Category Archives: Book reviews

Happy Thanksgiving!

Like many people, this holiday encourages me to think about the many blessings in my life for which I’m grateful. My list is a long one, but high on it are you, my readers. So thank you for reading. I know you have a lot of demands on your time, so I appreciate it every time you sit down with one of my books, or take the time to leave a review.

I count sitting down with a good book as one of my blessings, so when I find an author who becomes an “auto-buy”, someone whose work I love so much I’ll read pretty much everything they write, that’s something special. I thought I’d share with you a couple of those names. That way, when the release of  my next book is delayed, you’ll know who tempted me away from my computer. 😉

Grace Draven writes fantasy romance that inspires me to up my game. I’ve read two of her books so far: Radiance and Entreat Me. Entreat Me won the 2014 Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award for best Fantasy Romance, and Radiance has been nominated for the same award in 2015. I didn’t know that when I read these books. I just knew that these were amazingly good reads and wanted more.

Eidolon, the sequel to Radiance, can’t come soon enough.

If urban fantasy is more to your taste, then I recommend Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series. I read the first book, Rosemary and Rue because I was going to be speaking  at a convention where Ms. McGuire was guest of honor. Then I binge read all the other books in the series. I warn you now, she’s addictive. So far there are nine books in this series, and she’s not done yet. This is excellent news.

Ms. McGuire also writes the InCryptid series (which I have yet to read), and science fiction horror  as Mira Grant.

I count these authors’ books (as well as many others) among my  blessings. I hope you will, too.

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Books I’ve Enjoyed and Recommend

I’m running a little behind this year. With eleven days until Christmas I still christmas_presents_jpg_300x300_q85haven’t finalized my gift list, written my holiday letter, or put up the decorations. And while I buy gifts throughout the year, I haven’t checked my “inventory” yet to see what I’ve already purchased. For those whom I haven’t yet made a selection, gift cards are a safe bet (especially where teenagers are involved).

While safer (I don’t have to worry about size, color, or changing tastes) gift cards aren’t as much fun to give as wrapped presents. So for some of my friends, I think I’ll take a chance and buy actual books this year, instead of relying on gift cards. If, like me, you’re looking for something new to share with your reading friends (or a holiday read for yourself), here are some of the authors on my automatic “buy list” in no particular order. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

Grace Burrowes.  Regency Romance. I’m particularly fond of her Windham family series. Sometimes the external conflict feels almost like an afterthought and the ending a little weak, but I keep coming back because I love spending time with her heroes and heroines. She also has a trilogy about the MacGregor family, set in Victorian Scotland.

Juliet Blackwell. Mystery. I’m new to reading mysteries, but I gobbled up Blackwell’s Haunted Home Renovation Mystery series as fast as I could get my hands on them. Being both a fan of HGTV, and having done some ghost hunting myself, I can tell you that Blackwell knows what she’s talking about in both areas. Her stories kept me guessing and I loved the secondary characters.

Patricia Briggs. Urban Fantasy. I love shapechangers and I’m a huge fan of her werewolves, both the Mercy Thompson series and the Alpha and Omega series.

Janni Lee Simner. YA. Simner’s BONES OF FAERIE is an excellent and unsettling dystopian tale about the aftermath of the war between humans and the Fae, told with lyrical prose.

David Gaughran. Writing and Publishing Advice. His LET’S GET DIGITAL and LET’S GET VISIBLE are chock full of useful information.

Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt. Writing and Publishing Advice. On the strength of Gaughran’s review I bought their WRITE, PUBLISH, REPEAT. I’m only a third of the way through, but so far I can tell you the information is solid delivered with an amusing voice. Even though I haven’t finished it yet, I’ll still recommend it based on that.

Happy Holidays!


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Review: INTERVIEWS WITH INDIE AUTHORS, compiled by Claire Ridgway and Tim Ridgway

I loved the essays by indie authors in the back of LET’S GET DIGITAL by David Gaughran, so I was eager to read INTERVIEWS WITH INDIE AUTHORS, an entire book of “Top Tips from Successful Self-Published Authors,” by Claire Ridgway and Tim Ridgway. I wasn’t disappointed. This book is exactly what it claims to be.  Every author answers the same set of good questions about how they achieved success.

Some of the authors were brand new to publishing, others already had a fan base after a career in traditional publishing. Almost all of them cited freedom and control as a reason why they turned to self-publishing.

I found it interesting to see where the various authors agreed on what worked for them to “get the word out,” and where they differed. A few used targeted advertising. Most of them said they used social media networking, but several said they didn’t bother with it.  I got the impression that many different things were tried by the authors and only a few of the authors had any hard data about whether any particular thing was responsible for increasing their sales. Getting the next book out, especially when they were writing a series, is one of the few things most authors were sure worked.

The interviews are best read two or three at a time. There is a ton of information in this book, including specifics about where some of the authors advertised. I enjoyed reading the stories of people who are where I want to be someday. If you’re an indie author, or thinking of becoming one, I recommend this book.


LIGHTBRINGER: A Celestial Affairs Novel will be free on Amazon 8/17 through 8/21.


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Review: DYING WISH by Shannon K. Butcher

I just finished Shannon K. Butcher’s DYING WISH, the sixth novel in the Sentinel Wars series. I think it may be the best so far. (I can’t say for sure, since I haven’t read Paul and Andra’s story.) Butcher pulled me into the story with the first sentence and didn’t let me go until the last.

Previously, I reviewed the first book in the series, BURNING ALIVE. While I enjoyed that book a lot (obviously, since I’ve since read most of the series), I wasn’t entirely happy with the emotional blackmail that results from the way the world is structured. (Theronai women must siphon off the energy their bonded mates automatically accumulate, or the men will eventually die. They’re faced with a “choice” of bond with the man that is their physical match, or sentence him to an agonizing death.)


This is an amplification of two old, and effective tropes. Romance novels have long featured relationships where the woman must surrender to a more powerful force, whether it’s a dominating man, or economic compulsion. That’s one of the aspects of paranormal romances that is so effective: non-human characters often have biological compulsions that override choice, or raise the stakes on the choice of whom to love and when. The characters are drawn together against their will. It’s a new take on the arranged/forced marriage plot.

The second trope, an essential one, is that of the healing power of love. In the best romances the couple doesn’t just learn to love each other. Their love brings about their transformation and healing. The individuals give up their self-focused perspective, and the whole of their union becomes greater than the sum of their individual desires.

All of this comes together to make DYING WISH a smashing good read. Butcher does a fantastic job of creating characters (both of whom were introduced in previous books) who are broken but unbowed. They’re both strong, but they’ve been holding it together by themselves for so long that they can’t see they need the other to be whole again. They don’t even think it’s possible to be whole again.

Butcher forces her characters to deal with a horrendous dilemma. She did such a great job of writing her protagonists into a corner that despite the genre demands for a “happily ever after” ending, I doubted the outcome. The solution made an interesting kind of sense, and I’m looking forward to the fallout in subsequent books in the series.


Shannon K. Butcher was a guest of honor two years ago at TusCon Science-Fiction Convention in Tucson, AZ. This year’s guest of honor is S.M. Stirling.


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Review: A Bed of Thorns and Roses by Sondra Allan Carr

I happened to notice a book a few weeks ago among the “alsobots” (those books people also bought that Amazon tells you about) on the product page for my novelette With Heart To Hear. My story is a Victorian era adaptation of the beauty and the beast tale, and so is A BED OF THORNS AND ROSES. But where my story has a lot of sensual, even erotic content, Carr draws the curtain on her lovers.

The hero and the heroine in Carr’s story are both scarred, one more obviously than the other. Both keep secrets for reasons that are completely understandable. Both are afraid to hope for what they believe is unattainable: the love of the other.

It’s often said in romance circles, that the strength of the genre lies in the transforming power of love. That love can heal both the characters, and our readers. I believe this is true. And I believe that few authors have done a better job of demonstrating that power than Ms. Carr.

A BED OF THORNS AND ROSES proceeds at a measured pace, but it isn’t slow. Carr takes only as much time as necessary to show the emotional growth of the characters. (This is a welcome change from the common practice of compressing what would normally be a months long process into a few days.) Despite this, the book doesn’t drag, and I was always anxious to get back to it at the end of the day. The story is exquisitely, beautifully, emotional. Her prose is smooth and lyrical, but never purple.

I hope that Carr will soon be releasing her promised WORLD OF PANGAEA fantasy novel, because she is truly a talented and skilled author.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I highly recommend this book.

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Review: Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran

David Gaughran is a 33 year old Irishman living in Sweden. He doesn’t own an ereader even though he’s published more than one digital book. And he knows a lot about digital publsishing.

One of his books is Let’s Get Digital. I’m only about 3/4 of the way through this book, but I’m so impressed that I’m jumping the gun a little and reviewing it before I finish.  This is a book I’d thought about writing, but Gaughran has done such a good job of it that I don’t have to. He’s thorough and balanced in his approach and includes the numbers to back up his arguments. And thanks to the quickness of digital self-publishing, it’s timely: Gaughran includes data through June of this year.

Let’s Get Digital is an overview of the current situation in digital self-publishing.  Part One covers the What — reviewing the digital revolution, Part Two the How — how to do it and avoid commonly made mistakes, and Part Three (which I read first) covers Who — the success stories of 33 self-publishers, most of whom did not have a publishing history before they self-published.

If you want to understand what’s going on in digital self-publishing, Read This Book!


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Review: The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley

Ian Mackenzie is not your typical historical romance hero.  Yes, he has a secret and a painful emotional burden to bear.  Yes, he has a strong protective streak toward those he loves and cares about.  Yes, he’s tall and handsome and athletic.  He’s even Scottish.  But what sets him apart is that he’s a high functioning autistic.

I first came across The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie when Jennifer Ashley spoke last year to our local RWA chapter.  (I am in awe of her energy and drive.)  I’m sorry it took me several months to get to it, because it’s a fine book.  I only know a little about autism from reading articles and talking with a friend who’s son has Asperger Syndrome, but clearly Ashley has done her research.  I am impressed by how well she portrayed the hero’s autistic characteristics while making him an admirable and desirable hero.

The heroine, Beth, is also well drawn.  Her unusual background makes her a perfect match for Ian.  Their interaction is both funny and touching.

I definitely recommend this book.

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Review: Drink of Me and Jacob by Jacquelyn Frank

I’m wrapping up a book binge.  Every now and then, usually between projects, I take a break from my usual routine and just read book after book after book.  This binge started with Jacquelyn Frank‘s Drink of Me (2010).

Ms. Frank is a new author for me even though she’s published ten other books.  The cover for Drink of Me caught my eye with faces silhouetted in iridescent blue, and the inside teaser sealed the deal.

One of the things I like about this book is that she has created a complete alternate world that is different from what I’ve seen before.  (I’m thrilled to see more fantasy oriented paranormal romances making it to the shelves.) She also has taken familiar archetypes and made them new.  I’m not a big fan of vampire stories, but her Sange are not the usual sort of blood drinkers.  Nor are they werewolves even though they have a pack hierarchy.  Frank convincingly makes use of the amnesia ploy, too. One of the heroine’s special skills is not particularly unique, but since she didn’t remember she had it, her rediscovery of it just before it was too late was satisfying.

Drink of Me enjoyably held my attention, so I decided to read one of Frank’s earlier works to see what she’d built her career on.  (What can I say?  I’m a writer, these things are important to me.)  I bought Jacob (2006), the first of the Nightwalkers series.

Jacob is what I think of as being a more typical paranormal romance.  The eponymous hero is a demon, one of the Nightwalker races which include vampires and werewolves, but who are misunderstood by humans.  They’re really nice guys at heart.  The heroine is our “average girl” when we meet her, and asks all the questions the reader wants answers to.

One of the things that is typical to this sub-genre is the biological compulsion the protagonists felt.  I wrote about this in an earlier post “Why Isn’t Free Will Sexy?” Frank overcame my reservations on this score in two ways.  One, though her characters were clearly drawn to each other to an unusual degree, neither of them knew why until fairly late in the book.  There was no manipulation of one by the other, and no secrets being kept.  Two, and most important, their interaction, their dialogue, made them real and appealing.  They became more than their archetypes.

One touch I loved was that the demons were happy about the rise of Christianity, because it nearly eliminated the use of magic, and more specifically, the necromancers who summon demons against their will.  Another thing to recommend the book:  Frank writes excellent sexual tension and well-developed love scenes.  As I mentioned in “Reading Like a Writer,” some books are worth learning from.  For me, Jacob is worth studying for that alone.

If you haven’t yet read any of Jacquelyn Frank’s books, you should.  I know I’ll be reading more.


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Wednesday Review: A Pirate’s Primer by Jill Knowles

My friend Jill Knowles primarily writes erotic romance, and I recently read her ebook A Pirate’s Primer.  Set in a world of magic and wooden sailing ships, A Pirate’s Primer is a M/M erotic fantasy like her more recent release Concubine (reviewed here).  Unlike Concubine, however, Primer doesn’t have any consent issues.  This is more of a true romance, where the characters’ union is one of equals who come together out of mutual desire.

There ‘s more to this book than the erotic interludes, however.  While those are for the most part well written, the characters Jill has created bring more to the relationship than just their physical needs.  My only complaint is that the final love scene  is a little too similar in the particulars to an earlier one, but this is a minor issue.

A Pirate’s Primer is the first in the Grey Lady series, and one of Jill’s strongest stories.  I recommend it.

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Wednesday Review: Concubine by Jill Knowles

Every now and then I like to stretch myself by reading something outside my norm.  Sometimes it’s poetry, sometimes it’s a dense book about finance.  This time it was Concubine, a male on male BDSM novel by my friend Jill Knowles.

While there was plenty of bondage and discipline, I don’t think S&M is an accurate descriptor.  The emphasis was more on dominance and submission, and that’s where I had the most trouble with it.  I just couldn’t quite accept that the sub in this relationship, a prince and a warrior, could happily be the sub, no matter how good the sex was.  I’ve talked with Jill about this.  I’m the only reader who has expressed having a problem with it, and since Jill did a fair amount of research on Stockholm Syndrome (and knows that some psychologists don’t believe in it) I’m inclined to think that this may be more my problem than a deficiency of the writing.

It was fascinating to watch how the author created a situation where romance developed between two people who were so very unequal in power.  It’s rather disturbing since the story is told almost entirely from the sub’s point of view.  Had I penned this tale, I would have done it very differently, but then it wouldn’t have been the same story.  🙂

And that’s why it’s good to read things that fall outside our comfort zones.  They make us think, and squirm, and then think about why we’re squirming.

If you enjoy reading male/male romances, give this one a try.  Many of the descriptions are richly textured, and some of the secondary characters are delightful.


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