2010 Reading Roundup!

HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone!!!
     Ah, well. Another year has gone by, and another huge pile of books has been devoured. Unlike previous years, however, I've decided to do a formal reflection of what I've read. Thanks to the wonderful GoodReads, I now have a way to keep track of my reads.
     Danielle (of GoodReads fame and the author of the Danielle's Book Thoughts blog) posted a wonderful "year end wrap-up" of her 2009 reads, and I enjoyed it so much that I have based my own 2010 roundup on it (thank you for letting me do so, Danielle!). So without further ado...

How many books did you read this year?
107; the full list can be found here.

What were the different genres of books and how many of each did you read?
• Historical romance: 4
• Contemporary romance: 8
• Paranormal Romance: 29
• Urban Fantasy: 55
• Science Fiction: 1
• Mystery: 7
• Fantasy (~epic): 3
(surprisingly missing: non-fiction, general fiction)

What were the top ten books that you read this year?

(in no particular order)
Soulless by Gail Carriger
Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill
Angel's Blood by Nalini Singh
Dream Fever by Karen Marie Moning
Thorn Queen by Richelle Mead
Venom by Jennifer Estep
The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook
Twice Bitten by Chloe Neill
Archangel's Kiss by Nalini Singh
The Host by Stephenie Meyer

Were there any books you did not like? Why?
Maria V. Snyder's Fire Study really just didn't work for me; I ended up DNF-ing it. Also, I really didn't connect with Black Dust Mambo by Adrian Phoenix. I'm still sad about both cases…in the former I'd really liked the other books in the series, and in the latter the theme and setting is usually a favorite of mine.

What is your top favorite book and why?
The Iron Duke just knocked my socks off; in fact, it set them on fire. I really enjoyed the world building, which was unlike anything I'd read before.

What are your reading goals for next year?
I'd really love to at least match my read count for this year. Aside from that, I'm planning on reading some more non-fiction and literary fiction titles, including classics.

Did you read any books out of your normal routine?

The Chemistry of Death, which was a thriller/mystery/procedural. Features an forensic anthropologist, so it's definitely got some gory details about dead bodies and rates of decomposition and the like. Overall, I enjoyed it.

Any new genres that you got into this year? What books got you into this type of reading?
Hm. Well, technically I'd never read any historical romance before (chick-lit titles produced in the actual period, a la Jane Austen, don't count ^_^). I'd always thought I'd never get into that genre of fiction since in my mind the regency/Victorian era stuff is defined by staid behavior and "polite" society. Little did I know that I'd fall in love with the notion of saucy drama amongst such courteousness.

Who is your favorite new author?
For consistency of enjoyment, I'd say Victoria Dahl. I'm really into characters, and Dahl writes those wonderfully. I'm always attached to their personalities and interactions in her books. So far I've only read her contemporaries (not counting a novella), so I'm really looking forward to checking out her historicals.

Did you glom any authors this year (meaning: read as many of the author's books you could get your hands on)?
I read the first six Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich, so I suppose that'll have to count even though there are ten left in the series.

Some other new authors that you enjoyed and want to read more of:
• Nalini Singh
• Diana Rowland
• Chloe Neill
• Larissa Ione
• Ava Gray (a.k.a. Ann Aguirre)

Favorite hero and why? Has this changed?

Hm. Maybe Conall Maccon of the Parasol Protectorate series? He can be thick-headed at times but he's like a big surly teddy bear. ^_^

Favorite heroine and why? Has this changed?
Merit from the Chicagoland Vampires series. I'd love to have her as a friend! ^_^

Any authors you decided to 'fire'? Why?
Not really. Though sadly, it's been 6 months since I started the latest Anita Blake book by Laurell K. Hamilton. I'll never "fire" her, but I'm currently not glomming her.

What was the most unique storyline you read in a book this year?

Oh, easily the world of The Iron Duke. I could eat that stuff with a spoon!

Any book you liked that you were surprised that you liked?
Technically speaking, I wasn't sure what to expect with my first historical romance, Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake. I was certainly surprised by the ardency of my affection for the book. ^_^

Any book you expected to love but were disappointed by? 

Adrian Phoenix's Black Dust Mambo. I usually LOVE LOVE LOVE books set in bayou country (or Louisiana in general) and about hoodoo.

Favorite couple and why? Did this change?

Elena and Raphael (Guild Hunter series), maybe? Though really I think my tip top will likely always be Anita and Jean-Claude (Anita Blake series); after 18 books I still find it so sweet when they share a "moment."

Anything else you want to tell us about your reading this year?

I've never read so many books in one year! I've always been a supremely slow reader; my brain can't help but savor and chew over words and the visuals they incite. But due to a setting change--in addition to a drastic reduction in workload--I had more time to read books. Combined with the epic awesomeness that is GoodReads, I have been on a reading roll that I hope will remain strong in the future. I'm so very excited for the different books coming out next year, as well as the chance to "get back" to some genres outside of the ones I stuck to this last year. And most of all, I'm absolutely thrilled with the things I've got planned for this here blog….and I hope it will be of interest to you, as well!

Reading Style Me-nterview

So, I found this nifty little meme over at Bookaholic Does Blogging...I really enjoyed the interesting questions and the fun responses. So I thought I'd give it a go!

Meme: 'My Need To Read' Reading Style

Hardback, trade paperback or mass market paperback?

I love to have hardbacks on my bookshelves, but I love to read trades or mass markets. Hardbacks are a pain to carry around in your bag in numbers greater than 1.

Barnes & Noble or Borders?
I don't know WHY, but I never really clicked with B&N. When I had easy access to either one, I could always be found at Borders. I always appreciated their (free) frequent buyer program, and would plan my visits around receipt of a new e-coupon or special deal. ^_^

Bookmark or dog-ear?
I won't even consider dog-ears. The notion gives me the willies. One thing I abhor is lending a book and getting it back with evidence of dog-earing.

Amazon or brick-and-mortar?
Nothing, absolutely nothing, will replace the fantastic experience of browsing through aisles and popping out books to take a gander at. Amazon is great as a money saver, but the LBS is a haven as much as it is a place to buy books.

Alphabetize by author, or alphabetize by title, or random?
I group by book type/genre... but that's about it. Which is a bit funny, given that I'd spent a good 5 years working in a library...you'd think I'd be all over some form of order.

Keep, throw away, or sell?
Give away or trade. If I really love it, then I keep. Not sure if I can remember ever selling a book.

Keep dust jacket or toss it?
Oh...my...to even suggest it! Of course I keep!

Read with dust jacket or remove it?
Definitely remove it. Nothing is sadder than a tattered dust jacket.

Short story or novel?
Novel! Some of my favorite short stories just make me want there to be more to read about. D'oh!

Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket?
Harry Potter, but of course (sorry Lemony).

Stop reading when tired or at chapter breaks?
I like to read until I hit a natural narrative break. If that happens to be at the end of a chapter or scene, fine.

“It was a dark and stormy night” or “Once upon a time”?
"It was a dark and stormy night" can always get better. "Once upon a time" always seems to get worse. ^_^

Buy or borrow?
Buy, although borrowing allows my wallet to sleep easier at night. ^__^

Buying choice: book reviews, recommendations, or browse?
A combo of the three, really. But these days, I just don't have the guts to buy a book before I check some of the impressions of my GoodReads peeps and various users that I "follow." I don't mind not the change...the resulting purchases are almost always a good time.

Tidy ending or cliffhanger?
Mostly tidy ending. I like to have some threads leading into the next book. But having the main plot thread be resolved is nice.

Morning reading, afternoon reading, or nighttime reading?
The best is reading late at night when all have gone to bed (up til 3 or 4am...maybe even 5? ^_^). Unfortunately, it's also impractical if one wishes to lead any sort of socially acceptable schedule. So I'd say evening.

Stand-alone or series?
Series series series! I love characters, and get attached frequently. So series allow me to indulge that.

Favorite series?
Hm. As of late, I love the Chicagoland Vampires and Parasol Protectorate series.

Favorite children’s book?
Tikki Tikki Tembo; the version re-told by Arlene Mosel and illustrated by Blair Lent. Say Tikki's full name five-times fast! ^_^

Favorite YA book?
Aw, crap. I have no clue. I guess Poison Study...officially noted as YA, though I'd personally not classify it as such.

Favorite book of which nobody else has heard?
Again...aw, crap. I dunno! I have favorite books, but they're also most beloved and well-known.

Favorite book read last year?
Since it's the end of the year, I'll take this to mean "over this last year." Which would make the choice easy: The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook. Oh, how that book knocked my flippin' socks off.

Favorite books of all time?
I have two: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card and Pride and Prejudice by you-already-know-who.

What are you reading right now?
Tempest's Legacy by Nicole Peeler. It's fun as always. An issue with characters has me a little annoyed, but some things can't be helped...like my reading neuroses.

What are you reading next?
I'd really like to jump into this copy of Jim Butcher's Full Moon that I've had for a while....but with the new year will come some great releases so I can't guarantee I'll actually stick to the pre-planned order.

Favorite book to recommend to an 11-year-old?
R.L. Stine's Goosebumps series. Great way to ease a kid into paranormal and horror. ^__^

Favorite book to re-read?
Ender's Game. And I cry every time.

Do you ever smell books?
I sure do, I'm not ashamed to say. I love the smell of a new book. And there's something rather special about the natural smell of library book stacks.

Do you ever read primary source documents like letters or diaries?
Not really...but I wouldn't mind doing so for certain historical figures. Jane Austen comes to mind.

Blogger Hop: segundo!

Book Blogger HopSo, last week I participated in my first Book Blogger Hop. It was SO much fun and I got to visit so many new and interesting blogs. While I won't be participating every week, I am very much looking forward to doing so when I'm able. And this week, I'm able! ^_^ So this week's question is:

"What do you consider the most important in a story: the plot or the characters?"

Man, this is an easy question to answer, because I always look for great characters in a story. Before anything else, I really love being able to connect to the main players. If I can't, then the plot doesn't quite interest or thrill me the way it otherwise could. I love serials, and it's because I am constantly falling in love with characters and can't bear the thought of leaving them alone after only one book.
     Now, whether plot or characters are more essential to the success of a book is a different way to view the question. And to that I have no answer. I can forgive a book an average plot...but if the characters are duds, I tend to drag my feet reading about them. And that's not to say I need to agree with a character... I've gotten attached to some antagonists (the whole "love to hate" deal), too. But they have to intrigue!
     Some authors that I think create fabulous characters include Victoria Dahl, Laurell K. Hamilton (for their detail and intricacies), and Janet Evanovich.
So there you have it! What about you...I'm curious to know! ^_^

In Anticipation: Archangel's Consort

It should be absolutely no surprise to anyone who's into urban fantasy and/or paranormal romance that the latest book in Nalini Singh's Guild Hunter series, Archangel's Consort, is being released near the end of next month. I've tried my best to avoid specific information on the plot up until now (including Ms. Singh's generous teaser excerpt), because I wouldn't be able to focus for the inevitable obsessing over every crumb of knowledge. But now there's no helping it...I had to look up at least the book description:
Vampire hunter Elena Deveraux and her lover, the lethally beautiful archangel Raphael, have returned home to New York only to face an uncompromising new evil… 
     A vampire has attacked a girls’ school—the assault one of sheer, vicious madness—and it is only the first act. Rampant bloodlust takes vampire after vampire, threatening to make the streets run with blood. Then Raphael himself begins to show signs of an uncontrolled rage, as inexplicable storms darken the city skyline and the earth itself shudders.
      The omens are suddenly terrifyingly clear.
      An ancient and malevolent immortal is rising. The violent winds whisper her name: Caliane. She has returned to reclaim her son, Raphael. Only one thing stands in her way: Elena, the consort who must be destroyed…
Now, there is absolutely no way this book won't be intense as all hell. I keep wondering how this book could "up the stakes," and clearly this is the answer. Some of Raphael's beginnings were alluded to in Archangel's Kiss, so it should be expected. Methinks this will be his book for all intents and purposes...some more of the veil will be lifted from his mysterious, almost intimidating persona.

Could this cover possibly be any more beautiful? The artist is Tony Mauro, who's done countless book covers and movie posters, many of which anyone would recognize immediately. The guy's done an amazing job here. Unlike on the cover of the last book, the wings on Elena look exactly as I pictured them in my mind (e.g. no huge gargoyle horns ^_^). I'm guessing the background is the Angel compound's training area where Elena spent time with Galen and Illium (a.k.a. "Bluebell"). And of course, that knife in her hand should be the gift she received from a certain lovable Archangel. Someone clearly insisted on some accuracy in the depiction. I wonder who it was?

Review: Seducing the Vampire (early look)

Seducing the Vampire by Michele Hauf 
Release Date: January 1st 2011 by Harlequin

Quick Take:
I was quite mesmerized by this book. There were uneven segments, but overall I am so glad I read this. Part historical, part contemporary, all paranormal-romance goodness. ^_^

Book Description:
In Marie Antoinette's Paris, the beautiful vampire Viviane seeks a male patron who will allow her to live on her own terms. Courted by two feuding brothers, Viviane succumb to the handsome rebel, Rhys. She's unaware that Rhys has other, darker, motives. He seeks vengeance against his brother, Constantine—by stealing Viviane and tainting her with his blood.
     But just as Rhys is realizing the depth of his love for Viviane, his brother take his revenge. By casting a spell on the woman they both desire, he condemns her to a living death inside a glass coffin.
     Two centuries later, Rhys hears the urban legend of the Vampire Snow White, imprisoned deep in the tunnels under Paris. He must find her and set her free, but will he be able to save her from the evil still intent on destroying them?
Have you ever watched the Quentin Tarantino film, Pulp Fiction? You know how it jumbles up the story's timeline, beginning the film with the "end?" Well, that's this book. In the very prologue, we find out the result of some as-yet untold story. We're treated to the mental and physical torture of a female vampire powerless to change her fate (don't worry: there's nothing too hard to read through). From there, we go a bit back in time (same Paris, same 1785) to follow the life of one Viviane LaMourette. It doesn't take much to realize you're being made to watch the circumstances under which a sweet and unassuming woman finds herself in the unfortunate situation.

That timeline is interspersed with cuts to "present day" Paris. You'd think a story might be less exciting, going in knowing so much about certain major occurrences. One knows early on who will fall in love, who will survive, and who will meet a gruesome fate. But the progression--of both timelines--is very arresting. The transitions between temporal settings are seamless, even as they create tremendous tension.

From the get-go, the dynamic between the three main characters--Viviane, Rhys, and Constantine--was addictive. All three are seductive and powerful creatures, yet ultimately bound by societal expectations and limitations...some human, some paranormal. The love story's emergence and progression is no surprise, but I was pleased to see it well-weaved into an intricate game of posturing and scheming.  Rather like "Dangerous Liasons," in a way.

There was a section of the book--what I'd liken to the third or fourth of a five act story--dragged on a bit and was bogged down by a great deal of angst and lengthy character indecision. (Think, "I should buy a Snickers. But no, it'll make me fat. But yes, I'm hungry. But no, it costs a whole dollar. But yes,....") I wouldn't have minded if that particular chunk was cut down, and the subsequent "act" filled out some more. But that's just me..."grain of salt" and all that. And at any rate, the story eventually picked back up and remained extremely engaging through the end.

Indeed, this book should have been called "Seducing the Reader," because that's certainly what it did to me. I absolutely cannot wait for the release of Forever Vampire, a book that takes place after the events of this one.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thoughts On: Blog Design

This past Friday, I participated in my first Blog Hop (the one hosted by Crazy for Books), where the participant question was about favorite elements of a blog. I responded that I most enjoy the book reviews; what a notion! ^_^ And while I absolutely believe that "content is king, " I must admit that one of the elements that really interests me is a blog's visuals.

The look and layout of a blog can so often be part of the fun and enjoyment of visiting. I love getting to see the unique styles and reflections of a blogger's personality. It's a bit like themed rooms in a house. Sure, ultimately what one needs and wants is a bed to sleep on / tub to bathe in / stove to cook on...but how fun is it to play with visuals, and enjoy the beauty in the practical?

I looked for some time before I found the current template that I'm using for my blog, and then made a few minimal adjustsments (my html skills are in dire need of an update!). And I have further ideas about how I'd like this space to reflect my vibe, all of which are currently either in my head or sketched into my precious "book-notebook" (more on that at another time). Hopefully I can one day code my way to that goal. Or find a blog designer.

And speaking of designers. I found one that I am in luuuurve with. The duo over at April Showers Blog Design are mad-genius-people. ^_^ April's (the namesake and designer) designs are clean and focused, and draw the eye immediately. They're fun and playful. They reflect a uniqueness in each design they do. If I can scrounge up the change for it, you best believe I'll take it all to these ladies!!!! ^_^

And as for book blog designs I mega dig...I love Parajunkie's View, Zelda's Bookshelf, Escape Between the Pages, The Bookish Snob, Book Lovers, Inc., Smexy Books (though I think it might be all the hot mens there lol), and several others. I love the simplicity of Sniffly Kitty's place, and I love the frenetic energy of Larissa's. I love the subtle changes for the holidays. It's like blog DNA! (or rNA, I dunno). So much fun.

How about you? Are the visuals of a blog of interest to you? What aspects do you enjoy most? Are there blogs whose designs you particularly like?

Blogger Hop numero uno!

Book Blogger HopIn addition to enjoying reading books and sharing thoughts on them, one thing I love to do is get other people's thoughts on the same! I often find myself cruising through my followed blogs (or fave users on GoodReads), seeing what books others are reading and what they've got going on.
Such is why I'm really excited to be participating in my first Book Blogger Hop! Hosted by Jennifer at Crazy for Books, it revolves around that same idea of getting to see what's going on with other book bloggers out there. There's also a question posed every week, which each participant is encouraged to discuss. This week's is:

"What is the thing you like most about reading book blogs?  Is it the reviews, author guest posts, articles, giveaways, or something else entirely?"
My answer may not be so exciting, but I love the reviews! They're the cornerstone of most book blogs, after all. ^_^ Even reading various reviews for the same book is fun (as is the case in book tours), since each blogger has their own review writing style, as well as (of course) differing opinions.

But I also love to find out individual bloggers' thoughts on a variety of topics. Sometimes it's the "rambling about ___" that is most enjoyable....and most hilarious! I recently read posts on topics like book review length, bizarre Christmas traditions, and the (sometimes appalling) behavior of bookstore customers. Whatever brings out the personality of the blogger is quite intriguing to me.

Review: Tempest Rising

 Tempest Rising (Jane True, #1) by Nicole Peeler

Quick Take: It took a while for me to warm up to the characters and story of this book. But once it warmed up, it stayed that way. Wittiness aplenty made this a fun(ny) read.

Book Description:
Living in small town Rockabill, Maine, Jane True always knew she didn't quite fit in with so-called normal society. During her nightly, clandestine swim in the freezing winter ocean, a grisly find leads Jane to startling revelations about her heritage: she is only half-human.
Now, Jane must enter a world filled with supernatural creatures alternatively terrifying, beautiful, and deadly- all of which perfectly describe her new "friend," Ryu, a gorgeous and powerful vampire.
It is a world where nothing can be taken for granted: a dog can heal with a lick; spirits bag your groceries; and whatever you do, never-ever-rub the genie's lamp.
So. Reading this book was something of a varied experience for me. It took me longer to finish than usual, and it's in part because it took a while for me to find a connection with the main character and her tale. The story starts by placing the reader into the daily life of Rockabill, Maine, as seen through the eyes of Jane True. Jane's musings were quite sentimental and tinged with sadness…but without much context it didn't resonate. Jane's voice was snappy and witty, her humor irreverent, but again not much was leaving an impression. There were a couple of characters that felt to me like "straw men" antagonists (read the book and then ask me who. ^_^). And overall, it felt rather slow…even with a number of occurrences that were intended to thrill. I really was having trouble putting my finger on what it was that precluded my enjoyment. (I still feel like perhaps rereading the book to try and figure it out.)

At some point, however, I started warming up to Jane. It might have been that, in getting to know her and experiencing her formal yet sudden introduction to the paranormal, her experiences carried more import. With many character introductions and initial world building out of the way, it became quite enjoyable getting to spend time in Jane's head.

I quite enjoyed the easy banter between Jane and Ryu. Some of their shared antics had me in stitches, and the presence of Ryu's character brought out so much of interest in Jane's, perhaps more so than any other device. Through him, we got to see many sides of Jane…including the saucy and flirtatious! ^_^

The mystical creatures that populated the story were so interesting and amusing. In many cases, they remain quite memorable and I look forward to some reappearances in subsequent installments.

There is a character that was involved with a life-altering experience that Jane suffered through as a youngster. Despite his having been long gone before the book's beginning (e.g., he's "dead" dead by page 1), his relationship with--and influence on--Jane ended up being pretty poignant.

Best of all, the story wrapped up in such a way that I was seriously eager to continue onto the next book. One can't ask for better than that!

Oh, and though the book's cover and the story are two separate entities, I have to give props to the artist or team that does the artwork for the Jane True series. It's so much fun, and the little visual clues about the book's content are a nice touch.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

DO Judge a Book by its Cover!

Okay, so there's the age-old adage warning us all not to judge books by their cover; advice which in both literal and figurative contexts is quite sound. But I must admit that book cover art can be satisfying in its own right. Hell, there are times when I'm just as excited for the release of book's cover art as I am for the book. Perhaps there's some way to judge a book cover by it's...well, book cover? ^_^

Yes, indeed there is! The wonderful ladies over at All Things Urban Fantasy are hosting the 2010 Urban Fantasy Cover Art Awards. The group of nominations was selected by over 50 experts (bloggers, reviewers, artists, authors, publishers etc.), who checked out hundreds of pieces from 2010. Anyone can vote on these final nominations, which are organized into 15 categories:

  • Best Anthology Cover
  • Best Foreign (non US) Cover
  • Best Paranormal YA Cover
  • Best Paranormal Steampunk Cover
  • Best Object Cover
  • Best Male Cover
  • Best Female Cover
  • Best Duo Cover
  • Best Male w/ Animal Cover
  • Best Female w/ Animal Cover
  • Most Unique Cover
  • Best Debut Cover
  • Best Covers in a Series
  • Best Sneak Peak Cover for 2011
  • Cover of the Year 2010
Makes for lots of "pretty" to look at! What's more, the awards are tied to giveaways of a whole host of books. Much cooler than an "I Voted" sticker, if you ask me. ^_^ Voting is open until December 29: HERE.

Review: Night of the Vampires

Night of the Vampires by Heather Graham

Quick Take:
The setting and integration with actual historical events is quite riveting. However, the romance and character development felt a bit flat to me. All told, I'm not sorry to have read it.

Book Description:
     As a soldier, Cole Granger fights to restore peace to a world divided by war and evil. His extraordinary talents are enlisted to prevent the president's horrific premonition from becoming reality. Nothing—and no one—will stop him from fulfilling his duty. Especially the mysterious young woman who claims to be his comrade's sister. Enemy or ally, he can't yet determine. But one thing he knows for certain is that he must keep her close. Very close.
     Megan Fox's quest to uncover a family secret leads her to the center of vampire riots in West Virginia. To find the answers she needs—and clear herself of suspicion—she must join forces with Cole. They work undercover to bring justice, but they can't disguise the potent attraction and need that draw them together. Yet trust doesn't come easily for Cole…and when Megan unearths the grim, dark truth, can she trust him to believe her?
This book initially caught my eye when I saw the title (anything starting with "Night of the" is bound to be horror-rific!) and read the book's description, noted above. You'll notice that the blurb is not completely clear on the setting of the story. So I'll begin this review by noting that the book is a piece of historical fiction and urban fantasy. It takes place on the borderlands created by the American Civil War, and involves characters that have varying degrees of involvement with the conflict. Against this backdrop, a threat has secretly yet violently been appearing throughout the country: vampirism. Far from seductive and romantic, this affliction of frenzy and bloodthirst threatens to stretch and possibly break the already-delicate tensions of the war.

I found the choice of setting to be quite appealing for the insertion of a vampire tale. Think about it: what better time and place for vampirism to boom than during a bloody ground war? Ms. Graham has obviously done a boatload of research on the Civil War; it absolutely shows in her descriptions. One is thrown into the chaos of battle at recognizable locales and amidst historically significant political events. Having myself lived in Washington, DC I could clearly envision the city at that critical stage in time. The overcrowded medic tents on the mall green, the construction of museums, the lush forests on the edge of the town…it's all quite vivid.

Given the attention paid to the setting, I would say that one ought to have at least a passing interest in Civil War history. A basic familiarity with names, dates, battles or organizations of the era wouldn't hurt, either.  If one doesn't have either, however, I'd imagine they would by book's end. ^_^

As for the specific plot threads, I was less taken. The book centers on two characters, the stoic human sheriff Cole Granger (whom one will recognize if they've read Graham's Night of the Wolves, which is based in the same "world"), and the intense half-vamp Megan Fox (no relation to the actress ^_^). Theirs is a slow burn romance--there are no sensual or even romantic implications until well into the story. And the connection is quite subtle as compared to the plot thread involving the vampire threat. For a book billed as having "eternal passion" and "potent attraction," I was surprised by the fact. But I must admit, it was rather sweet.

I also didn't find the action scenes to be extremely visual or thrilling, though a fair amount of intrigue was infused into the plot. Indeed, the pace of the plot is not frenetic (even when it intends to be), but more temperate with a slowly building threat. All told, I wasn't gripped throughout, only mildly curious as to how the various threads would tie together. There was a series of attacks every so often, interspersed with anticipation of said attacks. Wasn't terribly thrilling, to me (with a couple of exceptions).

I did enjoy being in Megan's head. She's a strong willed yet vulnerable character, and I wish more was revealed and discussed about her. There was a plot element that was hinted as important, but didn't come to much in my opinion. I can only assume it will be used as a piece for a future book. Or perhaps it might have been more understandable had I read Night of the Wolves? I don't know.

Overall, I found this book to be worth reading. I was quite taken by the broader elements, though left wanting with the more specific ones. And whatever this book is officially billed as, I'd call it an historical urban fantasy with some romantic elements.

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

One Mo' Challenge! Vampires

Gah! As soon as I saw this challenge, I swear my hands clicked on the linky and signed me up of their own volition. I didn't do it! ^_^ But I wouldn't want to stray far away from my favorite paranormal creature, the vampire. So therefore...

Vampire Challenge
(hosted by Rachel at Parajunkee's View)
This challenge is pretty straightforward: read 20 books that have a vampire as a main character, either protag or antagonist. The challenge lasts from January 1 - December 31, 2011. Signups are open right up until the end-date of the challenge. If you're interested in this one, jump on over to this page at Parajunkee's View.

The listing of all of my 2011 challenges is located here. In the new year, I'll link it up to the main page. So excited!!!!!!!!!  ^_^

In Anticipation: Secrets of the Demon

As December has arrived to round out the year, I've found myself thinking about some of the books that I'm looking forward to in the new year. There are a number that are poised to be released right at the beginning of January, and of those here's one that I'm perhaps the most excited about. That'd be Secrets of the Demon, the third book in Diana Rowland's "Kara Gillian" series, which is urban fantasy and police procedural. Here's a partial book description (as the full description has a teensy spoiler of book 2):
Homicide detective Kara Gillian has a special talent: she can sense the "arcane" in our world, and there's quite a bit of it, even in Beaulac, Louisiana. She's also a summoner of demons, and works on a task force that deals with supernatural crimes. Her partners are attractive and smart FBI agents, but they're not summoners, and they're not telling Kara why they are on this special force with her... she's trying to solve a string of murders that are somehow tied together by money, sex, rock music and...mud. But how can she concentrate on the case when she's not even sure who-or what-her partners are?
I read both books preceding this one, and enjoyed both overall. The first I hadn't absolutely knocked me out (review's here if you're curious about what I mean), but the second book just hooked me, line and sinker. Ms. Rowland is really great at the art of the police procedural. This shouldn't come as a surprise as she's worked as a street cop, a detective, a computer forensics specialist, a crime scene investigator, and a morgue assistant before her books were published. The lady knows about crime, ya'll! ^_^ The scenes related to investigation are so exquisitely detailed, sometimes chillingly so. It integrates well with the paranormal aspect, which comes in the form of Kara and her crew. I'm looking forward to more of those combined elements in this next book, now that a fair bit of world-building has been done.

So, for anyone who's read the first and/or second books, you'll notice that the cover style has changed for this installment. This is actually not surprising, as Secrets of the Demon (and presumably, the books to follow) is being published by DAW, no longer Bantam. New publisher, new cover. While I did really like the original cover style, I LOVE me some Daniel dos Santos...and he's the one who did the artwork for this latest book. I swear, the man can do no wrong. He's rocked all sort of authors' work...and I'm pleased to see him add his touch to this series.
The depicted woman on the cover is a great visualization of Ms. Rowland's descriptions of Kara. I have to admit, she kind of reminds me of the actress Amanda Peet. ^_^ I think that's due to the dark features and striking eyebrows on both females. Pretty ladies, both!

The book is released on January 4, 2011 by DAW Books. Ms. Rowland has an excerpt of the book available on her website (here).

My 2011 Reading Challenges

As mentioned in my "Thoughts On: Reading Challenges" post, I'm always down for a good challenge but prefer longer term (read: year-long) efforts. I've found a few that will hopefully fit nicely with my reading habits, yet also push those same boundaries just a bit. Upon the arrival of the New Year I'll add my challenge tracker to the top info bar (just above). So behold, my selections for 2011 challenges (not inclusive of the few GoodReads challenges I might do here and there):

1st in a Series Challenge
hosted by Katy at A Few More Pages

I'm REALLY big on series, and am in the midst of many from various genres. But these days I don't start new series as often as I'd like, so this challenge is a welcome one.
This particular event runs from January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2011. The name is self-explanatory...you read books that are the first of a series. There are no restrictions on genre, and one needn't be a blogger to participate. There are four different "levels" of possible participation:
  • Series Novice: Read 3 books that are the first in any series.
  • Series Lover: Read 6 books that are the first in any series.
  • Series Expert: Read 12 books that are the first in any series.
  • Series Fanatic: Read 20 books that are the first in any series.
One can list their books in advance or just put them in a wrap up post. Selections can be changed as the mood strikes. If you're interested in doing this challenge yourself, more information can be found HERE (you can join anytime before December 31, 2011).

50 States Challenge
hosted by Tasha at Book Obsessed

This particular challenge has me really excited. I've always wanted to do a tour of my beloved nation, and now I'll get the chance! ^__^ The goal of this challenge is to read books that are set in each of the fifty states. Books can be of any genre and any format (ie. paperback, ebook, audiobook, etc.). But no short stories. Re-reads and crossovers from other reading challenges are fine. One can list their books in advance or list them as they are read. If this challenge interests you, feel free to find more info and sign up HERE.

Historical Romance Challenge
hosted by Danielle at Romance Book Junkies

As a newcomer to historical romance (modernly writ, that is...if that's relevant), I look forward to pushing myself further into the genre. Not that I need much pushing...the handful of HR books that I've read thus far have absolutely enchanted me. I can't wait for more.

This challenge is to read 12 historical romance books from January 1, 2011 - December 31, 2011. Historical fiction is allowed, as long as it contains even a small romantic element (and Danielle can be contacted for clarification on whether a book is eligible).

Note that this challenge also involves monthly giveaways for the participants. ^_^
Full information, including the sign-up page for this challenge, can be found HERE.

Review: Skinwalker

Skinwalker (Jane Yellowrock, #1) by Faith Hunter

Quick Take: I wasn't bowled over by this story, but overall it was enjoyable. The protagonist is unique and striking, despite nominal comparisons to other urban fantasy heroines.

Book Description:
     A year ago Jane nearly lost her life taking down an entire blood family of deadly rogue vampires that preyed on the helpless local populace of an Appalachian town. Now, after months of recuperation, she’s back and ready to fight again. Except this time, she’s hired by those she’s trained to kill—vampires…
     Jane Yellowrock is the last of her kind—a skinwalker of Cherokee descent who can turn into any creature she desires and hunts vampires for a living. Back from hiatus, she’s hired by Katherine Fontaneau, one of the oldest vampires in New Orleans and the madam of Katie’s Ladies, to hunt a powerful rogue vampire who’s killing other vamps.
     Amidst a bordello full of real “ladies of the night,” and a hot Cajun biker with a panther tattoo who stirs her carnal desire, Jane must stay focused and complete her mission—or else the next skin she’ll need to save just may be her own…
Okay, so I told myself right at the beginning of this book not to compare this character to two other seemingly similar UF protagonists: Janet Begay of the Stormwalker books, or Mercy Thompson of the Mercedes Thompson books. For the most part this was easy to do, as Jane Yellowrock's similarities only go as far as the Native American heritage and general badassitude. And maybe the affinity for super-cool automobiles. ^_^

Jane's particular brand of "badazz" behavior is less of the fun/comedic sort, and more no-nonsense. She's perfectly capable of the occasional snarky remark, but she's aware that smart-alec comments--amongst so many ruthless characters--are the quickest way to get injured or dead. She is powerful and ruthless, however...which is what makes her a great hunter and skinwalker. Janet's also quite mysterious, since she has almost no memories from her life before the age of 12. Why is this so? Well, it has a lot to with a soul that shares Janet's body…a second consciousness referred to as Beast.

Having this first-person co-protagonists-in-a-shared-body setup certainly was interesting…it's not a frequent occurrence, that's for sure. But the dynamic did take some getting used to. This is because the emergence of Beast brings along very basic, beast-like thought processes replete with telegraphic phrases and elementary representations of complex concepts. It felt very stark, almost overly so…it's sort of reminiscent of beat poetry. However, I slowly got used to it (and I think the author slightly softened the narrative device over time).

The book was was enjoyable overall, but I must admit that it was not the most memorable affair for me. I just didn't form an attachment to anything. Not the protagonist, not the potential love interests (but I thought they were cads, so maybe that's a contributing factor ^_^). And I wasn't really bowled over by the climax and resolution of the tale. But there were bits of plot that seemed promising, and some character dynamics that were interesting: Jane's relationship with best-friend Molly and attachment to Molly's daughter, for instance.

Having said everything above, I do in fact wish to read the next book in the series. There were many moments where I thought to myself, "ooh, this looks promising…" which is a promising occurrence in and of itself. ^_^ The setting (New Orleans) was warm and familiar yet fresh; the supernatural world seemed intriguingly complex; and there is still much to discover about Jane's character and background. I look forward to further exploration of all of those things.

My Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Review: Midnight Awakening

Midnight Awakening (Midnight Breed, #3)Midnight Awakening by Lara Adrian

Quick Take: Loved it! My fave so far. The two leads were a great and compelling match. I'd recommend having read book two before jumping into the series with this book.

Book Description:
     With a dagger in her hand and vengeance on her mind, Darkhaven beauty Elise Chase prowls Boston’s streets in search of retribution against the Rogue vampires who took from her everything she cherished. Using an extraordinary psychic gift, she tracks her prey, well aware that the power she possesses is destroying her. She must learn to harness this gift, and for that she can turn to only one man—the deadliest of the Breed warriors, Tegan.
     No stranger to loss, Tegan knows Elise’s pain. He knows fury, but when he slays his enemies it is with ice in his veins. He is perfect in his self-control, until Elise seeks his aid in her personal war. An unholy alliance is forged—a bond that will link them by blood and vow—and plunge them into a tempest of danger, desire, and the darkest passions of the heart. . . .
I'm glad to note that thus far, I've enjoyed each Midnight Breed book more than the last. Granted, I've only finished three installments now, but the direction of the trend is a very promising one. In this story we're treated to a closer look at Tegan, the most closed and inaccessible of the Breed warriors. Up to now he's seemed stone-cold and emotionless, observations that are only solidified by the fact that his emotion-affected dermaglyphs--tattoo-like markings that the Breed are born with--are always at an innocuous, neutral shade.

I for one didn't think much of Tegan in the first two books. It seemed almost as though he was intentionally painted into the proverbial wordwork. ^_^ I was pleased that his core-personality does not change, but that greater understanding of his motivations was gained. His nominal pairing with Elise didn't seem to make sense before I picked up this book, but I was made a believer by the end, that's for sure. He's now my favorite of the Order warriors.

The plot moved at a wonderfully steady-yet-engaging pace, and I went through the whole book eager to read what was to follow. The romance is admittedly slow-going, but I felt it was actually better that way, as the characters' (considerable) emotional turmoil was given fair treatment. The entire "regular" cast was involved in the main plot line in some way, though the narrative perspective stayed mostly with the two leads. It worked out well, and I felt like I was getting the best of both worlds: an intimate glimpse at Tegan and Elise as they slowly came together, and meaningful portrayals of the other members of the Order. Not to mention a broadened scope of the overall series. I dug it all. ^_^

Now, this book can technically be read stand-alone with minimal confusion. But I would highly recommend that newcomers read book two (Kiss of Crimson) before jumping into this book. Doing so will provide greater context and a deeper emotional understanding of the heroine, Elise Chase.

This book only further solidifies my affinity for this series. I see that Rio is up next as lead hero, and I couldn't be more excited. Yay, Breed!

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thoughts On: Borrowing

Who would you rather borrow from? Your library? Or a Friend?
(Or don’t your friends trust you to return their books?)
And, DO you return books you borrow?
(Question from Nov. 18 "Booking Through Thursday" meme)

When it comes to book borrowing, I most certainly prefer borrowing my books from the library. Having spent five years working for various libraries, I'm way beyond convinced of the ease with which one can procure reading material. I have a huge selection of titles from which to choose. I get to lolligag in one of my favorite environments and indulge in a type of "shopping." I can get no-pressure book recommendations from knowledgeable staff. I can renew (remotely; yay technology!) if I need more time to read...and quite honestly, I prefer the prospect of a late fee over an ornery friend or colleague. ^_^

I rarely borrow books from friends, even when they are specifically offered to me...one big reason being that I feel (self-imposed) pressure of sorts. I don't mind my own books being well-loved, with cracks in the spine or folded pages (it's naturally what happens when reading a book, after all)...but for some reason I freak out about similarly affecting someone else's book. I also feel a little pressure when someone offers to lend me a book they "absolutely loved." I know it makes little sense, but if I accept someone's generous offer of lending their beloved book, I feel a tinge guilty if I end up not liking or (gasp!) not finishing. Hm. I don't quite understand my own hangups, since I will lend books freely and don't mind if they take a long while to come back to me.

What I really enjoy is a permanent book swap. I finish reading a book and swap it with a friend or colleague (or two of my husband's cousins, who share my book preferences ^_^). The book becomes mine, there are no time-lines attached, and if I don't like the title I can swap it away again. Easy-peasy!

Review: Kiss of Crimson

Kiss of Crimson (Midnight Breed, #2)Kiss of Crimson by Lara Adrian

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Quick Take: A solid sequel that seems to outdo its predecessor. There's a lot of well-crafted action and intrigue here; this series now has my full attention.

Book Description:
He comes to her more dead than alive, a towering black-clad stranger riddled with bullets and rapidly losing blood. As she struggles to save him, veterinarian Tess Culver is unaware that the man calling himself Dante is no man at all, but one of the Breed, vampire warriors engaged in a desperate battle. In a single erotically charged moment Tess is plunged into his world—a shifting, shadowed place where bands of Rogue vampires stalk the night, cutting a swath of terror.
     Haunted by visions of a dark future, Dante lives and fights like there is no tomorrow. Tess is a complication he does not need—but now, with his brethren under attack, he must shield Tess from a growing threat that includes Dante himself. For with one reckless, irresistible kiss, she has become an inextricable part of his underworld realm…and his touch awakens her to hidden gifts, desires, and hungers she never knew she possessed. Bonded by blood, Dante and Tess must work together to thwart deadly enemies, even as they discover a passion that transcends the boundaries of life itself….
     Ah, so here we have the second entry in the Midnight Breed series, a collection of books which is oft compared to another series with some similar themes--it starts with a B and a D and a B--but I'll not make any further mention of such since the MB series does deserve to be considered in its own right.
     Those that are already interested in this book are likely to have read its predecessor Kiss of Midnight. But it's my opinion that this book can absolutely be read without having read the one prior; book one's carry-over plot points really aren't emphasized or rendered crucial here. This story focuses on a mysterious new recreational drug named Crimson. The substance is powerful, highly addictive and deadly to the Breed (aka vampires), and is slowly threatening the well-being of the race. In scouting out the source of the threat, Breed warrior Dante Alighieri becomes inadvertently involved with veterinarian Tess Culver.
     I thought that this book built some great suspense over time. The Crimson plot thread was interesting, and actively involved several members of the main cast to complex yet seamless effect. The film "Traffic" comes to mind, what with its constellation of characters that are unwittingly tied together by circumstance (and drugs, of course). Only here we've got vampires, supernatural violence and sizzling sensuality, of course. ^_^
     On a somewhat related note...this book is also a great example of masterful use of the "two-or-more" perspective. I never felt lost, and the scene/perspective shifts were done at just the right moment to heighten anticipation and drama. Now, the build-up of the pairing itself wasn't (in my sole opinion) the most solid or moving I've ever read; at least initially. But it was still plenty precious and compelling, let me say. ^_^ Compelling particularly because it was so closely tied to the awesome Crimson plot-thread.
     After book one I was pleased but certainly not clamoring for a copy of book two. Having finished this book, however, I'm much more engaged and curious about what happens next for the Breed warriors. This story provided a masterfully subtle setup for future plot lines, and I hope the successors take it and run with it.

Review: The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Quick Take: This book was utter magnificence. The male protagonist was extremely compelling. In fact, I fell in love with the whole cast, and will consider this series "auto-buy" from now on.

Book Description:
     The year is 1881. Meet the Mackenzie family--rich, powerful, dangerous, eccentric. A lady couldn't be seen with them without ruin. Rumors surround them--of tragic violence, of their mistresses, of their dark appetites, of scandals that set England and Scotland abuzz.
      The youngest brother, Ian, known as the Mad Mackenzie, spent most of his young life in an asylum, and everyone agrees he is decidedly odd. He's also hard and handsome and has a penchant for Ming pottery and beautiful women.
      Beth Ackerley, widow, has recently come into a fortune. She has decided that she wants no more drama in her life. She was raised in drama--an alcoholic father who drove them into the workhouse, a frail mother she had to nurse until her death, a fussy old lady she became constant companion to. No, she wants to take her money and find peace, to travel, to learn art, to sit back and fondly remember her brief but happy marriage to her late husband.
     And then Ian Mackenzie decides he wants her. 

This is yet another book that presented difficulty to me. You see, I enjoyed it very much; so much so that I find it hard to adequately convey my enthusiasm. But it seems such a shame to read the book and do naught but numerically rate it. Therefore...

This is the first book in a series that's apparently meant to focus on the four brothers of the Scottish Mackenzie clan. The family has a long and storied history, much of it painful and unfortunate. This particular installment is about the youngest and arguably most tragic of the lot, Lord Ian. His particular condition is nameless, unaccepted and misunderstood in that time and place. Today he might have been thought an austistic savant, or perhaps someone with Asperger syndrome. In this story, people simply label him "crazy."

As always, I was quite attentive to the characters themselves (typically my favorite aspect of a book). Fortunately the author seems to have been, as well. ^_^ Jennifer Ashley presents an absolutely intriguing portrayal of the male protagonist. Due to the nature of his thought processes as well as his traumatizing(!!!) past, his character provides much of the novel's mystery. His interactions vary greatly amongst the other characters in the book, revealing a man not "crazy" but immensely complex. Ian is easily one of the more interesting characters I've ever come across in a romance tale.

The female protagonist, widow Beth Ackerly, made for a great pairing. Nominally she seems to be the least sensible match for someone like Lord Ian, but her own past hurts (a lost spouse) and considerable strengths (triumphing over a poor upbringing) make her interesting when played against the dramatic Mackenzie family.

...and as for the Mackenzies. Wow. Though the book is "about" Ian and Beth, the rest of the clan is not neglected story-wise. Each of the brothers have been well fleshed out. Ms. Ashley made this book as much about family as anything else.

"Anything else," in addition to the central romance, refers to a mystery-laced murder subplot (a "whodunit"). It provided some exciting thrills and got me truly caught up in the process, but in truth the thread--including its resolution--was not the most arresting I've ever seen. In retrospect it was the weakest element of the book....which really means little, since it'd still be the best part of any other book. ^_^

This is only my third "historical romance," but even so it's clear there was something special here. The tale endeared me not only to the featured couple, but to the entire Mackenzie clan. I even love the family dogs! Ms. Ashley began brewing a plot thread that will boil over spectacularly into the next installation of the series: unreliable artist Mac Mackenzie's dealings with his estranged wife Isabella. I can't wait to read it!

In Anticipation: Matched

Though I only occasionally dip into the realm of Young Adult titles, it's been pretty difficult--nay, impossible--to avoid the massive wave of press for author Ally Condie's latest offering, Matched. If you haven't already gotten wind of it, this is what the dystopian novel is about:
In the Society, Officials decide. Who you love. Where you work. When you die. Cassia has always trusted their choices. It’s barely any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one . . . until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path no one else has ever dared follow—between perfection and passion.
Matched is a story for right now and storytelling with the resonance of a classic.
I must say, I am absolutely in love with the cover; it's so striking in its simplicity, and the lime green just draws the eye immediately. It's actually what drew my interest toward the book. That's right; the synopsis was only part of the equation here. ^_^ But the premise really does sound intriguing. I'm usually a fan of dystopian-themed novels, for most every age group from youth to adult. I'm hoping the aforementioned love triangle isn't all there is to the story; the notion of the Society having such minute control of every aspect of citizens' lives is intriguing, and I hope it's explored thoroughly.

On the heels of the Hunger Games trilogy's conclusion, this might just be what the doctor ordered for many people out there. Here's hoping it's worth such comparison!

Review: Touched by an Alien

Touched by an Alien (Katherine "Kitty" Katt, #1)Touched by an Alien by Gini Koch

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Quick take: I had a love/hate relationship with this book. Most was love, but there were aspects that had the Scoff-O-Meter turned up high. But overall it was an amusing sci-fi romp!

Book Description:
     Marketing manager Katherine "Kitty" Katt steps into the middle of what appears to be a domestic dispute turned ugly. And it only gets uglier when the man turns into a winged monster, straight out of a grade-Z horror movie, and goes on a killing spree. Though Kitty should probably run away, she springs into action to take the monster down.
     In the middle of the chaos a handsome hunk named Jeff Martini appears, sent by the "agency" to perform crowd control. He's Kitty's kind of guy, no matter what planet he's from. And from now on, for Kitty, things are going to be sexy, dangerous, wild, and out of this world.
I'd like to start by saying that this book has a gorgeous cover. Artist Daniel dos Santos--who is known for his work on the Mercy Thompson series's US covers--is freaking brilliant. I must say that I absolutely judged a book by its cover in this instance; it drew me in immediately. Gini Koch is one lucky author to have scored his talent for her debut novel.

The cover is pretty encompassing of the book's contents, as well: Armani-suited aliens, monsters, big explosions and romantic drama! All starting from the first page, when protagonist Katherine Katt is abruptly and accidentally introduced to the secret existence of aliens on earth. Whatever "normal" life she's lived up to that point quickly becomes quite irrelevant.

It's no surprise that author Gini Koch pokes fun at the Men in Black franchise in this series starter; she was probably preempting the inevitable comparisons. But this book feels most like something of a cross between MiB-like shenanigans and a superheros/supervillians story. One should expect a lot of action, comedy and wildly dramatic intrigue.

There were some aspects of this book that rankled a bit, though quite frankly I'm surprised they didn't put me off considerably more, as is usually the case. For one, there's a fair bit of information overload ("info dump" if you will). By and large, the wealth of details introduced were relevant to the story--making for a very complex plot--but in a handful of instances, the info really could've been introduced in future books. Numerous characters were introduced by name and implied as important in Kitty's life, only no never come up again. Critical revelations were piled upon each other, so complex as to border on confusing. I tried to take notes for a while, but eventually just gave up. ^_^

Other things that chafed a bit (but again, not as much as I would've expected) were the pop culture references and the frequent smart-alec banter. Think of any episode of the show Gilmore Girls. Funny dialogue, but occasionally just a bit TOO wry; do people really talk like that all of the time? ^_^ Though really, I suppose it was just a matter of excessive wit at unlikely, unnecessary moments that bugged the most.

Funnily enough, though...the easy, lively banter was also one of the things I really enjoyed. So was Kitty's witty inner voice. There were a few laugh-out-loud moments, and many instances where I had a big smile on my face as I read. A lot of it had to do with the interactions between characters.

Ultimately, I found the book to be just plain fun, more than anything else. The action scenes were highly visual and engaging, and the characters were supremely amusing. There were plot twists a-plenty, with some sizzling romantic intrigue to top it all off! The foundation has been well-laid here, and I'm most assuredly looking forward to the next book.

Review: Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord

Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord (The Ralstons, #2)Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord by Sarah MacLean

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Quick Take: What delicious story! I thoroughly enjoyed it, from beginning to end. The question is not so much "will I like this book?" but rather, "how much will I like this book?" Reading book 1 one not required.

Book Description:
Since being named one of London’s "Lords to Land" by a popular ladies’ magazine, Nicholas St. John has been relentlessly pursued by every matrimony-minded female in the ton. So when an opportunity to escape fashionable society presents itself, he eagerly jumps—only to land in the path of the most determined, damnably delicious woman he’s ever met!
     The daughter of a titled wastrel, Lady Isabel Townsend has too many secrets and too little money. Though used to taking care of herself quite handily, her father’s recent passing has left Isabel at sea and in need of outside help to protect her young brother’s birthright. The sinfully handsome, eminently eligible Lord Nicholas could be the very salvation she seeks.
     But the lady must be wary and not do anything reckless...like falling madly, passionately in love.
Okay, so I was having a spot of trouble figuring out what I'd like to say about this book. Typically I write some notes down as I'm reading a book, so as to have something semi-coherent to say in my review. But in this case, I didn't because I was too busy reading! :o) I read this book in pretty much one extended sitting.
     Unlike with the previous book, Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake, the story take place largely away from society . Here, it's the distant specter of society's actions and expectations that looms large over the hero and heroine. For Lord Nicholas St. John it's the threat of in London...for Lady Isabel Townsend it's the effect of a absentee--and most scandalous--father. And for the ladies that inhabit Isabel's "Minerva House," it's the threat of discovery (and thus abuse, both literal and figurative). The effect of this is a story that focuses more keenly on the characters and their shared experiences.
     ...and to me, the real gem of this book was the cast of characters. I was particularly fond of the addition of James, Isabel's 10-year-old brother and newly named Earl of Reddich. The interactions between James and Nick were so sweet. Nick's consideration for the numerous similarities between the boy and himself (when he was James's age), and his attempts to give the child some of the fatherly care he never had, absolutely endeared me to both of the guys.
     Also a treat was the group of ladies that inhabit Minerva House. They provided many laughs with their playful banter. They have little individual face time (they're more of a package deal), but the author balances this with some brief description of each one's path to the safehouse. Their stories are touching...and their collective survival (and...thrival? lol) is one of the more inspirational bits of the book.
     Of course, the meat of the book is the progression of romance between Isabel and Nick. In my eyes, it did not disappoint. The pairing made sense; both individuals are strong-willed, protective, capable types who just happen to have major issues with trust and romantic love. For all the book's mention of "protection" and "rescue," it was all about watching the two help each other heal. And it was beautiful.
     Thank goodness there's a third book in the works. The author clearly knows how to craft compelling characters and situations. I absolutely cannot wait to see what she's got it store. Autobuy, indeed! ^_^

Thoughts On: Reading Challenges

The notion of reading as part of an organized challenge is one that I've been familiar with for only about a year and a half (thank you, GoodReads!). I don't know why it never occurred to me before...that groups of people often come up with themes around which they will base their reading selections. But it's a great idea, in my opinion. For many a-reason. Challenges can bring a sense of excitement, external to the actual reading. They can provide an avenue for healthy competition amongst a group of readers. And most obviously, they can challenge the dedicated participant to read more, broaden usual selection criteria, and reduce latent piles of books to be read (TBR).

Personally, I've found that my personality and typical behavior is such that I tend to be unsuccessful in short-term reading challenges (and by that I'm referring to those that last 2 to 4 weeks in length). I am the type of person that can be quite indecisive. With respect to book selections, I can also be rather fickle. I might buy a book out of extreme excitement, and then immediately put it on a shelf for several months (sorry Lover Mine, sorry Mockingjay). Likewise, I might be in the mood for an urban fantasy title. The next day the mood will strike for historical fiction...but I'm still in the midst of the UF title! (So then it's Too bad, Mr. UF book, but despite enjoying you I'm going to put you down for a bit while I read something else.) ^_^ What this means for challenges is that I can make selections for 5 books, and then in short order have no interest in any of those titles (until much later). And I'm a stickler for sticking to my selections once I make them. Which means that I've failed more than one 30-day challenge. ^_^

So, I've tried to strike a balance in order to enjoy the benefits of challenges and yet ensure a higher likelihood of enjoying what I choose to read. How do I do this? By choosing longer term challenges: I'm currently participating in two year-long challenges--broken down into quarters--that are proving to be quite interesting. I also tend toward themes that permit greater ability to choose books I'm interested in: for example, "animal-based books," instead of "selections based on the color of the cover". And of course, I now try not to have too many challenges going on simultaneously. If I still manage to "fail" a challenge's original timeline, I'll then consider it "open-ended" and finish the books when I get the chance. And lastly, I keep all of my challenges listed in one spot (HERE, as a matter of fact) so that I can compare and better plan my reading order.

Do you enjoy reading challenges? Do you prefer particular themes or time-lengths? Do you have a method for tackling them?

Review: The Proposition

The PropositionThe Proposition by Judith Ivory

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Description: No man, gentleman or otherwise, has ever looked at Lady Edwina Bollash the way the brash, handsome man standing before her is doing now. Edwina has accepted the challenge to transform incorrigible Mick Tremore into a gentleman in just six weeks. And although the linguist is sure she can rise to the task, she isn't at all certain she won't swoon under his frankly sensuous gaze before her job is done.
Mick has lived outside of London society long enough to know that appearances can be deceiving. Edwina might look all buttoned up-the perfect English lady-but there is unleashed passion existing just below her placid facade (not to mention a great pair of legs!). And as she prepares him to take his place in society, Mick prepares Edwina to take her place in his heart...and in his bed.
Pygmalion (film or play). My Fair Lady. She's All That. If you've seen any of these pieces, you'll know the general premise of this book. All are based on the Pygmalion myth of Greek origin in which a sculptor falls in love with his work of art. This book makes a slight alteration by switching the roles of the male and female...that is, the woman is the teacher and the man is the ruffian in "need" of improvement. I found that to be a fun little twist, and it worked out to wonderful effect here in this book that takes place in late-Victorian England (where accepted gender roles make such a dynamic important).

I just devoured this book. The two lead characters were simply delightful, and I found their budding connection to be mesmerizing and charming. Scene after scene with the two of them, first struggling to tolerate each other, then later struggling with their attachment...it was always engaging. It was sweet and slightly tragic that each felt themselves not good enough for the other. But, I got my HEA so I'm not complaining. ^_^

Edwina's naivete provided some very humorous moments, and were perhaps my favorite bits in the book. In one scene she ruminates on the word widge, a colloquial term for a man's privates:
His word seemed friendlier. A fond name. Were men fond of that part of themselves? It was certainly not the best part of statues; she made a point not to look there. And it changed, it grew. She'd read that astounding piece of information in a book. That was the worst part, the horror—or it had been the worst until this very moment, when it occurred to her that, goodness, a man might have hair there, too. She did. Oh, something that grew larger, up and out of a tangle of hair. How disgusting.
...oh my gosh, I was giggling so hard at that. That she is a linguist and learned woman, a successful professional...who is so squeamish about more intimate topics...well, I found it supremely amusing. And endearing! Edwina was supremely endearing.

It is really too bad that the part I was sort of underwhelmed with was the very end...because I finished the book with so much less enthusiasm than I had throughout most of the book. The word that keeps coming up in my head is discordant...the last 15% of the book felt so much different than what preceded it. The tone, the voices of the characters (primary and secondary), and (most obviously) the plot. It's not that it was bad so much that I didn't feel it fit with the absolute excellence of the rest of the story. But I won't go into further detail so as to avoid spoilers.

Overall, this was an easy and enjoyable read.

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