Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009: Reading In Review

I took some time off this year but still ended up reading a good amount of books. I think my initial goal was to read 50 books, somehow that jumped to 70 (extremely wishful thinking). I ended up reading about 40 and and reviewing 31 of those. Not bad.

My top 10 reads for this year, in no particular order, are:

*2009 Release

1. Hugh and Bess by Susan Higginbotham* (Historcal Fiction)
2. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen (Women's Fiction)
3. The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis (Historical Fiction)
4. The Sharing Knife (Passage) by Lois McMaster Bujold (Fantasy Romance)
5. Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas* (Contemporary Romance)
6. The King Making by Helen Hollick* (Historical Fiction)
7. Angels' Blood by Nalini Singh* (Urban Fantasy)
8. The Tailor's Daughter by Janice Graham (Historical Fiction)
9. The Gathering Blue by Lois Lowery (Young Adult)
10. Highland Rebel by Judith James* (Historical Romance)

A good mix of genres, but no mysteries made it in the top 10. Silent on the Moor by Deanna Raybourn and Heartsick by Chelsea Cain came close though.

The total list of books I reviewed in 2009:

1: Mine to Possess by Nalini Singh (Grade C+) Paranormal Romance
2: Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas (Grade A) Contemporary Romance
3: Sea Fever by Virginia Kantra (Crade C-) Paranormal Romance
4: Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry (Grade B-) Young Adult
5: Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas* Contemporary Romance
6: The McKettrick Way by Linda Lael Miller (Grade C+) Contemporary Romance
7: HeartSick by Chelsea Cain (Grade B-) Mystery
8: The Bride Finder by Susan Carroll (Grade A+) Paranormal Romance
9: Hot Mail by Janice Maynard (Grade B)* Erotic Romance
10: The KingMaking by Helen Hollick (Grade A+) Historical Fiction
11: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (Grade B+) Young Adult
12: Angels' Blood by Nalini Singh (Grade A-)* Urban Fantasy
13: Wicked Deeds on a Winter's Night by Kresley Cole (Grade A) Paranormal Romance
14: Sea Lord by Virginia Kantra (Grade B)* Paranormal Romance
15: The Sharing Knife by Lois McMaster Bujold (Grade A) Fantasy Romance
16: Wicked Game by Jeri Smith-Ready (Grade B+) Urban Fantasy
17: The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis (Grade A) Historical Fiction
18: Garden Spells by Sara Addison Allen (Grade A) Women's Fiction
19: Ain't She Sweet? By Susan Elizabeth Phillips (Grade B) Contemporary Romance
20: To Beguile a Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt (Grade B)* Historical Romance
21: My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier (Grade A) Historical Fiction, Suspense
22: The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley (Grade B) Historical Romance
23: Dhamphir by Barb & J. C. Hendee (Grade A-) Fantasy
24: Rewriting Monday by Jodi Thomas (Grade B) Contemporary Romance
25: Once Bitten by Kaylana Price (Grade C)* Urban Fantasy
26: Love at First Flight by Marie Force (Grade B)* Contemporary Romance
27: Silent on the Moor by Deanna Raybourn (Grade B-)* Mystery, Historical
28: Hugh and Bess by Susan Higginbotham (Grade A)* Historical Fiction
29: Highland Rebel by Judith James (Grade A)* Historical Romance
30: Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews (Grade B) Urban Fantasy
31: When a Stranger Loves Me by Julianne MacLean (Grade C) Historical Romance

My goal for next year is to not set one. Going into 2009, I couldn't have predicted that I'd end up taking close to four months off, so to keep myself from not reaching a specific goal for whatever unforeseen reasons, I'm not making myself any promises.

My hopes for the 2010 reading year are to read a good amount of 2010 releases, to increase the amount of YA that I read, and to make a sizeable dent in my tbr pile. If I accomplish any of those things I'll be happy.

So, how did you make out this year? Did you meet your reading goal, exceed it? Did you have any standout reads or authors? Share!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Musings on Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews

I skipped the first book in Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels series for no particular reason other than I mistakenly thought that Magic Burns was the introductory book to the series. By the time I realized that I was wrong, I was so deep into the story and wanted to know how it ended that I didn't bother with putting it down in favor of Magic Bites, which really is the first book in the series.

The story opens during a magic wave. Kate is called upon by the Pack (shape-shifters) to retrieve their stolen maps from a cunning bowman. Not one to pass up a challenge, Kate takes the gig and sets out after the sniper. She runs into a teenage street urchin she's familiar with, Red, and his tween girlfriend, Julie, whose mother has gone missing.

Kate's run-in with the teenagers ends up leading her into the Honeycomb, a section of the city that is a dangerous maze of twisted trailers, unfriendly people, and magic. She soon finds that a misfit group of witches have tampered with the natural order of things in a big way. Now the salvation of the Atlanta depends on Kate and her eclectic band of shifter, vampire, and sniper friends. They'll have to come together to restore magical order and take down a restless god that's intent on killing them all.

I'd been in a reading slump when I started Magic Burns and credit this book in helping me to come out of it. There's lots of action, character development, and nicely done world building. Got to say, as an Atlanta native, I love that the story is set in my city. It's fun envisioning the city I was born and raised in complete magic upheaval.

Even though I started on the second book before reading the first, I never felt like my reading enjoyment suffered from loss of back story as previous events were neatly explained throughout the book. I'll find out if I'm completely right about that soon enough, when I go back to read Magic Bites. But before that I'm moving on to Magic Strikes because I'm anxious to know exactly what happens next in the series. Grade B.

Visit Ilona Andrews here. Read an excerpt of Magic Burns here.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

My Unfair Lady by Kathryne Kennedy

A wild west heiress, Summer Wine Lee knows that she's not an acceptable bride for her fiance's knickerbocker family. She grew up in an Arizona mining town, cares more for critters than people, carries a knife under her skirts, and, worst of all, she has a highly improper secret from her past. But she also has high hopes that a real English Duke can teach her how to be a lady...

Were it not for his father's gambling debts, the Duke of Monchester would never have stooped to civilize Summer. But the more time he spends with her, and the more social scrapes he has to rescue her from, the more he finds it impossible to change her into a proper lady. How could he, when he's falling in love with her just the way she is?

I chose to read My Unfair Lady because both My Fair Lady and Pygmalion are favorites. This book looked to be a fun twist on those two stories and it was.

Summer is an improper young lady from the Colonies with too much money and no pedigree. She is in love with Monte, a young man from New York's high society, but when they become engaged and she is introduced to his family they are definitely not impressed. Her answer? She travels to London with a companion and decides to hire the best person available to help her become a lady. She wants to be good enough for Monte and his family.

The person who she and her companion Maria decide hire for the job is the Lord of Monchester. He is not only an arrogant duke, but he has Prince Albert's ear and he's broke. All of these facts qualify him for the tutor position as far as Summer is concerned. But Byron has nothing but contempt for the new wave of American heiresses invading England with their newfound wealth and greed for noble titles. He makes a living entertaining the Prince with his sharp tongue and his wit. He especially enjoys ripping these American heiresses to shreds. He is about to find his match in Summer.

I truly didn't know what to expect when I picked up this book. It turned out that this is really a fun story about two very different people who fall in love despite their differences. Acceptance is a theme that prevails throughout and one Ms. Kennedy develops beautifully. Summer's improbable adventures and unorthodox social behavior, and Byron's reluctant admiration and growing love for Summer make My Unfair Lady a fun, fast paced read. One I enjoyed enough to finish in one sitting. Grade B

My Unfair Lady releases December 1, 2009
Review based on ARC copy received from Sourcebooks. You can read an excerpt here.

Other books by Kathryne Kennedy you might enjoy:
Enchanting the Lady (Relics of Merlin #1)
Double Enchantment (Relics of Merlin #2)
Enchanting the Beast (Relics of Merlin #3)
Beneath the Thirteen Moons

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Hex in High Heels by Linda Wisdom

Feisty witch Blair Fitzpatrick has had a crush on hunky carpenter Jake Harrison forever - he's one hot shape-shifter. Just when Blair thinks the relationship is really starting to sizzle, Jake pulls back -- the last thing he wants to do is involve Blair in his dysfunctional family dynamics.

Jake's nasty mother and brother are after him to return to his pack, and a bunch of unruly elves start causing all kinds of chaos. Blair is trying hard not to unleash the ultimate revenge spell, but when Jake's enemies try to force him away from her, Blair is pushed over the edge. No one messes with her boyfriend-to-be, even if he does shed on the furniture!
This is my first book by Linda Wisdom. The first few pages were slightly confusing as the characters were not familiar. However, I quickly picked up on the story and was able to follow without a problem.

Hex in High Heels is the fourth installment in Linda Wisdom's light paranormal romance series. This is Blair and Jake's story. Blair is one of 13 witches who in 1313 were expelled and banished to the mortal world from the Witches Academy for breaking rules, as set by the Witches Council.

I really liked Blair in this story. She is irrepressibly fun, sexy and energetic with a temper and poor self-control. She runs the local vintage shop Blast from the Past where she sells crafts and revenge spells to Moonstone Lake residents. Revenge spells are her gift and having a temper and poor self-control can become a problem as you can only imagine -- especially when she's supposed to be staying within those rules set by the Witches Council. Blair has a major crush on her hunky friend and local carpenter Jake, and is determined to have him. It seems when Blair wants something she gets it.

Jake has the hots for Blair, no question about it, but his life is complicated and he has secrets. In the last installment it was revealed that he is more than just a carpenter and all-around great handyman, he is also a Were Border collie or a canis lupus familiaris. It's a good thing Jake had a great sense of humor because dog jokes and references abound in this story. His great sense of humor, understanding and appreciation of Blair's 'hexy' ways makes him perfect for her -- but just when he might make a move, his hateful mother, arrogant brother and the Pack he willingly left behind years ago, want him back.

Jake's past sets up the main conflict in the book. Blair and Jake with help from Stasi, Trev and the townsfolk of Moonstone Lake must deal with a bunch of dirty, unruly elves and the leftover consequences of Jake's secret past. Throw into the mix horny Horace the Gargoyle, Felix the Kit-Kat talking clock, a pair of ghosts, and Fluff and Puff, Jazz' bunny slippers, and we have more than enough great characters running around this story to keep the entertaining factor high.

This is not your typical gloom and doom paranormal romance where great evil looms at all times. Blair and her witch friends deal with, and help people around them who have very real problems. I like the humor and light witchy way in which they resolve the conflicts that crop up. Blair and Jake's humorous dialogue and sizzling chemistry made them a fun, sexy couple I enjoyed.

Hex in High Heels was an enjoyable, light paranormal romance. I found it to be both sexy and entertaining, a fast paced, quick read, packed with fun characters and situations. Grade B

Released October 1, 2009
Review based on ARC copy from Sourcebooks. You can visit Linda Wisdom here.

Other books in this series:

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Tudor Rose: A Novel of Elizabeth of York by Margaret Campbell Barnes

Elizabeth of York, the only living descendant of Edward IV, has the most valuable possession in all of England -- a legitimate claim to the crown.

Two princes battle to win Britain's most rightful heiress for a bride and her kingdom for his own. On one side is her uncle Richard, the last Plantagenet King, whom she fears is the murderer of her two brothers, the would-be kings. On the other side is Henry Tudor, the exiled knight. Can he save her from a horrifying marriage to a cut-throat soldier?

Thrust into the intrigue and drama of the War of the Roses, Elizabeth has a country within her grasp - if she can find the strength to unite a kingdom torn apart by a thirst for power.

The times between King Edward III of England and Henry VII, the first Tudor King, were full of intrigue, bloody battles and civil war. The Lancastrians and the Yorkists, descendants of the prolific Edward III both had a legitimate claim to the crown and they were tearing the country apart by warring against each other. This has always been one of my favorite times in English history to study and just enjoy. When I realized the Tudor Rose by Margaret Campbell Barnes was available, I had to read it.

In the The Tudor Rose, Margaret Campbell Barnes begins by introducing a young Elizabeth of York in 1483, right as the French King Louis XI breaks the betrothal contracts between his son, Charles The Dauphin and Elizabeth. The book covers Elizabeth's life up until the birth of her last child. Throughout The Tudor Rose, Campbell Barnes weaves history and fiction seamlessly. There were a couple of instances where creative license was taken, but for the most part she uses known history accurately and beautifully. I love the way she develops and explores the characters in this book. She specifically explores the duality in their personalities and lets the reader be the judge.

When we first meet young Elizabeth, the French King's rejection feels more like a personal affront than a matter of state. Elizabeth quickly realizes that as the daughter of a King, she is not just a woman -- she is more a chess piece in the game of political alliances. This single act of rejection serves to make her aware of the ambitious and cruel acts of men -- a theme explored by Campbell Barnes throughout the book. A few months later, her father is dead and this lesson will serve Bess well.

Fearful of Richard of Gloucester, the King's younger brother and his closest relative by blood, Bess' mother, the calculating Dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville, calls on her powerful Woodville relatives and attempts to take control of the new King, young Edward. When Richard thwarts her, she quickly moves the rest of her children into sanctuary. During their time in sanctuary, a seventeen-year old Bess is seen as the one who consoles her mother and takes responsibility for her siblings. Although young, Bess is quite sharp and recognizes her mother erred against Richard, however she soon loses faith in Richard's promise to be the young King's protector. Not long after, when he imprisons her two brothers Edward and Richard, and ceases the crown for himself all hope seems to disappear, as Richard of Gloucester becomes King Richard III.

At this point, Campbell Barnes tells us the account of the two princes in the Tower. Did Richard have the princes murdered? Bess agonizes as certainty and doubt plague her throughout her life. In the midst of loss and grief Bess' mother approaches her with the idea of a betrothal to the Lancastrian, Henry of Richmond. Horrified at first Bess refuses, but with confirmation of her brothers' murder and the realization that she is now the legitimate heir to Edward IV, she hastily agrees to marry Henry.

After a failed plot by Henry's supporters to cease the crown, Elizabeth is finally set free from sanctuary and returns to court with a public promise from Richard that she and her sisters will not be harmed. Soon after, Richard's son dies and Queen Anne of Neville goes into decline. During this time, we not only see Richard's duality, but Elizabeth's true understanding of it. After the Queen's death, Richard shocks Elizabeth by proposing a marriage between them in an attempt to secure the crown. This incestuous proposal gives Bess the impetus to seek help from powerful Lord Stanley and the second plot against Richard III is set into motion and succeeds.

In The Tudor Rose, Richard III's character just took over the pages. The way Campbell Barnes weaved history with fiction when it comes to this particular character was fascinating. Elizabeth's reactions to him were portrayed as those of a confused and troubled young woman who admired his accomplishments and talents while recognizing his faults. The battle where Richard loses his life to the Lancastrians is one of the most touching and fascinating narrations in this book. I couldn't stop reading and was just as arrested, horrified and admiring of him, as was Elizabeth herself.

Although Elizabeth looked forward to giving herself to her husband and hoped for a good marriage, she was to be disappointed. King Henry VII is portrayed as a cautious man whose cruelty is cold and who lacked passion. Bess describes Henry as a man who could "neither love nor hate." For a warm, giving woman like Bess who came from the passionate Plantagenets, this was a tough road. Campbell Barnes also explores the duality in Henry's character through Bess' doubts about his actions. Impostors, one of which claimed to be Bess' adored brother, Richard of York, plagued Henry's reign. He was a man who cared much for hoarding money and things and who left the crown well stocked for his successor, Bess' favorite son, King Henry VIII.

Elizabeth of York, first born to King Edward IV of England and Elizabeth Woodville took the motto a "Humble and Reverent Queen." She was a giving, warm woman who gave much of herself to her family and the people around her, yet kept little for herself. She's portrayed as someone who was loved dearly by those around her, but who craved the passion denied her by her husband, King Henry VII. She suffered dearly throughout her life and never stopped grieving for her young murdered brothers, especially for the youngest Richard, Duke of York. However, a Plantagenet through and through, strong and focused she forged ahead and gave birth to the Tudor dynasty. The only English Queen to have been the wife, daughter, sister, niece, and mother to English Kings, she gave herself to her family and her people.

First released in 1953, The Tudor Rose is a classic. If you love historical fiction like I do, this is a book I know you'll enjoy. Grade A

This book will be re-released October 1, 2009.
Review based on ARC copy from Sourcebooks.

Books by Margaret Campbell Barnes you might enjoy.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Review: Highland Rebel by Judith James

Highland Rebel begins with the introduction of Jamie Sinclair. He and the kings men are fresh from a small battle against a Scottish clan that they were the victors of. Right away a bit of Jamie's character is laid out for us: He's not a loyalist and will shift his allegiance and religion depending on what better serves him at any given time. His current mission for the king, he took not out of any particular loyalty, but because the king promised him an heiress for a wife, which would grant him the means to live the leisurely life of nobility that he craves.

Jamie simply wants to complete his mission, return to England and get his reward, but the surprise introduction of a spitting mad Highland heiress named Catherine Drummond puts an unforeseen kink in his plans. First mistaken for a young man, Catherine was taken prisoner after the skirmish. The men soon find out that the would be boy is actually a woman. Jamie knows what will happen to her now that she's been caught and on a whim arranges a hasty marriage between he Cat, who is none too pleased with the arrangement and fights Jamie tooth and nail.

When the first sounds of rescue come in, Cat escapes her prison and reconnects with her family. Jamie sets off to find his missing bride and get their marriage annulled so that he will still be able to marry the bride the king has chosen for him, but is taken captive by Catherine's clansmen in the process. This heads into a story of ups and downs, twists and turns, and angst. Oh, the angst!

Cat often referred to as "Hell Cat" by Jamie is a headstrong woman who would have been her father's successor had she been born a boy. She's good in battle and fights alongside her clansmen, she's smart and capable of handling whatever is thrown at her--all good makings of a clan leader. But as it is, Cat has to constantly prove to those around her that she is capable of being the leader her father once was.

Jamie would best be described as a rouge. Most of the decisions he makes are self serving. He's also troubled as a result of a bleak upbringing. Jamie's only goal in life is to rise from mediocrity into something more, by any means necessary.

Something that stands out about Highland Rebel is that it reads not like many modern historical romances. I'd describe Ms. James writing style as vintage -- and I mean that in the most complementary of ways. The story has a rich, historical feel, the characters are well drawn, their emotions are palpable. The action travels across the European landscape in a sweeping, epic way, bringing with it triumphs and loss.

Jamie and Cat make an interesting pair. Their interactions range from quiet and amicable to tense and resentful, but something that always prevails is their mutual respect for each other. Jamie sees Cat as an equal in a time when women were no such thing. This is shown best in the scenes where Jamie teaches Cat how to disguise herself as a man so that she could venture out with him into places where no women would ever be allowed. At the same time, they are two very different people and because of that are quite incapable of reading each other. This, of course, leads to misunderstandings abound--my only complaint-- but to balance that out there are also lots of meaningful moments between the two.

As a whole, Highland Rebel was a highly enjoyable read and reread. Yes, I read it twice! Grade A.

Visit Judith James here. Read an excerpt for Highland Rebel here.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Duke of Her Own by Eloisa James

A Duke of Her Own is the last installment in Eloisa James' Desperate Duchesses historical romance series. This is the story that we have all been waiting for -- we finally find out what happens to Leopold Dautry, The Duke of Villiers. He is one of the most interesting characters of this series and one I fell in love with from the first. 

In Desperate Duchesses, Villiers was portrayed as the most arrogant of arrogant Dukes with a dismissive and cynical outlook for the ton I reluctantly admired. He was a man of contradictions who seemed to care much for his outward appearance; a true rake who didn't think twice about having illegitimate children with his mistresses, and an egotistical chess player who thought he was the best and didn't have a problem saying so. Our Villiers didn't have the best of profiles, but he seemed to have the sex appeal and fire to attract the Georgian ladies like months to a flame. Yet, he disdained those around him. The more he was admired, the more cynical he became. How could I not be intrigued?

As the series progresses, our not-so-pretty and not-so-nice hero is jilted by two different fiancés and once more loses a woman he truly admires to his friend, the Duke of Beaumont. He thinks love is for fools and it's not something he wants in his life. By this point I thought Leopold deserved some love, weather he wanted it or not.

Our story in A Duke of Her Own begins right after Villiers makes the decision to raise his six illegitimate children (yes, six!) under the Ducal roof. In order to achieve this, he needs a wife quickly -- one willing to take on his illegitimate children and strong enough to face down the ton. Only a Duke's daughter will do for him and only two of them are eligible.

Eleanor, the Duke of Montague's daughter, is both beautiful and intelligent. She is also a woman whose heart was broken at a young age and who thinks she's still in love with her old beau, a man who is now married. She once said she would only marry a Duke and now one is available -- her family is putting on the pressure. 

After a first meeting full of sharp, witty dialogue, and some great sexual tension, Villiers decides that Eleanor will do. Especially since he's under the impression she is his only hope. Leopold wants to make her his fiancé immediately, but she declines and lets him know that there is one other woman who qualifies. Eleanor convinces Leopold, he needs to meet this woman before making a final decision about the betrothal.

Lisette, daughter to the Duke of Gilner, resides in the country and she never comes to town. It is rumored that she's mad. A house party is quickly planned and all our characters retire to the Duke of Gilner's residence. Lisette is a beautiful woman who seems to have a disregard for the manners and restrictions of the ton. She works closely with an orphanage, loves children and seems to possess a vivid imagination. Villiers is immediately taken with her. 

There is also an ongoing storyline that pertains to Villiers' illegitimate children. He has been searching through orphanages for two of them who are missing. Lisette's charity work with the local orphanage makes this a convenient trip for our hero. The children play an important part in this story, with Tobias, his eldest son, as a somewhat key player. Tobias and Eleanor's sister turned out to be my favorite secondary characters. 

Once they are all gathered in the country, the story gets interesting. Sparks fly between Leopold and Eleanor... the passion between them was sizzling and I enjoyed every one of their scenes. Eleanor is sexy and smart but the 'blind love' she had for her old flame got old after a while. These two are a pair of flawed characters whose wit and passion outweigh their insight and judgment.

Lisette on the other hand is strange and brings out the protective instincts in Villiers -- I sincerely wanted her to go away. Villiers must make up his mind as to which woman he thinks will be the best mother for his six children -- and for a man with such poor judgment when it comes to women, this is no easy task.

I had fun with this book. Villiers was not the keenest of men when it came to understanding women or children, and he knew it. He admitted it to all and sundry and still went ahead and made one mistake after another. As his young son Tobias told him, he was "such as ass!"  I still liked him even though I thought his future Duchess forgave him too quickly. She should have made him beg for at least a year! 

The edginess I found in Villiers' character at the beginning of the series was mostly gone by the end of the series. He was really a pale reflection of the man we first met in Desperate Duchesses. Ms. James developed his character throughout this long series and we saw him grow and change slowly. I found myself liking him at the end but not quite loving his character as much as I did in the beginning. I missed that edge. 

All in all this was a good Georgian romp, with a full set of great characters and quite a few enjoyable moments for me. A nice ending to a long series, I give this one a B. 

Complete series:
A Duke of Her Own

Visit the author here. Read an excerpt here

Thursday, September 3, 2009

To the readers of this blog,

So this summer really did me in. It was non stop action and I was pulled in many different directions, none of which was toward reading.

I talked with Hilcia about this already, but now I wanted to put it out there to my readers. As of right now, I'm considering going on a hiatus. I don't have the time to read and update the blog the way I would like. I originally brought on Hilcia to help me out with this problem and she did a great job. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to help her out and fell off with my reading and reviews, for which I feel stressed and horrible about.

Over the last month I have been able to finish up the books that I had prior commitments to, and the reviews for those will be going up all this month. I also have a few reviews for Book Binge that I will be passing on to Holly.

I know that you all enjoy Hilcia and her reviews. If you don't already know, you can find her at her own lovely blog, Impressions...

As for the future of Musings of a Bibliophile, at this point, I'm just not sure.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

M/M Romance Reading Challenge - Finished!

As you all know, I've been a participating in the M/M Romance Reading Challenge started by Christina from I Heart Paperbacks. I joined this great Challenge as part of a wonderful team of enthusiastic ladies from The Manhole at The Phade. The official challenge started on April 15 and will end by August 31, 2009.  

This has been a wonderful experience for me personally. Our Manhole team had the most wonderful time coming up with great recommendations and unique category names, but most important of all they were there with some much needed encouragement when some of us were down and out -- that's one great group of ladies! A shout out and many thanks to all of them for sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm. Thank you ladies, you are the best!

The biggest of thanks to Christina from I Heart Paperbacks for starting the Challenge. Thank you Christina! This has been a fun and wonderful experience and my M/M TBR pile is now enormous. Of course, I've "discovered" so many new authors whose backlists I "must read" that I know this Challenge will stay with me for a lot longer than August 31st. 

Since I've been posting most of my M/M Mini Reviews here, I thought I would let you see my completed list. Thank you all for sharing, for your encouragement and for stopping by. 

Completed M/M Romance Challenge List:

1) Animal Attraction 2 Edited by Vincent Diamond - Review at Musings

2) Islands by Samantha Kane - Review at Musings

3) My Only Home by Pepper Espinoza - Review at Musings
4) Recovery by CB Potts - Review at Musings

New Releases
5) Recovery Ranch by CB Potts - Review at Musings
6) Little Tryst by Barbara Sheridan - Review at Musings
7) Best Unspoken by Bryl R. Tyne - Review at The Manhole at The Phade

New-to-Me Author
8) Star Crossed 1: Demon Tailz by Reno McLeod and Jaye Valentine - Review at Musings
9) ePistols at Dawn by Z.A. Maxfield - Review at Impressions...
10) Candy Courage by Angela Benedetti - Review at Musings
11) In the Driver's Seat by Angela Benedetti - Review at Musings

First Book in a Series
12) Three Day Passes - Jarhead Series by Sean Michael - Review at Musings

Small Town M/M Romance
13) Country Boys: Wild Gay Erotica Edited by Richard Labonte - Review at Musings

I Can't Believe I Haven't Read this Author Yet Category
14) Bound by Love by T.A. Chase - Review at Musings

15) Out of Bounds by T.A. Chase - Review at Musings

Out of Comfort Zone
16) Which Way to Dominance by Gavin Atlas - Review at Musings

TBR Pile for over 2 Months
17) Natural Disaster by Chris Owen - Review at The Manhole at The Phade (Summary at Impressions...)

M/M Steampunk
18) Wicked Gentlemen by Ginn Hale - Review at Musings

M/M Cops and Lovers
19) Dancing in the Dark by Jenna Byrnes- Review at Musings

1st M/M Author Ever Read
20) Str8gt Boys by Evangeline Anderson - Review at Musings

Monday, August 17, 2009

M/M Romance Reading Challenge - Part Ten

Wicked Gentlemen by Ginn Hale

Belimai Sykes is many things: a Prodigal, the descendant of ancient demons, a creature of dark temptations and rare powers. He is also a man with a brutal past and a dangerous addiction.

And Belimai Sykes does not work for free and the price of Belimai's company will cost Captain Harper far more than his reputation.

From the ornate mansions of noblemen, where vivisection and sorcery are hidden beneath a veneer of gold, to the steaming slums of Hells Below, Captain Harper must fight for justice and for his life.

His enemies are many and his only ally is a devil he knows too well. Such are the dangers of dealing with the wicked.

Using heavy atmosphere, unforgettable characters and excellent prose, Ginn Hale builds a world in Wicked Gentlemen that grabs you from the beginning and stays with you even after you turn that last page.

Hale builds her world through the first half of the book -- using names like "Brighton House of Inquisition," "White Chapel," and "St. Christopher's Park" in Crowncross, the Holy Capitol and "High Tangle," "Low Tangle" "Underchapel Parish," and "Good Commons," in Hopetown (also called Hells Below), we get a sense of an alternate London and its surrounding Parishes... a familiar setting becomes otherworldly and dark.

The Prodigals we meet here are descendants of the original fallen Demons who abandoned Damnation (or hell) by signing the Covenant of Redemption. It was the promise of Salvation for themselves and their descendants that made them leave their dark kingdom below. In three hundred years the Prodigals are no longer magnificent and that promise is now a double edged sword. 

When we first begin Wicked Gentlemen, Belimai Sykes seems almost familiar, someone reminiscent of an Arthur Conan Doyle character. The setting where we first meet him is a dark library in his home, in what seems like an alternate dark London with gaslights on the streets. Almost immediately, as part of his personality, we encounter a dry, almost morbid sense of humor and are exposed to a shameful addiction. All these facts together with his occupation, that of a detective, help with this sense of familiarity. However, as we go along, although these characteristics are very much a part of Belimai, he emerges as a unique and arresting individual.

The first part of the book -- "Mr Sykes and the Firefly" -- is told through Belimai's point of view and as we get to know his thoughts, we see he is not exactly the nicest of creatures. Indeed with a bit of a twist, Belimai would make an excellent villain. I found him to be an enjoyable, cynical, dry, self-destructive and flawed character.

The moment when Belimai meets Captain Harper is sharp, focused and dark. I loved the exchanges and chemistry between these two -- neither one a nice man/creature, neither one an easy character to like at first. If Belimai is a Prodigal and a demon, then Harper is his biggest nemesis -- an Inquisitor -- and that is exactly what it sounds like. As in the olden days, in this world an Inquisitor is charged with righting religious wrongs, usually through torture. In Hale's world he also dispenses justice -- a combination priest and policeman. The Inquisitors in this case are usually in charge of making sure Demons are purified and stay that way.  Belimai explains it best:
     Harper stood and opened his long black coat, I caught sight of the white priest's collar at his throat as well as the pistol holstered beneath his left arm.

     That pairing fit the Inquisition perfectly. The white band proclaimed the captain's authority to judge and redeem the souls of those awash with sin. The pistol embodied the very earthly duty of each man of the Inquisition to enforce and uphold the law. Salvation became far more appealing when damnation was faced at gunpoint.

Belimai and Harper's personalities emerge slowly as they solve a dangerous mystery together and quite a few interesting secondary characters are introduced. A more intimate relationship between Belimai and Harper is also building at this point and the development is slow and well done. This mystery is successfully solved within the first part of the book as Hale continues her world building, character development and introduces a new mystery in the second part of the book. 

The second part -- "Captain Harper and The 62 Second Circle" -- picks up at the end of part one and it is told through Harper's point of view. This is where we really get to know what this man is capable of -- his strengths and weaknesses. Harper is a man who believes in justice, but doesn't have the heart of a zealot -- there's a lot to discover and I loved the mystery and darkness in him.  The conflict presented in this part of the book was quite intricate and I was happily surprised by the resolution at the end. 

The intimate relationship between these two individuals is key to the story. There is sexual tension and there are two encounters between Belimai and Harper, but it is the growing feelings for each other -- the realization that there could be more for them -- that really made that part of the story special for me.

In Wicked Gentlemen, Ms. Hale presents a complete book with all the ingredients I look forward to in this type of story -- from the world building, to the characterization, to plot and prose, this was a winner for me. There will be a sequel to this book releasing next year and I'll be waiting impatiently for it.

M/M Fantasy/Steampunk: Grade A+
You can visit find this book here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Buddy Review At Breezing Through

I'll be over at Breezing Through having some fun with the lovely Nath. She invited me over to do a buddy review and I jumped at the chance. What could be more fun than to chat with someone who just finished reading the same book, right? 

Well, we chatted.... hmm, had fun... hmm, buddy reviewed the first book in an urban fantasy series we both wanted to try. So come by and have some fun with us.

Nightlife by Rob Thurman 

There are monsters among us. There always have been and there always will be. I've known that ever since I can remember, just like I've always known I was one...

...Well, half of one, anyway.

Welcome to the Big Apple. There's a troll under the Brooklyn Bridge, a boggle in Central Park, and a beautiful vampire in a penthouse in the Upper East Side - and that's only the beginning. Of course, most humans are oblivious to the preternatural nightlife around them, but Cal Leandros is only half-human.

His father's dark lineage is the stuff of nightmares - and he and his entire otherwordly race are after Cal. Why? Cal hasn't wanted to stick around long enough to find out.

He and his half-brother Niko have managed to stay a step ahead for three years, but now Cal's dad has found them again. And Cal is about to learn why they want him, why they always wanted him... for he is the key to unleashing their hell on earth. The fate of the human world will be decided in the fight of Cal's life...
A little poem I found for one of my favorite characters in this story, Robin Goodfellow:

My Dog

To Pan and the Dryads here
I dedicate my hunting spear,
My dog, the bag that holds my store;
I am too poor to offer more!

Nay, but my dog I cannot spare!
He must return my crusts to share,
My daily rambles to attend,
My little comrade and my friend.

Macedonius: 6th century A.D.

Nightlife is Book #1 in the Urban Fantasy, Cal Leandros Series (Half Human, Half Monster, All Attitude). Review here.

You can visit the author and find out more about the series here

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

M/M Mini Reviews: Romance Reading Challenge - Part Nine

Out of Bounds by T. A. Chase

Can a sexy nightclub owner convince an all star basketball player to risk it all?

Professional basketball player Kasey Johnson makes a point of keeping his sexual preference under guard and out of the public eye. Empty, off-season flings are all he can look forward to until he retires. He figures his secret is safe -- until he meets Ingram Fletcher, a nighclub owner who ignites a passionate inferno in his body.

Gram has lusted after Kasey ever since the long, tall basketball player was traded to Phoenix a year ago. But with Kasey's twin brother running interference, up until now Gram's been unsure if it's safe to make a play. Then some incidental contact in the crowded club leads to a kiss that starts Gram wondering if a relationship is possible -- now, and beyond March Madness.

A romantic weekend together answers that question. Now the only one remaining is if Kasey is ready to make a fast break out of his comfort zone.
In Out of Bounds, T. A. Chase touches on a few different themes: gays in professional sports; coming out to the public; privacy vs. the public's right to know. Most importantly Chase focuses on a man's personal needs and happiness vs. his career and having viable future. This is Kasey's dilemma and the one he and Gram must face together.

The contrast between Kasey and Gram's developing relationship and the almost brittle desperation we see in Garrett, Kasey's twin brother, is startling and it serves Kasey well. The protective and close relationship between the brothers was both exasperating and touching -- just as those brotherly relationships tend to be.

Kasey and Gram's story as told by T. A. Chase is full of sexual tension and eroticism. The chemistry between these two is scorching, as is the love that flourishes between them. Although their first encounter comes quick, Chase develops their relationship. Kasey's slow realization that their relationship might be worth more than a few encounters, and Gram's unrelenting and surprising commitment won me over.

Out of Bounds is a wonderful addition to my growing T. A. Chase collection.

M/M Romance Erotica: Hot B+
Find this book here.

M/M Romance Reading Challenge - Part Eight

ePistols at Dawn by Z. A. Maxfield

Choose your weapons.

Jae-sun Fields is pissed. Someone has taken the seminal, coming of age novel Doorways and satirized it. He's determined to use his Internet skills and his job as a tabloid reported to out the author as the fraud and no-talent hack he's sure she is.

Kelly Kendal likes is anonymity and, except for his house, factotum and all around slut, Will, he craves solitude. There's also that crippling case of OCD that makes it virtually impossible for him to leave the house. He's hidden his authorship of Doorways behind layers of secrets and several years' worth of lies -- until he loses a bet.

Satirizing his own work, as far as he an see, is his own dammed prerogative. Except now he has an online stalker, one who always seems several steps ahead of him in their online due for information.

A chance meeting reveals more than hidden identities -- it exposes a mutual magnetic attraction that can't be denied. And pushes the stakes that much higher, into a zone that could get way too personal...

Part Eight of the M/M Romance Reading Challenge, featuring ePistols at Dawn by Z. A. Maxfield
was posted at Impressions...

M/M Erotic Romance: Grade A

Saturday, August 8, 2009

No Limits by Alison Kent

Simon Baptiste's latest SG-5 mission just went south in a major way. It seems like a good time to take are of some business back home in Louisiana. Simon knows it ain't going to be pretty. He's got old enemies in Bayou Allain who won't exactly roll out the red carpet. But Simon's first night back is more than he bargained for: Not only has the homestead gone to hell in a hand basket, but there's a half-naked woman hiding inside it -- a woman whose face Simon knows all too well. It's Michelina Ferrer; the sultry spokes model for her family's Ferrer fragrance empire -- and Simon's been starting at her picture on a billboard outside his Manhattan apartment for weeks...

Micky Ferrer came down to Bayou Allain looking for her old college friend, only to discover that Lisa Landry has been missing for days. As soon as Micky starts asking questions, someone runs her car off the road. She's hiding out in the old Baptiste place when Simon shows up -- and he's the hottest thing she's laid eyes on since she got to town. Simon agrees that something strange is going on and that Lisa's disappearance may be tied to it. As he and Micky search for answers, the sweltering heat makes it hard to keep their heads straight on their hands off each other...even as they unravel the small-town secrets that some people are willing to kill for...
Alison Kent is a new-to-me author, and No Limits a no expectations type of read. I understand this book is part of a long series -- the SG5 -- however, I think it reads well as a stand alone. The above book description is very thorough in the way it outlines the plot, so I'll just outline my thoughts. 

No Limits gives us enough Cajun flavor without really steeping us into the culture or the true southern atmosphere of the Bayou. We get a sense of that flavor from some of the phraseology, usage of language and pacing, but the details are not really found here to provide heavy atmosphere.

Micky, as in Micky Mouse, reminded me of a cross between a super-model and the type of celebrity we see pictured in tabloids all too often. Although initially developed as an immature young woman who acts before she thinks and is adept at running rather than taking responsibility for her actions, her character does show some growth throughout the story. Simon is a character you'll recognize easily. He is a sexy ex-military, ex-mercenary who now works with the SG5 team. He is an alpha male who is not overdone in this story, although a bit brooding. I found the dialogue and tension between these two characters better than the chemistry.

King, Simon's cousin, is one of a memorable cast of secondary characters. A wonderfully brooding Cajun, King caught my attention from the beginning and kept it to the end of this story. Some of the most heated sexual scenes in this book are between King and Paschelle -- King's friend with benefits. As a secondary story, King and Paschelle's troubled, sexual relationship became my favorite part of the book. I certainly looked forward to every single scene where both these characters were included. 

The mystery/suspense in the book was a disappointment for me. The villain of this piece is known almost immediately as is the reason for the crime. There didn't seem to be any surprises at the end. 

No Limits was a mixed bag for me. I thoroughly enjoyed parts of it and thought Ms. Kent's secondary characters made the story -- from Judge Bear and pitiful Lorna to sexy King and Paschelle. However, I felt the suspense was lacking and the ending felt more like a "happily for now" than a "happily ever after." This book gets a C+ from me.   

You can visit the author here. You can read an excerpt here

Thursday, August 6, 2009

More Impressions than Review: The Edge of Impropriety by Pam Rosenthal

The ribald private life of novelist Countess Marina Wyatt is the stuff of public scandal -- and it doesn't hurt the sale of her romances either. But she's totally unprepared for her consuming new affair with Jasper James Hedges, noted art appraiser and her former lover's uncle.
In Marina, Jasper sees a work of art of another kind. And for all of Marina's passionate inventions, nothing can compare to what Jasper delivers -- an erotic and dangerous voyage to the edge of impropriety and beyond.
The Edge of Impropriety is a book that took me by surprise. Frankly, I didn't know what to expect since this is my first book by Pam Rosenthal. 

I found this to be an excellent historical romance with a mixture of fictional, historical characters, and/or based on real people of the times, peppered with beautiful details of time and place. I loved the way the writer allows us glimpses of the "ton" from the outside -- through the eyes of those who resided on the periphery, even the tradesmen. Her observations from that point of view were quite refreshing and kept me turning the pages.

Her hero and heroine are presented as mature adults with responsibilities and not-so-pretty pasts. You must keep reading to really get to know Marina, but there is nothing coy or disingenuous about her -- she is who she is and I loved her character. Jasper is easier to know and is presented as straight forward in his dealings with Marina and complex in his relationship with his family. I found their encounters to be very passionate -- nothing coy in that regard either -- although I found the way Rosenthal went about writing these scenes quite interesting.

For me, the way Ms. Rosenthal resolved conflicts in this book were also refreshing. Secondary characters are interesting and add much to this story. There's a secondary romance in the book that was both sweet and unexpected and a twist at the end to a bit of a mystery. The ending to this book was unusual, yet appropriate in my opinion. The only minor problem I found with the book was the length of some of the internal dialogues, which were a bit long winded at times. The Edge of Impropriety was an A- read for me.

Visit the author here. Read an excerpt here

ETA: Added second Cover to this post. Cover on the left was used for paperbacks and Cover on the right for the Hardcover release.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

M/M Romance Reading Challenge - Part Seven

Islands by Samantha Kane

Lieutenant Commander Gabriel Conlan, United States Navy Seabees, knows he's not in Kansas anymore when he steps off the launch at the small island of Ile Dorée and sees gorgeous Frenchman René Dubois waiting for him on the dock. The year is 1943, the place is the Pacific and the world is at war. Free from the censure of the military, Gabe has an explosive affair with René. But when the world intrudes, Gabe denies René and tries to forget the best sex of his life.

The only westerner on his small Pacific island, René is desperately lonely. When the tall, lanky American steps onto his dock, René knows his life will never be the same. He teaches Gabe how to make love to a man and, unexpectedly, falls in love. René will brave prejudice, Japanese Zeros and Gabe's reluctance to find love at last.
Gabriel Conlan is a man of his times. A man who is used to being in command and control as a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy, but also a man who maintains that same control on his emotions. He knows that he can't let his true self show for a moment or his credibility and career will disappear in an instant. His self-contempt and repressed longings are made evident early on in the story, as well as his lack of experience in the love arena. Oh, he knows what it is to have sex with another man, but love? That, he has never experienced.

René Dubois is a Frenchman and the only westerner in a Pacific Island where he is responsible for all its inhabitants. A lonely and passionate man, René grew up in France where he was accepted as a gay man from an early age. He wears his passionate nature and capability for love like a second skin. Gorgeous and confident, René oozes the type of sensuality and determination that scares Gabriel.

In Islands, Samantha Kane writes a love story heavy in atmosphere and 1940's period details. She makes you feel as if you were there in the Pacific Islands during WWII during those terrible times of war and danger, and yet she provides that oasis for a short period of time where these two characters met and changed each other's lives forever. From the way Gabe held his cigarette, to the pacing of their dialogue, this felt like a period piece. I could visualize it as I was reading it.

Secondary characters and backgrounds are not neglected in this story either. Ms. Kane gives us rich details about the culture of the island and its inhabitants. The Fa'afafine are highlighted in this story as they play a part here. These are young men who think of themselves as females and are treated as such from the time they are children. They dress and act as females and are highly respected within the culture. We also meet other servicemen -- Mr. Watson's story parallels Gabe's, although in a supportive role. Gabriel and René stay as the focus.

For me, this book was a Romance with wonderful erotic scenes. The way René seduced Gabriel and showed him a man could be loved was more than erotic -- I found it moving. Gabriel's doubts and reservations didn't have a chance... not after René called him "Mon Ange" the first time. Their trials and tribulations take place within a short period of time, but the resolution to their conflict takes time. I think this is one of the parts I most appreciated about Islands.

Ms. Kane delivers a complete story with compelling characters, wonderful atmosphere and an intensity to her scenes that left me more than satisfied with this book. For me, Islands is a keeper and it will be re-read. 

M/M Romance: Grade A
You can find this book here

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Review: Hugh and Bess by Susan Higginbotham

When thirteen year old Elizabeth "Bess" de Montacute finds out that she has been betrothed to Hugh le Despenser, she's outraged--to put it nicely. Bess can not believe that her mother and father would wed her off to a man from such a despicable family. His father and grandfather were traitors and executed for it, not to mention Hugh's father's relationship with the once king that went beyond friendship and into something amorous. then Hugh himself was kept as the Queen's prisoner. Bess can not see herself married to a man with such a tainted past. But the King has deemed it so and no amount of pouting can change that.

Hugh le Despenser has worked for years in effort to bring his family's name back from the pits his father and grandfather left it in upon their deaths. And as a way to continue to remain in the King's good graces, he accepts the king's proposal of marrying Bess, a young girl from an upstanding family. Marriage to Bess will please the king and be a beneficial one to Hugh as well, no matter if Bess can't stand him and he's already in love with another woman.

Hugh and Bess enter into their marriage with very different mindsets. Hugh puts the woman he loves out of his life and commits himself fully to Bess, while Bess keeps her distance from Hugh whenever she can and happily basks in the fact that she's still too young to consummate her unwanted marriage. It seems the two will forever be on two separate sides of the coin, but when a betrayal that hurts more than anything brings them closer than they ever thought imaginable and tragedy threatens to ruin all they've worked for, will Hugh and Bess be able to withstand?

This really was a fantastic book and at only 271 pages, it was also a short one. Despite it's few pages, though, Hugh and Bess is packed with great story telling and two very remarkable protagonists. In the beginning of the story, Bess was very child-like, very spoiled, and very head strong. As the story progressed and time passed, the growth that Bess experienced was palpable. The changes in her character could be felt with the passing years in the book. Hugh, as described by Bess, was the "perfect, gentle Knight." He was very much a genteel figure, but his presence was strong. He was most times effortlessly patient, chivalrous, and a good fighter--everything that a Knight should be.

The story is lightly peppered with battle scenes, none of which were, to me, overly done. And as in most all historical fiction, there was tragedy. The overall story is one of two people making the most out of a marriage that they did not pick for themselves, and through that they both find a love that they didn't know existed. Though the ending was bittersweet, it left a hint of promise for all characters involved.

If it seems as though I have nothing bad to say about this book, it is because I don't. I am unable to find even one small complaint. The pace was just right, there was subtle humor laced through, the characters were endearing, and the love story was heartfelt. It is a testament to the wonderful story telling, that in such few pages, I came to feel so strongly about this book. From Beginning to end, Hugh and Bess was a highly pleasurable read. Solid A

Review based on ARC copy from Sourcebooks. You can visit Susan Higginbotham here.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hilcia's Weekly Reads

I'm still trying to catch up to let you know what I've read within the past few weeks.  Last week was a mixed bag for me -- really enjoyed some of my choices but was not so lucky with others. 

For most of last week I read one book, Hidden Currents by Christine Feehan. I had a tough time with this particular read and yes, it took me four days to finish it. Last in the Drake Sisters series, this is Elle and Jackson's story. Elle is the youngest of her sisters and the most powerful of them all. Jackson and Elle have known they are meant for each other for a long time, but neither wanted to give in to the inevitable. 

I've been waiting for this book for a while and was really looking forward to Elle's story. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this book. The characters themselves were likable up to a certain point, however the plot was a huge turnoff for me and I could not get past it. I found the book to be inconsistent and repetitive at times, but that was not my main objection. I blogged about my thoughts and included Spoilers at Impressions... 

On Friday of last week, I went on a bit of an M/M reading binge and with this "big push," I'm only one away from the finish line! Besides the books I've reviewed here, there are quite a few others I have not reviewed, but read. 

Next week I'll be posting reviews on, Islands by Samantha Kane, a recommendation from Renee of Renee's Book Addictions. I must thank her for this recommendation -- a love story that made me sigh. ePistols at Dawn by Z.A. Maxfield was also a last minute addition to my list as this is her latest release -- a worthy one. Last but not least, Out of Bounds by T.A. Chase, an erotic trip through the world of sports. 

And finally, I picked up Boarding Action by Angela Benedetti, a new M/M short piece included in the Walk the Plank anthology, a new release about pirates. Yes, pirates. Ms. Benedetti's short story is set in contemporary times, so please don't expect to find planks and eye patches. A short piece about a "secret crush" with some unexpected events and a final "maybe.":) I didn't read this piece for the Challenge, this was a relaxation read. *g*

This week was also a slow one -- I think summer is just taking its toll -- I read two books, The Edge of Impropriety by Pam Rosenthal and No Limits by Alison Kent. I'll let you know what I think of these two books later on in the week. 

This brings us up to date. So, what have you been reading, any good ones? Any good recommendations?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dont Tempt Me by Loretta Chase

Spunky English girl overcomes impossible odds and outsmarts heathen villains.

That's the headline when Zoe Lexham returns to England. After twelve years in the exotic east, she's shockingly adept in the sensual arts. She knows everything a young lady shouldn't and nothing she ought to know. She's a walking scandal, with no hope of a future... unless someone can civilize her.

Lucien de Grey, the Duke of Marchmont, is no knight in shining armor. He's cynical, easily bored, and dangerous to women. He charms, seduces, and leaves them - with parting gifts of expensive jewelry to dry their tears. But good looks, combined with money and rank, makes him welcome everywhere. The most popular bachelor in the Beau Monde can easily save Zoe's risqué reputation... if the wayward beauty doesn't lead him into temptation, and a passion that could ruin them both.
I found Don't Tempt Me to be a fun read and enjoyed this book by Loretta Chase. Zoe Octavia or "the Bolter," as she's called throughout the book, was one of those female characters that just made me smile and cheer. She's a hoyden with a sense of humor, a bit of naïveté, lots of determination and plenty of sex appeal. She's also a brat and a danger to herself and others when it comes to causing a scandal. I loved her!

Lucien is a man of layers -- a cynical man with nothing to lose and seemingly not a care in the world, except for his loyalty to Zoe's father, Lord Lexham. Lord Lexham became Lucien's guardian when he and his brother were boys. Having lost his whole family, parents and brother, Lucien closed his heart to real love a long time ago. The last straw for him was losing Zoe Octavia when she was kidnapped at 12 years of age.

Zoe provided the much-needed light in Lucien's life when they were children -- after she was lost, Lucien truly gave up. Now, she is really back and a big problem for her family -- although welcomed by her father, after all those years away in a foreign country and having been part of a harem is a concern, especially for her four sisters and her sisters-in-law. She is seen as a walking scandal and social disaster. After an unforgettable scene where Zoe Octavia proposes to Lucien, he decides to take her under his wing, civilize and sponsor her into society.

Lucien is about to be reminded why Zoe Octavia is called "the Bolter," but also why she was the light of his childhood. She takes him along for a ride, full of fun, erotic and tender moments. Zoe and Lucien find themselves again in each other after being lost for so long. 

Zoe's sisters provided a great balance to the story. They reminded me of Cinderella's "mean" stepsisters with redeemable qualities. Their horror at Zoe's unconventional social attitudes was priceless. Their characters were not overly developed, although I thought they provided the right touch.

I found the last third of the book where the story includes criminal intent by some characters a bit forced and too long. Zoe Octavia's past is not as well developed as it could be, but I didn't find that to be a huge detriment to this particular story. It didn't take away from my overall enjoyment of the novel or the characters. 

The amusing dialogue in Don't Tempt Me by Loretta Chase kept me turning the pages starting with Zoe's proposal and through their public and intimate moments. This book gets a B+ from me.

Visit the author here. Read an excerpt of Don't Tempt Me here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mini Reviews: M/M Romance Reading Challenge - Part Six

Dancing in the Dark by Jenna Byrnes

Vice Cop, Nick D'Amato is turning 40 and he and his buddies, Gil and Sam, are three gay cops in a sea of blue. They've had their share of fun and broken relationships, now Gil is feeling the weight of a long-term relationship going south, and Sam is in desperate mode looking for love wherever he can find it. Nick seems to be the only one who doesn't have a problem with being alone or with that upcoming birthday.

Nick is holding out.

William (Squeek) is a hustler who works the streets on Nick's beat. Will has become Nick's dirty little secret. A young man who refuses to change his lifestyle and take help from Nick, even when there is a serial killer on the loose, Will is Nick's obsession and his secret love.

Dancing in the Dark was erotic and dished out enough angst for my taste. Nick's obsession and love for Will are obvious and you can feel his pain, hurt feelings and his love for the young man, as well as his anxiety about the future. The suspense part of the story felt contrived, although it did not affect my overall enjoyment of this piece as it was not really the central part of the story.

Ms Byrne touches lightly on sexual addiction -- a subject key to the story that needed to be better fleshed out. Will's feelings for Nick were not as clearly defined even at the end, and the resolution to their conflict seemed rushed. This novella was a short but complete story with likable characters.

M/M Erotica: Grade B-
Find this book here.

Which Way to Dominance by Gavin Atlas (How the West Was Done Anthology by Editor Adam Carpenter)

Teddy has worked on the Lawson ranch and sheep farm going on four years now, since the age of 16. Roy is the ranch foreman and quite a despicable man who abuses Teddy. For all of his 20 years on this earth, Teddy hasn't had an easy life and doesn't ask for much. Teddy feels that all things considered, his life "could have been worse: and at least he has a job and isn't alone.

One stormy night, Roy sends Teddy to the airport to pick up the new ranch hand, Marco Belini. Marco becomes Teddy's bunkmate, and in getting to know him, Teddy finds a kindred spirit when it comes to gentling horses. In Marco, he also finds a friend and eventually a lover.
Roy was a bully and an abuser. The man took his pleasure by inflicting pain. He was sadistic and uncaring of his partner's pleasure or lack of it -- a brute to both humans and animals alike. I found the abusive scenes disturbing, although Atlas writes them well.

Teddy is a near illiterate young man with submissive tendencies. His rationale for staying and taking Roy's blackmail and abuse was: better than being alone. It seemed to me as if Teddy was afraid of going out into the world on his own. He felt comfortable enough where he was, even if he had to take the abuse.

In comes Marco -- a new ranch hand that travels all the way from Argentina and ends up bunking with Teddy. Marco and Teddy share their love of horses and their abilities to tame them without force. The title, "Which Way to Dominance" in this book can be applied to both Teddy and the horses. Marco's role in this triangle shows us how to use dominance without force.

Although I was repulsed by Roy's character and behavior, I thought Atlas dealt well with both. The abuser in this instance is definitely dealt with, and although we don't exactly know his motivation, his character is well established. The abuse and the consequences are not glossed over. Atlas takes them straight on.

Teddy's character was a bit tougher for me to process. Although it is established that he has a submissive personality, he also emerges as being very dependent. I was ultimately unable to connect with his character and thought that due to the heavy subject in this short story, the victim needed further development.

Marco played the knight in shining armor with lots of tenderness and a soft touch. The perfect way to illustrate "Which Way to Dominance."

M/M Erotica: B-
Find the Anthology here.

Str8te Boys by Evangeline Anderson

How far would you dare to go... to win it all?

Maverik Holms and Duke Warren share almost everything -- a college soccer team, an apartment and the same extremely competitive nature. Thanks to that never-back-down spirit, they're about to share more than they bargained for.

The game is "gay chicken." The rule: get as close as possible without kissing, and the one that pulls away first is the loser. The problem: neither of them likes to lose. It isn't long before the game becomes an excuse to touch and kiss in every possible forbidden way. And after they pose for a gay website to earn extra money, things really heat up.

Suddenly Duke is talking lifetime commitment, and Mav is backpedaling as hard as he can, not sure if he's ready to accept all his best is offering him. Or the truth about what he is.
Oh my! What can I say about this book? Except, that it was tons of fun to read. Evangeline Anderson wrote one of the first M/M books I read, "The Assignment." I still feel nostalgia when I think of that book and my reaction to it *g*... so, when I saw she had a new release, I just had to add it to my list.

Fun and sexy, the characters in this book go from playing "gay chicken" to "super gay chicken" to well... you can just guess. Mav's denial is as deep as the River Nile, and Duke plays the game pretty well, no doubt about it.

Two hot, sexy and likable characters, some erotic games, lots of straight boy denial mixed with angst, and a happily ever after. If you want a light, fun read, you can't ask for more.

M/M Erotica: Grade B-
Find this book here.