At Authors After Dark 2012!

Greetings guys and gals... just a little hello from New Orleans, a place I've been looking forward to visiting almost my entire life. o.O

Why am I here? I'm attending the Authors After Dark Summer Camp event, a bookish event meant to gather readers, authors, and all manner of bookish people in a smaller, more intimate environment (sounds saucy, put that way ^_^) to hang out and share our love of the written word.

So far it's been lots of fun (and the official event only began last night!). It's been such a head trip to finally see people that I've followed and conversed with in various online venues. I can't wait to meet more people--though I am rediscovering just how much of a shy introvert I can be. (Bad Alisha--go play in the sandbox, already!) And New Orleans has already been such a trip. Beautiful and vibrant, the very air seems imbued with magic. Wonderful setting for Authors After Dark, I'd say.

I'll have more coverage on my time at AAD soon. Till then, have a lovely day!

Armchair BEA Day 5: Experts Say...



And so all good things must come to an end. 

Today is the last day of festivities for both Book Expo America 2012 and Armchair BEA (well, Saturday is going to bring a wrap-up feature at the ABEA Central website…bit still ^_^). Unsurprisingly, Armchair BEA has been an enlightening and enjoyable experience, with all sorts of personal stories shared and many new bits of information learned. The organizers did a wonderful job, and they deserve all possible thanks.

The last topic for ABEA centers around the future of book blogging, both at the macro- and micro level. In other words, what will keep book blogging lively and fun for us all? What kinds of things can we do as individuals to improve our own personal piece of cyberspace as well as the whole of the book blogging community? The link-up page has a wealth of responses to those thoughts, going into the nitty-gritty detail about book blogging.

So I'll leave the details to others. ^_^

At its core, everything done on a book blog has to come from the love for reading, the love for books. Sure, for some there is a legitimate need to focus on the business or organizational side of having a book blog. But in the end, there's need to worry about having ARCs and the latest, biggest releases on hand. Notoriety in the community...far from paramount. Is your content book-related? Are you about sharing your excitement (or perhaps even lack thereof) about that which you read? I definitely believe in not forcing things...if you love what you do, hopefully others will, too. And there's no need to push out half-baked content "just because." In a way, that's something bloggers have in common with authors. Content is king, and passion is...queen? ^_^

Regarding plans for my own blog, I actually don't have aspirations of grandeur and fame. I like having a place where I can just share my thoughts when and how I wish, and have that reciprocated by other bookish folks. The tandem blog that I am a part of, Book Lovers Inc, is a much larger outfit, and I hope for as much widespread success for the Book Lovers as possible. It really is a place where contributors have different tastes in genre fiction (and come from different parts of the world), and thus share varied thoughts and opinions while maintaining a distinct sense of community (I know that I love those gals ta defff! ^_^). I'm confident BLI will have continued success because its team tries to keep fresh, informative, substantive content (absolutely key!) coming down the pipeline.

But on a larger scale, I forsee the book blogging community continuing to be a mainstay in the world of books and publishing. With the current shifts in how we consume our media, there will most certainly be greater emphasis put on the more social, interactive, and grassroots forms of entertainment consumption. (Think YouTube and Twitter.) I just hope that the book blogging community remains one of cooperation, generosity, friendliness, open-mindedness, and innovation. I also hope the community's unifying core stays the same: a genuine love of books and reading.

As always, be sure to check back at Armchair BEA Central, where the organizers will be sharing some very interesting book stats. Tomorrow, they'll be wrapping up and recapping the last several days' worth of activities, both at BEA and ABEA.  (For me, the fun is definitely far from over. I'll still be reading ABEA posts on peoples' blogs for a few weeks. Four hundred participants sure is a lot to handle!)

Did you enjoy Armchair BEA? Learn anything new and exciting? Has it changed or reaffirmed anything about how you look at books or the book blogging community?

J.R. Ward's LOVER AT LAST Cover Reveal...At Last!


It's the cover reveal heard round the book world! ^_^ 

For many fans of J.R. Ward's paranormal romance series The Black Dagger Brotherhood, the news of a book focusing on the characters Qhuinn and Blay has been a long time coming. When the Warden announced just that earlier this year, she made a lot of ladies and gents happy.

And now, this morning on her Facebook page, she treats us to another awesome announcement on the 11th installment in the series! Sporting the title Lover At Last (so dang apropos, don't you think?), the book cover features the image of Qhuinn (known for his mismatched eye color), hooded and oozing deadliness.

Because I always have to parse things for meaning when I see new covers, I immediately wondered whether there was any particular significance to Qhuinn's actually weilding the sword, an item that has been portrayed on all previous covers as a floating image superimposed over the main image. ::ponders:: But the silver and gold tones to the cover are fabulous and fitting, putting to mind the opposing yet complementary forces both pulling the two characters apart and drawing them together.

I must admit that I myself am about three books behind in the series (Lover Avenged was the last I'd read)…but I've been soooo hoping for a Qhuay book release for a long time, so I'm going to have to read up (and perhaps reread) in order to prepare for the release, currently scheduled for Spring 2013.


What do you think about the cover and title? Have you been eagerly awaiting this particular installment of the DBD series?

Armchair BEA Day 3: Networking...In Real Life?!


Happy Midweek, everyone! Hope your work week (or week in general) is going fantabulous. For the people at Javits in New York, BEA is already almost halfway over...same for all of us participating in Armchair BEA.  Which is crazy, because it feels like it just started a minute ago! But so far, there's been a lot of blog hopping and interfacing with some very neat people.

Which brings me to today's ABEA topic: networking in real life! For a book blogger, the majority of the exposure we'll have with others is via electronic means; after all, that's the method by which the book blogging actually takes place. But on certain occasions, such as at events like BEA or RT Con or Authors After Dark and the like, bloggers are given the chance to cavort and get to know one another in the flesh... a wonderful treat that (for me, at least) is a high point about being a part of the book blogging community.

Of course, there are more ways to extend book blog networking than by attending conferences; most cities have book stores that hold author signings every so often. And what's to stop any of us from participating in book clubs or holding local meet and greets?

Author Seanan McGuire (photo from SeananMcGuire.com)
I myself have not (yet!) gotten involved extensively in the bookish scene in real life. But for the right bookstore, or the right event, I'm always up for a visit and participation. Such a bookstore is Borderlands Books in San Francisco, California (in my humble opinion, the best Sci-Fi/Fantasy Horror bookstore ever. Nay, the best bookstore ever ^_^)...and one such event was a book signing for UF author Seanan McGuire (who also writes as Mira Grant, of Feed series fame). That particular experience was extremely memorable, and exemplified the awesomeness of the genre fiction bookish community.

The event was held in honor of the impending release of McQuire's (at the time) latest book release, Discount Armageddon. The event was ostensibly for a book talk and signing… but what actually ended up occurring was so much more. Friends, family, and admirers of the author (numbering about 50, I'd say) all gathered in the cafe half of Borderlands for an evening of book discussions, music, food, and lots of

By that point, I'd not yet read the book being celebrated, so I must say that I missed out on some of the context behind the general discussions and jokes. There were jocular crowd cries of "Hail!" after most every new announcement or proclamation (which totally became clear a few chapters into reading the book). ^_^ Since Discount Armageddon is all about cryptozoology, there was much talk about mythical creatures and the mythologies from which they come. Fascinating stuff.

Cupcake by Seanan!
Green Velvet w/ cream cheese frosting.
Seanan, a self-professed cupcake aficionado, forever endeared herself to my heart (as if she hadn't already by that point) by bringing a veritable feast of mini cupcakes for everyone at the signing to eat (check out the rainbow / pot o' gold cupcake she made…I hadn't the heart to eat it, for it was beautiful! But her baked goods were simply delish). During the food portion, attendees got to acquaint themselves with each other and chat. But as if that all weren't enough, Seanan brought a boatload of swag from her own personal coffers to offer up in raffle drawings that took place every half hour or so.

Most special was perhaps the least book related: it turns out that McGuire is an amazingly talented singer and songwriter. She performed some filk jams for us, including some from her own albums. All told, people left the event (several hours later) with new bookish buddies and a great respect for the amazing woman that is Seanan McGuire. It's now my favorite book signing (narrowly beating out an event I'd attended at Politics and Prose in Washington, DC,  featuring the fabulous Tim Gunn). It reminds me that there is so. much. fun. to be had when bookish-minded people get together for fun.

So that's my tale of one particularly memorable real life bookish experience. How about you; are you a big fan of book signings and author appearances? If so, how populated do you prefer the event be, on a scale from intimate gathering to DragonCon panel? ^_^

(Don't forget to check out ABEA Central; there's another Twitter party and more book talks going on throughout the day!)

Armchair BEA Day 2: Best of 2012

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Another day, another Armchair BEA post! I hope the folks in NYC are having a blast....it's certainly been a lot of fun connecting with people participating in ABEA (over 400; wowww!). As many mentioned in their interviews, it's just so amazing getting to be a part of such a warm, inclusive community. It's a rare, beautiful thing.

Today's festivities over at Armchair BEA Central involve Twitter party-age, a bevy of giveaways, and a new post topic for everyone to partake in! The post topic of the moment is "Best of 2012." As the name suggests, you'll be able to take a look at people's favorite books of the year thus far, as well as the most anticipated titles to come in the next six months. (Kinda makes June the perfect time to reflect on such things, dontcha think? Kind of like a midterm report card. ^_^)


The following list includes only those titles that were released (or will be released) during 2012.

My Top Three Faves of 2012 Thus Far:


Horizon (Aftertime Trilogy, #3) by Sophie Littlefield

I mentioned this one in yesterday's Armchair BEA post, but it bears repeating. This was such a wonderful trilogy closer. This book took me in a direction that I didn't expect but perfectly understood. That's a wonderful thing. ^_^


The Kingdom (The Graveyard Queen, #2)
by Amanda Stevens

If you've read even one review of this or any other book in the Graveyard Queen series, you'll almost certainly see the following words mentioned: atmospheric, creepy, amazing. I'm a huge scaredy cat, but this series (this installment included) is undeniable in its appeal and magnetism. I was majorly creeped out yet kept turning the page for more. ^_^


The Prophet (The Graveyard Queen, #3) by Amanda Stevens

Thank heavens there was another release in this series only a month after its predecessor. I wasn't ready to let go of the characters just yet. Only downside is, even as certain arcs were resolved, some majorly crazy developments took their place. o.O The visuals and tone of this book, like the two books before it, just leaps right off of the page. I can't remember the last time the atmosphere of a book I've read was so easily accessible.


Bonus: Divinely Ruined (Divine Temptations Trilogy, #1) by Diane Alberts

(A bonus because I can't possibly omit this title. ^_^) A recently-completed read, this book was so charming and yet real and poignant…I gobbled it down in a day. Granted, it is of a shorter length, but Alberts manages to establish the reader's connection to the characters, build the emotional drama, and set the stage for a majorly satisfying, sigh-worthy resolution--all in the space it usually takes other books to just get started. I absolutely cannot wait to read more from this author, and I'd recommend this read to all my bookish buddies.



My Top Three Most Anticipated (and Likely Future-Faves) of 2012:



The Ripple Effect (Rhiannon's Law, #3) by J.A. Saare

Book one was great, and book two rocked my freakin' world. I know I'm totally keeping hopes inexcusably high for book three in the Rhiannon's Law series, but it's so hard not to; author J.A. Saare writes such a thrilling world with high stakes, unexpected twists, and a heroine that is extremely magnetic.


The Last Bastion of the Living: A Futuristic Zombie Novel by Rhiannon Frater

From one Rhiannon to another. ^_^ All one has to do is read this book description (or heck, even just the title) to understand how easily one would anticipate this book most highly. In a sea of zombie-themed series, a standalone is a bold, intriguing move. And a science fiction zombie tale? This one will be an autobuy, for sure...and because it comes out on June 12, the wait won't be long!


Endgame (Sirantha Jax, #6) by Ann Aguirre

What is there to say but "duh"? ^_^ I had to cease reading this series for a while because I knew the wait for the final installment was going to be painful if I'd read all the way to book five. Thank goodness there are only a few months left to wait. Sirantha Jax and her universe is thrilling, and Ann Aguirre seems to have been extremely deliberate about how details and story arc unfold. And don't even get me started on the gorgeous cover...



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....best of lists are so much fun. ^_^ I can't wait to see some of your own picks! Please do leave a link to your own Armchair BEA post, if you're participating. It'll be fun to see if any trends appear among everyone's "Best Of 2012" picks.

Til Tomorrow! And don't forget to visit Armchair BEA central to find out more info on the numerous giveaways and the Twitter parties!

Armchair BEA Day 1: Introductions First!


Hi ladies and gents! Not only is it the first day of the first full week in June (the best month of the year, if you ask me), it's also the first day of both Book Expo America (BEA) and it's online counterpart, Armchair BEA.

If you're unfamiliar with either, BEA is the biggest book expo in the U.S., which takes place every year in New York City. It's a time when all sorts of people in the bookish world--publishers, book sellers, librarians, authors, journalists, editors, book bloggers, and more--converge to highlight and discuss the most exciting developments in the industry.

Armchair BEA is a companion event, all online, meant to extend the good times to those not attending the main event. It's the third year running, and it's been getting more and more awesome each time. For the next several days, book bloggers and industry folk all over will be talking books and generally cavorting like the bookish geeks we all are. ^_^

Today's Armchair BEA focus is on introductions, naturally. Each Armchair BEA participant chooses five bookish questions out of a set to answer! Check out the five questions I chose to answer, and then feel free to hop around to the posts completed by other participants. It's always fun to see how different people answer the same set of questions (or even noting which questions people choose to answer); I'm personally looking forward to reading peoples responses about the author/character one would love to have dinner with!

So without further ado (I'm gonna skip the "Who Are You" question, since my "About Me" page is here):

What are you currently reading, or what is your favorite book you have read so far in 2012?
This one's easy: Horizon by Sophie Littlefield (see my review here). It's the final installment of the excellent Aftertime trilogy of books about zombies and survival. The first book was a revelation; the second book was even more exciting than the first; and the third just wrapped things up perfectly. I looove series--because I usually get attached to characters and worlds and love to watch them grow across several installments--but in this case, I can't think of a better ending to a series that never promised a neat, pretty resolution in the first place.


Tell us one non-book-related thing that everyone reading your blog may not know about you.
I absolutely love to watch big, action-packed blockbuster films. When I was younger I used to save up a "Summer Movie Fund" for myself throughout the year, so that when the biggest films came around, I could watch them all. My favorite film is Die Hard (tied with Pride and Prejudice, BBC version. Naturally. ^_^)


What is your favorite feature on your blog (i.e. author interviews, memes, something specific to your blog)?
I really enjoy "Thoughts On" posts, though I tend to do those with the least frequency. I love to talk about the bookish lifestyle, and hear about how our reading habits and selections impact them in non-bookish areas of life.


If you could eat dinner with any author or character, who would it be and why?
I simply must answer this as a two parter. ^_^ I would love to sit down with Jane Austen and pick her brain about the inspiration behind her stories. There are running themes of love conquering all in her tales; and yet, she herself remained single all her life. Was that intentional? Did she write wishfully? Beyond that, Austen wrote about intelligent, charming, magnetic heroines…and I don't care what Charlotte Bronte had to say to the contrary. ^_^
As for characters, I would love to hang out with Merit of the Chicagoland Vampires series. I recall thinking as I read the first book, "Merit and I would SO be besties if she were real!" ^_^ She's got a wonderful sense of humor, a great sense of honor and duty, and identifiable weaknesses and flaws (which is impressive considering she's a vampire with crazy vampire drama surrounding her).


Have your reading tastes changed since you started blogging? How?
Before starting a blog, I had never read historical romance (that is, the stuff written in modern day with historical settings). I was afraid I wouldn't like the style, since I'm such a big fan of books actually written way back when (I looove jane Austen). But my book blog buds gave me excellent recommendations, and away I went! Same deal with sci-fi romance and fantasy romance. I've always loved the more hardline stuff, but I've definitely come around to enjoying the addition of romance in all sorts of themes and settings. Nowadays, the majority of what I read has some romantic element in it. I just love love! ^_^

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That's it for now, folks! Be sure to visit tomorrow for more Armchair BEA fun (tomorrow is all about giveaways!)


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Review: Alien Revealed by Lilly Cain


Title: Alien Revealed
Series: The Confederacy Treaty, #1
Genres/Themes: science fiction romance, aliens, military
Length: novella
Author: Lilly Cain
Excerpt: on author's website

Quick Take:
While not groundbreaking, this is certainly a solid piece of sci-fi romantica. The scope of the novella's plot is intimate, but there are threads that imply greater complexity on a series level, to be explored in future installments.

Book Description (via Goodreads):
     Inarrii agent Alinna Gaerrii was tasked with observing the Starforce base on Earth. Crash landing her observation pod was not part of her mission briefing. Neither was making m'ittar—mind contact—with Major David Brown, the human who found her amongst the wreckage.
     David thinks she's a psychologist sent to evaluate his Special Forces team, and Alinna goes along with his misconception, seizing the opportunity to observe humans up close. But their contact has unexpected side effects, and Alinna soon invades David's dreams. Through their intimate mental connection she allows him to express his forbidden physical desires.
     Alinna delights in the sensory exploration and grows excited by the prospect of a treaty with the humans and a potential life mate in David. But an attack from an unknown ship sends the base into chaos, and Alinna may be forced to reveal her lie, erasing all hope of a successful treaty, and driving David away forever...


Review:


This story is definitely established quickly and, in my opinion, efficiently. At the same time, there was apparent care and detail employed early on, enough to make the quick exposition feel thorough. Within the first few scenes, the reader has a sense of the alien(s) and their dynamic with humankind; the main characters are already engaging; and the groundwork is laid for the romantic dilemma that eventually carries the plot to the end.

The story keeps the scope controlled, manageable and focused. We follow the hero and heroine and learn only as much as is needed to understand their respective dilemmas and appreciate how they attempt to overcome them. Sure, there is a looming threat of the Inarrii's premature discovery by the human race--and thus the potential failure of any future treaties--but it's limited to Alinna's frame of reference.

In my opinion, this book falls somewhere in the erotic romance arena. The romance was nice and well developed…but man, the steam was incendiary. In fact, it just nudges at the boundaries a bit, and might catch some readers unaware (well, depending on one's boundaries). So head's up on that. Still, the development of the romantic aspect of the book was pretty clever, using unexpected methods (i.e., a kind of telepathy) to quickly build a deep connection between Alinna and David.

For the most part, the logic and explanations behind characters' decisions and actions were believable. Further along in the story, though, I did feel like the romantic development lost a bit of its great flow, and certain events were just bursting onto the page with seeming randomness, inexplicably there just to jump the plot from one point to another (a sudden, mysterious attack on a military compound comes to mind). A couple times I'd found some of the later explanations of developments a smidge blatant and unnecessary.

All told, though, this story is indeed solid and tightly written. The romance is developed via some intriguing means, and at times proves to be truly spicy. There's a lot of promise developed by the initial world-building; this book was more romance-focused than sci-fi focused, but I have a feeling the next installments will really draw out the very interesting sci-fi premise of this series. And I absolutely plan to find out first-hand how that goes. ^_^

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


This has been a Bewitching Book Tours tour stop....for more reviews, guest posts, and interviews, click here.
...or hit the image above!

In Anticipation: The Last Bastion of the Living by Rhiannon Frater

Every once in a while, I come across a book that immediately and completely bowls me over merely by checking out its introductory matter--the title, the cover, and the book description. The latest book by Rhiannon Frater, The Last Bastion of the Living was one such book. Among a rash of well-written zombie fiction that's seen a nice level of popularity over the last few years, this one grabs attention with its science-fiction flavorings. Check out the blurb:
     The Bastion was humanity’s last hope against the fearsome undead creatures known as the Inferi Scourge. A fortified city with a high wall, surrounded by lush land rich with all the resources needed to survive, protected by high mountain summits, and a massive gate to secure the only pass into the valley, the Bastion became the last stronghold of the living on earth. But one fateful day, the gate failed and the Inferi Scourge destroyed the human settlements outside the walls and trapped the survivors inside the city. Now decades later, the last remaining humans are struggling to survive in a dying city as resources and hope dwindle.
     Vanguard Maria Martinez has lived her whole life within the towering walls of steel. She yearns for a life away from the overcrowded streets, rolling blackouts, and food shortages, but there is no hope for anyone as long as the Inferi Scourge howl outside the high walls. Her only refuge from the daily grind is in the arms of her lover, Dwayne Reichardt, an officer in the Bastion Constabulary. Both are highly-decorated veterans of the last disastrous push against the Inferi Scourge. Their secret affair is her only happiness.
     Then one day Maria is summoned to meet with a mysterious representative from the Science Warfare Division and is offered the opportunity to finally destroy the Inferi Scourge in the valley and close the gate. The rewards of success are great, but she will have to sacrifice everything, possibly even her life, to accomplish the ultimate goal of securing the future of humanity and saving it from extinction.

Aside from the fact that Rhiannon Frater is already known for her amazing As the World Dies post-apoocalyptic zombie-filled series (as well as for her dark urban fantasy books), just the premise of this book sounds so promising that it will most certainly be a topping many a "Best Of" list by year's end. What really draws me specifically is what looks like a well-developed, complex futuristic world. It's got order (the Bastion and its Vanguards) amongst chaos (the Inferi Scourge). It's got intense character relationships (Maria and Dwayne). It's got allusions to an epic adventure (the mission given to Maria by the Science Warfare Division). And best of all, it's got zombies. ^_^ I'm a HUGE fan of dystopians...when done right. I'm talking Brave New World right. Aftertime right. Feed right. As the World Dies right. ^_^ And this one has as much promise as any of those to be a wild ride.

The cover, in a word, is amazing. Visually striking even with the muted colors--perhaps even because of the sedate color scheme. The woman (warrior!) on the cover alludes to darkness, boldness, and lethal  ability. The murky clouds in the background appear animated with menace and threat. This cover is definitely not easily ignored. The cover artist is Claudia McKinney; bravo to you, ma'am! (As well as to the typographer, Ashley of Bookish Brunette Designs. Perfectly fits the sharp, futuristic feel of the book description).

The Last Bastion of the Living: A Futuristic Zombie Novel by Rhiannon Frater will be released on June 12, 2012.

Review: The Kingdom by Amanda Stevens


Title: The Kingdom
Series: Graveyard Queen, #2
Genres/Themes: dark urban fantasy, gothic/horror ghosts, mystery, romantic elements
Author: Amanda Stevens
Excerpt: on author website

Quick Take:
All in all, The Kingdom has boatloads of lush atmosphere (I’m sure you’ll hear that whenever someone describes this book), with several moments of creepiness and excitement. If you scare easily, I would suggest not reading this book alone in the dead of night. ^_^ But I’d certainly recommend the book and series to any and all fans of UF, especially those looking for something different from the usual.

Book Description (via Goodreads): 
Deep in the shadowy foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains lies a dying town…… 
My name is Amelia Gray. They call me The Graveyard Queen. I’ve been commissioned to restore an old cemetery in Asher Falls, South Carolina, but I’m coming to think I have another purpose here. Why is there a cemetery at the bottom of Bell Lake? Why am I drawn time and again to a hidden grave I’ve discovered in the woods? Something is eating away at the soul of this town—this withering kingdom—and it will only be restored if I can uncover the truth.


Review (first posted at Book Lovers Inc):
Atmospheric. Intense. Those are two words that keep coming to mind when I think about this book, a combination of quiet horror and lingering suspense. The Kingdom by Amanda Stevens has expanded on the strengths of its predecessor, The Restorer, while focusing on a different set of characters and locations. The beautifully written prose also brings to mind a third word: Creeptastic. ^_^

I’ve said it before, and it bears saying again: Amanda Stevens has a knack for setting up atmosphere. It’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of reading her books, in my opinion. The settings described just come alive with the language she employs. Since many of these settings involve spirits and the paranormal (remote towns and abandoned cemeteries in the deep South), the book takes on a gray, spooky feel…and the author hits the appropriate note with prose that feels effortless.

There’s quite a bit of entanglement as far as how the characters fit together, how bits of information are relevant to later developments. Some may not love that degree of complexity, nor the seemingly random, odd occurrences; heck, at times even I was a bit exasperated at feeling so unsure of what was going on—who was friend or foe, how to process certain events. But since that’s often part of the deal when reading a plot that revolves around a deep mystery, some of that is to be rightfully expected. ^_^

There’s a lot more revealed about protagonist Amelia Gray, which is a welcome direction given that much of the first book focused outwardly to other characters’ situations and backgrounds. Amelia is extremely nuanced, and the mystery surrounding her very existence is juicy enough to fill a whole string of tales. I like that she’s strong and brave, yet not impervious to fear and vulnerability.

As in book one, there was a shade of romantic intrigue, enough to satisfy the readers who love that element, but not so much as to overshadow the main plot thread and mystery. It provided enough zip to keep the story thrilling and full of life.

A bit of truth telling here: I actually enjoyed the first book more than this second one. But considering this installment does not have the benefit of “newness” that The Restorer did, I have to account for the heightened expectations (I can definitely say that The Restorer was one of my favorite books of 2011; top 3, easily. That’s a tough act to follow). Furthermore, this book has even more of an unfinished feel than the last book, insofar as many plot threads from the first and second book will feed directly into the next. Thank goodness for the fact that book three will be released in only a couple more weeks!

Rating: 5 of 5 stars
"I absolutely loved it."

In Anticipation: The Kingdom by Amanda Stevens

Without a doubt, the book The Restorer by Amanda Stevens was one of my favorite books of 2011 (easily top three). The chilling, highly atmospheric debut (yup, this was a freakin debut!) novel was absolutely unexpected, but it turned out to have been just what I needed. So enter the followup one year later, called The Kingdom, which is promising to be just as spooky and mysterious:
Deep in the shadowy foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains lies a dying town...

My name is Amelia Gray. They call me The Graveyard Queen. I’ve been commissioned to restore an old cemetery in Asher Falls, South Carolina, but I’m coming to think I have another purpose here.

Why is there a cemetery at the bottom of Bell Lake? Why am I drawn time and again to a hidden grave I’ve discovered in the woods? Something is eating away at the soul of this town—this withering kingdom—and it will only be restored if I can uncover the truth.

I like how the book description above is not very spoiler-y. There was a lot that went down in the first book, a lot of unfinished business between certain characters, but it's left alone in the blurb to focus on reintroducing the mysterious unknown that's explored so well by the author. Amelia Gray is sent on another assignment, to complete the seemingly straightforward (though labor-intensive task) of restoring a graveyard. But of course, nothing is as it seems, and even the dead have an active role to play. The elusiveness of the blurb is the stuff great mystery is made of.

The cover of this book (and the other installments) is not the flashiest ever, but that's perfectly appropriate to the tone and focus of the series. It's quiet, unassuming, and mysterious, and it belies something dark and forbidding. I love how all the little visual clues just reinforce what the blurb and previous installment established--that this will be a quietly powerful tale--and a super creepy one, to boot.

If you haven't checked out this series yet, I'd sooo recommend you do, provided you can handle a bit (read: a lot) of creepiness. ^_^ Be sure to read in broad daylight, preferably with someone else present. ^_^ It'll totally be worth it.


Graveyard Queen series:
#0.5 - The Abandoned (published April 1, 2011 by Harlequin Mira)
#1 - The Restorer (published April 19, 2011 by Mira)
#2 - The Kingdom (to be published March 27, 2012 by Mira)
#3 - The Prophet (to be published April 24, 2012 by Mira)

Shorty Reviews! (Kaye, Hanson, Ashley)

Time for a quick rundown of some notables I got the chance to read. (Sometimes, it's nice to "get to the point" and keep it simple!)



Forever Freed by Laura Kaye
This is a standalone vampire story (about love--romantic love, parental love--and friendship) with a great deal of character development. In fact, this is all character driven. The mood is subdued, and actually starts out very, very slowly, but there's a wonderfully fleshed out romance that builds steadily throughout the book. The protagonist Lucien begins as a character of questionable morals and ends up completely identifiable and lovable. Indeed, I ended the tale with a big smile on my face. (4 of 5 stars)



Love is Darkness by Caroline Hanson
(Valerie Dearborn, #1)
This was an incredibly fun story, with a feisty (and sometimes really moody) heroine, and two majorly sexy male suitors. ^_^ It'd be higher, but I can't--cannot--ignore the fact that the book was in dire need of a copyedit/proofread. The story was great, lots of fun. But it was seriously riddled with errors of all types, almost inexcusably so. A crying shame, because the story is full of awesomeness. The one thing that kept this book from being a favorite of mine w Oh, and a couple of distracting plot holes. But this is a series to look out for, especially if the follow-ups are given more technical polish. (3 of 5 stars)




The Many Sins of Lord Cameron by Jennifer Ashley
(Highland Pleasures, #3)
What a pitch-perfect historical romance! The main couple is so endearing, a perfect match--two life-hardened, wounded souls crashing into each other time and again. Unlike the previous two books in this series, this story is less event-driven and more centered on the protagonists, who are both multi-faceted and intense. While standalone, it also does great buildup for future installments. Drama and levity in excellent proportion. (5 of 5 stars)

Review: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell


Title: Attachments
Series: n/a
Genres/Themes: romance, gal pals forever, never-met-you-but-i-love-you trope
Author: Rainbow Rowell

Quick Take:
A refreshing take on sweet romance. The atypical narrative format works well, and the main character is amiable and charming. Though the story is not action packed (and may seem quite slow to start), it's a great one to spend a lazy afternoon reading.

Book Description (via Goodreads): 
Beth and Jennifer know their company monitors their office e-mail. But the women still spend all day sending each other messages, gossiping about their coworkers at the newspaper and baring their personal lives like an open book. Jennifer tells Beth everything she can't seem to tell her husband about her anxieties over starting a family. And Beth tells Jennifer everything, period.
     When Lincoln applied to be an Internet security officer, he hardly imagined he'd be sifting through other people's inboxes like some sort of electronic Peeping Tom. Lincoln is supposed to turn people in for misusing company e-mail, but he can't quite bring himself to crack down on Beth and Jennifer. He can't help but be entertained-and captivated- by their stories.
     But by the time Lincoln realizes he's falling for Beth, it's way too late for him to ever introduce himself. What would he say to her? "Hi, I'm the guy who reads your e-mail, and also, I love you." After a series of close encounters and missed connections, Lincoln decides it's time to muster the courage to follow his heart . . . even if he can't see exactly where it's leading him.


Review (first posted at Book Lovers Inc):
No, he was just going to kiss her. He wasn't going to wait. She'd kiss him back. He was absolutely certain that she would kiss him back.
And then he'd tell her that he loved her.
And then he'd tell her his name.
Squee! How romantic-comedy is that, right? Just one of the many cute little snippets from Ranbow Rowell's debut novel. This story is slightly tough for me to classify, because it's not quite chick-lit / women's lit: the main character is a guy, and the story is ultimately about said guy's emotional growth and development. But neither is it lad-lit; the story also follows BFFs Beth and Jennifer through their respective man- and life situations. And it's far from a hot-and-heavy romance--the romantic leads have never met. Or seen each other. Or...talked to one another.

But classification aside, this is just a smart, witty story. There's a lot of giggle-inducing banter, especially between characters Beth and Jen. The snappy dialogue and easy emotional connection to the characters was just a breath of fresh air. I didn't have to try to relate; I just did. I actually wish I knew Beth and Jen. Hell, I feel like I already do. The key is that the characters were rendered real; their insecurities, their fears, their simple joys and daily quirks. None of it was rendered larger than life and overly dramatic; it just was.

Now, it's important to note that the format used in a large portion of this book takes the form of emails between Beth--the smart film reviewer who feels her love life is in a rut--and Jennfier, the funny married friend who has her own relationship trepidations. Part of my curiosity with this book had to do with the atypical narrative vehicle--and I'm glad I took a chance with it, because it paid off. The format actually disappeared behind the very strong and believable connection between friends. I know that I've gushed and chatted with friends via email before; haven't you? ^_^ The email format was also well balanced with a traditional narrative structure, which follows only the protagonist, Lincoln.

Speaking of which...I know I haven't mentioned much about the protagonist yet, but he warrants his own bit of gushing, too. Lincoln, Lincoln, Lincoln. I love him. ^_^ Why? His character is instantly relatable, and he's so easy to root for. When he is giddy, I, as the reader, am too. When he is sad and wistful, so am I. He's a "regular guy"; no brooding heroic intensity, no hulk-like, insanely hawt looks (though he's supposedly an attractive guy). He's just a man trying to figure out his place in the world, trying to determine what he's good at and what's important to him. I dig that. Furthermore, I also bought into the fact that he fell for someone he'd never before spoken to. Sure, it's an unlikely situation, but the way that Rowell followed Lincoln's life and shared--with considerable focus--the personal struggles and personality traits that made very clear why he was a great match for Beth.

I think this story has broad appeal; anyone that likes life-and-love stories would dig it. And it's sweet enough to rival anything from Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. ^_^ Therefore, this book couldn't NOT have an HEA, and if you're the kind of person who loves those, you've found the right read. You pick a book like this up when you want to feel good; in this case, that satisfaction comes by way of some "laugh and cry" moments that always feel genuine. Rainbow Rowell's first novel is a book I'd definitely recommend--to you. ^_^

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

Review: The Secret Guide to Dating Monsters by Sierra Dean

Title: The Secret Guide to Dating Monsters
Series: Secret McQueen, #0.5
Genres/Themes: urban fantasy, one-wild-night, short story, werewolf/vampire hybrid protagonist
Author: Sierra Dean
Excerpt: available at publisher website

Quick Take:
This quick read was a lot of breezy fun. The protagonist, Secret McQueen, is the major draw here, with her wry sense of humor and complex identity issues. It's the perfect lead-in to the series--or a great way to sample the tone of the series before diving into book one.

Book Description (via Goodreads):
     They say it's impossible to find a man in New York City. Secret McQueen needs to find two in one night. Of course, it’ll mean pulling off the impossible—find and kill a displaced rogue vampire without disrupting the first promising date she’s had in ages. As a werewolf hybrid used to walking a fine line of survival in the vampire world, though, Secret eats impossible for breakfast.
     Somewhere between hello and the first round of drinks, Secret makes her move. Her target, Hollywood’s biggest star, shouldn’t be hard to spot. Just look for swarms of fans. Except every time her vampire liaison, Holden, helps keep her mission on track, her date runs further off the rails.
     Either Holden has a hidden agenda, or he knows more than he’s letting on about her quarry. One way or another, Secret is determined to get her man, and meet Mr. Right. Or die trying.


Review:

What a freakin' surprise this little story was! The premise to this story seemed pretty no-nonsense, nice and straightforward. While that's exactly what it ended up being, I was charmed by the characters and quirky style of the protagonist, Secret McQueen.

The Secret Guide to Dating Monsters didn't have a whole lot in the way of exposition and world building, but I think that's the whole point. I hear that it was written (and certainly published) after the first full-length book in the series was released. So more than anything else, this story is something to whet the appetite, to fill in some of the tiny but promising tidbits alluded to in Something Secret this Way Comes. I'd personally recommend reading this before Something Secret, both because the events of Secret Guide chronologically come first, and because the read does not require great commitment and investment to be enjoyed.

As such, the plot moves fast here, but since there's not a whole lot of world building and complex character interactions, it reads like something of a quick procedural. It takes what would've been a straightforward event--Secret's date with a nice, "normal" guy--and throws everything in the path of preventing it occurring in a normal way. 

I really liked Secret's narrative voice, perhaps more than any other aspect of the story. She's witty, sexy, and she's got a bit of a chip on her shoulder. I really liked the element of her being part vampire, part wolf; yes, I know we've heard of that trope before, but it works well here, allowing this feisty, judgemental protagonist to wrestle with not only real baddy monsters, but also the "monsters" within herself. But Secret's everyday observations were amusing, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Whether she was high or low, she was always magnetic.

I must admit that I had some trouble envisioning some of the action scenes based on the descriptions. Granted, such scenes (along with "action" scenes, if you get my drift ^_^) can be be tricky to stage, especially if the choreography is complicated and the pace is really fast. There was one crucial scene in a subway that felt almost too frenetic to grasp.  It was definitely a lot to untangle and figure out, at least for me.

But overall, this story was a lot of fun. It sets up a very promising world with a highly likable heroine. After finishing this one, I'd immediately followed up with Something Secret This Way Comes. I really think this will be a series for the urban fantasy masses.


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


Reading Challenges 2012


So, last year was the first time I'd participated in blog-based challenges (having done a few small challenges on GoodReads before that), and I had an absolutely wonderful time. This year, I'd like to participate in some challenges that either get me to either further explore genres I love, or help me discover genres and themes that I'm not quite familiar with. So without further ado, here are the challenges that I've decided to participate in throughout the year (my progress can be tracked on my Challenges page):


Steampunk Reading Challenge
hosted by the ladies at Dark Faerie Tales


Of all the subgenres out there, I think I'm most fascinated by that of steampunk. There's something about the mix of historical settings and futuristic tropes that intrigues me every time. This year, I'm making sure that steampunk doesn't get relegated to the bottom of my TBR pile.

This challenge runs from January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2012. Pretty straightforward, this one. You simply need to read books from the steampunk sub-genre. One need not have a blog in order to particpate; you just leave a comment with your book selection. There's a nice list of books already provided, so that you don't have to go scouring the earth to get started. There are four different "levels" of possible participation:

  • Gaslight – Choose 6 books to read
  • Gears – Choose 12 books to read
  • Gadgets – Choose 18 books to read
  • Greased – Choose 24 books to read
  • Steamed – Choose 30+ books to read 

No need to select books in advance; just list 'em as you go. If you're interested in doing this challenge yourself, more information can be found HERE (you can join anytime before December 31, 2011).


Krazy Kleypas Reading Challenge
hosted by the ladies at Under the Covers


So, last year I did the Historical Romance Challenge by Romance Book Junkies, and it went well! I started to read HR, and I have no plan to look back. This time, I think I'd like to focus the challenge a little bit by trying to read books by Lisa Kleypas in particular, whom I'd discovered as part of the HR Challenge. Yep, that'd be the author that many consider to be the current queen of HR--or of romantic fiction in general, depending on whom you ask. I've read only one Kleypas so far, and I'm looking forward to exploring this celebrated author's other works!

There are six levels of participation in this one:
  • Category One: 1-3 Books
  • Category Two: 4-8 Books
  • Category Three: 8-12 Books
  • Category Four: 12-16 Books
  • Category Five: 16-20 Books
  • Category Six: Read Every Lisa Kleypas ever published.

A blog is not necessary for this one; instead, you can just note the read on the challenge linky or post to your Goodreads/Shelfari/LibraryThing account (you have one). Re-reads are A-Okay, and all of Kleypas's books are valid for inclusion in the challenge. If this sounds like an interesting one to you, go HERE for information and sign-ups.


New Author Challenge
hosted by the fine folks at Literary Escapism


This particular challenge has been around for four years now, and I've seen so many other book buds find great new favorites through it. So I'm all in for 2012! It basically involves finding authors that are new to you--in any genre. Obviously, re-reads don't count (because they aren't new to you), so this challenge is meant to do just that: challenge you to branch out a bit.

The levels of committment are pretty straighforward: you can choose to read 15, 25 or 50 new authors. Non-bloggers are welcome, though reviews are encouraged. The LE gals note that, if you read your goal, keep on going! The idea is to explore as much as possible. For sign-ups and challenge details, click HERE.


Horror and Urban Fantasy Reading Challenge
hosted by the gals at Book Chick City


Though I love all types of themes under the umbrella of genre fiction, I'm a big fan of urban fantasy. I'd like to read more "dark urban fantasy" and horror, so I'm looking forward to participating in this challenge. My interest is particularly in the horror aspect; I've recently discovered that, while I am a scaredy cat, it can be quite exhilarating to read a book that's meant to spook or unnerve you a bit.
  • Read TWENTY FOUR (24) horror & urban fantasy novels in 2012
  • Read FORTY EIGHT (48) horror & urban fantasy novels in 2012

Pretty straightforward, right? Crossover with other challenges is fine, but audiobooks and nonfiction are not. Non-bloggers are encouraged to participate, as well. Click HERE for more information.


Authors After Dark 2012 Reading Challenge
hosted by Midnyte Reader

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So, as of right now, I'm registered to attend the 2012 Authors After Dark summer camp in New Orleans, LA. While I'm familiar with several of the participating authors, I would love to familiarize myself with more of them, so that I can give props where they're due in August! ^_^ As Midnyte so astutely puts it: "Sometimes I go to conferences that feature authors who I am unfamiliar with. Then, when I read their books later I want to kick myself for not reading their work sooner, so I could have talked to them about their stories, gotten a book signed or just gushed properly." I could not agree with her more.   

This challenge has no "levels"; you simply provide a list of books from any authors participating in AAD 2012. Such a list is definitely not set in stone; it's more of a loose plan of attack.

Now, the fact that this particular challenge is connected to a convention does not preclude non-attendees' participation; everyone's welcome. Likewise, even though the event occurs in August, the challenge runs from January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2012. Find more information and sign up HERE.


50 States Challenge
hosted by Tasha at Book Obsessed

I started this challenge last year, and I'm gonna treat it as a continuous one (even though it's a yearly on Book Obsessed). I've read my way through many of the states, but some are just elusive (and I don't want to read a book I know I might not like, just because it's in the state of choice). 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 for 2012 HERE.

Interview with Author Jerri Drennen


Greetings, funky fresh guys and gals! I'm very pleased to welcome author Jerri Drennan to MNtR today! We'll be chatting for a bit about the fun and wild super-agent world of Her Man Flint, Drennan's latest book release, as well as about some of her upcoming projects (here's a hint--romantic suspense with all the trimmings of excitement!). Many thanks to Ms. Drennan for visiting today, and a very hearty welcome! So without further ado...

- - - - - - - - - -

MNtR: Can you tell us a bit about Her Man Flint---Twitterstyle (140 characters or less)? ^_^

Jerri: The stories about two ex-lovers forced to work together to exonerate the other of murder and in the process learn to trust again.

MNtR: The cover of this book reflects perfectly the fun, frenetic, saucy tone of the story and its cast. How did the theme and tone of this tale come about, given its relative difference to some of the more serious romantic suspense you've written in the past?

Jerri: Actually, Her Man Flint was my very first romantic suspense. The last few stories I've written have a more serious tone.

MNtR: Main characters Adriana and Flint make for the perfect international agents--effective and deadly. Do you have any favorite secret agents or spies from pop culture?

Jerri: James Bond of course and on a more fun note, Austin Powers.

MNtR: Along with Flint, some of your other heroes are strong, intense agents of justice. And like Adriana, your heroines can more than keep up! Can you tell us what draws you to the these powerhouse, lawful characters?

Jerri: I'm like men and women of justice on television so I guess it's not a stretch to want to write about these types of characters. Though, I have to say, I love my cops and agents to be flawed, as you can tell by Flint.

MNtR: Your writing slogan is, "Heroes packing more than just handguns." A very accurate descriptor of your previous works. ^_^ Can you tell us about some of the heroes you have in mind for your future books?

Jerri: Right now I'm working on my Z series. Ex-Navy Seals who work for a private security group. Think Blackwater. More on the realm of your typical romantic suspense with blackmail, murder plots and revenge.

MNtR: Are there any other genres or tropes that you've not yet written stories for, but would like to try your hand at?

Jerri: I have to say I found my passion in writing romantic suspense and I'm going to stick with it.

MNtR: Thank you so much for stopping by today to answer my questions!

- - - - - - - - - -

Author Bio
Jerri Drennen was raised on a farm in a tiny town in Minnesota where the winters were long and being stuck inside awarded her the opportunity to read and tell stories. Years later, after moving away from family, marrying her husband of twenty-five years and having their four children, she started writing when her youngest was three. Eleven years and many manuscripts later, she has one contemporary romance and three romantic suspense novellas with Samhain Publishing, a category romantic suspense at The Wild Rose Press and two action-adventure romances at Liquid Silver Books. Now, she's trying her hand at self-publishing.


Her Man Flint
By Jerri Drennen

If James Bond and Cleopatra Jones had a daughter, Adriana Kent would kick her ass.

Everything Adriana knows about being a top-notch, undercover agent she's learned from her partner, Flint Morgan, in and out of the sheets. That is, until he's caught between those same bed linens with another woman. Heartbroken, Adriana refuses to forgive him. But when 'the other woman' is found dead in Flint's apartment, she steps up to prove his innocence--he might be a womanizer, but he's no killer.

As Adriana closes in on a suspect, she's kidnapped and sent overseas to a sadistic prince who collects women like priceless pieces of art. Now this tough as nails agent finds herself playing the helpless courtesan to a man hell-bent on breaking her spirit. Flint arrives in the nick of time, dressed as a harem girl, fighting off randy guards and surly camels to rescue Adriana so they can fly back to the states to find a way to exonerate him for murder. 



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In Anticipation: Horizon by Sophie Littlefield


And so all good things must come to an end.

In this case, I'm pretty sure that even the end is going to be good (and by "good" I mean "mega badass"). I'm talking about the third and final book in the Aftertime series by Sophie Littlefield. (Click to see my reviews for Aftertime and Rebirth.) Thus far, the trilogy's overarching story—which centers on Cass Dollar's struggle to survive and keep her little daughter safe in the midst of civilization's collapse—has been thrilling, (sometimes) scary, and (always) profoundly affecting. Check out the description (edited from the publisher's version to remove possible spoilers):
Cass Dollar is a survivor. She's overcome the meltdown of civilization, humans turned mindless cannibals, and the many evils of man.
     But from beneath the devastated California landscape emerges a tendril of hope. A mysterious traveler arrives at New Eden with knowledge of a passageway North—a final escape from the increasingly cunning Beaters. Clutching this dream, Cass and many others decamp and follow him into the unknown.
     Journeying down valleys and over barren hills, Cass must confront the worst of what's inside her—dark memories from when she was a Beater herself. But she, and all of the other survivors, will fight to the death for the promise of a new horizon…
From the looks of the blurb, this series seems to follow the structure of a classic three-act play: the first "act" does most of the setup and introduction of a dilemma, the second finds circumstances the most dire, and the third resolves or implies hope for resolution. (Think Star Wars, Episodes 4-6. ^_^)

The cover art for this book is, like the other two, fantastic. One can gather so much about the tone and direction of the plot by simply looking at the art, even without benefit of the book description. I'm still curious as to who made the call for the bird to be on all of the covers. There was a reference made to a bird in book one (I believe), evoking the thought that its very survival is a symbol of hope amidst such dire circumstances. Same thing with the choice of an overall color wash—a tentative shade of blue that hints at renewal. And then there's the hazy cloud formation, which on the Aftertime cover was a barage of smoke, and on Horizon appeared to resemble a disorienting fog. Here, it's thick healthy clouds just barely obscuring the sun's light. Hope! Life! We'll see if that comes together for the cast (fingers crossed).

But anyway. Enough nerdy cover art examination. It's just that everything about this trilogy of books has seemed so thoughtful and multi-layered. I cannot wait to have this final installment of the series sitting on my bookshelf, and I will continue to shout about the trilogy's awesomeness to anyone crazy enough to listen to me. ^_^

Horizon is available NOW (release date: January 24, 2012) from Harlequin Luna.


Review: Dirty Beautiful by Jodie Becker


Title: Dirty Beautiful
Series: Book #1 of as-yet-untitled series
Genres/Themes: contemporary romance, 
Author: Jodie Becker

Quick Take:
The intriguing premise of Dirty Beautiful delivers quite well on its hints of the balance between love and lust. The male protagonist was the real draw for me--so much so that I would have loved to have seen more focus on his past struggles, which are referred to frequently in the book but not deeply explored. Overall, there's plenty of sexy and sweet, with a likable cast and promising plot threads for future books.

Book Description (via Goodreads): Disillusioned by love, Erica has tasted the bitter pill of betrayal and wonders if she’s enough for one man. When a hot guy moves in next door, Erica decides to settle for good old-fashioned lust. What starts out as a simple seduction quickly evolves, and Erica is fast finding out Dylan is dangerous not only to her libido, but her heart as well.
     Recently retired from the adult-film industry, Dylan hopes for a fresh start in Templeton where his porn persona, Drake Van Wulf, is unknown. His new neighbor is unlike the women he’s accustomed to, but she stirs his blood nonetheless. His rule not to get involved is quickly tested by Erica and her lush curves. Unable to withstand her allure, Dylan finds himself wanting more from Erica than just her body. He wants her heart also.
     With the secret of his past hanging in the shadows, Dylan’s about to find out if love truly conquers all.

Review (Originally posted at Book Lovers Inc):

How does a porn actor find love? Dirty Beautiful is a rather straightforward bit of romantica (erotic romance) from Jodie Becker, one that addresses that thought. I’m completely new to this author, but I must say that liked what I read. I dug her premise of an adult film actor trying to escape his past, finding love and acceptance instead.

The main character in this book, Dylan Marsden, is just a ball of sweetness. Okay sure, so he was a porn star. But he got into the industry due to financial hardships, and while he was good at it—damn good at it, thankyouverymuch—it never fulfilled him or gave him joy. As such, he escapes the “biz” and moves into a fixer-upper house in a sleepy Georgia town. His hope? Forget the past and live a quite life. Enter a sweet and affable local woman, Erica, who’s everything Dylan never knew he’d want, but who’s already been hurt by a previous lover’s infidelity. How ever shall the two see eye to eye? The main dilemma in this book basically involves a small bit of information that, if revealed, might ruin whatever romance and acceptance that Dylan and Erica were building. In this particular case, I understood and bought into Dylan’s reticence when it came to revealing his past life. I also understood some of Erica’s insecurities and emotional scars.

This book presents a convincing portrait of a sleepy Southern town (notice I didn’t say accurate—being a city girl, I have no clue what small Southern towns and must therefore leave that evaluation for small town folks). The cast of personalities that populate this town are charming (or, in the case of the antagonist-for-now characters, compelling), some of which would make for great recurring characters.

This story has plenty of steaminess; seeing as how one of the main characters is a former adult film actor, it almost goes without saying. ^_^ But again, there’s a layer of intimacy and sweetness that makes the material so much more compelling. In fact, I think the author does the first- and second-base descriptions best (which is to say, she’s great at steaminess even when not being explicit). ^_^ For a book whose premise is about sexuality, this book does sensuality quite well.

And yet, believe it or not, I wish that there was just a bit more focus of Dylan’s former life as an adult film actor. Granted, the book is supposed to focus on the various perceptions others have of him, but he spoke so much about the love-hate relationship with the industry that it would have been interesting to see more of the internal struggles he’d endured (or didn’t perhaps) while he was an active actor.

Also, I have to admit that the book wasn’t without some truly cheesy bits (“Her house would smell like Willy Wonka’s because she couldn’t get the willy she wanted.”) and some subplots that didn’t resonate with me.

When I initially finished Dirty Beautiful, I didn’t know it was part of a series, so I was scratching my head as to the unresolved plot lines of some of the cast. But lo’ and behold, this is only the first book in a series, which I imagine will be about some of Dylan’s actor friends. I see on Jodie Becker’s website that the next book will feature Max, one of Dylan’s former colleagues. Do I plan on picking that next book up? You bet!

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
"I liked it!"

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