Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Illumination by Rowan Speedwell


by Rowan Speedwell

Adam Craig is burned out. Lead singer of the hard rock band Black Varen, he's tired of the empty life of groupies, paparazzi, and hotel rooms. Worse, a life in the closet. After the final concert of their latest tour, he flees the after-party in pursuit of memories of lost summers and carefree days, until he passes out on the patio of a shuttered lake resort.

Miles Caldwell is a brilliant artist, tied by agoraphobia and social anxiety to his family's lodge. Alone but for his parrot, he spends his days illuminating manuscripts and hiding from the complexities of life. When he discovers Adam asleep in a deck chair, he's furious but intrigued. Adam soon charms his way into Miles' bed, and they lose themselves in a summer idyll, safe from the compromises and claims of reality.

But Adam's life, with all its demands, is waiting for him. And Miles, uncertain of Adam's true feelings, is battling demons of his own. Somehow, the man who's never home and the man who never leaves it must find the strength to fight for a future together.
I received a free copy of Illumination from the publisher via Netgalley.
I requested this book because the characters intrigued me.  An agoraphobic artist, a burnt-out rocker, an animal character...all the things that should have made this the perfect book for me. But there was something about it that just left me disappointed me.  I'm not sure what I was looking for, only that I wanted something more.  The characters were interesting at first, and then it was like they never developed much after the first few chapters.  It left me feeling as if there wasn't much there, to be honest.  Even their relationship was shallow and cold. 
A scenario like the one presented in this book should have been full of drama, clashing personalities, and a lot more character depth.  And while the book did have its moments, I thought it was somewhat boring and unbelievable.  The dialogue was clunky and there were places when I could sense the author's presence loud and clear as she used it to steer the situation around.   
There were certain parts that I really enjoyed, especially toward the end of the book.  But for the most part, I was just left feeling disappointed. 
2.5/5 stars

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Catch A Ghost by S.E. Jakes

Catch A Ghost

by S.E. Jakes

(Hell Or High Water Book 1)

Everyone knows that Prophet—former Navy SEAL, former CIA spook, full-time pain in the ass—works alone and thinks only about the trouble he can cause. But his boss, Phil Butler of Extreme Escapes, LTD., has just assigned Proph not only a new partner but also a case haunted by ghosts from Proph’s past. Suddenly, he’s got to confront them both head on.

Tom Boudreaux—failed FBI agent, failed sheriff, full time believer in bad luck—is wondering why the head of a private contracting firm has hunted him down to offer him a job. Still he's determined to succeed this time, despite being partnered with Prophet, EE, LTD’s most successful, lethal, and annoying operative, and even though the case is also resurrecting his own painful past.

Together, Prophet and Tom must find a way to take down killers in the dangerous world of underground cage matches, while fighting their own dangerous attraction. And when they find themselves caught in the crossfire, these two loners are forced to trust each other and work together to escape their ghosts . . . or pay the price.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley.

This reminded me so much of the Cut And Run series by Abigail Roux and Madeleine Urban.  That was one of my favorite series, so I'm glad I was able to find something so similar yet unique.  The two characters are tough men, amazing fighters, alpha males to the core.  Neither of them takes orders very well, though Prophet is so allergic to authority he makes Tom seem almost angelic.  
I love the character development in this story.  Both main characters are very well written and I got to know them very well because of it.  I love how complex they both were.   There was never a time that I considered them flat or one-dimensional. 
There were quite a few twists and turns in the story and it kept me on my toes the entire time.  I never knew what was going to happen next.  There was a lot of emotion and angst, so it ended up being a moody read.  I absolutely love a story with a lot of angst.
Prophet was a great character and not the asshole I thought he would be after reading the first chapter or two.  He has his issues, of course, but he is also caring and vulnerable under all the tough guy stuff.  There was a lot to love about Prophet.
Tom was hot.  Every little quirk or 'flaw' only added to his hotness.  I went into this prepared to love Prophet, but Tom really took first place in this story.  I love a bad boy character.
The writing style was bold and to the point, without a lot of fluffy shit thrown in.  I'm glad the author didn't try to make this too sweet or tame, because then I wouldn't have thought the characters were believable.  As it is, they were amazing and realistic.  

**Mild spoiler ahead**

This is not an all-in-one romance.  Don't go into this expecting a HEA at the end, or you'll be disappointed!

5/5 Stars

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dr. Bird's Advice For Sad Poets by Evan Roskos

Dr. Bird's Advice For Sad Poets

by Evan Roskos

“I hate myself but I love Walt Whitman, the kook. Always positive. I need to be more positive, so I wake myself up every morning with a song of myself.”

Sixteen-year-old James Whitman has been yawping (à la Whitman) at his abusive father ever since he kicked his beloved older sister, Jorie, out of the house. James’s painful struggle with anxiety and depression—along with his ongoing quest to understand what led to his self-destructive sister’s exile—make for a heart-rending read, but his wild, exuberant Whitmanization of the world and keen sense of humor keep this emotionally charged debut novel buoyant.

I recently had the great luck to run across this review, which compared this book to one of my all-time favorite movies: Dead Poet's Society. I was overjoyed.  It's possible that I only made the connection because of Monica's review, but I would like to think that I would have recognized it anyway.  I cannot tell you just how many times I've seen that movie and wallowed in my self-imposed angst.  I love a movie or a book that can just make you feel, even if that feeling happens to be uncomfortably sad.  Dr. Bird's Advice For Sad Poets is one of those books.
James is exactly the kind of kid I used to be.  He's fond of poetry, hugs trees to make himself happy, and is so awkward around other people that it is almost painful.  He can barely talk to the girl he likes, though in moments when he isn't ruled by anxiety he concocts ill-advised plans to be noticed by her.  Even when they are talking and things are going well, he can't get over the fact that he just may not be...enough. 

"My eyes are probably cloudy, sad, mean, boring.  Not blue enough or brown enough or bright enough."

The writing is beautiful and poetic, which is to be expected in a story about a young poet who reads Whitman as much as James does.  There is a lot of emotion in this book.  I was cringing practically through the entire story, first in embarrassment for James and then in sympathy when the parents were introduced.  The parents are pretty horrific.  I was surprised James and his sister Jorie didn't end up even more messed-up than they were.

"She and I seem to be poisoned with sadness in our blood."

I loved the book.  It was like discovering my favorite movie all over again.  There was quite a bit of nostalgia involved, which was an odd feeling to have for a book I've never read before.  But there it is...I'm the kind of person that can't separate a comparison once it's been made.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Ragnarok by Brian James


by Brian James

The Viking gods have been banished from Asgard by Odin. Today they make the best of life on Earth. Thor is a professional athlete, Freya a prostitute, and Loki sells cheap products on QVC. Lurking in the background of their lives is a prophecy; one that declares that their time is at an end. Ragnarok is about to throw the gods into a state of civil war and the one who controls the hammer of Thor may be able to change the arc of destiny.

I received an ARC copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley.
I honestly had a difficult time reading this and I had to force myself to finish it.  The story was slow and tedious, and the writing style was not easy to get into.  All that would have been ok and I would have at least come away from reading the book feeling indifferent about it and maybe rated it two stars if I was in a good mood.  But what made me absolutely livid was the 'humor'.  It was forced and about 90% of the jokes were in very, very poor taste.  I lost count of all the fat jokes, gay jokes, homeless jokes.  It was like being in high school all over again and watching the school bully pick on all of your classmates.  It left me feeling very uncomfortable. 
0/5 (because I don't actually have to give it a star)

Touch Of Power by Maria V. Snyder

Touch Of Power

by Maria V. Snyder

(Healer Series #1)

Laying hands upon the injured and dying, Avry of Kazan assumes their wounds and diseases into herself. But rather than being honored for her skills, she is hunted. Healers like Avry are accused of spreading the plague that has decimated the Territories, leaving the survivors in a state of chaos.

Stressed and tired from hiding, Avry is abducted by a band of rogues who, shockingly, value her gift above the golden bounty offered for her capture. Their leader, an enigmatic captor-protector with powers of his own, is unequivocal in his demands: Avry must heal a plague-stricken prince—leader of a campaign against her people. As they traverse the daunting Nine Mountains, beset by mercenaries and magical dangers, Avry must decide who is worth healing and what is worth dying for. Because the price of peace may well be her life....
This was the first book in what I suspect will become another brilliant series by Maria V. Snyder.  I was first hooked on her books when I read Poison Study years ago.  Since then, I've kept my eyes peeled for any new books she's published.  There is something about her writing that sucks me into her stories and makes me care deeply about the characters.
The pacing was slower than in Snyder's Study series.  I think it helped give the reader a better understanding of the world and all the past events that led the characters to be exactly where (and who) they are.  The slower pacing allowed each of the characters time to develop their own unique personalities.
Kerrick is an intriguing character.  Yes, he is abusive toward her in the beginning, but I loved the fact that the author made no excuses for him.  Avry is no weak and fragile woman, and she is able to hold her own and then some.  I'm sure this would probably upset some readers who will hate Kerrick just for the principal of the thing.  But I think it's more impractical to expect a group of men who live in a 'holy-shit-everything's-gone-wrong' type of world to treat an equally strong female character with kid gloves just because she happens to be a woman.  How she handles it, and how he responds, says a lot about their characters.
There were times when I was more impatient with Avry's character than any of the men's.  She has a stubborn streak that made me wish she would just...stop.
I have always loved fantasy that can have a touch of romance in it without sacrificing plot.  This book had it all, and I was engrossed in Touch Of Power the entire time I was reading it.  There were so many twists and turns that kept me on the edge of my seat.  A good situation could turn bad with a blink of the eye.
I've seen this shelved under YA, which is confusing to me because all of the characters (except maybe Flea) are well into their twenties.  Kerrick is definitely not a model of heroic behavior and doesn't belong in YA. 
All in all, I was left feeling very satisfied with the story.
5/5 Stars

Friday, November 15, 2013

Covet Thy Neighbor by L.A. Witt

Covet Thy Neighbor

by L.A. Witt

 Tattoo artist Seth Wheeler thinks he’s struck gold when Darren Romero rents the apartment across the hall. The new guy is gorgeous, witty, and single, plus he’s just the right blend of bold and flirtatious. Perfect.

Except then Darren reveals that he moved to Tucker Springs to take a job as the youth pastor at the New Light Church. Seth is not only an atheist, but was thrown out by his ultra-religious family when he came out. He tends to avoid believers, not out of judgment but out of self-preservation.

But Darren doesn’t give up easily, and he steadily chips away at Seth’s defenses. Darren is everything Seth wants in a man . . . except for that one massive detail he just can’t overlook. Is Darren’s religion the real problem, or is it just a convenient smokescreen to keep him from facing deeper fears? It’s either see the light, or risk pushing Darren away forever.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review via Netgalley.
I thought that I had had enough of light and fluffy romance for a while.  Even M/M, which is usually more complex and therefore interesting, can get old after a while.  When I saw the synopsis for this one I knew I had to give it a try. 
An atheist tattoo artist and a youth pastor, both men?  I can honestly say I never thought I'd read a book with that kind of pairing. I'm all for new experiences, so I requested it.
Seth was my favorite character in the Tucker Springs series.  He was funny, with a sarcastic streak that came though loud and clear throughout the entire book.  He was also genuinely kind and I found it very easy to like his character.  He seems like the kind of guy you could either drink a few beers and laugh with, or tell him all your deepest secrets and he would listen closely.  He would be the perfect friend.  The story is written in first person from Seth's POV, so we get a good long look into his soul.  It's really quite beautiful.
Darren is like a study in opposites.  There were times when I thought his character was unbelievable and that he was doing things no minister would.  Smoking pot and one-night stands just does not seem believable for a minister character.  But then I got to thinking: would I really want him to act any differently?  This is a romance, after all.  A fictional story created for the sole purpose of entertainment.  In this case, I think I'm glad reality took a short smoke break.
Their relationship was very interesting because of the entire minister/atheist/gay dynamic.  There was so much going on and so many emotions flying around.  I think it was a very well-written story about how love can always win in the end.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Bearful Bear and His New Moves

Bearful Bear and His New Moves

by Anna Lee Everhart

 While Bearful Bear goes about another day in the forest, he wonders whether he can learn to move like all of the animals around him. Every creature he encounters shares how they move, and then Bearful has the opportunity to practice his new skill.

Children will learn how to fly, gallop, hop, and more with this rhythmic, rhyming tale about an inquisitive bear whose animal friends teach him to move in many new ways. These catchy how-to's not only encourage movement by the reader, but also encourage language development and outright fun!
This was a very cute children's book.  I don't have children yet but I have two nephews, one who would be old enough to listen and try to do all of the groovy moves that Bearful Bear is learning. 
It would be a great book for all young children, but especially for those who have a difficult time sitting still for story time.  Bearful Bear encourages kids to move around and try different things, like hopping, galloping, and rolling.  It's interactive and fun.
The drawings are bright and beautiful and would probably be exciting for children.   They are encouraged to look at the pictures and try to find the next animal who will teach Bearful Bear some new grooves.   
Rating for children: 5/5

After The Fall by L.A.Witt

After The Fall

by L.A. Witt

After years of saving every penny, Nathan has finally managed to buy the horse of his dreams. He’s looking forward to a summer of exploring the Colorado mountain trails above Tucker Springs with Tsarina. But on their very first ride, a motorcyclist makes a wrong turn, scaring Tsarina into bolting and leaving Nathan with a broken leg, a broken hand, and a ruined summer.

Ryan is a loner and a nomad, content with working odd jobs before moving on to the next town. Feeling guilty for causing the accident that leaves Nathan in two casts, Ryan offers to keep Tsarina exercised until Nathan heals.

Despite their bad start, Nathan and Ryan soon become friends . . . and then much more. But with a couple of nasty breakups in his past, Nathan doesn’t want feelings getting involved—especially knowing that Ryan will never settle down. But since when do feelings ever listen to reason?
I received an ARC copy of this book from the publisher for review.
I wanted to like this book a lot more than I actually did.  I love hurt/comfort themes, and any book involving horses usually rates high on my list.  But here's the thing:  I was bored.
The beginning was great and the set up to this romance was interesting.  I thought I was going to remain interested through the whole thing and finish the book with some amount of satisfaction.  After the first few chapters, though, I realized that I was getting restless and wanted to read something different.  Not a good sign.  It seemed that after a certain point, there wasn't much going on that hasn't happened in every single chapter so far:  Nathan gets help going down the stairs, they go visit Tsarina, they go to a restaurant to eat, they talk too long and leave the restaurant late, Nathan gets help going up the stairs, he crashes on the couch.  Rinse.  Repeat.  Add in some sex scenes about halfway through and go through everything again. 
Speaking of those scenes, I thought there were too many and after a while I just started skipping them.  I do the same with any type of romance that tries to tell you how much the characters feel about each other by the amount of sex they have.  It makes their relationship seem one-dimensional and I get tired of having to skip ahead.
The characters themselves were kind of...meh.  There wasn't much emotional depth to them and it left me disappointed.  
I regained a small amount of interest in the last two chapters, but not enough to make me want to read it again. 
2/5 stars

Monday, November 11, 2013

Never A Hero by Marie Sexton

Never A Hero

by Marie Sexton

Everyone deserves a hero.

Owen Meade is desperately in need of a hero. Raised by a mother who made him ashamed of his stutter, his sexual orientation, and his congenitally amputated arm, Owen lives like a hermit in his Tucker Springs apartment. But then hunky veterinarian Nick Reynolds moves in downstairs.

Nick is sexy and confident, and makes Owen comfortable with himself in a way nobody ever has. He also introduces Owen to his firecracker of a little sister, who was born with a similar congenital amputation but never let it stand in her way. When she signs the two of them up for piano lessons—and insists that they play together in a recital—Owen can’t find a way to say no. Especially since it gives him a good excuse to spend more time with Nick.

Owen knows he’s falling hard for his neighbor, but every time he gets close, Nick inexplicably pulls away. Battling his mother’s scorn and Nick’s secrets, Owen soon realizes that instead of waiting for a hero, it’s time to be one—for himself and for Nick.

This was a sweet love story about a socially-awkward loner who is too afraid of being laughed at to leave his own apartment for long, and a confident veterinarian with a dark secret.  It dealt with some pretty heavy topics and I love that Marie Sexton wasn't afraid to delve into such dark waters.

I loved Owen's character.  He is a nice guy but paralyzed with fear and self-doubt because of the fact that he has a congenitally amputated arm and an obvious stutter when he becomes anxious.   Most of his low self-esteem comes from his mother, who is a bitterly unhappy woman, and who only seems happy when she is making other people miserable.  I felt horrible for Owen because of some of the incredibly hurtful things she's said.  No one should be that cruel, especially to their own children.  I absolutely hated that woman.   Hated. 

Nick was a great character, for the most part.  He helped Owen come out of his shell and gave him more confidence than he's ever had in his entire life.  He was supportive, but not overly protective.  He introduced Owen to his sister, who also has a congenitally amputated arm, but on the opposite side than Owen does.  Pretty coincidental, right? That fact made me scoff a bit, but this is a romance and they've never been known for being entirely believable.  I liked Nick, though I was disappointed in him for several things he did during the course of the story.  Yes, he has a dark secret and he's afraid to tell Owen.  Completely understandable, at that point, because they're only friends.  But he leads Owen on and then backs off until he seems cold and unapproachable.  Not a good thing to do to someone with such low self-esteem, man.  And he allowed them to get 'close' before his big reveal.  Absolutely unacceptable, in this case.

The relationship between them started as a comfortable friendship and built slowly.  I liked that the author spent a lot of time developing things between them and didn't make them jump into bed within the first few chapters, like I've seen in many romances.

There was one scene in particular that I thought was especially well done.  Nick invites Owen out to a friendly dinner at a restaurant.  Things go from pretty bad to oh-my-god-get-me-out-of-here!   The entire scene at the restaurant was wonderfully written. It made me extremely anxious and I wanted to crawl into a deep, dark hole out of empathy for Owen.  If you have even a degree of social anxiety, it will be a very uncomfortable scene to read.  Any book that can give me such an emotional reaction is very well-written, in my opinion.   

There were a few things that I disliked.  One, was that I doubted that Owen could completely get over his anxiety so quickly.  Of course, the beginning of it was in stages, but toward the end it was like he was a completely different person.  He's had a lifetime of serious anxiety and self-esteem problems, and I don't think it's possible to get over it so fast without having some lingering issues.
Another is that I have never in my life heard a man use the endearment 'hun'.  I could be wrong and maybe there are a lot of men out there that use it and I just haven't met them.  But to me it sounded more like something an older woman would say, and it completely ruined that moment for me.  Luckily it was only once, but it stuck in my mind throughout the rest of the book.  

Normally I would give this 3/5 stars, but because of that restaurant scene, I'm giving it: 

4/5 stars 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Jim Butcher's Dresden Files: Ghoul Goblin

Jim Butcher's Dresden Files: Ghoul Goblin

by Jim Butcher

Harry Dresden, a Chicago private investigator and wizard, heads to a small, isolated Missouri town terrorized by Nevernever monsters. The singularly unfortunate Talbot family has suffered a curse that has decimated their number for generations, and only our hero can save them... that is, if he can survive hostile lawmen, the dark secrets of townsfolk, an ancient guardian spirit, and two deadly carnivores! Can Dresden cleanse the Talbot bloodline of its curse without a blood sacrifice of his own?

I received an ARC copy of this book for review.
I think this is the first actual comic book that I've ever read.  I requested it because anything Jim Butcher touches turns to gold, and his Dresden Files are amazing.  I wasn't sure about a Harry Dresden comic book but I wanted to give it a try.  I am so glad that I did.
The artwork was stunning and the artist did a wonderful job of capturing the emotions of the characters.  I couldn't stop looking through the pages even though I had so many other things I was supposed to be doing.  Instead of going through a quarter of the book a day, as was my plan, I read the entire thing in one sitting.  It wasn't very long, but still.
The story line was just as exciting as I had expected from Jim Butcher.  I loved the twists the story took as I made my way to the end.  Some things I guessed, some things took me completely by surprise, and it was worth every minute I spent reading it. 
Am I suddenly going to become a comic book connoisseur?  Probably not, though I'm willing to try some others.  And I'll definitely be picking up any comic books based on the Harry Dresden world.     
I especially loved Jim Butcher's series summary hidden in the back.  There were moments when his wry 'check this shit out' writing made me crack up. It was wonderful.  Definitely recommended for fans of the Dresden Files series or anyone who loves a good comic book.

5/5 Stars

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Break by Hannah Moskowitz


by Hannah Moskowitz

Jonah is on a mission to break every bone in his body. Everyone knows that broken bones grow back stronger than they were before. And Jonah wants to be stronger—needs to be stronger—because everything around him is falling apart. Breaking, and then healing, is Jonah’s only way to cope with the stresses of home, girls, and the world on his shoulders.
When Jonah's self-destructive spiral accelerates and he hits rock bottom, will he find true strength or surrender to his breaking point?

After reading this book, I am more glad than ever that I've never broken a bone.  It sounds awfully painful.  But that doesn't keep Jonah from trying to break every bone in his body.  He wants to be strong for his brother, who is only one drop of milk or splatter of egg away from certain death.  Their mother already has her hands full with Will, the baby that just won't stop crying.  She isn't a responsible mother anyway.  I think Jonah did more mothering than she did. 
Jesse just wants to be normal.  Jonah wants to keep him safe.

The writing style was a bit too juvenile for me, but since it's intended for young adults, that's more my problem than the author's.
Jonah and Jesse were interesting, but I didn't think any of the side-characters had any depth to them.  Especially Charlotte.  What in the word did he see in her?
The adults depicted in the book were all lacking common-sense or any sense of responsibility.  It left me feeling cheated, when I really wanted to love the story.
The latter third of the book was very good, though, and full of angst.  Which is something I absolutely love.  The more angst, the better.

What I learned from reading Break:
1. Families are seriously messed-up.
2. Psychologists are idiots who will blame you for other people's mental problems and then lock you in a dark room for several days.
3. Leaky boobs are like cyanide.

3/5 stars