Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Comments on Borders Closing, plus Links

I was convinced that by now everyone would have heard the bad news about Borders closing, but I discovered the other day that Mr. Sportsfan, aka the DH, had NOT heard about this, so I thought I’d share my thoughts about what’s happening with the now defunct bookseller. I very much fear that many readers who depended upon Borders for access to print books will now find themselves in a situation similar to my own, limited to buying books at the local Walmart, traveling to the next town to visit a bookstore, or purchasing books through an ereader.
As recently as this morning I’ve seen bloggers blame the success of ereaders for Borders’ demise, but that strikes me as greatly overstating the case and underestimating the ineptness of the Borders CEOs. I’ve had such limited access to bookstores for so long that this probably won’t affect HOW I purchase books much, although it will no doubt affect the prices of books I buy and to whom publishers offer book contracts, since there will now be less shelf space for published books. I also should point out that all the store closings will have a negative effect on authors whose books will now be returned to publishers unsold. Less access to print books and decreased competition among booksellers means that Barnes and Noble will have even more power than it does now, but the sad truth is that because of where I live Amazon holds far more sway over my book purchases than anything else. Many have decried the death of the independent bookseller and with good reason, but I haven’t had access to a nearby brick and mortar bookstore for years. Since I live in a small town, my book buying options are limited to Walmart and Amazon. Hence my love affair with my Kindle.  
Blaming the Kindle, Nook, or Kobo for the death of any brick and mortar bookstore strikes me as extremely shortsighted. I have to drive 30 minutes to get to my nearest Barnes and Noble, yet every time I’m in town, I end up dropping by and purchasing a few books. Now that I have my Kindle, I still visit the B&N as frequently as before, because it’s located in the same town as the nearest restaurants. So I’m still buying as many, if not more, print books, plus all the ebooks I purchase for my Kindle. In fact, I buy waaaaaaaaaay more books on my Kindle than I ever did before I had my ereader. Hundreds more, although I’m too embarrassed to tell you how MANY hundreds more. I'm also more willing to try new authors on the Kindle than I ever was before. So for authors and publishers my Kindle has been a godsend without causing the “local” bookseller (or Walmart, for that matter) any revenue loss. Unfortunately, I suspect that this will not be the case for most of the readers who used to purchase their books at Borders. While any medium that increases access to consumers is a plus, the majority of readers still purchase their books in physical bookstores, which means that Borders’ closing will leave thousands with less access to books, and that is never a good development.
Links with Interviews, Self-Publishing Info, and Other Various and Sundry Goodies
I saw on Twitter today that there’s a New York Times article on how e-books are causing publishers to release the paperback version of Hardcover releases much more quickly than in the past. This doesn’t surprise me, although it does make me even less inclined to purchase a hardback than before (if such a thing is possible). I never buy hardbacks unless it’s one of my favorite authors, and even then I get the book on my Kindle. I did notice that last year’s Elizabeth Peters hardcover was released in paperback this April (a year after the hardcover release, the traditional wait), but the paperback was priced at $9.99 instead of mass market pricing. I wonder if the publishers will now be moving to a trade paperback format instead of mass market release.
Romance author Courtney Milan has an intriguing blog post about her thoughts concerning changes in the publishing industry. You may remember that she was very successful with her self-published e-novella, Unlocked. I loved the e-novella, and it encouraged me to check out many of her other books, which in turn resulted in profit for her publisher (one of her points). I would like to point out to authors considering self-publishing their work that her self-publishing success comes from her presenting such a polished piece. In general I think that authors who start out with a publisher then move to self-publishing are far more successful than the few who have gone the opposite route.
She also has an open letter to agents about what she perceives their role with self-publishing should be. It’s a two part post/rant, and she makes some excellent points, namely that agents should be focusing on creating a business plan that allows them to make more money for their clients than if said clients published on their own.

Maya Banks' upcoming book,
release date 8/30

My final link is an absolutely FASCINATING interview that Jane from conducted with author Maya Banks. What stunned me about this interview is the daily wordcount she sets for herself. She writes 5,000 words a day. 5,000!!!!!! She is a writing machine! I’ve read nearly all of her books, and they are outstanding, plus she writes successfully in numerous genres. Who does that?!!? This interview is chock full of information about how she receives sales numbers, advances and royalties, and self-promotion. And while I didn’t realize it at the time I read the interview, she also has kids. Yes, she writes 5,000 words a day and raises children. Superwoman, thy name is Maya Banks.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Review of Kasey Michaels’ The Taming of the Rake

Lately I’ve been lucky enough to read several books by newly published authors, and it has been so exciting to see the fresh ideas and voices that these authors bring to their novels. That said, it was a distinct pleasure to delve into a book by such an accomplished novelist as Kasey Michaels. Despite her more than 100 books published, many written in the Regency era, this long-time reader of regency romance had never read one of Ms. Michaels’ books. After reading the first book in her new Blackthorn Brothers series, that will definitely be changing. The Taming of the Rake is a delightful Regency romance that at heart is a road trip novel. In my experience, nothing reveals one’s true character like travelling, and I freely admit to being a less than ideal traveler. Fortunately, the characters in The Taming of the Rake are much more pleasant travel companions than I, leaving us with a hero and heroine who begin their trip to Gretna Green as mere acquaintances but end it as friends and lovers.
The novel begins with young buck Oliver “Beau” Blackthorn, illegitimate son of a Marquess and actress mother, making his way to Lady Madelyn Mills-Beckman’s townhouse in London to propose marriage. As the lady has not expressed displeasure with his attentions and he’s madly in love, he believes his suit to be welcome. Unfortunately, that could not be further from the truth, as her brother Thomas has Beau tossed from the house and held down by footmen so he can give Beau a sound whipping. At that moment Beau realizes that his belief that he was accepted among the ton despite his illegitimacy has proved false, and he vows to act accordingly in the future.
Fast forward seven years, and we witness Thomas Mills-Beckman informing his youngest sister, Chelsea, that she will be marrying the odious Reverend Francis Flotley, even if Thomas has to lock her up in their country home to force her compliance. Realizing that Thomas is in earnest, Lady Chelsea decides to take action and flees from her home straight to the bachelor pad of one Oliver “Beau” Blackthorn. This is not as random an act as it initially appears. Chelsea had witnessed the humiliating whipping seven years ago and has realized that the recent financial losses her brother has steadily been experiencing are thanks to Mr. Blackthorn. While she wouldn’t deny him his revenge, her belief that he has inflicted the Reverend Flotley on her brother’s household and now upon herself leaves her with no choice but to confront Oliver.
This confrontation occurs immediately following Oliver’s thirtieth birthday, and the celebration with his brother Robin Goodfellow “Puck” Blackthorn has left him with a lovely hangover. Oliver freely admits to Chelsea that he has been behind the constant flow of questionable financial schemes her brother has found himself in, but Oliver has never even heard of Francis Flotley. He admits that he wishes he had thought of the idea, as it would be an amusing revenge. Instead, he decides that he will accept Lady Chelsea’s plan to elope, as that will be the ideal revenge against a man who would not allow his other sister to marry a bastard. The two elope, and their numerous adventures on the way to Gretna Green draw them closer, making it more difficult to resist anticipating the marriage than either expected.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book for two reasons. The first is that the romance between the hero and heroine develops gradually over time. You truly come to believe that Lady Chelsea and Oliver have become friends over the course of their travels together. Their adventures are frequently uncomfortable, since at times neither of them has a change of clothes, but they find ways to overcome each obstacle. When they begin their elopement, each is perfectly clear that s/he is using the other for his/her own gain. Chelsea wants to escape marriage to the wet-mouthed Flotley, and Oliver wants to revenge himself upon her brother. But despite their initial reasons for acting, they grow to like and eventually love one another, and it makes for a sweet romance. Chelsea learns to care for this son of two very selfish parents who never considered how their actions would have a profound impact on his and his brothers’ futures. The revelations of how Oliver’s parents relationship came to be are equal parts poignant and troubled. Chelsea can’t help feeling for him, and her ability to surprise Oliver with her understanding and unfailing optimism leads to his falling for a woman who under any other circumstances would be out of his reach.
After reading everything I’ve written so far, you’d never guess that the second reason I enjoyed this novel so much is that it is so. very. funny. It is, in fact, HILARIOUS. While Oliver strives to overcome his illegitimacy by working hard, his youngest brother Puck seeks acceptance through flippancy and lightheartedness. Puck has some side-splitting one-liners that will have you laughing out loud. At one point he tells Oliver that “there are worse things than marriage to a rich, handsome and eminently affable bastard. That would be me, you understand. You’re just rich and passably handsome.” But the zingers aren’t limited to Puck. Chelsea can hold her own, and she does so on frequent occasion. At one point she informs Puck, “It’s not a proper elopement if one brings one’s brother along. Especially one who sings.” But it’s Oliver who points out that Puck and Chelsea “suit each other so well, the both of you missing several slates off your roofs.” The laughter stemming from each of the three madcaps involved in this elopement (because Oliver does indeed bring his brother along for parts of the journey) is vitally necessary to the love deprived Chelsea and illegitimate Oliver.
If I had to find fault with the novel, it is that Chelsea and Oliver begin their journey as such selfish characters. Chelsea storms into Oliver’s home, leaving him little recourse except to accept her plan to marry, whether he is in fact guilty of inflicting the Reverend Flotley on her or not. If the elopement fails, Oliver would face overwhelming consequences, such as imprisonment or hanging, because of the circumstances surrounding his birth. Chelsea doesn’t acknowledge her selfish actions at all, and it’s not an endearing trait. Oliver also acts to ensure his revenge, despite knowing that marriage to him will entail social ruin for his future wife and children. He, however, does recognize the possible consequences of his actions and makes it clear to Chelsea on several occasions that they can turn back and she can still avoid paying the price for her precipitous actions. In this, he is a far more likeable character than Chelsea.
I can’t recommend Ms. Michaels’ The Taming of the Rake highly enough. The choice of a road trip novel set in regency era England strikes me as ingenious, and I love the characters. But the best part for me is that the witty repartee kept me in stitches, which has me anxious to read future installments of this series.

(I would like to point out two  problems I have with the cover of this book that are clearly not Ms. Michaels' fault. First, Oliver is blonde and the man on the cover is brunet. Second, the title is "The Taming of the Rake," yet he's not really a rake. I wish the publisher would take note, since they are usually the ones choosing cover art and suggesting titles.) 
This book was received for review from the Publisher through NetGalley.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Early Review of Patricia Eimer’s Luck of the Devil

This book was irreverent and more than a bit blasphemous, and it totally cracked me up! Luck of the Devil is a light-hearted paranormal romance based in Pittsburgh, and thanks to Ms. Eimer’s sense of humor I had to clean Coke Zero off my Kindle screen far too many times after laughing at the Pittsburgh references. For those of you not in the know, my DH and his family are from Pittsburgh, and I’ve had to add phrases such as “Yinz” and “Innat” to this Southern Belle’s “Y’all” and “Fixin’ To”. What made this book all the funnier was that the heroine is the daughter of the Devil. Yes, Satan’s hell spawn lives in Pittsburgh, and if you think after suffering through 5 Midwestern winters I’m not convinced that the Devil himself lives in the Midwest, you’re crazy. Patricia Eimer’s Luck of the Devil is a hoot, and I highly recommend it!
The novel opens with Faith Bettincourt, pediatric nurse, staring down at the corpse of Dr. Harold Wilkins, her boss. Once again Faith’s roommate Lisa, a recently converted succubus, has lost control of her powers and killed someone by mistake. Faith and Lisa have to figure out how to dispose of poor Harold’s body without anyone being the wiser and without Lisa suffering the hellish consequences of her mistake. Fortunately, Faith’s the youngest daughter of the Devil and is able to take care of matters quickly and quietly, but Harold’s died before his time, and his soul’s appearance in Hell has caused problems that attract the attention of Faith’s half-brother, Tolliver.
Up till now Faith has been trying to live a low-key life with little demonic activity, which doesn’t please her father, but instead of enjoying her well-earned week of vacation from the hospital, she’s hosting her entire demonic family. Her older sister Hope and her incubus husband Boris have descended upon Pittsburgh after losing control of an Armageddon fearing Satanic cult, and Faith’s mother Roisin has also arrived to spread her special brand of craziness through her hippy-dippy, Mother-Earth loving ways. To top it all off, the Devil has arrived for a cozy family reunion, unaware that Roisin hasn’t informed Faith that she’d be hosting the affair. All this togetherness would be more than enough to force out a minor’s demoness’s tail and horns, but Faith’s also dealing with a creepy stalker who’s been snapping photos of her disposal of Harold’s body. When Faith is called into a police interview, she has to call in legal reinforcements, namely her nerdy yet studly neighbor Matt. Faith and Matt find themselves searching for her stalker and starting a relationship, all while dealing with Dear Old Dad.
As I mentioned earlier, this book is more than a bit blasphemous, but I adored Ms. Eimer’s clever take on the Devil and his brother God, referred to as the Alpha. In this world Jesus is Faith’s cousin, and he has a great sense of humor, while the demons seem less frightening than you would think. But some of their demonic activity strikes a little too close to home, as I’m sure no one will be shocked to learn that the Devil invented computers and at least one insurance company has outsourced its customer service to a demon. Makes perfect sense to me. And contrary to popular belief, Faith and her demonic siblings interact with their holy uncle and his family on a fairly regular basis.
It’s the relationships between the various demons in this extended family that really sold me on the book, because they were imminently believable. Faith’s blended family, while demonic, suffers from the same relationship problems many families suffer, and the scene where she walks in on her parents during an “intimate” moment is as funny as it is cringe-worthy. The Devil is a likeable fellow, but you can imagine the awkwardness of introducing your date to your father when he’s in charge of Hell and all its realms. Fun times! And Faith’s relationships with her sister Hope will be immediately familiar to any woman with a sister, especially if that sister is prissy and insists on always being perfectly dressed. When her mother sets Faith up as hostess for this impromptu family reunion, lots of craziness ensues, and believe me it’s both painfully familiar and funny all at once.
I also loved the Pittsburgh setting. It seems that the Devil loves to eat at Primanti Brothers and drink Yuengling beer served by waitress calling them all “yinz”. You just don’t get more Pittsburgh than that, and I suspect most Pittsburghers wouldn’t be surprised to learn that in Ms. Eimer’s world the Alpha is a Penguins fan. Actually, I’m betting that the Washington Capitals and Alex Ovechkin wouldn’t be shocked to learn that either.
However, if you’re looking for a kick-butt heroine, you won’t find her in Faith. There’s a lot to like in her character, mainly her relationship with her family and her attraction to and romance with hottie lawyer Matt, but she’s a bit of a wimp. In fact, her sister calls her a wimp, and Faith’s a bit of a disappointment to the Devil, since she’s an outstanding pediatric nurse and rarely engages in demonic activity. All this makes her a character you can relate to, but I would have liked to see her go demonic on someone or witnessed her having to fight her demonic nature. She just doesn’t develop much as a character. However, I do think that there’s room for a sequel, and I’d love to see Faith deal with issues of her hellish background while keeping the snappy dialogue between characters.
I only have two small complaints about the novel. Overall I felt that Ms. Eimer did an outstanding job of gradually introducing new elements of the demonic world to the reader, but I was a bit confused about the Angale, the group with a supposed divine purpose to overthrow the Devil and force God to allow them dominion over Earth. I was a little unclear about the parentage of the Nephilim, the foot soldiers of the Angale, and had to go back and check on a few points in the text to make sure I had understood the situation clearly. Also, early in the book Faith calls Matt for help when she’s interviewed by the police about morphine stolen from the hospital, and after the two leave the hospital, the missing medicine isn’t mentioned again. The implication is that this was an attempt by the stalker to get Faith into trouble with the police, but because the topic never comes up again, it feels a bit like a plot device that allows the stalker to slip Faith some photos while jumpstarting her relationship with Matt.
Despite this, I very much enjoyed Luck of the Devil. It was the perfect lighthearted paranormal romance for the overwhelming heat wave we’re fighting at the moment, and I can’t wait to see Ms. Eimer’s next book. Luck of the Devil releases on August 2.
This book was received for review from Entangled Publishing through NetGalley.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Favorite Books Now on Sale for Under $1.99

This summer I have been putting some mileage on my Kindle, because Amazon has had some rockin’ sales! Fortunately B&N has been matching them, so even if you have a Nook instead of a Kindle, you can still get some great books for great prices. I’m so thrilled that the publishers have started doing this, because I’ve been able to check out some new (to me) authors, plus buy some books for my Kindle that I only have in paperback. It’s definitely a great way to get readers interested in your product, because a lot of the books on sale are the first in a series. I found out about these sales from the blog through their bi-weekly post about books for under $2.99. If you don’t follow, I highly recommend you check them out, because they have thoughtful and well-written reviews, plus post interesting links about the industry.
I decided I’d write a few mini-reviews of some of my old favorites that are on sale, plus several new books/novellas that I just read. All these sales seem really timely, since it’s too hot to do anything but sit around and read anyway!
Dee Davis Daring (A-Tac #3.5)
For me this novella was an introduction to Ms. Davis’ A-Tac series. As soon as I read the description of it, I knew I had to check it out, because apparently A-Tac is an elite CIA unit posing as faculty at an Ivy League college. If this were true, it would explain so much, wouldn’t it? This novella focuses on Lara Prescott, the former medical officer for the team, whose lover Jason died during a mission over a year ago. Lara’s been working in a clinic in Africa, and when insurgents arrive, she realizes that they’re there for her. Fortunately sexy mercenary Rafe Winters is there to fill all her needs (ha!). Novellas can be hit or miss for me, especially romantic suspense, but this one was great. The couple had known each other for over a year, so their romance was believable and smoldering. I can’t wait to read more of Ms. Davis’ work!
Jeaniene Frost Happily Never After
This e-novella was just released by Ms. Frost and is part of her Night Huntress series, which is a fun and sexy urban fantasy featuring vampire Bones and his lover/wife Cat. In this novella Bones barely makes an appearance and Cat isn’t in it at all, but it’s a great story and I highly recommend it. Even if you’ve never read any of Ms. Frost’s books, you’ll enjoy this story of vampire Chance sent to help out Isabella, who’s being blackmailed by a low-level mobster into marriage to protect her brother. Ms. Frost pokes fun at mafia stereotypes with this one, which leads to a lot of laughs. The characters are really well developed and the writing drew me in from the first. Definitely a winner and a great addition to the series!
Lori Wilde You Only Love Twice
This is a cute contemporary romance about shy comic book artist and conspiracy theorist Marlie Montague, whose father was a Navy whistleblower and died under suspicious circumstances. Marlie manages to hit the mark on an unknown conspiracy in one of her comic books, and as a result she’s being watched by former Navy SEAL Joel J. Hunter. Little does she realize that Joel was her childhood crush and son of the man who shot her father. The two have a rollicking adventure trying to decipher which conspiracy she unknowingly revealed in her comic book, all while fighting an attraction to one another. I laughed out loud so many times with this book. After all, any book that features a bowling ball flash mob with people singing Anchors Away is going to be lots of fun!
Loretta Chase Lord of Scoundrels
This book is a classic among regency romance lovers, and I’m ashamed to admit that I had never read it until a few weeks ago. I was stunned when I discovered afterwards that it was originally published in 1994, because it reads as though it were written yesterday. The hero, Sebastian Ballister, Marquess of Dain, is a tortured hero who is half Italian and quite the rake, but he’s met his match in Jessica Trent. Miss Trent is the granddaughter of a well-known femme fatale, and when she arrives in Paris with her fascinating grandmother to rescue her idiotic brother Bertie from Dain’s evil ways, the sparks fly. Actually, the sparks explode, because the two are spontaneously combustible. The redeemable rake is one of my favorite tropes, but it was Jessica Trent who absolutely sold this book for me. She was an intelligent, sexy woman with lots of pluck, and you’ll love the two of them together. Definitely a classic and one I’ll be reading over and over again.
Eloisa James Duchess in Love
Eloisa James is one of my favorite authors of regency romance, and this is the first book in her Duchess Quartet series. Her books are always intelligent, well-written, and humorous, and this one is on sale with bonus material (excerpts from the other books in the series) on Amazon right now. It’s a great introduction to her writing and an intriguing romance. Gina is married at age 11 to Camden, the Duke of Girton, who promptly flees the country without consummating the marriage (not that one can blame him). The two remain good friends, however, maintaining correspondence while the Duke is busy sculpting in Greece. But Gina grows up and 12 years later she writes to Camden, asking for an annulment so she can marry Sebastian, Marquess Bonnington. When Camden arrives to grant her the annulment, he falls in love, and as the novel progresses and their romance develops, you are never quite sure if they will consummate the original marriage or not. Lots of fun, plus a secondary romance among other characters as well.
Julia Quinn The Duke and I (Bridgertons #1)
This is the book that started the Lady Whistledown craze, and if you don’t know who Lady Whistledown is, you simply must remedy the situation at once! Ms. Quinn is another of my favorite regency romance authors, and she is best known for her series about the Bridgerton siblings. The Duke and I is the first of the series about the large Bridgerton family, and it features the eldest daughter, Daphne, whose romance with Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings, is funny, touching, and heartbreaking. Simon is friends with Daphne’s older brothers, who make it clear to him that as a womanizer he should steer clear of their sister. But Daphne and Simon decide to fake an engagement in the hopes of drumming up interest in Daphne while protecting Simon from matchmaking mamas. Naturally the fake engagement becomes something more, and it’s a pleasure to see their relationship develop. And if you don’t know who Lady Whistledown is, you are in good company, because no one in the book knows either. You’ll have to read the subsequent books in the series to learn her identity!
All of these books are currently on sale at Amazon for less than $1.99, and they are a steal at that price. While some of these authors are already favorites, the sale pricing has definitely been to the authors’ benefit, because I’ve already purchased many of their other books! I’m definitely burning up the airwaves with all the sales going on, that’s for certain. If you want to keep on top of sales, follow me on Twitter (@RebeLovesBooks), because I tweet about sales as I learn about them. Enjoy and keep cool!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Early Review of Shannon Curtis’ Viper’s Kiss

In college, I worked at the library in the circulation department as part of my financial aid, and as a result I’ve always enjoyed reading about librarians. So when I saw that the heroine of Shannon Curtis’ Viper’s Kiss was a librarian, I had to read it, and when I realized that said librarian was accused of being a spy, I was hooked. After all, what librarian doesn’t dream of being a spy?  Viper’s Kiss will be released on July 25 and is available at the Carina Press webpage and on Amazon. The novel’s a short romantic suspense, only about 53,000 words, so it’s a quick read and a fast-paced adventure. And the hottie on the cover isn’t hard on the eyes, either! This was a fun read, and I’m looking forward to seeing more in the future from Ms. Curtis.
Maggie Kincaid is a librarian at the University of Washington, and her life has suddenly grown much more exciting than she would like. Miss April HotRod, aka Kandy Karamel, is a dead ringer for Maggie, and suddenly the demure librarian is being hounded by people mistaking her for the pin-up girl. Shortly after dodging a herd of horny male students outside the library, two men in black arrive and arrest her for espionage. She’s been working with the Department of Defense and tech company Tek-Intel on a top secret invention, and they’re accusing her of stealing the prototype. To make matters worse, as soon as she and the detectives pull out into traffic, they’re rammed by a van, the detectives are murdered, and Maggie’s dragged off by some truly frightening villains. Just like the detectives, they’re convinced that she’s a female spy working under the codename Viper. Maggie is barely pulling together an escape attempt, when Luke Kincaid arrives and whisks her away to safety on his motorcycle.
Luke is a security expert with McCormack Security Agency, and he’s tasked with recovering the Visi-suit prototype that Viper’s stolen. He can’t quite believe that Maggie Kincaid is guilty, but all the evidence points in that direction. Too bad that the first job he’s in charge of involves a female spy he finds really appealing. Maggie finds Luke attractive as well, but every time he starts to believe in her innocence, evidence surfaces that convinces him that she’s not trustworthy. In the end, she’s the only one who can uncover the truth and recover the visi-suit, clearing her name in the process.
Viper’s Kiss is non-stop action, with poor Maggie escaping from one dangerous situation only to find herself in another. The plot progresses quickly, and just when you think that she can calm down and relax, the action picks up again. It’s a fun ride, and Ms. Curtis introduces two supporting male characters, Derek and Noah, whose presence makes me believe that she has sequels planned for the two of them, which would definitely be good news for us readers!
Maggie is a likeable character, and despite the danger and trouble she finds herself in, she manages to escape each time, thanks to her own actions. That makes her really appealing, since she’s had a tough time of it for the last few years, but instead of being overwhelmed and complaining, she acts to resolve the situation herself. She’s also always one step ahead of the so-called security experts, figuring out a way to escape them and solve the mystery surrounding the true Viper while recovering the Visi-suit prototype.
While there are definitely sparks between Luke and Maggie, their romance feels a bit rushed. They’re clearly attracted to one another, but from the beginning of the novel Maggie has been cautious about men, insisting on a 90 day probationary period before sex with all dates, which has resulted in her still being a virgin in her mid-twenties. This caution is blamed on a bad relationship her mother had with a boyfriend when Maggie was 16 (more about that later), so it seems somewhat inconsistent with her character that she would choose to act on her attraction as quickly as she does with Luke. I prefer romances that develop over time, but the novel is so short that it’s difficult to see how Ms. Curtis could have maintained the fast pace of the action and included the romance in any other way. I would love to see a longer work from her, which would give her more room to develop the relationship between the characters.
Because I thoroughly enjoyed reading the novel, I hate to criticize but I do have two complaints, although the first is somewhat minor. Given how the action unfolds, I have to think that McCormack Security Agency must hire the most inept employees in the world, because every time Maggie needs to escape, she asks to use the bathroom and wiggles out of a window, with the so-called experts none the wiser. First, how many bathrooms have windows, and second, how could this trick work on them more than once? Seriously, she’s portrayed as an innocent and naïve librarian, yet she’s easily able to escape the security experts and goons who try to force her to reveal the location of the Visi-suit.
The second complaint I have is about a plot point that bothered me so much it actually lessened my enjoyment of the novel. ***Warning: Spoilers Ahead***  We learn that when Maggie was 16, her mother had a boyfriend named Andy who tried to sexually assault Maggie. When her mother learned of the attempted assault, she kicked Andy out, and he retaliated by robbing their house and wiping out her checking account. This forced Maggie to have to work to help support them, plus required her to work to pay for her college education. Later, her mother falls seriously ill, and Maggie has to find a way to pay her mother’s overwhelming medical bills. So when Luke looks into Maggie’s finances as a way to prove that she is the spy they’re looking for, he’s stunned to see that she’s barely eking out a living and lives in a one-bedroom apartment with her mother. What drives me crazy about this is that I don’t understand why her mother didn’t go to the police when their house is robbed and the bank account is wiped out! She just sits back and does nothing, allowing her daughter to work like crazy to pay for her education. This seems inconsistent with Maggie’s behavior at the very least, since throughout the novel Maggie acts to clear her name rather than remaining a passive character. It seems so odd that there was absolutely nothing her mother could have done, and it felt completely contrived.
Despite this, the rest of the novel was a fun, quick read with a likeable hero and heroine and lots of action. I definitely enjoyed it and can’t wait to see future books by this author, because her writing drew me in quickly and I loved her choice of heroine.
This book was provided for review by the publisher through NetGalley.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Review of Michele Hauf’s Ashes of Angels

This is my first time reading a book by Michele Hauf, but it will not be the last! I just finished Ashes of Angels, the third book in her Of Angels and Demons series, and it was an engaging paranormal romance with hot vampires and sexy Fallen Angels. The book is being released tomorrow, July 19, and includes the novella that takes place between the second and third books, The Ninja Vampire’s Girl. In a letter from the author, Ms. Hauf states that the events in the novella take place about 5 months before those in the novel, and suggests that you read the novella first if you want to keep events in order, but that’s not necessary, as both novella and novel can be read as stand-alone works. In fact, I did read the novella first, and now I wish I’d read it last, because the novella was not nearly as good as the novel and I almost didn’t go on to read the novel. That would have been a shame, because the novel is tightly written with appealing characters, and I definitely recommend it!
Artist Cassandra (Caz) Stevens is celebrating finishing a statue of an angel when she meets a stunning looking man in a club. All too quickly she realizes that she’s in terrible danger, because he’s a Fallen Angel, and the glowing mark on her wrist indicates that she’s his muse. Fallen Angels who are summoned to Earth seek out mortal women, their muses, and sexually assault them, impregnating them with Nephilim, monstrous killers.  Caz’s grandmother warned her and her sister Coco years ago that they needed to prepare to fight off the Fallen, but Samandiriel (Sam) is different from the others. He regrets the Fallen Angels’ decision to leave Heaven and wants to protect Caz from the others who will seek her out. It seems that a group of Vampires in Germany is summoning the Fallen Angels to Earth, hoping to lead them to their muses and perform tests on the resulting Nephilim. The vampires’ leader believes that the Nephilim blood will allow the vampires to walk in the sun, but the more Fallen Angels he summons, the more danger Caz and her fellow muses are in. Sam offers to help Caz in her fight against the vampires and the other Fallen, and the two agree to work together, fighting an overwhelming attraction that if acted upon could result in Caz’s death.
The world building in this novel is complex but clearly explained and easy to pick up even though I jumped into the series at book three. I appreciated how seamlessly the world was introduced to a new reader. The mix of Angels, demons, and vampires was fascinating, and Ms. Hauf integrated religious elements into her novel while still leaving a lot open to speculation. The background of the Fallen and the demons is explained clearly, but I’m still uncertain about the origins of the vampires in this world. Given the focus on the muse heroine and angel hero, however, the origins of the vampires were not necessary to the story and didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the novel.
Sam and Caz were likeable characters, and since Sam had only recently returned to Earth after the vampires summoned him, he’s an interesting mix of innocence and experience that Caz finds irresistible. I like that Ms. Hauf turned the tables on the trope of the “virgin” heroine learning about her sexuality with this one, since Caz has to teach Sam how to kiss! The sexual tension between the two was sizzling and dangerous, since there's the possibility that Sam will assault Caz if he reverts to his stronger angel form. Caz is a sensual, creative woman, and it’s easy to see that Sam’s attraction to her soon becomes more than just the link between a muse and a Fallen Angel.
While most of the novel was action-packed with Caz and Sam fighting demons, Fallen Angels, and vampires, there were also some really funny lines. I laughed out loud several times, especially at the scene where Sam gets a little tipsy and is informed that the feelings he’s describing for Caz are definitely love. When he and Caz first meet, he teases her by calling her hilarious nicknames just to annoy her. Sam may be an Angel, but he’s got a wicked sense of humor! When Caz calls him on the endearments, he asks if she would “prefer sweetie? Perhaps mein little cupcake?” And later he tells her that he’d kill any Fallen who tried to attack her, claiming that he prefers the word “smite over murder.” Who wouldn’t?
I only have two criticisms about the novel. The first is that the epilogue wraps everything up in a neat package, but I’m not sure it’s absolutely necessary. The book ends with a dramatic fight that packs a strong punch, and the epilogue seems a bit quick to resolve everything. I suspect the novel could have ended either without the epilogue or with another chapter and the ending wouldn’t have felt so rushed.
The second complaint is not really related to the novel at all but rather the novella. The Ninja Vampire’s Girl was previously published in an anthology, and feels really short, possibly less  than 20,000 words, although that could merely be my perception. Because the novel is so well written with such engaging characters and dialogue the much shorter novella suffers by comparison. It details how Caz’s sister Coco met her vampire boyfriend Zane while searching for a Fallen Angel’s halo. The story is cute, but it’s written in 2 separate first-person points of view, with a lot of jumping from one POV to the next. In the advanced reader copy there was no separation to indicate the jump from one POV to the other, which was a bit confusing, but I’m sure in the published version that is not the case. Ms. Hauf wrote the third-person POV so well in the novel that the first-person POVs of Coco and Zane in the novella come across as underdeveloped.
Despite the novella’s shortcomings, I really enjoyed Ashes of Angels and as soon as I finished it I went online to check out Ms. Hauf’s webpage to look up the other books and novellas in the series. The summaries of the first and second books make it clear that they take place in the same world and focus on different types of heroes and heroines, which further impresses me with Ms. Hauf’s creativity. I’ll definitely be catching up on the rest of the series and look forward to future installments of the series!
I received a copy of this book for review from the Publisher through NetGalley.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Should I give up on Medieval Romance? Or, Lack of Personal Hygiene is Not Romantic

It seems like the last week or so I’ve been reading a lot of romantic suspense, so I decided to change things up a bit and try something completely different. I went to my Kindle (always dangerous) and started looking through the Kindle store for books by authors I liked and discovered that Madeline Hunter has written several books I hadn't read yet. Now, I loved Ms. Hunter’s Rarest Blooms series after I discovered the books at the library, so I thought I’d give one of her earlier books a try. I chose By Possession, and after putting it down, then picking it up, then putting it down again, I realized that maybe I should have read the back blurb a little more closely, because it’s a medieval romance. And the problems I had with the book are not in any way related to the writing – Ms. Hunter does a wonderful job and clearly has researched her topic. Unfortunately, reality and medieval times just don’t strike me as romantic. I mean, no one brushed their teeth, for goodness sake! Also, there were no flush toilets, which is just gross, and people smelled really bad. If you were really lucky and had money, you could afford to bathe once a month and had perfume to cover the stink the other 29 days of the month. That’s just nasty. And I can’t help thinking about that when the hero and heroine start to DO the nasty, because I’m wondering if they’ve bathed recently or have lice or anything, which is a total mood killer, let me tell you!
Of course, most romance novels with medieval settings don’t mention that sort of thing, and really, neither do contemporary romances. Who wants to think about toilets in a romance novel? But when I’m reading a contemporary, I pretty much assume that the hero wears deodorant and brushes and flosses, so no problems there. The real problem with medieval romances for me is the way the women are treated. If the book makes any sort of attempt to be true to the period, women have no control over whom they marry or are allowed to own personal property, which is just awful. And that was the problem I ran into when I was reading Madeline Hunter’s By Possession. The hero is a nobleman and the heroine a bondwoman – or is she? You see, there’s some doubt about her actually belonging to him. She claims to have been freed earlier and almost everyone agrees, but the hero claims that’s not the case. So she’s stuck. This doesn’t strike me as a very loveable quality in one’s hero, am I right? Yeah, I pretty much wanted to stab him in his well-fitted tunic and hose, but alas, that was not what happened. The book does get much better, even for my modern sensibilities, but I decided that maybe I should just stay away from medieval romance for awhile.
Then I remembered that I’ve read medieval romances by two of my favorite authors ever, Amanda Quick and Christina Dodd, and even LOVED them, so maybe medieval romance isn’t so bad. Also, one of my all-time favorite mystery series is Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael books, which are wonderful and occasionally have romantic elements. And that prompted me to rethink my decision to give up on medievals. Here are 4 mini-reviews of medieval romances that I did like, including the not-as-bad-as-I-made-it-sound By Possession.
Christina Dodd Candle in the Window
This is one of the first books by Ms. Dodd I read, and it’s a real charmer. It also has the dubious distinction of having a cover with a heroine with three arms when first printed. (Check out the picture to the left.) Fortunately it’s been reprinted many, many times and the lovely Lady Saura of Roget no longer has an extra appendage (ahem). It takes place in 1153 in England, where Lady Saura is considered one of the most beautiful women in all the country. She’s been summoned to help Sir William of Miraval learn to deal with an injury that has caused him to go blind. Sir William is appropriately hunky and she’s not your typical medieval wench, so sparks fly. Lady Saura is an unusual heroine, because she’s been blind from birth, and I love watching her whip Sir William and his household into shape. Competent women of any time period are truly appealing, and Lady Saura is a real gem. Quite frankly, Ms. Dodd’s delightful sense of humor makes this one a lot of fun to read and led me to spend a lot of money I didn't have on her other books.
Amanda Quick’s Desire
While I’m no expert, I believe this is probably the least “realistic” of the medieval romances I’m listing here, but if you read romance for realism, you’re just crazy. Who does that? The novel begins with Lady Clare from the remote British Isle of Desire having written to her liege lord, asking him to send her several suitors so that she may choose one for a husband. Instead of listening to her requirements, which include that her suitors be of medium stature, pleasing disposition, and a man of learning, Thurston of Landry sends her one suitor – his son, Sir Gareth of Wyckmere, aka the Hellhound of Wyckmere. If you’re thinking that any guy nicknamed “Hellhound” probably isn’t of medium height or of pleasing disposition, you’d be right. At least that’s how it seems to Lady Clare when she meets Sir Gareth, but appearances can be deceiving. Ms. Quick (aka Jayne Ann Krentz) writes some truly hilarious scenes, particularly the wedding night.
Amanda Quick’s Mystique
This and Desire are the only medieval romances that Ms. Quick has written, and this is my favorite of the two, even though Desire is a hoot. I love Mystique because the heroine is quite talented at working around the limited choices she has. She wants to go to a convent to study rocks and minerals, but her uncle will not allow that. When Lady Alice’s father died, his lame son was deemed unable to defend his lands properly and the lands reverted to Alice’s uncle. Yet despite this, Lady Alice manages to make her uncle pay and drives off several unwelcome suitors. It’s only when Sir Hugh the Relentless arrives, searching for a green crystal, that Alice is able to escape her Uncle’s home. Sir Hugh makes a bargain with the intrepid Lady Alice that she will pose as his fiancée until they recover his green crystal and then she can retire to a convent, but he actually plans on convincing her to become his wife in truth. While in general medieval men may not have appreciated intelligent women, it’s a pleasure to see Sir Hugh’s appreciation of Lady Alice's many interests.
Madeline Hunter’s By Possession
By now you may have decided to give Ms. Hunter’s medieval romance a pass after reading that the hero, Addis de Valance, refuses to admit that Moira Falkner is a free woman so he can keep her near, but that would be a mistake. Of the four books mentioned here, By Possession is by far the most “realistic” in how the medieval men and women interact with one another. It’s set in the 14th century during the reign of King Edward II, and in addition to the realistic gender relations there’s also a lovely description of London at the time. When I say lovely, I mean gross, but let’s face it, pretty much every town of any size in medieval Europe had to be pretty rank. Two words – no sewers! But despite the harsh realism surrounding Addis de Valance’s treatment of a woman not of his class, their romance is both touching and sensual. There were plenty of moments when I wondered if this book could possibly have a happy ending, but it all resolves beautifully and the history that unfolds alongside the romance is gripping. While this is not a humorous romance the way that the other three are, it is definitely a great read.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Review of Caridad Piñeiro’s The Fifth Kingdom

For some reason I seem to be reading a lot of really great romantic suspense lately, and I just finished another RS novel, Caridad Piñeiro’s The Fifth Kingdom. I requested this book from NetGalley, because I was intrigued by the idea of an archaeologist looking for Montezuma’s tomb. As a Spanish Instructor, it was a pleasure to read a book that integrates Mexican history and culture so easily into the action of the plot, and the mythical aspects of that culture make for an unusual setting for the novel. The Fifth Kingdom was an engaging read that packs a powerful emotional punch, but I think it needed to be just a little bit longer to adequately resolve the complex family situations. I also should warn readers that the Prologue is uncomfortable to read, as it references torture involving a car battery and jumper cables. The violence in the prologue is not described in depth, however, and I think with a Romantic Suspense you expect some of that anyway.
The prologue begins with archaeologist Miranda Adams’ torture at the hands of a Mexican terrorist organization, Primera Mexica (PM). Dr. Adams has been searching for Montezuma’s tomb, and now that she’s discovered it, PM wants her to tell them the location. Realizing that providing the information would mean certain death, Dr. Adams refuses to talk. The action then shifts to New York, where CIA Special Agent Guillermo “Bill” Santana enters Dr. Deanna Vazquez’s history classroom. Deanna is a teacher at an elite Prep School, and Miranda Adams is her mother, although they have been estranged for years since Dr. Adams abandoned her family when Deanna was only thirteen. Bill Santana informs Deanna that her father has reported Miranda missing in Mexico, and they suspect she’s been abducted by a terrorist group aiding Mexican drug cartels. In spite of Deanna’s initial reluctance to join the search for her mother, she quickly changes her mind when she and Bill have to fight off two attackers just outside the school. Deanna learns that her mother’s hunt for Montezuma’s tomb has apparently been successful, and the CIA and FBI fear that she has uncovered some sort of weapon, making her a target of the Primera Mexica terrorist organization. While Deanna is skeptical about the presence of any weapon in the tomb, she agrees to help Bill and the CIA recover her mother. To add to Deanna’s emotional distress about her relationship with her mother, she’s very attracted to the CIA Special Agent. She and Bill Santana need to find a way to discover the truth about Montezuma’s tomb and the Primera Mexica, all while fighting their mutual attraction.
Ms. Piñeiro is very successful at creating evil villains and tense confrontations. We keep wondering if Deanna and Bill are going to find Miranda in time and if they do find her, what shape she’ll be in physically. The couple travel to Mexico City and pose as a recently engaged couple, hoping to establish some contacts that will provide information leading to Primera Mexica. This leads to an extended stand-off with the terrorists that will keep you turning the pages, questioning whether or not Bill and Deanna can escape with their lives. The action in the second half of the novel seems to fly by, because of their rescue of Miranda and attempts to secure the so-called weapon in the tomb.
The growing romance between Bill and Deanna is definitely a case of two wounded souls finding one another. Bill’s parents abandoned him when he was little, and he spent years bouncing between foster homes before finally settling in a good home with a military foster father. Despite working with the CIA, he’s never sought out his parents, so he’s able to relate to Deanna’s mixed feelings about having to rescue a woman who abandoned her. I particularly like that their romance develops gradually, rather than having them immediately jump into bed together. They’re clearly attracted to one another and the fake engagement they use as their cover story in Mexico City allows them to develop the relationship.
One thing that bothered me about the novel is the handling of the relationship between Deanna and Miranda. I felt that we never really receive a good answer for why Miranda abandoned her husband and daughter. Eventually we learn Miranda’s reasons for leaving through a short interior monologue, but she never explains those reasons to her daughter. One of my pet peeves is having a character reflect on why s/he wronged another but never explaining her actions to that other person. How will the wronged party know that the other person truly regrets her actions if what we readers know is never expressed to the other characters? I would have liked to see more interaction between Deanna and her mother before the resolution, because from the beginning it’s made clear that Deanna feels a great deal of resentment towards her mother and I found the resolution of those feelings to be explained away too quickly. The epilogue merely served to exacerbate my feelings about the mother-abandoned child theme of the novel. I won’t go into details, but I’m not really sure it was necessary, and it seemed to only resolve the conflict between those characters in a superficial manner.
Overall I felt The Fifth Kingdom was a fast and enjoyable read. The romance was touching, and the crescendo of action in the last half of the novel kept me on the edge of my seat. But it was the cultural aspects driving the conflict that made this book stand out for me, and I look forward to catching up on Ms. Piñeiro’s other books.
I received this book for review from the publisher through NetGalley.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Review of Adrienne Giordano’s Man Law

My favorite man law? Number 18 – Never mess with a man’s grill. And no, that’s not a euphemism. A man’s appliances and gadgets are apparently hands off to buddies, and so is his sister, which causes a ton of problems in Adrienne Giordano’s Man Law. Men have a lot of unwritten rules that make little or no sense to women, and Vic Andrews, security consultant, seems to follow ALL these rules. I’m willing to bet good money that if he went to the movies with a buddy, they’d leave an empty seat between them, just so there are nooooo misunderstandings. Vic is definitely a tough guy, but he’s also funny, sweet, and endearing. Just don’t tell him that!
Adrienne Giordano’s debut novel, Man Law, is a romantic suspense, and it’s definitely a winner. My mother-in-law loves to read romantic suspense, and I can't wait to recommend it to her. The novel begins on a beach, with our hero Vic Andrews realizing that he’s in deep trouble, because he just hooked up with his best friend’s sister, Gina Delgado. Never mess with a man’s sister is one of these deeply entrenched man laws Vic follows, but this is the second time he and Gina have hooked up, and it’s starting to get complicated. Gina is a 35 year old widow of a deceased firefighter, so she knows all about the constant stress of worrying for her loved ones, plus she’s got 3 kids to raise without their father. The last thing she needs is to get involved with Vic, whose spent years working under dangerous conditions. To make matters worse, Vic has just learned that a terrorist is targeting him in retaliation for taking out his younger brother, which  places Gina and her three kids in some serious danger. You’ll definitely be rooting for Vic and Gina, as they work through an emotional minefield while fighting off this terrorist’s vendetta.
There are so many things to love about this novel, but the characters really sold it for me, especially the male ones. This book reminded me a lot of what I enjoyed in Shannon Stacey’s Yours to Keep – the male characters sound like real guys, laughing at each other and giving their buds a hard time over women. The titular man laws make numerous appearances as we watch Vic Andrews, tough guy extraordinaire, go down for the count, and it’s fun to watch him break almost all of them when dealing with Gina. Never admit you’re wrong? – I’m pretty sure this one’s written in stone for guys, but Vic manages to break it and live to fight and love another day. It’s clear throughout the novel that Vic’s never had problems with the ladies, but his long-time friendship with Gina’s brother Mike means that he’s known her for a long time. He clearly respects Gina, but he also finds her smokin’ hot, and as a widowed mother of 3, that’s just what she needs! The scenes where Vic calls out Gina’s teenage son Matt and tells him that he’ll just have to deal with Vic’s presence in their lives are perfect, and make me wonder if Ms. Giordano has her own teenage son, because Matt is super cranky and sullen about his Mom’s new boyfriend.
Gina is one of the more likeable heroines I’ve read in a while. She’s 35, has 3 kids, and has been widowed for 4 years. She’s starting to realize that she’s buried Gina the woman in favor of Gina the mother, and I think a lot of women can relate to that. Her grief over her husband’s death is an important part of the story, because she has plenty of doubts about starting something with someone who, like her husband, makes a living in a dangerous profession. However, she’s clearly moving in a positive direction, and it’s a pleasure to see her take charge of her sexuality while dealing with kids and pressure from her loving family.
I found the pacing of the book to be just right. We learn about the threat to Vic and his loved ones almost immediately in the novel, and the tension is maintained throughout, but there are realistic breaks in the action to develop the relationship between the leads. There are some real nail-biting moments and one gut-wrenching one that I won’t spoil for you, but the intensity of the action is where it should be. The reactions of Vic and the other characters to the powerful events that take place come across as highly believable, and the suspense hanging over them all will keep you on the edge of your seat.
If I had to quibble about anything in the book, it would be that the last action sequence was almost anti-climatic because of the intensity of the sequence prior to it. That prior sequence packed a much more powerful emotional punch, and the last seemed to be almost an afterthought, although it did resolve everything nicely. Additionally, Gina’s second son Jake seemed almost superfluous at times, since Gina’s other two children are much more central to the plot and more clearly developed. I’m not sure that she needed to have three children in this novel, although we certainly get the sense of how harried she is as a single mother.
In short, I really enjoyed Ms. Giordano’s book and highly recommend it. This is the first in her Private Protectors series, with the second one (A Just Deception) coming out in September 2011. I’m hoping that her ebook sales will be strong enough to warrant a print release some time next year, as Man Law is a strong beginning to a new series. You can buy Man Law at Amazon and the Carina Press website.
I received this book for review from the publisher, Carina Press, through NetGalley.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Review of Jamie Craig’s A Line in the Ice

After a great experience with Lois McMaster Bujold’s Cordelia’s Honor, I decided to broaden my horizons and give some sci-fi romance a chance. I’ve always loved Star Trek and Star Wars, and I usually limit my sci-fi enjoyment to the small screen, but when I saw Jamie Craig’s A Line in the Ice, I thought I’d check it out. I’m so glad I did, because it was action-packed and a sweet romance. Jamie Craig is actually writing team Vivien Dean and Pepper Espinoza, and, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I always have the utmost respect for authors who can write together without killing each other, since I can’t imagine that happening in my household without numerous calls to Emergency Services. However, the two ladies who write as Jamie Craig do so seamlessly, and the end result is a pleasure to read. If you look on their webpage you’ll see that they’ve published a number of erotic romances of many types, but A Line in the Ice is more mainstream. You can find this novel for purchase at Amazon and at the Carina Press webpage .
The novel takes place roughly 100 years after the end of the First World War in Antarctica, with a small band of soldiers from around the world battling mysterious creatures emerging from the ice. These strange animals first appeared during WWI around the world, killing soldiers and civilians and causing widespread panic. A small band of soldiers fought off the creatures at the time, but then was never heard from again. Captain Charlie Weller is part of the present day squad fighting the re-appearance of the creatures in Antarctica, and as the novel begins, she and her partner are fighting off one of the animals, only to see a man emerge from the ice. His name is Lysander Davies, and he tells Charlie and her companions that he’s a descendent of a member of that original band of men from WWI. He claims that the “monsters” they’ve been fighting are actually gentle creatures from a place called Illyria, another world under attack by a vicious group called the Aquorians. Lysander has made the dangerous journey through the rift between his world of Illyria and Charlie’s Earth to warn the humans that the Aquorians are on their way. But the more time he and Charlie spend together, the stronger their attraction, which makes the situation all the more difficult, since Lysander will have to return to Illyria in order to close the rift and save Earth.
What first attracted me to this novel was the author’s use of World War I as the time when the Leviathan (the large animals) began to come through the rift. Since the US had less involvement in WWI than many of our allies, it often receives little attention in history courses and as a result many Americans know little or nothing about the war. Choosing to have these creatures emerge at that time was intriguing to me, and the book didn’t disappoint. Lysander’s Great-Grandfather and the other men from WWI who drove off the Leviathan at the time became trapped in another world, Illyria. Lysander has only heard stories of Earth, including parts of Shakespearean plays that his Great-Grandfather had written down from memory. Unfortunately, Lysander has returned to Earth at Antarctica, one of the starkest spots on Earth, and it’s amusing to see his questions for Charlie about the other parts of the world, along with his introduction to technology his great-grandfather could never have imagined possible.
The setting of the book, Antarctica, was particularly effective, reminding me of sci-fi movies such as Aliens, since the space in which the characters move and interact is so confined and the terrain so unforgiving. The harsh cold and limited access to the outside world creates the feel of being cut off from everyone, which increases the tension between the soldiers and facilitates the growing romance between Charlie and Lysander. At times you forget that they aren’t alone, as they soon only have eyes for each other. There are only six soldiers in this forgotten defense against a growing threat, and Lysander’s frustration over Earth’s growing complaisance concerning the rift and the Aquorian threat is palpable.
My only complaint about the novel would be that we see very little of the Aquorians themselves, only learning of them through Lysander until the action-packed end of the novel. We learn about the threat that they present through his accounts of Illyria and what the other humans learned from their experience there, but I didn’t fully understand their motives in attacking Earth. This seems like a very minor complaint, however, since this was precisely the situation the soldiers in Antarctica faced.
I enjoyed the romance between Charlie and Lysander and thought this was an intriguing world. I’d love to see more about Illyria in the future, especially since it was quite the contrast to the stark setting of the majority of the book. When I asked the authors on Twitter if they had any plans for sequels, they replied that there isn’t anything in the works but not to rule it out either, so for now, I’ll have to settle for reading books from their backlist. I definitely recommend this one if you’re a Sci-fi fan.
I received a copy of this novel for review from the Publisher through NetGalley.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Review of Charlotte Featherstone’s Seduction & Scandal

This book is so gothic in tone that I had to break out my handy-dandy thesaurus for this review. In fact, I even consulted my Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, just to make sure I was doing it justice! This novel evoked a lot of strong feelings in me while reading, some good and some not, but from the first it reminded me of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Of course, Austen is poking fun at the gothic novel, but Featherstone has done an exceptional job of recreating the passion and supernatural elements of the gothic novel from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. I loved her gloomy atmosphere and sensual lovers. Unfortunately, Featherstone’s female characters were the ones to evoke the negative feelings to which I referred above.
The novel begins with passages from the heroine’s own novel, which she adds to throughout the book, and the sensuous selections she pens about her hero, Death, set the tone for the rest of the novel. Isabella Fairmont is in her early twenties and poor, the daughter of a noblewoman who abandoned her reputation for passion with many different men. Because of her fallen mother, Isabella must be the epitome of decorum, and she limits her passion to the pages she writes in her novel. She’s enjoying the London season at the house of her cousin Lady Lucy Ashton, whose father is sponsoring the two young women during the season. Where Isabella is chary with her money and her affections, Lucy is passionate and impulsive. Isabella has a worthy suitor, but when she catches the eye of Jude Sheldon, the Earl of Black, he provides her with plenty of material upon which to base her passionate writings.
The supernatural elements of the novel begin innocuously enough. Lucy is obsessed with the occult and convinces Isabella to attend a séance with her. Isabella is frightened of the dark and the possibility of seeing spirits, as she believes that she’s seen Death himself on several occasions. During the séance, Isabella sees a dark man in the corner and, believing he’s Death, faints. Fortunately for her, it is in fact the brooding Earl of Black. The occult takes center stage throughout the novel, mainly because of the three male characters, Black, the Duke of Sussex, and the Marquis of Alynwick.  They are the Brethren Guardians, tasked with protecting three ancient artifacts, two of which have been stolen recently. As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that someone closely involved with the missing artifacts suspects the truth about the Brethren Guardians’ interests in Isabella and Lucy, creating a sense of looming danger throughout the novel.
I absolutely loved the gothic elements of this novel! I think Ms. Featherstone did an amazing job of recreating the lush sensuality and lurid nature of a gothic novel. It’s complete with supernatural elements, a graveyard séance, a malevolent villain named Orpheus, a Masonic Temple, and ancient Templars. Both the text of the novel Isabella is writing and the one we are reading have overwrought language and pending doom throughout. And we have a brooding and misunderstood hero in the Earl of Black, perfect for the gothic atmosphere. The gothic nature of the novel was a huge selling point for me.
Unfortunately, the female characters were not. I really couldn’t stand Lady Lucy Aston, which doesn’t bode well for my reading the second novel in this series, since it’s clear that she and the Duke of Sussex are slated to be the hero and heroine in Pride and Passion. My husband likes to say that I don’t suffer fools lightly, and this explains much about my feelings toward Lucy. She’s also a brat, and both Isabella and the Earl of Black call her on her spoiled behavior but to no avail. She becomes obsessed with the occult, leads Isabella into dangerous situations, and constantly harps on the importance of passion, knowing that Isabella lived in poverty for most of her life as a result of her mother’s indulging in that same passion.  Lucy’s insistence on acting like a ninny and her self-centered behavior towards Isabella made me want to kick Lucy in her pantelettes.
Isabella was the more clear-headed of the two and infinitely more likeable. You certainly sympathize with her, as she has many reasons for making the decisions she does about the men in her life. Unfortunately, she comes across as wishy-washy at times, unable to resist the Earl of Black’s advances yet wanting to avoid becoming a fallen woman. This isn’t helped by the Earl’s seduction attempts (which are many and a bit overwrought, in true gothic fashion). He doesn’t make his intentions clear at all, so I can understand her confusion, but her almighty lust seems to overtake her whenever around him. She also seems melancholy for almost the entire novel and experiences fainting spells and overpowering headaches. I actually didn’t find this nearly as annoying as Lucy’s behavior, mainly because that’s in keeping with a gothic novel, but I didn’t particularly enjoy reading about it, either.
Overall I have mixed feelings about the novel. I’d love to beat the stuffing out of Lucy with a copy of Wuthering Heights, which precludes my reading the next novel in the series, but the gothic elements of Seduction & Scandal were outstanding, which makes me want to read more of Ms. Featherstone’s writing. Either way, I’m definitely going to be looking for books from her backlist, because she’s clearly a talented writer.
I received this novel for review from the publisher through NetGalley.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Review of Laurie London's Embraced by Blood

I’m always looking for new authors who write about vampires, and it was exciting to receive a copy of Ms. London’s Embraced by Blood for review from the publisher via NetGalley. I’ve since seen the book on sale at Barnes & Noble and Walmart, and I’ve got to say the cover is a bit off-putting, which is a shame, because this is an enjoyable read. I’d hate for anyone to pass over the book because of aesthetics. Embraced by Blood is the second novel in Laurie London’s Sweetblood series, although there is also a novella, “Hidden by Blood,” between the two, and it’s currently available for free for the Kindle. Embraced by Blood features a spurned lover and a former double agent, and is a romance about redemption, one of my favorite tropes. However, while I enjoyed the characters and the story, overall it felt a little flat to me.
Alfonso Serrano was a double agent for centuries, secretly working for the vampire Guardians who protect humans while he pretended to be one of the vicious DarkBloods. In his youth Alfonso rebelled against his straight-laced Guardian Council father and ended up addicted to Sweetblood, the most addictive and prized human blood type. After overcoming his addiction, he pretended to maintain his DarkBlood inclinations in order to provide the Guardians with vital inside information. His Guardian handler was Tracker Lily DeGraff, with whom he maintained an on-again, off-again affair. At the beginning of the novel we learn that he staged his own death to escape the DarkBloods and then rejected Lily, since he knows that his Blood Assassin will be hunting him and endangering everyone he cares for. When Alfonso learns that the DarkBloods are organizing through an online role-playing game called Hollow Grave and that they are targeting Guardian Trackers, he re-enters Lily’s life to protect her and her daughter, Zoe. The heroine Lily is one of the Guardians’ most talented Trackers, able to follow individual blood scents like no other, but her abilities have been failing her lately. Lily’s been training a new Tracker and blames herself for her trainee’s abduction because her waning abilities didn’t warn her of the danger following them. Losing her tracking abilities is akin to losing her identity, and this couldn’t be a worse time for her former lover Alfonso to return. The two have to work together to find her trainee and stop the DarkBloods’ attacks on humans, all while avoiding Alfonso’s DarkBlood Assassin.
The characters of this vampire romance are what sell this book for me. I’m a sucker for a redemption story, and this one appeals on two fronts. Alfonso has labored for years in secret, trying to redeem himself for his misspent youth. Also, his rejection of Lily was an attempt to protect her from his past. His work with the Guardians against the DarkBloods more than make up for his past, and it’s clear that Lily and Alfonso’s love affair has only grown deeper through adversity.
I enjoyed the action, liked the characters, and thought the romance was at times touching and at others sizzling. So why did this fall flat for me? After I read the book the first time, my reaction was, “Meh.” So I read it a second time, because I couldn’t put my finger on why I didn’t like the book more. It wasn’t until I picked up a favorite of mine after re-reading Embraced by Blood that I figured it out. The problem is definitely the pace of the narrative. There were times when the novel just seemed to drag, especially at the beginning, when Alfonso was pondering his past and his relationship with Lily. The same happened with Lily, when she would think about her past. Whenever the characters would engage in interior monologues, the tempo of the narrative would get bogged down, which led to my mind wandering.
The book was an enjoyable read, just not an outstanding one. Despite the problems in pacing, I felt that the other aspects of the novel did work for me, so I’ll definitely give Ms. London’s other work a chance.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Review of Kalayna Price's Grave Dance

This weekend’s trip to Barnes and Noble was a real winner. Not only did I find an early copy of Diana Rowland’s My Life as a White Trash Zombie, I also sniggled an early copy of Kalayna Price’s Grave Dance, the second book in her Alex Craft series. So naturally I have spent the last few days devouring books, instead of grilling out or spending time at the pool like everyone else celebrating the Fourth of July. But let’s face it, this is the only way I’ll be able to maintain my lovely pasty-white skin tone, and that is always a goal of mine. Wrinkles? Who needs ‘em! If I were fae or a witch like the residents of Nekros City, the setting of Grave Dance, I could glamour or charm those wrinkles away, but that is not the case. It was so fun to read this second installment of the Alex Craft series, but I have to warn you that this novel is much more complex than the first. You’ll definitely want to spend your time reading it so you don’t miss anything important. If you haven’t read the first book in the series, Grave Witch, you might want to skip this review, because there are definite spoilers in this discussion of the sequel.
I thought Grave Witch was fascinating, and Grave Dance is no different. Alex Craft is a grave witch, and she makes a living raising the dead. She works frequently with the police, raising the shades of victims of crimes so the police can prosecute criminals, but she also works with families and friends of the deceased for many other reasons. Grave Dance begins in a swamp with Alex assisting the police with an odd case. They’ve recovered several left feet that have been severed from their bodies and need Alex to raise the shades of the corpses so the police can find a potential serial killer. Unfortunately, Alex needs more of a body to work with than just a foot, but while helping the police look through the swamp for bodies, she discovers a stash of more left feet, hidden behind a fae glamour. Suddenly the case becomes infinitely more complex, as the police have to call in the FIB, the Fae Investigation Bureau. Alex has a strange relationship with the FIB, because she worked closely with FIB investigator Falin Andrews in the last book. He’s also one of her love interests, with her other a soul collector Alex calls Death. When Alex starts investigating the feet she discovered in the swamp, she and her friends are attacked by magic constructs intent on killing her. Add to that the Winter Queen’s round up and incarceration of independent fae in Nekros City, and the case suddenly becomes much more complicated.
The complexity of this novel makes it difficult to review without spoilers, but I will do my best. We get more of the love triangle in this novel, with Falin returning to see Alex after disappearing for nearly a month and Death appearing in his role as soul collector. It’s difficult to see how either of these romances with Alex will resolve themselves in future books, but there are intriguing hints that it is possible for at least one of them. While Falin’s position as assassin and lover to the Winter Queen complicates any future with Alex, her relationship with Death is pivotal to solving this mystery. Death’s fellow collectors also make an appearance, although they are once again reticent to share information with Alex and prevent Death from doing so as well.
We also see how Alex’s previously unknown fae heritage causes difficulties for her life in Nekros City. In Grave Witch we discovered that her father is fae, and since the showdown  at the end of that novel, Alex’s fae blood has started to attract interest. If she possesses enough fae blood to visit Faerie and leave without consequences, she’ll have to declare allegiance to a fae court, which she wants to avoid. Unfortunately, during her investigation she attracts the attention of the Winter Queen, with frightening consequences for her and many of her friends.
I loved the intricate plot of this novel, but it is complex and that might not work for everyone. I think you can follow along if you haven’t read the first book, although I highly recommend that you do read that book first, since Alex’s relationships and abilities as a grave witch are explained in more depth there. The various twists and turns in Grave Dance kept me on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what would happen next and how the mystery would resolve itself. While the ending is definitely not a cliffhanger, there are a lot of unanswered questions about Alex’s abilities and relationships. The focus of this novel is more on her relationships with friends and the world of Faerie than we saw in the first, which I liked.
I do have a few small quibbles with parts of the book, though. Early on Alex receives a note from her friend Rianna, who is now a changeling in Faerie. Rianna asks Alex to visit her at the Eternal Bloom, a fae hangout, and the results of their meeting are significant in exposing more of Alex’s fae heritage. However, there is no further contact with Rianna in the novel and Alex doesn’t return to the part of Faerie that she visits with her friend. Given how early in the novel this scene takes place, I kept waiting to see how this would play out, and it really didn’t. The timing of the scene felt abrupt as well, since Alex had initiated her investigation and was clearly in some danger but then up and goes to the Eternal Bloom and visits Faerie. It definitely broke up the flow of the action. Also, later in the novel Alex’s father makes a brief visit, and once again we are left with a few small hints about Alex’s childhood and connections to Faerie, but these are not explained and don’t seem to go anywhere. It’s clear that in subsequent novels Alex will be forced to interact more with Faerie, and presumably these issues will be addressed then, but the timing of the scene with Rianna in particular was jarring.
Overall, I would give this book 3.5 stars out of 5. I liked the complexity of the novel but at times there were dramatic and abrupt changes in the direction of the plot, most of which were resolved eventually but not all. Either way, I’m definitely looking forward to future installments of this series.