BBT Tour Stop: Caressed by Moonlight (review)

Title: Caressed by Moonlight
Series: Rulers of Darkness, #1
Genres/Themes: paranormal historical romance, opposites attract, vamp politics
Author: Amanda J. Greene
Excerpt: found here at AllRomance EBooks

Quick Take:
Despite feeling like the language (mostly the dialogue) was something of an odd fit, I did enjoy this historical romance's main characters and premise.

Book Description (via Goodreads):
Dorian Vlakhos is no ordinary aristocrat. He is a vampire king, who will do anything to save his clan from complete annihilation, before an ancient curse can claim his immortal life. 
     Penniless and orphaned, Victoria Kingston has nothing to bring to a marriage, yet she must shackle an unsuspecting gentleman into marriage by the end of the month or forfeit her rights as guardian of her younger sister. With the help of her dearest friend, Victoria begins her hunt, and vows to stay far away from the dark, mysterious, Prince Vlakhos. 
     After meeting the beautifully innocent Miss Kingston, Dorian had to have her. He would do absolutely anything to make Victoria his. One sweet stolen kiss would bring them together while a force, more powerful than any vampire would bind them for all eternity. But treachery, war, and death rule Dorian’s dark world and Victoria would be fortunate to survive.

When I first read the premise for this book, I knew I had to read it. It's just the type of romantic dilemma that I find engaging: does one marry for love or for money...and are both possible? The book did not disappoint, as I was kept engaged throughout. But the three paragraphs noted in the book description are only part of the equation; the last sentence (about "treachery, war, and death") is where much of the real fun was.

Let me get my reservations out of the way first. I've read my fair share of historicals; in them there's this linguistic quality that lends itself to the transportation of belief (or suspension of disbelief I suppose, seeing as how none of us have experienced Edwardian/Georgian/Victorian-eras firsthand). The specialized language melts into the background, leaving the story to play effortlessly in the mind's eye. In Caressed by Moonlight, however, there was something that felt slightly off for me, something so minute as to be exceedingly difficult to describe. But whatever it was, the feeling it engendered was akin to watching Kevin Costner or Keanu Reeves in an English historical film; when the vibe is off, it pulls you out of the story. In short, the language did not really transport me in the way that I'd hoped it would.

But enough of that. What I did quite enjoy included the vampire politics and the supernaturals' overall battle for survival. That main character Dorian Vlakhos--one sexy and mysterious mofo, if I may say so--had to address not only vampire hunters but infighting and unrest within the vampire community provided considerable intrigue, keeping me wanting to know more about those dynamics. Such information is provided in smaller doses throughout the first half of the book; during that time, the romantic element is developed quite a bit. With one drastic revelation, the focus then switches to the vamp politics, but there's still a nice combination of the romantic elements and the dramatically heroic.

The characters in this book were engaging. Victoria Kingston is a many-faceted character, stuck between a rock and a hard place but nonetheless determined to do right by her loved ones. Her progression through a relatively mundane situation (well, if being threatened with homelessness can be considered mundane) to a fantastical one is fun to watch. Dorian's own rake-to-hero transformation was  likewise sweet and swoon-worthy.

Overall, I did indeed like this book. The premise pulled me in easily, and the characters' interactions--as well as the broader struggles--kept me there. As it happens, the next book in this series is actually a contemporary paranormal romance; I'd like to check it out, as (of course) my hangups over the language will be moot.

Rating: 3 of 5 stars
"I liked it."

This has been a Bewitching Book Tours tour stop....for more reviews, guest posts, and interviews, click here.
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KLB Tour Stop: Gabriel's Inferno by Sylvain Reynard (review)

Title: Gabriel's Inferno
Series: (yes, TBD)
Genres/Themes: contemporary romance, redemption, love lost and found
Author: Sylvain Reynard

Quick Take:
Sadly, this book didn't resonate with me as it did with hundreds of other readers. The characters are key in this tale, and I couldn't get a lock on them. However, I did enjoy the parallelisms between this story and Dante's Inferno; the writing did reflect a wealth of knowledge on behalf of the author, so there is a fair bit of meat to dissect in this piece.

Book Description (via Goodreads):
Enigmatic and attractive, Professor Gabriel Emerson is a man tortured by his past. Though he takes great pride in his prestigious role as a Dante specialist, he knows he is a magnet for sin, especially lust. When the virtuous Julia Mitchell joins his graduate seminar at the University of Toronto, she alters their lives irrevocably. Through their connection, Gabriel begins a journey that forces him to unravel the mysteries of their past entanglement, as well as face his many demons. A sinful exploration of sex, love, and redemption, “Gabriel's Inferno” is a beguiling intelligent romance filled with intrigue, seduction and forgiveness.

I honestly don't know where to begin. Writing an ambivalent review always sucks--who wants to NOT love what they read for pleasure?--but it's particularly poop-sticks when you're literally one out of a hundred in your opinion. I would love to gush about this book, but integrity dictates that I just break of a piece of my honest opinion. And the punchline to that opinion is: I didn't love this book. I didn't hate it, but I was a ways away from loving it.

This book is a many-faceted thing. It delved into a lot of emotion, ranging from self-loathing and pity to love, forgiveness, and friendship. And there's no doubt about it: the author knows his damn literature. ^_^ I often enjoy following the ways in which authors weave existing and renowned figures, events, and styles into their contemporary fiction. The very title of this book, Gabriel's Inferno, is a nod to a part of 14th-century Italian poet Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy. Reynard's story features main characters that study Alighieri's work--and if you're at all familiar with the classic piece of literature, you'll notice that the characters and plot loosely mirror those of the original Inferno. As a result, the reader is given the opportunity to explore the age-old themes, but in a modern setting. Rock on.

Now, I think that some of the areas that didn't resonate with me had a lot to do with the characters--not as representations or "updates" of classical figures but on their own as contemporary people. The two mains, Gabriel and Julia, were somewhat difficult to grasp. Sure, the guy was often angry and the gal was often very meek, but there was more to them then that; I just couldn't figure out what it was. At times, the characters' behaviors were bipolar almost from one line to the next, and what truths or convictions were established in one section seemed to be overturned or forgotten in the next. There were certain visuals that resonated--the description of Gabriel in full-on drunkenness was particularly powerful--but as a collective, the individual actions and machinations of the main characters just didn't form something cohesive and…well, completely convincing, in my mind.

Though this book is thoroughly character-driven, my thoughts on the progression of the plot was that it did not flow seamlessly; there were what felt like "episodes" but even they didn't feel like they formed something I could follow and comprehend. I actually found out after the fact that this book was originally written as a serial. (Fun fact: Gabriel's Inferno actually began as a fanfiction of a certain beloved YA vampire series.) I can't help but wonder whether I might have enjoyed the tale more if I'd read it as the sequence of vignettes in which it was first structured. Or for that matter, whether the flow would've felt different had the book been originally written/conceived as a single work. Just a musing.

Enough of my rambling for now. ^_^ I think I'm going to have to marinate a bit on this book. Perhaps my brain is flawed and can't tell a giraffe from a peanut. But I wasn't set on fiyah over this book the way many others have been (and this truly baffles me). But I would absolutely, positively, without a doubt encourage others (including those with whom I typically share many book prefs) to check this one out; it's got waaaay to much excitement and support surrounding it not to. It's certainly epic in its examination of love and redemption. I myself am hoping to check out Reynard's future writings.

Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
" 'twas okay."

Guess what, folks? It's giveaway time! I may not have loved this one, but over five hundred people absolutely did. Want to give it a try? Fill out the info below.

This has been but one tour stop in KLB Events' 15-day book tour for Gabriel's Inferno. Click here (or on the image below) to see more of what's going on to celebrate this beloved book; you'll find author interviews, reviews, and lots--LOTS--of giveaway love!

Review: Her Dear & Loving Husband by Meredith Allard (BBT tour stop)

Perfect cover for the story, IMO.
Title: Her Dear & Loving Husband
Series: Loving Husband, #1 (trilogy)
Genres/Themes: paranormal romance; (partial) historical fiction; love lost and found
Author: Meredith Allard

Quick Take:
An intensely sweet romance is tied to a riveting narrative on the Salem witch trials. Clearly, much research went into crafting the descriptions of the setting and related cultural intricacies.

Book Description:
James Wentworth has a secret. He lives quietly in Salem, Massachusetts, making few ties anywhere. One night his private world is turned upside down when he meets Sarah Alexander, a dead ringer for his wife, Elizabeth. Though it has been years since Elizabeth's death, James cannot move on.
     Sarah also has a secret. She is haunted by nightmares about the Salem Witch Trials, and every night she is awakened by visions of hangings, being arrested, and dying in jail. Despite the obstacles of their secrets, James and Sarah fall in love. As James comes to terms with his feelings for Sarah, he must dodge accusations from a reporter desperate to prove that James is not who, or what, he seems to be. With the help of their friends, witches Jennifer and Olivia, James and Sarah piece their stories together and discover a mystery that may bind them in ways they never imagined. Will James make the ultimate sacrifice to protect Sarah and prevent a new hunt from bringing hysteria to Salem again?

Before reading this book, I'd never heard of Ann Bradstreet nor her poem, "To My Dear and Loving Husband." (I know: nuts, right?) In fact, there was much I didn't know about the general time frame and setting that's highlighted in Meredith Allard's To My Dear and Loving Husband--beyond the basics taught in grade school, that is. Having read the book, however, I'm riveted and want to know more.

A large portion of my newly rekindled interest in Salem, Massachusetts during the seventeenth century is due to the great amount of detail put forth in Allard's book. It's immediately and clearly obvious that the author's done her homework; though this novel is a piece of fiction, it felt almost like a first-person account of the witch trials. The book shifts between present and past through both the recollections of James Wentworth and the vivid dreams of Sarah Alexander. I love that such vividness can be created about real historical events, even when the character recounting the experiences is fictional. Likewise, the fact that the main character that "experienced" this place and time is...other...was seamless and...well, it worked magnificently.

It's hard to think of this book as a typical paranormal romance, really. The fact that the main character qualifies as paranormal (the description doesn't specify what, so neither will I! ^_^) is almost secondary to the love story itself. In this tale, the paranormal aspect used more as a way to magnify the loss and suffering that James was forced to endure. Heck, the romance is actually quite chaste and innocent for the most part, because the emotional struggles of both James and Sarah are the focus. I really dug that; it's nice to sometimes get away from the love-scene fest of many other books.

The paranormal slant is also used as a means of putting the fervor and hypocrisy of the witch trials into a new context and setting: present-day Salem, Massachusetts. I found the parallels well-drawn and relevant; again, even though a paranormal bent is added. James at one point notes the oft-heard quote, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

Throughout the first half of this book, I had a hard time figuring out how this story would extent into another book, much less a trilogy. Now, I don't care; I just want more! :o) Her Dear & Loving Husband is paranormal, romantic, historical, and dramatic, but it's more than any of those parts, and excited about delving into more of the characters' struggles in the as-yet unreleased follow-up, Her Loving Husband's Curse.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
"I really liked it."

This has been a tour stop by Bewitching Book Tours. To see what other coolness lurks about for Allard's book, click here.

...or click the image.

Interview with Author Reena Jacobs

And a lovely morning to you, good sir, good lady! Today I have the considerable pleasure of a visit from author Reena Jacobs, whose latest book, I Loved You First, was released on July 29, 2011. It's a book about unrequited love, with all of the complexities that come along with it. She talks a bit about the origins of the book and her own thoughts on unrequited love.
MNtR: It's not too often that we get to have stories that realistically address LGBT in an everyday context. What drew you to writing a story like this?
RJ: I feel like such a fake when I talk about this, but Seth originally wasn't gay. He was just a straight guy who was a major jerk and womanizer. Throughout the story he was supposed to learn "the errors of his ways." In fact, my original outline was entirely from his viewpoint, exploring his growth.
I hate to say this but when I started thinking about male sexuality, I totally copped out. Even though I've written the male perspective in the past, I turned into a coward when faced with raging boyish hormones. The media makes being a hormonal male seem terribly uncomfortable. What in the world goes through a boy's mind? What's happening with his body? :)
Well, I opted for the female perspective. I still kept many of the original plot points, but flipped them to reveal Alex's point of view instead. And of course, Seth pulled me aside and said, "I have something to tell you, Author Lady... I'm gay."

MNtR: Ah, unrequited love. Have you ever had to go through a situation in which your affections for someone else were unreturned? Did that person know it?
RJ: Not exactly, but I've certainly had my heart broken a couple of times. They knew or at least had a pretty good idea. I'm a little on the verbal side. Think Candor from Veronica Roth's Divergent. That's me. I've been trying to temper myself with a few Amity qualities, but it's like telling someone with Tourettes to control the tics. Hold it back too long, and eventually you're going to see an outburst.

MNtR: Do you have a favorite couple from literature or film that was involved with a case of unrequited love?
RJ: Forrest Gump and Jenny. Just thinking about them makes me want to watch the movie again for a good dose of laughter and tears.

MNtR: One awesome thing about this book is the cast of very real, flawed characters, from Alex and Seth to the dorm residents and jocks and campus queens. Were they developed before you began writing I Loved You First, or did they flesh out as you wrote?
RJ: Trinity was the only one I knew as a person before I started I Loved You First. She has her own series I've yet to finish and plays a role in the last book of the Striped Ones series, which is yet to be released. So we've been buddy-buddy for awhile now.
I developed a character sheet for Alex, and Seth had a personality from the original outline. Others said, "Here I am! Love me or hate me." And I said, "Fine" and wrote them the way they presented themselves.

MNtR: Would you consider this book "Young Adult"? Was it written with a specific audience in mind?
RJ: I believe it works in the YA genre. However, I classify it as New Adult. I wrote it with those between the ages of 16 - 24 in mind. I didn't think I was groovy enough (or maybe it's gnarly these days) to write a YA story, but college was an area I thought I could handle since I've been in and out of school all my life.

MNtR: What kinds of stories do you most like to read? to write?
RJ: My tastes are varied. Paranormal romances were my favorite for the past 5 years or so, but I've burnt out on those. Lately I've been itching for some YA dystopia. I've been trying to be patient, but I'd really like to start the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld. As far as writing? I haven't really settled into a genre yet. I just write whatever chases me in my dreams.

MNtR: Are there any types of genres, subgenres, or story conventions that you have not yet attempted but would like to write?
RJ: I've been thinking about some light sci-fi. All the talk of steampunk over the last year or so has me interested in gadgets. I'm thinking of a futuristic/alternate world where cybernetics is a part of life. :) I have an inkling of an idea and some scenes playing in my mind but no major plot has presented itself yet. I keep telling myself to wait... finish some of the stories and series I've started.

MNtR: Rock on. Thank you so much for answering my questions, it was a pleasure to have you by.
RJ: Thanks for having me, Alisha.

Thanks again to Reena Jacobs for an awesome visit. She's written in a range of genres, but for a contemporary fiction piece--"life as it is"--you should definitely check out her latest piece, I Loved You First. Here's a little blurb from the book:

     Alexandria (Alex) Carmichael guards two secrets close to her heart. One—she’s in love with her best friend, Seth. Two—he’s gay.
     As a freshman in college, Alex looks forward to fun times with her best friend. When Seth decides cycling through girlfriends is the way to fit in with the straight crowd, Alex must make a choice: watch Seth give his affections to another while her heart breaks or come clean with her feelings and risk losing his friendship forever.
     I Loved You First is a new adult love story told through the eyes of an African-American/Caucasian student who takes a journey of self-discovery while watching her best friend come to terms with his sexuality. Turn the pages and find a message of hope, new beginnings, and positive change.

You can find Reena on Ramblings of an Amateur Writer, Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Nobles, and Smashwords.

Review: The Renfield Syndrome by J.A. Saare

Title: The Renfield Syndrome
Series: Rhiannon's Law, #2
Genres/Themes: dark urban fantasy, speculative fiction elements, fish out of water
Author: J. A. Saare

Quick Take: Violent, brutal, and gory. But also tender, sweet, and resonant. I loved the ride this book took me on, and cannot--cannot--wait to check out the next book.

Book Description (via Goodreads):
Rhiannon thought facing off against a deranged child vampire was the most dangerous task she would ever have to undertake, but she’s about to discover making a deal with a demon is far, far worse. Sent forward into another reality, one in which vampires are now dominating nearly extinct humans, she realizes the sooner she returns to her vampire lover, Disco, the better.
     Unfortunately, time changes a lot of things; including those most trusted around her. When she’s faced with a loss and betrayal unlike any she has ever known, her focus shifts from severing the debt between the demon that wants to kill her, to exacting a revenge that will bring forth consequences she never could have fathomed. By reaching out to the darkness lingering within her, she’ll find the strength to push forward despite the circumstances that would see her dead and buried.
     After all, when it’s all said and done, all that she has left to lose is her soul.

First things first. Reading the first book in this series is a must. Upon finishing the book Dead, Undead, or Somewhere in Betweeen, I was wrecked--in the best possible way. Yes, there was a cliffhanger. Yes, said cliffhanger was a doozy. And yes, Lucy has a lot o' splainin' to do. ^_^ But the anticipation that the ending engendered within me was caused most by the sheer possibility that was left for the following book. It practically switched genres (or at least broadened the range of classification that was possible for Renfield)! So upon opening this new book, I literally had no clue what to expect. What a fabulous and exhilarating feeling to have, especially with a book that's part of a series--and thus tends to come with a number of expectations.

The world that was created in this book was quite engaging. There was barely anything recognizable about this New York City, but it was definitely fun getting to figure out its new rules and intricacies. The world has got its fair share of violence and gore. But it definitely works and it's not gratuitous for its own sake.

Saare's got some brass ovaries, man. She also doesn't play shit safe--which I respect! The plot of Renfield is unrelenting, and no promises are made for the characters or their situations. The best thing about that fact is that I still trusted that the story would end up just the way it should--which is not to say I thought it would end up how I thought it should. Rather, Saare did a wonderful job of making whatever happened make logical sense. Gonna blow up the universe? Okay, great! Here's why it's gotta be that way.

A note about characters: I love 'em. Rhiannon, for one, is such a pure pleasure to "hear" as a narrator. She's got a measure of sass, but the way she processes the world around her reveals a wide range of emotion and insight. This is the Rhi that I've been waiting for. And even so, she goes through a hell of a lot of growth and change. The Rhi at the end of the book is even more developed and changed from the one of the book's beginning. Aside from Rhiannon, I'd hate to reveal who's in the book (since at the end of book one, we're not mean to know what's befallen the main cast), but will say that I luuurve the guy that takes up most of this book's focus. Sexy? Brooding? Intense? Check, check, check.

Good graciousness, I enjoyed this book. If you want to know deets, just pick the book up and make it happen; anything else would be a spoiler, and believe me when I say you want the story to unfold before you. There's a lot of action, lots of intrigue, and some fabulously juicy romantic development. Put this one up on my "Favorites of 2011" shelf, thank-you-very-much.

Rating: 5+ of 5 stars
"I absolutely loved it!"

"21 Days, 21 Blogs!" This has been a stop on a book journey by KLB tours. To see some of the other awesome activities going on related to The Renfield Syndromeclick here

Review: Wanderlust by Ann Aguirre

Title: Wanderlust
Series: Sirantha Jax, #2
Genres/Themes: science fiction, adventure, unstable intergalactic government
Author: Ann Aguirre

Quick Take:
This installment didn't grip me as quickly and unrelentingly as its predecessor, but it was nonetheless a solid and exciting entry to the series. The characters are absolutely addictive, even though this is an episodic, plot-driven book.

Book Description (via Goodreads):
Sirantha Jax is a “Jumper,” a woman who possesses the unique genetic makeup needed to navigate faster than light ships through grimspace. Jax has worked for the Farwan Corporation her entire career. But now the word’s out that the Corp deliberately crashed a passenger ship, and their stranglehold on intergalactic commerce has crumbled—which means that Jax is out of a job. She’s also broke, due to being declared dead a little prematurely. So when the government asks her to head up a vital diplomatic mission, Jax takes it. Her mandate: journey to the planet Ithiss-Tor and convince them to join the Conglomerate. But Jax’s payday is light years away. First, she’ll have to contend with Syndicate criminals, a stormy relationship with her pilot, man-eating aliens, and her own grimspace-weakened body. She’ll be lucky just to make it to Ithiss-Tor alive…

Sure, this is only book two, but I already know that the Sirantha Jax series is going to go down as one of my favorite series. How do I know this? For one, the cast of characters is so magnetic. Unlike with many other books I've read, the details about these personalities cement themselves easily and thoroughly in my mind. I feel like these characters are my friends…how nutty is that? But so it is. It certainly doesn't hurt that Sirantha's first-person present-tense narration is vivid and fits seamlessly.

And speaking of characters, I am really liking one in particular: Vel. Oddly enough, he's an insect (in a manner of speaking). But darnit if he isn't also the most magnetic, nuanced, mysterious character of the lot. The next book, Doubleblind, is supposed to (finally!) be about Vel's home planet, so I'm very much looking forward to further exploration of the compassionate yet regimented bounty hunter.

Now, if comparing this book to its predecessor, Grimspace, I'd have to say that this book was not as gripping. To me, it was largely due to the plot driver; it wasn't until the end of the book that the reason for said plot driver was revealed (leading me to remark, "Oh! So that's why they're supposed to have given a crap about what they spent the last 300 pages doing!"). Before that point, I didn't completely buy into the adventure (since I thought it had no point and felt like it aimlessly drifted). But ultimately, the story was still engaging enough to keep me wanting to find out what perils were to befall my beloved characters. ^_^

Like in Grimspace, Wanderlust is highly episodic in nature. This makes for a very fun read, especially since each successive "episode" ends up more "high stakes" and perilous than the last. I'd be perfect for setting the book down for stretches…except, it's very difficult to put the book down at all. :o)

All's I know is that Ann Aguirre is a great storyteller and a skilled craftswoman when it comes to shaping characters. Wanderlust is a solid piece of science fiction--part of a series that is perfect for urban fantasy fans looking to test the waters of speculative fiction. I want to jump into the next book, but this series needs to be savored. Besides, Wanderlust will make for a great re-read.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
"I really liked it."

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