Saturday, January 30, 2010

Review: Her Secret Fling

Her Secret Fling
Sarah Mayberry
Contemporary Romance
Harlequin/January 2010

From the back cover ~

Jake Stevens - star reporter and celebrated literary genius - is a snake. How else to explain the way he turns Poppy Birmingham's hero worship into loathing with a single conversation? So what if she's got a lot to learn about journalism? Aren't they coworkers now? On the same team? Jake can take his attitude and...

Then during a job-related road trip, their relationship goes from antagonistic to hedonistic in no time flat. And suddenly Poppy can't think of anything more delicious than having a secret fling with Jake. But with all this intensity, can she really keep it no-strings-attached?

Another Sarah Mayberry and another win! The setting is a newspaper, the Melbourne Herald. Our heroine is a former professional swimmer who is the the paper's newest writer. Our sexy hero makes it clear that he isn't happy with the newest staff member. Our heroine is determined to succeed at her new career and refuses to let the hero's rude attitude stop her.

Hmmm... let's start with Jake the jerk. LOL Okay, I totally get why our handsome, award winning writer is not happy when someone with no writing experience is given the job of columnist. He's worked hard to get to where he is and to have someone come in without paying their dues really ticks him off. Mayberry had her work cut out for her when she wrote Jake. He really was a jerk to Poppy when they first meet. Beyond his good looks, I didn't like Jake at first. I liked Poppy and Jake was mean to her. Bastard. So for me to come around to not only liking Jake but liking him with Poppy, Mayberry had to work her magic, and she did.

Poppy Birmingham gives up her swimming career when an injury forces her into early retirement. When offered a job as a columnist she takes it, looking for a career away from the pool. Her first day on the job doesn't go as well as she'd hoped. She does get to meet her hero, columnist and author Jake Stevens. She also gets a rude awakening when he's less than friendly, making it clear that he thinks she's just a dumb jock. This attitude doesn't help Poppy's insecurities. She knows the only reason she got the job is because of her experience in the sports world. She barely finished high school and with that in mind she has enrolled in an evening writing class.

I totally enjoyed Poppy's persistence. The way she refused to let Jake get to her while still finding him attractive. You go girl! Show him what you're made of! She was great when it came to standing up to Jake. There were times when she was barely able to hold it together but she did and I couldn't help but cheer her on. It turns out she's a natural when it comes to getting the story. Her insight into the athletes world gives her writing a unique perspective.

Jake was funny with his irritation and dislike for Poppy while grudgingly admitting, if only to himself, that he finds her attractive.

He couldn't help noting the firm bounce of her ass as she walked. Probably she could crack walnuts with that, too. He wondered idly what she looked like naked. Most swimmers didn't have a lot happening up top, but she clearly had a great ass and great legs. page 20

He's caught and he doesn't even know it. LOL This is early on and Jake is still acting like an ass towards Poppy. Still wallowing in his own problems and willing to take out his frustrations on her. Jake is suffering major writers block. His one and only novel was a huge success but that was years ago. His personal life took a downward spiral and the only writing he has done are his columns for the paper. His second novel is still rattling around in his head and he can't seem to get it out. Maybe he's in need of a muse... or a kick in the ass. :)

After the sexual tension hits it's peak, Poppy and Jake give in to their attraction with a one night stand that continues beyond the one night. Neither wants anyone to know that they have become more than coworkers so they meet in secret. Soon it becomes more than just sex, and something or someone had to change. Mayberry does a wonderful job in developing not only Poppy and Jake's relationship but developing Poppy as a reporter and writer. As she writes, her confidence increases and she blooms. She develops friendships with her coworkers and begins to enjoy her new career. Jake, on the other hand, is closed off with a big "Do Not Enter" sign when it comes to relationships. And he is determined to not let anyone get close. He really needed to be hit with a 2 X 4 before he would acknowledge his feelings. Out of the two, Poppy was the stronger character, causing change in both her own life and Jake's. The way they played off each other and the way they ultimately encouraged each other made for an appealing couple.

Mayberry, for me, has developed into an author that I can count on to give me unique characters, uncommon situations and an interesting story. Fortunately I still have some of her back list to read through while waiting for her next release.

Rating: A

sidenote ~ Every time I typed "Poppy" it started as "Poop". The mind of an eight year old boy lurks inside my head. :D

Friday, January 29, 2010

Roadkill Excerpt...

Rob Thurman has posted an excerpt for Roadkill ~ the fifth book in the Cal Leandros series. Release date ~ March 2. Go to Thurman's LJ to read excerpt.

I am sooo looking forward to this book. Love these brothers!

ETA: Thurman has posted another excerpt here. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

ARC Review: Lessons in French

Lessons in French
Laura Kinsale
Historical Romance/1820's
Sourcebooks/February 2010
ARC from Publisher

From the author's website ~

She is, after all, Lady Callista Taillefaire, jilted three times in spite of her fortune and her father’s best efforts to find her a husband. Now her greatest desire is to win the silver cup at the agricultural fair with her gigantic prize bull, Hubert. But when Callie’s only old flame returns from his long and mysterious absence in France, her quiet spinster life turns upside down.

Dark-eyed, elegant and a magnet for trouble, Trevelyan d’Augustin has given Callie lessons in more than his language in the past. Her father put a harsh and humiliating end to any dreams of romance with a French émigré scoundrel, however, and Callie never thought to see him again. Swallowing his pride, Trev has finally come home to care for his failing mother, but his secrets and misdeeds follow him. Callie soon remembers that nothing is ever peaceful with Trev around. The enormous Hubert vanishes into thin air, one of her former jilts comes back to woo her in a most determined manner—and her bull takes the town by storm! In the midst of these misadventures, Callie finds herself falling in love again with the worst possible man for her…

She's back. And what a lovely way to come back. In Lessons in French Laura Kinsale has written a beautiful love story about friendship and loss, loyalty and love. She's made the heiress wallflower a charming character and the dashing Frenchman endearing in spite of his misadventures. Callie and Trev were each other's first love, then circumstances tore them apart. Now Trev is back, whether for good or not remains to be seen.

There's something about stories of first love that we romance readers can't help but be drawn to. Add to that a second chance at love and we just have to find out what happens. Will they finally get their HEA (Happily Ever After)? For Callie and Trev the road to HEA is filled with one detour after another. It's an adventure of laughter, love, friendship, narrow escapes, hiding from the law and waking up in the arms of your true love.

It's been nine years since Trev left. In those nine years Callie has had three fiancés along with three broken engagements. She is now twenty-seven and unsure of her future. She has recently come out of mourning for her father, the late Earl of Shelford. With her cousin Jasper now the earl and his wife Dolly wishing for both Callie and her younger sister Hermione gone from Shelford Hall, Callie no longer feels welcomed in her own home. It looks as though Callie's hope lies in her sister marrying someone willing to allow Callie to live with them. Not exactly the brightest of futures. Then Trev comes back and her world is turned upside down as she is once again caught up in his adventures.

Callie is a wonderful heroine. She's practical but has this fantastic whimsical side where she daydreams of romantic and humorous scenes of her life as she would imagine it. A fairy tale of sorts with her in control of the outcome. She also has wonderful sense of humor that she shares with Trev. Their banter and joking with each other goes back to their early years together. Another side to Callie is her love of animals, specifically Hubert her large but docile bull. Callie shows that she isn't afraid of hard work and getting her hands dirty when taking care of Hubert. Then something happens to Hubert and Callie is trying so desperately to hold on to her composure, to keep the tears at bay. It's one of those moments it's obvious why Trev loves this wallflower so.

Trev was an amusing, devil-may-care hero. He returns because of his love and concern for his mother. He doesn't expect to find Callie unmarried and still there. He has no plans to stay long but with Trev, plans tend to change and as he and Callie renew their friendship he finds himself pulled towards this woman who he thinks is out of reach. Trev seemed to enjoy becoming involved in plots of intrigue and adventure. When he wasn't engaged in daring plans he was caring for his mother and trying to be a friend to Callie. His love for both of these women came through, making him both vulnerable while still giving him that air of danger. Trev is far from perfect. He makes mistakes and acts rashly with some less than stellar outcomes. But even when he is engaging in some reckless behavior, his love of life and of Callie makes him hard to resist. There were moments when I couldn't help but laugh as I thought, "Oh, what has he done now?"

Kinsale's quick wit and way with words comes through in the dialogue and descriptions of the village, the people and the emotions that make this a fun, boisterous story. Any problems I had with the plot or storytelling were minor. The ending wrapped up a little too neatly with problems that had seemed insurmountable, swiftly taken care of. Then there was Trev's French mother, who I enjoyed but it became a bit annoying when she would get the English word wrong when using phrases and clichés. It was cute the first few times, after that, not so much.

Lessons in French could certainly be called lighter fare than what Kinsale is more widely known for. I would call it an enjoyable love story full of laughter and adventure. Here's to hoping we don't have to wait too long for the next Laura Kinsale release. And while we wait for the next novel, Sourcebooks is re-issuing some of Ms. Kinsales earlier novels. Go to the author's website to find out more.

Rating: A

Monday, January 25, 2010

DIK Review: Darkness Calls

Darkness Calls
Marjorie M. Liu
Urban Fantasy
ACE/July 2009
Hunter Kiss/Book 2 (Plus 2 novellas)

From the back cover ~

They are the obsidian shadows of my flesh - tattoos with minds, hearts, and dreams. By day, they protect me. But when night calls to them, they leave my body, dissolving into their true form - as demons…

Nomad born and bred, demon hunter Maxine Kiss has always relied upon herself to fight the darkness that surrounds her, the predators-human, zombie, and otherwise - who threaten the earth. But one man has penetrated her lonely life: Grant, the last of his kind. With music he is able to control any living creature…including demons. And now his life is in danger.

Haunted by the past, determined to change the future, Maxine soon understands that to save Grant, she has only one choice-to lose control, and release her own powers of darkness…

My first DIK Challenge review and my pick is from Aymless' list. I read the first book in this series, The Iron Hunt and enjoyed it so it was easy to choose Darkness Calls. An added bonus - it was already on my tbr pile. :)

First off there is a lot going on in Darkness Calls. Familiar characters along with some new ones are added to the mix. Could it be read w/o first reading The Iron Hunt? Yes... but I would recommend reading the series in order. There are a number of threads going through the story as well as the continuing relationship between Maxine and Grant. IMO, by reading the series in order you get a full view of the world and characters that Liu has created. She does do a good job with catching the reader up with previous events from the past books, so if you have a short memory like me it's easy to get right back into Maxine's world.

Darkness Calls starts off with Maxine and the boys, as Maxine calls them, hunting zombies. The zombies in Maxine's world are demons who take possession of human bodies and it's Maxine's job to exercise the evil demon and save the host. The boys are what you could call Maxine's guardian demons. While they are separate beings they are very much a part of Maxine and who she is. Even when they sleep, she is aware of them.

By day Maxine is covered in tattoos and by night those tattoos become demons that hunt with Maxine and help protect her. If she dies, they die. Unless she has a daughter to take her place. Liu has given these demons very distinct personalities. Zee is the leader of the five and he's the only one who speaks to Maxine. There's Raw and Aaz who I think of as scouts and soldiers. They, along with Zee, take to the shadows, looking for their target. And there's Dek and Mal. They tend to stay close to Maxine. Dek and Mal also like to hum songs that are oddly appropriate to the situation. All of the boys speak "demon" among themselves. They are thousands of years old with intelligence and ruthlessness on their side. They will do whatever it takes to keep her alive.

I shuddered, unable to control myself. It was almost sunset, and I pushed up my sleeve, revealing tattoos that glimmered in the air with strikes of silver light; scales, claws, red, glinting eyes shining like chips of rubies; and though the boys were not yet smoke, they were close, so close that when they surged upon my skin, I saw them ripple; and I knew the men saw, too. I slid a knife over my arm, sharpening the blade. Feeding steel to the boys. Sparks lit the dim air. The men flinched, and choking hunger bubbled up my throat, making my heart break open like the cloud of a burning storm. page 73

I love the visual Liu gives of the moments right before sunset, right before the boys are freed from Maxine's skin.

Maxine isn't the only one with special abilities. Grant Cooperon is a former priest and a man who can save souls with his music. He is also Maxine's lover. They live together at the shelter Grant runs, The Coop. This shelter is different from others because it not only shelters humans but also the occasional zombie. The zombies that come to the shelter come in the hope of being saved by Grant. This doesn't sit well with Maxine, in her mind the demons that inhabit the zombies are to be killed. Period. It's something that she's had to deal with since falling in love with Grant.

I love the way their relationship is evolving. Maxine isn't used to staying in one place but for Grant, she's willing to try. She does feel guilt over this because as far as she knows, she's the only one of her kind. To settle in one place means the other places go unguarded and she was taught to stay on the move, not to form any bonds with anyone. Grant is a complex character that Liu does a good job making him alpha when he needs to be but he never overshadows Maxine. Grant's gift is different in that he heals where Maxine kills. They are an odd couple that work surprisingly well together. It's the respect that they have for each other that makes them believable as a couple.

Throughout the story I found myself fascinated by the way Liu wove the different players into the finale. The different worlds come together for the battle of good vs. evil. Maxine and Grant are not up against everyday demons but against something far more sinister, more evil than anything they have experienced. With help from some unusual sources, they are able to keep from being killed by the big bad that stalks them. What surprised me about the plot is that I had no problem following along. It's complex and told from Maxine's POV so the reader only knows what Maxine knows but it's written well and the logic holds it together. In the end there are still things we don't understand because Maxine doesn't have all the answers yet.

Darkness Calls sets a fast pace with Maxine and Grant sometimes being the hunters, searching for answers, at other times being the hunted. The times when they were able to have a few moments of peace they revealed how strong their love for each other is. How no matter what, it will survive. Overall an exceptional addition to the series. Next up in the series is the novella, Armor of Roses in the anthology Inked, released this month.

Rating: A

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Happy 101 Award...

The wonderful and talented Christine from The Happily Ever After gave me the sweetest of sweet awards. You probably know Christine but if you don't I'll tell you a little about her. She's very kind and always has something nice to say. She has great taste in books, posts some really good, healthy recipes with great pics and is a bit obsessed with running. ; )

The rules for the Happy 101 Award are:

Copy the award image into a post.
List 10 things that make you happy.
Tag 10 bloggers who brighten your day.
Put in a link to their blogs.
Notify the award receivers.
Recipients should link back to the sender’s blog.

Here are my ten:

1. My family ~ they drive me crazy at times but they also give me infinite amounts of joy.

2. My home ~ it's mine and my families' haven.

3. Friends ~ Both online and RL. When I'm having a bad day I know I can count on them to bring me up and make me smile. :)

4. Reading ~ of course!

5. Shopping ~ for books! I love hunting down old favorites and discovering new ones.

6. Chocolate ~ finding that last Reese's cup in the freezer when I'm craving chocolate = priceless.

7. Sleeping In ~ I'm a night owl so when the weekend comes and I get to sleep in, that makes me very happy!

8. Organizing ~ I love to sort and catalogue. Seeing everything neat and organized gives me a sense of accomplishment.

9. Kicking butt at Spiderman: Friend or Foe ~ this is one video game that I love playing with my 8 year old, as long as I get to be Spiderman. :)

10. My Neighbor ~ I don't know her very well, she keeps to herself, but she makes me happy. Why? Because she's nice and very quiet. Old neighbors were a nightmare!

So there's my ten. I'm not going to tag anyone because those that read my blog make me happy so if your reading this you can consider yourself tagged. :) You can post your ten if you would like or not. Whatever makes you happy!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Review: Getting Lucky

Getting Lucky
Carolyn Brown
Contemporary Romance
Lucky Trilogy/Book 3
Sourcebooks/January 2010

From the publisher's website ~

Teacher Julie Donovan has just relocated to a new town in Texas with her young daughter. Of all the kindergarten classes in all the state, Julie is surprised to see her one-night stand, her daughter's father, enroll his own 5-year-old daughter, all the while pretending they are strangers.

But to Griffin Luckadeau they really are strangers, and Julie's little family is a mess he wants nothing to do with. Julie attempts to make her own way in the town, but local politics, a fire and her daughter's inconvenient friendships all seem to be pushing these two strong-willed Texans together.

Carolyn Brown's final book in her Lucky trilogy takes the reader back to Texas and to the town of Saint Jo. It's here where Julie Donovan has taken a job as a kindergarten teacher. She and her five year old daughter are starting over after living with Julie's parents after her divorce. This is to be a fresh start, getting away from the gossip and rumors that ran rampant after Julie's ex-husband filed for divorce. Annie, Julie's daughter, is not her ex-husband's child.

Griffin Luckadeau is one of the numerous Luckadeaus that populate Texas. He comes from a long line of ranchers and has ranching in his blood. He is also the single father of Lizzy, his five year old daughter who just happens to look like Annie, Julie's daughter. When the two girls meet for the first time in Julie's class they become instant friends. Their bond is a strong one and their parents are not happy about it. When Griffin first meets Julie at the school he doesn't know who Julie is but he thinks she trouble. When he does unravel the truth of who Julie is and how they are connected, it's too late for him to back away from her and Annie. They have become part of his and Lizzy's life.

Julie is just having the worst luck. I felt bad for her when she came face to face with Griffin. Here she is trying to get a new beginning for her and Annie and she can't seem to get away from her past. Add to that the quick friendship that develops between Annie and Lizzy and it just complicates things. Julie doesn't like Griffin, she wants nothing to do with him but understand that she also has to consider Annie. Griffin doesn't trust Julie at all but he also has to consider Lizzy. They're stuck. Then the rumors start up with people talking about the amazing resemblance between Annie and Lizzy.

When Julie is confronted with the rumors of who Annie's father is she tries to deny it which I really didn't understand since it's obvious Annie is a Luckadeau. Then she has a major run in with Griffin's ex. The claws come out and Julie goes from sweet kindergarten teacher to momma bear guarding her cub. I got why Julie was so upset with Griffin's ex. The woman was horrible. What I didn't get was how close to violence Julie was. The women in general throughout the book were very vocal when they became angry. The men seemed tame in comparison. And the women didn't use only words but threats of physical violence as well. This surprised me and had a tendency to take me out of the story.

The kids in the story were really cute and well written. There was Annie, Lizzy and a little boy named Chuck that the girls basically adopt. It was sweet the way they took him under their wing and decided, on their own, that they should take care of him. They would share their lunches and invite him to their homes in spite of the fact that Chuck was a bit of an outcast at school.

Julie and Griffin's relationship goes from wary to angry to cordial to tentative friendship. Then the fire that ravages the area places Julie and Griffin in a position to help each other out. That's when the tentative friendship really becomes more. I liked when Julie and Griffin were getting along and had a common goal that they worked towards. They made a good couple except when they were fighting because the fights seemed to become so childish. If they had simply talked more I think they could have avoided some of the arguments.

The people of the town played a role in Julie and Griffin's relationship. As did Griffin's family. The women were, once again, very protective of Griffin. Almost too protective. Millie and Jane (Luckadeau heroines from first two books) make it very clear to Julie that they don't trust her. It takes a while before the misunderstandings are discovered and the women can finally stop with the threats.

The down home Texas feel comes through in spades in Brown's writing. The reader experiences what life is like in a Texas ranching community. Both the small mindedness and the acts of kindness that Julie experiences. If you like your contemporary romances with a southern, small town flair they you might just like Getting Lucky.

Rating: B-

Thursday, January 21, 2010

TBR Challenge Review: Forever Blue

Forever Blue
Suzanne Brockmann
Romantic Suspense
Silhouette Intimate Moments #742/October 1996
Reissued by MIRA/February 2003
Tall, Dark & Dangerous/Book 2

Blue McCoy was once the hero of Lucy Tait's teenaged dreams -- quiet, dart and dangerous. After high school he left Hatboro Creek, South Carolina, to join the military. Years later, now a Navy Seal, Blue was a man who embodied all of Lucy's fantasies.

Now Blue is back in town, and Lucy is not the person he remembered. She's a no-nonsense police officer -- and a woman Blue can't take his eyes off. But then Blue is accused of murder. And Lucy is assigned his case. Now their brief affair has became part of an extensive investigation, where what's at stake is critical -- Blue's future . . . and maybe Lucy's heart.

January's suggested reading was for a Category. I've decided to follow along with the suggestions since that will help with the selection process and believe me it's a process. :)

Suzanne Brockmann's Troubleshooter series is well known but she actually started writing about Navy SEALs with her Tall, Dark and Dangerous series for Silhouette. I read the Troubleshooter series first, they are full length novels and I enjoyed them so decided to start gathering the Silhouette series. I'd only previously read Prince Joe, the first book in this series. I did like it but it didn't blow me away. It turns out the same can be said for Forever Blue. I liked okay but wasn't wowed by it.

Blue McCoy is a hero right out of every girls dreams. One of those girls is Lucy Tait. They knew each other in high school, barely. Blue was a senior and a popular guy. Lucy was a freshman and an outsider. Their interactions in high school were brief, Blue helped Lucy out a few times. She fell hard, he scarcely noticed her, at least not in the way she hoped he would. Fast forward twelve years - Blue McCoy is back and Lucy Tait is all grown up.

Blue is in town for his stepbrother's wedding. It's awkward since Blue's stepbrother Gerry is marrying Jenny Lee, Blue's high school sweetheart. Lucy still has a torch for Blue and Blue is surprised when he sees Lucy. She's not the tomboy he remembered. Some things never change and pretty soon Blue is helping Lucy out and then Lucy gets a chance to help Blue when he's accused of murder.

Part of the time I was reading Forever Blue I was hoping some of the other SEALs would show up. Maybe blow up a building or car, something. Sadly, it was left up to Blue and Lucy to fight the bad guys. I liked Blue and Lucy together, it was the small town, hicksville setting that I didn't find all that appealing. Too many of those small town stereo-types lived there. The good ole boys network that neither Blue nor Lucy were remotely part of. This put them at a distinct disadvantage when it seemed like nearly everyone in town had tried and convicted Blue.

The murder plot was a bit far fetched but Brockmann pulled most of threads together and finished it off with a rousing car chase. The plot did have some holes. Lucy, a rookie cop, is made the investigator in the murder that Blue is accused of. Blue, shunned by the townsfolk, is banned from the only motel and has nowhere to stay. Lucy has a big house so... that's where her suspect stays, in her house. Oh, boy. Eventually they're sharing a house and a bed. By this point it's obvious there's something shady going on and Lucy doesn't know who she can trust.

I did like how Lucy and Blue became friends then lovers. The memories of their time in high school were sweet as they discovered things about each other they hadn't suspected. Lucy's enthusiasm for everything SEAL was cute. She was a walking encyclopedia and impressed Blue with her knowledge and her interest in his work. Blue didn't intend to come back to Hatboro Creek and fall in love but when he did he fell hard. Of course he waits until the last minute to tell Lucy. Men! LOL

The next book in the series is Frisco's Kid, which I have on the TBR pile. I'll read it, just not sure how soon. I did find Brockmann's writing good but so far I think she does better in the longer format. It could be that I'm just more attached/invested in her Troubleshooter series but I find I simply connected better with them than the SEALs from Alpha Team. Still, a decent story.

Rating: B

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Review: Heartsick

Chelsea Cain
Heart series/Book 1
St. Martin's Press/September 2007 HC
St. Martin's Press/August 2008 mmp

From the author's website ~

Det. Archie Sheridan led the Beauty Killer Task Force for ten years, before the Beauty Killer (Gretchen Lowell) caught him, tortured him for ten days and then mysteriously let him go and turned herself in. Now it’s two years later and Archie, addicted to pain pills and still obsessed with Gretchen, is called off medical leave to hunt a second serial killer. Pink-haired girl journalist Susan Ward is assigned to profile Archie. She knows he’s hiding something. But what? (It’s bigger than a breadbox.)

I've had this sitting on the tbr pile for at least a year. It's one of those books that had a bunch of great reviews, lots of recommendations for it and the author but still it just sat there. My need to read it wasn't there yet. I know it had something to do with the content. It's not a romance so no HEA (Happily Ever After) in this one. I knew I would have to be in the right mood to read it. Well, that mood hit and I read Heartsick in less than a day.

Heartsick is one of those novels that for me, had elements that I wouldn't say I enjoyed but were vital to the overall story. The scenes of torture could have been more graphic but they were plenty graphic for me. I had no problem visualizing what Gretchen did to Archie. I found myself doing some "fast reading" through some of those scenes. I didn't dwell on the details. It was more of a read and move on - fast. I also noticed that my body was more tense when I read those scenes.

The way both Archie and Gretchen are written is very intense. When Cain gets into Archie's head and lets the reader see what he's going through now but what happened to him when he was Gretchen's prisoner, you really get to know him. The way he is able to function and keep going to see Gretchen every Sunday. That was hard to read, his time with Gretchen. They had a very twisted relationship. She kept twisting and manipulating and he couldn't get away, even after she was imprisoned.

While Archie is the main character it was certainly a group effort to catch the killer. Along with Archie's police task force team is Susan Ward. She is a writer for the Oregon Herald. Archie specifically asks for her to follow him as he works the case. She is to write a piece each week about Archie.

Susan was not at all what I was expecting. She is a gritty, ballsy, in-your-face woman. And just about as stubborn as a mule. She is intelligent and writes compelling stories about what it's like for Archie Sheridan to be investigating a serial killer again. I liked that she didn't back down from the more graphic aspects of the murder investigation. She was there in the field with Archie, helping when she could.

The characters are what made this such a memorable read for me. The plot was interesting but there were a few coincidences in the end that left it too neatly wrapped up. I did like Archie and Susan. The way they began as two professional and then became a team with a common goal was well developed. I found Gretchen eerily fascinating and I couldn't help but admire her calculating mind. I plan to continue reading about Archie and Gretchen and their twisted relationship in Sweetheart, book 2.

Rating: B+

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Review: Vision in White

Vision in White
Nora Roberts
Contemporary Romance
Berkley/May 2009
Bride Quartet/Book 1

From the author's website ~

The first book in the Bride Quartet—following the lives and loves of four friends who run Vows, a wedding-planning company. Wedding photographer Mackensie “Mac” Elliot is most at home behind the camera, but her focus is shattered moments before an important wedding rehearsal when she bumps into the bride-to-be’s brother…an encounter that has them both seeing stars.

A stable, safe English teacher, Carter Maguire is definitely not Mac’s type. But a casual fling might be just what she needs to take her mind off bridezillas. Of course, casual flings can turn into something more when you least expect it. And Mac will have to turn to her three best friends—and business partners—to see her way to her own happy ending.

I'm late to the phenomena that is Nora Roberts. I always wondered how someone could write so much and still produce quality work. It seems the more I read of her the less I have to wonder. :)

Vision in White is certainly about the romance of Mac and Carter but there is also a very important relationship that, for me, was just as important. The relationship of the four women who make up Vows is critical to the story. I absolutely loved the interactions of Mac, Emma, Laurel and Parker. They're like sisters and best friends all rolled into one, or four. :) You would think after all the years they've known each other they wouldn't have any secrets but there are still a few that they keep.

Mac is the photographer at Vows and has this incredible ability to get the perfect shot. She works well with her clients, even the difficult ones, but her love life is what's lacking perfection. Mac was a heroine that I liked from the start. She's very good at the business side of taking the pictures for the Vows clients but is still able to maintain her creativity when it comes to taking photos. There is a scene where Mac is taking pictures of Rosa, who is pregnant and is not feeling comfortable in her pregnancy. Mac is able to not only get Rosa to feel good about being pregnant, she gets Rosa to feel beautiful and powerful and that beauty and power come through in the photos. That is Mac's gift - capturing the beauty of the moment.

One of Mac's major weaknesses is her mom Linda, who is a real piece of work. She jumps from man to man which means Mac had no stability growing up. The stability she got growing up came from Parker, Laurel and Emma and their families. Linda also plays the guilt card to get money out of Mac. A real bitch of a mom. I loved it when Mac finally broke free from Linda.

Carter Maguire is a teacher at Winterfield Academy, the local high school. He's also a beta hero. I rarely read betas and when I do they're usually a secondary character, like a sidekick of the hero. This time around Roberts has made the hero a beta. Unfortunately, I think that's what took me so very long to warm up to Carter and take him seriously. Sure he was cute and smart and kind of goofy at times but his uncertainty and nervousness got on my nerves. He does have a good sense of humor and is aware that he has habit of over thinking things. I think the fact that he was aware of this and that he had had a crush on Mac when they were in high school, made it easier for me to like him.

Mac and Carter together were a sweet couple. They had fun together and played well off each other. Carter was the more serious of the two and Mac the more carefree one. This gave the couple a good balance. Mac was gun shy, given her experiences with her mother and her string of boyfriends, Mac isn't too quick to want to get serious. As she gets to know Carter, Mac is able to deal with her trust issues and trust not only Carter but herself.

Overall, a good, solid start to a new series. I was able to get the audio download for Bed of Roses, book 2. It's Emma's story. So far so good and it's making me want to read Laurel and Parker's stories too.

Rating: B+

Sunday, January 17, 2010

No Good Deed...

goes unpunished. Isn't that how the saying goes? Well, I tried. I really do want to decrease the tbr pile but the fates always conspire against me. I went by Goodwill yesterday to drop off some of the kids clothes they've outgrown. As I pulled into the parking lot I see this huge sign in the window ~ 50% Off Everything! As in everything in the store. I ask you, how could I not go in?

It was very crowded but I bravely made my way to the books. :) While I didn't find anything on my list, I always have the list in the car, I did find some potential good reads. The paperbacks were $1 and the hardcovers were $1.50. That's after the 50% off. I already have Kinsale's Flowers from the Storm in paperback, decided to get the hardcover because I just love that Fabio cover!

I've never read anything by Zoe Archer, Liz Carlyle, Janet Chapman or Katharine Kincaid. Brockway, Enoch, McKinney and Michaels I've read in the past and like. So, did I get any good ones?

Something completely unrelated to books. I saw this truly terrifying commercial last night. What are these people thinking, broadcasting something like this without a warning! Why, oh why, won't they think of the children, or the adults who get freaked out by by this shit.

And in case anyone was wondering - we're still shopping for the flat screen tv. We tend to take a long time with big purchases. :)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Re-Read Challenge...

Nath from Books, Books and More Books is once again hosting the re-read challenge. You can read all about it here. I enjoyed it so much last year that I'm joining again this year. But I was thinking of taking a bit of a different approach this time around. Last year, many of my re-reads were favorites from my keeper shelves.

This year, in addition to re-reading some of my old favorites I thought I would throw in a few that, while I liked them, they're only hanging on my shelves because they are part of a series. And I don't like to break up series. I've done it a few times, knowing that if I needed the ones I got rid of I could always get them from the library. It should be interesting to find out how much I like those books in the re-read.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Review: Graceling

Young Adult Fantasy
Harcourt/October 2008
Library book

From the inside cover ~

In a world where people born with an extreme skill - called a Grace - are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of a skill even she despises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to execute his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him.

When she first meets Prince Po, who is graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.

She never expects to become Po's friend.

She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace - or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away... a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

Beautiful writing, exceptional world building and a cast of interesting characters all made Graceling pure pleasure to read. It just goes to prove that YA isn't just for the young but us older readers can enjoy an engaging, well told story regardless of the target audience.

A story where the main character has the ability to kill with her hands. Where that character is 18 years old and feared by most everyone she comes in contact with doesn't bode well for any type of romance. But I think putting aside the fantasy aspect of the story, it's the romance that surprised and engaged me the most. The slow development of Katsa and Po's relationship. Starting off as adversaries of a sort, working their way to friends and then falling in love was done with skill and... grace. :)

Katsa has got to be one of my favorite heroines. She's complex and yet simple at the same time. She has a way about her that is very direct and to the point. But she is able to look beyond what is presented to her and see what might be hidden from her. She knows how people perceive her, she's dealt with the looks and fears since she was a child. She accepts that there are very few people that she can trust and feel comfortable with. All that changes with Po. I loved their interactions, their fighting and conversations. The way Po taught Katsa to play and enjoy the moment. She was still the fighter/warrior, she never lost that but she did become more approachable, less frightening to those that had no reason to fear her.

Po is so very likable. He's intelligent and kind but a fierce fighter when he needs to be. His patience with Katsa is what made me care about him as a character rather than just like him for his abilities, if that makes sense. He seems to have this sixth sense of when to push Katsa and when to pull back. I never felt that he let her boss him around, as much as she tried. It was more that he was aware of his feelings for her much sooner than she was for him and was able to temper those feelings with his knowledge of how she feels about her Grace.

The journey Katsa and Po take is full of sumptuous imagery of the lands of the Seven Kingdoms. There is danger, both from humans and the elements. Po and Katsa are both tested in their physical and mental endurance. And their needs and wants can not always be met, they must at times put the greater good ahead of what they want, sacrifice what is most important to them. The secondary characters all help to showcase the growth of Katsa and Po. The relationship of Katsa with her cousin and childhood friend Raffin and later Po and his family. The way Po's family treated him in comparison to how Katsa was treated by her uncle, King Randa, is such a contrast you can't help but feel sorry for Katsa.

There were some unexpected turns in the plot that I didn't see coming. Cashore dealt well with the logic of the plot, making all the various threads come together. The way Katsa and Po brought out the best in each other while still maintaining that core sense of who they were made me believe that these people could exist and become the heroes they were in Graceling.

Rating: A

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

In Death Reading Challenge...

When I say Eve and Roarke do you think J. D. Robb and the In Death series? If not then this is a great challenge to get you started on the series. Christine at The Happily Ever After is hosting the In Death Challenge. You can go here to read the revised rules but the basics are to read one book in the series a month until you are caught up.

I've got the latest releases, Kindred In Death and the novella Missing in Death to read and then I will be caught up until Fantasy In Death comes out next month. But I've only really "read" the first book Naked in Death. The other books in the series I listened to the audio books. So what I was planning to do once I'm caught up on the series is to go back to Glory in Death, the second book, and read the books and compare the experience to listening to the audio books. Sounds like a plan, right?

1. Naked in Death

*I'll add to this list as I post the reviews/thoughts on each book.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Review: Three Days to Dead

Three Days to Dead
Kelly Meding
Urban Fantasy
Dreg City/Book 1

Dell Publishing/November 2009
Library book

From the back cover ~

She’s young, deadly, and hunted—with only three days to solve her own murder…

When Evangeline Stone wakes up naked and bruised on a cold slab at the morgue – in a stranger’s body, with no memory of who she is and how she got there – her troubles are only just beginning. Before that night, she and the other two members of her Triad were star bounty hunters — mercilessly cleansing the city of the murderous creatures living in the shadows, from vampires to shape-shifters to trolls. Then something terrible happened that not only cost all three of them their lives, but also convinced the city’s other Hunters that Evy was a traitor – and she can’t even remember what it was.

Now she’s a fugitive, piecing together her memory, trying to deal some serious justice – and discovering that she has only three days to solve her own murder before the reincarnation spell wears off. Because in three days, Evy will die again – but this time, there’s no second chance...

What's the worst way to start your day? Waking up on a slab in the morgue in someone else's body would probably top most people's list. Evy Stone knows how it feels to come a breath away from being autopsied. Once she gets up and scares the hell out of the coroner and his assistant she's got to find out just who's body she's in and why. Three Days to Dead takes place over, yep, 3 days. That's how long Evy has to solve her own murder.

Three Days to Dead was a fast ride with a few stops along the way. The city where Evy lives and works is populated by humans and non-humans. In this case the humans are not aware of what lives among them and what sometimes hunts them. It's Evy and her Triad's job to hunt down the dregs (non-humans) who cross the line and prey on the other inhabitants of the city. Not all the supernatural beings are out to snack on humans. Some try to blend in and keep to themselves. It's the other ones that Evy hunts and kills. She's been doing it for four years but now everything has changed. Now Evy is being hunted by her own people and she doesn't know who she can trust.

I had to take a somewhat different approach when getting to know Evy. It was as if I got to know Evy and Chalice to a certain point. Which was interesting because as I got to know them, in a way, Evy was getting to know Chalice. She was still Evy but she was in a body that wasn't at all like her own. She had to adjust to this new body because it didn't have the training Evy had had, it didn't always move the way she wanted it to move. I liked those scenes where Evy's training kicks in but Chalice's body doesn't respond like Evy wants it. A definitely handicap when fighting dregs and well trained hunters.

I liked the fight scenes and the plot for the most part. The problems I had were that it seemed like every possible supernatural being was included in this book. There are gremlins, vampires, shapeshifters, fae, trolls and I'm sure there's more that I've forgotten. I felt at times like I needed a score card. It's not that I don't like series that have a variety of beings, it's that I would have preferred they not all come out and play in the very first book. But that's just me. :)

One thing I kept wondering about was why Evy ended up in Chalice's body instead of the one she was intended for and why didn't Evy try to find that out? I realize she only had three days and had a lot to do in very little time but she did find time for sex. Which was something else that bugged me. You're being hunted by just about everyone, you've got a very short time limit, you need to get some rest or you won't be in any shape to fight but you still find time for sex?

So while I had some problems with Three Days to Dead I still found the story interesting. I liked Evy and the way she had brought herself up out of the foster care system and made her life count for something. I liked the world that Kelly Meding has created enough that I want to find out what happens next. So in that regard I'd say the book did it's job. It entertained me and made me want more. As Lie the Dead, book 2 in the series, is due out this summer.

Rating: B

Monday, January 11, 2010

TBR Challenge 2010...

Keishon at Avidbookreader is hosting the TBR Challenge and again this year I'm joining. YEAH! I need this sooo bad. The tbr mountain has gotten way out of hand. The shelves on my bookcases are starting to bow and I'm running out of room and places to stash the new/used books I get. So drastic measures must be taken! This challenge will make me dig out some of those books that I've had for years but have yet to read. I do want to read more than just one book a month from the tbr pile so my plan is not only to do this challenge but to try to read one book from my tbr pile for every two three books that I read from another source.

Do I think this will drastically reduce the tbr pile? No. LOL The only way I could do that is to stop buying books which will never happen. EVER. So my hope is to keep the tbr pile from getting any bigger. It's a mountain now, if I can keep it from becoming a mountain range, I'll be happy. :)

The TBR 2010 INFO PAGE Go and check out the rules, which are really more like guidelines. Keishon is keeping this fun and has posted suggests for monthly themes which I'm going to try to follow. Looking over the monthly suggestions I've already got some books in mind for each month. And there's a good chance other participants in the challenge will review books that I have on my tbr pile. That could either get me to read those books sooner or clear them off the shelves. Either way, it's going to be fun!

Here are just some of my tbr books...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Very Late Meme...

Christine at The Happily Ever After... did this meme on New Year's Eve as a reflection of her reading for the year. I thought it was a cool meme and started typing mine up, then I dropped the ball and never finished it. Christine reminded me of it and I was like, "Oh, crap, where is that word doc that I started." LOL I found the doc and here it is, better late than never right? :)

My Life According to the Book I Read in 2009

Directions: Using only titles of books you have read this year (2009), complete the prompts below. Try not to repeat a book title.

Describe yourself:
Riding on Instinct by Jaci Burton

How do you feel:
Relentless by Lauren Dane

Describe where you currently live:
Madhouse by Rob Thurman

If you could go anywhere, where would you go:
Virgin River by Robyn Carr

Your favorite form of transportation:
One Lucky Cowboy by Carolyn Brown

Your best friend is:
Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard

You and your friends are:
Too Good To Be True by Kristin Higgins

What's the weather like:
Flat-Out Sexy By Erin McCarthy

Favorite time of day:
Dark of Night by Suzanne Brockmann

What is life to you:
A Reason to Live by Maureen McKade

Your fear:
Over the Edge by Suzanne Brockmann

What is the best advice you have to give:
Dream a Little Dream by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Thought for the day:
Only Pleasure by Lora Leigh

How I would like to die:
Breakfast in Bed by Robin Kaye

My soul's present condition:
Touched by Light by Catherine Spangler

These were harder to come up with than I thought they would be. The hardest one was the last, "My Soul's Present Condition". It's just something I don't think about. Some fit really well and others made me laugh. My BF is dh so that answer is sooo not serious. LOL If you're like me and haven't done this, give it a try and let Christine know. :)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Review: Breath of Fire

Breath of Fire
Fantasy Romance
Dragonfold Series*/Book 1
Dorchester Publishing/July 2009
Library book

From the back cover ~

When the dragon came to claim him, Karl knew his great plan had gone horribly wrong. If he had known the creature was real, he wouldn’t have scoffed at the villagers… and he certainly wouldn’t have been so quick to let them chain him to a rock. Mattaen Initiates trained as warriors, but no man could defeat a dragon.

"My name is Elera, daughter of Shane. And you, Initiate, are my virgin prize.”

She had vanquished the beast and named her price: one night with the virgin sacrifice she’d saved. He’d taken a vow of chastity, but Karl still had a man’s needs—and Elera’s sultry curves made him ache to taste his first woman. With one scorching kiss she shattered his defenses… and led him into a world of deception and seduction, where he’d be forced to choose between the brotherhood that had raised him and the woman whose courage set his heart on fire.

What starts out as the old story of villagers sacrificing a virgin takes a drastic change when a man (Karl) questions their beliefs. Our hero Karl then agrees to trade places with the virgin and he can because... he's a virgin too! But Karl is in for a surprise when it turns out the villagers were right - dragons are real!

The dragons in Kane's book are not shape-shifters but actual dragons. One male dragon with a harem of females. Kane gives the reader the feeling that these dragons have unique personalities and are more than the monsters humans think them to be. I became enchanted with these creatures and felt that by making them more than just props for the humans, they were an essential part of the story.

Elena is an alpha heroine who starts off saving the hero and demanding an interesting payment in return. She wants Karl to spend the night with her. I liked her from the very beginning. There was a bump in the road early on but after that I found her to be an intriguing character. She was smart, loyal, brave and funny with a sarcastic wit that she used well on Karl.

Karl is the hero and he is truly heroic in his beliefs. He has trained for many years as a warrior and as a member of the Mattaen Initiates. I liked Karl and his need for knowledge and his curiosity when it came to Elena and her world. He's only a few days from taking his final vow when he finds himself part of Elena's reward for saving him and the village from the dragon. When he agrees to spend the night with Elena he makes it clear that he has no intention of having sex with her. Elena makes it clear that she will try to change his mind. She doesn't sleep around but she does enjoy sex and has a number of reasons for wanting Karl.

Here's where I had the problem. Elena uses her body to try and change Karl's mind about the no sex and then she uses magic and his virginity becomes a thing of the past. I understand why Elena did it, she even tells him she had no choice, but I still thought it was a dirty thing to do. Karl had explained to her about his vow and his celibacy. His body may have wanted her but in his mind he had every intention of remaining celibate and taking his vow.

So once Karl got past that hurdle the story continued with Karl discovering more about Elena, her land and why she rescued him and needed to spend the night with him. I enjoyed the journey Karl had to take to get to Elena and find the answers he searched for. He was a sponge when it came to learning, always wanting to know more and know why. His knowledge wasn't just books, he was a warrior, a skilled fighter. That knowledge came in very handy in Elena's world.

The fight scenes with the humans and the dragons were exciting, filled with action and tension. I liked the secondary characters, they were developed enough without overwhelming the story or the hero and heroine. Elena's good friend, Tem, played an important role, helping Elena and Karl take on the task of leading Elena's people during a challenging time. Tem is the hero of the second book and I look forward to reading his story.

Tammy Kane has created an intricate world of heroines, heroes and dragons. The twists and turns in Breath of Fire were well plotted and for the most part, held my interest. The story was entertaining and left me wanting to read more of this world. Breath of Fire proved to be a captivating start to a new series. The next book, Fires of Faith, is one I'm looking forward to. No word yet on it's release but I'm hoping for this summer.

Rating: B+

*You can go to TGTBTU to read an interview with Tammy Kane where she talks about writing and the direction the series is heading. There are some mild spoilers. That's were I got the unofficial series name of Dragonfold.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Numbers and Favorites of 2009...

2009 marks the first year that I actually kept track of what I read. I used a simple Excel spreadsheet, keeping track of basic information. I plan to do the same thing for 2010 with maybe a few more columns of information - like date reviewed and grade. I'm still playing around with it but it's getting there.

Total books read- (includes ebooks and audio books): 156

Out of those 156 there were 5 ebooks (I think I missed a few and this is higher) and 33 audio books. Which leaves 118 print books. What surprised me are the number of audio books. I did get a new mp3 player for a birthday present last month and it is wonderful! I download the books from the library website and then upload to the mp3 player all in under 5 minutes. It's so much better than lugging the CD's around. And I can do it all from home!

My favorites of 2009:

Since I didn't review every book I read I decided to use the spreadsheet. As it turns out, I reviewed all but one on the list. I went through and selected my 10 favorite reads of the year. Why 10? I had to stop somewhere and 10 is a nice round number. Most do a top 10 list so I figured why not me? I decided not to include re-reads since many of those are keepers and would have probably taken up half the list. :)

When choosing, I picked the books that stood out and left the most vivid memories. Not all are A+ books but they all left an impact on me.

Stranger/ Megan Hart

Gabriel's Ghost/Linnea Sinclair*

Special Mention ~ Promises in Death/J. D. Robb (audio) - this book was such an emotional read(listen) for me. It's definitely one of my favorites in the series.

*I don't know why I didn't review Gabriel's Ghost. I do remember reading it and getting sucked into the amazing world that Sinclair created. If you haven't read it, you're missing a wonderful story.

And that's it for 2009. Here's to some great reads for 2010!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy 2010!!!

Happy New Year! Did anyone go to parties and kiss a stranger at midnight? Yeah, me neither. :) We're pretty low key around here. The kids and I stayed up until 2 am. Which is why I was still in my pjs at noon today. :D It's been a lazy morning and nothing more strenuous is planned for the rest of the day but going to the movies to see Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. I'm still not sure how/why I agreed to go see it. My guess is that one of the boys asked me while I was reading and I said "sure" without realizing what I was agreeing to. That's okay, movie popcorn will be my treat for sitting through a bunch of squeaking chipmunks. I think Alvin and the boys get girlfriends. LOL

Sunday we, dh and me, might go see Sherlock Holmes. Anyone seen it? I've read some good and some okay reviews for it. It looks good but could be the previews are the best parts.

Tomorrow is full of errands and shopping. And reading, always some reading. :) I'll post my favorite reads of 2009 a little later. And Christine has a cool meme up at her blog that I want to do this weekend. Go check it out and do your own post. I think they'll be fun to read. :D