An orgy of entertainment… with no calories!!

Cozy up and enjoy!
Cozy up and enjoy!

Well, where to start. As anyone who reads this blog (or knows me, really) is aware, I LOVE to read, and I truly read just about anything. But I do tend to run in genre streaks that fluctuate with my mood, my life, the seasons, and all kinds of other reasons. When things are just too much and I’m overwhelmed, I hit my old stand-bys. My comfort books. Sometimes it’s Agatha Christie or Rex Stout. Sometimes it’s Nora Roberts or Debbie Macomber, or Georgette Heyer and Carla Kelly, Patricia Briggs and Ilona Andrews. You get the picture.

Not surprisingly, the holidays (usually late in October or early November, depending on the weather in Michigan that year), frequently ignite one of these reading “moods.” This year, I got hit with an overwhelming desire for holiday romances — the warm, fuzzy, funny ones (more) and the more emotional, cathartic ones (less). Not too shocking or unusual, really.  Here’s the unusual part — for me anyway — I wanted contemporary romances.  Gasp. That isn’t unheard of for me, of course, but it is infrequent. I’m not a huge fan of the “sweat and pant” (as my mom calls it)subset of Romance. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy erotica. But I prefer my erotica to be well-written and seductive (or well-written and blatantly hot). I want a story and characters along with my dose of fantastic sensuality and sexuality. I don’t want upsetting, dramatic, emotional, angst-y erotica (aka “sweat-and-pant” Romance.)

So I started with Debbie Macomber, of course.  I think it was the Hallmark holiday movies playing all the time that got me going, so it made the most sense to start with the original author of several of them. Then I picked up a few anthologies — anything with a “small town Christmas” vibe was right up my alley this year. I moved on to Robyn Carr (novellas and novels) and Fern Michaels (novellas mostly), then  to Susan Wiggs, Susan Mallery, Jill Shalvis and random others I enjoyed in Small Town Christmas and other anthologies. I am devouring books in huge chunks. These books are like candy, and I go through at least one (often more than one) a day (yes — even on work days). Talk about a guilty pleasure.

But I ask myself: should I really indulge myself so freely? On the cusp of the new year, should I really just gorge myself on warm, fuzzy fun? I must admit, I really love the funny romances the best. Both the actual “romantic comedies” and the ones that are just well written and full of real people who are far better at bantering and teasing and wordplay than most of the world. Witty and silly — my favorite! But should I let myself devour book after book in an orgy of happily-ever-afters and “dessert-for-dinner” reading?

YES! Yes, I should. Because it’s the holidays and, like most everyone, I’m stressed and exhausted and worried about the new year (taxes, bills, higher premium payments) and I need a little pick me up. Let’s just call it a Christmas gift to myself — one I didn’t have to wrap!

Merry Christmas to me! Happy Holidays to all of you! You have my blessing if you want to indulge in an orgy of romance  reading — or horror/fantasy/scifi/narrative non-fiction — whatever your guilty pleasure might be.  Just swim in it! And Happy New Year!

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Anthologies — Mixed signals aren’t just a social issue.

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Welcome to my unedited thoughts for today.

Let me begin by saying that I love anthologies. Short story and/or novella collections give readers a fantastic opportunity to discover new authors (oh, the joy of finding a previously unknown gem!), or to re-discover forgotten ones. Well-written shorts give series writers an opportunity to tell stories outside their established story arc, the chance to share the stories of secondary or background characters, and the chance to just have fun with some characters and a world they have grown to love without having to fit the story in a timeline, or to keep up with a relentless pace and ever-darkening long-term story arc. For example: Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files stories vs. the novels – tell me he’s not relaxing and having a good time with those short stories, in addition to expanding the characters and universe of Harry Dresden! I know I am as a reader!!

Anthologies are a great way to find a new author, sure, but they are also a fantastic way to revisit your favorite characters from a series (example: Thea Harrison’s awesome novellas!) in between novels, or to enjoy a bite-sized story while you eat lunch. Of course, not all short stories are created equal, but when they are good… mmmmm….what a treat. A perfect guilty pleasure. Perhaps I just want to read a bunch of stories collected around a theme. But I’m wandering from my main point (shocking, I know) – I love anthologies.

However.

Anthologies are often “controversial” for reviewers. Well, for some reviewers. Ok, I’ll be honest. For me. For this reviewer, anthologies are frequently rather stressful. Why, you ask? Well, the review is for the book as a whole, but each story is individual. What if I absolutely love-with-unholy-passion four stories, loathe three stories, and feel varying degrees of ambivalence toward six stories? How do I rate that? Do the loves and hates cancel out, leaving me with a lukewarm 2.5 or 3 star rating (or a C- if you prefer grades to stars)? Do I love my preferred stories so much that I ignore the others and go for broke with 5 stars (an A+)? The actual written review gives me the chance to explain my mixed feelings, to rave about favored stories and explain my thoughts/reasons for disliking (or ignoring) the others, but we all know that frequently people are just quick-scanning reviews for something of interest. Are they going to bother reading the review if they see 2.5 stars at the top? Am I giving my favorite stories the shaft with a low-star rating for the whole book? Even if the rest of the book sucks?

Is there a good solution to this dilemma out there? I’d love to hear what you think! What are your favorite story collections? Why do you read them? Why do you love them? Hate them? Avoid them???

The Hero’s Lot — a review

By Patrick W. Carr
By Patrick W. Carr

I received an e-ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.

In The Hero’s Lot, we return to the world of Illustra so beautifully created in A Cast of Stones, the first book in The Staff and the Sword series by Patrick W. Carr.  The Hero’s Lot picks up not long after the intense conclusion of book one, with the survivors (on both sides) pulling themselves together, picking up the pieces and attempting to figure out what to do next.

This second entry is more layered, more complex than the first book.  A Cast of Stones created sturdy foundation for this fantasy series, and now the sequel can provide the flourishes as it simultaneously delves into the backgrounds of our characters and drives them ahead into a difficult, dangerous and uncertain future.  Secrets and intrigue abound, surrounding everyone across the good guy/bad guy spectrum, entwining the lives of various characters and providing grist for the myriad subplots with which this more intense sequel is teeming.

At its most basic, this is the story of Errol’s (our hero) mission deep behind enemy lines to track and dispose of Sarin (Number 2 Bad Guy who survived and escaped at the end of book one).  Our point of view shifts between Errol and his traveling companions and his friends Martin and Luis, who travel to Callowford seeking information about Errol, his true identity and his importance to the kingdom.  Like any good sequel, this one deepens the overall story of the series, explaining more of the world and the characters while also re-shading what we thought we knew — the brighter light calls out even more shadow and darkness.

Action, intrigue, scheming, power struggles, an unstable religious hierarchy, a kingdom in need of a king, a dash of romance and good old-fashioned adventure combine to create a compelling fantasy world populated with interesting characters.  All in all a great read for anyone who enjoys a well-told fantasy!

Lost in Shadow — Pretty good PNR, but never make my MUST HAVE list with Nalini Singh, Thea Harrison, Ilona Andrews, Patricia Briggs, Dianne Duvall, etc.

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Once again, I just lost the long detailed review I wrote for this book. I’m trying not to grind my teeth. The dentist hates it when I do that. I REALLY have to go back to writing in Word and copying/pasting my reviews. Before I lose it altogether and throw the keyboard through a window or something in frustration. In advance, please let me say, pardon the sketchy quality of the following review — it is always harder to remember/recreate that it is to simply write.

Perhaps I will have the patience to rewrite my long version review later, but for now, let me skip to the end.

I was granted an e-ARC of this book in return for an honest review from Netgalley.com.

I would give LOST IN SHADOW by Cynthia Luhrs a 3.5-star rating if I could. VERY briefly (and QUITE simplified): Emily and her friend are vacationing in Scotland. When she sees a bloody murder that no one else can, Emily discovers she has a gift for seeing and interacting with the dead (ghosts). She becomes embroiled in a supernatural battle against overwhelming forces and falls in love with the brooding, embittered Colin.

I enjoyed it, but it just didn’t light my world on fire. Let me explain briefly: when I finish a book by one of my favorite authors, I am filled with a mixture of elation (for the book I just read) and an overwhelming desire for MORE (I WANT the next book!). In the area of paranormal romance, I’m talking about books (even the short stories/novellas of these writers do this to me) by Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews (yes, that is more Urban Fantasy), Thea Harrison, Patricia Briggs, Dianne Duvall. The books on my MUST HAVE list are the books that I-can’t-possibly-wait-until-Monday-when-the-library-opens to read once the craving hits me. They are the books that I read over and over again with just as much pleasure as the first time (if not more). Lost in Shadow will never make that list, but it was a good read and I enjoyed it.

Pros and cons: I liked Emily and the snarky humor in her inner monologue. I like Colin and the other characters. I love the setting and the premise. This is the first book in a series (Shadow Walkers), and has a lot of exposition to carry in establishing the series’s overweening story arc and the continuing characters, as well as telling Emily and Colin’s story. Lost in Shadow doesn’t segue gracefully between these two necessities, jerking the reader from one pair of characters to another suddenly, pulling the reader (me at least) out of the story. There are some editorial errors that also jarred me from the story, but that is easily corrected.

To sum up: Lost in Shadow was a good read and I enjoyed the story, but it didn’t make me hungry for more. It’s not on my MUST HAVE list, but it was enjoyable. If you like the paranormal romance, with some thriller thrown in — go for it! I think the series may improve.

A Wicked Pursuit

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Review based on an e-ARC from Netgalley.com.

A Wicked Pursuit is a Georgian-era (late 18th century, c. 1760s) historical romance, the first in Isabella Bradford’s new Breconridge Brothers series. The Breconridges are cousins of the heroes from Bradford’s Wylder Sisters series, and the Duke of Sheffield (from “When the Duke Found Love” and Harry’s cousin) makes an appearance here. A Wicked Pursuit is an excellent start to Bradford’s new Breconridge Brothers series. Like her Wylder Sisters books, A Wicked Pursuit is engaging, entertaining, and sweetly romantic as well as being well-written and comfortably paced. This is Harry’s and Augusta’s (Gus) story.

Harry, the heir to a dukedom, is smitten by Julia, Augusta’s beautiful and spirited (and rather shallow) half-sister, and visits her country estate intent on proposing to Julia. However, when Harry falls from his horse and is injured (due to Julia’s flirtatious, coy behavior), Julia abandons him. Augusta is pretty, though not beautiful, intelligent, kind and gentle. She is a woman of character and far deeper feeling than her sister. Gus, whom Harry was completely unaware existed before his injury, takes care of him and assists him as he recovers and learns to walk again. Harry learns to cherish Gus and to depend on her sweet and patient nature during his slow recovery and rehabilitation.

Although not a terribly original concept, this is very well done and a very nice read. I have mentioned before that I am sick of explicit sex scenes in books where the sex just takes away from the story, instead of advancing character/plot/etc., and here again I find the graphic sex scenes intrusive in a book based on a time with such stern social rules governing the behavior of unmarried females, however, Bradford writes the love scenes with sensuality and tenderness and they are lovely. I may prefer the traditional Georgian/Regency romances, but that is simply my preference.  I can certainly enjoy reading a well-written sex scene, provided I don’t feel yanked out of the story by it. Bradford’s scenes are smooth and contain a tenderness and sweetness that is nice.

As always, it is lovely to see an arrogant nobleman discover the worth of others, and for an often overlooked woman to come into her own. Highly recommended, especially to fans of Bradford’s other series/books.