint as to how I feel about this book, but I will be reviewing this story soon and am saying no more -- mum is the word. (Review and grade to come)
  9. Green Thumb by Tom Cardamone: Did I love this novella or what? Green Thumb was my favorite read of the month. Tom Cardamone is a fantastic writer of queer speculative fiction (just read Pumpkin Teeth and you'll see what I mean), and then he had to go and create his gorgeous character Leaf to finish off the job of hooking me. This novella is 142 pages long and every single word is worth reading. I received the eARC for review, but ended up purchasing the print copy for my shelves. It's a keeper. I recommend it to lovers of gay speculative fiction, or just lovers of speculative fiction, period! Grade: A
  10. Zero Gravity Outcasts by Kay Keppler: I won this SFR enovella at Tracy's Place and really wanted to love it. This very short novella is action packed with some very interesting tekkie information, so that there's no question it is a science fiction piece. I enjoyed Keppler's world, however, the world building lacks detail and full development, probably due to length. The characters are likable, with underdeveloped secondary characters and little chemistry found between the male and female protagonists. There's little romance and the resolution to the conflict between the main couple is rushed and not quite satisfactory. Regardless, it would be wonderful to revisit this world and the characters in a longer novella/book, as I found them interesting and think they have potential. (Carina Press, April 2012) Grade: C-
  11. Private Confessions by Lori Borril:  In this 2007 Harlequin Blaze, a woman has the hots for her boss, and although the attraction is reciprocated, neither wants to act on the attraction. They both separately join a singles fantasy website, begin an "online" affair and what amounts to virtual sex. Things get hot during those sessions, but frankly once the game is up their physical encounters lack the steam found during their fantasy sessions and the romantic connection between them is rather weak. This is an improbable story line and in many ways more a sensual fantasy than a contemporary romance. The resolution to the conflict between the protagonists wasn't really satisfactory with the woman giving up something that she worked hard to accomplish to appease the man's insecurities. Grade: C-
  12. Franky Gets Real by Mel Bossa: I loved Split by Mel Bossa and decided to give her second novel a try. I'm glad I did. This is a great story about five friends who grew up together and recently grew apart. While on a traditional camping trip, the secrets in their lives come roaring to the surface and their lives will never be the same. Ms. Bossa seems to have a knack for writing meaty gay/queer romances with substance. (Review and grade to come)
  13. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer Stone by J.K. Rowling (Re-read): Well what can I say... I re-read the first book in the Harry Potter series with the kiddies in the family. It has become a great summer tradition. I enjoyed it just as much as they did... that's the truth! I also loved watching the movie and comparing it to the story. Grade: B+
  14. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (Re-read): The same goes for the second book in the Harry Potter series. The kids loved this one too! Grade: B+
  15. Hex Appeal edited by P.N. Elrod: This was a pretty solid anthology overall. My favorite stories were written by Ilona Andrews, Jim Butcher, P.N. Elrod, and Simon R. Green. However, all the stories fit the anthology and while some were weaker than others, none were a real disappointment to me. Grade: B-
That's it for July! How about you? Any grrreat reads for you in July?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Review: Thief of Shadows (Maiden Lane, #4) by Elizabeth Hoyt

The Maiden Lane series by Elizabeth Hoyt is my favorite historical romance series at the moment. The three previous books have all been winners for me because of the absolutely wonderful atmosphere created by Hoyt and the memorable characters that have populated all the stories so far. Thief of Shadows, the fourth installment of this series, is no exception.

With Thief of Shadows, Hoyt continues the series by returning to the Makepeace family and the all important home for foundling children the family manages in St. Giles. This time the focus of the romance is the orphanage's headmaster, Winter Makepeace. The story begins exactly where Scandalous Desires ends as Lady Isabel Bekinhall on her way to meet with headmaster Winter Makepeace finds a wounded Ghost with a mob about to finish him off. She quickly rescues the Ghost and takes him home with the intention of helping him, but thinking that she might finally find out who he is. This one action changes Isabel and Winter's lives as their different worlds, and secrets, are about to collide.

There are two threads running alongside the romance in Thief of Shadows. One of the patronesses decides that now that aristocratic ladies are financing the home for foundling children there is a need for a more sophisticated headmaster and that Winter should be replaced. The ladies who disagree appoint Isabel as Winter's tutor in social graces, including dance, demeanor and conversations that he might encounter in social function attended by the aristocracy. Soon, Isabel yearns to tutor Winter in more than social graces and they move on to a game where sensuality and sexual tension take precedence over sophisticated, superficial conversation. This particular thread serves to drive the romance by allowing Winter and Isabel to meet often, furthering their acquaintance and establishing intimacy.

In the other thread the Ghost of Giles is investigating the disappearance of little orphan girls in St. Giles. The more he investigates, however, the more danger he encounters, particularly since his investigations take him right to the aristocracy's front door. Unfortunately this means that as the story progresses, so does the danger for Winter and Isabel. Hoyt blends both of these threads so well that they become an inseparable part of the romance.

Talking about the romance, in Thief of Shadows Hoyt again goes for the role reversal. In Notorious Pleasures, Hoyt successfully portrayed a virginal heroine who pursued a sexual affair while the hero, the cynical seducer, fell hopelessly in love. However in Thief of Shadows, Hoyt goes further by making a widowed and older Isabel the sexually experienced seducer interested in an affair, and Winter the virginal, reluctant hero who will only give of himself sexually if or when love and commitment are involved. Hoyt not only makes this role reversal work, but in the process she makes the sexual tension, and the progressive sensuality between Winter and Isabel a hot and steamy experience for the reader.

Characterization is also important in this story. Winter is a character that has been developed slowly over four books. In Thief of Shadows that development gains depth so that the reader understands what motivates his actions, and that includes Winter's personal, intimate decisions regarding Isabel, his love and protectiveness for the children under his care at the Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children, and what drives the darker side of his personality.

When it comes to Isabel, there is character growth within this story. Initially, there is a certain superficiality to her personality and her motivations that I found troubling, but as the story progresses Isabel is revealed as a woman who goes after what she wants until she gets it, strong and single minded, but not without vulnerabilities so that by the end of the story there certainly is depth to her character.

So what else can I say about this book? Thief of Shadows is a steamy romance with a hot, tender, caring, brave hero and a sexy heroine, brimming with atmosphere, wonderful sword play action, and interesting secondary characters that contribute to the story without taking the focus away from the main couple or the romance. Did I love it? Absolutely. Now the long wait begins for the next book of the series, Lord of Darkness!

Category: Historical Romance
Series: Maiden Lane
Publisher/Release Date: Grand Central Publishing/June 26, 2012
Grade: A-

Visit Elizabeth Hoyt here.

Wicked Intentions, #1
Notorious Pleasures, #2
Scandalous Desires, #3
Thief of Shadows, #4
Lord of Darknes, #5 (Releasing February 2013) 

Monday, August 6, 2012

This n' That: I'm Back + Books, Updates & A Special Stamp

Atlantic City, NJ
Hello everyone, I'm back from my too short one week's vacation! I had a wonderful time... disconnected from everything and everyone. It wasn't a European vacation like my friend Nath's, but it was an enjoyable one. I went down to Cape May and Atlantic City in South Jersey and just basked in the sun by the shore, shopped, gambled (won and shopped, lol), had some of those nice tall drinks, my husband wined and dined me, and well... I'm feeling like a brand new woman. :D (Sorry no personal pictures!)

Did I read while I was there? Heck no!! But I somewhat made up for being away by reading like a beast when I returned home Saturday evening and yesterday. I began and finished two books, The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty and Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews! Reviews to come for both those books. Plus yesterday, I posted my review of Green Thumb: A Novella by Tom Cardamone. Boy did I love, love that novella! It was an all around winner for me.

Before I left I did buy one book that I can't wait to get my hands on, Torn the latest release by Lee Thomas (Cemetery Dance Publications). I went nuts and purchased a special edition hard copy of this book, signed by the author! And yes, it's horror... a Lee Thomas fan? You think? LOL!

And, I just purchased the latest release by Mel Bossa Into the Flames (Bold Strokes Books, August 2012). Her book Split, an April 2011 release was a favorite gay romance read for me! Plus, I just read her December 2011 release Franky Gets Real in July and also enjoyed it. So I'm looking forward to this new book.

Thank goodness my Atlantic City casino experience was a good one! I padded my book buying budget just in time. LOL! And changing pace... this is something that I wanted to do before I left on vacation and didn't get a chance to do.

I want to thank my friend Sonia from Books-Livros&Livros-Books. On July 10, 2012 she passed to me a beautiful stamp that I love, appreciate and one that touched me. It is the "Seu Blog Inspira" stamp. That's Portuguese for "Your Blog Inspires."

I am very happy to accept this beautiful stamp, my friend. :) But, although I know I'm supposed to pass it along to 3 other bloggers, YOU, Sonia, inspire me. So here is a shout out to S. (Sonia) from Books-Livros&Livros-Books. S., a Portuguese blogger, bilingual in English and Portuguese, blogs in English. She is an eclectic reader with wonderful insight who knows what she likes and posts her honest thoughts and impressions. Although Sonia reads and posts about everything, including literature, she seems to have a preference for paranormal, contemporary, and M/M romance.

Listing five (5) random facts about myself:
1. My taste in music is as eclectic as my taste in books.
2. I love to dance.
3. Autumn is my favorite season.
4. New York City and Seattle are my favorite cities in the U.S.
5. History, Literature, and Politics are/were/will always be my favorite subjects.

Thanks, Sonia!

Now, back to the regularly scheduled program. :D

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Review: Green Thumb: A Novella by Tom Cardamone

Mutability blooms in the Florida Keys after the Red War and the genie boxes. King Pelicans with the brains of scientists and a single human hand in place of one webbed foot rule the ruins of half-drowned Miami. Slavers roam the deep waters offshore, taking captives to feed the voracious Kudzu Army and the human aqueduct bearing fresh water from Lake Okeechobee. On the last stretch of the Overseas Highway still standing, an albino seeress slowly becomes her name: White Flamingo. ''You,'' she says. ''You will reach for the sun while staying rooted to the ground. But I fear your shadow will be much too long.''

Transformed by his father's genie box in the late days of the Red War, Leaf has lived for decades or centuries alone in a collapsing Victorian house on a desolate sandy key, misunderstanding time, feeding on sunlight and dew. When at last he meets a boy like--but so unlike!--himself, Leaf understands he has met destiny and sets out on a long, strange journey. A post-apocalyptic, psychoactive, polymorphous-perverse pastorale, Green Thumb will startle you with its utter strangeness and break your heart with its fragile beauty.
After the Red Wars are over and scientists used their genie boxes, what is left of earth's inhabitants have mutated in different and unexpected ways. In a sliver of sand in the middle of the ocean by what was once known as the Florida Keys, a boy of undetermined age lies on a sandy beach as his emerald color skin soaks the run rays that give him life. Nanny died long ago and Leaf's only companion is his friend Skate, a two-dimensional sting-ray-like boy who dwells in the sea. He is Leaf's only friend until Scallop arrives on the island and thereafter visits him daily.

When Scallop's father is taken by slaver ships to forcibly join the Kudzu Army, Scallop is determined to save him and Leaf joins him on his adventure. Their journey will take them through overcrowded islands where Leaf will encounter what is left of humanity and the surviving culture for the first time. He'll meet Hardy, a strong, hard skinned green boy, the Albino White Flamingo, a seeress who will foretell his future, and along the way the boys will encounter hardship, betrayal, heartbreak, love and their ultimate destiny.

Cardamone is slow to reveal details of his world while initially focusing on Leaf and the immediate world around him, taking the reader on a journey of discovery and adventure by slow increments as he reveals the wider world and the full scope of his world building.

His characters balance each other out. Leaf is the main character and it is through his perspective that the story is narrated. There is a certain sense of detachment from the world about Leaf, yet he very much wants to be of the world and particularly yearns for Scallop. Leaf is both knowledgeable and naïve. His introspection gives his narrative voice an almost lulling quality that contrasts heavily with the progressively desperate and violent scenes in the story making those moments pop and linger.

Scallop is very much a part of the world and brings life and energy to Leaf's life and to the story, but Scallop gives only a small part of himself and seeks the impossible. Skate, the constant in Leaf's life, represents the unreachable. And then there's Hardy, who entrenched and thriving in the world of dive boys, becomes a teacher of pleasures, guide, enforcer, and bodyguard for Leaf and Scallop as their adventure takes them closer to slaver ships, the Kudsu Army, the ruined shores of what was once Miami and the world ruled by Pelican Kings.

This is speculative fiction, so the story takes some unexpected twists and turns from what initially seems like a boys' adventure into a progressively darker, complex world and into the weird. I particularly liked that Cardamone's characters are not set in stone and that they are not just mutants, but mutable. The queer themes in the story are part of the overall story arc with some dark, grand scenes, and also part of the lovely and intimate connection that Cardamone creates between his main characters.

In his post-apocalyptic novella Green Thumb, Tom Cardamone explores the darker side of humanity, as well as the environment, through a delicate character filled with beauty and a dense world building with heavy narrative and introspection. Cardamone's imagination and talent for the unusual are in full display as he combines incredibly tender moments, raw desperation, and violence with a delicate touch that at times become breathtaking. With an excellent story, memorable characters, and an ending that lingered with me for a quite while, this creative novella is most definitely highly recommended.

Category: LGBT - Queer Speculative Fiction
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: BrazenHead/August 2, 2012
Source: eARC Lethe Press
Grade: A

Visit Tom Cardamone here.

About the Author: Tom Cardamone writes queer speculative fiction. His short story collection, Pumpkin Teeth, was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. He is the editor of The Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered, and author of the erotic fantasy novel, The Werewolves of Central Park.