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.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Review: Silent on the Moor by Deanna Raybourn

Silent on the Moor is the third book in Deanna Raybourn's Lasy Julia Grey Mystery series and a nice addition, even if it wasn't as good as I'd hoped it would be. But before I touch on that, let me take you through my enjoyment of this series, beginning with book one, Silent in the Grave. This book is a very remarkable one for me in that it is the first book that I read with a first person perspective that didn't either bore me or make me cringe. I credit not only Ms. Raybourn's way with words and ability to build a scene then end it on a note that made me rush to turn the next page, but also on the character Julia Grey whose witty self-deprecating humor had me laughing out loud and glued to the pages.

My love for the series only grew with Silent in the Sanctuary. Here Julia's relationship with the mysterious and enigmatic Nicolas Brisbane heated up and the mystery, like the one before it, kept me guessing up to the reveal. With this book, The Lady Julia Grey Mysteries became my favorite mystery series to date. That said, I went into reading Silent on the Moor with high expectations and though by the end I wasn't disappointed, it did take me a while to get into the story.

In this installment, Julia and her sister, Portia, ignore Brisbane's letter that warns Portia against coming to Yorkshire as previously planned to help him get his newly acquired estate in order. Julia is convinced that even though Brisbane claims to no longer need the help he once asked of Portia, his strong warning only proves that he is in dyer need of assistance. Julia convinces Portia that they should still go and they continue on with their plans to meet Brisbane in Yorkshire, leaving at once. What they arrive to is nothing like Julia had expected. Brisbane's estate, Grimsgrave Hall, is crumbling and still inhabited by the previous owners, the Allenby's.

Julia finds that Brisbane is not happy to see her, but he's not surprised either. As usual, he avoids and maddens her at every turn. In the face of Brisbane's shunning, Julia settles into Grimsgrave Hall, making friends with a local Gypsy woman and trying to make sense of the prideful and impoverished Allenby women. As Julia learns more about Lady Allenby and her two daughters, Ailith and Hilda, she sympathises with their plight and makes it her mission to help them make some type of fortune out of Lady Allenby's son, the late Redwall Allenby's, Egyptian artifacts. She sets her mind to this and in true Julia Grey fashion, stumbles upon a twisted, deep-rooted mystery in the process.

As I mentioned earlier, I had a hard time getting into Silent on the Moor. I blame this on the mystery, which didn't hit stride until halfway through the book. I hate to be a Negative Nelly, especially since I adore this series, but the major thread in this book, the mystery, ended up being a bit of a dud. The suspense that I'd become accustomed to in reading this series was lacking. It took more than half the book for the actual mystery to truly come into play, and by that time I'd already figured it out--a major sore spot for me when reading a mystery.

The first half of the story is spent catching up with the characters, meeting new characters, and setting up for the mystery to come. The same could be said for Silent in the Sanctuary, the difference for me being that I was less interested in this cast of supporting characters than I was with those in Sanctuary. My disinterest kept the fist fourteen or so chapters from being the page turner the two earlier installments had been.

The high point in this mystery ended up being the relationship development between Julia and Brisbane. A little ironic, huh? Here is where the totally unexpected happened and I ended up being shocked. The events between Juila and Brisbane leading up to the Silent on the Moor finale really set the stage for what came and I was pleasantly surprised. The note that the story ended on was one that left the series open for future books while successfully tying up the overarching romantic plot that began in book one.

Had the actual mystery been as surprising as the romance, I'm sure I would have loved Silent on the Moor. Unfortunately, for me it wasn't. That said, I'm still as big a fan of this series as I've always been. Julia Grey is a great heroine and she has really come into her own over the past three books. I'm very much looking forward to book four in this series and I'm anxious to see where it will take Julia and Brisbane next. Grade B-

Visit Deanna Raybourne here. Read an excerpt for Silent on the Moor here.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Mini-Review: Branded by Fire by Nalini Singh

The Psy Changeling Series

When a brilliant changeling researcher is kidnapped, DarkRiver sentinel Mercy, a cat, and SnowDancer lieutenant Riley, a wolf, must work together to track the young man - before his shadowy captors decide he's no longer useful. Along the way, the two dominants may find that submitting to one another uncovers not just a deadly conspiracy, but a passion so raw that it'll leave them both branded by fire.
Many wonderful reviews have been posted for Branded by Fire -- Lurv A la Mode , The Book Smugglers, Book Binge, to name a few -- I figured I would just post a short, mini-review outlining my final thoughts.

Nalini Singh continues to deliver with her latest installment in the Psy/Changeling series. In Branded by Fire, the romance was the center of the story and it was one of the most sizzling romances in this series, so far. Mercy and Riley set the pages on fire.

The pairing of these two dominant changelings turned out to be both hot and tender. I loved the way Ms. Singh consistently maintained Mercy's alpha characteristics throughout the story. Mercy gave of herself without ultimately loosing herself. Her dominant female characteristics and self-assurance were not lessened to give Riley, another alpha hero, the spotlight. Reiley as an alpha hero was also a winner. The give and take between these two characters made for a balanced and well done romance, gifting us with a strong and passionate pair.

Ms. Singh also delivers on the world building front. The overall arc in the Psy/Changling world stays tight and the story moves forward without sacrificing the romance. This world keeps getting better and it absolutely has my attention. I'm looking forward to learning more about Kaleb, the Ghost, the Net and of course, the Forgotten. Blaze of Memory should give us more on that front and I can't wait.

As you can see, I loved Branded by Fire. Nalini Singh's Psy/Changeling series maintains its place at the top of my Paranormal Romance list. Maintaining the romance focus without losing the tight world building, this installment gets a Hot A

Visit Nalini Singh here. Read an excerpt here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

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

I'm continuing with the M/M Romance Reading Challenge and I made some strides this past week. I am now three books away from reaching my goal of 20. I'll be reviewing the other books I finished separately. Today, I'm featuring the author, CB Potts.

Recovery by CB Potts
Adam can't wait to get back to civilian life after months of military life in a war zone. Things don't go as he plans, though, when his Army buddy and lover dumps him without so much as goodbye, and his family starts pressuring him to make decisions he's not ready to deal with.
When Adam does tell his dad his plan for the future, his father asks him to wait long enough to help out an old friend who lives in Texas, and sends Adam off to decompress some in the back country. There, Adam finds Calvin, a man who knows what it's like to be lost, and who knows just what Adam needs to find his way again. 
Can Calvin and Adam clean up Calvin's land, and Adam's life?
A beautifully written short piece featuring a soldier returning from Iraq. Ms. Potts addresses the difficulties faced by veterans when arriving home, and attemping to incorporate themselves into their families and the routine of daily life. Not only does she show us the soldier's perspective, but we also see how their plight can affect the family unit. The fact that our hero is gay doesn't really play a big factor in the first part of this story as the focus stays on his difficulties adjusting to everyday life after war, and Adam is still in the closet.

There is sexual tension in the scenes between Adam and Calvin and the story definitely gains momentum once Adam goes to the Texas ranch to attempt recovery. Calvin is an older man with a past. A past that is not explored in this book, but that we know is tied to Adam's father. This is a May/December pairing with lots of possibilities.

A happily for now ending was expected, although I found it to be quite abrupt. I knew there was a sequel and had it waiting for me. The characters drew me enough to want to read it immediately.

M/M Romance: Grade B
Find this book here. Read an excerpt here.

Recovery Ranch by CB Potts
Adam and Calvin are still living and loving on Calvin's ranch in back country Texas in this sequel to Recovery. Adam's time at the ranch has helped him a lot, and he and Calvin figure there must be other veterans who could use time on the ranch to find their own peace.

Before they can start, though, they need to get the ranch ready for the men who'll come to heal. They also need to deal with their own relationship as it grows and changes. Then there's Adam's father, who's none too happy to find out that his old friend has become his son's lover.

Will Calvin and Adam be able to survive their trials and tribulations and find the healing and peace they're looking for not only for others, but for themselves as well?

Ms. Potts continues Adam and Calvin's story. In Recovery Ranch she focuses on their developing relationship. Adam is obviously going through the trauma that is PTSD and Calvin is there for him. I chose C.B. Potts books for the Challenge because I fell in love with her writing, while reading one of her very short pieces in an anthology. Ms. Potts does not disappoint in her writing style in Recovery Ranch. She makes you feel Calvin's angst, his desperation at their age differences, and his love for Adam.

"God damn, babe," Calvin said. "Look at you."

Adam turned his head to see. "Am I shining?"

"You have no idea." 

It was like touching an angel, perfect and pure, Calvin thought. He'd had his share of lovers over the years, some young, some pretty, some precious, few both. None had had this radiance about them, this almost inescapable force that drew him in, made him look.

It was moths to the campfire, that's what it was. Or more properly, Calvin reflected, with a wry little smile, it was a moth that had seen him a bunch of citronella lawn candles coming up cold on a big old bonfire, ten feet tall and blazing bright.

Nothing could compare.

"Tell me," Adam urged.

Calvin stopped watching the passage of his hand, even now still starkly tan against Adam's white flesh, to meet Adam's eyes. "Boy, I can't." There was real pain in the words, rent from somewhere between contemplation and comprehension. "There just ain't the words for it."

This just made my disappointment with the end of this book keener. I wasn't disappointed in her characterization -- I fell in love with the characters -- or in her writing. No, both were excellent. My disappointment came with the end of this story. When you have more questions at the end of a book than answers, and the resolutions are temporary ones, then for me there's a definite problem. Not only did I have questions that surfaced in this book, but there are questions still left unanswered from the first installment, Recovery.

I don't mind sequels, in fact I read sequels, but not when the set up for the next book is so obvious that most of the questions/problems are left hanging -- not when the book feels as if these were chapters taken out of a larger book, something left unfinished. Recovery Ranch was a frustrating read for me in the end and for that reason alone, I could not give it a higher grade, even though I wanted to.

M/M Romance: Grade C

You can find this book here. Read an excerpt here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Black Hills by Nora Roberts

A summer at his grandparents' South Dakota ranch is not eleven-year-old Cooper Sullivan's idea of a good time. But things are a bit more bearable now that he's discovered the neighbor girl, Lil Chance, and her homemade batting cage. Each year, with Coop's annual summer visit, their friendship deepens from innocent games to stolen kisses, but there is one shared experience that will forever haunt them: the terrifying discovery of a hiker's body.

As the seasons change and the years roll by, Lil remains steadfast to her aspiration of becoming a wildlife biologist and protecting her family land, while Coop struggles with his father's demand that he attend law school and join the family firm. Twelve years after they last walked together hand in hand, fate has brought them back to the Black Hills when the people and things they hold dear need them most.

I really did enjoy the relationship between Coop and Lil -- their friendship, banter and snark, all the way from childhood through their young adulthood and later -- specially their love for each other. I thought Roberts took her time developing these characters and their relationship, and it worked in Black Hills. The romance definitely took precedence over the suspense.

These two people come from two different backgrounds and upbringing and those differences, although plain to see at the beginning, become blurred for while. However, those same differences are the ones that will eventually drive these two beautiful people apart. Lil, having been loved and nurtured all her life, has a focus and an assurance about her that give her the drive to go after what she wants. Coop, on the other hand, neglected and bullied by his parents all his life, receives nurturing only from his grand parents and that begins at age eleven. His focus is different from Lil's and their lives will inevitably go in different directions.

I could understand both Lil and Coop's points of view. I must admit to being a bit frustrated with Lil for a bit, until I realized that she just couldn't see things from a logical perspective -- she was still heartbroken and too emotionally involved to do so. Lil having been raised in the safety of a family, loved, secure, and with a focus couldn't quite understand Coop's need to prove himself to his father or to himself. I thought this was a real human reaction on her part and quite realistic, really. How could she possibly put herself in his shoes? She never had the need to justify or prove herself to her parents.

I think I fell in love with Coop and his sad/mad eyes from the get go -- although this phrase did get overused a bit! Coop had to make some tough, very adult and wrenching decisions at an early age. Those decisions seemed to have been just as hurtful to him as they were to Lil. He didn't see it as having a choice at the time, and he chose a tough road. I really liked the way neither one of them was easy on the other -- they let each other have it and it was okay -- loved their dialogue.

There's a whole "childhood gone wrong" theme to this book. The choices made by the different individuals who were victims of this childhood trauma, and how their lives turn out depending on the amount of love and nurturing they received (or not). Coop, Farley and Ethan are part of this overall theme. Lil is the exception in that she's the one with the happy and safe childhood. There's a marked difference in how they make their decisions, how their lives turn out, and the final results.

Nora Roberts does some wonderful work when it comes to the research and details covering both the animal preserve area and the Black Hills of South Dakota -- she makes you want to visit those hills. The family relationships and friendships are wonderful, and the secondary romance in the book is sweet and brings the family and friendship part of the story together. 

The suspense was the weakest part of the book. I find this is the case in most of her Romantic Suspense releases. The perpetrator was identified early, and although this didn't make a difference to the suspense, the way it was going to play out also became obvious before the end and that made a difference to me. I found the end to be abrupt--a couple of more pages of Coop and Lil would have gone a long way, in my opinion. 

Overall, I enjoyed Black Hills even with its weak spots. I tend to enjoy the romance part of her books more than the suspense and for me that part was enjoyable. I give this one a B

Visit the author here. Read an excerpt from Black Hills here.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Hilcia's Weekly Reads

June was a busy reading month for me. I reviewed most of my early reads, but missed posting my Weekly Reads post for a couple of weeks. There were some disappointments with new releases along the way, but in general I would say it was not too frustrating.

I decided to give Paranormal Romance a rest and picked up some Historical Romances and a Young Adult Series that I've been reviewing for both Musings and Impressions..., an enjoyable one. Let's see if we can catch up.

Re-read Desperate Duchesses by Eloisa James as a precursor to This Duchess of Mine. I remember loving the initial relationship between Jemma and the Duke of Beaumont, the whole chess theme and of course Villiers, the villain. I also loved and enjoyed the main couple in the book, Roberta and Damon , I thought they were both sweet and hot together, although not as edgy as the Jemma, Beaumont, Villiers triangle. I love historicals set in Georgian times and I thought Eloisa James did an excellent job of setting up this historical series and giving us a taste of the Georgian morals, fashions and of course the hot ticket of the day, chess. This book was a winner for me the first time around and I must admit to enjoying it even more this time. Too bad the rest of the books in the series didn't quite catch or keep my attention.

I followed by reading This Duchess of Mine by Eloisa James. I've been waiting all this time to find out what happens to Jemma and her Duke of Beaumont and couldn't wait to get my hands on it. I must admit to being somewhat disappointed in this book. The characters didn't quite
live up to my expectations or to the initial edginess I found in Desperate Duchesses. It all seemed a bit diluted. The overall romance was pleasing, if somewhat angsty with Jemma still playing some incomprehensible games, Beaumont giving it all he had and Villiers having lost most of his bite. Having said all that, it was an average read for me and I will read Villiers story this month. I must find out how much more humiliation this man can or will take. After all this time, if anyone deserves an HEA in this series, I believe it's Villiers.

Continued by reading and reviewing the first three books in the five book Young Adult series, Percy and the Olympians. You can find the reviews for The Lightning Thief (Book 1) and The Titan's Curse (Book 2) at Impressions... and The Sea of Monsters here. I did finish this series. I read both The Battle of the Labyrinth (Book 4) and The Final Olympian (Book 5) and can say that both these books are Grade A reads. 

There were no disappointments waiting for me and no unanswered questions at the end of this series. Rick Riordan finished the series the way he started it, with wonderful characters and great adventures -- all of it told with great wit and a fast paced narrative that I truly enjoyed. The last two books move quickly and are dark, although not overwhelmingly so. I strongly recommend it for 8th to 12th graders, especially the later books, due to content. An overall "Grade A" Young Adult series all the way.

I also read three historical romances this past week, A Hint of Wicked by Jennifer Haymore was one of them. Triangles in a romance are not my favorite trope and I had some trepidation about picking this one up, but I decided to give it a shot. I must say the triangle part of it was well done. Both men were worthy of Sophie and neither gave up on her. Sophie seemed 
level headed and I was happy with her decision at the end. Having said that, I did find myself rooting for one man more than the other -- I couldn't help myself. That part of the story was well done, but due to personal preference, I didn't really enjoy this book that much. I don't seem to enjoy historicals that focus too much on suspense/crime / spy plots and that part of it was not enjoyable for me. I also found myself being yanked out of the story every time someone called Sophie, "Soph" or Becky, "Becks" -- this reminded me of the beer label. Words can do that to me, specifically in a historical setting.

The other two historical romances I read were Julia Quinn's What Happened in London and Loretta Chase's Don't Tempt Me -- two enjoyable reads. I'll be addressing these as well as the five M/M books I read for the Challenge, the latest Nora Roberts' Suspense Romance, Black Hills and finally the long-awaited Branded by Fire by Nalini Singh, later on.

So, not too shabby -- I've been a busy bee on the reading front. What about you? What have you been reading? Any good recommendations? I'm looking for some good/great Sci-Fi Romances to add to my list!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Review: Love at First Flight by Marie Force

When Juliana and Michael meet while waiting on their delayed flight to Florida, neither are looking for love. Juliana, a hair stylist, is in a ten year relationship with her boyfriend, Jeremy. Their relationship has become a long distance one with Jeremy now living in Florida. After ten years and no real pay off, Juliana isn't sure that there is a future for them.

Michael, a Baltimore City prosecutor working on a big case, is engaged to Paige, and they too are in a long distance relationship. Paige is a beautiful woman, but also a spoiled brat. She has insisted on living away from Michael while she plans their wedding in Florida. Michael has been going through the motions with Paige and is nearing the end of his rope--putting up with her attitude and dealing with the distance between them.

Michael and Juliana hit it off on their flight, talking about everything and getting to know each other. Once in Florida they go their separate ways and When Michael and Juliana meet again, it's on their flight back to Maryland. By this time, both have gone through the wringer with their partners. They console each other over their flight and connect on a level they never expected. When they return home, their relationship continues to slowly develop, but even attraction and affection can't seal a relationship for these two. With meddlesome exes doing all they can to keep Juliana and Michael apart, forging a lasting relationship proves hard to do.

Love at First Flight was a quick read with a nice plot and well drawn characters. It took me a few chapters to warm up, but once I got past the initial character introduction, the story caught my interest and didn't let go. I liked that Michael's case played into the story and not in an overbearing way. The intrigue involved with that thread added an extra layer to the story.

The romance between Micheal and Juliana was angst filled. There were some moments where I thought things couldn't get any worse, and of course, somehow they did. Michael and especially Juliana, had to work out the problems within themselves before they could move on to a healthy relationship. Once they had done that, things fell into place and in the end, everything seemed to work out just the way it should.

Overall, I really liked Love at First Flight. This book was my first by Marie Force and after reading it, I'm eager to try her previous release, Line of Scrimmage, and I look forward to what's to come. Solid B

Review based on ARC copy courtesy of Sourcebooks. Visit Marie Force and read an excerpt from Love at First Flight here.