Monday, December 20, 2010

Quick update

Have you read Marry Me by Jo Goodman yet? You must. Now. Go out and buy it. Read it. And love it. I command you.

Review upcoming.

Oh, and only 3 days til I'm off work. Til Jan 4. Color me happy! Hope your holiday preps are going well.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Lori's November Reads

November was a great month for me, not just in terms of quantity, but quality as well. There were no duds, and I had 4 5-star books! Four! Taking a week off gave me renewed energy, as well as a lot of down-time. The kids were never home, and hubby and I relaxed and read up a storm. We also had the chance to hang out together, which we hardly ever have time for anymore. That was probably the very best part of vacation.

I hope that you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and got some time off from whatever takes up all your time.

Now it's Hanukkah, and we've been crazy busy again. I thought I'd post up Bob's Hanukkah songs again, since there are some new readers here.
Rock n Rollin' Hanukkah

So... on to the books. I read 30 books in November (half may have been on my week off, not sure). That brings my total up to 269. But geez, I only reviewed one book over here. Why, when I try to note something in Goodreads on each one? I so could have done reviews. Maybe that will be my next task, to bring my reviews over from Goodreads. Anyway... here's what I read:

Captain's Surrender by Alex Beecroft. 5 stars on Goodreads. (m/m)
Wow. The almost sweet friendship to romance set against the horrific realities of the time both in terms of war and punishment of infractions. So well done. This definitely isn't an erotic romance but a sweeping historical that happens to have at its heart, two men. Additionally the secondary characters are beautifully well drawn and add such rich flavor.

The Best Laid Plans by Sarah Mayberry. 5 stars on Goodreads.
Another winner from Mayberry. I liked how they both went in eyes wide open, and were ready to conceive in a test tube. The way it would really be done. I really enjoyed Ethan's brother and SIL as well.

The Perfect Family by Kathryn Shay. 5 stars on Goodreads.
This was excellent. It looks at every aspect of a teenager's coming out from the perspective of how it affects each family member individually and in their relationship with the teen, to religion and its place in the family and gay teen's life, and so many other things I can't even begin to go there. Shay has never shied away from hard subjects, and this is no different. Although she stepped away from romance here, it's a beautiful, truthful look at how a revelation like this can whip through a family and how they all work to keep it together out of deep love for each other. Highly, highly recommended!

The Dark Tide by Josh Lanyon. 5 stars on Goodreads. (m/m)
I can't believe I hadn't read this yet. The final book in Adrien & Jake's saga. I've always been a Jake fan, so I absolutely adored this one.

Edge of Sight (Guardian Angelinos #1) by Roxanne St. Clair. 4.5 stars on Goodreads.
Awesome start to this spinoff series. As always, a great hero, and a strong heroine who is more than his match.

Wild Heat (Hotshots #1) by Bella Andre. 4 stars on Goodreads.
This was my first read by Andre. I really enjoyed it. I liked that Logan and Maya were honest with each other - about the fires and that when Maya realized he couldn't be guilty, she immediately said so and cleared him. They didn't play games. Big plus. And although Logan seemed too good to be true, his actions and thoughts backed up the character that Andre built. And who doesn't just adore firefighter stories?!

Hot as Sin  (Hotshots # 2) by Bella Andre. 4 stars on Goodreads.
I liked this one a lot. Andre has a great voice for the RS and the firefighters.

Never Too Hot (Hotshots #3) by Bella Andre. 4 stars on Goodreads.
This one was far more introspective - no suspense. It focuses on the injured firefighter from book 1. I loved how he was drawn in, even though he really didn't want to be. Connor couldn't hide his true self, and Ginger was good for him. Supportive and loving. It was a totally different feel in terms of subgenre than the first two. A terrific secondary storyline as well featuring Connor's father and Ginger's good friend.

Corralled by Lorelei James. 4 stars on Goodreads.
This book addresses one of my big questions with all the MFM books I read where there is no jealousy, no competition, no hard feelings. Lainie has been seeing both Hank amd Kyle and when she's caught, the guys suggest they embark on a threesome, a new concept for all of them. While they put it to Lainie that they don't want her to have to choose, and neither one is ready to give her up, in reality both men are vying for her affection amd to be the one she chooses in the end. That was where I felt the book was strongest: in the jealous rivalry between the men as they fight to maintain their close friendship as well as in the one on one interactions where Lainie and the guys just talk.

Because this isn't a permanent menage story, Lainie must choose someone. When the time comes, it kind of slips in subtlely, and both Lainie and the one not chosen both recognize it. A scary event forces Lainie to come to terms with her past.

I liked all three characters as well as Lainie's best friend and Hank's siblings, and imagine that they'll get their own stories. I thought the menage scenes seemed a bit forced, but I imagine that they were meant to, since although it was consensual, it was never intended to be anything other than a vehicle for Lainie to get to know the guys and make a choice.

Beg Me by Shiloh Walker. 4 stars on Goodreads.
What I liked so much here was that in addition to the emotional toll the story takes on Tania, Walker never fails to show the huge effect on Drake as well. Both characters take an emotional journey. The controversial topic didn't bother me so much; Walker never fails to show the emotional impact, and this story is far less about the sex than about Tania's emotional healing and Drake's journey toward a more fulfilling and realistic love.

The Tin Star by JL Langley. 4 stars on Goodreads. (m/m)
I always wonder in M/M, why it is that they never use each other's names? Before they became lovers, Jamie and Ethan were friends who never called each other anything other than their names, and now all of a sudden they have to call each other Blue Eyes and Cowboy? This isn't spercific to this author; it seems to be a trend in m/m that really irritates me. Anyway, aside from that one thing, I really liked it. I'm not sure why it's on everyone's list of the absolute tops in m/m, but it was a good story.. I really like Ethan a lot.

Cowgirls Don't Cry (Rough Riders #10) by Lorelei James. 4 stars on Goodreads.
Wow. Totally didn't expect the beginning. It was very odd, but I understood it as the book went on. Another great entry. I was waiting for Jessie and Brandt and was not disappointed in their story.

Enforcer (Cascadia Wolves #1) by Lauren Dane. 4 stars on Goodreads.
This is a reread for me. And now I think I have to go reread the whole darn series. Loved Nina's irreverence and how it causes Lex such confusion and amusement. Love Dane's wolves. Oh how I adore them. And on this reread, I can see how Dane's writing has changed - not better or worse, just evolved a bit. It also reminded me what I immediately loved about her writing: strong female leads, alpha but sensitive male leads, humor, and great engrossing stories. If I had one qualm, it's how Lex and Cade simply expected Nina to go along with all that was required in order to change fully and complete the tri-bond and Claiming. And then were frustrated when she was ticked off. But in her own time, she came to understand and feel good in her new skin. So it was all good.

Undeniably Yours (Kowalski Family #2) by Shannon Stacey. 4 stars on Goodreads.
I loved the first Kowalski book. And I wanted to love this one just as much. I adored Kevin. He was a great mix of devilish and strong family man. He already felt something for Beth even before she showed up pregnant. So wanting to be with her seemed a natural extension for him.

I had a very hard time warming up to Beth. She kept holding Kevin off, and while I understood the reluctance to jump into a relationship because of the baby, she never gave them a chance to find out if there was anything else there. Her original reason of feeling smothered by her parents was good until I saw them all interacting, and it seemed she had a great relationship with them. She seemed to be inventing excuses and it wore thin after a while. So in a juxtaposition of the usual, it was Kevin who had far fewer doubts, and Beth who really didn't want to get involved.

Once again, I adored the Kowalski family. I loved the bickering, the teasing, the obvious love they shared. They told it to each other like it is. And I always knew they were there for each other. I was so happy to see Kevin stand up for himself at the end, to be willing to let Beth go for his own sanity. And I loved the honest way he accepted her back, too. He didn't play games. He just loved her and wanted to be with her. Another wonderful secondary romance set a great tone here as well.

Second Chances by Lauren Dane. 4 stars on Goodreads.
I read this when it was first published several years ago, and it's no less emotional and powerful today. Although I really don't 'get' the BDSM lifestyle, in Dane's hands it's always handled as something that makes the relationship stronger for both partners, not about one person having all the power. My only complaint is that I would have liked to have seen Rori amd Jude have sex before she agreed to wear his collar. That type of commitment seemed rushed to me. Which is odd, given their history amd the time frame, but it did feel a bit rushed. Go figure.

Passions of a Wicked Earl by Lorraine Heath. 4 stars on Goodreads.
I feel as though Heath is back in her groove. Several of her last historicals haven't been tops on my list. But this is a fantastic book - I can't wait to read the next one.

My Lord Scoundrel (Notorious Bachelors #1) by Emma Wildes. 4.5 stars on Goodreads.
I loved it. A hero and heroine who not only don't deny their feelings, but fight for them and their right to be together. Both smart and resourceful. And with really terrific secondary characters who don't take over the story but are still very interesting in their own right.

Our Wicked Mistake (Notorious Bachelors #2) by Emma Wildes. 4 stars on Goodreads.
I enjoyed this but not as much as the first book, I admit. I liked both Luke and Madeline.

His Sinful Secret (Notorious Bachelors #3) by Emma Wildes. 4 stars on Goodreads.
I was really looking forward to this one - Michael seemed to have so many secrets. I liked the subtlety with which she showed how Michael hurt Julianne by not sharing with her, except in bed. And I liked that she wasn't a doormat for him - she challenged him about the way he treated her. Michael thinks he's doing such a good job keeping his marriage separate from his job, but in the end realizes he hasn't done that at all. Nice finale to the series.

Open Country by Kaki Warner. 4.5 stars on Goodreads.
Another terrific book from Warner. I think she's going to be big. I have book 3 on pre-order.

Rules of an Engagement by Suzanne Enoch. 3.75 stars on Goodreads.
I was chomping at the bit for Shaw's story. I was disappointed that it was almost halfway through the book before I felt a genuine connection between Shaw and Zephyr and felt fully drawn into the story. Once that happened, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Without Reservations (With or Without Series, #2) by JL Langley. 3.5 stars on Goodreads. (m/m)
This was a good book. If you like m/m and shifters, you'll probably like this. It addresses racial and homosexual prejudice, too. Good.

Holiday Bound by Beth Kery. 3.5 stars on Goodreads.
I liked this novella, but not as much as Kery's full-lengths. It may be me. Most novellas don't work for me. Although, I didn't really care for the way that Alex jumped to conclusions about Angeline. Plus, it just addresses some real lowlife behavior, which is gutsy against the backdrop of a romance novella.

The Dickens With Love by Josh Lanyon. 3.5 stars on Goodreads. (m/m)
A nice holiday novella. Not his best; not his worst.

Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord (The Ralstons, #2) by Sarah MacLean. 3.5 stars on Goodreads.
This definitely didn't have the same joy and humor that 9 Rules did, and the heroine wasn't as wonderful, but I enjoyed it a lot. Isabel was a good heroine, though I felt that her final denial of their relationship was forced. I really liked Nick as a hero. Although I suppose it says something that my favorite scene was between Nick and the heroine's 10 year old brother rather than between the hero & heroine. I was really touched during the scene where Nick teaches James to tie a cravat.

Pack Challenge (Magnus Pack, #1) by Shelley Laurenston. 3 stars on Goodreads.
I love Laurenston's irreverent sense of humor, and it was in full force here. But I also thought there were lots of problems- how easily Sara and her friends accepted the shifters. How they had no problem with the carnage they witnessed. And trust me, there was carnage. But any Laurenston book is fun, so I enjoyed this a lot despite the problems.

Emergency: Wife Lost and Found by Carol Marinelli. 3 stars on Goodreads.
A divorced husband & wife doctor team meets back up after an accident. They have to address their heartbreaking history and her intrusive family.

Expecting! by Susan Mallery. 3 stars on Goodreads.

Lassoing Lara by NJ Walters. 3 stars on Goodreads.
A novella that didn't work for me as well as NJ's books usually do. Sad.

Wicked Rake, Defiant Mistress by Ann Lethbridge. 3.5 stars on Goodreads.
It was ok. I liked the hero and heroine, but felt like there was something missing. A free read here:

The Perfect Family by Kathryn Shay

blurb via
What happens to the "perfect family" when the future suddenly changes in the most unexpected way? Seventeen-year old Jamie Davidson doesn't think being gay should be such a big deal...until he comes out to his parents and friends. Even as Jamie celebrates no longer needing to hide his true self and looks forward to the excitement of openly dating another boy, the entire Davidson family is thrown into turmoil. Jamie's father Mike can't reconcile his religious beliefs with his son's sexuality. His brother Brian is harassed by his jock buddies and angry at Jamie for complicating all their lives. Maggie, his mother, fears being able to protect her son while struggling to save her crumbling marriage. And Jamie feels guilty for the unhappiness his disclosure has caused. Every member of their “perfect family” must search their hearts and souls to reconnect with each other in this honest, heartwarming, and hopeful look at the redemptive power of love and family.

Oh dear lord, where to start with this review? This is an amazing story of love, forgiveness, and healing within a family. It examines the role that religion and faith plays in an individual’s life as well as its influence over an entire community. And here, religion and faith are portrayed as two different things. It examines the relationships within the family and how they change when each family member has different feelings that need to be acknowledged. How a mother’s feeling that nobody can do as well for her baby, not even her husband, can tear into a marriage. And how societal intolerance can contribute to a teen’s overwhelming feelings of rejection and despair.

Jamie Davidson is gay. He hasn’t come out to anyone yet, but he’s starting to feel more and more uncomfortable with the lie that he’s living. He notes to himself many times that he’s “performing”. Jamie is the 17 year old younger son in a wonderfully close and loving family. He has an 18 year old older brother, and his parents are still completely in love after all these years. As Jamie becomes more and more uncomfortable with his performances, he happens to meet another guy, Luke – a friend of his brother’s who plays baseball on the same high school team. They each realize the other’s interest and form a close friendship that begins to become more. They decide together to come out to their parents and families.

The Davidson family is close, but there are stresses. The biggest one is religion. Mike is a devout Catholic, embracing the very rigid stance of the church with wholehearted love, and while she is Catholic, Maggie can’t seem to stop herself from questioning a lot of the church’s doctrines on social mores. She has begun to seek out other denominations to try to fulfill her desire to be close to God without having to bow to the Catholic church's inflexibility, which was the cause of so much childhood sadness for her. Jamie and his brother Brian have always been especially close, best friends, sharing everything. It’s really pained Jamie to keep this fundamental piece of information about himself from his brother.

When Jamie finally comes out to his folks, his dad has a really tough time reconciling his son being gay with his Catholic faith. Maggie, while devastated as well, tries very hard to accept Jamie just for who he is – not wrong or sinful. Just Jamie. His brother, Brian, the jock, gets a lot of flak from his teammates. The family priest wants Mike and Maggie to consider sending Jamie to a “reprogramming” camp, which Mike considers, and Maggie outright opposes. Their divergent views on the fundamentals of their religion and faith, and how Jamie fits into that drive a big wedge between them. They try to work things out, but their marriage faces a big crisis. Through all of it, though, their love for Jamie, Brian, and each other never wavers.

In this book, Shay examines a teen’s homosexuality from every angle. From Jamie’s feelings, so beautifully expressed through his poetry, to his brother’s feelings. Brian feels confused, not sure why Jamie is gay. He feels conflicted, because as a devout Catholic, his religion tells him that this is wrong. He feels hurt, because although they shared almost everything, he was the last in the family to find out about Jamie. And he feels angry, because one of his friends is Jamie’s new boyfriend, and the rest of his friends are making his life difficult for him, and he feels he has little to no control over any of it. So much so that he is unfaithful to his girlfriend, whom he dearly loves, simply in an effort to prove how het his really is. She won’t tolerate his infidelity, and dumps him.

Mike is horribly conflicted. He’s a wonderful father, he loves his kids, he wants to accept Jamie, but he’s completely torn by his devotion to his religion. The people he deals with, including Luke’s father, don’t make it any easier. None of the adults in their circle of friends are very accepting – Mike is removed from a teaching position within the church, his beloved priest wants him to send his boy away, and his wife doesn’t believe that he has Jamie’s best interests at heart; that he can’t separate being a father from being a Catholic.

Maggie is also torn apart. She loves both her sons unconditionally, and the rift between then is driving her crazy, making her sad and depressed, and frustrating her because she can't fix it. She loves her husband tremendously, but feels conflicted over his seeming intolerance of who their son is. In addition, she’s trying to come to terms with her own family history – all brought about by her own parent’s religious devotion to the Catholic church (note: I really wanted to say fanaticism here, but it just didn’t seem right to do so). She wants to be in control of it all so that she can manage the issue better.

And Jamie and Luke are simply trying to come to terms with who they are, and how they now fit into society, all while falling in love for the first time. For Jamie, it’s freeing to not hide who he is, but it doesn’t come without his share of problems. He heads up the school’s blood drive, but when it comes time for him to donate, the intrusive questions mean that he can’t donate. His relationship with Luke costs him his best friend, who can’t see her way to accepting what the church tells her is wrong. And his relationships with his father and brother are equally strained – they all want to just love one another but there is too much stress to simply let it go. He wants to enjoy the experience of falling in love with his very first boyfriend, but outside influences, especially Luke’s father, make it horrendously difficult. He also experiences such guilt because he feels like he convinced Luke to come out, and Luke had such backlash. So much so, that his homelife becomes too much, and Luke attempts suicide. His father is amazingly intolerant, even in the fcae of Luke’s attempted suicide, all in the name of the church.

Lest you think this book is a big indictment of the Catholic church, I really didn’t come away from the book with that feeling. I think Shay portrays it as inflexible, as a doxology that is driven by not one’s own beliefs, but as one that forces its followers to conform to church ideology. Additionally, while I thought that Father Peter was intolerant based upon his beliefs, I felt his compassion for the family, and their situation. I could tell he wanted to make things better for them – it was just that his way of doing so didn’t sit well with Maggie, Jamie, and even Mike to some extent. Mike was torn between the teachings of the church and his love for his son and his desire for his son to not have to change. Maggie has a scene with the priest, where she tells him she has found a different church to attend.
“Then you’re giving up on your faith?”

“No, never on faith. But on your church. It’s not an institution I can embrace anymore.”

The priest stood. “I’m sorry to hear that. I came today because I want you to be healthy and happy. I want that for all God’s people.”
I think that Shay goes to tremendous lengths to differentiate between one’s religion and one’s faith in this book. Never did Maggie or Jamie lose their faith in God. They lost their reliance on Catholicism as an organized religion, preferring to find one that allowed them to speak to God directly, and feel good about their faith, rather than persecuted for it. Religion is such a sensitive issue, and I think that Shay handled it very well.

High school is such a sensitive time. Kids want to fit in. Conformity is if not encouraged, it’s certainly the easy way around many of life’s problems. My own son is feeling conflicted about homosexuality, when in the past he has always been very sensitive to anyone different than him. Kids are discovering who they are, and their feelings about life’s major issues. Shay shows well how both acceptance and intolerance can affect young men and women just learning who they really are.

This isn’t a lighthearted book; Shay’s never are. She as always, handles controversial, emotional, and difficult topics with sensitivity, with a 360 degree view, and with beautifully drawn characters that speak to the reader.
Shay has strayed from Berkley and Harlequin to publish this with Bold Strokes books, a publisher of LGBTQ general and genre fiction. This book is 313 trade size pages, and manages to cover an awful lot of ground in that page count. It never feels rushed, it never feels like anyone’s views were compromised by a desire to complete the story. Shay writes with perfect pacing. Her story of a family’s love is one that I highly recommend for anyone.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

A quick note on The Perfect Family by Kathryn Shay

I read this book last night. I'm a big Kathryn Shay fangirl, and the reason is because she doesn't shy away from big issues, and can face down multiple big issues in a book like nobody else can. I'll be doing a full review of this over the weekend, but wanted to make a note here that you should read this book. Stat. It's not a traditional romance, but it is a family's love story told amidst their teenage son coming out. Shay takes on the feelings a teen has when coming out, the joy and heartbreak of a first relationship (both gay and het), prejudice in a small town, gay teen suicide, how it affects a husband/wife relationship, a brother/brother relationship, friendships, and each family member's journey individually and together. Quite literally, she blew me away.

Full review coming up soon...

blurb via  
What happens to the "perfect family" when the future suddenly changes in the most unexpected way? Seventeen-year old Jamie Davidson doesn't think being gay should be such a big deal...until he comes out to his parents and friends. Even as Jamie celebrates no longer needing to hide his true self and looks forward to the excitement of openly dating another boy, the entire Davidson family is thrown into turmoil. Jamie's father Mike can't reconcile his religious beliefs with his son's sexuality. His brother Brian is harassed by his jock buddies and angry at Jamie for complicating all their lives. Maggie, his mother, fears being able to protect her son while struggling to save her crumbling marriage. And Jamie feels guilty for the unhappiness his disclosure has caused. Every member of their “perfect family” must search their hearts and souls to reconnect with each other in this honest, heartwarming, and hopeful look at the redemptive power of love and family.
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