Monday, September 26, 2011

The Kowalksis by Shannon Stacey

Undeniably Yours (Kowalskis #2) by Shannon Stacey - B- I know, I know.  It's the second book, why, you may ask, did I list it first?  Well, it's because I read it first - I got confused which one was first and I went with the date it landed on my reader - which is actually quite different to publication date, as I got this from NetGalley (I bought it later also because I forgot I had it - but I don't regret it which may tell you something).  Anywho, it didn't really matter that I started in the middle.  The books are all stand alone and even though they feature some recurring characters, I don't think I missed anything by reading book 2 first.  Anywho, this is Kevin's book.  Burned by a cheating spouse, he's nevertheless ready to settle down.  He meets Beth, who gets the idea he's a player, but in spite of that, they have a one night stand anyway - too much chemistry.  Kevin would happily have explored a relationship but Beth rabbits.  Then, she finds out that she's pregnant - condoms aren't 100% effective and they hit the jackpot.  Refreshingly, she goes and tells Kevin straight away and they then set about working out what relationship they will have as the pregnancy progresses.  The conflict in this one is believable enough - does Kevin want to be with Beth because she's pregnant with his child or because she's Beth?  I liked this one quite a but but I found myself getting a little frustrated with Beth being a bit slow on the uptake and so the ending dragged a little for me. I really think I could have used one more love scene too.  The secondary romance between Paulie and her ex felt a little underdone to me.  Also, I kept seeing the King of Queens guy everytime I read Kevin, which kept me from relating to his actual level of hotness!! :)

Exclusively Yours (Kowalksis #1) by Shannon Stacey - B.  I think this is the pick of the bunch for me.  They are all very good but this one just edges out the other 2 IMO.  I enjoyed that the author clearly knew of what she spoke when it came to four wheeling and camping trips and the "tick checks" the adults required away from sensitive children's eyes and ears.  I liked the secondary story with Evan and Terry and the third (thirdary?) story (which was only a little bit but just enough) with Mike and Lisa.  I really like that some of the Kowalskis were already paired up and that the book showed all sorts of relationships in various states of being.    Joe and Keri were not yoru average h/h as they were both "pushing 40" so that was a refreshing change too.  Overall, this was a very enjoyable way to spend a few hours.

Yours to Keep (Kowalskis #3) by Shannon Stacey - B/B-. This was a funny, sexy, if slightly improbable story - (fake fiance for a month to save grandma's feelings) charting the romance between Sean, a Kowalski cousin (there are like 4 other single Kowalskis out there now people, so we may have more books in this series!!) and Emma Shaw, a good friend of Lisa Kowalski.  I would have liked a little more about how Evan and Terry were going - there was just a mention that they were continuing with the marriage counselling but that is a small niggle really.  I enjoyed the sweet secondary romance between Emma's grandmother and an older gentleman from the neighbourhood.  So long as you can get past the set up which really, is a bit out there, it's a fun enjoyable book, filled with cute post-it notes from Sean.

In summary:  If you like funny, sexy contemporary romance, you'll probably like this series.  I certainly did!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Since the Surrender by Julie Anne Long

Why I read it:  I'm trying to space out my glom, but after reading the first book in the Pennyroyal Green series (The Perils of Pleasure), it was really only a matter of time til I got to this one (which is book 3).

What it's about:  (from Goodreads). A MAN OF ACTION ... Fearless. Loyal. Brilliant. Ruthless. Bold words are always used to describe English war hero Captain Chase Eversea, but another word unfortunately plays a role in every Eversea's destiny: trouble. And trouble for Chase arrives in the form of a mysterious message summoning him to a London rendezvous ... where he encounters the memory of his most wicked indiscretion in the flesh: Rosalind March --- the only woman he could never forget.
A WOMAN OF PASSION ... Five years ago, the reckless, charming beauty craved the formidable Captain's attention. But now Rosalind is a coolly self-possessed woman, and desire is the last thing on her mind: her sister has mysteriously disappeared and she needs Chase's help to find her. But as their search through London's darkest corners re-ignites long-smoldering passion and memories of old battles, Chase and Rosalind are challenged to surrender: to the depths of a wicked desire, and to the possibility of love.
What worked for me: In short, just about everything.  It was funny and romantic and sexy but it also had depth.  With lovely writing and great characters, this book was one of those books you kind of just sigh into - with a combination of relief, anticipation and pleasure.  I really enjoy Long's humour and I had quite a few laugh out loud moments when reading this book.  I am so wishing that they are released as audiobooks (with an excellent narrator of course!) because I think they would translate so well into that medium.  I've made a suggestion to Tantor, so fingers crossed others will join me and there'll be enough interest to make it so.
Chase and Rosalind have somewhat of a history but neither of them were really really bad - just awfully tempted.  This makes it much easier to like each of them and to barrack for their HEA - it would have been much more difficult for me had they crossed that line.
What probably made the book for me was Chase - he (not unlike my husband actually) has a phobia of puppets and those moments were so funny  ("Dear God.  Did everyone like puppets?  What was wrong with the world?")- it was needed because the subject matter - missing sister caught up in nefarious goings had the potential to make this a pretty heavy read (there are more girls than just Rosalind's sister missing).
I was going to write that the dialogue was pretty special in this one but that's not quite right.  The parts that struck me the most were Chase's internal dialogue, like this:
When his brother had urged You ought to marry, Chase! somehow he had never considered the possiblity that he'd be soundly rejected once he'd decided that, yes, indeed, he ought to.  Colin made it sound as though it was something that anyone could do. "You ought to go to Brighton".  That sort of thing.
or this
He suspected he was doomed to see her metaphorically in everything from now on.  Apples. The backs of women in crowds.  The shapes of clouds.  Bad paintings.  The color green.
Probably not marionettes.
While my favourite parts were those that amused, there was depth and poignancy to the story too.   Chase had been lost since Waterloo.  He's got almost constant pain from the leg injury he sustained in the battle and he doesn't know what to do with his life anymore.  He can't be a soldier anymore because of his injury but he doesn't know where he belongs.  While it's not explicitly stated, it seems he suffered from some kind of PTSD/depression following the awful (albeit victorious) events of Waterloo.  Mixed in with that is his very deep guilt for being attracted by the wife of his superior officer.

There really is something for everyone in this book.  There's humour (including the puerile - there's a group of men who give themselves nicknames like O. McCaucus-Bigg - say it out loud and you'll get it), there's action, there's some smokin' hot scenes where Chase describes certain acts to Rosalind (he's not even doing them - not yet anyway - but oh my!) and there is a well deserved happy ending.  And there's puppets.

What didn't: To be honest, I can't recall anything specific that I didn't like about the book.  It was a couple of weeks ago that I read it but I didn't note anything down at the time.  I'm sure there was some little thing but, overall, I thought this was pretty wonderful.

What else? It's a rare and wonderful thing when an author can make a love scene both sexy and funny.  And, because I can't resist another quote:-
She did momentarily graceless battle with the furlongs of his linen shirt, and it began to feel like a cruel magician's trick, the one where scarves were pulled for an eternity ot of a false-bottomed had, and he choked out a laugh."

Grade: A

Friday, September 9, 2011

Amor en Retrogrado by AM Riley

Why I read it:   It was recommended by various other m/m readers and I wanted to give this author a try.

What it's about: (here's the blurb from Goodreads) In the year since JD Ryan, Robert Lemos's life partner, packed his bags and moved out, Robert has been in a painful daze, anesthetizing himself with work. Then one rainy night, he gets a call that his ex has been beaten and shot in a parking lot outside a gay dance club. JD is in critical condition and the man who was with him is dead. Robert rushes to JD's bedside to find him recovering from the gunshot wound but suffering from retrograde amnesia. As JD slowly regains his memories, he recalls everything except the circumstances of the murder, and the reasons why he left Robert. He remembers their love, and seems determined to reconcile. It's the miracle Robert's been hoping for.Interference comes from all sides. Detective Bill Turner, who seems to have too personal an interest in JD, pegs Robert as the primary suspect in the shooting. Robert's best friend, police Captain Gabe Lara, seems to feel that Robert is better off without JD. Even JD's returning memory seems to conspire against Robert. And as the detectives track down the killer, Robert helplessly waits for JD to recall the truth of their relationship and leave him yet again. But if they survive the investigation, they just might find love in retrograde.

What worked for me: It's probably best if I start with what didn't work and then backtrack.

What didn't:  On Goodreads, next to the title is (Bill Turner #1).  I guess, seeing that, I thought that the book was about Bill Turner.  But, it isn't, not really. He's a character in it but the male leads are JD and Robert.  The book starts with Bill being called to a crime scene where JD has been injured.  There is a minor romance (kind of) in the book about Bill - he's in an on again/off again and extremely closeted relationship with someone called Christopher - but it's more filling in the story and not the point of it.  I wondered why Bill was made so significant.   Maybe it's me, but this threw me a bit - I spent the first part of the book trying to fit Bill into a relationship with one of the other main characters and I couldn't and then it turned out I didn't have to.  

There were some editing problems within the story (eg Bill is alternatively called Bill Turner or Bill Tanner) and some strange formatting which was a bit offputting also.  But mostly, I just had trouble working out exactly where Bill fit into the story.  The suspense element of the story wasn't entirely clear to me either.  Perhaps I was supposed to be wondering whether one of the secondary characters was a good guy or a bad guy but in the end, I didn't quite follow exactly what he ended up being.

What else?: That said, the relationship between JD and Robert, told as it was, in a series of flashbacks, was emotional and compelling in its intensity.  There was an air of melancholy throughout their narrative which was like crack to me.  Those were the parts of the book I enjoyed best.  The writing is beautiful here and the flawed desperation of these characters is engrossing.   The flashbacks were told from Robert's POV and it was for him I had the most sympathy - right up until the end, where JD makes a stunning revelation which completely changed my picture of Robert and I then lost most (if not all) of my sympathy for him. As a reader, I felt a bit betrayed by this, I must admit.

What then, am I left with?  There were things about the book which bothered me but there were other parts of the book which were just to beautiful and... compelling to me.  I loved some of it, was annoyed and occasionally confused by other bits and in the end, I felt let down because I had thought Robert was... not quite so flawed.  I guess because I cared that much about it, that the essential love story was a success but the extraneous bits were mostly just distracting.   I will definitely read this author again because the good parts were oh so good, but in the end, after vacilating quite a bit on the grade, I'm going with:-

Grade: C+

Friday, September 2, 2011

August Reads

on Paper/eBook

 Hell by Jet Mykles - B. I enjoyed it but came to notice that the Heaven Sent series is told in deep 3rd person POV and mostly from just one of the main characters.  This means that the other "hero" is harder to know.  This is Brent and Hell's story but it was mostly about Brent.  Hell was pretty much a cipher but I thought there was probably a lot more to know about him - I just didn't get a chance.  I didn't trust the HEA as much either because by the end, Brent still hadn't really talked to Hell about why he'd been struggling so much which didn't bode well for the future IMO.

 Feisty Little Firecracker by Jet Mykles.  Sexy interlude between Brent and Hell - not really a story so not graded, but fun anyway.

Faith by Jet Mykles - B+. I really like how the band members are distinct characters and stay that way through this series.  Johnnie is charismatic, Luc is pushy, Brent is shy and stands back and Darien is garrulous but uses it to hide his vulnerability.  Because Darien is the joker of the group, this book as more humour to it.  Darien certainly has a way with words and some of the sex scenes had me laughing out loud as he was "telling it like it is".  I would have liked more of Chris though and I suppose there is a certain amount of suspension of disbelief given that Darien was pretty into girls before this book - but then, the whole series is a bit like that!    I don't actually think that sexuality can be exchanged liked an outfit but as a story, as politically incorrect as it might be, it's still fun to read.

Sly Spectral Trick by Jet Mykles - B+  I graded this one because it had a (little bit of a) story too.  The best of the 4 available shorts IMO.

Genesis by Jet Mykles - B. This is really 4 short stories (one for each of the previous couples) combined into one book, all set over New Year's Eve.  I liked it.

Revelations by Jet Mykles  -C-.I didn't buy it I'm afraid.  I didn't like how high handed and sly Archer was and I didn't believe the grovel at the end.  I didn't like how he moved in and was unemployed at the end (sponge alert!) and I wasn't sure how the triad was going to work in the long term. I think this is the weakest of the series by far.  However, the sex was hot and it was nice to see the band again.
 The Mischief of the Mistletoe (or: Away in a Manger: A Very Turnip Wedding Night)  by Lauren Willig  - B.  Cute short scene set at the end of The Mischief of the Mistletoe as a result of plea for readers for a love scene for Turnip. I've never read any of Willig's work before but this story was pretty cute. The cover was designed by a member of the Bitchery (Smart Bitches Trashy Books) after a competition and Willig agreed to write the scene once there was a cover. It was amusing and it probably would have been a lot funnier if I understood the references to puddings.

 **pick of the month**
Between Sinners and Saints by Marie Sexton - A.  see full review here
**pick of the month**

 Turn it Up by Inez Kelley - B+. Good, sexy friends to lovers story which lost me just a bit near the end - I'm not a fan of the 'big mis' and I thought it belied the friendship and great communication they had demonstrated up til then.  Also, *mildly spoilerish* where infertility is an issue, I don't like miracle cures.  It's one of those areas where the romance fantasy just feels insulting IMO.

Bound by Deception by Ava March - B. Sexy historical m/m short about two good friends.  One finds out the other goes to a male prostitute each month and then decides to take the prostitute's place for a chance to be intimate with the man he secretly loves.

Bound to Him by Ava March - B.  The continuing story of Vincent and Oliver.  How awful it must have been to have to hide being gay and to be unable to publicly admit to one's feelings for the love of your life?  I know it's better now (mostly it's not illegal at least) but how much better?

Deliberately Unbound (Bound #2.5) by Ava March.  A sexy interlude between Vincent and Oliver available free from the author's website.

Bound Foreever by Ava March - B. The boys work on their communication and plan to be together forever (within the bounds of society's dictates that is). 

Deliberately Bound (Bound #3.5) by Ava March. More sexytimes for Oliver and Vincent where things get, er, changed up a bit, shall we say?  Also, I am now sick of the word "placket".

Amor en Retrogrado by AM Riley - C+/B-. Watch for a full review to come.  I'm having trouble settling on a grade because... oh, you'll just have to come back to find out!

 Life Lessons by Kaje Harper - B. Enjoyable gay RS about a deeply closeted cop and a teacher who finds a body at his school.  Layered and emotional and just a bit different.  I didn't like how Mack kept calling Tony "kid" or thinking of him as a boy all the time - Tony is 24 so definitely not a kid. Thanks to Chris for recommending this series!

And To All A Goodnight (Life Lessons #1.5) by Kaje Harper - B-. Short and tame Christmas novella available free from Smashwords set about 3 months or so after the end of book 1.  Shows the way the relationship is evolving and that Tony is becoming increasingly stifled living in Mac's closet (ha! stifled, geddit! :D).  It's a bridge to book 2 rather than a story of it's own I think. 

Breaking Cover (Life Lessons 2) by Kaje Harper - A. Better than book 1, this book tells the continuing story of Mac and Tony.  Really good, sexy, emotional, real and tender.  I think this writer has developed her skill since publishing her first book (as much as I liked it, this one was just that much better I thought).  I'm also very glad that Mac stopped calling Tony "kid"!  I liked how not everything was all sparkly butterflies - Mac's fears about being a cop and coming out were based in reality but he got to a point where the cost of not doing so were too great.  Really, this is a very good book.    I do think the series should be read in order however.  I love Mac and Tony and hope to read about them some more in the future.  If I hadn't already read Between Sinners and Saints this month, this one probably would have been my pick of the month.  Also, now I'd like to go to Minnehaha Park. 

Timing by Mary Calmes - B/B-. Stefan's best friend Charlotte is getting married - he's the Man of Honour at the wedding.  Unfortunately, it also means that he's likely to bump into Charlotte's brother Rand - they've had a hate/hate relationship right from the start. 
I found this a little hard to grade.  Parts of it were very good and funny and sexy but some were just odd.  For example, what was up with Nick?    The suspense subplot was a bit WTF and unncessary and the beginning with Rand and Stef was a bit strange.  Still, I enjoyed the story overall and most of the characters and the part at the end about Phil and the petting zoo!

Lies and Consequences by Kaje Harper B-/C+. The author offers this self published story free from Smashwords.  I'm not sure whether she wrote it before Life Lessons or not.  There's a bit too much going on in this story and some of it was pretty improbable - Romantic suspense high on the melodrama.  Still I liked the style and the voice and the characters and the editing was pretty darn good for a self published freebie.  I've read way worse stories I've paid good money for, so this was really a nice surprise.  It's 240 pages long, so it's quite substantial.

 AJ's Angel by LA Witt - C+. Luke and Sebastian split up 4 years earlier after Sebastian finally kicked him to the curb for being a serial cheater.  Now Luke turns up in Sebastian's tattoo parlour asking him to ink him with a picture of a name and the initial's "AJ".  
Infidelity is a difficult subject to do well I think.  I needed a bit more to believe in Luke's transformation and the scan information in the epilogue wasn't enough to satisfy. It was really the cheating thing I didn't like - otherwise I liked the writing style and the characters (well, apart from Luke's history of being a cheating cheater that is) well enough.

Bandicoot Cove series - Vivian Arend, Lexxie Couper and Jess Dee - a review of this series will be forthcoming at ARRA.  Once it's gone up, I'll post it on the blog and to Goodreads.  Overall, I'd grade the series around the C mark. (Also can I just say, they're all in a row in the "design" section of Blogger.  grrr.)

on Audio

Demon by Kristina Douglas, narrated by Karen White and Paul Costanzo - D+/C- **an edited version of this review appears at All About Romance in the Speaking of Audiobooks column 22 August 2011 and will also be on the SOA Group's minishelves**
Demon is book 2 in Kristina Douglas’ Fallen series, the follow up to Raziel.  *spoilers for Raziel*.  At the end of the first book, Azazel’s beloved Sarah has been killed and in his grief, he leaves Sheol. Demon picks up 5 years later when Azazel locates  ”the Lillith” (aka Rachel, who has no memory of Lillith) a demon who, according to folklore kills babies and seduces men when she’s not having sex with beasts.  He’s been watching her for 2 years and he plans on killing her.  There is a prophecy which says that Azazel will marry the Lillith and rule Hell and bear a new generation of Fallen.  
Azazel, stuck in his grief for Sarah’s loss, wants to make sure the prophecy fails. He sets Rachel up for the Nephilim to kill but balks at the last minute.  2 more years go by and Azazel finds out that the Lillith may know the whereabouts of Lucifer, the one Fallen who may be able to defeat Uriel, their very bad boss.  So, he goes and finds Rachel again and is intent on discovering her forgotten secrets. 
I didn’t like it.  Sorry.  The narration was fine.  My problem were with the story.  I found myself, throughout the listen saying “why?”.  Why did Rachel’s hair change colour?  Why did Azazel come back for her after he’d left her to the Nephilim?  Why did Rachel still want him after his awful betrayal with the Truthtakers?  Also, I asked, “what?”.  What is Rachel?  Throughout the book she was a demon, no longer a demon, a human, a human with the demon inside her, a human who used to have a demon.  I still don’t know.  I didn’t get the connection between Azazel and Rachel - the why of their relationship. They hated each other - Rachel certainly had a number of very good reasons to hate Azazel.  Then suddenly they love each other.  And, “All right, I’m sorry” was nowhere near enough of a grovel for what Azazel needed to atone for.  I’m not sure what would have been actually.
I never had a handle on the why and the what and the how and so I struggled to finish this one. Most of the book was from Rachel’s perspective and Karen White’s narration was very good but it wasn’t enough to elevate the  problems I had with the story. Paul Costanzo was okay – a little better than in Raziel I think – although Azazel was described as “cold” for most of the book, so a certain lack of emotionality was to be expected.

To Die For by Linda Howard, narrated by Franette Liebow - B+. This is a really funny book and once I got over the weird accent that the narrator used for Blair, it was a really funny and rewarding audiobook.  But the accent took a bit of getting over.  I think that by the end of the book the narrator had toned it down a bit and deepened Blair's voice slightly which was an improvement.  However, she got the humour spot on and she absolutely nailed the hero, J. Wyatt Bloodsworth.  I'd recommend persevering if the accent puts you off - it's worth it.

Drop Dead Gorgeous by Linda Howard, narrated by Joyce Bean - B. This is the second Blair and Wyatt book.  It's good but much of the humour has already been done in the first book, so it doesn't quite live up to its predecessor.  That said, it is still a hoot.  I had an alarming tendency to mix up Blair and Mac (from KMM's Fever series) as Joyce Bean narrated the this one and the first 3 in the other series and they both have Southern accents.  In the end, I have to say that I thought Liebow did Wyatt better but the accents didn't grate at all with this narrator.  I suspect I would have enjoyed this one even better had I waited a little between it and To Die For - a little Blair goes a long way! :)

Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard, narrated by Laura Hicks - B-.Just a bit dated now but nevertheless enjoyable. This despite the narrator using a voice for the heroine that sounded a lot like Lois from Family Guy. The audio made Jaine's anger management problems more obvious.

Men of the Otherworld by Kelley Armstrong, narrated by Charles Leggett - B+Watch for my forthcoming review over at AAR.

 No Man's Mistress by Mary Balogh, narrated by Rosalyn Landor - BWatch for my forthcoming review over at AAR.

Nice Girls Don't Live Forever by Molly Harper, narrated by Amanda Ronconi - B.  This narrator is so good!  She makes a funny book even funnier.   There was more romance in this one, thank God and I think I benefited from having a small break between the second and third book in the series.  I'm not sure I totally bought the reason Gabriel had been so reluctant to tell Jane what was going on and I didn't really like how his shortfall seemed to be blamed on Jane in the end ("you weren't ready to hear it") but nevertheless a very enjoyable listen.