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A Very Gothic Christmas (anthology)

The book contains two novellas.

After the Music by Christine Feehan

Synopsis (blurb): Terrified by mysterious threats, Jessica Fitzpatrick spirits away her twin wards, Tara and Trevor, to the remote island mansion of their estranged father, world-famous musician Dillon Wentworth. Ever since the fire that claimed his troubled wife’s life and left him horribly disfigured, Dillon has shut out the world. With Christmas approaching, the spark between him and Jessica might light the future, but there are those who shared Dillon’s wife’s love of the occult . . . and their evil machinations may plunge the family into darkness — unless a Christmas miracle occurs. . . .

Review: This was my first Feehan book not dealing with Carpathians and I don’t know whether I’m glad or sad to say that she hasn’t changed her ways. The heroine’s body is still soft and pliant and the hero is once more a predator – even if he comes in disguise of an ex-celebrity musician. In Feehan’s world, there is an order and you must adhere to it. Plenty of molten lava around as well, and she even managed to throw in a narrow ribcage, so nothing new here either.

I wouldn’t call the story Gothic, but there are some mysterious features on board. Hooded and cloaked figures looming in the dark, curious “accidents”, shadows from the past, a Gothic mansion on a remote storm-ridden island, it’s all there. The story dragged along though. Why, oh, why the couple waited for an eternity to follow their mutual attraction remains a mystery and annoyed me quite a bit. It was an ok read, the characters were nice and likeable, I just didn’t feel connected to them. However, for Feehan fans it is a must.

Lady of the Locket by Melanie George

Syopsis (blurb): The echoes of history and romance lure Rachel Hudson to Glengarren, the Scottish castle where her parents met many Christmases ago. But it is the portrait of fierce Highlander Duncan MacGregor that sparks an inexplicable yearning inside her. On a storm-tossed night, as lightning cracks across the castle’s turrets, Rachel finds herself face-to-face with MacGregor himself, astride a mighty stallion. Now, stepping into Rachel’s time — and her heart — the warrior from the past is pursued by an ancient, evil enemy. . . .

Review: This second story was a real treat. I have never read anything by Melanie George, but will definitely look for some of her books. You could literally feel the cold in that old Scottish castle and feel the mysterious atmosphere. The hero, Duncan MacGregor, was to die for, no wonder Rachel fell for him immediately. I personally like the soul mate theme, so the instantaneous connection between the two didn’t pose a problem for me.
I was somewhat dissatisfied with the end of the story. It turned out to be a real tear jerker (not bad in itself), but wasn’t resolved satisfactorily in my eyes. I don’t see how the author could have done it differently, but I just didn’t like it particularly anyway. It was a HEA of sorts, though.

I really liked the lyrics of the song that Duncan sang to Rachel and researched it on the net. The song was written in 1877 by Annie Fortescue Harrison with lyrics by Meta Orred. Thus it could have hardly been known by Duncan who died in Culloden in 1746. Admittedly the song fit wonderfully into the context, but inconsistencies like this could be avoided and just bother me in retrospect.

[rating:4]

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The heart breaker by Nicole Jordan

Synopsis: Sloan McCord needs a wife. Not for love but to take care of his infant daughter, to keep his household, to helm him campaigning and to warm his bed. Heather Ashford needs a husband to take care of her late father’s gambling debts. A friend of hers, Sloan’s sister in law, fixes them up and the deal is made. However, Heather falls deeply in love with Sloan who can’t accept this. He still loves his dead wife and is not interested in a new love and all its ramifications.

Review: OK, I loved the book, even though I can think of a lot of things that should have made me dislike it:

  • It starts with a sex scene which I hate. Sex without context does nothing for me. It turns out to be a dream of Sloan’s, but nevertheless.
  • Sloan is a real jerk. He thinks falling in love again is a betrayal to his wife (I can relate to that to an extent), but he sees no problem in sleeping with his new wife until the cows come home.
  • How he got a reputation to be a heart breaker I have no idea. He does seem to have some potential, but it hardly ever shows.
  • When drunk he makes Heather such an unspeakable offer, that I’d have left him for good – love or not.
  • Heather made him grovel way too little afterwards.
  • Heather was weak when it came to him. After their agreement not to touch each other again, it took virtually NOTHING to change her mind.

However, the story flowed smoothly for me and there were no stupid side plots that took attention from the main one. More than once I felt like taking Sloan and throttle him, but I liked him anyway. I loved the book, what can I say.

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Warrior by Cheryl Brooks

Synopsis: The story is about Tisana, the local witch, who gets a new patient. He is being brought in by Tisana’s ex, Rafe. His newly acquired slave is severely ill and he wants Tisana to nurse him back to health. The slave turns out to be a Zetithian, Leo, with whom Tisana falls in love pretty quickly – and vice versa. All would be good, if he didn’t belong to Rafe, who will come back and claim him again soon. When Rafe eventually comes back, he’s come for another reason though. He wants Tisana’s and Leo’s help in finding his two sons who have been kidnapped for unknown reasons. Together they get on their way on a rescue mission and at the same time on the mission to make Leo a free man once more.

Review: This is the second installment of Brooks’ Cat Star Chronicles after "Slave". I enjoyed the first book, but I enjoyed this one more, which was due to the heroine. Tisana wasn’t such a tough entrepreneur as Jacinth, which I preferred. The couple in the book was established pretty quickly, so there was not much angst on that part, but, of course, there was the problem of getting Leo out of the (virtual) clutches of Rafe’s wife, who wanted him for prestige reasons. That was dealt with not too early, but fairly easy I’d say, and from then on, it was all about rescuing the boys.

Usually I neither like books with children involved, nor with animals, but in this case I must make an exception. The children were marginal characters who served only as the reason for the mission in the first place. I don’t think they even uttered a word during the whole book. The animals on the other hand chatted nonstop, which was quite fun. Tisana has the psychic ability to converse with animals and that helped her a lot on her mission. The conversations between her and the various animals were quite amusing and added an entertaining touch.

The hero, Leo, was a good character, no uber-alpha, but a warrior and pretty self assured (not surprising considering his way with women, but I don’t want to give away anything). The heroine was compassionate, strong, down-to-earth. They were a perfect couple.

At the end the reader meets the couple from the previous book again, which was nice. However, Jacinth, and her business-like manner, in which she immediately wanted to take advantage of Tisana’s gift, really rubbed me the wrong way. Can’t she leave people alone for a minute, for crying out loud? She just met her and already proposes to make money out of her. She might be a space trader, but still, give it a little rest, won’t you?

Want to read more reviews?
This book has also been reviewed by Literary Escapism.

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Lord of Danger by Anne Stuart

Synopsis: "Lord of Danger" is the story of Alys and her sister Claire. Both are called to their half brother Richard the Fair’s castle where one of them is to be wedded to Richard’s advisor Simon de Navarre. Simon is feared by everybody. Due to his reputation of being a demon’s spawn and a Lord of the Dark Arts they call him "Grendel". When asked to choose between the two sisters he surprisingly chooses Alys, the somewhat drab but smart one, instead of Claire, the beauty. His plan to dispose of her in a convent as soon as she doesn’t suit his purpose any longer goes awry when he falls in love with her. And there is still Richard and his machinations to be considered…

Review: The books hasn’t been in my TBR pile for long, but I had been waiting to read it for a long while before I could finally get a copy. So my expectations were extremely high, additionally fuelled by the good reviews it got.

This was my second book by Anne Stuart and it will be my last. The book has a great story to tell and it was quite funny at times, but I just didn’t care for the way the story was executed.
I dislike books that deal with 2 romances in 1 and this is what Lord of Danger does. Claire’s love story takes up almost as much room as Alys’ and Simon’s – at least it felt like that for me.

Simon was a great hero, smart, strong, handsome and cunning and Alys a good heroine who doesn’t believe in Simon’s carefully crafted evil reputation. I liked that, but somehow the supposed tension between the two just didn’t show.
The scene on the parapet (two lovers meeting on the parapet in the midst of a thunder storm, you get it) that I had heard about beforehand was unexciting in spite of its potential and the ending, especially the last chapter, was rushed to the extreme. Simon’s "declaration of love", if you can even call it that, fit his character – I must give the author that – but was totally unsatisfying to a romance reader. For the real thing you had to revert to the secondary couple – not good!
Last, but not least, but this is a matter of preference, the love scenes were too tame for me. If the same story had been told by another writer, whose style is more to my taste, it would have been perfect, but as it is, it just wasn’t up my alley – at all.

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Shadow Prince by Terry Lynn Wilhelm

Synopsis: Ariel, a plastic surgeon, takes a job at a residential facility for people who need reconstructive surgery. One evening when she is out in spite of the curfew for patients and medical staff alike she meets a mysterious man, Jonah, who hides in the shadows. They become friends and slowly fall in love, even though Jonah never shows his face to Ariel.

Review: As a lover of Beauty and the Beast stories this was my kind of book. It becomes pretty clear from very early on who Jonah is, still, the reader is being left in the dark about his true story until late in the book. Ariel and Jonah spend a lot of time together on their daily outings in the evening, so there is plenty of time for them to get to know each other. Readers of romance books who need a lot of action, interfering relatives / well meaning friends, colleagues or other busybodies and misunderstandings between h/h that only get resolved on the last page of the book – be warned! No such thing in this book. There is no plot whatsoever apart from interaction between h/h and a bit of sleuthing (and that is already an exaggeration) on Ariel’s part to find out more about Jonah. A few patients and other medical staff thrown in for good measure and that’s it.
I like stories that center on the couple without a lot of distracting outside factors, so this was perfect for me.

The only thing that bothered me a bit was the very quick ending. I felt it was kind of rushed, as if the page count was up and it had to be squeezed in on the last four pages. But this is only a minor complaint which didn’t take away from the enjoyment of the book. For me it is a definite keeper.

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Lost Warriors by Rachel Lee

This is the first book I read for the winter challenge. The challenge was to “read a story that has a military or civil servant in it – any genre”.

Synopsis:

“Lost warriors” is part of Lee’s “Conard County” series.
Billy Joe Yuma has been suffering from PTSD for the last 20 years, since he came back from Vietnam. The heroine, Wendy, the daughter of the local sheriff, has been in love with him since she was 16 six years ago, but due to her age and his issues, Yuma kept rejecting her. Now she comes back into her home town to work as an emergency flight nurse and, as it happens, Yuma is the pilot of the emergency helicopter.

Review:

If you like tortured heroes, sensible and sensitive heroines, a good, but not overwhelming plot and no stupid misunderstandings between hero and heroine, then this is the book for you. The way Yuma and Wendy find to each other, how the hero deals with his issues and how the heroine helps him along is described beautifully. Also, the severe problems the hero has are not dealt with and discarded within a couple of days as is the case so often. The story seems just right all around.
This was my first book by Rachel Lee, but definitely not my last.

However, people who don’t like a large age difference between h/h might want to think twice about reading the story. Yuma is 20 years older than Wendy. If you decided not to read this book because of that age difference, you will miss out on a great story, though.

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The Time-Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The book is the story about Henry, a time-traveller, and Claire, his wife. Henry travels in time, totally unplanned and unintentionally. He can’t say when he will travel and where he will end up – and he can’t take anything with him, so he always turns up naked wherever he goes. They meet for Claire’s first time when she is around 6 and he is 36. They meet for Henry’s first time when Claire is 20 and he is 28. When Henry meets Claire when she is 6 he already knows that she will be his wife, since he’s already been married to her for a number of years. When Claire meets him when she is 20 and he is 28, she already has known him since she was 6 while he has never seen her before. With me still?

The book is written in form of vignettes that are set in all sorts of various times and from two points of view. So the reader has to constantly figure out what has already happened, and to whom. The ages of Claire and Henry in relation to each other constantly change, since Henry is sometimes coming from the past and sometimes from the future.

When I started to read the book I thought I had found the book that from now on I’m going to give as a gift to everybody I know, but I changed my mind later on. I loved the beginning, how Henry and Claire met in Henry’s present and how their relationship – that existed for Claire already for a long time – developed. However, I wanted the story to get a "Happily Ever After" and needless to say it didn’t have one. It was obvious from fairly early on that the ending would be sad and for me that just doesn’t do it.

The idea of the story is very original and if the story line had gone into another direction this would have been my favourite book ever – even though I must admit that I can’t imagine what positive direction the storyline could have taken.

Another point I found a bit disappointing was that the two points of view could only be distinguished by the fact that the author always started the vignettes with the name of the person and a colon. Without that you couldn’t have said who is speaking/thinking at the moment. Henry and Claire sound exactly the same – not very likely in my opinion.

I’d recommend the book because the time travel concept is an interesting and intriguing idea.

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Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

I would never have thought that I’d read a book for young adults. I resisted Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series for quite some time, but since the 4th book came out and the discussion started to become lively again, I just had to give it a try. I was told you either hate or love the book(s) and I wanted to find out what it was for me.

Well, obviously times have changed since I was a young adult. Where young girls nowadays are reading Twilight (and go totally nuts about it) I was reading the O’Sullivan Twins by Enid Blyton, LOL. I don’t know whether I’d like my early teen daughter – if I had one – to read Twilight. Even though there is no sex in the book, for reasons other than the couple wouldn’t love to have sex, it is quite a sensual book.

The story is about a new student in Forks, WA, Bella Swan (what a name, can you get more obvious?), who falls in love with a fellow student, Edward. He and his siblings are outsiders in their high school, and Bella is intrigued by him. When Edwards rescues her with superhuman speed and power from an accident she suspects he’s more than meets the eye. You guessed it, he’s a vampire. They fall in love, face some adversary and come out on top – for now. Bella wants Edward to turn her into a vampire, but he refuses and they come to an impasse over this.

I don’t know what to think of Bella. She is a total klutz, Edwards continuously has to rescue her from one accident or other; how she survived her first 17 years is a mystery to me. She has no life whatsoever, apart from Edward. She has no hobbies. Since she is new in Forks, she only made a few friends right at the beginning, but neglects them very soon after she gets entangled with Edward and his vampire "family". Her father, who she lives with now, uses her as a housemaid, she cooks his dinner every night, tidies up, does the laundry…..Excuse me? He has been living alone for a number of years and now that Bella is here he doesn’t lift a finger any more?  I really hope that young girls don’t read this book and think that this is how a girl’s life should be.

I am a sucker for boring books without a lot of external interference and with a lot of internal monologue, so this book was written for me. I enjoyed reading it a lot and got the other three books in the series as well. I loved Edward, even though I could have done with a bit less Bella gushing over him. How often can you say that someone is gorgeous and perfect without being repetitive? I get it.

Oh, and about the glitter part that everybody is so up in arms about. Yeah, ok, Ms. Meyer’s vampire glitter when they go out in direct sun light. So what? Every author makes up their own little vampire world, and if for her, they glitter, what is it to me? Edward and the others have to be able to walk in daylight in order to make the story work. If she’s thrown in a little glitter without explaining why, who the hell cares? After all it is book targeted at GIRLS, and we all love glitter, LOL. I don’t want to read a scientific essay about the reasons for it.

The book is told in first person from Bella’s point of view, which I usually don’t care for. I’d rather see both sides. Stephenie Meyer had planned to write another book about the same story from Edward’s point of view, Midnight Sun, but some thief stole and posted the unfinished manuscript on the net. The book is on hold for now. Ms. Meyer has posted that manuscript now on her own site so interested readers can read the first 250 odd pages.

Want to read more reviews?
This book has also been reviewed at Literary Escapism.

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A concise Chinese – English dictionary for lovers

I picked A concise Chinese-English dictionary for lovers up during our vacation and read it right away within a day. A lovely story about a young woman from China, Zhuang, who comes to London to study English for a year. She meets an English man and falls in love with him. The story is told by Zhuang in English as she speaks it. In the beginning her English is pretty non existent, but gets better very quickly. The books is an interesting "East meets West" story and its ending is bittersweet. If you look for a HEA, then you have to look somewhere else. 

Libri Touches 

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Circus of the Damned by Laurell K. Hamilton

Circus of the Damned is the 3rd book in the series. I have no idea why I’m still reading on, I must be under some sort of spell, I have no other explanation. Anita is starting to seriously get on my nerves. I want to slap her on at least every other page for being the tough girl that she is. What’s wrong with that woman?
Her constant denial of that she feels somewhat attracted to Jean-Claude is extremely annoying once more. She is a professional zombie raiser and necromancer, she continuously stresses her "affinity" towards the dead, yet going out with a "walking corpse" (i.e. vampire) is totally not her cup of tea. Maybe it’s just me but I don’t get that.
In the book two master vampires are fighting for supremacy in the city and she is (once more) getting caught in the middle of it all. The two masters in question are Jean-Claude, whom she knows to be a halfway decent fellow and a certain Mr. Oliver of whom she knows nothing whatsoever. She meets him once and finds he is a nice guy. Based on the one hour meeting – during which he shows remarkable power – she decides that she will betray Jean-Claude and give his identity and location to Mr. Oliver. Bad judgement because Mr. Oliver turns out to be not so nice after all, but then – when the shit hits the fan she does say to Jean-Claude that she is sorry. That must count for something, no? Only through her stout-hearted actions the evil ones are killed and Jean-Claude is rescued, so that makes it all good again. Why Jean-Claude doesn’t give that woman a wide berth after that incident is beyond me.

Apart from all those personality issues I find the idea of having Mr. Oliver dress up like a clown for the final showdown at the circus extremely trite. It just reminds me of Stephen King or maybe Batman. Why do the evil ones always dress up as clowns? Admittedly clowns are pretty frightening, but the idea is so old and hackneyed, it’s time to look for some other fancy dress.

And then Richard….What’s wrong with that guy being attracted to Anita? What on earth are they talking about while they are dating? My reckoning: the conversation centers around whether Anita prefers to carry her gun in a holster under her shoulder or at the small of her back and whether a Browning whatever is preferabe to a Firestar whatever. Then there is the important question to be answered whether to wear a cardigan or a shirt to hide the gun. God, the woman is so boring, it hurts.

BTW, if anybody is wondering about the book titles. They are all various pubs, bars and other locations in the area. Guilty Pleasures is Jean -Claude’s night club, The laughing corpse is a comedy club (owned by Jean-Claude) and the Circus of the Damned is a circus or rather supernatural freak show, managed by – you guessed it – Jean Claude. But hope is near, the Lunatic Café, the next book’s title, is not affiliated with Jean-Claude in any way.

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The laughing corpse by Laurell K. Hamilton

This book started the whole idea of this blog. I don’t think I’ve ever disliked a hero/heroine in a book this much. We’ve had  the whole Anita Blake series for a long time at home. John read them  – he’s all into that vampire stuff -, but stopped reading them when they started to turn into some sort of sex novel around volume no. 9 or 10. When I found out there was the Paranormal Romance genre out there I started reading some books and really liked them. Eventually John told me about LKH and I started to read the Anita Blake series.
“The laughing corpse” is the second Anita Blake book that I have read (after “Guilty pleasures”) and I am not impressed with it.
Anita Blake is a self-righteous, supposedly cool, totally unlikeable person. Her attitude is aggravating to say the least. She doesn’t know when to shut her mouth, pisses the wrong people off at the wrong time and still comes out of every confrontation unharmed.

The descriptions of the murder scenes in the book are gross. To describe the scene once is necessary, but to describe the same stuff again and again is redundant. I’m getting the picture after the first time.

The books are called “vampire hunter novels”, yet so far Anita hasn’t hunted any vampires. Not that I think that vampires need to be hunted per se, but a bit of vampire interaction would be nice. In the first book the “vampire hunter” actually worked FOR the vampires and in the second one there were hardly any vampires.
Jean-Claude was only put in as a minor supporting actor. The whole book deals with zombies of all kinds – a topic that doesn’t do it for me at all.

*SPOILERS*
What annoyed me most was:
– that Anita found out that raising a dead animator has very bad consequences and that that zombie can’t be controlled by the one who raised it. Nevertheless she doesn’t hesitate to raise a whole graveyard, meaning loads and loads of zombies she doesn’t know anything about. What if there are former animators among them?
– that at first Anita wants to bring down Dominga Salvador with legal means and only in case those would fail she would let John Burke deal with her. That resolution didn’t last for long, because as soon as she realizes that Dominga got out on bail (something which is pretty much inside the legal system, even though she obviously reached that by bribery) she decided it’s time to have her killed by the numeours zombies she just raised. Nice double standard.

Guess this book wasn’t for me. At. All.