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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