06 July 2011

Win a Kindle!

The lovely ladies at Passionate Reads are running a Sizzling Summer contest. The prize--a spanking-new Kindle. (Speaking of spanking, next on my to-read list is Slave to Fashion, historical romantica by Debra Glass. Me-OW!)

Anyway, back to free Kindle: Visit the Passionate Reads site each day, find the icon and answer the question. And a new Kindle could be yours! It's that easy!

Also, if you leave a comment at the Passionate Reads site TODAY, you have a chance to win a free copy of one of my books--either Not Quite a Lady or The Antaren Affair. Good luck!

19 June 2011

Reading Romance: The Iron Duke, by Meljean Brook

For those of you who are clueless, steampunk is a genre set in an alternate past, often with Victorian-era elements melded with industrial technology. Think airships, brass goggles, and the film Wild, Wild West. The Iron Dukeis steampunk romance with hot sex and more imagination than you'll find in most science fiction or fantasy novels. 

Together with Gail Carriger, Brook has set the standard for steampunk romance. This book has it all--tall, dark and handsome hero, smart heroine, and a world rich in detail and alternate history. Setting is industrial London, recently freed from the tyranny of the (Mongol) Horde. Citizens are 'infected' with nanoagents--which has some serious mind-control implications--and almost everyone has some cyborgian body technology. 

Brook wrecks havoc on British class conceits: her duke is a former pirate who was ennobled for destroying the basis of Horde power in England. Mina, the heroine, is daughter of an earl, but has the physical characteristics that mark her as half-Horde. Not Good. An unusual murder brings them together and from there the action is non-stop. 

The Iron Duke defies categorization (so thank heaven it got published--kudos to Brook's agent and editor). It's part adventure, murder mystery, romance, and alternate history with doses of speculative biology and political intrigue. The romance competes with the mystery/adventure plot and the technology, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Even so, the hero and heroine are on stage the entire time and their relationship provides much of the drama. The characters are completely original, while remaining believable. The sex scenes are steamy, explicit and wouldn't be out of place in an erotic romance. They're also very well written. 

A couple of minor issues kept this book from being a five-star keeper: The duke behaves out of character when he kicks Mina off the Terror. I didn't buy it, and Mina wouldn't buy it either. Second quibble: Mina's mother fashions a clockwork heart in thirty seconds. Seriously? Without tools, time, or specs? [I suspect both of these scenes suffered from an editorial imperative to cut text. If so, that's too bad.] 

While the romance is satisfying, the real reward of this book is taking a detour into a strange world peopled with intriguing, complex characters and an array of technology that's so inventive and well-conceived that it's almost a character itself. 

You don't need to like steampunk to like The Iron Duke. (You don't even need to know what steampunk is.) You just need to have a willingness to go someplace that's completely alien yet eerily familiar.

18 June 2011

Reading Romance: Bet Me, by Jennifer Crusie

Ebooks and audiobooks have expanded my reading horizons in ways that I never expected. Now that I can read samples and download audiobooks from the library onto my PC, I am willing to try all sorts of things that I'd never spend money on to try. (I'm cheap, and I don't take risks on unknown authors.)

I do a ton of contemporary quilting, and I like to listen to books while I do so. My library has a ton of romance audiobooks, but few of them are historicals. So I decided to give Jennifer Crusie a try. I know--how can I never have read Jennifer Crusie? Very simple: I don't like contemporaries. Or at least that's what I thought.

I cannot describe how much I enjoyed this book. It's spot on in so many ways--the heroine, Min, is plump, difficult, and independent. The beta hero is just . . . dreamy. Their interactions are funny and sweet and ring true in so many ways.

If I have any criticisms, it's that some of the secondary characters are one dimensional--the hero's mother, for example, is a stereotypical ice queen, while the heroine's is obsessed with her daughter's weight and getting her married off and not much else. Still, the dialogue and pace made up for these minor shortcomings. Like so many of Julia Quinn's characters, Crusie's are fundamentally decent. They're real people who are trying to do the right thing, survive heartache, and find love in the modern world. I can't believe it's taken me so long to discover Jennifer Crusie, but I'm glad that I finally did. I'll be buying her books from now on. And that might just mean that I now read [gasp] contemporaries.

08 April 2011

Julia Spencer-Fleming's mystery series

I don't read a lot of contemporaries. Okay, I don't read any contemporary anything. If it isn't set in the past or the future, I tend to skip it. Not sure exactly why, except that I like stories that take me far away from the here and now. I also read very few mysteries, however this began to change when some really excellent character-driven mysteries began to appear and they were set in the past. I loved the medieval mystery series by Ariana Franklin (I'm still recovering from the fact that Ms Franklin's death left our hero in extremis). Then I discovered Deanna Raybourn's Victorian Lady Julia mysteries. I have the Regency-set What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris on my TBR pile and The Hanover Square Affair by Ashley Gardner loaded on my nook.
     All this leads me to my next point, which is that I've become a lot more adventurous in my reading since sample chapters are available for e-readers. Added to that is the fact that many older titles are available digitally for $5 or less. This means that a lot of readers, myself included, are exploring beyond their favorite genres and adding new books and new authors to their favorites.
     So, back to contemporaries. Not a fan. Add to that an infiedelity plot and I'm running in the other direction. Contemporaries get a lot of play at Dear Author, which I check out every day. The writing is good, there's always something new reviewed, and I sometimes find myself reading reviews and comments on contemporaries. Jane interviewed contemp mystery author Julia Spencer-Fleming (here's her website) a few weeks ago and I found the discussion really interesting, despite the fact that the title of the post included the words 'adulterer,' 'home wrecker,' and 'other woman.' Julia was giving away ARCs of her most recent book, One Was a Soldier, and I was sufficiently interested to toss my hat in the ring in the hopes of getting a copy. Well, I did. (Thank you, Jane and Julia!) Along with a lovely note from Julia herself.
     I hate starting in the middle of a series, so I tracked down the first book in this contemporary mystery series that involves infidelity, In the Bleak Midwinter, which I found at B&N for $2.99. Bottom line: I'm about half-way through and really enjoying it. Yes, it's a mystery, but it's very much a character-driven mystery with sympathetic principals and an excellent sense of place. I'll be posting a review soon.

09 February 2011

The Amazing Lois McMaster Bujold on SFR

An amazing post by Lois McMaster Bujold on the relationship between SF and romance. I predict it will become a classic essay in the study of SFR. Thanks to Galaxy Express for the link.

And for extra-bonus amusement on this Wednesday, I include the cover of the forthcoming Love and Rockets anthology. Umm...what to say about this? I can appreciate the retro Barbarella-inspired concept, but this one should have been nixed in the mock-up stage. Nothing subtle about that phallic imagery. I was going to say 'symbolism,' but I think it's a bit too blatant to be a symbol.

I wish wish wish they'd assigned this to a designer who could take SFR seriously. I'm not suggesting it should be a clinch cover but, come on. Little green men? Really?

Lois M B wrote the introduction, which is almost enough to get me to buy the anthology despite the cover.

05 February 2011

Book Covers: The Perfect Play, by Jaci Burton

Okay, I admit it. I'm a cover slut. This became undeniable when I got a look at The Perfect Play, by Jaci Burton (here's an excerpt). I don't read sports romances--they've just never appealed the same way that a pair of well-polished Hessians or the armor-plated chest of an alien mercenary does. And I rarely read contemporaries. But if any book (cover) could make me change my mind, it would have to be this one.


As covers go, it's pretty much perfect. And that low-slung waistband is pure genius, IMHO. I realize that women, and some men, are drooling all over the interwebz about this cover, so I thought I'd track down the model and the cover artist. I don't think either models or artists are recognized enough in romance fiction. We certainly don't have any trouble complaining about bad covers, so let's give some well-deserved praise to those who are responsible for such good covers.

Just FYI, the model is Jed Hill who, according to his bio, played college ball for Penn State. Rita Frangie of Penguin is the cover designer (thanks to Jaci Burton, who responded super fast to my query on that).

Congrats, Jaci, on an amazing cover. We should all be so fortunate!

29 January 2011

Review: My Lord and Spymaster, by Joanna Bourne

I've been saving this book. Whenever I'm taking a look at my shelves, wondering what to read next, I've paused, then passed it by. A Jo Bourne book is sort of like a piece of really good chocolate--you need to save it for when you really need it.

I eventually gave in, in part because there's a future book on the horizon. Granted, it's not for TEN MORE MONTHS (November 2011), which is a painfully long time to wait, especially since Black Hawk is Adrian's story. Anyway, back to the review...

Spymaster is, as you've probably guessed, about spies. Yay! Regency-era spies, which are the best kind. Some romance readers like space pirates (I'm not thinking of anyone in particular, mind you), some readers like Navy SEALS. I like spies. Clever, intriguing, good-with-their-hands spies. Who carry knives in their boots and pick locks and think of breaking and entering as a good evening's entertainment.

The Spymaster plot revolves around Jess Whitby, who is a shipping heiress and accounting genius with an interesting history, to put it mildly. Her father has been accused of espionage and she'll do whatever it takes to prove his innocence. She hires Doyle (from The Forbidden Rose) as a thug and attempts to entrap Our Hero, Sebastian. Killing and death ensue.

There is also a ferret.

He is not a particularly friendly ferret and he and Sebastian develop what proves to be a very stormy relationship. Just in case you're unfamiliar with ferret behavior and want to be assured of accuracy, let me tell you that Jo Bourne knows a thing or two about ferrets. She is also very good at depicting male attitudes toward the favored pets of females--a sort of amazement coupled with forbearance.

Just in case I haven't been clear--I loved this book. While my favorite of Jo Bourne's three spy romances remains The Spymaster's Lady, My Lord and Spymaster is a superb read. Pick it up if you like historicals, Regency-set or spy romance. You'll be counting the days until the next release, just like I am. For an excerpt of Spymaster, click here.

23 January 2011

Review: Song of Scarabaeus, by Sara Creasy

Loved this book and can't wait for the next installment, Children of Scarabaeus, scheduled for release in March (you can read the first chapter here). While Song has created a buzz among SFR readers, it isn't really a romance, though there are certainly romantic elements. Creasy sets up readers in this first book for what promises to be a multi-book adventure in which the H/H's relationship develops gradually.

Finn, the hero, is the strong silent type--enigmatic and intriguing (he cover artist for the book did a great job with him). Finn and Edie, the heroine, are tied together by a "leash" that will cause Finn's head to explode if he gets too far from Edie. Amazing plot device--wish I'd thought of it.

This book will totally do it for you if you like SF with biotech elements and evolutionary biology. There are a couple of amazing chapters in which Finn and Edie try to survive on a planet gone adaptively haywire. I was totally glued to the pages and actually tried to read while getting dressed for work.

SFR readers should be sure to get in on what promises to be an amazing series. Though Edie isn't as kick-ass as Jax from Ann Aguirre's Grimspace, I suspect that Creasy is going to go places with her character and I definitely want to be along for the ride.

17 January 2011

Books to Watch for

It's 4:30 PM, completely dark and we have several inches of snow. And I'm thinking about some of the incredible books coming out in the next few months that will help me get through the Alaska winter:

Children of Scarabaeus, by Sara Creasy (March 2011)
This is SFR and I'm hoping it's as good as her first book was, Song of Scarabaeus. If you're into SFR and haven't started this series yet, get going!

The Sentinel Mage, by Emily Gee (25 January 2011)
I'm a fan of Emily Gee's fantasy books. She's got a great imagination and creates sympathetic, believable characters. She's also an underappreciated author, IMHO.

Dangerous in Diamonds, by Madeline Hunter (26 April 2011)
Regency-set historical romance by an author who consistently writes great romance. This is Castleford's story, if you've been following the Blooms series. I can't wait to see Daphne bring him around to love. And sobriety, of course.

And a quick sample of my TBR pile:

Countess by Christmas, by Annie Burrows (new-to-me author)

First Lord's Fury, by Jim Butcher (superb fantasy)

Killbox, by Ann Aguirre (the continuing SFR saga of my favorite alien-ass-kicking heroine)

The Heir, by Grace Burrowes (another new-to-me historical romance author)