Friday, December 30, 2011

My Husband Shrank My Jeans - REALLY!

Me and the DH in Dec. 2008, days before he shrank my jeans. Bad DH!!!
Two years ago my husband and I returned home to Ohio after our grueling Southeast/Midwest driving tour that is our holiday ritual. We find all the traveling we do for the holidays REALLY stressful, even though we love seeing our families. Still, going back to work after driving all over the South and Midwest is pretty exhausting, and I suspect a lot of people feel the same.
But when we got home, I was pretty miffed to discover that my favorite pair of jeans didn’t fit. In fact, I was stunned, because all my other clothes fit fine! Turns out the DH had somehow managed to shrink my jeans.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Self, Rebecca’s DH did NOT shrink those jeans – her butt got bigger!” You’d be partially right. My butt did get slightly bigger (maybe all of 2-3 lbs). HOWEVER, I got out the good old measuring tape, and sure enough, the inseam on my favorite jeans was suddenly 2 inches shorter. So I WASN’T imagining things! I’m now offering you that excuse for post-holiday snug clothes. If my DH can shrink my clothes, I’m sure yours can too! To be completely honest, it really wasn’t his fault. We learned later that my Mother-in-law was having problems with her clothes dryer, and I suspect that explains what happened to my jeans, which had to go to Goodwill.
But the shrinking jeans lead to an epiphany. I recognized that at 34 years old I probably needed to resume working out. Before I was married, I did step aerobics for a while, but it had been nearly 4 years since I’d worked out regularly. So I decided that my New Year’s Resolution that year was to work out 3 times a week. I picked several fun “dancy” workout dvds from Amazon and put my two left feet to work.  
Shockingly, I’ve maintained that resolution for the last 2 years! I’m proud that I’ve made working out a habit, despite the depressing realization several months in that I was going to have to work out at least 3 times a week for the rest of my LIFE. Yup, that was a real downer. Fortunately, there was plenty of chocolate available to help in my recovery. But I have to admit, being able to squeeze my butt into skinny jeans goes a loooong way towards easing the “this is the rest of your life” concern.
Since New Year’s Resolutions aren’t that big in my family, I pretty much avoid them, and the last few years I’ve cheated a bit by saying that my resolution is to maintain my workout ethic. I also tend to avoid yearly reading challenges, because I’m going to read several hundred books by the end of the year anyway. So I’m at a loss for this year’s resolution, other than continuing to work out regularly. I want to improve my writing, but that’s more of a life-long resolution than a yearly one.
What about you? Do you have any success stories about New Year’s resolutions? How about smashing disasters?  And if anyone has a fun resolution for this year, let me know!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Review of Susan Johnson's Seductive as Flame

Title: Seductive as Flame
Author: Susan Johnson
Publisher: Berkley Sensation
Format: Mass Market Paperback & ebook
Source: Goodreads First Reads Program
Publication Date: December 6, 2011
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

It was really difficult to rate this book. I felt that the writing was polished and professional, and the narrative flowed well. Unfortunately the underlying premise of the book made it difficult to care for either the hero or heroine, and the high level of sensuality (while very well done) and frequent sex scenes didn’t completely convince me of the romance between the protagonists. For that reason, I’m marking this book down to a 3.5, but the strength of Ms. Johnson’s writing has me interested in checking out her other books.
This historical romance begins at a hunting party in the country, where the Earl of Dalgliesh, Alec Munro, is visiting with his shrew of a wife, Violeta, and her 6 year old son, Christopher. Almost immediately upon arriving at the party, Alec is bowled over when he meets the fiery Scottish Griselda “Zelda” MacKenzie, and the two begin a torrid affair. Zelda has recently returned from a trip abroad to Brazil, and she has the reputation of being a witch, no doubt because of her innate sensuality, which certainly bewitches Alec. But the Earl of Dalgliesh has a reputation as a heartbreaker and already has a wife. Can there be a future for the two lovers?
The above paragraph is my short summary of the book, which I’m providing because the official blurb for this book is a bit misleading. It mentions that Alec is fascinated with Zelda and that she returns his regard, but no mention is made of his married state. Frankly, I’ve never enjoyed romances that have one of the partners cheating on the other, no matter how despicable the other spouse is. Zelda is just not a very appealing heroine, because she willingly enters an affair with a married man. In fact, she decides very quickly to see where the affair with Alec will take her, despite knowing that he is married and before fully realizing the extent of his wife’s duplicitous behavior. This is unfortunate, because otherwise I would have really enjoyed Zelda’s character. She’s independent, plain-speaking, and unapologetically sensual, plus a fierce rider and competitor on the hunting field. All of these characteristics make her a heroine I would normally like and root for in the course of her romance with the hero, but her decision to engage in an extramarital affair, while no doubt common enough among the aristocracy at the time, turned me off from the beginning.   
Alec’s wife Violeta is also a problematic character. She’s so over the top as a villain that she’s a caricature, but this doesn’t become immediately apparent to the reader, which makes it difficult for us to sympathize with Alec. When Zelda and Alec meet and it becomes clear that they are embarking upon an affair we have almost no information about Violeta. This makes it somewhat uncomfortable for the reader, since it’s not really all that obvious why Alec’s marriage is failing at that point in the text. Clearly Violeta’s character is meant to create sympathy for Alec and make it easier for the reader to accept the growing closeness between Alec and Zelda, but Violeta is so one-dimensional as to be ridiculous.
While the level of sensuality in this novel is high, it’s tastefully done, and Zelda and Alec’s chemistry is sizzling, to say the least. Unfortunately the frequency of the sex scenes creates little opportunity for us to see Alec and Zelda together as a couple falling in love, causing the romance to fall a bit flat. Alec’s fascinated with Zelda, and nearly all his friends and servants comment on that fascination, but the two seemed to fall immediately in lust, rather than love.
After looking over everything I’ve written thus far, I realize that this review is overwhelmingly negative in tone, which I feel is a bit unfair. The writing is really stellar, and I found myself highly engaged in the book, eagerly turning pages to see how it would end. For those reasons, I’m looking forward to giving Ms. Johnson’s other books a try. But because I was uncomfortable with a heroine so obviously unconcerned with having an affair with a married man, Seductive as Flame just didn’t work for me.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Review of My New Kindle Touch

Me with my 2nd Generation Kindle

Me and my new Kindle Touch
My old tried and true 2nd Generation Kindle was getting a little wonky on me (wonky’s a technical term for the Kindle spontaneously restarting or freezing up in the middle of hot love scenes) so I asked Santa for a new Kindle Touch for Christmas, and lo, Santa’s Elf (the DH) delivered my new Kindle Touch in time for Christmas morning. Yay, DH! I thought I’d share my thoughts on my Touch, which is the 3G version without special offers.

·         The screen is awesome – I love the e-ink screen, and the text is a lot crisper than my 2nd Generation Kindle. As I get older this is MUCH appreciated, since we southern belles are vain and don’t like to wear our glasses in public. Lord help me when I have to wear glasses to apply my makeup. Of course, I might have already passed that point and everyone’s too kind to mention that my lipstick’s all over the place. You never know…

·         Size – the Touch is smaller and MUCH lighter than the 2nd Gen and even the 3rd Gen Kindles. I have tiny hands and puny arms, so heavy lifting is not for me! I love that the Touch is barely heavier than a Mass Market Paperback and about the same as a Trade Paperback with less bulk and no messy black smudges on the fingers. This would make a great gift for an older reader with arthritis.You can see from the pictures how much smaller the Touch is than the 2nd Generation Kindle.

·         Keyboard – the onscreen keyboard for the Touch is super easy to use. I like it more than the one on my HTC Inspire (that’s a smartphone for you Luddites like my Mother). I like not having the keyboard take up so much space on the Kindle, plus there’s no autocorrect, which means I don’t type “Dad’s” and discover later that it’s been switched to “fascist” without my realizing it (yes, that really happened on my phone).

Could Go Either Way
·         Collections – Collections are how you organize books on your Kindle, very similar to folders for Word documents. Despite a few hiccups on Christmas Day, no doubt due to high traffic on Amazon’s webpage, my collections from my 2nd Gen Kindle were instantly downloaded to my new Touch without any problems. Unfortunately, the collections are both a pro and a con, mainly because the concept behind collections is awkward to begin with. Moving books to various collections requires several steps and possibly  scrolling through your entire library, which is time consuming if you have a large library of, say, more than 1000 books like some people I know (*cough* ME *cough*). This is not the most user-friendly way of organizing your books, and I’m surprised that Amazon hasn’t improved it. However, it’s a method of organization that I’m already familiar with, thanks to my 2nd Generation Kindle, so that isn’t much of a problem. (I believe the Amazon Fire has a different method of organizing books, but so far that hasn’t trickled down to the e-ink readers yet.)

·         Special Offers – I got the Touch without special offers, but you can go to the Manage My Kindle page and subscribe to the special offers if you like. I did just that to see how it works, and I have to say I haven’t been super impressed with the offers thus far, but I like being able to turn the offers on or off as I like. The offers are limited to the screen saver when the Kindle is in sleep mode and to a small banner at the bottom of the screen when it’s turned on. They don’t appear at all when reading. The images for the screen savers are so far tasteful and not much different from the screen savers that appear when you’re not subscribed to the special offers. I’m kind of up in the air about this, since I already get deals from Groupon and Dealfind. How many deals does one person need?

·         The touch screen is a little slow in responding. Maybe it’s because I’m used to the screen on my smart phone, but it does seem a little slower. However, the pages do turn quicker without the lag that many people complained about with the older Kindles. I never really had a problem with this, but I know it did bother some readers.

·         The power button is located on the bottom of the Touch. I haven’t had any problems with accidentally turning off the Touch, but I do tend to rest the Kindle on my lap, so this seems like an awkward place for the power switch.

·         It doesn’t seem very intuitive. My father-in-law reads a LOT of heavy hardback books and could really benefit from a light ereader that allows him to enlarge the text. But he doesn’t use a computer, and I can only picture his confusion at using the Touch. It really isn’t all that obvious at first glance. Plus, I have several adult students in my Spanish classes, and they mentioned that they’d never purchased ANYTHING online before (the mind boggles), so I have to think they would have difficulty figuring out the Kindle’s features straight out of the box. I can’t imagine how they would navigate the Kindle store, which remains easier to use online than on the Touch.  

·         The Touch is not as easy to use one-handed as my 2nd Generation Kindle was. The DH is VERY spoiled – every night he gets a back rub while I read on my Kindle, which requires one-handed reading on my part. So far this has been a bit awkward, since I have to set the Touch on my lap to do anything other than turn the page. I’ve asked for a cover for the Touch for my birthday (only 2 days away – woot!), so I’m hoping this will make it easier to use one handed. I also wonder how well the Touch would work for left-handed users, since touching the screen on the left has you going back a page, while taping anywhere else on the screen moves you forward one page.

·         Having to re-download my more than 1,000 books in my Kindle library is a real pain in the butt. You can find instructions on for transferring your books from one Kindle to another, and I highly suggest you do it that way, because re-downloading all your archived books one by one would take FOREVAH!

Final Thoughts
Overall, I love the new Kindle Touch! The lighter weight and crisper screen rock, and I like the simplicity of design. I can’t compare it to the Nook or Kobo, but I’m a big fan of e-ink readers versus tablets, and the Touch is definitely easier to read for any length of time than an iPad or Amazon Fire. Also, its smaller size is a big plus, as it’s easier to slip into your purse or a coat pocket. While I think that Amazon needs to find a way to make the Kindle more intuitive for new users, I would definitely recommend this to my reader friends, as I’ve been very pleased with both my Kindles.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas, Y'all!

Merry Christmas, Y'all! I hope you're having a wonderful and relaxing time with friends and family! The photo of the Christmas tree is courtesy of my three year old niece. She's quite the talented photographer already, as you can see. ;)

Here's a photo I took of my "Beagletree" that my mother-in-law gave me a few years ago. You'll notice that despite my advanced age, I have a lot of work to do on my photography "skillz." I seem to have a talent for cutting off the tops of heads and trees. I'm guessing I'll be asking my niece to do all my photos from now on.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Top Five Contemporary Romances of 2011

Sometimes it’s nice to take a break from the doom and gloom of Urban Fantasy and cleanse your reading palate with something a little lighter, and contemporary romances are my favorite way to do just that. Here are five that I read this year that I find myself re-reading again and again.
Kristan Higgins Until There Was You
Who doesn’t like a bad boy and a reunion romance? This list has a couple of bad boy heroes, and Liam Murphy fits the bill perfectly. He builds motorcycles, wears lots of black leather, and sometimes doesn’t shave for days, giving him a swoon-worthy scruffy look. It’s no surprise that tiny Posey Osterhagen lost her heart to him when she was a teen, and now that he’s a widower and back in town with his teenage daughter, Posey tries to steer clear of him, to no avail. Liam will steal your heart when he sends his daughter off to prom, and Posey is a funny, eccentric heroine. The John Hughes ending makes the book all the more satisfying. Read my review here.
Susan Andersen Playing Dirty (Sisterhood Diaries #3)
This was the first book I read by Susan Andersen, and it’s a winner. You can pick it up without having to have read any of the prior books in the series, but they’re lots of fun as well, so I highly recommend you check out the entire series. This book focuses on Ava Spencer, a full-figured heroine who had a humiliating experience with documentary maker Cade Gallari back in high school. He slept with the free-spirited “fat girl” to win a bet and let everyone know about it. Ava manages to get her own then and now, and watching Cade lose it over the stunning Ava is so much fun.

Susan Mallery Only Mine (Fools Gold #4)
I think it’s a safe bet that you’ll love any of Ms. Mallery’s Fool’s Gold books, but I was long awaiting the beginning of the Hendrix triplets’ trilogy, and the first book featuring Dakota Hendrix is a winner. Ever since a grad student wrote about the man shortage in Fool’s Gold for her thesis, men and the media have been descending upon the town in droves. A reality tv show (think The Bachelor) has set up in town, and Dakota’s been asked to coordinate with the show to keep the craziness to a minimum. When Alaskan pilot Finn Anderssen shows up and demands that she prevent his 21 year old twin brothers from participating in the show, Dakota has to tell him that she has little control over the producers’ choices. Ms. Mallery’s books are always winners, and the romance between Finn and Dakota is sizzling and heartwarming.

Shannon Stacey Yours to Keep (Kowalski Family #3)
This ebook release was so popular that it’s coming out in 2012 in mass market paperback, which is great for those of you without ereaders. This book had me in stitches, because the Kowalski family is not above interfering in each others’ lives. Sean Kowalski has just returned from the Army and is not sure what he wants to do with his life. Little does he know that local Emma Shaw has been telling her grandmother that he’s her fiancé. When Sean returns to town just before Emma’s grandmother comes to visit, Emma’s in a panic and begs him to pose as her fiancé, with hilarious results. You can read this book on its own without any problems, but you’ll want to check out the others in the series as well. Read my review of Yours to Keep here.

Carly Phillips Serendipity (Serendipity #1)
Carly Phillips was another new-to-me author, and I picked up Serendipity at the bookstore after seeing several reviews of the book online. I wasn’t sure how likeable the heroine would be, since she’s a former rich girl whose father bilked thousands out of their money in a ponzi scheme, but Faith Harrington is delightful. She returns to her hometown of Serendipity after her husband divorces her because of the scandal surrounding her father. You’ll really enjoy watching her find her way in a town that’s not disposed to view her favorably. When she and former bad boy (yay for bad boys!) Ethan Barron meet up again, sparks fly. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series, and if you want a small sample to tide you over until that book comes out, Ms. Phillips just released a novella, Kismet, set in the same town.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Review of Sidney Ayers's Demons Like It Hot

Title: Demons Like It Hot (Demons Unleashed #2)
Author: Sidney Ayers
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Format: Mass Market Paperback & eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: December 1, 2011
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

This is the first book by Sidney Ayers that I’ve read, and it was really cute! It’s a contemporary paranormal romance, which made for a nice break from the historical romances I’ve been reading lately. Demons Like It Hot is the second book in the Demons Unleashed series, and I suggest that you read the first book (Demons Prefer Blondes) before the second, because I was a little lost at times. Still, the humor and romance were fun, so I’ll be reading more of this author.
Serah SanGermano is a caterer who is deeply in denial about her growing paranormal abilities. She’s always been a bit clumsy, but suddenly she’s able to sense the presence of demons, and they keep appearing and causing serious mischief in her life. In the first book of the series, she and her best friend Lucy opened a chest, unleashing demons (Oops! Note to self: don’t open mysterious chests). Because Serah’s friends are worried about her, she’s assigned a demon bodyguard, Mattias Ambrose, hottie former demon mercenary. But Serah’s plans to drum up clients for her catering business by participating in the reality show American Chef complicates Mattias’s plans to keep her safe, as does the attraction he feels for her.
I love the sense of fun that pervades this novel. Ms. Ayers clearly enjoys her characters and employs humor throughout, which makes this a delight to read. There are lots of snarky jokes, and Serah’s cat, Mr. Whiskers, is a hoot.
The interaction between all the characters is a selling point for me as well. The romance between Mattias and Serah is sizzling, but I really like the strength of Serah’s friendships, especially Lucy. At first the host of American Chef seemed a bit off to me (he was so happy all the time I wondered if he was drinking the kool aid), but his character grew on me over the course of the book. And while Mattias was clearly a loner at first, part of Serah’s appeal for him is the sense of family and belonging he gets from her and her friends.
My one big complaint about the novel is that Serah is INCREDIBLY stubborn about admitting that she does have powers, and this gets annoying fast. She acknowledges to herself that something’s going on and that she’s never had these powers before opening the chest with Lucy, but she refuses to admit it to anyone else. This just drags out for too long, even after demons appear out of nowhere and attack her (at one point blowing up chocolate fondue – good times!). Her friends keep calling her on her stubbornness, but she keeps refusing to believe, which frankly drove me batty.
A minor point that bothered me was Mr. Whiskers’s accent. He’s an imp disguised as a cat to protect Serah, and his dialogue is all written in “Scottish” brogue. I usually have no problems reading accents, but this one was a bit of a struggle, which is a shame, since Mr. Whiskers is hilarious.
This was a cute paranormal with appealing characters and lots of humor. I like that there are good and bad demons, not just evil demons fighting the angels. The secrets in Mattias’s past kept me turning the pages, leading to a somewhat predictable revelation towards the end, but the path to the resolution was so enjoyable, it’s easy to forgive.

Friday, December 16, 2011

My Top 5 Urban Fantasy Novels of 2011

Well, I can’t believe it’s been almost a week and a half since my last post. Time flies when you’re having fun… or grading and doing academic writing. (sigh) Anyway, I’ve been seeing lots of fun Top 5 lists, but some of them have left off my favorites. How dare they have opinions that differ from mine, lol! Here are my Top 5 Urban Fantasies of this year, not in any order.
Diana Rowland’s My Life as a White Trash Zombie
Okay, I might have lied when I said these were in no particular order, because this is definitely my favorite book on this list and not just because of its rockin’ cover by Daniel Dos Santos. Angel Crawford finds herself working in a morgue and drinking funny tasting “smoothies” after she’s discovered on the side of the road, naked and covered in blood. To her horror, she finds the scent of braaaaiiiiiins delectable and soon discovers that she’s been made a zombie. This is a great story of a young woman who’s had very few opportunities in her life suddenly making the most of a second chance at life. I can’t wait to read the second book of the series, coming out next summer. See my review.

Jenn Bennett Kindling the Moon
This debut novel was a fun surprise, and I do mean surprise! After a lifetime of reading who knows how many novels, it was a delight to find one that managed to sneak in an ending that I wasn’t expecting. Arcadia “Cady” Bell is 25 and working at the Tambuku Tiki Lounge when she spots her on-the-run parents on the nightly news. They were accused of heinous murders when she was a teen, and the family’s been living in hiding ever since. Cady finds herself working to clear her parents with lots of help from hottie Lon Butler. Their May-December romance (he’s 42) is sizzling, but I have a soft spot in my heart for Lon’s son, Jupe, who’s a real scene-stealer.

Seanan McGuire One Salt Sea (October Daye #5)
I could have chosen either of the October Daye books published this year (the 4th in the series is Late Eclipses) for my top 5 list because both are excellent, but One Salt Sea introduces a new part of Faerie that we haven’t seen before. This series never disappoints, and Toby finds herself working with the usual suspects to prevent a war between the Undersea Duchy of Saltmist and the Queen of Mist. While you can read this book without having read any of the prior novels in the series, I highly recommend that you start from the beginning, as you’ll appreciate the interaction between the characters more. See my review.

Nancy Holzner Bloodstone (Deadtown #3)
I started the Deadtown series earlier this year, and while I enjoyed the first book in the series, I never got around to picking up the second book. I was really impressed with Bloodstone, though, so I’ll be going back to catch up on the second book. When a virus turned thousands of humans into zombies, the magical community came out of hiding to help contain the threat, only to be forced into segregation. Shifter Vicky is a demon exterminator in this alternate version of Boston, and in the third book of the series, she finds herself fighting a serial killer, dubbed the SouthEnd Reaper by the police. Vicky’s feisty Aunt Mab plays a key role in the action, and it’s a lot of fun to see Vicky’s teenage zombie sidekick, Tina, start to mature.

Ilona Andrews Magic Slays (Kate Daniels #5)
I’d be shocked if other bloggers did NOT include this book on their top 5 lists of Urban Fantasies this year. Set in an alternate version of my hometown, Atlanta, all of the Kate Daniels books pretty much kick ass, so you’re going to get a winner whether you start the series at the beginning or pick this one up on its own. In this book we finally get to see sword-wielding Kate and her lion-shifter mate Curran in connubial bliss, which makes for some funny one-liners. When Kate’s detective agency is asked to find a missing scientist, all sorts of magical mayhem ensues. Watching the independent heroine and bossy-pants alpha hero sort out how they’ll deal with their roles in this new relationship makes the book all that more fun.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Review of Men Under the Mistletoe

Title: Men Under the Mistletoe
Authors: Ava March, Harper Fox, Josh Lanyon, K.A. Mitchell
Publisher: Carina Press
Format: eBook (novellas also available for individual sale)
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: December 5, 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5

This is the first m/m book I’ve reviewed for the blog, and I really enjoyed the novellas. I requested the book for review because I am a huge fan of Josh Lanyon’s writing, but the other authors were all new to me. While the novellas differ in quality, Harper Fox and Josh Lanyon’s pieces were outstanding.

As with Carina Press’s other Christmas themed anthology, A Clockwork Christmas, the novellas in this m/m anthology are available for individual sale.

My True Love Gave to Me by Ava March
In 1817 London, Alexander Norton begins a hot and heavy affair with Thomas Bennett, only to be cruelly rejected by his first love. Four years later, Thomas has returned from America to reconcile with Alexander. Unfortunately, Thomas barely recognizes the bitter man Alexander’s become. Can Thomas convince Alexander of his remorse and somehow find a way for them to be together?
From the beginning of this novella I was impressed with how Ms. March conveyed that heady feeling of one’s first love. Alexander is enamored of Thomas and eager to be with him, but Thomas can’t bring himself to commit. Since the novella is set in the early nineteenth Century, it’s easy to understand Thomas’s fears. The characters are so well-written that I was disappointed there wasn’t more to the plot. Basically they separate, then have to find a way to reconcile later, but there just wasn’t much to the story. I’m afraid this novella, despite the deft treatment of the protagonists, suffers when compared to the novellas that follow. 3 out of 5
Winter Knights by Harper Fox
I’m not familiar with Ms. Fox’s work, but that will soon change. This was a masterful story that drew me in from the first. Gavin Lowden is a historian in Northumberland looking for proof that Arthur and Lancelot were lovers. He’s also hoping that his lover Piers will finally come out to his conservative religious family, allowing the two to spend some much-needed time together. But when Piers tells Gavin he can’t come out to his family and that he’s decided to resume his former engagement to a woman, Gavin’s heart-broken. He sets off for the moors but falls into a crevice. Two rescuers, Artie and Lance, pull him out and take him home with them to mend his broken heart.
This could have been an awkward story to read, because of Artie and Lance’s involvement with Gavin immediately following his fight with Piers, but Ms. Fox handles it exactly right. I love that Artie and Lance force Gavin to examine his behavior with Piers, and the Camelot and Arthur legends make for a nice touch. Great attention to detail and a riveting story made this a winner for me. 4.5 out of 5
Lone Star by Josh Lanyon
I love Josh Lanyon’s authorial voice and his taut writing, and this novella is an excellent example of his style. Mitchell Evans is a star in the world of ballet in New York City, but after catching his lover with a woman, he needs a break and heads for rural Texas for Christmas. His estranged father passed away a few months ago, and Mitch needs to settle the estate. He doesn’t count on running into his first love, Texas Ranger Web Eisley. They still set off sparks, but their lives are so different now that anything long term seems out of reach.
I was so excited to read this novella that as soon as I received the ARC, I immediately read this story, then set the anthology aside to finish later. Even weeks later Mitch and Web were clear in my mind, and I find their romance compelling. There’s always a good dose of angst in the Lanyon stories I’ve read, and this one is no exception. One of the many reasons I find his work so intriguing is that his characters remain with you because of his deft treatment of their vulnerabilities. Definitely a novella I’ll be re-reading many times. 4.5 out of 5
The Christmas Proposition by K.A. Mitchell
Ms. Mitchell’s wry sense of humor made this story for me. Set in Epiphany, Pennsylvania, Mel Halner runs his family’s Christmas tree farm. Three years ago millionaire Bryce Campion asked Mel to leave Epiphany with him, but Mel turned him down. Now Mel’s best friend Tiff is marrying Bryce’s friend Kurt, and Mel will have to face Bryce at the wedding. Bryce isn’t used to being turned down, and he’s clearly interested in resuming their relationship, but it’s not clear if for Bryce this is a short-term fling or something more.
Mel and his family were hilarious, especially when we learn that his parents named him and his siblings for the three wise men, setting up lots of Christmas jokes. Tiff, the bridezilla, is good for a few laughs at Mel’s expense as well. However, I felt that the romance between Bryce and Mel needed a little more development. Mel’s unsure about Bryce’s feelings for him, and as a reader I, too, was unsure if this was just about the smexy times, because there are a LOT of smexy times in this novella. I also found Mel’s inability to tell anyone how he really feels pretty annoying. It made for some funny inner monologue, but I wanted him to speak up for himself. When he finally does just that, I had some serious concerns that it would be too late. Regardless, this was a fun romance with an interesting premise. 4 out of 5

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Review of Anthology A Clockwork Christmas

Title: A Clockwork Christmas
Authors: Stacy Gail, PG Forte, Jenny Schwartz, JK Coi
Publisher: Carina Press
Format: eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: December 5, 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5

I love reading steampunk novels, so when I saw this anthology of Christmas themed steampunk novellas for review on NetGalley, I couldn’t wait to read it. When I finally sat down to write this review, I learned that each novella is also available for individual sale, which is a really nice feature. Kudos to Carina Press for offering this option - I’d love to see more publishers offer stories in anthologies that way! That said, I felt that this anthology was a really solid collection, and I liked each of the novellas, which is unusual.

Stacy Gail’s Crime Wave in a Corset

The decision to place this novella first in the collection was excellent. Crime Wave in a Corset draws the reader in from the beginning, and you’ll soon find yourself rooting for the dubious heroine, Cornelia Peabody, thief. Cornelia’s fought her way from the streets and invents all sorts of clever contraptions to aid her robbing organizations such as the local university. Unfortunately, one of her more successful jobs, stealing a Fabergé egg, has come back to haunt her.

Roderick Coddington (Coddington is NOT the best last name for a hero, imo) ambushes Cornelia in her home. That Fabergé egg belonged to his beloved Beth, who died shortly after its disappearance. He attaches a deadly timepiece to Cornelia’s wrist, and if she can’t recover the egg in a week, the timepiece will kill her.

Ms. Gail did a great job of this enemies-turned-lovers novella. At first Roderick comes across as unlikeable, even though he’s not the villain , but Cornelia is a very likeable character, and you’ll enjoy watching the two fall in love. 4 out of 5

PG Forte’s This Winter Heart

Ophelia Leonides finds herself destitute after her father’s death and forced to return to the husband who abandoned her in order to support their son, Arthur. Her husband, Dario, is part of a powerful family in the Republic of New Texacali after the Civil War, and is not at all inclined to help his estranged wife. Since he believed her to be barren, he’s even less likely to accept that Arthur’s his son, but the resemblance is undeniable. Can the marriage be saved, or will Dario refuse to accept his wife for what she is – a women with a heart and feelings.

I love reunion romances, so this was a winner for me. Once Ophelia’s dark secret is revealed, it’s very easy to see why Dario would have rejected her. The only problem I had with the novella has to do with Ophelia’s secret, which is only explained in a very vague sort of way. Steampunk technology doesn’t have to be completely explained for me (in fact, I’d prefer that it not be), but I was fairly puzzled over how Ophelia’s father had pulled off what he had. 4 out of 5

Jenny Schwartz’s Wanted: One Scoundrel

This novella doesn’t feature steampunk technology as much as the others, but I found it to be a romantic read. Esme Smith is the daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Australia, and she’s an ardent suffragette. Unfortunately, she’s not able to enter the men’s clubs where much of the political debate takes place, so she decides to hire a scoundrel to espouse her views where she cannot. Her uncle introduces her to American Jed Reeve, an inventor, and he’s so intrigued by the beauty that he agrees to her scheme without letting her know that she’s mistaken about his lack of funds.

Ms. Schwartz’s novella reads more like a traditional historical romance with a few steampunk elements, but it’s delightful none the less. The more Jed learns about Esme, the more he admires her intelligence and spirit, and I enjoyed the Australian setting, and Esme is a suffragette we could all root for. 4 out of 5

JK Coi’s Far from Broken

This was darkest contribution to the collection, because the steampunk elements are used to modify injured characters, almost like a member of the Borg from Star Trek. This isn’t necessarily a new element of steampunk – I love Meljean Brook’s Iron Duke series, and many of the characters in that series have prosthetics – but I found this novella to be somewhat disturbing because of the hero’s initial treatment of his wife.

Coronel Jasper Carlisle is a spy, married to prima ballerina Calliope (Callie). While he’s away from home, his wife is tortured by his enemies, and Carlisle spirits his injured wife to a military hospital, where she’s fitted with a prosthetic eye, hand, and legs. What bothered me the most about this story is that the Coronel leaves his wife alone in the hospital for the four months of her recovery, only returning later in an attempt to salvage their marriage. I liked Callie’s character, and the world building was fascinating, but I felt like Callie should have used her new iron legs to punt her husband across the room for his abandonment, and even with the romantic resolution I was a little miffed at Carlisle. 3.5 out of 5

Monday, December 5, 2011

Review of Stephanie Julian's How to Worship a Goddess

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been a week since my last post! The end of the semester is one crazy whirlwind of grading and stress. Hopefully this week I can post a few more reviews, because there are lots of great books (and at least one not-so-great) that were released within the last week or so.

Title: How to Worship a Goddess (Forgotten Goddesses #2)
Author: Stephanie Julian
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Format: Mass Market Paperback & eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: December 1, 2011
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

This was a fun, sexy paranormal romance, and while it’s the second in the series, it reads as a standalone novel. I hadn’t read any of Stephanie Julian’s books before, but after checking out her webpage, I realized that this series is loosely connected to her Lucani Lovers series. You definitely don’t have to have read any of the other books to enjoy How to Worship a Goddess, but after finishing this book I’m looking forward to learning about some of the secondary characters’ backstory in her other series.
Lucy Aster was formerly the Etruscan Goddess of the Moon, Lusna, but as the number of her followers decreased over the years, she and the other goddesses of the Etruscan pantheon have lost much of their power. Centuries ago Lucy created the lucani, wolf shifters, and they still worship her and treat her as their mother, but she can feel her power slipping away. As a new threat to her and the other goddesses appears, it’s unclear if she retains enough power to protect herself.
Brandon Stevenson is a member of the local minor league hockey team, and he keeps noticing Lucy in the stands at all his games. He finally manages to introduce himself, and the two begin a hot and heavy affair. But Brand’s more than he appears – can a tough hockey player protect a former goddess from her enemies?
I enjoyed the mythology in this book. It was fun to see a pantheon other than the Greeks or Romans, and I like how Ms. Julian uses Brand’s introduction to Lucy and her world as a way to bring new readers up to speed on the series without a huge info dump. I think the lucani backstory adds a nice twist to the werewolf legend, and the interaction between Lucy and her various “children” is intriguing and sets up several possibilities for future books in the series.
Brand and Lucy’s sexual chemistry is off the charts, pushing this novel close to erotica, but I think it’s well done. I wish that the numerous sex scenes had been more balanced throughout the book, as many take place early in the narrative, which could put off potential readers. There is a well-developed narrative, and the characters are engaging so I suggest that you keep reading even if the sex scenes seem a bit much at first. I do like that the hero and heroine develop a strong relationship, even if it begins as a potential one-night stand.
I wish that we had more information about Brand’s background, which I can’t discuss too much without spoilers. Suffice it to say that he’s definitely more than human, and while this explains some quirks from early in the novel, I expected a bit more exposition about his new-found abilities and relationship with his parents.
Overall, this was a smoldering paranormal romance with appealing protagonists and an entertaining premise. I’m not sure how often I’ll be re-reading this one, but it was a fun ride while it lasted.