Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Write a Post, Help a Dog!

I was excited to see that there's a BlogHop called "Write a Post, Help a Dog" sponsored by Pedigree. I found out about it from the blog Wicked 'Lil Pixie which has some insanely funny and snarky reviews of books. You should definitely check them out!

My family has always adopted rescue dogs, and they have all made wonderful pets. If you are interested in getting a dog or cat, I highly recommend visiting your nearest shelter. You won't be sorry!

Pedigree is resurrecting its insanely successful Write a Post, Help a Dog program. In 2010, 391 bloggers wrote about the program and with each post, Pedigree donated 20 pounds of its Healthy Longevity dog food to shelter animals. In all, 7,820 pounds of food was donated to two shelters renowned for their care of senior dogs: Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco and Castaway Critters in Harrisburg, Pa.

How you can help in 2011
Simply spread the word about Write a Post, Help a Dog 2011 and once again Pedigree will donate 20 pounds of food for each blogger’s post. Here’s all you need to include in your post:
  • The Write a Post, Help a Dog program is aimed at raising awareness and food for the more than four million dogs that wind up in shelters and breed rescues each year.
  • For each blog post mentioning the Pedigree Foundation from now until midnight ET on September 3, Pedigree will donate 20 pounds of its new dry Pedigree recipe food for dogs — its best recipe ever — to a shelter, because every dog deserves leading nutrition.
  • The Pedigree Foundation — a 501 (C)(3) nonprofit organization is committed to helping dogs by providing grants to shelters and rescues and encouraging dog adoption. This year the Foundation has already raised more than $376,570 against its goal of $1.5 million to carry out its work to fund grants that not only help shelters operate, but to further shelter innovations.
The Pedigree Foundation depends on charitable contributions from individuals to carry out its mission to help dogs find loving homes. In addition to writing a blog post, here’s how you can help:
Then, link up to our Blog Hop below, hosted by the Pedigree BlogPaws bloggers to help spread the word about Write a Post, Help a Dog.
This is a Blog Hop81 entries so far... you're next!

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Early Review of Anthology Supernatural

Title: Supernatural
Authors: Larissa Ione, Alexandra Ivy, Jacquelyn Frank & G.A. Aiken
Publisher: Zebra Books
Formats: Mass Market Paperback & eBook
Source: Purchased
Publication Date: August 30, 2011
Rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars

My trip to Target on Friday night was a fruitful one, as I snagged a couple of books that aren’t supposed to be released until this coming Tuesday. Supernatural is one of those , and I was excited to see it on the shelves, because I didn’t know the authors were releasing this anthology until I read a review at The Fiction Vixen last week. I’ve read and enjoyed books by all these authors, but my favorites are easily Larissa Ione and G.A. Aiken, and their stories in this collection are also my favorites. I feel like this is one of the stronger anthologies I’ve seen lately, as all four of the novellas are well done.

My only criticism of the collection as a whole is of the cover. When I saw the early review of Supernatural at Fiction Vixen, I assumed that the book was either self-published or only being released in eBook form, because the cover is NOT attractive. I was stunned (but in a good way) when I saw in Target in mass market paperback. Hopefully the cover won’t turn you off, because these four authors have written engaging novellas that fit in nicely with their different series.

Larissa Ione “Vampire Fight Club” Set in the world of Ione’s Demonica and Lords of Deliverance series, this is my overwhelming favorite of the stories. Nathan Sabine is a daywalker, a vampire who can walk in the sun. He runs Gladius, a blood arena for supernaturals, and when a hyena shifter dies in the arena, Nate thinks nothing of it. Unfortunately for him, the hyena survives his trip to Underground General long enough to tell his sister Vladlena (Lena) Paskelkov the name of the vampire club Thirst, the front for Gladius. Lena goes undercover at the club to avenge her brother, but she and Nate find themselves fighting their attraction to one another. The first few pages into the novella I wasn’t sure how it fit into Ione’s series, but that was quickly resolved and the rest was smooth sailing. Ione mentions in a short note to the reader that we’ll learn more about Nate’s Daywalker state in future Lords of Deliverance books. I can’t wait!
Alexandra Ivy “Darkness Eternal” I’ve read several of Ivy’s books in the Guardians of Eternity series, but it’s been a while and I’m not caught up on the series, so this novella was at times a bit difficult to follow. However, I enjoyed the story of Kata, trapped in a dark room for over 200 years by her evil vampire sister Marika. Kata’s daughter, Laylah, has convinced the vampires that Kata must be rescued, and the vampire Uriel does just that. When Uriel finds Kata, they learn that the two will need to travel to hell to save her life. While Kata has no desire to spend time with a vampire after being imprisoned by one for centuries, her time with Uriel convinces her otherwise. This was the most convoluted of the novellas, no doubt because I’m a little out of touch with the series.  
Jacquelyn Frank “Kane” This novella takes place at the same time as Frank’s first book in the Nightwalkers series, Jacob, my favorite in the series. Unlike Ivy’s novella, however, you can easily follow along without having read any of the series. Kane is a mind demon, and Jacob’s younger brother. When Kane begins to stalk a human woman, Corrine, and then uses his abilities to manipulate minds to talk to her, demon enforcer Jacob intervenes, as demons are strictly forbidden from touching humans. Unfortunately, it turns out that Corrine is part druid, and Kane’s touch has begun the imprinting process, which requires that the two remain in contact to exchange energy. Kane’s enforced absence nearly kills her, but the two are reunited in time to save her life. My only complaint about this novella is that almost the entire story takes place in bed, with the two conversing. It drags a bit, but if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll enjoy learning how Kane and Corrine met.
G.A. Aiken “Dragon on Top” Shelly Laurenston writes about dragon shifters under the pseudonym G.A. Aiken, and her books always crack me up. This novella focuses on dragon shifter Ghleanna the Decimator, sister to Bercelak the Black. As a member of the Cadwaladr clan, Ghleanna is majorly kick-ass, but she’s recently been dumped by a less than worthy dragon, and she’s been wallowing in self-pity ever since. When Ghleanna’s sister-in-law, the queen of the Fire Dragons, decides to send negotiator Bram to arrange a treaty with the Sand Dragons, she decides that Ghleanna should accompany him. Bram has had a crush on Ghleanna for centuries, but she barely notices him, and she’s not thrilled to be babysitting another royal dragon. Bram manages to win her over, though, and the two make an interesting pair. You don’t usually see a beta male in the role of the hero, but Bram is a great example of one and a real sweetheart. Ghleanna is pretty rough and tumble, and the interaction between her and her brothers is a hoot. I think you can read this story without having read any of the books in the series, but you’ll definitely enjoy it more if you have.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Early Review of Jayne Castle's Canyons of Night

Title: Canyons of Night
Author: Jayne Ann Krentz, writing as Jayne Castle
Publisher: Jove
Formats: Mass Market Paperback and eBook
Source: Purchased
Publication Date: August 30, 2011
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I’ve been a fan of Jayne Ann Krentz in her various pseudonyms ever since my Mother-in-Law shared some of her Amanda Quick books with me, and I’ve really enjoyed her Paranormal Romances written under the name Jayne Castle. So I was thrilled when I saw her newest book, Canyons of Night (Book Three of the Looking Glass Trilogy), at Target last night, especially since it’s not being released until Tuesday, August 30. I managed to snatch up a couple of other new releases at the same time, so you’ll be seeing a few reviews in the next couple of days, assuming I don’t decide to actually do the work for which I am paid, namely, teaching Spanish. And while Canyons of Night feels a little short, it was a pleasant return to the world of Harmony and the Arcane Society.

The book takes place on the island of Rainshadow and begins when three young tourists out for a ride decide to harass 15 year old Charlotte Enright. She’s an awkward girl with horribly nerdy glasses, but she manages to fight off her attackers until 19 year old Slade Attridge shows up and scares them off. Charlotte has a major crush on Slade, who’s the ultimate loner, and she’s thrilled when he agrees to show her parts of the Rainshadow Preserves after her ordeal. The next day he leaves to join the Federal Bureau of Psi Investigation, and Charlotte vows that the next time they see each other he won’t be treating her like a kid sister. Jump to fifteen years later and Slade is back on the island, as is Charlotte. Slade’s burned out from his job with the FBPI and working as the island’s Police Chief for 6 months until he can get his security firm up and running. Charlotte has just moved back to the island herself after inheriting her eccentric Aunt Beatrix’s para-antiques store, Looking Glass Antiques. When the body of a man who was stalking Charlotte in Frequency City appears in her store, Slade senses that his death is not from natural causes and begins an investigation. In the course of the investigation, the two begin an affair and must deal with their fears about their psychic abilities while putting off a few busybody neighbors.

I’ve always enjoyed Ms. Krentz’s writing, and it’s like coming to home to read one of her books. You can count on her having likeable characters and interesting plots, and Canyons of Night is no exception to that rule. Even if you haven’t read any of her other books set in the world of Harmony, you’ll easily be able to follow along. However, while I very much like the book, I do feel that this is the weakest book in the Looking Glass Trilogy, mainly because it is so short. It’s only 325 pages long, and you can really tell the difference between this and earlier books set in Harmony, such as my favorites After Dark and Silver Master. While the older novels may have a similar number of pages, the font is noticeably smaller and there is less space between lines, yielding more text and therefore allowing for more development of characters and plot.

As for the romance between the hero and heroine, Slade is a sexy alpha male and Charlotte is one of Krentz’s trademark quirky heroines. They clearly share a connection from their experience in the Rainshadow Preserves nearly 15 years ago. The two definitely set off sparks, but the romance follows the formula of Krentz’s recent books. Like several of her other newer heroes, Slade’s had a violent change in his psychic abilities that he fears will end in madness, while the insightful heroine manages to help him learn to accept and deal with the changes in his life. But Krentz does a good job of selling us on this formula, and I enjoyed their romance, despite hoping for more development.

As in her other books, the mystery is tidily resolved, but in this particular novel I could spot the villain a mile off, which was somewhat disappointing. The resolution of the conflict between Charlotte and the villain struck me as familiar as well, reminding me of how the heroine in Fired Up! , the first book in the trilogy, manages to extract herself from dangerous situations.

Another niggling complaint has to do with the title of the book, Canyons of Night. The phrase refers to a term that Slade uses to describe the lakes in the mysterious Rainshadow Preserves.  I’m a bit conflicted about the use of the Preserves in the book, because they’re featured prominently in the story but our questions about them are never answered. I’m not sure why this was chosen as the title, since the actual mystery in the text doesn’t have anything to do with the Preserves. Several different characters venture into the forest at times and much is made of the fact that most who enter never return or return forever changed. However, the answers to the mystery of the Preserves is clearly intended for a future book. That we never learn about the danger that is clearly developing within the Preserves is a bit of a let-down.

All in all, I enjoyed returning to the world of Harmony and the Arcane Society, especially since we get to meet a new dustbunny, Rex, who likes to carry around an antique beaded clutch he stole from Charlotte’s store. Reading Canyons of Night is like catching up with an old friend, but I would have liked to see more development of Charlotte and Slade’s characters. They’re likeable but, because of the length of the novel and the somewhat formulaic nature of their romance, easily forgettable.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Urban Fantasy Heroines Have Seriously Messed Up Lives

One of the reasons I love to read Urban Fantasy is the strong female heroines. These women kick serious ass, often facing overwhelming odds to insure their survival and that of their friends and families. And in Urban Fantasy, there’s not always a guaranteed happy ever after. Sometimes you have to settle for a happy for now, or a “things aren’t as screwed up as usual” for now.
But there are some Urban Fantasy heroines whose lives are waaaaaay messed up, even more so than the norm. Some of these heroines are barely functioning addicts, which begs the question, can an author make an addict a sympathetic heroine? Here are three of my favorite urban fantasies with heroines who have seriously screwed up lives. They may be popping pills, but you’ll be surprised at how likeable they are and how much you want everything to work out for them.
Stacia Kane’s Unholy Ghosts (Downside #1)
The heroine of Kane’s Downside series, Chess Putnam, is probably the most messed up of these three heroines. She’s a highly functioning addict living in a world where ghosts attack humans and only members of the magical Church of Truth can help you get rid of them. Chess is a ghost debunker for the Church, working to send ghosts back to the underworld and protect humans. Unfortunately, she owes a ton of money to her dealer, Bump, so when he wants her to get fix the haunted airfield so he can fly in shipments of drugs she has no choice but to agree. As a child, Chess was tossed from foster home to foster home, dealing with physical and sexual abuse, so it’s no surprise that as an adult she tries to numb the pain of her dreary life with drugs and sex. Chess doesn’t make great choices in her personal life, but she takes great pride in her job as a debunker. What makes this book impressive is that you’ll like Chess and want her to succeed. This is a great start to fascinating series, and the first three books in the series are on sale at Amazon in anticipation of the fourth book’s release.
Stacey Jay’s On the Delta This takes place in a Louisiana taken over by mutant fairies whose bites are deadly. There are no cute flying pixies here, and to deal with her reality Annabelle Lee pops pills at night to sleep and is a functioning alcoholic by day. Annabelle has the good fortune to be immune to the fairy venom, but when a vicious murder occurs in her town and her ex-lover Hitch shows up with the FBI to investigate it, Annabelle hits a new low. Like Chess, Annabelle’s had a tough life and is using alcohol to dull the pain, but she’s capable of so much more than even she believes. You’ll definitely want everything to turn up roses for her, and I’m hoping that in the next book in the series her POS ex-lover Hitch gets what’s coming to him. We can always hope.
Diana Rowland’s My Life as a White Trash Zombie As much as I like Chess and Annabelle, I LOVE Angel Crawford. Angel’s a high school dropout with a pill problem, and the novel begins when she wakes up in the hospital after being discovered on the side of the road, covered in blood and nothing else. She doesn’t remember what happened to her, but an anonymous benefactor sends her a note that tells her to report to work at the morgue. It turns out that Angel’s been made into a zombie, and being a morgue tech gives her ample access to her new food source: brains. Over the course of the book Angel takes pride in her newly learned skills and friends, and she starts to make smarter choices. Her life as a zombie is complicated, but it’s the second chance she needed. Diana Rowland always writes taut plots with interesting characters, and I love that her female characters are working-class and complex. And frankly, the gross descriptions of Angel’s work in the morgue are just icing on the cake for this reader.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Books You Hide From Your Mother

I have several upcoming reviews, but I’m feeling a little lightheaded from all the teaching and blogging this week, so I thought I’d talk a bit about guilty pleasure reading since that is, after all, the reason I started this blog. Let’s just say that one of the reasons I love my Kindle is that I can read anything, yes, ANYTHING, in the presence of my mother and not have to explain the smexy cover. I live a looooong way from the parental units, so I don’t have to worry about unannounced visits, but there are some books I would have to hide behind the books of literary criticism so they won’t think I’m reading smut or, my favorite term, “romantic schlock.” (Although I think the blog has given away the “romantic schlock” bit. Oops.)
I don’t have to worry about this when friends come to visit, because I keep all the impressive tomes from graduate school downstairs. Complete works of William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Gabriel García Márquez? Downstairs, front and center. Yes, dear visitors, I am well read! And my reading is multi-cultural! All my trashy paperbacks are safely hidden upstairs in my office, and I keep the door shut when people visit. Although that’s not necessarily to keep my reading tastes secret but rather to hide the mounds of lesson plans and old tests that have never been filed in the great circular file in the sky. I also tend to pull out the impressive cookbooks in the kitchen, although any savvy gourmand would notice that my food processor is shoved into the back and covered in dust.
The one book I absolutely hide from the parents is not really a romance, or even fiction, although it can lead to some smexy times! It’s Sadie Allison’s Ride ‘Em Cowgirl! Sex Position Secrets to Better Bucking. Yes, it’s a sex guide (hides face). But it has really funny pictures! Hee hee hee…
So, are there any books you hide from the parents or visitors to the house? Let me know - Confession is good for the soul!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Review of Stephanie Chong's Where Demons Fear to Tread

Title: Where Demons Fear to Tread
Author: Stephanie Chong
Publisher: MIRA Books
Format: Mass Market Paperback, ebook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: August 23, 2011
Rating: 3 out of 5

I think the overall message of Stephanie Chong’s Where Demons Fear to Tread was supposed to be that love conquers all, but what I took away from the book is that Good is really, really boring. Good doesn’t have fun and is about as bland as white bread. The truth is that the heroine in this book is annoyingly good, so good, in fact, that she’s pretty uninspiring. And why would you read a book with a boring heroine? I’m not at all sure why the hero, Archdemon Julian Ascher is interested in her, other than her looks, because she’s dull as dirt. All that goodness is hard to take, quite frankly. This is unfortunate, because Ms. Chong is clearly a talented writer with a well-developed and engaging plot. I really enjoyed her writing, but the heroine was so mild in her “goodness” that I just couldn’t buy into the romance aspect of it.

The premise of the book is that there’s a company of guardian angels who attempt to steer humans towards good decisions while demons work actively to encourage us to engage in the sort of behavior that will damn our souls to hell. The more souls a demon sends to hell, the more powerful the demon. Julian Ascher reached archdemon status in record time, a little over 200 years, so we know that he’s a real baddie. He runs a string of night clubs (those dens of iniquity!) when our bright as sunshine (really, she’s wearing a yellow sundress, for Pete’s sake) newly minted Guardian Angel Serena St. Clair comes traipsing into his club in LA. She’s been assigned to look out for bad boy actor Nick, who’s currently snorting coke off some woman’s body. When Julian sees Serena, he decides to toy with her and hustles her off to his office in the club, where he lays a few moves on her. She’s all, “Oh NO, I shouldn’t, but I really want to, oooh what do I do? He’s so smoking hot!” and at the last minute pleads with him to let her go, which, for some strange reason, he does.

Naturally Mr. Bad-Ass Archdemon decides to pursue Serena, because nothing wins you points with the boss like corrupting an angel, right? He’s also inexplicably drawn to her goodness and beauty – she smells like the beach! Who could resist? Julian engages in a nasty spot of blackmail, and Serena finds herself with Julian in Las Vegas. Over the course of a week, Julian finds his defenses weakening, and the two fall in love. Redemption is nigh!

The problem with this book is twofold. First, Serena is portrayed as the epitome of all that is good, but she’s also dull as dirt. Her brother tells Julian that she didn’t have fun often, and that seems to be true even after her death and rebirth as an angel. She also has a few too stupid to live moments, such as running into an empty nightclub when someone calls out to her, despite being told to wait for reinforcements. Um, hellooo!!!! Wait for the backup, dummy! This would be a great time for a blonde joke, except I know lots of blondes who would be rightly offended at the comparison.

The second problem is Julian. Julian’s working on building a new night club in Vegas with another archdemon, Corbin Ranulfson, who is truly evil. In comparison with Corbin, Julian is a woolly lamb. Corbin rips peoples’ limbs from their body, cannibalizes women while they’re still living, and murders a bellboy for breaking a Ming vase. He’s pretty darn scary. Julian, however, is not. Now, you’re thinking that no one would want a hero who’s that scary, because who wants to be with someone like that? And you’d be right! Julian’s a much milder type of demon, and yet we’re supposed to accept that he reached a status similar to Corbin’s within a record 200 years. I could almost picture Serena (a la Luke Skywalker) turning to Princess Leia, and saying “There’s still good in him. I can FEEL it.” But even with the flaws in Julian’s character, he’s still much more interesting than Serena. I didn’t hate Serena; I was just bored by her, and that’s never good for a romance.

So after all of this, you’re probably wondering why I would give the book a 3 out of 5. The truth is, Ms. Chong’s writing is smoothly executed and easy to read. The plot moves along nicely, and I like the underlying premise of the book. The “reforming the rake” trope is a favorite, and I like Ms. Chong’s spin on it, plus the portrayal of angels and demons, while not highly original, was well thought out and developed. Unfortunately the heroine was just too flat for the book to succeed for me. But because the writing IS so engaging, I would be more than willing to read another book by Ms. Chong. She managed to keep me reading her book, even though I couldn’t stand the heroine, and that takes some doing.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Review of Elisa Paige's Killing Time

Title: Killing Time (Time Series #2)
Author: Elisa Paige
Publisher: Carina Press
Formats: Ebook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: August 22, 2011
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

This paranormal romance/fantasy is a delightful find. I’d never read any of Elisa Paige’s work before, but I loved the heroine Sephti in Killing Time. The development of Sephti’s character over the course of the book and the amazing mix of mythologies really sold me on this book. It turns out that the novel is the second in a series, so as soon as I finished this one I rushed out to buy the first, Stealing Time, but I have to confess that in the craziness that is back to school, I have yet to read it. I’m definitely looking forward to it, though, because Killing Time is outstanding, and I highly recommend it.
Sephti is a bittern, a creature genetically engineered by the Fae to be an elite assassin. She escaped her fae lord/torturer three months ago when she hitched a ride onto the mortal plain. She’s spent her time learning to blend in with humans and searching for a way to kill the vampire Philippe, whose supporters are helping guard fae King Reiden. If she can get rid of Philippe, his guards will scatter and she can stage an assault against the king, hopefully earning her freedom.
During Sephti’s search for Philippe, she’s captured by Native American guardian Koda. In this world the fae are responsible for the wholesale slaughter and relocation of the Native Americans, so Sephti’s fae appearance initially prejudices Koda against her. However, he quickly realizes that Sephti is more than what she appears. As the two work together to defeat Philippe and secure freedom for Sephti, the fierce assassin must learn to count on others while Koda battles the bigotry of his people. Their growing respect for one another develops into a touching and sweet romance during tempestuous political and social change that could threaten Septhi’s newfound independence and love.
The highpoints of the book are definitely the heroine and the tender romance, but don’t get me wrong – the world building is amazing. Paige did an outstanding job incorporating several very different mythologies into one complex world without confusing the reader or making you wonder if the Abominable snowman was going to be the next to make an appearance. I say that because I’ve recently read a couple of books that did NOT do as stellar a job of introducing a new world to the reader, and quite frankly it was a relief to read this multifaceted novel. The various mythological beings are seamlessly incorporated into the action, and Paige has created a vivid world that will capture your imagination.
It is, however, the character of Sephti who will keep you reading, even with all the heart-pounding action. Sephti’s a genetic creation of the fae and suffered brutally at the hands of her fae master and trainers. The bittern are considered little more than animals, but Sephti is sentient, and despite her assassin training, her innocence and lack of self-worth make her a poignant character at times. She’s convinced that as a creation she lacks a soul, but her actions reveal otherwise. Unlike the other bittern, she has somehow learned to control her berserker rages and only attacks those threatening her instead of killing everyone around her. Her rebellion against her fae masters can only end in her death, but she’s willing to pay that price.
I’ve always preferred romances that develop slowly, and Paige deftly creates a tender and moving romance between the fae assassin and the Native American guardian Koda. While the two initially distrust each other, Koda comes to realize the truth about Septhi’s background and slowly begins to woo the insecure heroine, trying to convince her that she is worthy of living a full and happy life. One of the more touching scenes occurs when Koda takes Septhi to a luxury hotel, hoping that by giving her new experiences she’ll give up her suicide plans. He orders room service, and Septhi quickly picks up her steak with her hands, since in the bittern stables she had to fight others for her food. His reaction to her embarrassment over her actions is perfect, treating her with dignity rather than ridicule. I also like that he treats her as an equal, rather than setting up a Pygmalion type relationship between the two.
If I had to complain about anything, it would be related to the vampires in the text. I suspect that most of the internal struggle between the ancient vampires and Philippe is explained in the first book of the series. While you are able to understand and follow the action of the book (and there is a LOT of action) without having read Stealing Time, I’m wondering if some of the background about the vampires that I missed in this book was addressed in that one. For example, at one point Sephti is looking for the vampire Jack, whose mate Kate has gone feral. While we see Kate acting “feral,” I never fully understood exactly what was going on with her, and it felt as though I were missing something. Additionally, the vampires and Native Americans all communicate using a language Sephti doesn’t recognize but that sounds like a Native American language. The connection between all of the “good” characters wasn’t as clear to me as it could have been.
The truth is that this book was a breath of fresh air and a pleasure to read. Sephti was such an original character and the growing romance between the hero and heroine handled so deftly that I look forward to re-reading the book. I enjoyed the Native American take on the mythology, and the non-stop action definitely kept me turning the pages. Hopefully once the school year is underway I’ll be able to read the first book in the series, because this one was a real treat.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Review of Dee Tenorio’s Deceiving the Protector (Resurrection #2)

I’ve long been a fan of Dee Tenorio’s contemporary romances, but a few months ago I was surprised to see that she had published a paranormal romance, Tempting the Enemy. It was dark and sexy, so I was thrilled to see that on Monday she released a sequel, Deceiving the Protector. As with the first in the series, this book is action-packed and filled with suspense and sexual tension.
Deceiving the Protector picks up about a year after the end of Tempting the Enemy. The alpha Pale Rysen and his psychic Sibile mate Jade have set up a safe haven for the shifters in the mountains of Southern California. In the first book the shifters were under attack as they traveled on the underground, and now the shifters who are travelling to the safety promised by Resurrection are under attack from a new enemy, a serial killer who’s able to hide his scent. Deceiving the Protector focuses on the alpha’s adopted brother, Jensen Tate, who has been sent by the Sibile to protect a lone shifter, Aurelia (Lia) Crawford. While Lia needs Tate’s help, she’s also desperate to avoid him, because the serial killer has been following her every move, placing any shifters she meets on the underground in danger. If she accepts Tate’s help, she could be leading him straight to the killer. But Lia’s drawn to Tate’s stubborn (and I do mean stubborn) strength, and, in spite of Lia’s surly demeanor, Tate’s attracted to Lia’s fierce nature. The two must work together to free Lia from the killer while fighting their attraction to one another.
This is not a light-hearted read. It’s definitely a dark and violent world, and Ms. Tenorio does an outstanding job of creating a terrifying villain. We’re introduced to the killer, Asher, in the prologue, and his appearance is truly fearsome. He’s dressed completely in black, with a horrifying mask and strange lenses in place of eyes. What makes Asher all the more frightening is the group that backs him – the mysterious Shifter Control Task Force. We learn through intense flashbacks that Lia was captured by the human-run organization and horribly experimented on. The nauseating experiments and Lia’s sense of hopelessness give the novel a darker feel than was present in the first book.
The sexual tension between Tate and Lia is complicated by both Lia’s upbringing and her twisted relationship with the killer Asher. Lia’s parents raised her and her sister Laurel as humans in an attempt to avoid the death squads hunting shifters. Since the humans have been hunting shifters for over a century, many of the shifters’ customs have been lost, and Tate has to explain the differences between mating and bonding to Lia. Until he does, Lia fears that the Shifter Control Task Force has managed to pervert her wolf nature and forever connected her to the horrific Asher. Lia’s ignorance about other shifters and mating also leads to a few misunderstandings with Tate, but in a way her ignorance is an advantage, since the Shifter Control Task Force is unable to learn as much about shifters during her incarceration.
Despite these complications, their romance is smoldering, with both hero and heroine presenting tough exteriors that hide vulnerabilities. Lia has managed to escape from the human authorities twice, but she’s torn between her feelings toward Tate and Asher’s blackmail demands. Her memories of the torture sessions are presented as flashbacks throughout the novel, which increase the tension for the reader because you begin to realize the terror that awaits her should she be recaptured. Tate’s haunted by memories of a former lover who slaughtered members of his family, leaving him unwilling to open his heart to another. Just as their relationship begins to unfold and they start trusting each other, danger threatens their lives and their love, at times leaving you in doubt as to their happy ever after. The suspense is skillfully drawn out, and the mix of action and romance is just right.
Tenorio’s world of hunted shifters and psychic Sibiles is an original take on the paranormal romance, and this second installment of the series was well done, but I do have one small complaint. Tate is supposed to be a lawyer, but I’m not sure why any profession is attributed to him since it was completely inconsequential to the action of the novel or the development of the romance. At one point when he’s ignoring Lia she reminds him that as a lawyer he should be used to answering questions, but other than that, it seems unimportant. I kept expecting his job to play some role in how the story unfolds, but it really didn’t. Also, I had to wonder how he would be able to disappear from work at odd times to help investigate any problems in the shifter underground.
The ending of the novel is both haunting and hopeful, which is difficult to achieve. I loved it, and Ms. Tenorio has allowed room for future sequels while tying up loose ends in this book. Given the dark tone of this novel and the deft handling of the suspense and romance, I’m definitely looking forward to reading more about the shifters at Resurrection.
I received this book for review from the Publisher through NetGalley.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Snarky Comments about Back-to-School

Monday is the dreaded first day of the school year, and while this means parents everywhere are rejoicing, we teachers are experiencing moments of exhilaration and despair. And when I say despair, I picture the Albino from The Princess Bride hissing “You’re in the Pit of Despair! Don’t even think”…. (hack hack hack resume normal voice) “Don’t even think about trying to escape.” Some of my friends who teach in the public schools have already been in the Pit of Despair for (gasp!) three weeks, so I’ve been lucky to have few more weeks of summer. For those of you not in the know, I teach Spanish on the College level, and I love it. But there are times when teaching is difficult to love, and the craziness of back-to-school can be one of those times.
A few weeks ago one of my favorite authors, Christina Dodd, posted two Staples back-to-school commercials on Twitter, one featuring a father dancing around the store to "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," and the other Alice Cooper. To be honest, I’d love to see a commercial just for teachers set to R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” Back-to-school usually means lots of boring meetings in which little is accomplished at great length. As I write this, Sexy History Professor (aka the DH) is attending just such a meeting, and I had the dubious pleasure of attending one last Saturday. Yes, you read that correctly. The meeting was on Saturday. At 8 a.m. At a school 40 minutes from my house. Ugh. I have no problem with meetings as long as they’re useful and well-organized, but when I show up on a Saturday at 8 a.m., it would be really great if there was an actual agenda, as opposed to having the person running the meeting ask, “Do you have any questions?” Because let’s face it - I could have asked questions over email at a more reasonable hour. So my first question would have to be, “Why am I here?” And frankly friends, there just isn’t a good answer to that.
But the worst part of back to school is also the best: the students. Every teacher knows exactly what I mean. We’ve all had those stinkers who are difficult to deal with (for Public School teachers it’s not just the students; it’s also the parents). For example, there was the student who simply could not understand why I wouldn’t accept a composition written in English, even though it was a Spanish class. Guess I’m just crazy like that! Another favorite is the student who emails you after missing class and asks if s/he missed anything important. Um, my class? Because if it weren’t important, we wouldn’t have had class that day anyway, right? But my absolute favorite, get-on-my-last-nerve type of student is the one who sits around doing nothing while everyone else is working. When you ask the student why s/he isn’t doing anything, s/he’ll answer, “I don’t know what we’re doing.”
Now, I started taking Spanish my freshman year in College, because I’d taken Latin in high school, and my college didn’t offer Latin. I’d never had a day of Spanish in my life, so I understand being confused, feeling completely lost, or, worse, having a panic attack when the professor calls on you in something that resembles Spanish but doesn’t sound like any words you know. I’ve been there. What I don’t understand is why you’d just sit there if everyone around you is working. If you don’t understand something, you have lots of options for clarification: 1) look up words you don’t understand in the dictionary; 2) ask for help from a classmate, many of whom have studied a little Spanish in high school; or, 3) ask the professor. I list asking the professor last, because it’s always better if a student tries figuring something out on his/her own first since it’ll help you remember it later. Seriously, this is my biggest pet peeve and a sure-fire way to tick me off in class.
But as I mentioned earlier, the worst part of teaching is also the best – the students. This is why I said back-to-school is so exhilarating, why the sight of school supplies in the stores makes me happy. The students make it all worthwhile. Nothing’s better than coming back to school and seeing the enthusiastic faces of returning students light up when they see you. I especially love it when students return from studying abroad and show you their pictures of amazing places they’ve visited, like Machu Picchu, Easter Island or the Alhambra. They can’t wait to show off in class all the new things they’ve learned, and that excitement infects the other students. I also love the students who only know a few words in Spanish (usually infinitives) and yet still make jokes about a really terrible reading about bullfighting the entire semester. Or the brother and sister in class who re-enact videos we’ve seen in class in front of their family. And I even like it when I get boo’ed in class for telling what I freely admit are really painful puns.
So back-to-school, while representing the end of summer, is also a really great time for teachers. We get to reconnect with our colleagues and learn about all the fascinating research they’re doing, while we also catch up with the best part of teaching – the students.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Review of Home Improvement: Undead Edition

I love short stories and novellas by favorite authors, but I have mixed feelings about anthologies featuring short stories. While I have few qualms about buying an anthology with four novellas in it for $7.99, I have to think long and hard about short story anthologies, because typically they’re priced at trade paperback prices, and I’m only interested in a couple of the stories. Home Improvement: Undead Edition features short stories by mystery and urban fantasy authors, all focused on some aspect of home renovation, and the stories range from excellent to merely ho-hum. Because it includes stories by some of my favorite authors I was really looking forward to its release, but it’s a hardcover book, which means I went into sticker shock when I saw the price. If you’re only interested in a few of the stories, I’m not sure the $26.99 price for hardcover or even $12.99 for the Kindle version will be worth it to you. For me the Patricia Briggs, Melissa Marr, and Seanan McGuire stories were definite highlights of the collection and more than made the purchase worth the price.  
“If I Had a Hammer” by Charlaine Harris This is a new Sookie Stackhouse story, and while I’m not a huge Sookie fan, the story was enjoyable and can be read without your having read any of the books in the series. Sookie’s helping friends Tara and JB renovate their house to accommodate their twins when a grisly discovery in the walls creates an oppressive atmosphere in their home. A cute story, but no Eric or Alcides present for you TrueBlood fans.
“Wizard Home Security” by Victor Gischler I felt this story was a bit ho-hum. Broahm is a wizard whose home has been broken into. He hires a young mage to create a security system for him, but just when Broahm gets lazy about activating it at night, another burglar makes an appearance with disastrous results for Broahm. I liked the twist at the end, but there was an abrupt jump to the ending that was a bit disconcerting for me.
“Gray” by Patricia Briggs I pretty much love anything Ms. Briggs writes, and this story was no exception. Set in her Mercy Thompson world, vampire Elyna purchases the condo she lived in years ago despite its reputation for being haunted. When she begins renovations the ghost offers suggestions for improvement, and Elyna starts to enjoy life again in a way she hasn’t since her violent change to vampire. Unfortunately she manages to attract attention from the powerful Chicago vampire seethe, and her new home is threatened. This is a sweet love story and one of the highlights of the collection.
“Squatters’ Rights” by Rochelle Krich This story was downright creepy, and if you love horror, you will definitely enjoy how Ms. Krich builds the tension between the newly married couple who’ve just purchased a fixer-upper. Learning that the couple who lived in the house before them died in a violent murder-suicide doesn’t deter Eve and Joe one bit, but they start to turn on each other as soon as the home improvements begin. Horror is my least favorite genre, and I was so creeped out after reading this I had to put the book down and come back to it later, which says to me it’s a great horror story.
In “Blood on the Walls” by Heather Graham Montville DeFeo finds himself forced to clean pig’s blood off his family tomb when local wannabe cult leader Austin Cramer holds his fake satanic rituals at the tomb. Private Investigaor DeFeo finds himself helping the young Cramer when someone begins viciously ripping apart members of the cult. The connection to home improvement is a bit tenuous with this story, but I enjoyed it none the less. It’s well-written and I liked the tidy ending.
As in Rochelle Krich’s story, “The Mansion of Imperatives” by James Grady  is a horror story of a house under renovation that turns on those living within its walls. While the concept is good, the execution was exceedingly painful, and I consider this the worst story in the collection. The language was choppy and awkward, and the beginning reads like a list of characters and attributes, rather than a developed story.
“The Strength Inside” by Melissa Marr Anyone who’s ever had to deal with an unfriendly Homeowners Association will get a kick out of how Chastity and Alison use the “old ways” to protect their new home. They’re Bori, and while they look human, they most assuredly are not. They have a nest of young, feral siblings to protect, but Justine, the snooty head of the HOA, wants to prevent them from building a fence that would allow their siblings to hunt and play freely. Big mistake, Justine. I loved this story, and Melissa Marr is swiftly becoming a must-read for me.
Woolsley’s Kitchen Nightmare” by E. E. Knight Chef Sean Woolsley runs elite translife eateries around the world, and he’s been asked to consult on a restaurant in Wisconsin. The owner has the execrable taste to have zombies working in the kitchen along with outdated décor in the dining room. Woolsley devises a clever solution when the day’s special manages to escape. I enjoyed the story, but it wasn’t one of my favorites.
“Through This House” by Seanan McGuire McGuire returns to the world of her October (Toby) Daye series in this short story. You will definitely enjoy the story more if you’ve read some of the books in the series, although you can follow along easily if you have not. The Queen granted Toby the title of Countess of Goldengreen, and Toby’s having trouble entering the faerie knowe. Once she and her small band of friends manage to get inside, they’re attacked by the knowe’s current residents. Despite the absence of my favorite, hottie Cait Sidhe king Tybalt, the story is a delight and a great example of McGuire’s style. Definitely recommend this one!
“The Path” by S. J. Rozan This was a pleasant surprise. I had never read any of S.J. Rozan’s work before, but this story is a charmer. The ghost of dead monk Tuo Mo cannot pass on until the head of a Buddha statue is returned to its original site in a cave in China. In life Tuo Mo was painfully shy, and he must overcome his bashfulness in the afterlife to insure that the statue is restored. His lighthearted encounter with a brash, stubborn ghost in New York City is a moment of humor not found in many of the other stories in the collection.
“Rick the Brave” by Stacia Kane is set in the world of Kane’s Downside series. Unlike the novels in the series, this story is told from the viewpoint of a “normal” – Rick – rather than that of Chess, the heroine of the series. Rick takes a job in dangerous Downside so he can earn some money after his girlfriend dumps him, but when he and the sketchy looking crew begin renovations they discover the house is haunted.  Ghosts can do some serious damage to the living, and Chess arrives in the nick of time to ward off the scaries. Definitely another plus in the collection, although if you haven’t read the series, I’m not sure you would get the best sense of who Chess really is as a character.
“Full-Scale Demolition” by Suzanne McLeod is set in the universe and it’s a fun one! Sidhe fae Genny Taylor is busy rounding up pixies in Trafalgar Square when she’s sent on another job doing the same at a private residence. Genny soon realizes that this so-called routine job is a set up when the swimming pool she’s supposed to rid of pixies resembles an ocean complete with waves. I’m new to the world, but this story definitely has me interested in checking out more of the series.
“It’s All in the Rendering” by Simon R. Green This is an odd story about a House that straddles the border between reality and fantasy. The House provides sanctuary from both worlds, but when visitors show up unannounced to conduct inspections, the House’s future is threatened. There wasn’t anything wrong with this story per se; it just didn’t keep my interest as well as some of the others and felt like it needed a bit more development.
“In Brightest Day” by Toni L. P. Kelner This was a clever story featuring Dodie Kilburn, houngan. She raises revenants to complete important tasks after their deaths, and her job takes a strange turn when the architect Gottfried she’s revived dies yet again. Her refusal to wear all black and dress like a stereotype, plus her tendency to tell bad jokes about the dead get her in trouble with her professional organization, but when Gottfried’s killed off a third time, she has to figure out who killed him so she doesn’t lose her place in the houngan community. The resolution to her problems was hilarious, and I have to confess I enjoyed her really bad puns.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Early Review of Clay & Susan Griffith’s The Rift Walker (Vampire Empire #2)

You have no idea how excited I was on Friday when I made my usual run through Barnes & Noble after dinner and spotted a copy of The Rift Walker on the shelves. Actually, I kind of stood there looking at the book in a strange sort of trance, because I really didn’t believe my eyes. The book’s not supposed to be out until September, and last I checked we were still in August, although the way this summer’s been flying by I would not have been all that surprised to discover that, yes, we were in fact in September and I’d missed a few weeks. But my trusty smart phone confirmed that the long-awaited sequel to The Greyfriar is not supposed to be released until September, and yet there it was in front of me on the shelf! I somehow managed to contain my high pitched shriek of joy, snatched the book from the shelves and ran to the front to buy it, just in case the staff realized their error and tried to tackle me before I could reach the doors. Good luck with that, you latte drinking, all black wearing hipsters!!! I stayed up late last night to finish the book, and it. was. AWESOME. You know your favorite Indiana Jones movie? The one with all the heart-pounding action, romance, and a little magic? My friends, you must read The Rift Walker, because reading it is just like watching Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Last Crusade. You will not be able to put it down!
Any review of The Rift Walker will contain spoilers for the first book in the Vampire Empire series, The Greyfriar, so if you haven’t read the first book, you might want to read my review of it here. The Rift Walker can stand on its own, but you will definitely enjoy the book all the more if you’ve read the first in the series.
The Rift Walker picks up only three months after The Greyfriar ends. Princess Adele of Equatoria has returned to Alexandria after her ordeal in the north of Europe. Her story has become immensely popular in Equatoria, resulting in the publication of penny dreadfuls and plays depicting her kidnapping by vampires and subsequent rescue by the Greyfriar. Her American fiancé Senator Miles Clark is pressing her to set a date for their political marriage, but Adele lost her heart to the Greyfriar in his castle in Edinburgh, despite learning that the Greyfriar was in fact the vampire Prince Gareth. Senator Clark’s military expertise is vital to the humans’ plans to declare war against the vampires to the north, but his bravado and arrogance repulse Adele. She’s further horrified to learn that his plans for the north include fire-bombing as many humans in the vampires’ terrain as possible, as that will kill off their food supply and weaken the enemy. Her protests fall on deaf ears, and her father, Emperor Constantine II, orders their marriage within the next two weeks. When vampire Gareth learns that his brother Cesare plans to abduct Adele during her honeymoon, he travels to Alexandria and interrupts the royal wedding to whisk Adele away to safety.  While the Equatorians and Adele’s husband Senator Clark give chase, the lovers seek a safe haven, little realizing that their actions have allowed Equatorian Prime Minister Lord Kelvin the opportunity to seize power.
Really, this book has it all. The action is non-stop, with several storylines running at once. The vampires are uniting under Cesare, and Gareth’s attempts to protect the humans while maintaining his secret identity as the Greyfriar are becoming increasingly less effective. Princess Adele is forced to acquiesce to her father’s demands that she fulfill her duty and marry the bellicose Senator Clark, despite her reports that the humans in the north need the assistance of the Equatorians. And it becomes clear that there are several different factions seeking to control Equatoria through Adele. Her mysterious teacher Mamoru is training her to use the powers she discovered in the north, and while these powers could spell the end to the vampires, they could also mean the end of Gareth, her love.
The constant action will keep you on the edge of your seat, and I kept wondering how the political intrigue could be resolved in one book, especially since there is a third book planned. I should not have doubted the authors, because the immediate situation was resolved while still maintaining the vampire threat. The various political betrayals and underhanded dealings will leave you gasping, but you’ll also cheer when the obnoxious Clark gets his comeuppance. The authors really draw you in with this aspect of the novel, because everyone seems to have their own agenda regarding Adele and her role as future empress and vampire killer. Some of Adele’s friends prove themselves more than trustworthy, while others make you wonder if more betrayal is yet to come.
Princess Adele definitely matures in this novel, and she is a heroine you will root for over and over again. In The Greyfriar she was still a young, idealistic girl forced to revise long-accepted truths about vampires and humans, but in The Rift Walker she faces difficult choices as future empress and as a woman. She wishes to be the best ruler possible but begins to realize that her love for Gareth might not have a happy ending, since he is the only vampire who values human life. Watching her transform into the empress of Equatoria is exciting and poignant, since we know any future with Gareth will be precarious at best, and the romance with the vampire prince is as touching as it is forbidden.  Gareth is perfect hero material, and it’s a pleasure to witness his  pride in Adele’s deft choices in the face of adversity.
The Rift Walker is an outstanding adventure that will leave you breathless. I couldn’t put the book down, and it’s going to be a long, long wait for the third installment! I thought The Greyfriar was one of the best books I’ve read this year, and The Rift Walker more than exceeded any expectations I might have had for a sequel. I highly recommend this one. Well done, Clay and Susan Griffith!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Review of Maggie Shayne’s The Husband She Couldn’t Remember

I mentioned on Monday that Harlequin is re-releasing books from the 1990s as part of their Treasury series, and while I don’t usually read category romance, I’ve been impressed with the quality of the writing in these books. When I saw that Maggie Shayne’s The Husband She Couldn’t Remember was available for review, I requested it, because I’ve read and enjoyed a few of her paranormal romances in the Wings in the Night series. The Husband She Couldn’t Remember is a contemporary romance with a bit of suspense in it, and while at times it’s a bit far-fetched, I consider that to be par for the course with category romance and thought that I could accept it as part of the genre. This novel pretty much reads like the plot of a soap opera, and if you enjoy that, you’ll definitely like The Husband She Couldn’t Remember. Unfortunately that’s not really my cup of tea, so while I liked the characters and felt that the pacing of the suspense was well done, I probably won’t be re-reading this book.  Unlike the other two Harlequin Treasury re-releases I’ve read, this e-book had several recurring typos and editing errors, but I think you can see past that fairly easily, even if it is annoying.

The novel begins with Ben Brand dreaming about his dead wife, Penny. Penny died two years ago in a fiery car crash that left only a crispy corpse and heartbreaking memories. What makes her death all the more tragic is that Penny had been suffering from a debilitating disease (Hillman-Waite Syndrome) that had no cure, and everyone wonders if the crash was an accident or if Penny committed suicide.  While Ben’s in El Paso, he bumps into a woman who looks exactly like Penny, but before he can question her, she runs away. Ben’s convinced that Penny is still alive and requests an exhumation of the body they buried, but before they begin to dig up the casket, the woman approaches him. It turns out that she is Penny, but she has a bad case of amnesia, and she doesn’t remember anything about her former life. She woke up from a coma in a clinic in England, and when the staff started acting suspiciously, she took off with only an address written on a scrap of paper. As Penny’s memories of her life with Ben gradually return, it becomes all the more important to discover what actually happened two years ago. Will what happened two years ago threaten her newly rekindled relationship with Ben? And why did she have to escape from the clinic that apparently cured her incurable disease?

Despite the outlandish nature of the plot, I did enjoy the characters and the romance between the hero and heroine. Both Ben and Penny are likeable characters, and the suspense behind her disappearance and sudden reappearance will keep you turning the pages. This book is the fourth in a series about the Brand family, and we meet characters from previous installments of the series, but the book can easily be read on its own.  The family definitely supports one another and welcomes Penny back with open arms, and I liked the interaction between the brothers and their spouses. Also, Penny and Ben were childhood sweethearts, and you get to learn about their sweet romance through flashbacks as Penny starts to recall her past.

I’m not usually a fan of amnesia plots, because they just strike me as too ridiculous. Unless a character’s suffered from a serious head injury, I have a hard time accepting them, and amnesia seems to be a frequent plot device in category romance. However, Ms. Shayne provided an interesting reason for Penny’s memory loss that I was able to accept, albeit grudgingly.

I enjoyed the book until we learn the truth concerning Penny’s disappearance two years ago, which pushed the plot too far into outlandish territory for my tastes. It completely changed the way I viewed Penny’s character and not in a good way. Ben has a very similar reaction to learning the truth, but eventually forgives Penny, which I found to be a plausible response to man mourning his lost love, so kudos to the author there. However, the villain is way over the top crazy, and I was unable to accept that this complete loon had somehow found the cure for a progressive disease that had been incurable.

Generally speaking, this book reinforced my prejudices against category romance, which is a shame, because I’ve read several recently that are quite good. There are definitely aspects of the novel that I enjoyed, namely the romance between the h/h and the pacing of the suspense aspects of the plot, but the outlandish nature of the book was just too much for this reader.

I received this book for review from the Publisher through NetGalley.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Review of Anthology Wild & Steamy by Meljean Brook, Jill Myles, and Carolyn Crane

This anthology is a quick read by three outstanding authors, and priced at $0.99, it’s a steal! I highly recommend it! 
The Blushing Bounder (Iron Seas #0.4) by Meljean Brook
I love, love, love Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas series, so I was thrilled to read this prequel about Constable Newberry, Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth’s trusty assistant. If you’re not familiar with the series, it’s set in a steampunk world in London. You can easily delve right into the novella without having read any of the other books, although I think you’ll enjoy the novella more if you have read the others. The story begins in the small flat of Temperance Newberry, an immigrant from what used to be the United States. She and Constable Edward Newberry have recently married, because he compromised her by kissing her. If that seems a bit prudish to you, you’re not alone, because it strikes Detective Inspector Wentworth as outlandish. Temperance is consumptive, and her husband moved them to London to have her infected with bugs, microscopic machines that will heal her. Thus far she’s refused to be infected, since she’s terrified of becoming a zombie after death. However, she witnesses a murder, and in the course of Newberry’s investigation, she learns to broaden her mind. This novella was a pleasure to read and a great introduction to the steampunk genre.
Vixen by Jill Myles
This novella features Miko, a kitsune, or, as she prefers, were-fox. She’s an artist living out in the countryside in an attempt to avoid her were-fox nature.  Were-foxes have voracious sexual appetites, but after witnessing her mother’s constant stream of boyfriends and lovers, Miko has decided to suppress that aspect of her nature by avoiding temptation. Her mother has other plans, however, and sends two sexy cat shifters, Jeremiah and Sam, to serve as bodyguards. It seems that Miko’s cousin was recently hunted in a fox hunt, and her mother’s worried that Miko could be next. That the two cat shifters are very attracted to Miko is just a side benefit. A cute shifter ménage story.
Kitten-tiger & the Monk (Disillusionists #2.5) by Carolyn Crane
What I most enjoy about Ms. Crane’s Disillusionist triology is the moral ambiguity. You just never know if a character is the bad guy or the good. The answer, of course, is that no one is truly one or the other, so her novels make for exciting reading, because you don’t know who to trust. The ending of her second novel, Double Cross, was a shocker, so I was pleased to see this novella since the third book won’t be published until December. I wasn’t pleased, though, when I saw that Sophia Sidway was the heroine of this novella. If you haven’t read the books, you’ll still be able to understand the novella, but you probably won’t hate Sophia quite the way I did. In fact, my reaction to Sophia’s dilemma in the novella was somewhere along the lines of “Die, Witch, Die!!! BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!” Of course, I had to eat my words, because in a short novella, Ms. Crane managed to convince me that Sophia is not completely good but she’s also not as bad as I originally thought. Once again there’s more of that pesky moral ambiguity, which makes for a fascinating read, even if I’m a bit disgruntled about her salvaging Stinky Sophia.
In the novella, Sophia has been sent by the leader of the Disillusionists to another member of the team, the Monk. Sophia needs the Monk’s help so she can find the Tanglemaster. She’s sick of herself and wants the Tanglemaster to disillusion her (and he would have had my blessing, that’s for sure!). Sophia’s stunned to discover that the Monk is none other than Robert, her teenage sweetheart, whom she cruelly betrayed years ago. How the situation is resolved, plus the history behind the couple, make this one a winner.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Review of Stephanie Bond’s Irresistible?

Harlequin has begun re-releasing some of its “Presents” lines from the 1990s in ebook form under the name Harlequin Treasury, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well these books hold up 16 years later. Generally I tend to steer clear of category romances, because many times the hero’s presented as an alpha male when he’s actually just a jerk, but I’ve read a couple of these re-releases and that hasn’t always been the case. Last month I did a guest review of Janice Kay Johnson’s Beauty & the Beasts for  and really enjoyed the book, so I requested a couple of other Harlequin Treasury books from authors I recognized.  In the case of Stephanie Bond’s Irresistible? I knew the book was going to be a winner when I saw that it was set in Atlanta. Like most Harlequin Presents books, this was a short read, but it had some hilarious moments that reminded me of the film Some Like It Hot and you just can’t go wrong there, can you?
The novel begins with artist Ellie Sutherland losing her job to budget cuts. She’s been working at a federally funded arts center in order to pay the bills and generate some commissions for her paintings, but the funding is decreasing and they can’t afford to keep her. Her bad day gets even worse when she’s jostled by an uptight yuppie in a coffee shop at lunch, spilling her drink all over her skirt. When she gets back to her soon-to-be gone job, she discovers an ad calling for volunteers for a scientific study. Since she needs the money, she decides to give it a try, but she manages to announce to her entire office her lack of a love life while answering the basic interview questions on the phone. Clearly, Ellie is having a rough day.
The plot thickens when Ellie presents herself at the clinical study and learns that they are conducting a trial to see if oral pheromones have any effect on a woman’s ability to attract male interest.  She decides to participate in the trial, and lo and behold the first day she takes the pills she notices an overwhelming difference in the amount and quality of male attention she receives. She’s also excited because she’s received a commission to do a portrait of the newest partner for a local law firm. Unfortunately, said partner turns out to be none other than Mark Blackwell, obnoxious yuppie from the coffee shop. Sparks definitely fly between the two, but disaster seems to follow Ellie wherever she goes. The two gradually learn that neither is exactly what s/he appears, and despite Mark’s best efforts to keep Ellie at a distance, he finds himself attracted to the carefree artist.
This is a fun, lighthearted romance that’s full of slapstick moments that can be blamed equally on hero and heroine. Mark’s decision to invite Ellie as his date to the family picnic in order to horrify his mother into leaving his love life alone is hardly flattering to Ellie, but it sets up some hilarious situations. And Ellie’s decision to paint Mark in the nude, while clearly a bad decision to the reader, helps create a resolution to their romance that’s "well hung."
For me Ellie’s character was the real selling point of the novel. She’s a bit flighty at times, but she’s goodhearted and very likeable. You can definitely relate to her doubts about Mark’s attraction to her, since she’s taking the pheromones from the clinical study, but to the reader it’s clear that Ellie’s loyalty and personality are the real attraction. Mark is an appealing hero as well, since he starts out looking like a yuppie jerk but soon reveals himself to be something more complex. Despite his allergic reaction to cats, he shows a softer side when he takes in Ellie’s pregnant cat Esmerelda and helps nurse her and Ellie back to health. Both hero and heroine are engaging, and you’ll enjoy rooting for them.
The one criticism I have of the novel is that Ellie’s roommate, Manny, is little better than a stock figure. He’s a transvestite who performs in an Atlanta club, and the Some Like It Hot moment I referred to earlier takes place when Mark mistakenly sets up a double date with his boss and Ellie’s roommate, little realizing that “Molly” is the same person as Ellie’s roommate Manny he met a few days earlier. Manny’s character reminded me a lot of the character of Jack in the TV show Will & Grace. He’s outrageously flamboyant, bordering on campy, which would be fine if this were camp, but I think we’re supposed to take him seriously. Given the lack of nuance in his character, he fell a little flat and seemed like the stereotypical gay friend telling the heroine, “You go, girl!” or something equally hideous. However, given the original publication date of 1997 and the fact that the author is referred to as "newcomer Stephanie Bond” in the Letter to the Reader, I’m inclined to be a little lenient. I do like how the hero seems perfectly comfortable with Manny/Molly once he learns the truth, only getting upset about how his straitlaced boss will react if he learns of the deception. Also, Mark’s willingness to switch clothes with Manny in the bathroom so he can fix the situation is pretty darn funny. Frankly, Manny’s character is really the only thing that dates this book, and that’s pretty impressive.
Overall I feel this book was a fun read, and it certainly piques my interest in Ms. Bond’s subsequent books, especially since she favors Atlanta locales. I suspect many authors would love to be able to point to an early novel that, while flawed, is an engaging and fun read.

I received this book for review from the publisher through NetGalley.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

July Round-up of Books

To say that I’m behind is to put it mildly – we’re a week into August and I’m just now posting my July round-up of books! I’ve been catching up on a lot of reading while out of town, and I’ll be posting a lot of reviews this week, since school will be starting up soon. These are some of the highlights of my reading from the month of July, and all books were either purchased by me or checked out from the library.
Paranormal/Urban Fantasy
Sunshine by Robin McKinley While the rest of the books on this list are in no particular order, I absolutely had to list this one first, because it was amazing. It’s been years since I’ve read Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword and Beauty, but her writing remains as fresh and inspiring as ever. This novel was published in 2003, but it’s recently been re-released with a new cover, so you’ll have no problems finding it in the bookstores. The novel takes place in a world devastated by the 10 year long Voodoo wars, the result of vampires tiring of constant legal discrimination. The heroine, nicknamed Sunshine, visits her family’s cabin by a lake only to be attacked by a group of vampires who intend to offer her to another as a food source. Sunshine’s escape and subsequent interaction with the other vamp lead to profound changes in her formerly ordinary life. This was a fascinating read that I couldn’t put down and reaffirms my belief that Ms. McKinley is a consummate storyteller.
Black Wings by Christina Henry Fallen Angels seem to be the next big thing in the Paranormal and Urban Fantasy genres, and this novel stands out for its twist on the demonic and the bureaucracy involved in death and dying. This is the first novel in the Black Wings series, and as much as I enjoyed the story, the heroine’s companion gargoyle, Beezle, really stole the show. Madeline “Maddy” Black is an agent of death, an inherited position that has her collecting souls and escorting them to a door that leads to the afterlife. Maddy has black wings that appear when she needs to fly, along with other powers that inconveniently don’t help pay the bills. She’s forced to rent her downstairs apartment to the sexy Gabriel Angeloscuro, but she’s not convinced that he’s completely upfront about who he is, especially since Beezle doesn’t seem to like Gabriel. When Maddy is viciously attacked, Gabriel comes to her rescue, and she learns more about her parentage than she probably wanted to know. A great introduction to a new series, and the second installment, Black Night, is already out and just as much fun as the first.
Kindling the Moon by Jenn Bennett Arcadia “Cady” Bell is a magician who owns and runs the Tambuku Tiki Lounge, which serves Earthbound demons. Her parents were accused of several vicious murders years ago, and Cady has lived on the run for years. After spotting her notorious parents on the news, she’s worried that she’ll have to hit the road again. When she’s told that if her parents don’t turn themselves in she’ll be given up in their stead as retribution for their crimes, Cady decides to prove their innocence. She’s introduced to Lon Butler, an Earthbound demon and famous photographer, because of his collection of arcane texts that she hopes will identify the demon used in the murders. Their subsequent romance, his charming teenage son, and the astonishing twist at the end make this a real page-turner. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series!
Historical Romance
Don’t Tempt Me by Loretta Chase I loved Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels (and it’s still on sale at Amazon for $.99!), so recently I’ve tried a couple of her other books. Don’t Tempt Me has now joined the keeper pile and is an absolute delight. Lucien de Grey, Duke of Marchmount, was the ward of Lord Lexham after the death of his parents, and when Lexham’s long-lost daughter, Zoe Octavia, reappears after 12 years in a harem, Marchmount vows to help ease Zoe’s way back into society. Zoe’s training in the sensual arts make her assimilation into the ton a difficult one, and Lucien’s attraction to her doesn’t help matters any. Both characters were extremely likeable, and it’s so much fun to watch Lucien try to deal with the irrepressible heroine.
The Best Intentions by Candice Hern Ms. Hern has recently started releasing her backlist on Amazon, and when I saw this book on sale for $.99, I couldn’t resist giving it a try. It’s a lighthearted and sweet romance that doesn’t go beyond a few steamy kisses, and the focus on the characters make this novel a pleasure to read. Miles is the Earl of Strickland and a widower with two young daughters. He’s decided that he needs to remarry for the girls’ sakes, but his devotion to his deceased wife makes him leery of seeking another love match. His sister Winifred invites the lovely widow Charlotte and her younger sister Hannah to Miles’ estate in the hopes of enticing Miles into proposing to Charlotte. Unfortunately for the practiced beauty, Miles finds himself attracted to the charmingly enthusiastic Hannah, whose fascination with ancient ruins and rapport with his daughters steal the stodgy Earl’s heart. On a side note, Ms. Hern’s webpage provides lots of fascinating information about the Regency and is an excellent resource for writers and readers alike.
Contemporary Romance
Only Mine (Fool’s Gold #4) by Susan Mallery Ms. Mallery’s books have unfailingly been favorites, and Only Mine is no exception. If you love small town romance, you just can’t go wrong with one of the novels in her Fool’s Gold series. Set in California, Fool’s Gold is a small town that’s short on men, a fact that has caught the attention of the media, resulting in the filming of a reality TV show similar to the The Bachelor. Dakota Hendrix has been asked by the mayor to be the town’s liaison for the show, which is how she meets Finn Anderssen, pilot from Alaska. He’s made the trek to Fool’s Gold to force his 21 year old twin brothers to leave the show, but his efforts are for naught, since the twins are both charming and good-looking, making them primetime fodder. Dakota and Finn strike up what’s supposed to be a no-strings fling, but soon becomes much more complicated. There’s also a sweet secondary romance between twin Sasha and 30 year old accountant Aurelia, all of which combine for a enchanting read that’s very satisfying.
Summer at Seaside Cove by Jacquie D’Alessandro I’ve long enjoyed Ms. D’Alessandro’s historical romances, but her latest contemporary is the perfect beach read. Jamie Newman is a successful manager of a family restaurant in New York City, but when her older half-sister steals Jamie’s boyfriend, Jamie travels over 700 miles to Seaside Cove, North Carolina, for a much needed break from work and family. When she arrives, the bungalow she’s rented is a wreck, complete with leaking roof and rotting clams in the kitchen. Luckily for Jamie, the owner lives next door. Equally fortunately, he’s quite the hunky handyman! Just as Jamie and Nick start to really hit it off, all of Jamie’s family drama descends upon Seaside Cove in the form of her mother, then her niece, and finally her cheating sister. You’ll definitely enjoy seeing how Jamie’s relationships play out in this inviting contemporary romance.