Sunday, May 31, 2009

Re-Read Challenge: Dhampir by Barb & J. C. Hendee

For this month's Re-Read Challenge I picked a book that didn't leave a big impression on me the first time I read it, but after some new discussion on it, I wanted to give another go. I know the Challenge is for books you loved the first time, forgive me Nath for going against the grain here.

Magiere and her half-elf companion, Leesil, are con artists. They travel from town to town, ridding superstitious villagers of vampires - or at least pretending to, for a fee, of course. Magiere doesn't believe in the so-called vampires the villagers claim exist, but she and Leesil have set up a Game to make it look as though she is a believer and knows exactly what she's doing. The remorse that she should feel for pulling the wool over the villagers eyes is non existent because of her past, Magiere cares little about taking money she doesn't deserve from the unsuspecting.

After years of the farce, Magiere is over the life and decides to retire. She takes what money she has saved over the years and she and Leesil settle down in the town of Miiska, becoming inn owners. Magiere believes that she has left her past life behind her, but there are some people in town who see Magiere for what she is, a Dhampir, and they are not happy about her arrival in Miiska. Magiere is clueless to her origins, she's always thought that people who believed in vampires were silly and superstitious. But when strange death's begin happening in town, Magiere is faced with the truth about both vampires and herself. In order to save the town of Miiska, she will have to come to terms with who she really is.

The first time I read Dhampir, I felt there wasn't a lot of development for the main characters, Magiere and Leesil. Magiere's character reads a little standoffish in the beginning, and it was hard to connect with her. And Leesil is a drunk and gambler, which made it hard to take him seriously. The second time around I was able to get past that and open myself up to the possibilities of both characters. As the story progresses and Magiere is able to settle into the town of Miiska, her character is easier to connect with and Leesil's as well. When this happens, the story is at its best.

What I liked this time around, that didn't interest me the first time, was the relationship between Magiere and Leesil. I think the first time I read the book, I was looking for character development so I missed the relationship development. In Dhampir there is an uneasy attraction between Magiere and Leesil that they are a little unsure of. One scene in particular and their reactions following it, showed that these two have feelings that go deeper than friends. I'm thinking that this will be shown more in future books, but I don't expect it to be easy since they both seem unsure of themselves when it comes to more than friendship.

A few other characters get a POV in Dhampir. I thought the most interesting of them was the Nobel Dead. Rashed, Teesha, Edwan and Ratboy (all vampires) help the story along with their back story and their actions during the course of the story. It was nice to see how the Noble Dead in Miiska came to be there and I connected with them on some levels, even though they were the bad guys. In my opinion, it is always good to be able to feel a connection to all characters, good and bad, as it makes for a better story.

The first time I read Dhampir I would have given it a C+. The second time around, I took my time with the book and was able to find a new appreciation for Magiere, Leesil, the vampires, lore, and the fantasy world. I can honestly say that a reread has changed my opinion on this book and I'm ready to continue on with the series. Grade B+.

Visit Barb and J. C. Hendee for more on this series.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Brie's Weekly Reads

Last week was a busy one for me so I read very little. Luckily, this week slowed down and I was able to go back to reading normally.

This first book is not recent read but I wanted to talk about it anyway. I read The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan a while ago but never got around to reviewing it. This is the first book in a seven book series. It follows Royce Melborn, thief, and Hadrian Blackwater, his mercenary partner. They make a living taking dangerous and illegal jobs for hire. Their latest job has them mixed up in a crown conspiracy and facing death. In order to save themselves they must make sure that the Crown Prince/King come lately remains safe while finding out who set them up. I found out about this book on Fantasy Book Critic and even if I didn't enjoy it as much as Liviu did, it was a worthwhile read.

Now for this weeks books.

I started out with reading Once Bitten by Kalayna Price. Once Bitten is an Urban Fantasy about a shifter calico cat, Kita Nekai. I ordered once Bitten based on the excerpt from the author's site and also because I thought it would be interesting to read about a shifter calico - that's not something you come across everyday.

Kita has left the shifter world, not wanting to take on the responsibility of being the next in line of leading her clan, and has entered the human world. Now hunters are after her and wish to take her back to her world. On the run, she ends up in the city of Haven and gets drugged, turned into a vampire, and accused of a crime she didn't commit - all in one night. Facing a death sentence, Kita has 72 hours to find the rouge shifter causing mayhem and clear her name.

I think the best part of the story was the relationship between Kita and the vampire who turned her, Nathanial. The mythology is decent, though a little strange. The shifters aren't even clear on their own mythology and are often as surprised as the reader with some facts. There is what looks to be a triangle forming, with Nathanial wanting Kita and her ex mate, Bobby, wanting her too. I can't say that Bobby left much of an impression on me, though I did like Nate. For the most part, I liked Once Bitten and will continue to follow the Haven Series now that it has a five book deal.

For Book Binge, I tried but could not finish The Wicked Ways of Hero by Barbara Metzger. Not really my cup of tea. I'll explain why a little later in a review for Book Binge.

I reread Dhampir by Barb and J. C. Hendee for Nath's Re-read Challenge. I went a little against the rules here since this was not a book that I loved the first time I read it. But after KMont's review for it, I thought that maybe giving it a reread would improve my opinion of the story and it did. More on that to come on Sunday.

I'm almost done with Rewriting Monday by Jodi Thomas. Since I wasn't able to find Twisted Creek in store, I settled for this one. Though, after getting halfway through, I'm not sure if I'd call it settling, as I am really into it. This is definitely a comfort read and a good one at that.

Another book in my rotation is Broken Wing by Judith James. After reading Judith James' upcoming release and being a little wowed by it, I went back to read the much talked about Broken Wing. I had a hard time getting into it the first time around and I seem to be having the same problem now. I'm not sure what it is that's not working for me. Hopefully, I can push through and see better results soon.

I'm into Voice of Crow as well. Taking my time with this one, but it is really good. I especially like the relationship between Alanka and Philip - so sweet! I find what Rhia and Marek are going through hard to read, though - so sad! All in all, this book is shaping up to be an excellent follow up to Eyes of Crow, which I adored.

Last but not least is Silent on the Moor by Deanna Raybourn. Having loved both books one and two in the series, I was expecting to jump right into Moor with no problem. So I was a little upset when I had a hard time getting into this one. I ended up sticking with the story over the weeks and am happy to say that it is finally grabbing me! Looks like Moor will be another great installment. That Brisbane - sometimes I want to choke him.

This may sound strange, but I think that the change in the covers is one of the reasons that I had a hard time getting into Moor. I really don't like when publishers change cover formats, especially when the one they had worked well (for me). I'm sure they did it to draw more romance readers to the series, because we bring in the money, but I loved the covers as were.

Note to publishers: If it ain't broke don't fix it.

Well, that is my reading week in a nutshell. I think I've got some good ones in rotation. How about you?

Hilcia's Weekly Reads

I didn't manage to get much reading done this week or last week. All my plans went down the drain when "real life" took over. A planned, long awaited four day weekend and lots of preparations -- good things!

I fell behind on my M/M Reading Challenge and the rest of my reading schedule. I didn't even get to read The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie as I planned, but I know I'll get back to all of it next week with a bang.

I did manage to start Bad to the Bone by Jeri Smith-Ready, the second book in her Urban Fantasy series. A follow-up to Wicked Game, this is a book that I've been looking forward to reading for a while. Let's see what Ciara, Shane and the WVMP's DJs have to offer this time. I like what Smith-Ready is doing with her vamps and her heroine, let's hope she continues in the same vein.

I also started Ashes of Midnight by Lara Adrian, her latest in the Midnight Breed Series and Andreas Reichien's story. This is not a consistent series for me--I like some books more than others--but I enjoyed the last book Veil of Midnight and am really curious about this character. Let's see where Adrian takes us.

Of course, not reading doesn't mean I didn't go shopping. I picked up a few books I've had in my "to buy" list for a while, Moonstruck by Susan Grant, a sci-fi/futuristic romance--love those. I also picked up the first three books in the YA series Percy and the Olympians by Rick Riordan. I don't usually read YA, but decided to read this series based on the mythology and of course on the first chapter's title "How I Accidentally Vaporized My Algebra Teacher," just kidding. This series had some excellent reviews and the fifth and last book was just released, so I'll be enjoying some youthful magic soon.

Before last week I was luckier and had more time for reading. I finished one paranormal/erotica/sci-fi romance, one paranormal romance and two contemporary romances. I enjoyed some more than others, but didn't hit any bummers-- not something that happens often, but I'll take it.

I started by reading Guardian: Time Hunters by Angela Knight. This is the second book in the Time Hunter series and I would say better than the first installment. Stories of Warlords and Warfems that come from the future and are allowed to time travel to our present, or to our past. Time Enforcers fighting a secret war against their enemy, the Xerans. In the process, while traveling through time, couples meet and fall in lust and in love. This is an erotic book and there are more than a few steamy, erotic scenes, Angela Knight style. I certainly had a good time reading this one... a fast, light read for me.

I continued my week by picking up a paranormal romance.Virginia Kantra's, Sea Witch was a wonderful surprise. I liked the way she used selkies as part of her paranormal world instead of vampires or werewolves, it made for a refreshing change. Caleb, a human, came off as a real hero on this one and that was also refreshing. But the paranormal aspect of this book, although very interesting and well done, was not my favorite part. No, it was definitely the romance which turned out to be both tender and passionate. My impressions of this one? Well done paranormal with the main focus staying on the Romance and the central characters. This was a book I had on my TBR pile for quite a while on Brie's recommendation--a good one.

Next, I decided to change gears and finally read For the Love of Pete by Julia Harper. Yes, Leslie, finally! Another TBR pile pick. Now, this book is supposed to be a Contemporary Romance, but I'm re-categorizing it to a Contemporary Romance Comedy (of Errors). I don't remember the last time I laughed so hard, while reading a romance book. I liked the interaction between Dante and Zoey, but, the secondary characters in this book deserve a special mention. Pratima Gupta and Savita-di Gupta, a couple of older ladies from India, wreak havoc throughout the story--of course, they don't mean to--and some of their scenes are unforgettable. Even some of the inept villains in this book, with their clumsy attempts and their skewed points of view are funny in a dark sort of way. A great light read that made the work week a great deal lighter.

The other contemporary romance I read was Simple Wishes by Lisa Dale, a book I picked at random--definitely not a light read. But I'll be reviewing that one later, I'll give you my impressions then.

So, have you read any good ones lately? Or did you have a dry reading week like me?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Awards, and Voodoo, and Pins, Oh My!

Musings has received an award from Tracy of Tracy's Place. A fabulous blog that I follow and visit regularly. Thank you, Tracy!

Normally, when I get awarded, I'm excited to be thought of out of all of the other wonderful blogger's out there, but I rarely remember to pass the award along. I know, bad me, but I'm such a huge procrastinator that by the time I think to hand the award out, I've forgotten what the award was and who it came from. I know! Bad me!

But this is an award that can not be forgotten because this award has a little er... gift(?) attached and if I do not pass it on, voodoo doll Brie will be pinned by the mischievous, crazy, and maybe borderline evil, Little CJ. So, you see, my fear is warranted. I do not want to be made into a voodoo doll and relentlessly pinned by Little CJ, therefore I am passing this award along to other unsuspecting victims blogger's.

Now on to business.

I'm awarding Leslie because her blog is one that I follow religiously, and I think everyone else should too.

And Nath, because I love her blog, and she's sweet, and she loves sushi, and because she's hosting the Re-read Challenge that I'll actually make the deadline for this month!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Vision in White by Nora Roberts

I have read many of Nora Roberts' books --part of my book case is full of what I refer to as my "comfort reads" and Nora's contemporary romances make up a large percentage of those reads. So, I was quite happy when I heard she was releasing a new quartet of contemporary romance books, no paranormal, suspense or villains included, thank you. Vision in White, the first book in this quartet is just that, a romance.

Parker, Emma, Laurel, and Mackenzie are both childhood friends and co-founders of Vows, an upscale wedding planning company in Connecticut. They run the business together and each plays a key role. Mac is Vow's super talented wedding photographer and from the beginning it's obvious that she feels most comfortable when behind the lens. She almost seems to prefer living life in "moments" she attempts to capture through her camera.

Mac's childhood was an unhappy one--her parents divorced and promptly remarried several times. Linda, Mac's mother, also had multiple relationships throughout Mac's life and is portrayed as a selfish, self-centered woman who neglected Mac and her needs. Most of Mac's inner conflict comes from trauma caused by a dysfunctional relationship with her parents--mainly her mother--a trauma she can't seem to shake even as an adult. As a result, Mac's family are her friends; they are the only ones she can trust and who have been there for her since childhood. Roberts succeeds in portraying this group of friends as a family who loves, disagrees and fights when necessary.

While planning the wedding for a childhood friend, Mac meets the bride's brother, Carter Maguire, in an unforgettable scene that is painfully amusing. Mac doesn't quite remember him, but Carter certainly remembers her. Mac was that unattainable and unforgettable high school crush for him and here she is again in all her glory--the crush flares up again with a vengeance. Shy and clumsy, Carter is also a handsome and eye catching high school English teacher. His honesty and insecurities provide some of the most humorous and sweet moments in the story.

Carter's friend Bob, a fellow teacher, who decides to give Carter unsolicited advise on how to "go get" Mac, became one of my favorite secondary characters. I enjoyed more than a few chuckles between their dialogue and some of Carter's internal debates about Bob's advise. Bob went as far as giving Carter a list of suggestions and lines to use at strategic moments. Carter started calling them the "Law of Bob." Of course, the dreaded list became a problem; I thought the Law of Bob was going to drive the poor man to drink.

Following, there were several suggestions for greetings or initial conversation points such as You look beautiful, Great dress, I saw these (flowers) and thought of you.

Carter stuffed the list back in his pocket before any of them imprinted on his brain. But not before he'd noted Bob's decree to tune the car radio to classic lite or smooth jazz, on low volume.

He might end up killing Bob, Carter mused.

He drove the next few miles while obsessing about background music before snapping off the radio. The hell with it. He turned into the long, winding drive of the estate.

"What if she's not wearing a dress," he muttered, as despite all efforts Bob's list popped into his mind. And unfortunately, his own question had the image of Mac in black pants and white bra crowding Bob out.

"I don't mean that. For God's sake. I mean, she might be wearing something other than a dress. What do I say then: Nice pants? Outfit, outfit, great outfit, You know it's called an outfit. Dear God, shut up."
I liked the way Carter pursued Mac. He gave her the space she needed to come to terms with her inner conflicts, but he was also persistent and honest about his feelings to a fault. I truly couldn't see how she was going to resist him. On the other hand, Mac was more than surprised when she fell in lust with the professor--he was definitely not her type and she didn't really believe in love or marriage. So what was her answer? An affair. Mackenzie's struggles with her feelings and Carter's belief in his are the core of this story.

Mac's friends are very much a part of Vision in White. We not only get to meet Parker, Emma and Laurel, but also a slew of brides, grooms and assorted family members that make the business as much a part of the story as the characters. Mac's friends as secondary characters, were developed enough for this story --we definitely get a good sense of the dynamics in their friendship and individual personalities are well established. I'm sure we'll get to know each one of them better when their stories are told.

Their business Vows is portrayed almost as a secondary character instead of just the background for the story. Nora's research on wedding planning was excellent; the details are amazing -- from the planning, to the flower arrangements, to the catering and the dresses, this reader learned more than she thought possible, or maybe even cared to, about the business.

I found this to be a sweet, enjoyable romance between the two main characters with plenty of humor and a lovable Beta hero, where the conflict between them was minimal but concentrated mostly on the heroine's personal issues to reach that happy ending. A nice group of friends who are obviously going to have their own romantic happy ever afters added depth to the story. And I can't conclude my impressions without mentioning Vows, the business that felt more like a secondary character and where I thought Roberts' research on wedding planning was excellent, but personally found it to overwhelm the story at times. I give this one a B

Bed of Roses, the next book in this contemporary romance quartet releases November 24th.

Visit Nora Roberts here. Read an excerpt for Vision in White here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Crossroads by Keta Diablo

After four years as a cop, Frank McGuire walked away from the job the same day his partner and best friend, Detective Quinn Brennan died in his arms.  Now a 30-year-old ex-cop, Frank owns his own successful business, McGuire PI.  But there is more to the handsome detective that meets the eye and the Baltimore P.D. still requires his help to solve a string of serial murders plaguing them.

Frank's plate is about to overflow.  Emily Brennan, his old partner's widow, calls him with a request -- find 22- year old Rand, who dropped out of college and has been missing for three months without a trace.  Rand has been struggling with gender identity issues and it seems as if things have come to a head for him.  Frank remembers Rand as a youth who looked up to him with more than adoration and he himself suffers from long suppressed feelings of lust for his ex-partner's son.

The search for Rand sets off a chain of events where Ms. Diablo successfully weaves the suspense and the erotic with some surprisingly raw sexual scenes--especially the first encounter where you can expect to find some very creative use of toys and a scorching erotic D/s scene. 

I enjoyed the suspense in this novella and I can definitely see McGuire, PI working other cases in the future. This is my first book by Keta Diablo and I'm glad I was given the opportunity to read it. She does an excellent job of providing the details, twists and turns, and of tying up the loose ends necessary in suspense.  Her writing flows well as she weaves the suspense and the erotic.

Rand's character is drawn as that of an immature young man and McGuire felt a bit old for him at times, not because of age but because of Rand's immaturity and lack of judgment. There is room for growth in Frank and Rand's relationship, although this story achieved its intent and it does not feel unfinished. I can see Frank continuing to guide Rand through the finer points in their personal and sexual relationship. 

I understand that there's a follow-up to this book, Crossroads Revisited, scheduled to release this month. This second installment should provide the perfect opportunity to experience more of the suspense I enjoyed, and gives me something to look forward to--further exploration of a potentially highly erotic relationship.
M/M Erotic/Suspense: Grade B

You can find Crossroads and Crossroads Revisited at Phaze Publishing, an excerpt for Crossroads is also available here.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Review: The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley

I first read about The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie on The Phade message board. A poster had read and loved it, and let all of the Historical Romance readers know about the book. Then Kristie J read it and was over the moon about the story, especially the hero, and I got a strong itch to have the book in my hands immediately. After searching high and low, I found it on Mother's Day and it was one of my gifts. Lucky me.

Ian Mackenzie has been long thought crazy due to his past and inability to handle life the way "normal" people do. He spent his youth in a mental asylum and following his release, he became mixed up in the murder of a prostitute. Though all fingers pointed to Ian being the killer, he was able to get off based on his family's prominence, but the the whispers about him being a murderer and not to be trusted with women have followed Ian ever since.

Widowed Beth Ackerley has come into new money following the death of a gentlewoman she was Lady companion to. With her new wealth, her world has drastically changed from the one she grew up in. She is now a Lady and engaged to gentleman, Sir Mather. Things are going as well as they can be for Beth until Lord Ian shows up, determined to save her from her betrothal. He knows dark secrets about Sir Mather and needs for her to know the truth about her soon to be husband.

Upon first meeting, Ian takes an immediate liking to Beth and wants her "in his bed." Beth is taken with Ian as well, she finds him to be an an interesting man, unlike anyone she's ever known. She is instantly attracted and intrigued by him - a man that can not even look her in the eyes. Beth takes Ian's news about Mather to heart and calls off her wedding, deciding to take her newly inherited fortune and travel the world, her first stop being Paris.

Beth thinks that she she has left London and the disarming Ian behind, but soon finds that while fleeing London, she has run into more Mackenzie's, and Ian soon follows. Over their time spent together in Paris, Beth becomes attached to Ian, and even the horrible rumors about his past and insistence that he is dangerous, won't deter her. In Ian, Beth finds a love that she didn't think possible after the death of her husband and she is intent on showing Ian that he is not mad, and proving to all of London that Ian is not the murderous man they think him to be.

I truly enjoyed the different take on this romance. Lord Ian was both an interesting and unusual hero because he suffers from Aspergers - a disorder on the autism spectrum which makes interacting in social situations and empathising with other's hard. His disorder made him a refreshing hero because he is honest to a fault and means what he says. Having a hero that flat out tells the heroine that he can never love her and mean it, is an oddity in romance. And even though it is odd, it definitely worked.

A good amount of my enjoyment of Ian, I think, stemmed from his character reminding me a little of my favorite hero to date, Christian Jervaulx from Laura Kinsale's Flowers from the Storm. Like Christian, Ian's combination of disability, vulnerability, and strong will drew me to the him and further into the story.

Even though I liked the story, I do have a few nit picks. The first being the never ending references to Beth's growing up in Bethnal Green. Her upbringing was constantly brought up whenever she faced a difficult situation. As though she was only able to overcome an obstacle because of where she grew up. Of course her childhood would have shaped her, but is it really the only reason why she was able to overcome? Was she not just headstrong because that was the type of person she naturally was and not because of where she grew up? Did her ability to persevere have to be because she was from the slums?

I'm not sure if I'm making sense, as it is hard to put my thoughts on this into words - but the constant references to Beth being able to get trough anything because she'd grown up in Bethnal Green, somewhat stifled her character for me. On the other hand, I did like that Beth was a seasoned woman and that she went after what she wanted. She was headstrong without being stupid and I loved that. I just wish that most of her gumption hadn't been reasoned away through of her upbringing. A simple reference here and there would have sufficed.

And for all of Beth's being from Bethnal Green, she was very naive and trusted far too easily. So, she was only Bethnal Green material when faced with an obstacle, but her upbringing in such a place didn't make her more wary when it came to strange men (The Mackenzie's) shrouded in nefarious rumors? There was also Beth's continual thoughts of being wicked that bugged me, only because it was another repetitive thing about her. I could see her thinking it once, maybe twice, but through the first half of the book she was "wicked" for falling for Ian.

Another problem I had with the story was the surprise discovery/twist. It was lame, campy, almost cartoonish. I haven't seen this mentioned anywhere else, so I'm probably alone in my complaint, but the twist didn't work for me. In fact, it annoyed me and threw me right out of the story. I wish that it hadn't been added to the at all, as it was totally unneeded. I could go on and on about this, but I'll stop now.

Aside from my dislikes, The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie worked on many levels. I adored Ian, liked Beth, the secondary characters were intriguing enough for me to want to read the next book in this series, the writing was solid, the Scots accent's weren't written out in annoying detail, the passionate tension was well done, the love scenes were perfectly executed... There is a lot of praise to go around and overall, it was a really good read. This was my first book by Jennifer Ashley, though she's written a good amount of books, both Historical Romance and Paranormal Romance, but it won't be my last. Grade B.

Visit Jennifer Ashley here. Read the first chapter of The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mini Reviews: M/M Romance Reading Challenge Part Three

Country Boys: Wild Gay Erotica by Richard Labonte

This anthology is a compilation of works by sixteen talented writers beginning with a beautiful Introduction written by its editor, Richard Labonte. Mr. Labonte, a long time city dweller who moved to a small town, wanted to showcase through these short stories, gay men's experiences of life and love in small, country towns. In the Introduction, which I enjoyed as much as the rest of the book, he gives us a bit of his own history and experiences in the small town where he lived openly with his husband Asa -- the book is dedicated to Asa, a touching and fitting tribute. 

There are sixteen short stories in this anthology and every single one of them is worth reading. The writing is diverse, creative and excellent all around. Some of the stories are very short, as in Bear Season by C.B. Potts, and some a bit longer as in Noel, for the Last Time by Wayne Courtois, but all are well developed. 

There were quite a few stories where we are allowed a peek at some erotic, some tender and some wild first encounters -- curious young men in the country, who explore their sexuality together -- and where we meet farms boys, good ole boys, and river boys. 

Opening Day at The Fair by J.M. Snyder is worth mentioning in this category as you can almost hear the buzz of insects, feel the lazy summer day, the heat, the sweat and the yearning when reading it. Goodland Kansas by Jay Neal is a touching coming of age story of three boys in a small town -- "know thyself"-- the beauty or the tragedy.  I loved this story by Neal. These three friends know each other from childhood through adulthood.  We share some of their adventures, moments of self-awareness and discoveries, their differences and in the end their choices.  Laying By written by Dale Chase, where a young man traveling to California with his family, via a wagon train in 1846, experiences sexual awakening and love. But I must say, I was so surprised by River Boy written by Tom Cardamone that I had to read it twice. This was a unique piece set in the Florida river swamps featuring two unusual characters and even more unusual circumstances. Cardamone weaves D/s into the tale of River Boy and Skink in the most unexpected of settings. A story I'll remember.  

Those pesky city dwellers also make appearances while visiting the country. The Farmer's Son by Karl Taggart was a favorite of mine, a story that somehow seemed plausible -- I wonder if our city boy will take his Harley out for a ride down that country road again...hmm. Vincent Diamond's Wrestling Gators is a fast paced, erotic tale that proves once again, that a man wearing a uniform and playing hero will work every single time, and in Hot Eats by Kal Cobalt, a cinematographer finds more than great fried chicken at the local Diner during that lonely third shift. 

There are other stories, Goat Boy by Jack Fritscher, a celebration of manhood the likes of which I've never imagined--it made me laugh and gag at the same time.  And, a beautiful story of home coming by Dominic Santi titled Drum Stone about a Native American who while searching for his roots finds love.

I found this anthology while searching for works by Vincent Diamond, an author who has become a personal favorite. Not only did I find a wonderful story by Diamond, I had not yet read, but I also found a slew of new-to-me authors whose stories I can't wait to research and read. Mr. Labonte certainly reached his goal with this anthology; it is a gorgeous celebration of life, love and experiences in the country. Great find!

M/M Erotic Anthology - Grade: A
You can find this book and other works by Richard Labonte here

Sunday, May 17, 2009

At Last Comes Love by Mary Balogh

Margaret Huxtable has given her youth in order to keep her promise to her dying father to hold the family together until her sisters and brother have grown up. She gave up the chance to marry Crispin Dew, the man she loved, and suffered the pain of learning that he married someone else. But now her siblings are grown up, and her sisters are married.

She is thirty years old and has decided that it is time she married too since the alternative is to be a spinster sister dependent upon her brother and sisters for the rest of her life. She knows whom she will marry. The Marquess of Allingham has asked her several times over the past few years, and each time she has refused. Now she will accept. She has made that decision before setting off for London and the Season. But in London she meets the now-widowed Crispin again and she learns a painful truth about the Marquess of Allingham-just after salving her pride with Crispin by telling him that she is betrothed. She finds herself in an embarrassing situation at Lady Tindell's ball, the first she attends. And then, as she flees the ballroom in near-panic, she collides with the very notorious Earl of Sheringford.

Duncan Pennethorne is the Earl of Sheringford, but his is only a courtesy title. While his grandfather, the Marquess of Claverbrook, lives, Duncan is dependent upon him. And his grandfather has just cut him off without a penny five years after terrible scandal banished him from London and polite society. For private reasons of his own, Duncan is desperate for money and the home he has always considered his own. And so he returns to London to plead with his grandfather.

There is only one way out for him. He must marry someone respectable, someone of whom his grandfather approves, before the marquess's eightieth birthday--which happens to be in two weeks time. There is no time to lose. Duncan attends the very first ball following the ultimatum, though he has not been invited. He is desperately looking over the likely matrimonial prospects when someone who is not looking where she is going collides with him. One might call it fate...
I've been following Mary Balogh's latest historical romance series featuring the Huxtables. Her latest entry, At Last Comes Love was released on April 28th and I picked it up on release day. Balogh happens to be a personal favorite -- not so this series. I'm following it and will finish it. It is Balogh after all. But are these books keepers, books that I'll re-read? Not for me, not this time. Why? So far, although I didn't love the first book in the series, First Comes Marriage, I did enjoy it. Not so with the second installment, Then Comes Seduction, where I had some problems connecting with the heroine as well as with the premise.

Throughout At Last Comes Love, I thought this was the best of the three releases in the series. Margaret is my favorite Huxtable sister and from the beginning I thought deserved happiness and true love. Her experiences with Crispin Dew, the man who broke her heart, were severe enough to make Margaret an intriguing heroine--a woman who sacrificed her love for her family and lost--and for the most part, her character lived up to my expectations. She is portrayed as an honest, direct type of woman who doesn't let life beat her. After her initial moment of cowardice, which was motivated by pride, Margaret comes through.

Duncan Pennethorne is not your usual Balogh hero. He is not the man of impeccable honor or even the charming rake that frequent her books. He is a truly ruined man, one who has committed not one, but two unforgivable immoral acts unpardonable in society's eyes. He is an unhappy man who has made tough choices.  Those choices have affected him and all those around him and will continue to do so in the future.

Duncan was a perfect match for Margaret. They both worked hard at solving their differences and at learning to trust and love again under very difficult circumstances. Margaret's family, while attempting to be supportive and under the guise of taking care of her and her best interests, came off as patronizing and at times hypocritical and judgmental, in my opinion -- especially after some of their own recent experiences. After trusting Margaret to make decisions for them throughout their lives, they didn't trust her to make decisions for herself. Good thing Margaret had a mind of her own.

Balogh's books are mostly character driven, and she usually manages to weave the plot and the characterization almost seamlessly, it's what I love about them. In At Last Comes Love, I didn't find this to be the case; it almost felt as if I were reading two different stories.

In one, the hero and heroine were in the get to know each other, know thyself phase and Balogh did a gorgeous job of it as always. I loved both characters -- their attempts at honest self-analysis and their slow, meandering journey towards love, Balogh style. Plus, (for me this is a plus) as in many of her books, she explores what seem to be her favorite subjects: what makes a man of honor, a woman of character, and in the end is love fated or is it all a matter of chance?

In the other, there was this whole plot with a secret/mystery and a villain that felt forced and that progressed dramatically towards the end of the book. By the time the climactic scene came along, I couldn't believe that was the end of it -- I kept expecting one more secret to pop out of the bushes. The worst part for me was that at the end everyone went into happy-joy mode and I didn't believe that all those involved could be so accepting of the circumstances, nor did I buy the resolution in this case.

The last quarter of the book featuring a not-so-likable child, a contrived and forced conflict and some very one dimensional villains, made this book a frustrating reading experience for me. After having enjoyed most of the book, I was left less than satisfied at the end.

The next installment in this series, Seducing an Angel, Steven Huxtable's story, releases May 19th. I am looking forward to reading all about cousin Constantine Huxtable; his is the story that intrigues me the most in this series. I'm giving this one a C+

Visit Mary Balogh here. Read an excerpt for At Last Comes Love here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier + Giveaway

I'm almost ashamed to admit that My Cousin Rachel is my first book by Daphne Du Maurier. As much as I love Gothic Fiction, I should have read this a long time ago. For years I've been meaning to read the acclaimed Rebecca, but never got around to it. So when the opportunity arose for me to read this book, I jumped on it. And I'm so happy that I did.

They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days. Not anymore, though.

And so begins the dark and winding tale of My Cousin Rachel.

Orphaned at seven years old, Philip Ashley was taken in by his Uncle Ambrose. Under the care of Ambrose, Philip was raised as heir to Ambrose's Cornwall estate. Ambrose, just into manhood, taught Philip everything he knew and Philip looked up to his his uncle--Ambrose's ideals becoming his ideals, especially the ones about not having any use for women. Ambrose believed that he got along so well without a woman that there was no need for them in his life, and Philip took to this notion from a very young age.

The approaching winter of Philip's twenty fourth year, Ambrose retreats to the warmer climates of Italy for health reasons, leaving Philip behind to take care of the estate that he is heir to. Months later, Philip receives a letter from Ambrose stating that he has met a woman named Rachel--a distant cousin and widow left with the debt of her late husband. Later letters reveal that Ambrose has fallen in love with Rachel and married her. Philip is shocked by the news. His uncle had always been against women in general and to find out that he has married is unsettling. Philip, unable to grasp that Ambrose has actually fallen in love, thinks up many unsavory pictures of his Cousin Rachel.

When Philip begins getting letters from Ambrose reporting unsettling things about his health and new bride, Philip becomes alarmed and sets out to help him. He arrives in Italy to bad news, though: Ambrose has died and Cousin Rachel has left the country. Saddened by the news, Philip takes on his duties as head of the estate--heartbroken over Ambrose and convinced that Rachel is to blame for his death. Soon Philip receives news that Rachel is coming to Cornwall. His pride won't let him turn her away so he invites her to stay with him, still thinking her responsible for his uncle's death. But when Philip meets Cousin Rachel, she is not the woman that his wayward imagination thought her to be. This woman surely couldn't be capable of murder, could she?

What comes next is a twisty tale of suspicion, love, good and evil. Many questions come into play regarding Rachel. Is she guilty of Ambrose's death or an innocent? Is she out to get Philip now? Has Philip misjudged Rachel? What I loved about the story is that the answers to all of these questions are left ambiguous. The reader is left to draw their own conclusions from what can be learned through Rachel's stay with Philip in Cornwall. My Cousin Rachel has one of those endings that is deliciously bittersweet. Never getting a clear cut answer to Philip's suspicions, left me a unsure as to how I felt when the story came to a close. I replayed the story over and over in my head, attempting to come up with an answer that made sense. I think it's safe to say that I was haunted by this Gothic Tale long after I finished the book. Grade A.


As you can see, I really enjoyed My Cousin Rachel and I'm happy to share the news that one of you can have the chance to enjoy it, too. Today is the late Daphne Du Maurier's Birthday, and in honor of this special day and author Sourcebooks is giving away a copy of My Cousin Rachel. To enter the giveaway, all you have to do is leave a comment. It's that easy!

Note: After reading My Cousin Rachel, I looked up information on Daphne Du Maurier (May 13, 1907 – April 19, 1989). She is author of The Birds, a short story that was later made into a movie (I love this movie!) by Alfred Hitchcock. It has been said that she felt she lived a double life of both a loving wife/mother, and lesbian. The loving wife and mother being the side that she showed to the world, and her decidedly male (lesbian) counter-persona--the side that was the writer. Over the course of her life she penned over 20 books and wrote three plays. I think it's safe to say that she was an interesting woman.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mini Reviews: M/M Romance Reading Challenge Part Two

Continuing with the M/M Reading Challenge, this week I'm sharing my impressions of three books I was able to finish. My list includes 20 books within 14 different categories. I have completed 6 to date. I've never read Barbara Sheridan's work, so when I heard she was coming out with a new release, I jumped on it and chose Beautiful C*cksucker - Little Tryst as one of two books under the New Releases Category. T. A. Chase is one of those authors that I've been meaning to read, kept hearing good things about, but for some reason never got to. Here is my opportunity, right? I placed Bound by Love under the I Can't Believe I Never Read this Author Category (yes, I made it up); and Animal Attractions 2 is edited by one of my favorite authors Vincent Diamond, a new release, and I just had to read it -- as my first and only choice, it went under the Anthology Category.

Beautiful C*csucker - Little Tryst by Barbara Sheridan

Set in 1987, New York City, this is a well constructed short story involving two detectives from different cultures whose short meeting impacts both their lives. Ray Watts is a New York City detective whose assignment is to chauffeur a visiting foreign Japanese detective around New York City for an afternoon, and is surprised when he meets a beautiful and sexy female detective that sets his pants on fire. Miki Nabeshima, with a completed assignment and some time for leisure, is more interested in getting to know Ray than the City. An invitation for an evening out on the town reveals to Ray that Miki is a he, not a she. Their meeting sets up the stage and Sheridan takes us on a ride from an exclusive BDSM club to the bedroom. An erotic tale of self-discovery.

Barbara Sheridan writes both excellent insight into the characters and an well-rounded plot in this short story. As readers, Sheridan lets us take a good look at these two men, and we get an excellent idea as to what makes them tick. Although there is not an HEA -- after all this IS a tryst -- we do hope that at some point Ms. Sheridan decides to let us share another one of Miki and Ray's encounters.

M/M Contemporary Erotica Short Story - Grade: A-
Little Tryst can be found at Nobel Romance

Bound by Love by T.A. Chase

T.A. Chase touches on two difficult subjects in this book, PT SD and sibling rivalry. Tyler Newsome is coming home to the Lazy N Ranch, tired of the rodeo, he wants to start his own life and stop feeling as if he is an extension of his twin brother JT. He's had a crush on Ren since forever and is looking forward to seeing him again. Tyler is portrayed as a man who has always been responsible for his family, but most of all his brother JT, who is a self-centered, competitive type of sibling and who tends to project his own inadequacies on to Tyler. Tyler is trying to break away from the hold his twin has on him.

Ren Alston and his two brothers own a successful horse ranch in Montana where they specialize in raising dun and grullo Quarter Horses. He and his two brothers are veterans who all suffer from either PT SD or its after-effects. Ren has dealt with the worst part of it, but still has some residual left over symptoms. T. A. Chase integrated this part of the story line with the romance beautifully and realistically. PT SD is a serious subject and he treated it as such, and although he didn't go too deeply into it, I would say with excellent results. Ren was always attracted to Tyler, but with all his responsibilities and the baggage, he was not sure a relationship was possible. Now that Tyler is coming home without JT, Ren sees the perfect opportunity and hopes that he'll get a chance at love.

This was a beautiful story of two men who despite their short comings, inadequacies and in some instances being short changed by life, bloom and flourish together. I loved seeing Tyler grow and become self-assured and self-reliant, and Ren more than deserved to get his one "true" love. With a bit of control and submission and plenty of riding, T. A. Chase gives us more than just a cowboy tale.

M/M Contemporary Romance - Grade: A
Bound by Love can be found at My Bookstore and More

Animal Attractions 2, Anthology edited by Vincent Diamond

Edited by Vincent Diamond, this anthology has one running theme throughout, you guessed it, animals -- all kinds of animals -- who make a contribution to each love story in this small Romance collection. Elusive Blue by Kelly Kiernan - A story of a small town sheriff whose life is that of a solitary, lonely man who meets his match through a blue tiger. Written with a 1950's "feel" this is a romantic story about both intolerance and acceptance. The Case of the Missing Boa by Aaron Michaels, is a "who-done-it" with a sense of humor, the search for the "perfect man" and how he can be found in the most unlikely of places and under the most unexpected of circumstances. Driven by Destiny by Jane Davitt is set in 1930's Hollywood. A black panther, a smooth manager and a hot bodyguard make up this story. Davitt gives us a hot story with a touch of control and submission.

All the stories in this anthology were well written and worth reading -- I certainly enjoyed every single one of them -- but as in most anthologies, we usually walk away with a favorite or two, here are some of mine. Slow and Steady by CB Potts, a beautifully written story set in the Brazilian amazon, features a scientist on assignment with his companions, a cameraman, the narrator and their guide and white, glowing snails. A story about one man's patience and how it pays off. I swear I could smell the jungle and feel the humidity, the descriptions were so descriptive they sucked me right in.

Rodeo Mafia by Julia Talbot, introduces us to an animal rights activist and photojournalist who decides to take on cattle ranchers and the Rodeo by using his photography to prove how animals are being abused at both places. The give and take in this piece was wonderful. Talbot showcased how different points of view can be appreciated and understood when individuals truly listen to each other. A sexy story.

Hiding in Snow by Sean Michael features a photographer and a scientist, who while in the mountains in Uzbekistan to document the plight of snow leopards, are the victims of an avalanche. Showcasing adventure and survival, our men get to know each other under dire circumstances and forge a bond that neither expected, but both ultimately desire. Sean Michael gives us with the perfect ending to this beautifully edited Romance collection.

M/M Romance Anthology - Grade: B+
Animal Attractions 2 can be found at Torquere

Part of Vincent Diamond's editor's proceeds are being donated to animal charities. For this book the charities are Florida Draft Horse Rescue and Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue, where they work hard to rescue, rehab, retire and hopefully adopt members of these breeds.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Dual Review: To Beguile A Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt


Reclusive Sir Alistair Munroe has hidden in his castle ever since returning from the Colonies, scarred inside and out. But when a mysterious beauty arrives at his door, the passions he's kept suppressed for years begin to awaken.


Running from past mistakes has taken legendary beauty Helen Fitzwilliam from the luxury of the ton to a crumbling Scottish castle . . . and a job as a housekeeper. Yet Helen is determined to start a new life and she won't let dust-or a beast of a man-scare her away.


Beneath Helen's beautiful façade, Alistair finds a courageous and sensual woman. A woman who doesn't back away from his surliness-or his scars. But just as he begins to believe in true love, Helen's secret past threatens to tear them apart. Now both Beast and Beauty must fight for the one thing neither believed they could ever find--a happy ever after.

Hilcia and I decided to team up on this one and have a conversational/dual review for Elizabeth Hoyt's To Beguile a Beast. Enjoy.

Brie: Okay Hilcia, Lets get going. What did you think of To Beguile A Beast?

Hilcia: I loved this book, Brie. I thought it was a lovely well-developed Romance that was centered mainly between the Hero and Heroine, well... and the children. I thought their characters were well developed also. I loved both Sir Alistair and Helen in the book, neither let me down, even when the conflict hit its climax.

It did have some weaknesses, but not enough to make me not love this book.

What about you, Brie?

Brie: I'll start by saying that I did enjoy the book. That said, I wasn't wowed. I liked all of the main characters - and, like you, thought that they were well developed. The romance was very sweet, but I think that it moved too fast! Alistair and Helen were in love in just a matter of weeks. Not to say that I didn't like the way that it happened, I thought that it worked well, I only wish that it had been more of a slow build.

What I did love about the story was that the Beauty and the Beast theme worked well. Alistair did fit the description of a Beast. So many times the "scarred hero" isn't truly disfigured. But Alistair was, people screamed at the sight of him. I also liked that Ms. Hoyt didn't stop at the face and extended his disfigurement to one of his hands. His internal angst about his face was believable and well done. I thought he was a great character and hero. I really did like him from the start.

Hilcia: I didn't quite see it as them falling in love too fast, I saw it as a sexual attraction. Alistair was attracted to Helen almost on sight, he found her beautiful and desirable. It took Helen a while longer, but yes they acted on that attraction. This part didn't bother me, they were both so lonely and neglected, they were hungry. I thought Hoyt really highlighted that about both of them. The love, I thought, took a while longer to develop.

I loved what Hoyt did with Alistair's character. He was what I think of as a true "tortured" hero. He certainly had reason to be, it wasn't a contrived situation. The way he was described, he wasn't an easy sight to behold. You already mentioned his physical scars, but I loved his sense of honor and courage, as well as his vulnerability and tenderness. It was obvious that he suffered from psychological scars on top of the physical ones. It was a great combination and I just wanted to eat him up!

Brie: I agree, the sexual attraction was understandable - especially on Alistair's part. But there was something about the speed at which their relationship developed that felt off to me. Whenever a character would make reference to it being "two weeks since so in so..." I would think: Dang, this is moving fast! But I guess that a lot happened in those few weeks to bring them together so strongly.

Moving right along. I've stated before that I'm not a big fan of children in romances. A lot of times I feel like they take something away from the main characters. In this book, Helen's daughter, Abigail has a good amount of POV. I was surprised by that, but at the same time I understood why it was needed. What did you think about Abigail having a POV?

Hilcia: I'm not a fan of children in romances either. Like you, I was also rather surprised by Abigail's POV. In this case, I actually didn't mind the children, they played a pivotal role in the story. Abigail's POV helped us see what was going on in the Duke's home, it is through her eyes that we see him. I thought it was Hoyt's way of showing us the Duke's nature and true feelings for his children -- as well as Abigail's feelings for him. At times, it is through Abigail's thoughts and reactions that we get a better understanding of Helen. Well done, if unusual.

Brie: When Alistair finds out that Helen was the Duke of Lister's Mistress his reaction really surprised me. Since Alistair knew that Helen was hiding something from him, I really didn't expect him to become so upset with her when the truth came out. I get that his reaction was fueled by jealousy, but he had become tender and kind with Helen and I thought that he would take her news in stride. His upset and comments disappointed me a little. How did you take his initial reaction to the news?

Hilcia: I wasn't surprised at all by his reaction, Brie. This is the way I saw it. I didn't think it was just jealousy, he did know that she was running away from a man, however he thought it was a husband. Putting that aside, I thought Alistair was upset about the fact that she lied to him to the extent that she did -- even after they started the relationship. He seemed to be more upset with her about what he saw as her irresponsibility -- having two children outside of marriage, and what that meant to their future -- than he did about her being a mistress, although that bothered him plenty. And, last but not least, he knew the laws of the times, a Duke or any male aristocrat would have automatic ownership of their children. So, yes I understood his reaction and was expecting it.

You know, we've been talking an awful lot about Alistair, but I really liked Helen throughout the story. I think of her as being one of those perfect "imperfect" heroines. What are your impressions of her?

Brie: I liked Helen a lot. I liked that she accepted her faults and the missteps she'd taken, and did what she could to set things right not for herself, but for her children. She was smart in her decisions and a strong heroine in many ways. I really did come to care for her.

What did you think of her back story and how she came to be The Duke's mistress? I had a few qualms with the seduction angle and also thought that Lister was the standard cardboard cut-out bad guy: single minded and non layered. I really wish that his character had been better drawn.

Hilcia: I loved Helen's courage, the risks she was willing to take for her children and her perseverance in the face of rejection when she arrived at Castle Greaves, plus her ingenuity in gaining the position -- I loved that part. She's the type of heroine that recognizes a "good man" when she sees one, for having experienced the wrong one. Most of all, I liked that in the end Helen didn't sell herself cheap, that she gained enough self-esteem to want more for herself and her children.

I thought the Duke's character was definitely one of the weaknesses in the story. I found him to be a bit under-developed. The seduction was easy, but then she was 17 and believed she was in love. Since she was ruined, I do understand a harsh, judgmental family giving her up. Having said that, we certainly don't get to know much about him, I mean here's this monumental villain and yet, I thought his reasons were a bit paltry. No background information on him either. I didn't think Hoyt dug deeply into the other secondary characters either. She really centered this story on Alistair and Helen when it came to character development.

There were about three conflicts going on this story, Helen and Alistair, Helen and the Duke of Lister, the traitor at Spinners Falls. What did you think of the resolutions to the conflicts?

Brie: Helen and Alistair's conflict was was well handled. Their major issues were more internal than anything else, and had more to do with them working things out within themselves. I liked that Helen took steps to become her own woman in the end, but...

(Highlight for spoiler)
[When Helen left Alistair, I thought that was a good decision on her part. Even though she loved him, I felt like she needed time with just her children and herself after everything that they had been through. I had hoped that we would get at least a chapter of her life without Alistair and see her blossom into a more self sufficient woman. I had a little bit of a problem with the speedy resolution to their conflict. I think that they needed some real time apart before moving forward together.] *
(End Spoiler)

As for Helen and the Duke, I felt that his lack of development made that conflict a little dull for me. Because he was so shadowy a character, I felt no real fear or angst when it came to him. This is where my major issue with the story comes into play. I thought that for all the talk surrounding The Duke, he turned out to be no real threat. The resolution was just too easy and anti-climatic.

And the Spinners Falls reveal was interesting. It was nothing that I would have ever thought to guess and looks like it will play into the next book. But in this book the whole Spinners Falls theme felt like much to do about nothing.

Hilcia: I honestly thought the conflict between Helen and the Duke of Lister was going to be a hard one to resolve. The resolution was both simple and effective because of who was involved and where it took place -- socio-political instead of physical -- it was plausible. I guess I've read too many super-villain stories where the obsessed character doesn't give up and that's exactly what I was expecting. Hoyt didn't go for it, and I liked that.

In the end I was more than happy with the way the conflict between Helen and Alistair was resolved. I understood both their reservations and reactions to each other. I thought Alistair's insecurities were understandable. Helen grew to admire and love Sir Alistair, however, even though she was in love, Helen wasn't broken, she thought of herself as worthy of more. Good for Helen!

There really wasn't much of a conflict in this book when it came to Spinners Falls and the traitor. There was a small revelation, if that. I really didn't mind it much, it looks as if it will take center stage again in the next book.

Brie: For me, one of the highlights of Ms. Hoyt's stories are the accompanying Fairy Tales. I thought that Truth Teller was well done. The story of both the Princess and Truth Teller saving each other was very much in line with Helen and Alistair's story. How did you like it?

Hicia: I loved her fairy tale Truth Teller. I haven't read one yet that I haven't liked. I enjoy reading them before starting the chapter to see if her clues to what's going to happen in that chapter are subtle or obvious. I usually re-read the whole fairy tale when after finishing the book to fully enjoy it.

Brie: You know, I've never re-read any any of the Fairy Tales. I need to do that!

So, we've come to the end and while we agree on some points, we also differ on others. Overall, I liked To Beguile a Beast. I enjoyed both Alistair and Helen individually, and together I thought they were a good match. There are some things that I wish had been handled differently, but as a whole, the story was a good addition to the series. I'm going to give this one a solid B.

Oh, and after reading the excerpt for the next installment in the series, To Desire a Sinner, I'm really anxious for November to roll around!

Hilcia: I'm with you on this one Brie, I can't wait for the next installment!

I thought this was a lovely well-developed romance, centered mainly on the Hero and Heroine. The main characters, including the children, were well developed, as was their story. Alistair and Helen found more than each other, through their mutual love they learned how to love themselves and in the process found redemption and hope. I enjoyed this Romance from beginning to end. With a lovely tortured hero and a perfect "imperfect" heroine, this is a definite keeper for me. I'm giving this one an A-.

Visit Elizabeth Hoyt here. Read an Excerpt for To Beguile a Beast here.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Guest Reviewing At Book Binge

I'm at Book Binge today reviewing When A Stranger Loves Me by Julianne MacLean.

I saved his life... and I had much to demand in return.

When he washed up on shore, I knew my prayers had been answered, and that I, Lady Chelsea Campion, need no longer fear poverty and heartbreak. To secure my family's estate, all I needed was a child. Handsome, clearly noble-born, and with no memory of his previous life, the mysterious man was perfect. All I had to do was visit his bedchamber and seduce him. I had expected him to be a skillful, scandalously wonderful lover, but once in his arms I was overcome by something more than mere passion. I had fallen hopelessly, desperately in love.

My plan has gone shockingly awry. But I will not give up a man who makes me feel such wicked ecstasy. No matter his true identity, no matter the secrets he struggles to remember, I will do anything in this world to make this stranger love me.
Check out my review here.

And if anyone is interested, I also reviewed Sea Lord, the final book in Virginia Kantra's Children of the Sea trilogy, earlier this month at Book Binge as well.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Review: Ain't She Sweet? by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

I've been having good luck lately with my library finds - first with The Borgia Bride, then Garden Spells, and now with my latest read, Ain't She Sweet? This book was my first Susan Elizabeth Phillips and it was a good read, and very reminiscent of Garden Spells, though it was published a few years prior. This was supposed to be my April review for the Contemporary Romance Challenge, but I wasn't able to review it on time, so it has become my May entry.

The beautiful Sugar Beth Carey ruled Parrish, Mississippi as a teenager. She surrounded herself with a handpicked group of friends and used her wealthy family's influence to reign over her high school community, making the lives of many students and one particular teacher a living hell. When she left town for college, she didn't look back. Now fifteen years and three divorces later, Sugar Beth has returned to Parrish, down on her luck. No longer the wealthy child she once was, Sugar Beth is intent on finding a notorious painting of her late aunt's that is worth millions. All Sugar Beth wants is to get the painting and get out of town, but finding it isn't as easy as she'd hoped it would be and she ends up in Parrish for an extended stay. Low on cash, Sugar Beth's only choice for a job is with the teacher whose reputation she purposely tarnished.

Colin Byrne's career was almost ruined by Sugar Beth's false accusations. He was a young teacher who happened to get on Sugar Beth's bad side and ended up losing his job over it. Years later his name was cleared but not before the damage to his pride had been done. When he finds out that Sugar Beth has returned to Parrish, Colin is ready to exact the revenge that is fifteen years in the making. The situation is even sweeter now that Sugar Beth has no money and he has become a wealthy author and owner of her beloved childhood home. When Sugar Beth is unable to find a job in town, Colin uses the opportunity to begin his revenge plot and offers her a job as his housekeeper.

With no other options, Sugar Beth takes a big bite of humble pie and accepts his offer. She begins working for the man she wronged so many years ago while the whole town of Parrish laughs at her behind her back and scorns her to her face. Sugar Beth takes her lumps with her head held high, intent on finding the painting and leaving. She hadn't counted on falling for Colin, though, and that changes everything. Sugar Beth shows remorse for her past actions, but nothing short of seeing her brought to her knees will satisfy Colin's need for revenge. As the two verbally spar with each other, the sexual tension intensifies, and the mutual attraction slowly but surely comes into play. That is when things get dicey and the story becomes fully entertaining.

Ain't She Sweet? is a story full of conflict and drama, which makes it my kind of book. What I loved most about it was that both Colin and Sugar Beth were full of the dramatics. Reading the story was something like watching a play, where everything is deliciously overacted. But I'm partial to drama queens so these types of characters work for me. I did have some problems with the story, though. The reason's for Colin and Winnie's anger at Sugar Beth was understandable, she had done both of them horribly wrong, but the anger from her old friends was silly. They went along with Sugar Beth's antics against Winnie, laughing all the way, so in my opinion, they were no better than her. And their reasons for being upset with Sugar Beth just felt hollow. Also, I wish that the surprise twist at the end of the story had been explained to the reader and not just implied. As it was, the last pages of the book felt rushed, which made what should have been a highlight for the reader, a little lackluster.

The sub plots that involved Sugar Beth's half sister, Winnie and her husband, who also happened to be Sugar Beth's ex boyfriend, Ryan, was another low point. I found it hard to like either character. Winnie's reasons for being upset with Ryan were contrived, especially considering that she was the real blame in the whole matter. And Ryan's actions and notions about Sugar Beth seemed out of place. He came off as a snobby opportunist at some points. The only saving grace in the whole subplot was Winnie and Ryan's teenage daughter, Gigi, whose presence brought out the best in all of the characters involved.

For my first SEP book, Ain't She Sweet? was a good pick. Even though I had some problems, the overall story was fully entertaining. I will definitely be looking into her back-list. Grade B

Monday, May 4, 2009

Mini Reviews: M/M Reading Challenge

I am 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 where everyone is having fun sharing recommendations, points of view and coming up with unique category ideas. The official challenge started on April 15 and will end by August 31, 2009. Here are some highlights on three of the books I have read so far.

Three Day Passes by Sean Michael

I wanted to start this challenge by reading not a Romance, per se, but the rawness of Gay Lit previously experienced through Sean Michael's work. In this, the first book in the Jarhead Series, Mr. Michael delivered.  Our main characters are two Marines and a military EMT.  Two of our characters have known each other for years and are more than "bedroom buddies," although we don't know exactly for how long. It almost feels as if we are introduced to them in the middle of the story, and as there are seven books to the series there is room for development. The third character is initially introduced as a "play" partner.  A year later these three men are still sharing each other as lovers.

Each chapter is a three day pass, or encounter, where our characters meet and each is chuck-full of raw sex and passion. It is through those sexual encounters, the "almost" conversations, and all the important things left unsaid, that we become acquainted with and eventually invested in these characters. Surprising? Not really... it's Sean Michael's style of writing and what I enjoy about his work; his ability to convey feelings and emotions with few words, while placing you smack in the middle of a sexually overloaded scene. I recommend Three Day Passes be read by Chapter, and in my opinion, it would be best enjoyed if savored slowly and not rushed, otherwise you may find yourself overwhelmed by the sheer volume of sexual scenes.

Gay Lit Grade: A
Three Day Passes can be found at Torquere

Star Crossed 1: Demon Tailz by Reno MacLeod and Jaye Valentine

Halloween night, Salem, Massachusetts. Jace Burton, a Demon who co-owns the successful bar, Tailz with his brother Konnor, meets Cash Rowan, a Hunter. Jace can feel Cash's darkness, pain and senses mystery, loss and danger -- as a demon he is attracted to all of it and has to find out more -- and this dark tale begins...

This IS a dark tale and one that kept me on edge wondering what else was coming, I quite enjoyed it! The darkness, the creepiness, the sexiness and the angst. These are not your run of the mill demons. I'll be following through by reading the second and third installments in the Star Crossed series. It was short and it made an impression. Not for everyone.

Paranormal Grade: B+
Star Crossed 1: Demon Tailz can be found at Torquere

My Only Home by Pepper Espinoza

Noah Hill has been away from home for 5 years and during that time, he did not keep in touch with friends or family. He left home and never looked back. He is now returning in an attempt to help his aging father. Luke Wesson has lived in Mountain View all his life where he and Noah had been best friends from first grade until Noah left town. Luke was married to his High School sweetheart and is now divorced and the single father of a little girl, Lili.

The "big misunderstanding" as a trope is not one of my favorites and although initially used to launch the story, it did not bother me here as it was cleared up quickly and things started to move. However, when Noah makes the same exact mistake he made the first time -- he decides to leave without explanation -- things started unraveling for me. It took me a couple of days to process this book, I had to really think about what it was that left me feeling so flat after finishing it, I enjoy Ms. Espinoza's writing and had high expectations.

In the end, I concluded that it was the fact that we were told these two men were friends since childhood, and yet, I did not really feel that connection between them... yes, they share some recollections, but that connection was not there to be shared with us as readers. There was a certain coldness to both of them -- even in their wanting of each other -- I didn't really feel the warmth or buy into their HEA.

M/M Contemporary Romance Grade: C-
My Only Home can be found at Amazon