Sunday, February 20, 2011

Review: Ljubimec (The Lover) by Marguerite Duras

Title: Ljubimec
Author: Marguerite Duras

Read copy: Hardcover
Published: 2004
Publisher: Delo
ISBN: 961633221X
ISBN-13: 9789616332217

An international best-seller with more than one million copies in print and a winner of France's Prix Goncourt, The Lover has been acclaimed by critics all over the world since its first publication in 1984.

Set in the prewar Indochina of Marguerite Duras's childhood, this is the haunting tale of a tumultuous affair between an adolescent French girl and her Chinese lover. In spare yet luminous prose, Duras evokes life on the margins of Saigon in the waning days of France's colonial empire, and its representation in the passionate relationship between two unforgettable outcasts.

My rating:

I didn't like it in 2004 when I read it for the first time and this re-read didn't improve my opinion.

Boring, jumpy, twitchy, the story, pacing, timing...everything was all over the place. The reason why they included it in the 50 best books of the century is beyond me.

Review: Emma by Jane Austen

Title: Emma
Author: Jane Austen

Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: May 24, 2005
Publisher: Pocket
ISBN: 1416500286
ISBN-13: 9781416500285

As daughter of the richest, most important man in the small provincial village of Highbury, Emma Woodhouse is firmly convinced that it is her right--perhaps even her "duty"--to arrange the lives of others. Considered by most critics to be Austen's most technically brilliant achievement, "Emma" sparkles with ironic insights into self-deception, self-discovery, and the interplay of love and power.

My rating:

I recently watched the movie with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam, the first time for me, and it made me curious.

Well, for those who don't like much introspection, inner monologuing, and pages and pages of babbling, stick with the movie version.
But for me, fresh out of quite a streak of fluffy historical romances (though with a grittier, darker undertone), the introspection, inner monologuing and pages and pages of babbling were quite refreshing and brain-matter-engaging.

There were times I wanted to slap Miss Woodhouse, there were times I wanted to drown Miss Smith, and I missed the playfulness in the banter between Miss Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley (so very present in the movie), but despite it all, this was yet another great contribution to literature by Miss Jane Austen.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Review: Surrender to the Devil by Lorraine Heath

Title: Surrender to the Devil
Series: Scoundrels of St. James
Author: Lorraine Heath
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: July 1, 2009
Publisher: Avon
ISBN: 0061733997
ISBN-13: 9780061733994

A Devilish Duke on a Quest for Pleasure . . .

Frannie Darling was once a child of London's roughest streets, surrounded by petty thieves, pickpockets, and worse. But though she survived this harsh upbringing to become a woman of incomparable beauty, Frannie wants nothing to do with the men who lust for her, the rogues who frequent the gaming hall where she works. She can take care of herself and feels perfectly safe on her own—safe, that is, until he strides into her world, and once again it becomes a very dangerous place indeed.

To bed her but not wed her. That's what Sterling Mabry, the eighth Duke of Greystone, wants. But Frannie abhors arrogant aristocrats interested only in their own pleasure. So why then does the thought of an illicit tryst with the devilish duke leave her trembling with desire? Her willing body begs for release . . . and a wicked, wonderful surrender.

My rating:

This was yet another great historical romance by the masterful :Lorraine Heath, but while I loved the slow-growing bond between Frannie and Sterling, and their characters separately, I just didn't find this one as "engaging" as the previous two books in the series.

I guess it had all to do with the fact the hero wasn't one of the Feagan's lads, and though Sterling was "dark and brooding" he lacked that edge of danger both Luke and Jack had.

Still, it was a much better effort than many historicals out there, so 4 ½ stars.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Review: Between the Devil and Desire by Lorraine Heath

Title: Between the Devil and Desire
Series: Scoundrels of St. James
Author: Lorraine Heath
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: January 1, 2009
Publisher: Avon
ISBN: 006135564X
ISBN-13: 9780061355646

London's most notorious rogue—decadent, depraved, forbidden

The ladies of the ton won't stop whispering about deliciously wicked Jack Dodger—once a thieving street urchin, now the wealthy owner of London's most exclusive gentleman's club. There's no pleasure he hasn't enjoyed, no debauchery the handsome scoundrel won't provide for the lords who flock to his house of carnal intrigue.

London's most virtuous lady—honorable, uncorrupted, and all too human

Olivia, Duchess of Lovingdon, would never associate with such a rogue. So when Jack is named sole heir to the duke's personal possessions, the beautiful, well-bred lady is outraged. Now, Olivia is forced to share her beloved home with this despicable man.

Caught between the devil and desire

But Olivia's icy disdain is no match for Jack's dangerous charm. His touch awakens desire. His kiss demands surrender. She will struggle to bar Jack from her heart . . . but her body, coveting divine release, will not let her bar him from her bed.

My rating:

Jack Dodger grew up on the streets. His mother sold him when he was only five and only luck and determination saved him. He escaped only to be found by Feagan, a kidsman, training children to pick pockets and survive on the streets. When he was ten, he saved his friend, Luke, now known as the Earl of Claybourne from a bad predicament in prison, earning his eternal friendship...And "permanent" sojourn in Luke's grandfather's house, education and an anonymous benefactor that enabled him to open his own business, an exclusive gentleman's club.

Now, Jack is a wealthy businessman, reviled by some, revered by most, and talked about by the ladies of the ton. One of those is Olivia, Duchess of Lovingdon. She knows of his reputation, she knows of his prowess with the ladies, she knows of his despicable nature, she thinks he's the very devil. And that very devil is sitting in her library one evening, participating in the reading of the will of her late husband, the Duke of Lovingdon.

Olivia doesn't know what her husband might have left such a seedy character as Mr. Dodger, but she sure hopes to get rid of him as soon as possible. Unfortunately her departed husband prevents anything of the sort by naming Jack Dodger as the guardian to his and Olivia's five-year-old son and owner of every not-entitled possession, including the house Olivia loves so much.
Whoever said one must not speak ill of the dead? Her husband must have gone stark raving mad before he died?

And Olivia just might be afflicted with the madness-bug as well, because despite everything she knows about Jack Dodger, she cannot help it but feel attracted to him, longing to know his touch, the taste of his kiss...
And the madness-bug is still at large, since Jack, despite him not standing the arrogant ladies of the ton, cannot help but feel a certain stirring whenever he looks at the widow...If it were only his "you-know-what" stirring, but it's his heart as well.

Yes, the terms of the will don't bode well for the two of them.

This book was yet another proof that Lorraine Heath is a master in writing deep, emotional, though-provoking, angsty, dark, sensual and romantic historical romances. When many think of this genre the usual template comes to mind. Lord/Baron/Viscount/Earl/Duke/etc. meets a Miss/widow/Lady/Countess/Duchess/etc. they resist their attraction for a couple of chapters, but they're soon making merry in a carriage/garden/darkened library/etc., and after a little more soul-searching decide to get married. Some author might throw in a murder mystery of some sorts to keep things lively, but that's pretty much it.

Well, Lorraine Heath has improved on the template. Sure, there still is nobility involved, there are mysteries, there is the attraction-fighting, there is romance...But her books have emotional depth, exploring many a dark theme like child abuse, poverty, orphans, rape, kidnapping, rookeries...Yet she does it with such aplomb the reader doesn't feel manipulated, but feels a connection, a bond with the characters and their inner demons and dark secrets of the past.

There are always scars on both sides (the hero and heroine), they're both flawed, but that more realistic because of their flaws. And they keep making mistakes throughout the story, making amends, making compromises, making the wrong decisions, learning forgiveness, learning how to trust, learning how to love, learning how to accept one another and themselves.
It might sound tough to read, but despite it all, these books are still made for our entertainment. They're written with HEA-hungry readers in mind, but delivering some strong and important lessons on the way there.

This book was one of them. And though nothing could ever beat In Bed With the Devil (the first book in this series), Jack and Olivia's story comes close second. It had everything I came to expect from Ms. Heath, and it delivered on its promise of entertainment while providing food for thought.

Dark, dramatic, angsty, sensual, deep, emotional, and romantic. A keeper!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Review: Earl of Darkness by Alix Rickloff

Title: Earl of Darkness
Series: Heirs of Kilronan
Author: Alix Rickloff
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: December 28, 2010
Publisher: Pocket
ISBN: 1439170363
ISBN-13: 9781439170366

The magic she tries to hide . . .

Born a lady, but reduced to surviving in the slums of Dublin, Catriona O’Connell has been hired to steal a mysterious book from Aidan Douglas, Earl of Kilronan. But Cat is secretly Other, an age-old mixture of Fey and human—something Aidan recognizes immediately when he surprises the lovely young burglar in his library, about to steal a magical diary.

. . . is the magic he desperately wants.

From the moment Aidan sees her, Cat’s spirited beauty enchants him, but her uncanny abilities are what he truly needs, for Cat can understand the mystical language in the diary he inherited from his murdered father. So Aidan makes an offer: translate the book or be thrown in prison as a thief. And as Cat slowly deciphers each page, she and Aidan are drawn together by passion . . . and into the violence of the Other world that is the Kilronan legacy. Can they defeat those who seek the book, or are their lives in even greater danger than their hearts?

My rating:

Do you think it's possible to become so jaded by too much reading that nothing "wows" you anymore?

I liked Alix Rickloff's narrative style and voice, it had a refreshing newness to it, and it most certainly was different from the other authors' out there. The pacing was also good and the characterization amazing.

That said, she apparently didn't know whether to write an angsty, emotionally-dark, and thought-provoking historical romance, or a paranormal romance with a Fey twist, so she did both.

The historical romance would've worked by itself. A destitute former-rake (he can't afford to be one, anymore), an educated lady down on her luck, forced to steal, hiding a deep, dark secret in her past, a murder mystery, a disappeared brother, a planned marriage-of-convenience thwarted by passion...I loved it.

The paranormal romance didn't have the kick it could've had, but that's probably me, fresh from reading KMM's Fever series. Still, it had potential. A secret society of Fey and human descendants (the Other) with magic abilities, hunted by mere humans that didn't understand them, a secret society within the society involved in black arts and trying to resurrect King Arthur to lead a brand new world, the permanent cancellation of said secret society withing the secret society because of their dabbling in the black arts, an indecipherable journal someone would kill to possess (and did), a resurrected creature doing his master's bidding...As I said, it had potential.

Unfortunately, while the two genres separately would've worked, the mixture of the two didn't. There was too much "vying" for supremacy, the historical and paranormal aspects didn't compliment each other, but constantly overshadowed one another. The passages between the genres seemed rather choppy, making the story very tiring to read.

While I did appreciate the separate genres, the story as a whole didn't wow me.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Review: The Rocky Road to Romance by Janet Evanovich

Title: The Rocky Road to Romance
Author: Janet Evanovich

Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: September 1, 2004
Publisher: HarperTorch
ISBN: 0060598891
ISBN-13: 9780060598891

Her tall, dark, and deliciously dangerous boss . . .

When the delightful, daffy Dog Lady of station WZZZ offered to take on the temporary job of traffic reporter, Steve Crow tried to think of reasons to turn Daisy Adams down. Perhaps he knew that sharing the close quarters of a car with her for hours would give the handsome program director no room to resist her quirky charms. He'd always favored low-slung sportscars and high-heeled women, but that was before he fell for a free spirit who caught crooks by accident, loved old people and pets, and had just too many jobs!

Loving Daisy turned Steve's life upside down, especially once he adopted Bob, a huge dog masquerading as a couch potato. But was Daisy finally ready to play for keeps?

My rating:

This was my first venture in Ms. Evanovich's writing world, but it won't be the last, because I loved this little number. It was funny, sweet, over-the-top, sexy, hilarious, outrageous...Yes, I loved it.

Sure, it had a few moments where I wanted to strangle the heroine for being a twit, the whole love-at-the-thousandth-sight was a bit unbelievable, and the suspense sub-plot even more so, but I loved the hero, loved Bob (that turned out not to be Bob after all), and I absolutely adored Elsie with her indestructible Caddie.

A funny, quick read, perfect for those times when you're not really sure what to read next.

Review: The Last Mermaid by Shana Abé

Title: The Last Mermaid
Author: Shana Abé

Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: June 1, 2004
Publisher: Bantam
ISBN: 0553584979
ISBN-13: 9780553584974

531 a.d.: The tiny island of Kell is said to be enchanted, inhabited by an extraordinary creature who comforts shipwrecked sailors passing into the next world. Prince Aedan of the Isles believes in no such nonsense—until he awakens on Kell itself and meets the sensuous siren who rescued him from the sea.

1721: Ronan MacMhuirich, Earl of Kell, is the target of an unlikely assassin: Leila, a mysterious woman from an exotic land. But his irresistibly beautiful would-be slayer is in just as much danger as Ronan when she falls for this man with a magic of his own.

2004: What do you do when you inherit a Scottish island you never knew existed—and find yourself pursued by a handsome stranger who wants to buy it from you? That’s what happens to Ruri Kell when she accepts Iain MacInnes’s invitation to visit her birthright, and listens to a proposition as sinfully tempting as everything else about him.

Three seductive love stories, three passionate couples, all linked by one of the most romantic myths of all.

My rating:

The story spanned generations, it was set in Scotland, it told of an eternal love...So what the heck went wrong?

Everything, it seems. I just didn't feel the connection and though I persevered to the "bitter" end, that elusive connection never appeared. Me and the story just didn't click. It had everything to do with the writing style, the pacing, and the "voice". Nothing worked for me, which is a shame since the premise was great.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Review: The Princess & the Penis by R.J. Silver

Title: The Princess & the Penis
Author: R.J. Silver

Read copy: eBook
Published: December 6, 2010
Publisher: Smashwords
ISBN: 0011151935
ISBN-13: 2940011151934

A beautiful, chaste, and completely naive princess encounters a strange lump in her mattress. The lump soon morphs into a shape familiar to everyone but her, triggering her curiosity and her father"s greatest fears. He frantically tries to intervene, but having a large phantom phallus in a curious maiden"s bed is never a good combination.

My rating:

What a hilarious little romp. Loved it from beginning (how could someone be so naive?) to end (oh, the names!).

Cute, fun, quick. Great little story!

The Princess & the Penis - FREE DOWNLOAD!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Review: Dying Scream by Mary Burton

Title: Dying Scream
Author: Mary Burton

Read copy: eBook
Published: November 20, 2009
Publisher: Zebra
ISBN: 1420113747
ISBN-13: 9781420113747

No One Will Find You

An aspiring artist. A high-school senior. A stripper. Three women who seemed to have nothing in common except their sudden disappearance. But one man knew them all. Wealthy, privileged Craig Thornton even claimed to love them. And for that, they paid the ultimate price.

No One Will Save You

When Adrianna Barrington receives an anniversary card from her husband Craig, she assumes it's some crackpot's idea of a joke. After all, Craig is dead. But then come phone calls, flowers, messages...all reminding her how much Craig misses her. While Adrianna begins to doubt her sanity, grisly remains are found on the Thornton estate. Detective Gage Hudson is convinced the bodies are linked to Craig. But the biggest shocks are yet to come.

No One Will Hear You Scream

A psychopath has taken up his chilling work again, each death a prelude to the moment when she is under his control at last. And the only way for Gage and Adrianna to stop him is to uncover the truth about a family's dark past—and a twisted love that someone will kill for, again and again...

My rating:

I couldn't help but notice the "been-there-read-that" feeling throughout the book.
It wasn't bad, but it wasn't "wowy" either. Too similar to other thrillers out there, it certainly didn't bring anything new to the genre, and the characters sure didn't help the book one bit. She was meh, he was a slightly better meh.

Oh, well, who's next?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Review: Darkwood Manor by Jenna Ryan

Title: Darkwood Manor
Author: Jenna Ryan

Read copy: eBook
Published: February 1, 2011
Publisher: Harlequin
ISBN: 1426885059
ISBN-13: 9781426885051

An estate haunted by over a hundred years of tragedy—and Donovan Black stood at the heart of it. Like Darkwood Manor, Donovan was an utter mystery. An FBI sharpshooter who couldn't break away from his past, he only wanted to make sure that history didn't repeat itself—especially now that the manor had a lovely new owner.

Isabella Ross had either discovered the perfect vacation spot or her final resting place. Now her only hope for survival is a man who doesn't want her around—a man she can't seem to resist. But the secrets in his family's attic threaten to consume them both, and something—or someone—won't rest until the manor house is empty….

My rating:

And Jenna Ryan does it again. Wonderful in chilling, quasi-gothic imagery of a dilapidated, fog-enshrouded manor on top of a Maine cliff, multiple mysteries involving ghosts, disappearances, and murder, a dark and brooding hero, a headstrong heroine in distress, great pacing, wonderful chemistry, palpable attraction...

It all meshed perfectly into this great HI story. No wonder Ms. Ryan is one of my favorite authors. She (almost) never misses.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Review: On The Hunt (anthology) by Gena Showalter, Shannon K. Butcher, Jessica Andersen, Deidre Knight

Title: On The Hunt
Series: Sentinel Wars, Final Prophecy, Gods of Midnight
Author: Gena Showalter, Shannon K. Butcher, Jessica Andersen, Deidre Knight
Read copy: eBook
Published: February 1, 2011
Publisher: Signet
ISBN: 1101481285
ISBN-13: 9781101481288

With shadowy creatures, intoxicating magic, vivdly imagined worlds, and sizzling passion, this is an anthology no fan of paranormal romance will want to miss.

In Gena Showalter’s “Ever Night,” Rose Pascal is swept into a dark, haunting world every year on her birthday—a world ruled by a warrior king who hunts her kind. Neither of them can deny the passion that soon consumes them both…

In Shannon K. Butcher’s “The Collector,” demon hunter Neal Etan sets out to acquire a powerful artifact, but find much more in beautiful Viviana Rowan. The antique dealer’s touch strengthens his magic—and her life may be in Neal’s hands if they don’t recover the artifact in time…

In Jessica Andersen’s “Crystal Skull,” archaeologist Natalie Albright’s dig gets shut down amid rumors she has awakened the local demons. But when the terrifying underworld creatures attack, Natalie must team up with her ex to survive. As they fight the ancient menace, they discover a destiny that binds them together---and threatens to tear them apart…

And in Deidre Knight’s “Red Angel,” Jamie Angel, leader of the deadly Nightshades, has tracked every kind of monster and demon that roams the darkness, but none of his experiences can prepare him for falling in love with one of the creatures he’s trained to destroy…

My rating:

I only read one book by Gena Showalter and I hated it, so I was pretty leery of reading her story in this anthology. I went in prepared for the worst...but Ever Night literally blew me away and ended up being my favorite contribution in this collection.
It was dark, angsty, tender, sweet, heart-breaking, heart-warming, and utterly bittersweet. And I absolutely adored it. Now I'm wondering whether there is (or will be) a series about "Nightmare" and if the answer is yes, when is the next book released? Because I want more!

The Collector by Shannon K. Butcher was the "weakest link" in this anthology. I read the first book in the Sentinel Wars series and didn't like it that much, and this short story didn't convince me of giving the series another shot.
It was good, but not that good.

Jessica Andersen's Crystal Skull was another installment in her "doomsday" Final Prophecy series, and while I did like it, it had all the usual JA and FP elements, I didn't feel quite connected to it, since it didn't feature the already established Nightkeepers cast from the previous books.
So, while it was tied to the series, it seemed somehow removed from it all. I sure hope to see Natalie and JT in one of the "normal" books in the future.

Red Angel was the first thing I read by Deidre Knight, but I sure hope it won't be the last. Because it packed quite a punch despite being quite tame in the hotness department and had quite an "inspirational romance" vibe to it.
Maybe a shortened version with less God-talk...

All in all, this was a great little anthology, wonderful to keep up the pace with the established series and a good lookout spot for new authors.