Saturday, April 30, 2011

On My Wish List

A weekly meme hosted by Book Chick City.
What's on your wish list?

I'm so tempted to watch the HBO series--but I want to read the books beforehand, starting with the first:

Genre: Fantasy

Goodreads Blurb: Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.

Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counter-plots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

The Darkling Thrush by Josh Lanyon

Genre: Fantasy; LGBT; M/M Romance; Romance; Urban Fantasy

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

How I acquired this book: I purchased it.

Goodreads Blurb: Fed up with his desk duty in the Imperial Arcane Library, book hunter Colin Bliss accepts a private commission to find The Sword’s Shadow, a legendary and dangerous witches’ grimoire. But to find the book, Colin must travel to the remote Western Isles and solve a centuries’ old murder.It should be nothing more than an academic exercise, so why is dour -- and unreasonably sexy -- Magister Septimus Marx doing his best to keep Colin from accepting this mission -- even going so far as to seduce Colin on the train journey north?

Septimus is not the only problem. Who is the strange faery woman that keeps appearing at inconvenient times? And who is working behind the scenes with the sinister adventuress Irania Briggs? And why do Colin’s employers at the Museum of the Literary Occult keep accusing Colin of betraying them?As Colin digs deeper and deeper into the book’s mysterious past, he begins to understand why Septimus is willing to stop him at any price -- but by then, it’s too late to turn back.

Publisher's Note: This book contains explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable: Male/male sexual practices.

My Review: Josh Lanyon has infused our world--or our world as it was some decades ago--with alternate history, fey creatures, old magick, paranormal abilities and dangerous legends. It's an enticing world that's easy to fall into, especially as revealed to us by Colin Bliss, the irrepressible narrator. I love Colin: he's engaging, proactive, intelligent and childish all at once. I was rooting for him and cringing for him at the same time.

Septimus Marx is a more problematic character. His attraction to Colin is obvious to the reader long before Colin is aware of it; his condescension and high-handedness mask genuine concern. Those are points in his favor, and part of what makes him impossible to dislike. But his ultimate mission raises some moral issues (to put it mildly.) Colin's reaction to that mission, I think, proves that these two are well suited--if it's not a deal-breaker for them, nothing else will be!

Available on Kindle: Yes. You can find it on Amazon here.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

TBR Thursday: The Unquiet Bones

weekly meme hosted by Book Love Blog:
Post about the books you've purchased, received, borrowed or otherwise acquired this past week!
The Unquiet Bones: The First Chronicle of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon by Melvin R. Starr

Genre: Historical Fiction; Historical Mystery; Mystery

Goodreads Blurb: Hugh of Singleton, fourth son of a minor knight, has been educated as a clerk, usually a prelude to taking holy orders. However, feeling no certain calling despite a lively faith, he turns to the profession of surgeon, training in Paris and then hanging out his sign in Oxford. 

A local lord asks him to track the killer of a young woman whose bones have been found in the castle cess pit. She is identified as the impetuous missing daughter of a local blacksmith, and her young man, whom she had provoked very publicly, is in due course arrested and sentenced at the Oxford assizes. From there the tale unfolds, with graphic medical procedures, droll medieval wit, misdirection, ambition, romantic distractions and a consistent underlying Christian compassion.

Why I can't wait to read this: A friend from my synagogue gave this book to me as a Kindle-gift. He insists that since I love the Matthew Shardlake Mysteries, I'll love this as well, even though it's set earlier and there's not even a hint of a Jewish character. (I laughed at that--we both love Shardlake's assistant, Jack Barak, who's descended from converso Jews.) At any event, my friend's enthusiasm for this book is contagious; I moved it straight up to the top of my to-read pile!

The Rising Tide: A Novel of the Second World War by Jeff Shaara

Genre: Historical Fiction;

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

How I acquired this book: I purchased it.

Goodreads Blurb: . . . As Hitler conquers Poland, Norway, France, and most of Western Europe, England struggles to hold the line. When Germany’s ally Japan launches a stunning attack on Pearl Harbor, America is drawn into the war, fighting to hold back the Japanese conquest of the Pacific, while standing side-by-side with their British ally, the last hope for turning the tide of the war.

Through unforgettable battle scenes in the unforgiving deserts of North Africa and the rugged countryside of Sicily, Shaara tells this story through the voices of this conflict’s most heroic figures, some familiar, some unknown. As British and American forces strike into the “soft underbelly” of Hitler’s Fortress Europa, the new weapons of war come clearly into focus. In North Africa, tank battles unfold in a tapestry of dust and fire unlike any the world has ever seen. In Sicily, the Allies attack their enemy with a barely tested weapon: the paratrooper. As battles rage along the coasts of the Mediterranean, the momentum of the war begins to shift, setting the stage for the massive invasion of France, at a seaside resort called Normandy.

More than an unprecedented and intimate portrait of those who waged this astonishing global war, The Rising Tide is a vivid gallery of characters both immortal and unknown: the as-yet obscure administrator Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose tireless efficiency helped win the war; his subordinates, clashing in both style and personality, from George Patton and Mark Clark to Omar Bradley and Bernard Montgomery. In the desolate hills and deserts, the Allies confront Erwin Rommel, the battlefield genius known as “the Desert Fox,” a wounded beast who hands the Americans their first humiliating defeat in the European theater of the war. From tank driver to paratrooper to the men who gave the commands, Shaara’s stirring portrayals bring the heroic and the tragic to life in brilliant detail . . .

My Review: This book gave me a new appreciation for Eisenhower and his headaches as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces; I never realized how difficult it must have been to forge the armed forces of different nations together. Jeff Shaara does an excellent job of getting inside Eisenhower's head and the heads of other historic figures.

But Shaara also tells the story of 'common' soldiers like Jack Logan. His story is the one that won me over--and his experiences inside a tank, forging bonds with the rest of his team and facing battle for the first time, are the reasons I'll eventually come back to read this book a second time.

On Kindle: Yes. Find it on Amazon here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My Book Boyfriend: Adrien English from the Adrien English Mysteries

A weekly meme from The Unread Reader
Talk about your fictional crush!

I turned on the hot water. In the steamy surface of the mirror I grimaced at my reflection, hearing again that condescending, “But you are a homosexual?” As in, “But you are a lower life form?” So what had Detective Riordan seen? What was the first clue? Blue eyes, longish dark hair, a pale bony face. What was it in my Anglo-Norman ancestry that shrieked “faggot?”

~Adrien English in Josh Lanyon’s Fatal Shadows

Pale skin, dark hair, blue eyes? Check, check, check.
Cillian Murphy would be brilliant as Adrien English, even if his blue eyes aren't obvious in this pic.
Adrien English is a wry, funny, endearing narrator with a weak heart, a stubborn streak and an unhealthy dose of curiosity. He was a natural choice for my book boyfriend, since I followed him through five books! I had to know if he and Jake Riordan--the smart, tough, ambitious cop who won't acknowledge himself as gay--would ever find a happy ever after.

Adrien has an unfortunate habit of stumbling into murder mysteries--and, for a closeted detective, Jake Riordan has an unfortunate habit of never quite allowing himself to quit the snarky amateur sleuth. Jake can't forget 'Adrien-with-an-e' even when he (Jake) is determined to marry a nice girl and  have a 'normal' life. Having spent five books laughing, cringing and, yeah, even shedding a tear or two with Adrien, I know just why Jake is so addicted!
Now we can see those baby blues!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Venetia by Georgette Heyer

Genre: Historical Romance; Regency Romance; Romance

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

How I acquired this book: It was a gift from my grandmother years ago.

Goodreads Blurb: Her beauty rivaled only by her sense, Venetia Lanyon is nearly resigned to spinsterhood, thanks to the enormous amount of responsibility she inherited with a Yorkshire estate, an invalid brother and the lackluster efforts of two wearisomely persistent suitors. Then she meets her neighbor, the infamous Lord Damerel, a charming rake shunned by polite society--exactly the type of man that a woman of quality should stay away from.

Though his scandalous past and deepest secrets give Venetia every reason to mistrust him, a rogue always gets what he wants. Without warning, his demanding kiss threatens to become a bachelor's undoing…and a spinster's most passionate awakening.

My Review: Venetia Lanyon may be resigned to the life of a spinster, but striking up a friendship with Jasper Damarel, the local bad boy, changes her mind. This friendship is warm and genuine, as is the romance that grows from it--and that accounts for the exceptional charm of this book. The brotherly friendship between Venetia's younger brother and Jasper only adds to that charm.

Venetia herself, meanwhile, is my favorite Heyer heroine. She also seems the most real to me; however much I adore Sophy from The Grand Sophy, she always seemed larger than life--not to mention exhausting! Venetia, by contrast, inhabits a smaller, more down to earth world. More importantly, I love her sense of the ridiculous and her quiet determination to make the best of her lot.

The problems confronting Venetia and Jasper are realistic, even if they are somewhat of their own making. (Or at least of Jasper's making.) Nonetheless, I was confident they would find a way through them. And neither the characters nor their conflicts grow old--I've read this book ten times at least, and it's one I'll keep coming back to.

Available on Kindle: No.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

On My Wish List

A weekly meme hosted by Book Chick City:
What's on your wish list?

These two books--one young adult and one biography--are next up on my wish list:

Vintage: A Ghost Story 
by Steve Berman

Genre: Ghost Story; LGBT; Paranormal; Young Adult;

Goodreads Blurb: In a small New Jersey town, a lonely teen walking along a highway one autumn evening meets the boy of his dreams, a boy who happens to have died decades ago and haunts the road. Awkward crushes, both bitter and sweet, lead him to face youthful dreams and childish fears. With a cast of offbeat friends, antiques, and Ouija boards, Vintage offers readers a memorable blend of dark humor, chills and love. 

The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood 
by Jane Leavy

Genre: Baseball; Biography; Non-fiction 

Goodreads Blurb: Mickey Mantle (1931-1995) was a baseball legend determined to remain a legend. He wrote or pretended to write six baseball autobiographies, each of which presented a stylized portrait of the switch-hitting Yankee center fielder. What remained obscured behind the imposing statistics and the diamond myth was the real Mantle himself. That absence was filled partially by a family confessional . . . but in many ways, the mist still remained. Finally, after decades, Washington Post sportswriter and author Jane Leavy has given us a vibrant biography of the man behind the pinstripes.

Angel and the Assassin by Fyn Alexander

Genre: bdsm; contemporary romance; m/m romance; romance

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

How I acquired this book: I purchased it.

Goodreads Blurb: Kael Saunders loves to dominate handsome, masculine men like himself. Being in charge is his way of life whether it be in his work with the Secret Intelligence service, his personal life, or in the dungeon. The last thing he expects when he is out on a hit is to fall in love with Angel, an eighteen-year-old boy desperate for the love and guidance of a Daddy. Yet Angel also has a passion for being spanked and restrained. Two very different men find love in a world of skilled assassins, Bosnian terrorists, and dungeon play.

Publisher's Note: This book contains explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable: BDSM theme and content, male/male sexual practices.

My Review: Oy. I have conflicting opinions about this book. I began it wondering if the author could make the main character, assassin Kael Saunders, sympathetic. Overall, I'd say the answer is no. Kael's an intriguing character to be sure--and he does have his redeeming moments. But I still find a ruthless assassin a tough sell; especially as Kael's willing to murder innocent witnesses.

(I find it even more problematic that Kael is a government-sanctioned assassin, and that the 'collateral damage' from his hits are likewise sanctioned; that doesn't say much for the author's opinion on the UK government.)

I had problems with Angel too. He never quite rang true to me. I have no issue with his daddy kink-he's not actually related to Kael, after all, and both men are of age. However I did find Angel's sex and bdsm scenes with Kael excessive and drawn out. (Ditto for the other sex and bdsm scenes in the book.) But more importantly, I found it hard to get a handle on a young man who's sometimes less mature than a five year old, and other times as wise as a Jedi Master.

And yet, I kept reading. That's partly due to another character who has a complicated--not to mention disturbing--relationship with Kael: Kael's boss, Conran. I found the, ah, strained interactions between Conran and Kael a better reason to keep reading than the romance between Kael and Angel, and ultimately worth staying the course for.

One last note: despite my ambivalence toward this book, there are plenty of people who love it. I've included a link to a rave review below.

On Kindle: Yes. Find it on Amazon here.

Other Reviews:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

TBR Thursday: The Thin Executioner

A weekly meme hosted by Book Love Blog:
Post about the books you've purchased, received, borrowed or otherwise acquired this past week!


The Thin Executioner by Darren Shan

Genre: Fantasy; Horror; Young Adult

Book Blurb: In a kingdom of merciless tyrants, Jebel Rum's family is honored as royalty because his father is the executioner. But Rashed Rum is near retirement. And when he goes, there will be a contest to determine his successor. It is a contest that thin, puny Jebel has no chance of winning.

Humiliated and ashamed, Jebel sets out on a quest to the faraway home of a legendary fire god to beg for inhuman powers so that he can become the most lethal of men. He must take with him a slave, named Tel Hesani, to be sacrificed to the god. It will be a dark and brutal journey filled with lynch mobs, suicide cults, terrible monsters, and worse, monstrous men. But to Jebel, the risk is worth it. To retrieve his honor . . . To wield unimaginable power . . . To become . . . The thin executioner.

Inspired by the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, international bestselling master of horror Darren Shan takes readers on a thrilling, fast-paced journey into a nightmarish world where compassion and kindness are the greatest crimes of all.

Why I purchased this book: Horror's not my usual read, but I wanted to see how the author would pull off this this world in which executioners are held in such high esteem. Besides, as soon as I read the blurb, I wanted to know if Jebel would go through with his quest, or if he would let go of his brutal goal and release Tel. Or perhaps Tel will escape? I can't wait to find out . . .

Available on Kindle: Yes. You can find it on Amazon here.

Duck! by Kim Dare

Genre: BDSM; Fairy Tale Retelling; Fantasy; M/M Romance; Romance

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

How I acquired this book: I purchased it.

Goodreads Blurb: Raised among humans, Ori Jones only discovered he was an avian shifter six months ago. Unable to complete a full shift until he reaches his avian maturity, he still can’t be sure of his exact species.

But with species comes rank, and rank is everything to the avians. When a partial shift allows the elders to announce that they believe Ori to be a rather ugly little duckling, he drops straight to the bottom rung of their hierarchy.

Life isn’t easy for Ori until he comes to the attention of a high ranking hawk shifter. Then the only question is, is Ori really a duck—and what will his new master think when the truth eventually comes out?

My Review: I love the premise of this book: retelling The Ugly Duckling as an avian shape-shifting, bdsm tale. Plus I have a thing for wings--and though this isn't quite wingfic, it's close enough to suit me. So I was all set to adore this book.

But while I enjoyed this story, I didn't fall in love with it. The characters are likable, but rather one dimensional; Raynard and Ori don't have much personality beyond the fact that one's all dom and one's all sub. Worse, there are some disturbing, institution-sanctioned abuse scenes early on. Not between Raynard and Ori, thankfully, but--well, suffice to say that Ori had a rough time of it before Raynard decided to rescue him.

One last complaint: I would have loved more details about this avian world! It's intriguing, but it could stand some fleshing out.

Still, my kvetching aside, this is an imaginative take on the original fairy tale. Apart from those early abuse scenes, it makes for a pleasant read.

Available on Kindle: Yes. Find it on Amazon here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My Book Boyfriend: Jack Barak from The Matthew Shardlake Mysteries

A weekly meme from The Unread Reader
Talk about your fictional crush!

"A hard eye and a fighter's build, as I had observed before. A heavy sword at his hip and a dagger too at his belt. But there was intelligence in his eyes and in the wide, sensual mouth, whose upturned corners seemed made for mockery."

~Matthew Shardlake describing Jack Barak in C.J. Sansom's Dark Fire

How to choose my very first book boyfriend? Ok, ok--it wasn't a hard choice. Jack Barak popped straight into my head. Who doesn't like a bad boy?

Jack is from C.J. Sansom's Matthew Shardlake Mysteries, which are set in Tudor London. He begins as one of Cromwell's thugs--but he soon proves to Matthew, the 'crookback' lawyer, that's there more to him.
How do I picture Jack Barak? As Karl Urban--except in Tudor clothing.
Jack's a descendant of converso Jews. Unlike Matthew, he doesn't worry his head with questions about the nature of the Divine or the problems of the Reformation. And he's not a man of strong faith. He's just fiercely attached to his Jewish heritage--a fact he wisely keeps quiet.

Under Cromwell's orders, Jack helps Matthew solve the mystery in Dark Fire. Jack grows to like and respect the hunch-backed lawyer, so when Henry VIII beheads Cromwell, he takes Matthew as his new master. But that's a formality. By then the two men are on their way to a real friendship and treat each other more-or-less as equals.

There's a romance for Jack in Sovereign, with a woman who's not likely to put up with his carousing and infidelities. But can Jack settle down? Fortunately that's not my problem. I don't want to marry Jack, after all. Keeping him as a book boyfriend suits me just fine, thanks!

Revelation by C.J. Sansom

Genre: historical fiction; historical mystery; mystery

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Series: Dissolution; Dark Fire; Sovereign; Revelation

How I acquired this book: I purchased it.

Book Blurb: Spring, 1543. King Henry VIII is wooing Lady Catherine Parr, whom he wants for his sixth wife. But this time the object of his affections is resisting. Archbishop Cranmer and the embattled Protestant faction at court are watching keenly, for Lady Catherine is known to have reformist sympathies.

Matthew Shardlake, meanwhile, is working on the case of a teenage boy, a religious maniac locked in the Bedlam hospital for the insane. Should he be released to his parents, when his terrifying actions could lead to him being burned as a heretic?

When an old friend is horrifically murdered Shardlake promises his widow, for whom he has long had complicated feelings, to bring the killer to justice. His search leads him to both Cranmer and Catherine Parr - and with the dark prophecies of the Book of Revelation. As London's Bishop Bonner prepares a purge of Protestants Shardlake, together with his assistant, Jack Barak, and his friend, Guy Malton, follow the trail of a series of horrific murders that shake them to the core, and which are already bringing frenzied talk of witchcraft and a demonic possession - for what else would the Tudor mind make of a serial killer . . .

My Review: Matthew Shardlake may have sworn off politics, but the murder of a close friend forces him to work for Bishop Cramner once more. Catholic leaning traditionalists now have Henry VIII's ear, and Cramner is attempting to keep the spirit of Reform alive and preserve his own skin. Matthew, meanwhile, remains a cynical skeptic--but he is determined to bring his friend's killer to justice.

Matthew's assistant, Jack Barak--my favorite character in the series--is front and center but busy wrecking his marriage to Tamasin. Matthew cringes at Jack's carousing and infidelities, but can't find a way to talk some sense into his friend. (Personally, I was ready to smack Jack upside the head.)

Guy, the former monk and current physician, plays a large part here too. He shows considerable insight when he tries to delve into the mind of the mentally ill--but not an ounce of wisdom when it comes to his personal life, much to Matthew's frustration.

The best part of this book--and what keeps me addicted to this series--is the characters and their interactions; in that respect, Sansom is in top form here. A close second is his portrayal of Tudor London and the deadly mixture of religion, politics and persecution that was so characteristic of Henry VIII's reign. The mystery itself is a distant third. It held my interest and kept me guessing, but a couple of points had me furrowing my brow, and another improbable escape had me rolling my eyes.

Still, this is an excellent continuation of the series, and as soon as my budget permits, I'll be buying the next one!

On Kindle: Yes. Find it on Amazon here.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Snowball in Hell by Josh Lanyon

Genre: Historical Mystery; Historical Romance; M/M Romance; Mystery; Noir; Romance

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

How I acquired this book: I purchased it.

Book Blurb: It's 1943 and the world is at war. Journalist Nathan Doyle has just returned home from North Africa--still recovering from wounds received in the Western Desert Campaign--when he's asked to cover the murder of a society blackmailer.

Lt. Matthew Spain of the LAPD homicide squad hates the holidays since the death of his beloved wife a few months earlier, and this year isn-t looking much cheerier what with the threat of attack by the Japanese and a high-profile homicide investigation. Matt likes Nathan; maybe too much.

If only he didn't suspect that Nathan had every reason to commit murder.

My Review: The mystery is front and center in this story, but it never overshadows the romance: Matthew Spain’s attraction to Nathan Doyle is immediate and palpable—and it doesn’t abate, even when realizes he has to add Nathan to his lists of suspects for the murder of Phil Arlen. Nathan, meanwhile, is dangerously depressed, dangerously contemptuous of his own homosexuality, and dangerously determined to ferret out the real killer.

I am not a fan of noir films, so I wasn’t sure I would enjoy the noir feel of this book. But my doubts vanished in the first few pages. I was hooked! The mystery kept my interest and my heart bled for Nathan, who can’t bear to live like a monk and yet can’t help despising his sexual appetite. Matthew, meanwhile, seems to be living his life on a more even keel—but Nathan manages to upset his balance!

The setting—WWII California—seems solid and I didn’t notice any anachronisms in the characters’ attitudes or vocabulary. The ending left me satisfied, but curious; fortunately Josh Lanyon is planning a sequel. (See this thread in Josh's Q & A Group on Goodreads.) All in all an excellent read!

On Kindle: Yes. Find it on Amazon here.

Special Note: Find a discussion of the book here on Goodreads.

Other Reviews:
The Romanceaholic
Jessewave (Reviewed as part of Collected Novellas, Volume 1)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Scandal by Amanda Quick

Genre: Historical Romance; Regency Romance; Romance

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

How I acquired this book: I purchased it.

Book Blurb: With her reputation forever tarnished by a youthful indiscretion, lovely Emily Faringdon is resigned to a life of spinsterhood, until she embarks on an unusual correspondence and finds herself falling head over heals in love. Sensitive, intelligent, and high-minded, her noble pen-pal seems to embody everything Emily has ever dreamed of in a man. But the mysterious Earl of Blade is not at all what he seems.

Driven by dark, smoldering passions and a tragic secret buried deep within his soul, Blade has all of London cowering at his feet, but not Emily... never Emily. For even as she surrenders to his seductive charms, she knows the real reason for his amorous wit. And she knows that she must reach the heart of his golden-eyed dragon before the avenging demons of their entwined pasts destroy the only love she has ever known ...

My Review: Emily's naiveté, romanticism and bad poetry might make you cringe, until you realize that her escapism masks an understanding of the harsh realities of life. (Some readers never forgive Emily's flights of fancy--see 'other reviews' below!) But while Emily understands those harsh realities, she doesn't always accept them. She's made her peace with the faults of her father and siblings, but she's determined to see Simon, her revenge-obsessed husband, live up to nobler ideals. Simon gradually begins to do so, and that's what makes this book so much fun.

I fell in love with this book when I first read it, which was--well, let's just say it was a long time ago, and I was young and naive myself. I don't love this book as fiercely anymore, but I still enjoy Simon's gradual and reluctant transformation, as well as Emily's odd combination of unstinting faith and hard core realism.

On Kindle: Yes. Find it at Amazon here.

Special Note: The author, Amanda Quick, is also known as Jayne Ann Krentz and Jayne Castle

Other Reviews:
My Book Addiction

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Boys from Brazil by Ira Levin

Genre: Science Fiction; Suspense; Thriller

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

How I acquired this book: I purchased it.

Book Blurb: Alive and hiding in South America, the fiendish Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele gathers a group of former colleagues for a horrifying project—the creation of the Fourth Reich. Barry Kohler, a young investigative journalist, gets wind of the project and informs famed Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman, but before he can relay the evidence, Kohler is killed.

Thus Ira Levin opens one of the strangest and most masterful novels of his career. Why has Mengele marked a number of harmless aging men for murder? What is the hidden link thatbinds them? What interest can they possibly hold for their killers: six former SS men dispatched from South America by the mostwanted Nazi still alive, the notorious “Angel of Death“? Oneman alone must answer these questions and stop the killings—Lieberman, himself aging and thought by some to be losing hisgrip on reality.

At the heart of The Boys from Brazil lies a frightening contemporary nightmare, chilling and all too possible.

My Review: This book had me on the edge of my seat; it's worth suspending disbelief for. The cat-and-mouse game between Josef Mengele and a Nazi hunter, mixed with a sci-fi plot about nature versus nurture, makes for a fast, absorbing read.

If you're not familiar with Josef Mengele, read up on him before you begin. The book only hints at what a butcher this "Angel of Death" was. (Knowing he was still alive and at large in South America when this book came out gave me pause while reading it.)

My one complaint about this story is that the characters seem like rough sketches. I wanted to grow attached to Liebermann, the Nazi hunter (based loosely on Simon Wiesenthal) and Klaus, a young German who helps him. But they seemed more servants to the plot than characters in their own right. Still, I'll probably revisit this book--if only to study the art of creating suspense.

On Kindle: Yes. Find it at Amazon here.

1978 Film Version: See IMDB

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Strapless by Honoria Ravena

Genre: Contemporary Romance; F/F Romance; Romance

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

How I acquired this book: I purchased it.

Book Blurb: Suffering from heartache over her broken engagement, Nadia has sworn off men. Elisheba, who has been a confidant throughout the break up, has always stood by Nadia—but Elisheba has more on her mind than friendship.

My Review: Hot but seemingly mindless sex between two characters with barbie-doll figures and painful wax jobs. This short story has its moments, but I couldn't find a reason to care about the characters--and  I couldn't find a plot beyond "I'll-turn-bi-for-you-because-my-spineless-fiancé-broke-up-with-me."

I'd love to hear a different take on this. Do you enjoy a porn-without-plot story? Or am I missing something deeper here?

On Kindle: Yes. Find it at Amazon here.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Good Thief by James Buchanan

Genre: M/M Romance; Romance

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

How I acquired this book: I purchased it.

Book Blurb: What if the wrong guy, turns out to be the right guy for you? Caesar Serrano thought he screwed up when he landed in the bed of LAPD Officer Nathan Reilly. But when Caesar breaks into the wrong house and stumbles upon a heinous crime, implicating a high ranking LAPD officer, Nate is the only person he knows to turn to. The resulting investigation throws the Blue Brigade into panic. Now he's running for his life and Nate is his only hope for survival. Can two men, on opposite sides of the law, come together to bring a monster to justice?

My Review: I'm a sucker for a good lawman-thief story, and this one delivers. There's chemistry to spare between Caesar the housebreaker and Nate the LAPD beat cop; some tough moral decisions for both of them; and a juicy plot to follow. I think there were too many sex scenes crammed in here--when do these guys have a chance to breathe?--but I can't complain too much about that. Besides, I learned some fun, romantic Spanish phrases!

On Kindle: Yes. Find it at Amazon here.

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

Genre: Regency Romance; Romance

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

How I acquired this book: I purchased it.

Book Blurb: When Lady Ombersley agrees to take in her young niece, no one expects Sophy, who sweeps in and immediately takes the ton by storm. Sophy discovers that her aunt's family is in desperate need of her talent for setting everything right: Ceclia is in love with a poet, Charles has tyrannical tendencies that are being aggravated by his grim fiancee, her uncle is of no use at all, and the younger children are in desperate need of some fun and freedom. By the time she's done, Sophy has commandeered Charles's horses, his household, and finally, his heart.

My Review: I love The Grand Sophy--this is the book that introduced me to the witty Georgette Heyer, who has remained a favorite author of mine ever since. This book also contains my favorite supporting character: Sophy's father, Sir Horace Stanton-Lacy.  How does he manage to be so selfish and self-absorbed and yet so engaging?

But Sophy is the heart of the book, and she's almost as much fun as her father. Her aunt, uncle and cousins stand no chance once she decides to rearrange their lives. Only her cousin Charles puts up a real fight, but he can't stop himself from falling for her. Sophy falls hard too; Charles may seem like a prig, but she soon comes to value his sense of humor, intelligence and love for his family.

Unfortunately, Heyer's antisemitism is most obvious in The Grand Sophy, which spoils some of the fun for me. I think it would spoil it even if I weren't a Jew myself. Her portrayal of the Jewish moneylender (Goldhanger) employed just about every nasty stereotype about Jews--and this was published in 1950, just a few years after the Holocaust! (In other books, she referred to "the Jews" derisively as a synonym for moneylenders. Also nasty stuff, but the scene in The Grand Sophy is worse.)

Nonetheless, I still love this book and decided to give it a five-star rating despite the antisemitism. It's still one of my favorites. (Heck, I've lost count of the number of times I've read it.)

Are you familiar with Georgette Heyer and The Grand Sophy? Did the controversial scene with Goldhanger bother you as much as it bothered me? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

On Kindle: Yes. Find it at Amazon here.

Other Reviews:
Jane Austen's World

The Dark Tide by Josh Lanyon

Genre: M/M Romance; Mystery; Romance

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Series: Fatal Shadows; A Dangerous Thing; The Hell You Say; Death of a Pirate King; The Dark Tide

How I acquired this book: I purchased it.

Book Blurb: As if recovering from heart surgery beneath the gaze of his over-protective family wasn’t exasperating enough, someone keeps trying to break into Adrien English’s bookstore. What is this determined midnight intruder searching for?

When a half-century old skeleton tumbles out of the wall in the midst of the renovation of Cloak and Dagger Bookstore renovation, Adrien turns to hot and handsome ex-lover Jake Riordan -- now out-of-the closet and working as a private detective.

Jake is only too happy to have reason to stay in close contact with Adrien, but there are more surprises in Adrien’s past than either one of them expects -- and one of them may prove hazardous to Jake’s own heart.

Publisher's Note: This book contains explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable: Anal play/intercourse, male/male sexual practices.

My Review: This is the most satisfying series finale I've ever read. Adrien and Jake have both grown up, and they're ready (if not entirely willing) to confront their past and maybe the possibility of a shared future.

Adrien is on an emotional roller-coaster after his heart surgery; he's stunned that he might live a normal lifespan after all, and he's not sure what he wants at this point. Jake is dealing with the fallout from coming out of the closet, his failed marriage, and his abrupt resignation from the force.

Jake has become a private investigator, and that works for Adrien, who has entangled himself in yet another murder investigation. The noir-esque mystery--which is my favorite of the series--makes the two men partners in solving crime again. And despite all their romantic issues, it's clear they still make an excellent team.

Meanwhile, Adrien's family is helping him despite his best efforts to thwart them, and both Mel and Guy make significant appearances. All in all a brilliant read--but don't pick this up as a stand alone. You'll want the whole series under your belt before relishing the finale.

On Kindle: Yes. Find it at Amazon here.

Other Reviews: 
Graceful Hippo
Rainbow Reviews

Book Discussion: Once you finished this finale, head over to Josh's Q & A Group on Goodreads and discuss the whole Adrien English series.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Death of a Pirate King by Josh Lanyon

Genre: M/M Romance; Mystery; Romance;

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Series: Fatal Shadows; A Dangerous Thing; The Hell You Say; Death of a Pirate King; The Dark Tide

How I acquired this book: I purchased it.

Book Blurb: Gay bookseller and reluctant amateur sleuth Adrien English's writing career is suddenly taking off. His first novel, Murder Will Out, has been optioned by notorious Hollywood actor Paul Kane.But when murder makes an appearance at a dinner party, who should be called in but Adrien's former lover, handsome closeted detective Jake Riordan, now a Lieutenant with LAPD. And that may just drive Adrien's current boyfriend, sexy UCLA professor Guy Snowden, to commit a murder of his own!

Publisher's Note: This book contains explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable: Male/male sexual situations, strong violence.

My Review: Adrien English finds himself smack in the middle of another murder mystery--only this time LAPD Lt. Jake Riordan is encouraging him to do some amateur sleuthing instead of threatening to throw his ass in jail for interfering. So Adrien has his hands full with his informal investigation, his new step sisters, his faltering relationship with Guy . . . and his lingering feelings for the still-closeted (and now married) Jake. Adrien and his sharp tongue are in top form here; don't plan on putting this book down once you start it!

On Kindle: Yes. Find it at Amazon here.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

Genre: Mystery; Suspense

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Series: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; The Girl Who Played with Fire; The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

How I acquired this book: I purchased it.

Book Blurb: A familiar evil lies in wait for Lisbeth Salander, but this time, she must do more than confront the miscreants of her past; she must destroy them. Much to her chagrin, survival requires her to place a great deal of faith in journalist Mikael Blomkvist and trust his judgment when the stakes are highest.

To reveal more of the plot would be criminal, as Larsson's mastery of the unexpected is why millions have fallen hard for his work. But rest assured that the odds are again stacked, the challenges personal, and the action fraught with neck-snapping revelations in this snarling conclusion to a thrilling triad. This closing chapter to The Girl's pursuit of justice is guaranteed to leave readers both satisfied and saddened once the final page has been turned.

My Review: Blomkvist, Salander and team have quite a problem on their hands now that they've uncovered a major conspiracy within Sapo, the Swedish security police. This conspiracy has bedeviled Salander her entire life--and it's on the brink of shutting her up by shutting her back in a mental hospital with a sadistic doctor to watch over her.

But my gut assured me that our redoubtable heroes would out this conspiracy and bring them to justice. The fun was in watching how it played out.

This is not a stand-alone book; you need to read first two installments to make sense of it. But it works as a finale. There's a lot that seems improbable in the story and sections that seem overlong, but it's still a fun ride and a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.

On Kindle: Yes. Find it at Amazon here.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Hell You Say by Josh Lanyon

Genre: M/M Romance; Mystery; Romance

My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Series: Fatal Shadows; A Dangerous Thing; The Hell You Say; Death of a Pirate King; The Dark Tide

How I acquired this book:  I purchased it.

Book Blurb: Adrien English isn't really a detective, he's a bookseller and mystery writer who has a knack for attracting real life mischief and mayhem -- much to the displeasure of his sexy, sometimes-boyfriend, closeted homicide detective Jake Riordan.When bookstore assistant Angus falls afoul of a Satanic cult, Adrien falls afoul of Jake -- but despite the fact that his amateur sleuthing is playing hell with his love life, Adrien can't help but delving into this case of kooks, cults, devil worship, and human sacrifice.

Publisher's Note: This book is a re-edited, revised version of the work previously released under the same title and.contains explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable: Male/male sexual practices, violence.

My Review: All of Adrien and Jake's issues come to a head here, so at times this is a gut-wrenching read. That's almost a relief--whatever the outcome for these two, I didn't want their problems as a couple to keep festering. And fortunately, Adrien's snarky sense of humor remains in place throughout his troubles with Jake, the absorbing mystery he lands in, and some hilarious changes in his family situation. No wonder I couldn't put this down!

On Kindle: Yes. Find it at Amazon here.

Special Note: To add to your enjoyment of this series, when you're finished this book, check out this character interview between Jake Riordan and his maker, and then this follow up character interview between Josh and Adrien.

More Reviews: 
Elisa Role's Review
Graceful Hippo's Review

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sovereign by C.J. Sansom

Genre: Historical Fiction; Historical Mystery; Mystery

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Series: Dissolution; Dark Fire; Sovereign; Revelation

How I acquired this book: I purchased it.

Book Blurb: C. J . Sansom has garnered a wider audience and increased critical praise with each new novel published. His first book in the Matthew Shardlake series, Dissolution, was selected by P. D. James in The Wall Street Journal as one of her top-five all-time favorite books. Now in Sovereign, Shardlake and his loyal assistant, Jack Barak, find themselves embroiled in royal intrigue when a plot against King Henry VIII is uncovered in York and a dangerous conspirator they-ve been charged with transporting to London is connected to the death of a local glazer.

My Review: Matthew Shardlake and his roguish assistant, Jack Barak, are back in action in this third installment of the Matthew Shardlake series--this time on a mission from Archbishop Cranmer. Matthew must join King Henry VIII's Progress to the North, and then accompany a political prisoner back to London. His duty is to keep the prisoner alive and healthy so that the man can be effectively tortured in the Tower.

Matthew hates the thought of protecting a man just so he can be racked, but Cranmer forces him to take the job. But that's only one of Matthew's worries. There's murder, mayhem, religious tension and political conspiracies up North--naturally Matthew and Jack have to untangle the mess while trying not to learn too much about dangerous secrets.

Since much of the story takes place in York, I was wondering if Jack--who has a sentimental attachment to his Jewish heritage--would find out what happened to the Jews of York a few hundred years earlier. He does, in a brief but chilling scene that illustrates just how cruel one character is.

But Jack has other things on his mind, including a dalliance with a pretty servant from the Queen's household. Tammy keeps Jack on his toes while she complicates matters for both him and his master.

If you know your Tudor history, some shocking revelations in the story won't come as a surprise to you. I already knew what those revelations would be, but the other mystery kept me guessing. Overall, the book kept my glued to my Kindle and left me hungry for more of Matthew and Jack!

On Kindle: Yes. Find it here.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Gentleman and the Rogue by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon

Genre: Romance; Historical Romance; M/M Romance; LGBT

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

How I acquired this book: I purchased it.

Book Blurb: A lad from the streets meets a lord of the manor...

When war veteran Sir Alan Watleigh goes searching for sex, he never imagines the street rat he brings home for one last bit of pleasure in his darkest hour will be the man who hauls him back from the edge of the grave. A night of meaningless sex turns into an offer of permanent employment. As Sir Alan Watleigh’s valet, Jem offers much more than polished boots and starched cravats. He makes Sir Alan Watleigh smile and warms his bed. 

Just as the men are adjusting to their new living arrangement, news about a former soldier under his command sends Sir Alan Watleigh and Jem on the road to save a child in danger.The journey brings them closer together as they travel from lust toward love. But is Sir Alan Watleigh's love strong enough to risk society discovering the truth about him?

Publisher's Note: This book contains explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable: Male/male sexual practices.

My Review: Sir Alan is haunted by his war memories--so much so that he's decided suicide is his only option. But first he wants one last night of pleasure and warmth with a young man, no matter how much he despises such an 'unnatural desire.' 

Enter Jem--a delightful, nineteen-year-old street rat who's more than willing to provide said pleasure and warmth for pay. But he wants to see a smile on his patron's face in the process, because he can't understand how anyone with a grand roof over his head, plenty of food in his belly and servants to cater to his every need could possibly be so miserable. So he shares some really terrible bawdy jokes with Sir Alan, along with thieves' cant and his general philosophy of life. 

Sir Alan is captivated--and it's a safe bet to say that most readers will be too! 

Alan begins to think of ways to keep Jem around for more than one night. His solution makes good sense--and up to this point, this book is damn near perfect. (Well, I could nitpick about errors regarding the clothing of the Regency period, but Jem is so much fun that I'll let those go.) 

But then the authors veer off into a subplot about a maniacal doctor that takes up the rest of the book. What a shame! I wish they had kept their focus on Alan struggling against his depression while re-learning to live day by day; Jem learning his new role and how to leave behind some of the habits that helped him survive on the streets; and both men learning how to balance their relationship as master and servant on the one hand and lovers on the other. 

So, for me, the entire subplot was an annoying distraction. I can see myself reading the first few chapters of this book over and over, and then skipping around, ignoring the maniacal doctor. I'm glad Kindle has a bookmarking feature!

Have you read this book? If so, how did you like the maniacal doctor subplot? I'd love to hear a different take on it.

On Kindle: Yes. Find it at Amazon here.