Monday, June 29, 2009

"My Forbidden Desire" by Carolyn Jewel GIVEAWAY!!

I am excited to announce that I am hosting a giveaway of the steamy and exciting book My Forbidden Desire by Carolyn Jewel!! The contest will run until July 10th, and I have 5 copies to giveaway. This contest is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada (sorry, no PO boxes). To enter, just leave a comment either here or on the book review post (to be posted July 1st). If you become (or are already) a follower, you will get an extra entry. Winners will be notified by email, so make sure that your comment includes your email address. Thanks for reading, and good luck all!!!

"Seduce the Darkness" by Gena Showalter

I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of Seduce the Darkness by Gena Showalter from Pocket Books, and what’s more, I was even invited to participate in a Blog Tour promoting the book. From first glance, it was clear that the book was right up my alley. You know, fantasy, intrigue, mystery, steamy romance. All the good stuff that we look for in a great escapist novel. Not only were the internal ingredients all there, but the book has a great cover. (As you can see in the pic of the cover art that I posted, the cover flaunts a flexed, tatted bicep and rippling back muscles. Sure, you can’t see the fella’s face, but is that really even necessary??)

Seduce the Darkness is Book 6 of Gena Showalter’s critically acclaimed Alien Huntress series, and it is the story of Bride McKellis and Devyn, the unwilling king of the Targon race. She is a vampire, and despite is sexual prowess (ahem…promiscuity), she is not his cup of tea. You see, while Devyn is a great lover of women of all shapes and sizes, colors and species, he is afflicted with a peculiar form of ADD. He cannot seem to get pleasure from bedding the same woman (or women of the same race) more than once or twice. As he so eloquently infers, he would rather do the job himself than go back for seconds.

At their first meeting, the two do nothing for each other. While he is clearly attracted to Bride, when Devyn identifies her as a vamp, his interest wanes. And things are far worse from Bride’s perspective. She sees Devyn as not just insufferable, rude and arrogant; she finds that she cannot manipulate him with her voice as she can everyone else. That coupled with Devyn’s physical attractiveness and bluntly voiced attraction to her is enough to send Bride in the opposite direction as fast as she can go.

Unfortunately, the two are destined to cross paths again. Devyn is hunting an alien fugitive who is carrying a terrible virus. (Think Dawn of the Dead or I am Legend and you’ll get the idea.) And, come to find out, Bride’s blood holds the key to the terrible diseases cure. This truth binds the two together tighter than anything else could possibly have done, and their fates are irrevocably intertwined.

I fell in love with the characters in this one. Despite Devyn’s infallible knowledge of his own beauty and superiority he is charming, and he quickly grows on you. And Bride, she is his perfect counterbalance. Unbending and unwilling to be walked on and/or used like all of the women who came before her, she is clearly his destiny. I really enjoyed Seduce the Darkness, from the beginning (a sad scene from Devyn’s childhood that lays the groundwork for his adult persona) to the climax (which I will not spoil). All in all, I have to give this one four solid stars. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and I haven’t even read the first books in the series. That is saying a lot

Monday, June 22, 2009

"The Disappearance if Irene Dos Santos" by Margaret Mascarenhas

I was lucky enough to win a copy of The Disappearance of Irene Dos Santosin a giveaway hosted by another blog. I had never heard of the book prior to then, but after the giveaway I began to notice it all over the place. It was touted by critics everywhere, and by the time it arrived I was dying to read it.

When I read the back flap, I got the impression that the book would focus primarily on the disappearance of a teenage girl, Irene Dos Santos (I know, I should have gathered that much from the title) while on vacation with her friend, Lily, and Lily's family; as well the effect that Irene's disappearance had on the remainder of Lily's life. I was wrong.

The story begins as described: Lily is a grown, married woman 8 months pregnant with her first child. After an accident, she is put on bed rest (after staunchly refusing a c-section) to await her son or daughter’s birth. Her family's live-in housekeeper (who has been with the family since Lily was a child) is convinced that someone has given Lily and her unborn child the "evil eye" and that the only way to counter the effects is to perform a 9 night ritual called a Novena, in which family members pray and tell a story about a happy memory for the baby each night.

It is through these nightly stories that Lily's family history unfolds for the reader. The stories are about everything from love, to imprisonment, to the quest for freedom in Venezuela as told by the revolutionaries, of which Lily's father Ismael was a member. We also get a richly detailed lesson in the religious beliefs of the Venezuelan people and indigenous Indian tribes.

Frankly, I had expectations for this book that I didn't feel as though it delivered. I was expecting more focus on the mystery surrounding Irene's disappearance, but felt like that subject became almost a footnote within the scope of a much wider tale. While I enjoyed the book, I felt as though it took an exceptionally long time to go a very short distance, and was left feeling unsatisfied by it's conclusion. Without truly being a spoiler, I can say that the truth of Irene's disappearance is wrapped up in a few short pages.

All in all, while I have to digress that the book was exceedingly well written, I didn't really care for the way that the story flowed. It jumped around in time and from different character's points of view. And, especially at the beginning, it often did so without preamble. If you are looking for a historical novel about the revolution in Venezuela, you will probably really enjoy the richness in which this book tells the tale of hardship, sacrifice, and the endurance of spirit that were prominent throughout. However, if you are looking for a satisfying mystery, this book probably isn't for you. I give The Disappearance of Irene Dos Santos 3 1/2 stars.

If The Disappearance of Irene Dos Santos sounds like your idea of a good read, please comment on this review for your chance to win my copy. While I enjoyed it, it is not something I want to keep in my personal library. Contest will run until June 30th, and is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada. Please leave an email address so that I can contact you if you are chosen. Thanks for reading, and good luck!!

Monday, June 15, 2009

"Bound to Please" by Lilli Feisty

I recently received a review copy of Bound to Please by Lilli Feisty (love the name, right??) from Hachette Book Group. From first glance (the cover bears the picture of a nude woman’s back and profile), I knew that this was going to be a smokin’ read. And I was right.

Bound to Please is the story of Ruby Scott, a seemingly prim, proper, and totally controlling event planner. Of course, Ruby has a secret. She’s not quite as vanilla as she seems. Especially in the bedroom. And when Mark St. Crow meets her at one of the party’s she planned, he can tell this from across the room. Something about her demeanor just shouts “Dominate me!!” Which is what he sets out to do.

Mark is an up and coming musician; his band one of the most popular new acts in the country. He makes no pretenses about what he likes behind closed doors. He is a classic dom. And despite her commandeering demeanor, he recognizes Ruby as an incognito sub. He approaches her almost immediately, and after an intensely erotic encounter, the pair agree to meet after his show to get themselves out of each other’s systems. Unfortunately, rather than being appeased by their incredibly intense night together, the two of them realize that they want more of each other.

With each new encounter, their bond with one another strengthens, and it isn’t long before they realize that they may not be able to let each other go.

All in all, Bound to Please was a quintessential contemporary erotic love story. Please note the use of the work ‘erotic’ in the previous sentence. It is there for a reason. This book was one of the new wave of mainstream, graphic erotica novels that is permeating the romance genre with increasing tenacity. Now, I do not have anything against graphic sexual content in any book. A little know fact about me is that I write and edit erotica. I find it titillating. However, for those readers who prefer their sex scenes to be more about subtlety and innuendo, this book may be a little too explicit and graphic. As far as a rating goes, I give the book 3 ½ stars. The story was good (albeit predictable), but there were times during the my reading of it that I wanted to take out my red editor’s pencil and make some changes to the word choices that were made. And I find it very distracting when I am compelled to start editing a finished, published book.

If you go into the reading of Bound to Please with realistic expectations (i.e., the realization that you are reading a sexually explicit story, and that you already know how it is going to end), you will probably enjoy the ride. It was a great book for escaping reality for a couple of hours.

Friday, June 12, 2009

"Homer's Odyssey" by Gwen Cooper

I was lucky enough to get an ARC of Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper a week or so ago. As I have mentioned before, I am more of a fiction buff. However, and perhaps I haven’t mentioned this before, I am also a hugely devoted cat-person. As Homer’s Odyssey is more or less the biography of a blind cat, I was sold. Of course, the book wasn’t exclusively Homer’s biography; it was additionally the memoir of Gwen, his owner and biggest fan.

You may be wondering what could be so interesting about a blind cat. I mean, what does a blind cat do, anyway? I was pleased and surprised to learn that this particular blind cat was able to do anything a cat with perfect vision could do, and more. Homer’s tale began when he was found as an abandoned kitten with a virulent eye infection. His saviors, realizing that his condition was grave, turned him over to their veterinarian, upon learning his prognosis (he will live, but he will be unable to see. His eyes will have to be removed to save his life). After performing the surgery that would both save his life and forever alter his path, the vet began the process of finding a home for the tiny, perhaps 4 week old blind kitten. At first, it seemed like there would be no takers. However, when she contacted Gwen (already mother to two cats), she found the kitten’s new home.

Falling immediately in love with the unfortunate little guy, Gwen sets out on a journey of parenting and devotion that will change the course of her life. In her twenties, and fearful of becoming the crazy cat lady of lore, Gwen and her three cats embark on a journey that will take them from Florida to New York, through several jobs and guys, and build each of their character as a result. Homer’s Odyssey also gives us a unique perspective of the impact of 9/11 on the pet owners close to Ground Zero. It was something I had never considered, but reading Gwen’s recounting of the events made me realize that the aftermath of the horrible day had an impact in ways that I had never even imagined.

In addition to the profound and emotional retelling of the events of 9/11 from the point of view of someone who experienced them first hand, the book is rich with recollections of countless everyday events in Homer’s extraordinary life. From the simple ways he reconciles with his inability to see, and refuses to let it slow him down to the ways that Homer’s blindness impacts him that he doesn’t even realize. (Think sneaking up on your target from the front, and not understanding how they avoid your assault every time.) I challenge you to read Homer’s story and not fall hopelessly in love with this little cat.

All in all, in reading Homer’s story, I became yet another of his devoted fans. And, whether you are a cat person or not, I believe that reading Homer’s story will speak to you profoundly about the endurance of the spirit, whether human or otherwise. I have to give Homer’s Odyssey a five star rating, for both its entertainment value and its ability to induce the tearing up of unsuspecting eyes. (One of my favorite parts was the thumbnail pictures of Homer and his sisters that adorned each new chapter.) I would recommend Homer’s story to pet lovers and memoir buffs alike.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"Skin Trade" by Laurell K. Hamilton

~*~Disclaimer: I like the Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series. I started reading this book knowing that I was going to like it. It is one of my favorite series’, so this review is inherently biased. That being said, if you already hate these books, this won’t be the installment to change your mind. Please take this review in the spirit in which it was written!!~*~

June 2, 2009. After months of waiting, the day finally arrived. And as promised, Skin Trade arrived on the shelf at my local Barnes and Noble. When I had it in my hands, all was right in the world.

Am I being overly dramatic? Perhaps. But I know that I am not the only one who had the date marked on their calendar. The almost empty promotional display at B&N made that pretty obvious. Which was fairly shocking, considering all of the bad press I have been reading about this book. Of course, while reading the negative critiques it was blatantly obvious that they were all written by people with preexisting issues regarding the Anita Blake series or Laurell K. Hamilton in general.

Volume seventeen (can you believe it??) of the Vampire Hunter series begins with Anita receiving a special delivery at her office. More specifically, a severed human head in a box. Gruesome, but not the worst thing she has ever seen. The post mark indicates that it was sent from Las Vegas, so she wastes no time in contacting the Vegas authorities. Upon doing so, she learns that the severed head is related to the brutal slaying of one of Nevada’s finest. At the murder scene a message was written on the wall in the victim’s blood; “Tell Anita Blake I’ll be waiting for her.”

She also learns that the murder wasn’t an isolated incident. Nor is the suspected murderer unfamiliar. It is Vitorro, a master vampire from Anita’s past. Needless to say, she hops the nearest flight west, and dives right into the thick of the investigation. Much to the chagrin of the local law enforcement. And with her old buddy Ted Forrester in tow, along with the rest of the crew from Obsidian Butterfly. We are also reintroduced to the weretigers we met in Blood Noir, as well as the rest of the Vegas clan.

One of the most surprising elements of this installment is that all of Anita’s lovers are practically nonexistent. Neither Micha nor Nathanial get a single line. Jason is regaled to a single scene in one of the early chapters. Jean Claude only gets face time via phone calls, and Richard is referred to only once. There is none of the focus on the triumnuvate that is usually so prevalent. And there are only two graphic sex scenes. It is almost as if Hamilton’s writing style has taken a trip back in time, as this edition more closely resembles the first six or so books in the series; the books that so endeared so many to the Anita Blake series.

While reading this book , I tried to find something about it that was offensive enough or writing of such poor quality to that it would justify any of the hateful things I have seen written about the book or its author. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective) I was unable to do so. No, the book wasn’t perfect. Few are. However, it in no way deserved the negative press that it received from readers who have become disenchanted with the series. All in all, I have to give it four stars. And I also feel compelled to give readers some advice. If you do not like a book, whether because of its writing style or because you are offended by its content, you have the option to stop reading it. If it is part of a series, you are not required to continue buying and reading future installments. There is absolutely no reason to publically bash an author simply because what they write is not what you want to read.

Monday, June 8, 2009

"Eve of Destruction" by S.J. Day

After what seemed like forever (but was in reality about a month), I finally got my hands on a copy of Eve of Destruction, which is book two of the new Marked series by S.J. Day. I absolutely loved the first book, Eve of Darkness. It was truly exceptional, especially when you take into account that it was the first book of a new series in the increasingly crowded Urban Fantasy Genre. I am happy to say that the bar that was set in book one was actually exceeded in book two.

At the conclusion of Eve of Darkness, our heroine Evangeline Hollis found herself burned to death by a dragon. In chapter one of Eve of Destruction, she finds herself waking up in her own bed. How is this possible? When your main squeezes are Cain and Abel of biblical fame, you have a little more clout than your average run of the mill mortal. And Eve isn’t about to argue with her return to the realm of the living. With vivid memories of her own death clear in her mind, she has never been more grateful for her new status as a Mark.

With a new lease on life, Eve is quickly whisked away to complete her training as a Mark (along with the rest of the newbies). Upon arrival at the training center, things go bad almost immediately. Eve feels feverish (despite the fact that Marks are not susceptible to human ills) and altogether not herself. Not to mention the fact that one of the Marks-in-training is brutally slaughtered during the first training exercise. With no real clues to go on, the newbies are all on edge. And since there is no love lost between Eve and her classmates (they are jealous of her personal life on several levels), she finds herself becoming a solo detective, and not entirely willingly.

Eve of Destruction was exactly what I hoped it would be and more. Fast paced (but not rushed), exciting, and full of sexual tension between Eve and the two eternally rivaling brothers, it was impossible to put down. One of my favorite aspects of the book was that all of the characters were true to their initial portrayal in book one. It was great to see that neither Cain or Abel was willing to relinquish their struggle with each other or God in order to have an easy relationship with Eve. And that Eve was unwilling to sacrifice any part of herself to be with either brother. Overall, Eve of Destruction gets a five star rating from. I am going to be on pins and needles until Eve of Chaos is released at the end of the month.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

"Chemical Cowboys" by Lisa Sweetingham

When I started reading Chemical Cowboys, I will admit it was with some trepidation. I am generally a fiction buff, and what I had before me was about as nonfiction as it gets. However, it didn’t take long to realize that the facts uncovered by Lisa Sweetingham were going to weave a story too unbelievable to be anything other than true crime at its most brazen, and more entertaining than fiction for that fact alone.

Chemical Cowboys is the story of a massive ecstasy trafficking ring that is investigated and ultimately brought down by the DEA. Acting on a tip received from an informant, DEA agents Robert Gange and Matthew Germanowski become aquatinted with who they believe is a small time ecstasy peddler. Ecstasy, in the summer of 1995, is seen as a less threatening drug than cocaine, heroin, and marijuana by the DEA, and often referred to as ‘kiddie dope.’ Because it has not gained the status of the harder drugs, ecstasy has been allowed to flow pretty much unfettered through the underground New York nightclubs. The agents begin to realize the scope of the problem when their ‘small time’ dealer offers to score thousands of pills for them. With a street value of upwards of $20 a hit, and promises of an almost limitless supply of pills, the agents know that they have discovered a hugely unacknowledged and potentially dangerous threat.

Sweetingham really pulls out on the stops. The story of the investigation and subsequent prosecution of ecstasy ring kingpin Oded Tuito is told from various points of view and no detail is ignored. Readers will enjoy a history of the pharmaceutical MDMA, which is a drug that was developed for the treatment of severe depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. You will also get a brief history of the DEA, as well as an inside look at its operation. The main focus of the book, though, is the influx of ecstasy into the United Stated and the lengths that drug enforcement agents were willing to go to in order to try to curb the problem.

All in all, Chemical Cowboys was a hugely informative and entertaining read. It is a must for lovers of true crime nonfiction and crime novels alike. With Father’s Day closing in (Sunday the 21st of June for those who haven’t been paying close enough attention), Chemical Cowboys would make the perfect gift for anyone’s bookworm dad. Easily four stars.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"One Deadly Sin" by Annie Solomon

I won a copy of One Deadly Sin by Annie Solomon from a giveaway on another book review blog, Chic Book Reviews. I initially heard about the book on that site, and read the review posted there. I was psyched by what I learned, and even more excited when I found out that I had actually won. I waited rather (im)patiently for the book to arrive, and did a little happy dance when the UPS man showed up.

One Deadly Sin is the story of Edie Swann, formerly Eden Swanford, and her return to her childhood hometown of Rosebud, Tennessee. When she was just a little girl, she suffered through her father’s suicide and her mother’s mental collapse. Young Edie is sent to live with her aunt, who eventually reveals the suspicious circumstances surrounding her father’s death. He was accused of embezzling a large amount of money from his employer, the Hammerbilt plant, which is also the small town’s primary employer. Instead of facing the legal repercussions, he jumped to his death in the town’s quarry. However, no one close to him really believed he was capable of theft. Edie’s aunt provides her with a list of names of associates within the company who may have more information.

After her aunt’s death, Edie returns back to Rosebud. By this time she has changed her name and her appearance is nothing like anyone in town would recall. She is a black leather wearing, Harley driving, tatted up biker chick. Immediately upon her arrival she easily secures a job at a local bar. And catches the eye of the local law enforcement; more specifically Holt Drennan. Holt is not only the highest ranking law enforcement official in town, he is also the son of the man on the top of Edie’s list.

As the romance between Edie and Holt intensifies, she is put in the awkward position of bleeding a man that she is coming to care about for information while hiding her true identity. Edie begins distributing little plastic black angels to the men on her list, an homage to the memorial on her father’s grave. And one by one, the black angel recipients begin dying off. Soon Edie realizes that she is no longer playing with them, but that someone is toying with her. And as she becomes the focus of the “black angel” investigation, the secrets of her past come out. When they do, she loses her strongest ally as Holt realizes that she has been deceiving him.

All in all, the book wasn’t bad. It wasn’t as good as I was expecting, but it wasn’t bad. When the mystery was finally solved, I was certainly surprised by the culprit. And the romance between Edie and Holt was steamy (but not too graphic). In my opinion, One Deadly Sin was a 3 ½ star book. Solid, but not spectacular. If you are looking for a good, entertaining summer read, it definitely delivers. Just don’t go into it expecting to be blown away, and you won’t end up being disappointed.

Monday, June 1, 2009

"The Crying Tree" by Naseem Rakha

I don’t always like a book that has me tearing up before page fifty. Of course, when I am reading something called The Crying Tree, I probably should have seen it coming. But...there aren’t many books (no matter how many sappy images are called to mind with the title) that trigger my waterworks. Alas, I was blinking back tears by the end of the sixth chapter. Nowhere near page fifty. And despite the title and the heart-wrenching synopsis on the back cover, I couldn’t help but feel blindsides by the depth of emotion The Crying Tree was already wringing out of me.

The Crying Tree is the story of the Stanley family, and more specifically Irene Stanley, wife and mother of two. Having very reluctantly relocated from her home in Carlton, Illinois, Irene has worked diligently to build a new life for herself and her family. Despite her initial misgivings, in just over a year she has adjusted well to life in the small town of Blaine, Oregon. And her children, eleven year old Bliss and fifteen year old Shep are thriving. Until one night, the family’s newfound happiness is shattered when a robbery gone wrong claims the life of her boy. He is found bleeding to death by his father, who tries unsuccessfully to save his life.

Irene is destroyed. After burying her first born under a tree that seems to weep sap, she sends her daughter back to Illinois to stay with family. She has resolved to remain in Oregon, near her son, at least until his killer is captured and prosecuted. Nine months later, Daniel Robbins has his day in court. He is only nineteen years old, little more than a child himself. When he is led into the courtroom, Irene can’t help but notice that he glares at her husband, Nate, with an inexplicable level of hatred and blatant rage. When all is said and done, Robbins is convicted of murder and sentenced to death. With nothing to do but wait for his execution, Irene and Nate return home to Illinois.

Unfortunately, Shep’s loss scars the family in the irreparable way that only the loss of a child can. Irene turns to alcohol to suppress her emotions, and her entire family suffers. Not least of all Bliss, her surviving child. After an eye-opening confrontation with her daughter, she pulls herself out of her stupor far enough to once again begin caring for herself and her husband. However, Irene knows that she is just going through the motions, that she is trapped in her own hatred. One night, after almost taking her own life, she realizes that the only way out of the prison she has created for herself is to find forgiveness for her son’s murderer, who has spent the last decade rotting in Oregon’s death row. The next day, she finds herself writing a letter to Robbins. After sending it, she feels as though the weight of the world has been lifted from her shoulders, and she begins living anew.

Months later, the unexpected happens. She receives a response from Daniel Robbins. Resisting her initial urge to throw the letter away, she reads it. And to her amazement, finds that Robbins is nothing that she ever expected. From that initial correspondence, an unexpected kinship is born. They exchange letters in secrecy for another almost a decade, until the day that Irene gets a letter that changes everything. A date has been set for Robbins’ execution. This information forces into light Irene’s secret. However, she is not the only one who has been withholding information. In a rage, her husband reveals one of his own. One so big that in a single moment, it warps everything Irene thought she knew about her son, his murder, and her husband.

The Crying Tree is ‘about’ many, many things. However, above all else, what I was able to take away from it was the beauty and power of forgiveness. Because, even though life can be ugly and horrible, we do not have to be. We each possess the power to free ourselves from any self-imposed prisons we may be living in, and we can go on with our lives in any way we choose. Starting now.

I can give this book no less than five very, very enthusiastic stars.