It's Lorelei James, it's a Fourth of July Story, it's got sexy Blake West, and it's got a female carpenter turned reluctant beauty queen. You just can...moreIt's Lorelei James, it's a Fourth of July Story, it's got sexy Blake West, and it's got a female carpenter turned reluctant beauty queen. You just can't go wrong with this as a short novella. Rough Rider fans know Blake as a cousin to the sexy McKays--Blake shows up in Colt's book Branded by Trouble to provide a little competition for India. And since Blake was attracted to the non-traditional India, we know he goes for a spunky unconventional woman. And he gets one when he takes a stint bartending for a friend in Nebraska. He's not exactly down on his luck though--he just sold the family sheep ranch, so he's got plenty of cash, but no idea what to do with his life. Miss Firecracker knows exactly what to do with HER life--she's a carpenter with her father's construction company, and she only competed for Miss Firecracker to appease her mother. A very sexy, fun romp ensues when Miss Firecracker hands her tiara and obligations off to the next queen and can finally let loose.
My only quibble with the book was that Blake causes the heroine to be late for work, more than once, and late by several HOURS once due to their nookie time. I didn't feel like this was in keeping with either of their characters. I get the need for more sexy time, but heroine is a professional woman, a foreman with a crew counting on her, and neither she nor Blake is really the kind to let passion trump that. However, despite my Debbie Downer quibbles, this is a great, fun read and I like the sense of community this carries, which is rare in a novella.
Have a Happy Fourth of July whenever you choose with this sexy treat! (less)
3.5 stars, rounded up because I can't resist a dark & wounded hero. I love Westerns, particularly post-civil war, late 1800s set ones as an entire...more3.5 stars, rounded up because I can't resist a dark & wounded hero. I love Westerns, particularly post-civil war, late 1800s set ones as an entire generation tried to rebuild itself. Beth Williamson's "Devils" series follows one such group of friends, all veterans, all scarred in various ways as they try to rebuild their lives. I got into this series on the recommendation of the awesome Sasha White, whose taste usually matches mine. I picked this one to purchase because I liked the idea of a one-armed hero trying to make it as a cowboy.
In hindsight, I regret not starting with book 1, because this is a tight knit group of friends and townsfolk, and I think I might have enjoyed it more starting the series in the right place. I'm planning to go back and read it in order! Lee is trying to recover from heartbreak after he asks the woman he's been lusting after to marry him and she says no, rejecting him for another man. His friends see him becoming more and more reclusive and suggest that he take on a part-time job helping Heroine, who is a widow with a young daughter, bring in her harvest.
Lots of sparks ensue, but the romance takes a very slow build. If you're a fan of Samhain romances, this is more mild of a heat level than some Samhain authors like Lorelei James or Deliah Devlin. The narrative dominates, with love scenes sprinkled for emotional impact. There's plenty of sexy here, though, but it's nicely married to the character arcs in a way reminicent of Linda Lael Miller (a tiny bit more explicit). I enjoyed the author's voice very much. I was in a mood where I wanted a faster pace, but there are plenty of times that the slow build and careful pace would be exactly what I want as a reader. If you're interested in spending a lot of time investing in the emotional well-being of the characters, this is the book for you.
There's a suspense subplot tied to heroine's backstory, and this wasn't my favorite part of the book. I would have rather kept the focus on her and Lee. Her backstory is very horrific, to a degree that I wasn't really prepared for. Willamson makes it work though, and I'm glad that she gets her HEA, but I had a very hard time shutting off the 21st century part of my brain. If you like your heroines just as dark as your heroes, you will ADORE this twist. All in all, this was an enjoyable read from an author I'd love to see more from. (less)
This is one of the rare few books where five stars just isn't enough. Certain books stand out in my reading life as forever changing who I am as a rea...moreThis is one of the rare few books where five stars just isn't enough. Certain books stand out in my reading life as forever changing who I am as a reader and what I expect from books, what genres I read, and which authors I autobuy with rapid intensity. The rarest of the rare do all three--my first Suzanne Brockmann (The Unsung Hero), Julia Spencer Fleming (In the Bleak Midwinter), Julia Quinn (When He Was Wicked), Karen Marie Moning (Dark Fever), Lorelei James (Slow Ride) and now Marie Sexton. What is amazing is that all of these authors have come to me as gifts from the universe--free or dirt cheap used bookstore finds. I got Promises for free as a Dreamspinners Press anniversary giveaway that I saw advertised on Twitter. I loved the cover. I'm easy that way. I liked the blurb, and nothing else was holding my reading interest at the time.
Cut to six hours later. It's 3 a.m. and I. Must. Sleep. I have a baby who still wakes up at night. This is the definition of insanity, but still I'm reading till the last page. Then I wake up and immediately spend the next day re-reading it. I went to her webpage with the reverence of the newly converted, and when I saw that this was part of a series, I bought them ALL. Back-to-back. My bank account hated me by the end of the week, but I have rarely been so fulfilled as a reader.
Now what intangible set of elements so gripped me as a reader? This is first person, past tense (thank you, God, because I am so over the present tense thing) from Jared's POV (subsequent entries in the series play with multiple POV, showing Sexton's growing craft). Jared strikes up a friendship with the new guy in town, who happens to be straight. And a cop. Jared is openly gay, but stuck in a dead-end life running the family business in a tiny town. What follows isn't a romance as much as the best "bromance" ever. Imagine if Suz's SEALs had glimmers of attraction for each other on top of their deep and abiding friendships.
The first half of the book is all about two lonely souls finding each other, in the platonic sense. Jared has an immediate crush on Matt, but he buries it deeply in "never gonna happen" land. One of my favorite moments of the book is when Matt asks Jared what his "type" is. Jared has to scramble for an answer because, of course, Matt is exactly it. Slowly, ever so slowly, Matt begins to feel more than friendship. And it scares the hell out of him and nearly rips them both to shreds. It's what Inez Kelley managed to do with Sweet as Sin--totally destroy her characters in an emotionally gut wrenching climax that makes what happens after profound and deeply satisfying.
And yes, it gets sexy in the second half of the book. Very sexy. Not the most explicit, but certainly in the romantica level of heat and language--not quite Lorelei James level of explicit but certainly in Victoria Dahl and other super-sexy mainstream romance territory. But, because there is so much emotion swirling around, all the sexy serves as an emotional release--it doesn't have to be one's cup of tea to still be profound. And the build-up to the sexy is unrivaled. Not since Clare and Russ (Julia Spencer Fleming's lead characters) have I been so desperate for two characters to kiss. "Kisssssssssssssssssssssss himmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm," I chanted in my head. Clearly, this book cost me some sanity.
But. It. Was. Worth. It. If there is any book that will win converts to the m/m genre, this is it, at least for readers who need that emotional connection to their books and who share my connection to Jared and Matt. The opening sample available for nook/kindle et al is a pretty good showcase of the voice, and it would be a good way to see if it works for you. Try it. And don't blame me when you end up with the entire Coda series on your e-reader or keeper shelf. (less)
Despite the rather insipid title (made far better by the very yummy cover), this is actually a great anthology of shorts and excellent introduction to...moreDespite the rather insipid title (made far better by the very yummy cover), this is actually a great anthology of shorts and excellent introduction to several authors. These are short stories and run the gamut from very sweet stories with no love scenes to mildly sensual ones to a few scorching hot ones. And while, as with most short stories, we get a lot of HFN endings, we do get several believable HEA endings, which is very tough to pull off. My favorite selections had me cursing my nook--I wanted MORE. This is why I don't read more short stories--I like at least novella length selections simply because if I emotionally invest in great characters I want to spend more time with them!
One of my favorite selections is M. Jules Aedin's "We are Stardust" set at Woodstock. I was so desperate, I had to stop reading and frantically search to find out if this was possibly the opening chapter of a full length novel. It isn't, but is awesome just as it is too. A great slice of American history that we don't see nearly enough of in Romance and fabulous characters. I wanted more! And more!
Chrissy Munder's Spontaneous is the same way--I wanted to spend more time with her great characters: a geeky guy meets his HEA (we hope) in a construction worker with a heart of gold. Both of these pieces are very mild on the sensuality scale, giving them broader appeal than a lot of m/m fiction, which tends to be firmly in the romantica camp.
Ashlynn Kane pulls off the impossible with a believable HEA tale of love between best friends that felt complete within the small word count in "The Meaning of Significant Digits." Note to others looking to pull off her feat, she started with gay best friends--if you have under 20,000 words, you can't have a guy go from confused to HEA believably. She also gives her characters a focused purpose and tight timeline of one week to prepare for a friend's wedding.
Isablle Rowan's Snowman is a haunting, evocative tale of broken souls moving on after different kinds of loss. The ambiguous ending was perfect for this lovely tale. "In His Eyes" by Bethany Brown is one of the longer stories in the collection and does feature a nicely done love scene. I love city slicker meets cowboy tales of all kinds, and this one is particularly fabulous with a nice slow build and complex characters that belie the shortness of the piece. The other stories in the collection offer up different perspectives, and I read the entire collection, which isn't usually the case for me with short story anthologies. (less)
Dreamspinner Press's anniversary freebies yielded me a lot of free and ultra-cheap reads, but this offering from Andrew Grey stood as being worth the...moreDreamspinner Press's anniversary freebies yielded me a lot of free and ultra-cheap reads, but this offering from Andrew Grey stood as being worth the cover price, even if one didn't happen to snag a free copy. Grey gives readers one of the most accessible entries into the world of M/M romance with a story that's both super sweet and sexy, without being explicit. Amish m/m romance set in the Heartland may seem like a punchline rather than a tag line, but it really works here.
Our two heroes are young: Eli is almost 20 and Geoff is like 23 or 24. Eli is on his "break" year from his Amish community when Geoff discovers him sleeping in his barn. Geoff has just returned from the big city after inheriting his father's farm. Geoff has one of the most unique backstories I've encountered in any type of genre fiction: his father had a male partner following the death of Geoff's mother. Thus, despite being in a very rural area, Geoff has a number of supportive people in his life. I liked this because it gave Eli more structure to cling to as he came to terms with his own sexuality and feelings for Geoff.
The romance develops slowly with a sweet, halting courtship as Eli slowly adjusts to life in the "English" world, and Geoff gets over the fact that Eli is younger, inexperienced, and technically an employee. If Eli were female, this would fit right into the Harlequin American line and the sensuality never edges much beyond a Blaze level. If you've read Linda Lael Miller or Sandra Hill (she's got a couple of Romantic Suspense novels set in an Amish community), the sensuality level is similar. It's sweet, not explicit. The c-word is absent, and while they do engage in all the activities two men are likely to get up to behind closed doors, it's all described in euphemisms that have a lot more to do with emotion and less to do with tab A into slot B. If you're interested in m/m romance, but don't read erotica and don't want to be shocked, this is a perfect choice as it's all about the journey of discovery the characters are on and their quest to be authentic. The sensuality level only enhances this journey. This is also a quick read (about as long as most category books or a long novella), which also makes a great way to try on the m/m genre. The lively cast of secondary characters also made this a fun read--Geoff's second "dad" is a key character as well as Geoff's other relatives and other farm employees. Despite the relatively young age of the heroes, I didn't doubt in their HEA at all. (less)
If Vicki Lewis Thompson and Katie MacAlister had a smutty younger sister with a penchant for m/m pairings, the result would be the hilarious Daisy Har...moreIf Vicki Lewis Thompson and Katie MacAlister had a smutty younger sister with a penchant for m/m pairings, the result would be the hilarious Daisy Harris. This is nominally paranormal in the same way the above authors as well as Erin McCarthy and Janice Davidson handle paranormal/fantasy elements, which is to say that the paranormal elements serve mainly to enhance the comedic impact, making it perfect for the fantasy adverse like myself. For those who like their fantasy/paranormal heavy on the realism and world building, however, this might not be your usual cup of tea. Mercury is the god of order and planning and all sorts of other boring stuff and lives in a universe where not only his own greek pantheon co-exists with humans, but also all other cultures' gods and goddesses too. And they don't always get along, but they are trying with a sort of God United Nations summit. On a cruise ship. It is made of awesome. If you've enjoyed Lewis Thompson and Christina Skye's light novels set on cruise ships or Roz Lee's sexy cruise ship erotica series, you might want to give this a whirl after you don your sunscreen and grab an iced beverage.
Dillon also resides in this universe, and he already knows that the Gods are real (and demanding PITAs!) so there's no need for lengthy set up here. He's not overly impressed with Mercury's rather wimpy collection of superpowers, and he quickly sets out to knock the God down a peg or ten after he realizes that Mercury is both his new boss and the dude he had a random quickie shortly prior. *Awkward moment* Harris does a great job capturing Dillon's POV and portraying his general indifference to Mercury as a means of protecting himself. Mercury himself is a mess, and this is also a bit of great characterization full of nice little comedy gems like his needing his super powers to add a few extra inches. Of height, gutter minds. And better hair. But Mercury's biggest issue is that he hasn't come out to the other Gods, and they think he's about to marry the goddess of Virginity.
So not happening. V, the supermodel virginity goddess, has thousands of years of pent up sexual frustration ready to unleash. But her intended plays for the other team, so she too defects--from the Greeks to the Norse Gods' yacht. Roll with it. It's a complex summit/gathering of the gods, but the minute details aren't really important here--V is courted by two rival Norse gods who both want her for their own. How she resolves this dilemma is most sexy. I actually enjoyed the Mercury/Dillon pairing far more than the V subplot, but I like that she has both a m/m plot line and a hetero one, giving readers more avenues to connect with the plot and characters.
Mercury and Dillon end up separated from the rest of the Gods on one heck of a road trip. There's a lot of physical comedy, which I love, as well as some snappy dialogue as Dillon teaches Mercury some street smarts. Mercury becomes much more mortal in his actions and emotions the more time he spends with Dillon, and this changes him for the better. For me, the best part of the book was how much fun it was-- it is totally one of those books where you can tell the author had an absolute blast writing it. Like early Jennifer Crusie and MacAlister--an author writing for the sheer joy of watching her characters create comedy gold. As a reader, I love books like this because the author's joy bubbles over onto the page, and when done right, it really enhances the pacing. This is quick fun read, perfect for those looking for a light entry to the world of m/m romance. (Note: while there is lots and lots of love scenes, because of the humor, the heat level doesn't seem as scorching as many in this genre. She doesn't mince words and she gets rather creative with the love scenes, so make sure to have that cold drink handy. If you prefer "sweet" love scenes, you might want to consider other m/m writers for your first m/m romance.) Overall, a great summer read! I look forward to more from Harris! (less)
This book purchase was brought to you by social media. Victoria Dahl tweeted a link to Daisy Harris's blog where she discussed common tropes used to up the sexy factor. This book was mentioned as an excellent example of the "kink as therapy" trope. Ding! My finger was on the "buy" button on my nook before I even finished reading the blog. And, as an added bonus, I now have a name for one of my most favorite tropes. Because I absolutely love dark and tortured characters, especially heroes, and dark and tortured characters who have to work it out in the bedroom? When done right, it's a ticket straight to my keeper shelf. When done poorly, it's so disappointing--like watching a good team fail to make the playoffs. Here, thankfully, it's done really, really well, in combination with several other tropes I love, including childhood friends-to-lovers.
Cynthia and Nick grew up in the same small village (yay! We're not in London!) But, now Nick is a charming Viscount on the verge of marrying a heiress who wants nothing to do with him. And Cynthia's family has also fallen on very hard times, and she's had to come up with her own creative solution to her troubles. Nick and Cynthia reminded me a lot of the dynamic in Loretta Chase's Last Night's Scandal. I liked that book tremendously, but I like this one even more as Nick has this dark edge that Lisle just doesn't. But, there's great banter between two contemporaries, and there's the hero being dragged along on reckless adventures, including treasure hunting.
Cynthia is far more free-spirited than the times probably allowed, including being way more blase about sex than a proper, single regency heroine usually is. If you want strict historical accuracy in your regencies, this book might not be for you. Which would be a darn shame because it's just so much fun. I want to believe that there were women with Cynthia's pluck and spirit roaming about the British countryside. For everything good and light that Cynthia brings, Nick has a dark cloud chasing him due to an incident that happened in his early teens.
Nick is a DARK hero in a charming disguise-- his backstory is somewhat similar to that in Liz Carlyle's Never Deceive a Duke and Kresley Cole's Demon After Dark. I love dark and tortured heroes, but these heroes are all literally tortured--terrible things happened to them against their will. And for some readers, I think that level of darkness is a bit much or simply not something they wish to think about. For me, I love watching this type of hero triumph over his demons and find a way to true happiness. Because this book is otherwise so light and fun, Nick's darkness is greatly muted, but he's still the driving force of the book.
He's what made this a five star read for me--dark and tortured, blonde, genuinely nice person with strong moral code, outside the box thinker, and not afraid to let his heroine lead. Without revealing too much, I loved how the treasure hunt ultimately worked out and the decisions Nick made. I didn't neccessarily agree with one action he took towards the end of the book, but I certainly understood where he was coming from, and it let him truly let go of the past and protect his woman in a single action. Oh and the whole "kink as therapy" thing? Totally worked too. (It's a mild kink--if you read Elizabeth Hoyt, Jennifer Haymore, Liz Carlyle etc, you won't be too shocked and should enjoy the wicked little edge it gives this otherwise sweet tale). (less)
Great writing, but I just couldn't get into the setting: Austria during the Napoleon conflict. If you love unusual historical novels filled with intri...moreGreat writing, but I just couldn't get into the setting: Austria during the Napoleon conflict. If you love unusual historical novels filled with intrigue and mystery set outside of England, you will love this novel. Lofty does a great job crafting a believable sense of time and place. I liked how unusual heroine was as well--she's the painter of reproduction portraits. (less)
There are plenty of mediocre novellas, especially now that the market for ebook shorts has exploded. Of course, there are also good novellas and a few...moreThere are plenty of mediocre novellas, especially now that the market for ebook shorts has exploded. Of course, there are also good novellas and a few great ones. But, rarest of all are novellas that should be required reading for any author looking to cross that line from good to great. Victoria Dahl’s The Wicked West should be required reading for any writer looking to write the perfect erotic short story or novella.
I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a short this much (which considering that I feature one each week and genuinely love the format says something). And I was a bit out of my comfort zone as far as the kink in the story, but I. Did. Not. Care. At all. Now, admittedly, my enjoyment was enhanced by the fact that I first read Dahl’s Talk Me Down where the main character, Molly Jennings, writes erotica under the pseudonym Holly Summers. In a stroke of marketing and creative genius, Dahl released this short as Holly Summers, as it’s supposed to be the novel Molly was working on. Don’t let the name game confuse you—the plot stands completely apart from Talk Me Down and is more than just a gimmick. Dahl manages to craft a unique voice that is at once herself, but also seems to stem from the sensibilities of Molly/Holly as a writer.
In this story, Lily, a shy English rose, has arrived in the Wild West to take over her late brother’s house. Sherriff Hale is a gruff, hardened Wyoming lawman who is inexplicably drawn to Lily. The Sherriff is brilliantly characterized because he reacts like an 1800s lawman to his own feelings and desires—he lacks the swagger of a modern guy unperturbed by liking a little kink. Instead the Sherriff is deeply conflicted by his darker desires and pushes Lily away.
Because a short story/novella has far less plot real estate to work with, authors must create believable conflict to drive the story, but also resolve it in a satisfying way rather quickly. Here, the internal conflict is gorgeously laid out with lots of lusty longing and self-recriminations, but the solution is believable as it requires a not-unlikely leap of faith on the part of the Sherriff and Lily.
Dahl also avoids the temptation to set the story within a single 24 or 48 hour period—something that many erotic novellas do, leading to less believable HEAs. Instead the story plays out over the course of weeks, with an external cattle rustling subplot moving time along, and the ultimate resolution takes place a few months later and beautifully shows the way that these two characters have brought out the best in each other. The love scenes are smoking hot, but laced with tons of emotion. I’ve read far more explicit stuff, but the heat factor here is off the charts. (Note there is some light BDSM elements here with a very dominant hero and a heroine who is a true submissive. There’s no backdoor action or other extreme stuff, so I think this might appeal to others who don’t typically venture this far into erotica). Dahl has true winner her, one that showcases her lively voice and her talent for delving deeply into characters’ emotions even as she turns the heat up past high. (less)
Attention Mama friends! I have your summer book club selection right here. Diane Chamberlin has *the* women’s fiction tear jerker of the season with an offering sure to ignite book club discussions across the country. This was not an easy read, and when I was done, I desperately wanted to make someone, anyone read it RIGHT THAT DARN MINUTE so that I could discuss at length. In other words, it was awesome even as it turned me inside out.
The base premise is familiar: when their best friend since college commits suicide, two early 40s women are left searching for answers. The execution, however, is stunning in the web of secrets and lies uncovered in a masterful plot that relies on a rotating cast of narrators, including the deceased in flashbacks, to uncover the confession the midwife just couldn’t bring herself to make. The lives of three families are changed forever, and the women at the heart of the story are what make it so readable and compelling. Each is a sympathetic, complex character, and my heart just bled for them over and over.
I carried my nook from room to room, refusing to skim ahead, yet unable to function until I found out the truth. Except the truth kept changing and mutating, and the solving of one mystery merely led to another in a brilliant, twisting path of deception that kept my pulse racing all the way to the epilogue. I’m being purposely vague about the plot as that rollercoaster sense of what-the-heck is happening is priceless. Make no mistake, however, Chamberlin ferrets out all of our hot buttons as women—unexpected death, motherhood, adultery, separation, adoption, birth, parenthood, lying, identity—and jumps all over them with her wicked pen. But it’s not in a gratuitous way at all, and the book deftly avoids sinking into lifetime-movie-of-the-week melodrama (although it certainly is a 10 hanky read). Chamberlin has a rich backlist, yet somehow I’ve missed out on her unique offering to the women’s fiction market. Fans of Susan Wiggs, Robyn Carr, and Jodi Picoult will adore this heart wrenching tale of friendship and the lengths one is willing to go to protect those we love most. (less)
I bought this on the strength of an awesome excerpt in the back of another Samhain book and an awesome blurb. Burkhart has a great premise here: forme...moreI bought this on the strength of an awesome excerpt in the back of another Samhain book and an awesome blurb. Burkhart has a great premise here: former student had a brief kinky encounter with her professor, reconnects several years later when both are (supposedly) more ready for a real relationship. She's also got a strong voice and great characterization, but where this read really came apart for me was heroine. It's been a long time since I encountered a heroine that I felt was simply too damaged for a HEA, but Rae falls into that category. She ran away from Conn five years ago because she was too scared by what he made her feel and was too scared to explore her kinky side. I get that, and at 21, it was probably the smartest thing she could do, but at 26, she's still all kinds of messed up and as fragile as a newborn colt, with an alarming tendency to bolt whenever she feels anything that makes her the least bit uncomfortable.
This isn't unheard of in romance, but Conn still wants to have a kinky relationship (and despite his protests, I don't think he would have been happy with anything less) and believes that this is what Rae needs. But, I ended up feeling that what Rae really needs is several months of intensive counseling. She has issues beyond what she can work out with Conn--why did she run away from him only to immediately end up with another dominating male? Why does she flee from uncomfortable situations? For this part, why did Conn wait five years to find her? They still both lived in the same medium sized town/area. He's been fixated on her the whole time--to the point of seeking out "lessons" on how to be a better dom and collecting items that he only intends to use with Rae. He seemed borderline stalker-ish, especially in light of Rae's issues.
It shouldn't feel like the characters are dancing across a frozen lake with no ice skates as they navigate what should be sexy scenes. A little reluctance is one thing, but Rae's issues seem far deeper. And perhaps, if the plot had focused a lot more on just Rae and Conn and their relationship with more encounters, we could have seen more of a change in her. But, there's a lot of other stuff happening in the plot, some of which is really funny like the haunted house, but it ends up detracting from the relationship. Burkhart does, however, seem to have a real gift for comedy and secondary characters, so I think I would probably appreciate the secondary plots more in a different book. She's also inventive and her engaging voice kept me reading whereas I otherwise would have put the book down. I'm going to give her another try as I *really* want to love her. Accepting recommendations of other titles of hers that I might like more! (less)
4.5 Stars. If you haven’t read Zoe Archer’s Blades of the Rose series, you are missing out on one of the most unique voices writing Romance today as she really defies genre classification. That particular series is a historical/fantasy/steam punk/paranormal/ultra-sexy blend of pure awesome. Collision Course is a category/long-novella length Sci-Fi Romance which channels the best of TV Space Operas. If you are a fan of Firefly, Stargate, Battlestar Galactica, and the Star Wars Franchise, but really wish there was more focus on the relationship and some very NC-17 love scenes, then you will absolutely ADORE this book and wish it was three times as long.
Mara Skiren is a space scavenger, eeking out a solitary living on her beloved RV sized ship and trying to stay out of the conflict between the 8th Wing resistance fighters and the PRAXIS quasi-governmental forces. Kell Frayne is one of those pesky 8th Wing pilots who want to disturb Mara’s quiet black market living by drafting her to retrieve an 8th Wing pilot and her plane from the Smoke Quadrant—the hub of the blackmarket smugglers.
Now, one of the reasons why I love to watch Sci-Fi but rarely read it is because of all the vocabulary and strange terms—-it often feels like one needs to pick up a second language just to enjoy a story. A lot of Sci-fi writers seem to delight in giving everything a techy name and in extolling the gadgets and inventions of their imaginations while the story languishes and suffers. Archer avoids this pitfall by keeping a lot of details familiar enough to avoid confusion, using similar sounding names, and keeping the techy speak to a minimum. She’s definitely of the Ron Moore (Battlestar creator) school of Sci-Fi writing and focuses on creating a compelling drama that transcends the Sci-Fi setting.
Archer excels at creating kick-butt heroines of the self-rescuing variety who are skilled at what they do and supremely confident in those skills. Mara knows that she’s an ace pilot, and more importantly, Kell knows it too. His trust in her unique skills, goes against his usual MO, but he trusts his instincts where Mara is concerned, and she doesn’t let him down. She rescues him just as many times as he rescues her. They each get a turn being the hero of this particular tale, which makes the action sequences that much more fun and unpredictable. The two are trapped together on her tiny ship, and Kell also trusts his instincts where his attraction to Mara is concerned. Much hotness ensues. Like the majority of Archer’s heroines, Mara is unabashedly sexual and very much an equal partner in that arena. Both Kell and Mara, however, are blindsided by the emotions that go beyond lust. These emotions also color the action scenes, which are very well done with cinematic overtones. The penultimate fight scene played out like the best action movie climaxes.
If you haven’t read Archer, this quick but meaty tale is a great introduction to her talents, and if you are an Archer fan wondering if you should follow her into this genre, the answer is a resounding YES. The amount of action (not *that* kind, although there is plenty of that too) makes her writing appeal to men and those who don’t read a lot of romance. (I recommended both this and the Blades of the Rose to my father with a mumbled warning about the heat level.) I’m not sure if Archer plans on returning to the 8th Wing amid her other series obligations, but I’d love to see a story for Lieutenant Jur (the kidnapped pilot) and other stories set in this universe. It seems a darn shame to only visit it once. (less)
Bumped is going to make a lot of people very upset, and that is an AWESOME thing. Megan McCafferty has crafted a dystopian universe where teens are the only ones who can get pregnant and their babies are prized commodities. I don’t read a lot of dystopian fiction because it is often too dark and depressing for my tastes. There is nothing depressing about this tale as it is packed with McCafferty’s trademark snarky wit and sympathetic characters. Sure, the alternate-reality near-future in which the characters live is a bit bleak, but honestly, it’s only a more extreme version of our present society. This is part of the diabolical appeal of the book and the part that will surely lead to lots of controversy: amid all the humor and exaggeration is a bitingly honest commentary on modern society and our current values.
McCafferty states in the forward that she was inspired in part by 16 and Pregnant, but this book is about so much more than just teen pregnancy taken to the extreme. It’s also about the commercialization of absolutely everything from sex to religion and how a variety of different characters cope with this interconnected world surprisingly devoid of real connection. At the center of the book are twins separated at birth. Melody has been raised by the sort of high-achieving parents who typify the worst of this status-driven society. Harmony, in contrast, has been raised by a religious sect that sees themselves as residing in Goodside and everyone else as residing in Otherworld. Harmony and Melody share the narration duties with each displaying a unique first-person POV. (And I have to add that each is completely different from Jessica Darling, the first-person narrator of McCafferty's bestselling series. Some authors who work in first-person end up with protagonists who all sound the same. That's not the case for McCafferty who has two very different voices at work here.)
Harmony arrives on Melody’s doorstep, allegedly to save Melody from her decision to “go pro” and take advantage of her most valuable asset: her fertility. Melody's limited window of fertility has been sold to the highest bidder by a baby broker, but Melody has yet to actually “bump” with the intended sperm donor. Instead, she spends her days helping run the Pro-Am teen pregnancy alliance and waiting to get her own bump. In a society where pre-teen girls wear fake bumps and other girls have bumping parties, she feels a bit like an outsider. Harmony also feels like an outsider in Goodside as she’s an unmarried old maid at 16 who can’t seem to get with the program of arranged marriages and baby making. Both sides idolize teen fertility and center around how to maximize it—they just have radically different ideas as to how it should be utilized.
Harmony and Melody re-connect at a critical point in both of their lives and influence each other’s journeys in very unexpected ways. This is an incredibly readable book—I read it in a single sitting (staying up way too late!), and it’s also totally gripping for adult years as well as the target teen audience. McCafferty has always excelled in cross-over fiction that appeals both to older teens and to adult readers. This particular offering would make an awesome selection for a mother-daughter book club, teen book club, or a progressive book club looking for an unusual title sure to spark a lot of discussion. Due to the subject matter, I’m not sure if I would recommend it to younger teen readers—I know that my 7th or 8th grade self would have LOVED the book, but it might be best shared with a parent for a mini-book club discussion. Older teens will see their friends and celebrities reflected in the archetypes in the book and will “get” McCafferty’s biting satire and wit.
Very conservative families will probably not share McCafferty’s humor, and I can see it being on the “banned” book list. However, this would be a darned shame as this book NEEDS to make adults uncomfortable and NEEDS to make us question the values present in our current society. There are a lot of parallels to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaiden’s Tale which became a critic’s darling, book club classic, and is now a staple of feminist literature classes. It would be easy to dismiss Bumped as “just” YA comedy, but that would be marginalizing the hidden value of this book, which is way more accessible than The Handmaiden’s Tale but no less diabolical. Adults who loved Atwood’s tale should check this out as it shows a completely different outcome to a similar dystopian dilemma. And, as bonus, it is hysterically funny in places AND is the opener for what looks to be an awesome series. It ends on a cliffhanger that outdoes even McCafferty’s usual penchant for cliffhanger endings. Our characters are in hilarious peril! Quick! To the sequel! (Which I will be pre-ordering as soon as it becomes available.) (less)
Outlaw Bride is an impressive debut from an author who brings new life to the Western Historical Romance subgenre. Western Romance was my first love as a romance reader, and it remains a favorite of mine even as publishers and the market have followed other trends. For several years, it was almost impossible to find great new Western Romance authors. In recent years, offerings have improved somewhat, especially with smaller presses giving new opportunities for those who write and read Westerns. But, true Western Romance stills feels like a tiny prairie flower peeking out of a forest of Paranormal, Shape-shifting, Sexy, Contemporary Cowboy, Regency, Erotica, Serial Killer trees. And Boyce brings us Western Romance at its purest—Fans of Linda Lael Miller, Jodi Thomas, Susan Kay Law, Paty Jager, et al will love Boyce.
Outlaw Bride contains all of my favorite Western romance tropes—mistaken identity, mail-order bride gone awry, woman running from her abusive past, Gruff Sheriff Tortured Hero Deluxe and Sexy edition, orphaned child in need of mothering, and great secondary characters providing comic relief, emotional support, and a sense of community. Kate is on the run from her outlaw husband who tried to kill her. A western law man died saving her life, and she’s trying to repay him by seeking out his family. Connor Langston is that family BUT he’s also the Sherriff of Fatal Bluff.
Kate must tread carefully, especially since Connor believes her to be Hannah Stockdale, a wayward mail-order bride he hires to be his housekeeper and caretaker for his niece. It’s a convoluted set-up, but it totally works and contains a number of hilarious moments along the way. Kate finds herself first using the case of mistaken identity for Hannah Stockdale as means to escape her husband and make it to Fatal Bluff and then as a means of staying and getting close to the Langston family as she tries to figure out the best way to fulfill the legacy of the man who died saving her. Connor, however, is no idiot, and he gradually grows to suspect that she’s not who she says she is, and their delicate dance as they try to find a way to trust each other is beautiful.
I love, love, love books that gradually ratchet up the sexual tension by creating a palpable sense of longing that neither character believes they can act on. There’s only one full love-scene, but it’s a dozy with the emotional impact of a dozen more casual encounters. The sensuality through longing and sexual tension gives the book broad appeal and will win over readers who miss highly sensual, yet not explicit Western romances. Readers who need a little heat won’t be disappointed either as the wait for the characters to finally act on their attraction is more than worth it.
I loved how Boyce created very authentic feeling characters--Hannah reacted like a 1800s woman, not like a 2011 woman wearing petticoats. She takes a very long time to trust Connor because she knows what the consequences of her full disclosure will be and how few options she really has. Connor lives in a world of black and white and needs a serious wake-up call to accept the shades of grey around him. The secondary characters are wonderful and fully-fleshed. I love how bonded the community is to Connor and how much they all want him to be happy again. Fatal Bluff felt real, and I cared about its inhabitants almost as much as Connor and Kate.
I can’t wait to see what else Boyce has in store for us. I desperately hope she gives us the story of the REAL Hannah Stockdale and a HEA for a woman who seems every bit as complex as Kate. I hope Boyce continues writing Westerns for a long time to come—she’s a welcome addition to an under-represented sub-genre. If this is her debut, she’s poised to become a powerhouse and deserves to be on the radar for readers and critics alike. I hope she writes fast because I want MORE! (less)
Brenda Novak is one of the finest Romantic Suspense authors writing today—she writes intense, character driven plots. I’m having a great time working...moreBrenda Novak is one of the finest Romantic Suspense authors writing today—she writes intense, character driven plots. I’m having a great time working my way through her backlist and found this title on Overdrive for my nook. Perfect Murder is almost more thriller than romance—the hero and heroine don’t meet for about the first 100 pages, and the murder is the central focus of the story. For this reason, this isn’t my favorite Novak title—I like it when the focus is more on the romance, and I like more interaction early on between the main characters.
Jane was once married to a serial killer, but now works as a rookie investigator for a non-profit. Sebastian’s ex-wife and son were killed by her psycho second husband, who then faked his own suicide. Sebastian is the only one who believes that the killer is still alive. The hunt for the killer has eaten up his considerable fortune and honed his desire for vengeance until it’s just this edge of sanity. He’s a compelling character, but early on he makes a decision that endangers an innocent person—and he continues to endanger this person. At this point, I stopped feeling much sympathy for Sebastian and his plan to “take care” of the killer without aid of law enforcement only added to my dislike of him. Others, however, might well feel more sympathy for him and see more chemistry between him and Jane, but I felt like Jane had more chemistry with the detective working the case—too bad he was married to her best friend! I was not convinced that Sebastian was the right choice for the damaged and vulnerable Jane.
However, Novak’s writing shines past my quibbles with Sebastian and her POV scenes of the killer and the secondary characters is simply superb. She’s required reading for all thiller and suspense readers—I’m just not sure that this is the perfect introduction to her talents. Starting with book 1 of the Perfect series (which introduces Jane’s story) might be a better choice—I wish I had done that as I think I would have been more invested in Jane. (less)
Girl Wonder is the perfect gift for the 11-15 year-old girl in your life. Some YA fiction crosses over easily to the adult audience, and while I found...moreGirl Wonder is the perfect gift for the 11-15 year-old girl in your life. Some YA fiction crosses over easily to the adult audience, and while I found Girl Wonder enjoyable in the same way that I enjoyed the Princess Diaries series, I think its target audience of teen girls will absolutely ADORE this book. It offers the familiar theme of awkward girl facing a new and hostile environment as she starts a new school in a new city, but Martin’s fresh voice puts a unique spin on this classic trope. Readers who love Meg Cabot and Carolyn Mackler et al will want to add this offering to their keeper shelf and put Alexa Martin on their auto-read list as I see her as a great addition to the contemporary YA chick-lit genre. Note for parents: If you allow your daughter to read Meg Cabot, Alexa Martin is in the same category—I personally would have no problem letting an 11-15 year old read the title as while typical teen issues surface, good choices finally prevail in the end. If you screen your daughter’s reading, this is a fast, fun read that you too should enjoy—I polished it off in an evening and cheered at the great ending. I simply love it when good girls DO finish first! (less)
Steam Punk is hot, hot, hot right now, and I’m just starting to venture into this growing sub-genre. Stormy Gale is the perfect introduction to Steam...moreSteam Punk is hot, hot, hot right now, and I’m just starting to venture into this growing sub-genre. Stormy Gale is the perfect introduction to Steam Punk—at under 100 pages, it’s a short investment to test-drive both a talented new author and an emerging sub-genre. Stormy Gale was whisked from her Victorian existence as a street urchin into the 21st century by a benevolent time-traveler who raised her as a daughter and entrusted her with securing the secrets of time travel. She’s back in Victorian time, albeit in America this time, rescuing a time travel device from a Mad Duke. To accomplish this, she disguises herself as a fortune telling gypsy at a village fair. Much hilarity ensues –Bell uses physical comedy to tremendous affect here.
The book is first-person so we only get Stormy’s narration and POV, and despite her Victorian birth, Stormy is very much a 21st century woman with her speech and thoughts. I had to remind myself that the whole point of steam punk is the ability to insert anachronistic elements at whim and to craft believable alternate universes, which Bell does admirably, especially considering the short format. If you love Dr. Who and especially Torchwood, I think you will adore Stormy and her side-kick brother. About halfway through the story, Bell inserts a twist that I absolutely didn’t see coming AT ALL. And at first, I didn’t like the twist. But, upon further reflection, I think it was a very smart choice on Bell’s part as it really ramps up the emotional intensity and leads to a very nice, high stakes black moment and satisfying climax.
The door is certainly open to further adventures—perhaps the brother will get a story of his own? Are there others like Stormy and her brother? Do they communicate with each other? I’d love to revisit this universe, particularly in a full-length book. There was easily enough material here to support a full-length book, which is really my only quibble. Everything feels rushed, but it’s only a novella—that’s pretty much unavoidable. The whole novella is very light and fun and is a great substitute for a night of TV. I particularly loved Bell’s irreverent first person voice, a very unusual choice, but it really works to her advantage. If you enjoy Katie MacAlister, I think you will love Bell, and I can see her having particular appeal to older teens & early 20s readers (note: there is a love scene, and while it’s steamy, it’s not exceptionally graphic, and unlike some novellas, the love scene is a very small percentage of the total word count—the focus is on Stormy’s dilemma). I’m curious to see what Bell does with other POVs and genres, and I’m planning to look at her backlist (she also writes as Chloe Cole). (less)
4.5 stars. Book 10 in the Rough Riders series, Cowgirls Don’t Cry, is actually the perfect introduction to James’s amazing voice for readers more used...more4.5 stars. Book 10 in the Rough Riders series, Cowgirls Don’t Cry, is actually the perfect introduction to James’s amazing voice for readers more used to spicy contemporaries and who haven’t yet ventured into Romantica. Brandt is quite possibly my favorite hero of the whole series. He really showcases James’s range as a writer—he’s not her usual alpha hero at all, yet she imbues him with layers of complexity and succeeds in making him strong and attractive while still showing him to be more sensitive than the rest of the McKay clan. I found him even sexier for this sensitivity—he makes choices that come from his heart, and he gives Jessie the space to make her own choices. At first the plotline of the widow and her former brother-in-law coming together to raise the deceased’s love child seemed far fetched and rooted in category romance tropes, but James transforms this into a complex story about what it really means to be a family and what love can overcome. There’s also a few nice twists along the way that make this feel fresh and different.
Brandt’s respectful treatment of Jessie extends to the bedroom, and one of the most fun love scenes of the series comes when she knocks HIM for a loop by showing just how far she’s willing to go. The love scenes are smoking, but they are a bit less “kinky” than some in the series—there’s not as much of a domination vibe and there’s no backdoor action. I suppose some fans of the series might be a bit let down by this, but I really enjoyed seeing James’s versatility and the balance between heat and substance—Brandt and Jessie both have complex character arcs that extend beyond realizing that they are perfect for each other. We also see some different secondary characters in this book, and I look forward to seeing them in future installments. The other McKays make an appearance, but one could totally read this story without reading anything else in the series. Shoulda Been a Cowboy and Raising Kane introduced Jessie, Luke, and Brandt to readers, but that backstory is also woven into this book as well. James tosses around the phrase “Gentleman Cowboy” throughout the series, but Brandt really personifies that. This is a great read featuring a memorable hero. (less)
I wasn’t sure I would like Raising Kane at all, and I actually read it after finishing the rest of the series. I didn’t like Kane’s twin brother’s sto...moreI wasn’t sure I would like Raising Kane at all, and I actually read it after finishing the rest of the series. I didn’t like Kane’s twin brother’s story, and Kane himself is a bit of an abrasive lout the first four or five books of the series. But, I should have trusted James more—she redeems Kane quiet nicely, and I truly believed that he had repented for his earlier mistakes. In fact, he’s been doing a bit of penance for the last several years—living isolated in his trailer, doing the crap jobs around the ranch, and participating in the Little Buddies program to mentor boys. This is how he meets Ginger, a statuesque lawyer and her son. He’s attracted to her, but feels out of her league and also wants to stay within the ethical boundaries of the program. This all changes when he puts on his white knight suit after Ginger injures herself. I always love curvy heroines, and I really appreciate when authors craft heroines who reflect the diversity female body types. Ginger is tall and stacked, and Kane loves that about her—I liked that he was openly lusting after her rather than suddenly coming to appreciate her charms. Because Ginger is a bit of a control freak in her everyday life, Kane quickly figures out that she needs an avenue where she can surrender control—to him. And lots of five alarm fire love scenes follow, but this is also a really sweet story about a cowboy who finds a family of his own and realizes what he’s been missing. Headed straight for my keeper shelf! [This story is intended for mature readers and includes all sorts of graphic love scenes—wear your heat proof gloves while reading!] (less)