Monday, February 18, 2008

The Spymaster's Lady by Joanna Bourne

Title: The Spymaster’s Lady
Author: Joanna Bourne

Type: Historical Romance
Series: Hard to tell. Looks like another connected book follows--My Lord and Spymaster, due out July, 2008.

Why: Blogger buzz. And I’ve never been more grateful for it.

Blurb: She's never met a man she couldn't deceive...

She's braved battlefields. She's stolen dispatches from under the noses of heads of state. She's played the worldly courtesan, the naive virgin, the refined Bristh lady, even a Gypsy boy. But Annique Villiers, the elusive spy known as the Fox Cub, has finnaly met the one man she can't outwit.

British spymaster Robert Grey must enter France and bring back the brilliant, beautiful--and dangerous--Fox Cub. His duty is to capture her and her secrets for England. When the two natural enemies are thrown into prison, they forge an uneasy alliance to break free. But their pact is temporary and betrayal seems inevitable. They flee, pursued every step of the way by ruthless authorities, caught in a net of screts and lies. As the fates of nations hang in the balance, Grey and Annique fight the passion that flares between them--forbidden, impossible, and completely irresistible...

Comments: Flawless and Fucking fabulous.

Bourne’s characterization defies description or review. She gives us one of the most powerful heroines I’ve ever read and a hero who wears both his flaws and perfections with absolute confidence. I was utterly enthralled within just the first few pages.

It was bittersweet, that moment of realization. You know, the one that comes with the relief of finding characters you care about instantly, the joy of landing a fabulous book that promises, no guarantees, escape. Almost always followed by that impending sense of sadness, disappointment that it will end after the last page. Sigh.

In Annique, Bourne creates a heroine that is almost mythically cunning and capable. She is as strong as steel and as fragile as blown glass—mentally, emotionally and physically. This impression forms quickly, within minutes really, and the reader is instantly connected. We know Annique and, of course, we want a true hero for her. From there, Bourne gives us more depth, more insight—through seemingly impossible twists and surprises. This is a heroine that stuns readers and hero alike, from beginning to end. You literally cannot take your eyes off her.

Bourne endows her with a practicality that is as heart-wrenching as it is hilarious—creating that fine, fine edge between resignation and the driest of wit. You really never know if she—or any of the other characters for that matter—is going to accept or change the fate of the next moment. It is in her—and their—makeup as much as it is in the spy training and experience. Annique is clever beyond words—we see it in the way her mind reasons. We also see it in her snappy, gut responses that require no thought. And her actions? She sets about them with such resoluteness, that we can’t question, can’t accuse. We can only hold our breath, at once confident in her ability and yet scared to fucking death for her.

Robert Grey is Bourne’s enigmatic, two-sided (both alpha and beta) hero, an English spymaster. The alpha is there from the start, and despite all of the times Annique bests him, the reader never doubts his ultimate power over her. The beta in him is the man in love, deftly revealed beneath layers and layers of motivation and cause, on a long walk to London. This man’s intentions—conveyed in thoughts as startlingly blunt as his spoken words—raised goosebumps. He commands, he seduces—reader and and heroine alike.

Bourne gives her spymaster the task of peeling away Annique’s many layers. Not a new premise, but never have I seen it done like this—with equal parts poignancy and ruthlessness. And with a forthrightness we come to recognize in Grey, a man so without hesitation that he appears to do everything suddenly. Where Annique mesmerizes readers, Grey is a constant threat to their equilibrium. Even when he acts as expected, he does so without warning.

His and Annique’s first coupling is one example. Oh, man.

In more testament to Bourne’s power of characterization, there is a cast of supporting characters that easily draw the reader’s eye—all skillfully presented as players in the spy game. Even the villain occupies a place on this field, giving him more power, credibility even, than what is typical. And Grey’s team—Adrian and Doyle—engage readers as adeptly as Grey does. I was half in love with both of them before I hit the 50-page mark. I mean, within a very short space, Doyle begins a spoken thought with “God’s little parakeets.” Half in love.

I’ve gone on about Bourne’s characterization. Really, it all boils down to that. When I tried to find the words to describe her voice, I realized that I couldn’t recall Bourne’s voice. Only Annique’s, and Grey’s, and the others to lessening extents. I could only hear the characters.

I also recalled that Annique’s voice epitomized being French—its cadence, her natural arrogance. This is critical to the book’s outcome, the secrets and burdens revealed on the way, and very, very clever on Bourne’s part. She is a master at layering.

In fact, every time I tried to separate out one thing or another that I liked about the story, I found that I couldn’t tug just one piece out—woven tightly this story is. So tightly you can’t break it down. Fucking. Fabulous.

Many thanks to Ms. Bourne.

And a note to her publisher/marketers: The book's cover is not worthy. The blurb is not only ineffective, it over-simplifies to the point of lying. Time to step up.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Grimspace By Ann Aguirre

Publisher: Ace
(February 26, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0441015999
ISBN-13: 978-0441015993


By all accounts, Sirantha Jax should have burned out years ago…

As the carrier of a rare gene, Jax has the ability to jump ships through grimspace—a talent which cuts into her life expectancy, but makes her a highly prized navigator for the Corp. But then the ship she’s navigating crash-lands, and she’s accused of killing everyone on board. It’s hard for Jax to defend herself: she has no memory of the crash.

Now imprisoned and the subject of a ruthless interrogation, Jax is on the verge of madness. Then a mysterious man breaks into her cell, offering her freedom—for a price. March needs Jax to help his small band of rogue fighters break the Corp monopoly on interstellar travel—and establish a new breed of jumper.

Jax is only good at one thing—grimspace—and it will eventually kill her. So she may as well have some fun in the meantime…

THOUGHTS: I haven't read much Science Fiction up to this point, truthfully none, and Grimspace was the perfect place to start.

Grimspace, Ann Aguirre takes the reader on an amazing journey to different worlds, different, I guess you'd call them races as they weren't all different species, and so many different "abilities" within those races. I absolutely LOVED it.

I enjoyed Sirantha very much. She's a kick-ass heroine who doesn't put up with anybody's crap. She faces things head-on, no wussy-girl here. I love her strength and her resolve.

Then there's March. Wowza. He's been through some bad stuff and
done some really bad stuff in his life, but there's something about Sirantha that calls to him on a deeper level, something that allows her to touch him on a deeper level. He doesn't put up with her crap either, and I really like that about him. Who wants a hero who lets the heroine overpower him? So not my cuppa. He finds what he needs for the present and future with Jax and I love that. Absolutely love it. Together they are amazing.

I so totally love that Sirantha and March can communicate telepathically and in a way that no one else has ever been able to do with him. That is so awesome and very sexy. They can see deep inside one another and that is a level of intimacy I never even pondered. Again, unique.

Dina was a hoot... "You stupid bitch. I don't need you dying for me. I need you to stick around because... you're my best friend." Gotta love her.

I liked Vel very much too. I queried Ms. Aguirre and it turns out that, yes, Vel will be in the next book. Woot!

The world Ms. Aguirre has created is unique, very exciting and so different from anything I've ever read. She took me to a place I didn't know existed, a place that was unlike anything I could ever imagine. Amazing. Truly amazing.


Grimspace comes out on February 26 and I highly recommend picking up this book and venturing on journey like no other.

Read an excerpt here.
Pre-order the book here, here, here, and here.

The next book in the series, Wanderlust, is scheduled to release in September 2008.

Sirantha Jax doesn’t take chances…she jumps at them…

Sirantha Jax is a “Jumper,” a woman who possesses the unique genetic makeup needed to navigate faster than light ships through grimspace. Jax has worked for the Farwan Corporation her entire career. But now the word’s out that the Corp deliberately crashed a passenger ship, and their stranglehold on intergalactic commerce has crumbled—which means that Jax is out of a job.

She’s also broke, due to being declared dead a little prematurely. So when the government asks her to head up a vital diplomatic mission, Jax takes it. Her mandate: journey to the planet Ithiss-Tor and convince them to join the Conglomerate.

But Jax’s payday is light years away. First, she’ll have to contend with Syndicate criminals, a stormy relationship with her pilot, man-eating aliens, and her own grimspace-weakened body. She’ll be lucky just to make it to Ithiss-Tor alive…

Read an excerpt here.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

90 Minutes In Heaven by Don Piper

Title: 90 Minutes In Heaven
Author: Don Piper with Cecil Murphey

Type: Non-fiction
Copyright: 2004


As he is driving home from a minister's conference, Baptist minister Don Piper collides with a semi-truck that crosses into his lane. He is pronounced dead at the scene. For the next 90 minutes, Piper experiences heaven where he is greeted by those who had influenced him spiritually. He hears beautiful music and feels true peace. Back on earth, a passing minister who had also been at the conference is led to pray for Don even though he knows the man is dead. Piper miraculously comes back to life and the bliss of heaven is replaced by a long and painful recovery. For years Piper kept his heavenly experience to himself. Finally, however, friends and family convinced him to share his remarkable story.

Why: My husband mentioned hearing about this book while listening to Shawn Hannity’s radio program. I immediately picked it up from my local library—in a valiant effort to get him reading, instead of trying to engage me in television when I’M trying to read. When he started reading passages aloud—again, disturbing MY reading—I promised him I would read it when he finished. As long as he stopped reading it aloud to me. So I kept my promise and read the book.

Comments: The author, and subject, of the book is a Baptist preacher. He is in fact injured in an accident just after leaving a Baptist church conference. Raised Baptist, and the granddaughter of a Baptist preacher, every word in this book spoke to a part of me long buried. I’ve been a Christian lost for a very long time now. And despite the difficult times these past two years, I’d yet to successfully reach out, or reach deep, for that faith I knew as a young person. This book changed that.

The premise for the book—Don Piper’s visit to heaven while he lay dead—is addressed in just a few pages. The remainder of the book details Piper’s recovery—it is not a full recovery—and the pain and depression he suffered throughout. That was the first twist. Those 90 minutes in heaven, that experience, was deeply personal for him. So personal that he did not share it with anyone, not even his wife, for nearly two years. It did not transform him into a man driven to the top of the nearest mountain to shout the news. Instead, it tormented him through excruciating pain and uncharacteristic depression. At times, many times in fact, he did not want to live. He wanted to go back, to die again and be called home. Seemingly contrary desires for a man with a wife and children. Reasons to live. Hard-to-reconcile thoughts for a man who chose to live his life in the service of his Lord. Not to question.

Watching a good Christian struggle under the weight of his burdens was enlightening for me. Enlightening because I either expected him to be spared the mental agony via some afterglow of his after-death experience or to suffer so much that he questioned his faith, and a God who would let this happen to him. He was not spared that agony, nor did he question his faith or his trust in God. Ever. What he did do was suffer, lash out and withdraw. When he did resume forward motion in his life, it was without fanfare or noticeable motivation. He was alive, so he had to live. Period. That was the second twist.

Ultimately, this book is more about the recovery and rehabilitation process that follows physical trauma than it is about faith. As such, I’d strongly, strongly recommend it to anyone in that fight for survival. Written from Piper’s POV, the reader learns firsthand—experiences even—the same sense of isolation and weight of depression that Piper endured. His telling is eye-opening and disturbing.

His faith in God underlies his story. It has to because it defines who he is. But for someone looking for a turning point, a moment of revelation, there were none that stood out. Piper’s description of his trip to heaven is certainly awe-inspiring, and comforting to believers—an affirmation. And the power of prayer demonstrated throughout the story was absolutely spine tingling. There were also verses of scripture in several places. Combined, it all served to establish Piper as a man of God. But just a man nonetheless.

Nearly two years after his accident, he shared his story of heaven with one friend. From there, he came to the decision to share that and the more mechanical aspects of his recovery with others. It did not feel like a momentous decision. More like a small step forward, into a future Piper was still ambivalent about. In one very revealing moment, Piper shares how he felt after sharing his story of heaven with an auditorium of college students. At the conclusion of his story, What A Friend We Have In Jesus began playing over the sound system. The song played a pivotal role in his experience and he was a bit taken aback that they played it. It was still difficult for him to hear it. That moment revealed Piper’s tentativeness, that hesitancy that permeates the entire book. The final twist for me.

Piper’s lack of enthusiasm made it all feel very non-descript, almost uneventful. And when he leaves off, he does so in the same manner. Continuing this work purposefully, but without an awe-inspiring drive or goal. In short, Piper is just an ordinary man. Barely walking upright in an earthly life he built. Wife, three children, family, church congregation, friends. Responsibilities, relationships. His life. BUT, all the while, we get the sense he is waiting. Waiting to go home again. It is both joyous and terribly sad.

So what called to me? Can’t put my finger on it. Something in here somewhere penetrated a wall in me and, within days I found a local church that felt like home on the first visit (we visited a few). A few weeks later, I need that weekly visit like I need air. It’s a step.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

All Through The Night by Suzanne Brockmann

Title: All Through The Night
Author: Suzanne Brockmann

Type: Romantic Suspense
Series: Yes, Troubleshooters Book #12

Copyright: 2007

Why: It’s Brockmann.

But a funny little piece of history here…As recently as 3 years ago, my reading selections were limited to what my local, very rural, library had on its shelves. Out of recognizable names, I reluctantly picked up Nora’s “other” books—those science fiction looking ones penned under the name of J.D. Robb. Lost my mind over them of course. When I finished catching up, I ventured online to learn more about this series. And THIS was when I discovered the then-small community of romance bloggers. It was like Christmas. My first blogger rec? Brockmann’s Gone Too Far, Sam and Alyssa’s story.

Didn’t lose my mind over it. Flashbacks, multiple story arcs, POVs from an exceptionally large cast of characters--folks who clearly knew each other but to whom I’d not been properly introduced. I was lost. But the cadence of Brockmann’s voice and the military/agency backdrop kept me in the story and I finished relatively satisfied. If not a bit suspect of the fangirl accolades I’d found online.

Looking back, I know that the raves I found in that little circle were warranted. After making my way through her Troubleshooter and Tall, Dark and Dangerous titles, I can tell you that Brockmann is an auto-read for me. I know her casts. And love them. And seeing them gather for Jules nuptials? Well, it was perfect. Just perfect.

Comments: This was my first read of 2008 (bit behind on reviews, ahem). I absolutely loved every single thing about it (with one teensy exception).

What awed me: The love, the heart-stopping emotion that Jules and Robin share. It is palpable. When Jules walks into a room, lays eyes on Robin and just stops—stunned by how much he loves him, I feel it too. Maybe it is because this romance has been so long in the making. Or maybe it is because we know Jules so, so well now. He is a character we love enough to celebrate (confetti celebrate) his own HEA. Maybe it is simply Brockmann’s unique and compelling voice, tugging us particularly deep for this love. Whatever it is, I was impacted virtually every moment these two looked at each other or reached for each other. Powerful stuff.

There is also Brockmann’s trademark wit—the dry humor of her more mature characters and the adolescent humor of nearly all of her men. A well-placed smartass can get a laugh out of me no matter my state of mind. Just met one at a New Year’s Eve party this year and can almost feel the effects of those full-on belly laughs just thinking about Brockmann’s own smart alecs.

That teensy exception: Cosmos. Not enough of him. Of all the Brockmann heroes, Cosmos did it for me in a way no other could. Here, with the in-law connection, I would have liked more of him, more than the cursory snapshots of him, the wife and cheerio-eating toddler. We get him in a bit of action, but even that felt like snapshots. Didn’t detract at all from the story, don’t get me wrong. Just a personal preference—a longing for a character I sometimes need to remind myself is NOT real. Sigh.

Listening to others: I worried at the mention of a mission that puts Jules in danger before he can marry Robin. Thought it would be too much, a tangent instead of a deftly woven thread. Stupid me. Brockmann balanced all of that beautifully. Just a perfect, perfect telling.

Because I haven’t looked before now: Hmmm. Only word her website offers on the next one…Into The Fire, next in the Troubleshooters series, due out Summer, 2008.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Riding Wild by Jaci Burton

Title: Riding Wild.
Author: Jaci Burton.

Publisher: Berkley Heat.
Series: Yes, Wild Riders.

Why: I entered an ARC contest on Jaci's blog and won.

He's a Harley-riding ex-thief working undercover for the government. She's a gun-toting ex-socialite hired to protect a valuable museum exhibit. But in her attempt to stop a heist, she never anticipated having her breath and her heart stolen...

Mac Canfield was the last man Lily West expected to see again, never mind aim her gun at. But here he was, the bad boy who'd broken her heart years ago-still a thief, this time high-jacking a priceless artifact--and it was all she could do to push aside the memories of how it felt to have his perfectly chiseled body next to hers.

Mac was no less shocked to see the beautiful girl-next-door all grown up, threatening to shoot him on the spot. Little did she know she was blowing his cover-and now he had to figure out how to get her out of harm's way without succumbing to his crazy desire to take her on a hot trip down memory lane.

Unfortunately, Lily has no intention of going anywhere with Mac. Which means he has to resort to kidnapping. Unless, of course, she agrees to let him take her for the kind of ride destined to drive them both unbelievably wild...

Thoughts/Comments: As a fan of Jaci's books, especially her erotic romance, I was thrilled when I found out I won an ARC of Riding Wild because the storyline really intrigued me. Harley riding studs who work for a secret government agency... sweet, no?

I did think so, at first. But as I read farther into the story, I changed my mind. I was reading along feeling a bit disjointed from the story from the get go, feeling as if the plot were a cliche. Let me explain. Lily is an ex-cop turned PI, Mac is a Harley-riding undercover operative working for the government, and they had a "thing" 10 years ago.

The story starts with Lily working, testing security for a museum. She's standing outside surveilling the museum when she hears a motorcycle. Flashback to a fantasy of her and Mac that is WAY hot. She comes back to reality and steps back into her job, and watches as someone pulls up on a motorcycle, picks the lock of the museum door, and comes back out carrying and artifact. She confronts him and it turns out to be Mac. Both are surprised, she assumes he's still the thief he used to be, only having stepped it up to a much higher level. He assures her it's not what it seems, she doesn't believe him, then they start getting shot at. He kidnaps her and now she's got reason to believe not only is he a thief, but also a supplier for terrorists-- which, of course, is false.

So, she's kidnapped, by Mac, yet she's hot for him, in spite that and her assumptions. She says he doesn't trust her, he says she doesn't trust him-- and for the most part I think it's true on both sides. Then they have wild monkey sex--lots and lots of it. Lily drugs Mac, tries to run away, he catches her on his motorcycle in spite of being drugged and drives her back...drugged. Hmm. They get back to the monkey sex the following morning--still in the same place they were, not knowing a darn thing about one another, and yet not using a condom except for the first time.

The whole condom thing is a hot button for me, but what made me close the book and put it down was when Lily and Mac go visit her snobby father and, even though he is a jerk, she tells him that she and Mac are "going to bed so we can fuck". That was the show-stopper for me, the spot where I stopped reading.

So, while the sex is scorching, steamy, and will have you wriggling in your seat, the story just didn't work for me. Will I read the next one? You betcha.

Upcoming: Next in the series is Riding Temptation which comes out in October 2008.

Friday, February 01, 2008

The Last Twilight by Marjorie M. Liu

Title: The Last Twilight
Author: Marjorie M. Liu

Publisher: Dorchester
Type: Paranormal Romance
Series: Yes, Dirk and Steele

Why: Liu is an auto-buy for me—although in this case, I read the ARC.

Comments: A few Liu reviews back, I likened Red Heart Of Jade to a tangle of painful knots and complained of weariness after running for my life, afraid and in the dark, no wiser than the primary characters. Well, I get it now. With any Liu title, it’s all about trust. Trust that comes both from experience and the proverbial leap of faith.

Liu’s prose is unmatched. No other can elicit the same breath-hitching, heart-aching, weighted-limb sensation that she does, through words and imagery as dense and laden as the African jungle she transports us to in her latest installment of the Dirk and Steele series.

Like Red Heart of Jade, I suffered doubt early on in The Last Twilight—thinking I had missed something somewhere back at the story’s beginning. However, I was so overcome by the pain and unease permeating every scene that I could do no more than just feel, page after page. I experienced this book, carried along on Liu’s words, pulled under, until I just let go. A much more enjoyable read because I stopped searching for that jumping on point, stopped wondering if I had missed a critical piece of information. Instead, I simply let go and trusted Liu to deliver me safely unto the magical and fated HEA.

It is a requirement Liu places on Rikki and Amiri in The Last Twilight as well. Their trust in one another is earned throughout their experience on the run, right up until that moment it becomes necessary to leap the last bit of distance. It is such a poignant moment, trembling with fear and honesty rarely found in mortals. It almost sounds silly or amateur to say that Liu is skilled at characterization. She redefined characterization, putting us in the hearts of men and women—whatever their form—consumed by powerful emotion, gripped in terror and most often, reduced entirely to survival mode. My own ability to withstand the sensory overload is as questionable as that of the characters. We really do not know where Liu will take them, what they will endure and who or what will be left to go on. Trust. You have to have it.

And oh is it worth it. You might be wrung out by the end, but there will always be that blanket of peace at the book’s close. As well as the promise of more of the unknown.

What’s Next: I’ve missed two anthologies from Liu—Holidays Are Hell and My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon. I’ll catch up on those two before her next release, The Iron Hunt, book one in her new Hunter Kiss series and another new anthology—paranormal erotica—titled Minotaur In Stone.
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