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Book Review: Ecstasy in Darkness by Gena Showalter (Series, #5) (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

January 16, 2014 Leave a comment

A man's naked back can be seen. He is holding a whip.Summary:
Ava Sans is hoping to move up to a full agent at New Chicago’s Alien Investigation and Removal (AIR) team.  But before she can, she and her best friend, Noelle, are assigned to capture a powerful vampire who can manipulate time.  McKell, recently cast out from the underground tunnels the monarchical vampires call their home, is having to adjust to living with daylight and is desperate to find out the secret these above ground vampires have for moving around in the daylight without burning.  Used to seeing humans only as food slaves, he’s disturbed to find himself inexplicably attracted to Ava Sans, who just so happens to smell like butterscotch.

Review:
I rarely impulse buy books in drugstores and, after reading this book, I think that’s probably the wiser move.  I bought this in a CVS due entirely to the cover and didn’t pick it up to read for three years.  When I did, I saw it was the fifth book in the series.  Fortunately, this isn’t the type of series that it’s necessary to read in order.  Unfortunately, nothing about this book made me want to go read the rest of the series.  It suffers from a meandering plot, ridiculous dialogue, two-dimensional characters, constant cock-teasing of the reader, and an entirely misleading cover (that I suspect was misleading on purpose).

This series focuses on a different romantic pairing in each entry.  They all have ties to AIR in some way.  The previous couples make cameos in other books, but the actual plot from the prior books doesn’t have much impact on this one.  All that needs to be known is there was a war with the aliens, New Chicago is not on Earth, vampires are an alien species that are allergic to the sun and live underground on this planet, the vampires make humans their food slaves, and some of the vampires have started living above ground. Oh, and there’s this alien called the Schön Queen who looks beautiful but actually is a rotting, disease-ridden creature who gives those who bang her an illness that makes them her voodoo zombie slaves.  Those who read a lot of pnr will understand that that’s a pretty simple plot summary for a series this far in.

The actual plot for this book basically is that Ava will help McKell lure vampires to interview to find out how they live in daylight and he will, in turn, come willingly to talk to the head of AIR.  AIR wants to find out if McKell’s blood can be used to save victims of the Schön Queen’s disease.  If the book stuck to this simple, straightforward plot it would work.  But it meanders all over the place, tossing in red herrings, asides, diatribes, and scenes that seem to happen just for the fun of it.  This book is over 500 pages long.  That is not enough plot to support that many pages, unless the characters are stopping to bang a lot, which was honestly what I was expecting.  That’s not what we get though.

The cover definitely implies that this is a BDSM book with a lot of sex.  The only thing that ever happens with a whip is McKell comes over to Ava’s house with the whip intent on actually beating her up with it (in a to get revenge way not in a sexy BDSM way) but then he never uses it on her.  She mentions it in a giggling aside toward the end of the book, and McKell states he would never ever whip her. He loves her too much now.  I know the author generally doesn’t have any impact on the cover design at all, but somebody somewhere must have known they’d be pulling in people expecting BDSM only to have BDSM scorned within the book.  Not cool.  That’d be less irritating, though, if there was at least a lot of sex of some sort in the book.  Instead, we repeatedly find Ava and McKell getting hot and steamy only to stop just short of having sex.  They have sex twice in the book at the very end.  You seriously have to read at least 400, maybe 450, pages to get one full sex scene.  Which is incredibly frustrating because by far the best writing Showalter does is of the sex scenes.  They’re tantalizing and realistic with some things we don’t always see in romance novels, like the guy going down on the girl, for instance.  This book would have been at least three stars if Showalter’s steamy scenes had led to actual sex scenes throughout the novel.  But instead, the reader just gets going with excitement only to have it yanked out from under them to go check in on that meandering plot.

The characters are so two-dimensional that it’s essentially impossible to truly care for them. McKell is a vampire with a temper. A bad boy, supposedly, that Ava inexplicably falls for. Most of his presence in the book consists of snapping at Ava and being shocked she doesn’t obey him and then being turned on by that.  Ava, on the other hand, is traumatized by growing up on the bad side of the tracks and has a big inferiority complex.  She also smells like butterscotch. And tastes like butterscotch. And her hair looks like butterscotch. She’s a piece of butterscotch candy who says boo hoo poor me and I want to prove to everyone that I’m not trash so oh hey let’s fall for this bad boy vampire who treats me badly that seems like a great choice.  I admit by the end of the book McKell is treating her well but his transformation is out of the blue, not gradual.  Plus, Ava falls for him when he’s a bad boy and never stands up for herself or says I deserve better.  She ends up with an ok guy but only because he magically transformed, not out of any agency of her own.  The supporting characters are even less well-developed.  I can say maybe one or two things about them all, but nothing that makes them truly come to life in my mind.

Overall, this is an overly long pnr with a light, meandering plot and only two sex scenes in over 500 pages.  While the sex scenes are well-written and tantalizing, the rest of the book is dull, with two-dimensional characters it is impossible to come to truly care for.  The romance uses the bad boy/wounded woman trope and does nothing to make it deeper or richer.  Those who think from the cover that this is a BDSM pnr should be aware that it is definitely not.  I would perhaps pick it up in a library or at a friend’s house to skim through and read the sex scenes, but there is definitely better pnr out there to devote your time to.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: CVS

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Previous Books in Series:
Awaken Me Darkly
Enslave Me Sweetly
Savor Me Slowly
Seduce the Darkness

Book Review: Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh (Audiobook narrated by Kevin T. Collins, Eileen Stevens, and Ali Ahn)

January 11, 2014 2 comments

An ambiguously Asian looking woman is seen through a foggy glass pressing her finger down.Summary:
In the future, you can live forever. But only if you can afford to pay to be medically resurrected and any injuries sustained fixed.  The rest put everything they have into freezing insurance, getting cryogenically frozen in the hopes that one day, someday, they might get resurrected.  At the very least, they wont’ die.  But beautiful women who die too young (and too not filthy rich) get a different sort of a second chance.  They get awoken and given the choice of going into the cryogenic dating facility.  Men will come through and pay to wake them up and talk to them, and if they fall for them, they’ll pay to have them resurrected and their injuries healed.

In this world, three different, yet intertwined stories are told.  There’s Rob. A once-musician who accidentally struck and killed a jogger in the middle of his break-up with his reality star-esque wealthy girlfriend.  He proceeds to take out a loan to visit the jogger to apologize but slowly the guilt turns into something more.  Then there’s Veronika, a dating coach with a bad case of unrequited love and a need to feel like she’s doing some good in the world.  And finally, Mira.  A lesbian who was placed into the heterosexual cryogenic dating pool back at the beginning before they bothered to wake the women and ask them if they wanted to be there.

Review:
I was immediately intrigued by this book’s premise and then realized I’d already read another scifi book by Will McIntosh and enjoyed it.  That book, Soft Apocalypse (review), is actually set in the same universe as this one.  Although they’re not a series, technically, Love Minus Eighty takes place a bit in the future after the events described in Soft Apocalypse.  I enjoyed the future imagined there, so was happy to return to it once again to see where things have gone since everything fell apart for Earth.  And oh my have they taken an interesting turn.

The future is a near dystopic mess of most of the wealth being in the hands of the few.  While some people have foregone civilization to live off the land, the rest of the have-nots spend their time in body suits, called systems, that are basically like a full-bodied smartphone.  They reminded me a bit of Google Glass.  Their systems filter out all the unsightly aspects of where they live, including garbage, and they also block pop-up ads that otherwise accost you on the street.  Everyone pours their little bit of money into their systems because without one you fall entirely off the social stratum.  This is already creative enough to be intriguing, but then McIntosh tosses in this idea that cryogenics and resurrection has been figured out but only the wealthy can afford to be resurrected and everyone else pours all the rest of their money into freezing insurance.  Then we get the cryogenic dating program aka bridesicles, and oh wow.  Any scifi reader can see what an interesting setting this is.

On top of this setting, McIntosh weaves three different, yet ultimately intertwined narrators.  It’s a narrative structure I enjoy but only when done well, and McIntosh mostly pulls it off.  Some things sometimes felt a bit like too much of a coincidence, but for the most part the intertwining made sense.  All three narrators have unique voices and perspectives.  They are well-rounded with flaws, even Mira, who is frozen a lot of the time, but they also are still likable.

The plot is complex and truly had me on the edge of my seat for the last third of the book.  I was rooting for the characters and did not know what would happen.  An unpredictable, yet satisfying, ending plays in perfectly with the plot.

I am of two minds about the presence of Mira in the story.  On the one hand, I appreciate that McIntosh took the time to think about how the heteronormativity of the bridesicle program could affect a lesbian.  On the other hand, it frustrates me that she and her girlfriend have their agency removed and spend most of the story frozen and at the whim of the heterosexual people around them.  Having lesbians rescued by the straight folks just kind of rubbed me the wrong way.  I sort of wish there had been some modern day queer person who helped them out in some way.  That was the other thing that bothered me.  The only queer presence was from the past in the form of Mira and her frozen girlfriend.  In such a sweeping narrative with so many characters that is also set in a city, it seems odd to me we never encountered another queer character.  Particularly when one of the main characters is a dating coach.

The narration of the audiobook was wonderful.  Having a different voice for each narrator really helped keep the stories straight, and each of the narrators did a wonderful job bringing their characters to life.

Overall, this book presents a richly imagined near-dystopian scifi future that gets the reader to think about if living afraid of death is truly living.  The three-narrator structure lends a complexity to the plot that keeps it engaging and consistently moving forward.  One of the plot choices might rub some readers the wrong way, but if the world building and narrative structure appeal, it shouldn’t be much of an issue.  Recommended to scifi fans who enjoy a city setting and some romance.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Series Review: The Georgina Kincaid Series by Richelle Mead

January 9, 2014 Leave a comment

Introduction:
I post series reviews after completing reading an entire series of books.  It gives me a chance to reflect on and analyze the series as a whole.  These series reviews are designed to also be useful for people who: A) have read the series too and would like to read other thoughts on it or discuss it with others OR B) have not read the series yet but would like a full idea of what the series is like, including possible spoilers, prior to reading it themselves or buying it for another.  Please be aware that series reviews necessarily contain some spoilers.

Red-headed woman in front of Seattle skylineSummary:
Georgina Kincaid loves her job managing a bookstore in Seattle.  She’s not so sure about her job as Seattle’s only succubus, but she doesn’t have much choice about that one since she sold her soul to Hell back when she was mortal in ancient Greece.  After hundreds of years of being a succubus, Georgina has started to feel guilty about stealing the life energy of good-souled men.  So she’s switched to stealing the less high-quality life energy of bad-souled men.  Her demon boss, Jerome, is none too happy about this.  Things take an even more interesting turn when famous author, Seth Mortensen, moves to Seattle and chooses Georgina’s bookstore as his base of operations.  Georgina quickly finds herself falling for him.  Her first time falling for a man since WWII.  Nobody seems to like the idea of Georgina dating Seth, except for Seth, but Georgina doesn’t have much time to wonder why as supernatural life carries on.  Everything from an incubus plot to attempts at overthrowing her demonic boss (by another demon of course) to an escaped ancient supernatural power who feeds on dreams come Georgina’s way.  Georgina starts to notice that Seattle seems to be facing more than the normal level of supernatural upheaval, and she starts to wonder why.

Woman in push-up vest against red background.Review:
A tightly told, sexy, humorous series featuring an overarching plot that ties into all of the smaller plots and lends the series as a whole a greater meaning makes this urban fantasy stand out above the rest.

The series ostensibly focuses on the bad guys of the supernatural world, not something that is seen very often in urban fantasy.  Yes, Georgina is a succubus with a guilt complex, but she is still a succubus, and she still goes out and does her succubus thing.  She is not out trying to save the world.  She’s just trying to get by day by day in the role she has chosen for herself–fighting on the bad guy side of the battle.  But Mead does not let the series fall easily into clear good versus evil.  It soon becomes evident that good guys can be on the bad guy side and bad guys on the good guy side.  In most cases, one decision or the fault of birth decides where they land.  Just because someone is a vampire doesn’t mean he can’t desire to help out his friends.  Just because someone is an angel doesn’t mean they can’t make mistakes.  And the rules aren’t always fair and sometimes incomprehensible.  This gray complexity lends a lot of interesting notes to the series that otherwise wouldn’t be there, not least of Woman standing in front of electrical storm.which is the fact that the characters are able to be three-dimensional in this world Mead has created.

The characters, even the minor ones, are indeed three-dimensional.  They sometimes make stupid choices, big mistakes, and are annoying.  But they also make tough good choices, ones that aren’t easy but still happen.  They fall in genuine love.  They accidentally hurt each other but also sacrifice themselves for each other.  They worry about having a bad hair day.  They cry.  They have great sex and bad sex.  And they come to life in the reader’s mind.

The sex scenes, a key element of an urban fantasy series about a succubus, are never repetitive.  They are tantalizing and sexy, except for a few which are aiming to show that sex can be bad.  They range from the intense love making of a couple madly in love to a fun night out having sex in public at a public sex bar.  And many positions and types of sex are covered as well.  The sex scenes walk the line between barely mentioned and extremely explicit quite well.  They are fully fleshed-out sex scenes without being extremely explicit.

Read-headed pale woman standing seductively against a purplish-red backdrop. The book title and author name are over her.The overarching plot, though, is what really made me fall in love with the series.  Georgina became a succubus in exchange for her husband and all those who knew her forgetting all about her.  She cheated on her husband, and she felt so much guilt at both the act and the pain it caused that she felt this was the best solution.  At first, she goes into being a succubus with enthusiasm but over time her feelings change.  Her hurt starts to heal, and she begins to see the good side of both humanity and life.  She is in the throes of this complex situation of wanting to be good but having already signed a contract for the bad side of the fight when Seth shows up and everything starts going haywire in the supernatural world in Seattle.  Eventually, she finds out that Seth is the reincarnation of her original husband, Kiriakos.  He lived his life thinking he must have a soul mate but never meeting her, so when he died he struck a bargain to get more chances at meeting her.  He has a limited number of reincarnations (10, I believe), that will occur in the same vicinity as his soul mate.  His soul mate is Georgina, and she has met him multiple times throughout her life as as a succubus.  This reincarnation as Seth is his last chance.  From here, the story takes a hard look at what makes people soul mates, that being soul mates doesn’t mean no mistakes will be made, that love Redheaded woman in a sexy leather top standing in front of fog.and a relationship aren’t an easy cakewalk and sacrifices and compromises must be made.  It delves into the idea of redemption, and that being a good person and having a good life aren’t just something innate in you.  It’s a beautiful love story, spanning many centuries, that takes a hard look at what makes relationships work.  It also ties in nicely with the questions established earlier about good versus evil and if being good or evil is a one-time choice or something that happens over time.  I never would have guessed that I could end up feeling so positively about a love story that begins with betrayal but that’s where Mead uses the supernatural with great skill.  The story works because the betrayal is treated so seriously.  Georgina’s betrayal of her husband (and soul mate) leads them both to centuries of pain.  It is not something that can be just brushed off.  It’s a mistake she made, yes, but just because it was a mistake doesn’t mean she can just say sorry and make it all right.  On that note, Kiriakos/Seth also made mistakes when they were first together that he also has to work through.  They both learn through time that you can’t just sit back and let the marriage happen.  You have to pay attention, invest, and work at growing together.

Woman in white and wearing a cross standing in front of a foggy sky.The fun setting, tantalizing sex scenes, three-dimensional characters, and unexpected yet beautiful overarching plot about the nature of good and evil and love and redemption makes this series a stunner in urban fantasy.  Highly recommended to urban fantasy and romance fans alike, although those who are irritated at the concept of soul mates might not enjoy it as much.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap, library, gift, Audible

Books in Series:
Succubus Blues, review, 4 stars
Succubus On Top, review, 4 stars
Succubus Dreams, review, 5 stars
Succubus Heat, review, 4 stars
Succubus Shadows, review, 5 stars
Succubus Revealed, review, 5 stars

Book Review: Succubus Revealed by Richelle Mead (Series, #6) (Audiobook narrated by Elisabeth Rodgers)

January 8, 2014 1 comment

Woman in white and wearing a cross standing in front of a foggy sky.Summary:
Seattle’s succubus, Georgina Kincaid, is incredibly happy to be back together with her previously ex boyfriend, Seth Mortensen.  But getting back together with him came at the price of hurting his once-fiancee and having to leave her previously loved position managing the bookstore.  It’s all worth it to be with Seth, though.  But then a transfer notice comes in, sending her to her dream job in Las Vegas.  It’d be a dream come true, except Seth can’t come with her because his sister-in-law has cancer.  Georgina starts to wonder just why so many elements seem to keep coming together to try to drive her and Seth apart.

Review:
A breathtaking conclusion to the series that reveals not just Georgina’s entire life story but also that the series itself is more than originally meets the eye.

It was obvious in the prior book that a much larger overarching plot was going to be revealed in the final entry in the series.  Mead reveals this plot through an artful combination of the characters investigating, flashbacks, and a court case.  Normally, I’m not a fan of courtroom drama, but Mead pulls it off beautifully, really playing up the supernatural elements and keeping it moving along at a rapid pace.  While I had pretty much already figured out what the big reveal would be, how it was revealed and how the characters reacted was unexpected and complex.

A running theme in the series has been that the characters are not perfect and life doesn’t hand out easy answers or resolutions.  The resolutions to the various problems and questions in the plot and in Georgina’s life follow these guidelines as well.  It is not a simple reveal that places perfection into Georgina’s life.  She has to address her issues, how she has dealt with herself and other people, and she must face the supernatural community as well.  It was refreshing to see characters in an urban fantasy have to work toward resolution instead of having it handed to them by virtue of just being lucky or having the right powers.

The romance is in full-swing in this book.  Georgina is much more focused on her love life than on being on a succubus.  Thus, most of the sex scenes we get are hot in an entirely romantic way.  Once again, though, I was more focused on the quality of the plot and characters than on the quality of the sex scenes.  The story of Georgina overpowered the juicy bits, and that’s a sign of a great urban fantasy.

The book brings to light the questions of good versus evil, love and what it takes to make a relationship work, soul mates, and the qualities of humanity.  And it does it with humor, brightly written characters, sexy sex scenes, and creative settings.  An ending to the series as satisfying as a rich dessert that will leave the reader wanting to re-read the series as soon as possible.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Previous Books in Series:
Succubus Blues, review
Succubus On Top, review
Succubus Dreams, review
Succubus Heat, review
Succubus Shadows, review

Book Review: Succubus Shadows by Richelle Mead (Series, #5) (Audiobook narrated by Elisabeth Rodgers)

January 7, 2014 4 comments

Redheaded woman in a sexy leather top standing in front of fog.Summary:
Seattle’s succubus, Georgina Kincaid, cannot believe she has been roped into helping plan her ex-boyfriend’s wedding.  It’s enough to make anyone depressed.  But she can’t afford to be depressed, because every time she starts to feel down, a mysterious force tries to lure her away to what must be a dangerous place.  Georgina is fed up with all of these mysterious attacks on Seattle.  It just doesn’t make sense.  What is making them target Seattle? And seem to be maybe targeting her?

Review:
An excellent penultimate series book that both reveals more of the main character’s past and drives the plot forward.

At first it seems that this book is returning to familiar territory.  Weird, dreamy things are happening to Georgina.  She and Seth are broken up.  Her demon boss is irritated at her.  But then Georgina gets kidnapped and forced to relive her past and spy on the present in a dreamlike state, and everything changes.  We learn tons more about Georgina’s long succubus life.  We also see what happens when Georgina is the one who needs saving for once.  It’s an unexpected plot change that plays perfectly in this penultimate book in the series.

In spite of Georgina being kidnapped, there are still plenty of sex scenes via reliving her succubus past.  They are well-written and titillating but sex is really not the focus of the book.  It says a lot for the plot and how much I came to care for the characters that I barely noticed the relative lack of exciting sex in this entry.

The characters continue to grow and change in a well-rounded, three-dimensional way.  Mead handles the multiple characters adeptly and with soul.  Similarly, the audiobook narrator continues to read Georgina perfectly.

This entry in the series moves the series firmly from urban fantasy about a sexy succubus to a romance spanning multiple centuries and a greater battle of good versus evil and humans versus the supernatural.  It is stunningly satisfying and all-engrossing.  I immediately reached for the final book in the series.  Fans will not be disappointed.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Previous Books in Series:
Succubus Blues, review
Succubus On Top, review
Succubus Dreams, review
Succubus Heat, review

Book Review: Succubus Heat by Richelle Mead (Series, #4) (Audiobook narrated by Elisabeth Rodgers)

December 25, 2013 4 comments

Read-headed pale woman standing seductively against a purplish-red backdrop.  The book title and author name are over her.Summary:
Georgina Kincaid, Seattle’s best succubus, has been a foul mood ever since her break-up with author mortal, Seth Mortensen.  Her demon boss, Jerome, has had enough of it and decides to outsource her to Vancouver for a job investigating a group of Canadian Satanists who are drawing the wrong type of attention to Hell.  But when Jerome is kidnapped and all the Seattle area hellions lose their powers at the same time as the Satanists do a stunt in Seattle, Georgina starts to wonder if the Satanist group are more than just an annoyance. Maybe they’re part of some bigger plot.  Oh, and also, she can now have sex with mortals without stealing any of their life force.  Very interesting indeed.

Review:
A tight, intricate plot that links back to the previous books, steamy sex scenes, and an ever-expanding cast of diversely entertaining characters make this entry in the Georgina Kincaid series a delight.

Georgina’s whinyness after her break-up with Seth could get on the reader’s nerves if it wasn’t for the fact that her own friends and colleagues eventually call her out on it.  Georgina is a well-rounded character with flaws, and being bad at break-ups is one of them.  This book sees her go through the stages of a break-up in an interesting way, from rebounding to whining to anger to finally trying to come to terms with it and remain friends with Seth.  The fact that Georgina then gets the ability to have sex with Seth without stealing his life force is a serious temptation.  How she and Seth respond might rub some readers the wrong way, but Mead presents it in a very I understand how this could happen way.  What happens makes sense within the context both of the story and of who Georgina and Seth are as characters.  How they go on to deal with the consequences is also realistic.  People don’t get away with things without consequences in Mead’s world, but they also aren’t perfect.  Mead strikes the balance well.

The plot is complex and yet is a different problem from the previous books.  Taking away powers and having the most powerful demon in Seattle gives the characters an interesting problem to address.  Additionally, having Georgina travel to close-by Canada provides some great scenery changes, as well as some good laughs at the expense of the inept Satanist group.

The sex scenes range from brief one-offs with random men for feeding to unfulfilling sex with her bad-hearted rebound boyfriend to guilt-inducing passionate love-making with Seth.  Some of the sex scenes are steamy, others a bit dull, and others heart-wrenching.  It’s a realistic variety, although the reader does have to wait a while for the most passionate scenes.

One thing that bothered me a bit is that Georgina gets slut-shamed some for one of her brief hook-up choices.  Yes, she makes the choice out of her heartbreak, but it’s her body her choice, and I don’t like that even a succubus, apparently, can get slut shamed.  I also have to admit that I had figured out the final plot twist long before it happened, so although the plot is a bit complex, the big bad is predictable.

The overarching plot of the whole series, however, continues to grow in unexpected ways.  I finished the book intrigued to continue on immediately to the next entry.

The audiobook narrator brings Georgina to life quite willingly, although she does pronounce a couple words, such as “panang,” rather oddly.  However, she brings a perfect flow to the story.  She also reads the sex scenes beautifully.

Overall, this is an engaging and rewarding entry in the series.  Fans will welcome the new plot, variety of sex scenes, and growth of the overarching series plot.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Previous Books in Series:
Succubus Blues, review
Succubus On Top, review
Succubus Dreams, review

Counts For:
Finishing the Series Reading Challenge 2013 Badge

Book Review: Listening To Dust by Brandon Shire

August 24, 2013 Leave a comment

Sepia image of dust floating up into the sky in the countryside with the book's title "Listening To Dust" in brown in the foreground and the author's name "Brandon Shire" in black at the top.Summary:
A chance meeting between orphaned British writer, Stephen, and American soldier, Dustin, leads to a passionate love affair in England.  But when Dustin chooses to go back home to his small Southern town to care for his mentally challenged brother, Stephen is left behind, sending letters that are never answered.  He finally decides to follow Dustin home and arrives only to discover that Dustin is no more.

Review:
This is my second read by Brandon Shire.  The first, The Value Of Rain (review), blew me way with its passionate, multi-generational family drama featuring a gay main character.  I was thus eager to accept a second arc from Shire, and I’m pleased to say I wasn’t disappointed.

There are some commonalities in the stories.  Both feature a gay man who grew up in an unaccepting family and show the impact that has on their lives.  But that’s where the similarities cease.  Listening To Dust is really about a gay man who grew up with an accepting and loving grandmother trying to come to terms with who his lover is and was and how his lover’s family affects and affected him.  This book is really more about what it is to love someone who suffers from deep childhood wounds.  The difficult path that is to follow and how many pitfalls exist in it.  Although I wasn’t a huge fan of Stephen’s voice, I still respected his experiences and the difficult situations he found himself in.  I also appreciated seeing the far-reaching impact lack of love and family acceptance has.  It doesn’t just affect the people raised in that family.

The writing is again gorgeous.  Even now I can feel the hot dustiness of Dustin’s hometown and also the comforting cool greenery of Stephen’s grandmother’s French cottage.  Shire elicits both place and emotions so powerfully that it is impossible not to be moved by the story.

I also really enjoyed the various commentary throughout the book on love, words, and actions.  What love is, what it does, and whether words or actions are worth more.

So I guess we were both right, and both wrong about actions and words.  Like the two of us, one is empty without the other. (location 1014)

The sex scenes manage to be steamy and emotional.  What I might call literary sex scenes.  When I read them, I felt them in my knees.

Even now I can feel the heat from your palm as you cupped the back of my head and pulled my lips those last few inches, how you opened your body and begged me with your soul. (location 1726)

Damn.

So what held me back from 5 stars?  As previously stated, I wasn’t a huge fan of Stephen’s voice, although I respected his experiences.  He sometimes grated on me a bit.  I’m not sure if it was his slight Britishisms or how much he got hung up in his own head but he sometimes irritated me in a way that kept me from getting completely engrossed in the story.  But this is a small thing, really, when compared to the story as a whole and the beautiful writing.

Overall, this is a book that sweeps the reader away to multiple, disparate places to explore both love and the far-reaching affects of a harsh family life.  It should appeal to any who enjoy a heart-breaking contemporary GLBTQ romance.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Note: 10% of all proceeds donated to LGBT Youth Charities combating homelessness.

Book Review: The Long Quiche Goodbye by Avery Aames (Series, #1) (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

February 16, 2013 Leave a comment

Artistic drawing of a cheese shop.Summary:
Charlotte Bessette is ecstatic that her slightly eccentric French grandfather and grandmother have handed over the running of their small town cheese shop to her and her cousin, Matt.  She and Matt have redecorated the place for the 21st century and have added a wine annex.  Everyone is excited for the grand re-opening but when their landlord turns up dead on their doorstep stabbed with one of their cheese knives and Charlotte’s grandmother standing over him, both the shop and the family are at risk.

Review:
Cozies are, by their very nature, absolutely ridiculous and difficult to explain. I generally default to an explanation like, “It’s murder! With arts and crafts and cooking! But not too much blood and no sex! And the titles are puns!” At this point the person I’m talking to generally looks at me like I’m nuts and wanders off.  But even though the cozy genre is ridiculous and tough to explain, there are things that work for it and things that don’t.  This book is definitely a cozy but it combines the cozy elements oddly, making it fall short of awesome into the decidedly meh category.

Most cozies have a moderately ridiculous plot involving a dead body being found and a woman ultimately amateur investigating the crime.  The crime in this one was odd.  A landlord who nobody likes is stabbed directly in front of the cheese shop on grand reopening night. Oh, and he’s stabbed with a cheese knife.  Sometimes I think authors just don’t research and realize how hard it actually is to stab someone in the chest.  A cheese knife wouldn’t cut it. (See what I did there?)  So that had me rolling my eyes from the start.  The ultimate whodunit was also a bit bizarre and had me scratching my head.  It made some sense but it also sort of felt a bit like the author just chose whoever would be the most surprising as the killer, instead of really thinking through the logic and motivation.  It’s also a bit problematic to have the murder victim be some sleaze everybody in town hates.  This felt like a choice to give the mystery more easy suspects rather than, again, based on thinking through logic, motivation, and real crimes.

Then there’s the issue of the main character, Charlotte, who ultimately investigates.  She doesn’t really have the get up and go gumption necessary for someone to start investigating something on her own.  She’s….kind of snooty and prissy.  A good cozy main character should be into her arts and crafts but also possess a lot of independent spirit and gumption.  Charlotte is surrounded by people like that–her grandmother, her shop employee–but she herself isn’t like that at all.  Yes, her grandmother is accused of a crime she didn’t commit and that’s a big impetus to do something, but it just feels out of character for Charlotte to do investigation.  Similarly, Charlotte’s romantic interest felt forced and fake, which was awkward.  In a genre where we get no sex scenes, the romance should be very well done, which it was there, but it wasn’t truly engaging.

The quirky characters in the town, besides Charlotte and her love interest, were interesting and just the right blend of quirks and reality to suit a cozy.  Similarly, I was glad to see some cheese-heavy recipes in the back.  I also thought the pun title was great and played in well to the mystery without giving too much away.

Personally, I think there are better, more engaging and funny cozy series out there to invest my time in.  However, if you are a huge cozy fan and don’t mind the oddly snooty, timid main character and a slightly silly mystery plot, then you should give it a go.  The cheese angle is certainly unique.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder (Series, #1) (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

September 5, 2012 8 comments

Girl standing in front of a table wearing a red shirt.Summary:
Yelena is on death row for killing a man in the military state of Ixia but on the day of her execution she faces a choice. Become the Commander’s food taster and face possible death by poison every day or be hanged as planned.  Being a smart person, Yelena chooses the former.  Now that she has admittance to the inner circle of the military state, she quickly comes to see that not everything is quite as it seems….not even her own personal history or her heart.

Review:
*sighs* You guys. I have got to stop letting people convince me to pick up books using the phrase, “I know you don’t like [blank] but!”  That is how this book wound up on my tbr pile.  “I know you don’t like fantasy, but!” and also “I know you don’t like YA, but!” oh and “I know you don’t like romance in YA, but!” A reader knows her own taste. And I don’t like any of those. I still came at it with hope, though, since I did like one fantasy book I read this year (Acacia).  There’s a big difference in how they wound up on my pile though.  I chose Acacia myself because its reviews intrigued me. Poison Study was foisted upon me by well-meaning friends.  So, don’t get my review wrong. This book isn’t bad. It’s just what I would call average YA fantasy. Nothing made it stand-out to me, and it felt very predictable.

The world of Ixia felt similar to basically every other fantasy world I’ve seen drawn out, including ones friends and I wrote up in highschool.  Everyone has to wear a color-coded uniform that makes them easily identifiable. There are vague similarities to the middle ages (like Rennaisance-style fairs).  There are people in absolute control. There is magic and magicians who are either revered or loathed.  There are all the things that are moderately similar to our world but are called something slightly different like how fall is “the cooling season.”  Some readers really like this stuff. I just never have.  I need something really unique in the fantasy world to grab me, like how in the Fairies of Dreamdark series the characters are tinkerbell-sized sprites in the woods who ride crows. That is fun and unique. This is just….average.

Yelena’s history, I’m sorry, is totally predictable.  I knew why she had killed Reyad long before we ever find out. I suspected early on how she truly came to be at General Brazell’s castle.  I didn’t know the exact reason he had for collecting these people, but I got the gist.

And now I’m going to say something that I think might piss some readers off, but it’s just true. What the hell is it with YA romance and exploitative, abusive douchebags? This may be a bit of a spoiler, but I think any astute reader can predict it from the first chapter who the love interest is, but consider yourself warned that it’s about to be discussed. Yelena’s love interest is Valek, the dude who is the Commander’s right-hand man and also who offers her the poison taster position and trains her for it.  He manipulates her throughout the book, something that Yelena herself is completely aware of.  There are three things that he does that are just flat-out abusive.  First, he tricks her into thinking that she must come to see him every two days for an antidote or die a horrible death of poisoning. (Controlling much?) Second, he sets her up in a false situation that she thinks is entirely real to test her loyalty to him. (Manipulative and obsessive much?)  Finally, and this is a bit of a spoiler, even after professing his love for her, he asserts that he would kill her if the Commander verbally ordered it because his first loyalty is to him. What the WHAT?!  Even the scene wherein he professes his love for Yelena he does it in such a way that even she states that he makes her sound like a poison.  There’s a healthy start to a relationship. *eye-roll*  All of this would be ok if Yelena ultimately rejects him, asserting she deserves better. But she doesn’t. No. She instead has happy fun sex times with him in the woods when she’s in the midst of having to run away because Valek’s Commander has an order out to kill her. This is not the right message to be sending YA readers, and yet it’s the message YA authors persist in writing. I could go into a whole diatribe on the ethics of positively depicting abusive relationships in literature, especially in YA literature, but that should be its own post. Suffice to say, whereas the rest of the book just felt average to me, the romance soured the whole book.  It is disappointing.

Ultimately then, the book is an average piece of YA fantasy that I am sure will appeal to fantasy fans.  I would recommend it to them, but I feel that I cannot given the positively depicted unhealthy romantic relationship the main character engages in.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: Across the Table / Dancing on Sunday Afternoons by Linda Cardillo (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

August 14, 2012 Leave a comment

Image of a restaurant.Summary:
This book actually consists of two different books packaged together into one. They are both standalones, not in a series together.

Across the Table
Follow three generations of an Italian-American Boston family, starting with Rose, who marries a navy seaman right before WWII breaks out.  The family ultimately buys a restaurant on Salem Street in the historic North End, and food and the family business both help keep the family together through trials and heart-aches.

Dancing on Sunday Afternoons
Cara goes to care for her grandmother, Giulia, who has fallen and broken her hip on a visit back to the old country of Italy.  While visiting her, Giulia reveals to her the story of her first love who died when Cara’s father was just a baby.

Review:
This book made it onto my tbr pile because I found it on trash day on top of a neighbor’s recycling pile.  It was one of those cases where obviously someone had given up actually packing for their move and was just chucking it all.  The book was in pristine condition, so I yoinked it away (along with two others).  Shocker: when I opened this to read it, I discovered that it’s signed by the author.  I also didn’t realize until I started reading it that there’s actually two totally separate books in it.  The cover only says the first title and mentions a bonus book in rather small type.  So this one was full of surprises!

Across the Table
This story is based on the author’s family history, and you can honestly tell. It’s full of so much heart and reality.  It’s not your typical romance or women’s fiction. The family felt entirely real, and you could understand why they made the choices they did, even if you wouldn’t have done the same thing.  I found Rose by far to be the most interesting, but that’s not really a surprise. I’ve always had a thing for the 1940s, and her life in that decade was simultaneously unique and typical.  She spent a couple of years before the war on a tropical island (whose name I cannot remember, I apologize) with her husband.  It all felt very South Pacific, but she states that spending this time there gave her and her husband a solid base for the rest of their lives together. They had to really depend on each other.  She also said that living there made her question the racism she was raised in and ultimately stop her racist thoughts and actions.  They were never extreme, just that avoidance of people visibly different from you that you sometimes see.  I also loved that the story is based to solidly in Boston. Cardillo obviously grew up here or visited family a lot here, since she understands simple things like how it takes an hour at least to get from the North End to Cambridge, or how different one side of the river is from the other.  The family business and food aspects were also perfectly handled. Just enough to set the atmosphere but not so heavy-handed you wonder if the author forgot about the relationships at the heart of the story.  There’s also a nice touch of an uncle/brother/son who is gay, and his Catholic family’s reaction to this is a positive, refreshing change.  Perhaps even more so since the reader knows the story is based on a real family.  Overall, I absolutely loved this book. It had everything I like in both historic and women’s fiction.
5 out of 5 stars

Dancing on Sunday Afternoons
In contrast, this book was far more tedious and full of cliches and….well basically everything that I don’t like about historic and women’s fiction. Giulia’s immigration story and her family are not particularly easy to empathize with.  Her family is incredibly wealthy in Italy, and everyone worries more about appearances than about actually doing the right thing.  Even Giulia’s rebellion of marrying the man she wants to marry isn’t all that admirable. She only does it ultimately with the family’s blessing, and her reaction when her husband dies is appalling. (This is not a spoiler. You learn in the first chapter that Giulia’s first husband died).  I know that old families really could be like this, but I guess it made less sense being told this way since Giulia was telling the story to her modern granddaughter. I didn’t see any wisdom of age coming through in the telling. I know when my older family members tell me something from their youth, they also discuss what they learned from it. They try to impart some wisdom on me so I don’t make similar mistakes or so that I’m willing to take similar risks.  Giulia’s story just doesn’t feel like an elderly person relating to a young family member. I suppose if you really love historic, clean romance novels, you might enjoy this one more than I did. Personally I need this genre to have something extra to really grab me.
3 out of 5 stars

Overall, then, I must average the two books out.  I loved the first, but felt that I was not the target audience for the second.  It is worth noting that the second was actually Cardillo’s first novel, so her second book was a big improvement.  I’ll be keeping my eye on this author, particularly for more work set in Boston.  As far as recommendations go, I recommend these books to fans of historic fiction with a focus on romance and women’s personal lives.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: recycling bin

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