Guest Review: Tender Wings of Desire by Harland Sanders

Guest Review: Tender Wings of Desire by Harland SandersTender Wings of Desire by Harland Sanders
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Pages: 96
Published by Amazon Digital Services on May 2, 2017
Amazon
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When Lady Madeline Parker runs away from Parker Manor and a loveless betrothal, she finally feels like she is in control of her life. But what happens when she realizes she can’t control how she feels? When she finds herself swept into the arms of Harland, a handsome sailor with a mysterious past, Madeline realizes she must choose between a life of order and a man of passion. Can love overcome lies? What happens in the embrace of destiny, on the Tender Wings of Desire?

When this book was released last week, I was in a fowl, er, foul mood. I couldn’t pinpoint eggs-actly why that was so, I’d just been in a funk for a few weeks. This book brought up nuggets of inspiration that I really didn’t know I had waiting in the wings. So, let’s get right to it.

Guest Review by Amy:

To be fair to this work, we really need to spend some time on this cover image; like most historical romances, the cover art has little-to-nothing to do with the actual content of the book, and here we have an extreme case: Harland Sanders (1890-1980), in his later white-haired years, yet still obviously muscular, carrying a woman wearing “mom jeans” circa 1980s…on the cover of a Regency novel, circa 1811-1820. The art itself was so amusing when it popped up on my Kindle that I had to show my husband, who also laughed himself into a fit. The masterstroke, for both of us, was having her holding a piece of chicken (in her right hand). Let’s not forget the white linen suit with the sleeves cut off–showing off those breathtakingly muscular arms on the…er…handsome Colonel.

Fortunately, perhaps, for us all, the content of the book just doesn’t give us that image of Sanders. What it does deliver is a sharp lampooning of Every. Regency. Ever. Written. I was telling my best friend about this book the morning after reading it, and I likened it to The Rocky Horror Picture Show: campy on its own, but crammed full of inside jokes and jabs at the thing it is lampooning, just as RHPS is full of jabs at the classic cinema. If you don’t understand those jabs, it’s hilarious, but if you do, it’s even funnier.

Lady Madeline Parker is old enough to marry–though, as the book points out, we modern people would not think so. She considers herself a bit of an ugly duckling, of course, though she and her younger sister Victoria both have “the same pale, dewy skin, the same bright green eyes and heart-shaped faces.” Madeline’s hair is dark brown and in unruly curls, while Victoria has long, blonde hair. Madeline’s other problem is that she’s really not interested in marrying, certainly not merely for position, as her parents are working to arrange. If she’s to marry, she wants it to be for love, and only then after she’s had a while to roam about and see the world.

For her groom-to-be’s part, he’s quite a dashing gent: Reginald Lewis, the Duke of Sainsbury. He’s not terribly older than Madeline, which she’s grateful for, but he just doesn’t move her. Little sister Victoria claims he “looks like a fairy-tale prince,” of course, but Madeline isn’t impressed. He’s nice enough, and not ugly, but nothing about him grabs her attention or her interest. “He looks like a vanilla biscuit,” she asserts privately to her sister. Her older brother, Oxford student Winston, is the only person who really gets her, it seems.

Ugly Duckling Who Isn’t, Girl Wants To Break The Pattern, Arranged Marriage, Troublesome Younger Sibling, Wise Older Brother…the only Regency trope we’re missing is the dashing rake who actually does win her affections, at this point.

Madeline must, of course, run away. On the night before her wedding. So, she does. She and her horse, cleverly named Persephone, spend one uncomfortable night in a forest, then one night in a run-down inn, and end up by the sea. Please take note: when you live on an island, all directions will lead you to the sea sooner or later.

She finds a small fishing town. She rides into town, bold as brass, hitches her horse outside a tavern, and strolls in, asking for a job. The head barkeep is, as she surely must be, a non-local; a redheaded, dark-eyed Irish lass named “Caoimhe”. Please don’t ask me how to pronounce it, for I haven’t a clue. But ponder the worldly-wise Caoimhe a moment – how many Irish redheads do you know with dark eyes? Yeah, me either. When asked, she tells Madeline where she wound up: the village is named Mistle-Thrush-by-the-Sea. I kid you not.

The tavern itself, The Admiral’s Arms, is described two different ways in the course of about a page and a half. Madeline enters “a dim place, lit only by the occasional lantern or two, with wooden tables and a fireplace that was currently bare,” but a couple of hours later, as she is learning her job, she’s enjoying a spectacular view, which the tavern exploited “for all it was worth by installing giant windows that showed a view of the harbor and the sea beyond.” This and other glaring continuity errors are peppered throughout, and they just add to the fun.

On her first night there, Madeline must of course meet…Harland Sanders. The most handsome man she’d ever seen, naturally. He was “tall, dressed like a sailor,” with light and fair hair, “framing his head in airy curls, and the eyes that stared back and her were almost the exact color of the sea.” Oh, please! This younger avatar of the famously-curmudgeonish Sanders is, of course, Not Who He Appears To Be (yet another great trope). I won’t spoil it by giving you the ending, but serious readers of Regencies could write the rest of this tale easily. At only 96 pages, this tale moves fast, and the utterly-predictable denouement comes at you like a runaway locomotive.

I didn’t expect to enjoy this. YUM Brands, the owner of KFC, is releasing this novella as a marketing gimmick, not even as a serious work. There are a number of breathtaking flaws, like the continuity errors I pointed out, the needless wealth of outdated adjectives, and the tired old tropes–but were these errors deliberate? When I look at the piece as a whole, I can’t help but wonder. Will it win a “Pullet-zer” prize? Not a chance. But it was cheep…er, cheap – you’ll shell out at most a dollar for this ebook – and to me, it was a fun, silly read, and a mood-booster that I just didn’t see coming. Don’t take it too seriously; it’s way too campy for that. But if campy is your thing – Tender Wings of Desire might be a sleeper hit for you. Chick lit? Absolutely. But worth crossing the road for, in my opinion.

Escape Rating: Extra Crispy

Editor’s Note: When this book showed up on my Facebook feed I was too chicken to read it, so Amy graciously leapt into the breach. Or bucket. I’m very glad she did. I expected the hilarious yet thoughtful review, but had no idea it would also snap her out of a reading slump. And I’m so grateful that Amy was willing to go where no wings have flown before, so that the rest of us don’t have to. I am also grateful that the rating for this one was NOT spicy, because my mind still won’t go there.

For anyone dying of curiosity, this is a real book, and KFC, admittedly with tongue firmly in cheek, released it for a real reason – Mothers’ Day is one of their busiest days of the year. There seem to be nearly 400,000 families who think that the easiest way to give a hard working mother (and they are all hard-working) a night off is to pick up a bucket of chicken from KFC. And I bet there will be even more this year, as people who can’t believe this is a real thing go to KFC to discover if this is a real thing. Which it is, this weekend, free with every $20 Fill-Up Meal. Or for 99 cents at Amazon.

Me, I’m still back at OMG I’m too chicken to read this. Thanks Amy!

Guest Review: Dreadnought by April Daniels

Guest Review: Dreadnought by April DanielsDreadnought (Nemesis, #1) by April Daniels
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, science fiction, young adult
Series: Nemesis #1
Pages: 276
Published by Diversion Publishing on January 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Danny Tozer has a problem: she just inherited the powers of the world's greatest superhero. Until Dreadnought fell out of the sky and died right in front of her, she was trying to keep people from finding out she's transgender. But then her second-hand superpowers transformed her body into what she's always thought it should be. Now there's no hiding that she's a girl.
It should be the happiest time of her life, but between her father's dangerous obsession with curing her girlhood, her best friend suddenly acting like he's entitled to date her, and the classmate who is secretly a masked vigilante, Danny's first weeks living in a body that fits her are more difficult and complicated than she could have imagined.
She doesn't have much time to adjust. Dreadnought's murderer, a cyborg named Utopia, still haunts the streets of New Port City. If Danny can't sort through the confusion of coming out, master her powers, and stop Utopia in time, humanity faces extinction.

A few weeks ago, Marlene happened into my message box with a brief “I have a book you might like.” When she told me it was a young-adult transgender superhero story, well, that was that. Off to the races. She knows darn well I can’t turn away a story with a transgender character!

Guest review by Amy:

Trans teens who feel they have to hide it–for any reason–have it tough, both in our present, and in the world author April Daniels builds for us. Danny Tozer has been hiding it for some time; her parents think she’s a boy, but she’s not. Her one guilty pleasure is painted toenails, and one fine afternoon she’s painting her toenails in a hidey-hole near the mall, when a superhero battle happens nearby. One of the finest heroes of his time, Dreadnought, is slain, and falls to the ground near Danny, and his mantle passes to her. She wakes soon after, stunned to find herself with the body she’s always dreamed of living in.

What follows is a fun, engaging adventure story, complete with all the bells and whistles: a suitably nasty villain, a newfound sidekick friend, a well-organized “cape” community taken aback by this upstart youngster, and a little bit of almost-comic treatment of our heroine’s parents, who simply cannot accept that their child has been suddenly placed in a young woman’s body, and could possibly be happy about it. She has to sneak away from them to spend time exploring her new powers and body, and spends time being heroic with her new sidekick Calamity, who turns out to be a classmate of hers from high school. Soon, they are hot on the trail of the previous Dreadnought’s killer, and discover that her nefarious grand plan must be stopped!

Escape Rating: A-. Underneath the rollicking adventure, of course, is a coming-into-your-own story for our young heroine, now calling herself Danielle. She has to cope with parents who blindly cannot accept what is right in front of their faces, insisting that they want to help her set things “right,” to become the man she’s supposed to be. If her abusive father’s rantings weren’t such a one-note song, it would be almost comic. But there’s a very un-funny part to this, too. For many trans youth, this kind of treatment is an unfortunate reality, and transkids in our universe don’t have superhero work to fall back on!

Danielle also has to cope with the Legion Pacifica, the organization of superheroes in New Port City. They must come to grips with the loss of their friend, who was a great hero, and at the same time, help this newcomer who holds his mantle understand her powers, and learn to use them for good. One member is simply unaccepting of Danielle’s transgender status, and insists on calling her by her old name and pronouns. Again, here we have a case of art imitating life, as transpeople in our universe have to deal with the same thing just about all the time.

Author April Daniels gives us a peek into the life of a trans youth that rings completely true, so I was unsurprised to discover that she is herself a transwoman. This authenticity is something I find too-often missing in fiction about transgender people, so Daniels’ work is a refreshing, beautiful change. She handles Danielle’s gender transition, and her coming into herself as a lesbian, with a straightforward, simple style without being lurid in any way. The story is completely appropriate for any YA reader, and I would give it a strong recommendation for any LGBTQ youth in your own life, as it shows a teen who is more like them, dealing with some of the same struggles they are–while still giving us a just-plain-fun power-up fantasy.

One down note for me was the treatment of Danielle’s struggle with her parents. I would have liked to see some closure to that. At the end of the book, there’s still something left hanging there–she’s not reconciled to them, nor have they completely shut her out. Perhaps that story will be completed in the upcoming sequel, which I’m looking forward to seeing!

Guest Review: Hold Me, Cowboy by Maisey Yates

Guest Review: Hold Me, Cowboy by Maisey YatesHold Me, Cowboy (Copper Ridge: Desire #2) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance
Series: Copper Ridge: Desire #2
Pages: 224
Published by Harlequin on November 8th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Stranded with a cowboy for Christmas…from
New York Times
bestselling author Maisey Yates! 
Oil and water have nothing on Sam McCormack and Madison West. The wealthy rancher has never met a haughtier—or more appealing—woman in his life. And when they're snowed in, he's forced to admit this ice queen can scorch him with one touch… 
Madison had plans for the weekend! Instead she's stranded with a man who drives her wild. A night of no-strings fun leaves both of them wanting more when they return to Copper Ridge. His proposal: twelve days of hot sex before Christmas! But will it ever be enough?

Guest review by Amy:

Madison West just needs to get laid. It’s been a decade, because, well, reasons, and she’s determined it’s about time to shake off the cobwebs. She’s arranged to have a fling with a friendly traveling salesman (I kid you not!) at a nearby rental cabin, up in the mountains. As a snowstorm rolls in, the power goes out. Maddy can see another cabin close by, and their lights are on, so she goes to knock, and finds… Sam.

Sam McCormack, whom she’s been difficult and downright bitchy with for years and years. She calls her fling, only to discover that he can’t get up the mountain. Sam can’t fix the power in her cabin easily, so they’re stuck together for the night. So Maddy fulfills her plan with Sam, who conveniently has been a little hard up in the romantic department for a while, too. They walk away after their fun weekend together, with no strings attached.

It’s not that easy, of course; it never is, or Hold Me, Cowboy would be a really short book. Our lovers see that they got away with their fling slick as a pickpocket. After a dose of their long-practiced sniping at each other, they decide to have more fun. Sam is a farrier and artist, with most of his business savvy coming from his brother Chase; Maddy is part of the aristocracy of Copper Ridge, a horse trainer on her father’s ranch.

Conventional spoiled-rich-girl-falls-for-hired-hand romance, right? Not so fast.

Escape Rating: A-. Over the course of their affair, we learn why Madison had gone so long alone–as a 17-year-old, she’d had a crush on, and been badly treated by, her dressage instructor, and her father and pretty much the whole town had sided against her in the matter. It’s a classic case of victim-blaming, when they were discovered. It’s a frustrating case of art echoing life, as author Maisey Yates shows us the inside of Maddy’s thoughts, and the long-term impact this too-common problem can have on women. She’s understandably gun-shy about getting in a relationship with Sam, fearing the same abandonment will happen again.

For Sam’s part, he’s had a tragedy in his life too: a former lover, who had dumped him, then died of a hemorrhage from an ectopic pregnancy with his child. She’d called out for him, and he’d rushed to the hospital, but her family was not having him near her, and then she was gone. Sam has not allowed himself to grieve; he seems stuck on the fact that her family lost so much more than he did, and that means he hasn’t the right to grieve his own loss.

Over the course of their falling for each other, both of them reveal this–for the first time–to each other, and they give each other much-needed comfort, and permission to let down the guards of fear and loss that they have both held up for so long. In the denouement, this lets Sam free himself as an artist, and not do just the to-him boring works he’d been turning out, but art that expresses what is going on in his heart.

I enjoyed this story thoroughly; it’s an easy read, with a well-executed sense of place and time, and believable characters that I could really identify with. Hold Me, Cowboy explores the headspace of two very broken individuals, who manage to find the peace they need, not just in (very) plentiful wicked sex, but in each other’s hearts. There was one slightly sour note for me, in the unfinished business between Maddy and her father; Nathan West clearly needs a good talking-to, and he never gets it, nor is it alluded to that Sam is intending to help her settle that lingering stress in her life. It’s the only downbeat I can give an otherwise fantastic story. I strongly recommend this book and intend to hunt up other of Yates’ works for my reading list.

Guest Review: Documenting Light by EE Ottoman

Guest Review:  Documenting Light by EE OttomanDocumenting Light by EE Ottoman
Format: ebook
Source: publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Pages: 150
Published by Brain Mill Press LLC on August 31, 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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If you look for yourself in the past and see nothing, how do you know who you are? How do you know that you are supposed to be here?

When Wyatt brings an unidentified photograph to the local historical society, he hopes staff historian Grayson will tell him more about the people in the picture. The subjects in the mysterious photograph sit side by side, their hands close but not touching. One is dark, the other fair. Both wear men’s suits.

Were they friends? Lovers? Business partners? Curiosity drives Grayson and Wyatt to dig deep for information, and the more they learn, the more they begin to wonder — about the photograph, and about themselves.

Guest Review by Amy:

Wyatt is moving his mother into an apartment, as her Alzheimer’s has made it difficult for her to continue running the family farm. While putting some of her things in the attic, he finds an old photograph of two men, and it makes him curious…

Grayson works at the local county historical society, and enjoys the puzzle Wyatt has brought to him. In researching the photograph, the two people learn more about each other–and themselves–than they bargained for.

When Marlene gave me this book for my attention, I was immediately interested; as a transgender woman myself, I can attest that well-crafted stories with transgender characters are a bit scarce. So as I started reading, I was unsurprised to see which of our characters is a transman–Grayson, with his dapper suit and bowtie, fits the bill quite nicely. Wyatt…now, here’s where it gets tricky, so stick with me a moment. For the first part of the book, Wyatt is referred to as “he”, but they’re hiding something from their family and friends–they’re transgender, too, a feminine-expressing genderqueer person who prefers they/them pronouns. Once this is revealed, Ottoman uniformly refers to Wyatt using those pronouns, and their gender identity is not ever at issue after that.

The two people go on a date, after finding out some significant facts about the photograph. The first date doesn’t go well, as both are somewhat afraid of being out with their partner, and have had bad experiences. There’s some internal back-and-forth, and they give it another shot…and what follows is, in this reviewer’s eyes, a truly, truly beautiful thing. The growing relationship between Wyatt and Grayson proceeds very naturally, with the only hiccup being that Wyatt’s family still thinks of him as a gay man, and Grayson’s family is mostly not talking to him at all.  Ottoman, who is themself a student of history as well as an accomplished author, speaks to us through Grayson about the erasure of non-heterosexual, non-gender-binary people in history–how, so often, we must see solid evidence before we can accept anything but the default cisgendered, heterosexual identity.

Grayson is speaking of the study of history, particularly through photographs and other non-textual evidence, but it raises the question, for me, if the same could be said for literary works. In my previous read, The Heart Of Aces, one of the short stories, “Out of the Dead Land,” alludes to this, as one of the characters asserts in an academic paper that a character from a classic film is asexual. Allowing for non-default gender identities and sexualities, when it is not directly referenced in the story, allows for a much broader interpretation of characters and stories. It’s truly complicated, but it’s something I’m going to think about in my own reading moving forward.

Escape Rating: A+:  I could gush on and on and on about this story, seriously. Ottoman has given us two protagonists who are very “real;” we’re firmly entrenched in their heads, and can see the world through their eyes. The internal cringe and stress that Grayson feels when he is misgendered by his boss is almost palpable, as is Wyatt’s discomfort at their mother’s deteriorating mental state, and the fact that their family does not know about their being genderqueer.  Scenery and problems are detailed enough so that we know what the problem-to-overcome is about, without burdening the point needlessly. We know, very quickly, what our character’s stressors are, and the puzzle of the photograph keeps us interested, as a common thread that binds the discoveries together.

One of the high-water marks for me in this tale is when, on a road trip out of town, our newfound friends end up sharing a motel room. They did it for purely pragmatic reasons–neither of them has much money, really, another factor that plays heavily into the path this story takes–so it only makes sense. But the romantic tension has been building for a while, and what happens, happens. It’s a little bit of a predictable moment, but I shan’t complain, and here’s why:

I’ve found that, way too often, scenes depicting queer sexualities come off as…well, smutty, and othering, like it’s something really titillating that they’re different. This is off-putting to me in a lot of ways, as it’s quite inconsistent with my own experiences as a transwoman. Grayson cannot afford surgery–we’re not told if he’s even on hormones yet!–and early in the book grouses to himself about his D-cup breasts being hard to hide. Knowing my own dysphoric experiences during that time in my transition, I can grasp a bit what he is going through. Wyatt, for their part, seems happy enough in their skin; the disconnect for them is that they express as feminine, and aren’t out to much of anyone except Grayson.

Sex, for people who are not conforming to gender binaries, is a tricky business; there are all kinds of possibilities for hangups and traumas and things that just don’t feel good. But our two lovers do what has to be done to make it work–they communicate. The communication, while brief, tells them–and us–what will and won’t work, and expresses enthusiastic consent. The two scenes in this book that are shown are explicit, but not at all smutty. Quite the contrary: you have two beautiful, complicated people loving each other, and enjoying it.

By the end of the book, it’s obvious that Grayson and Wyatt are loving each other both in and out of bed. There are problems yet to overcome, but they’ve committed to dealing with them together. And that, my friend, is what romance is all about, to this reviewer.  I give this book the strongest possible recommendation.

Guest Review: The Heart of Aces

Guest Review: The Heart of AcesThe Heart of Aces by Sarah Sinnaeve, Esther Day, Stephanie Charvat, Flavia Napoleoni, Rai Scodras, Mursheda Ahad, Chelsey Brinson, Madeline Bridgen, Andrea R. Blackwell, A.J. Hall, Kari Woodrow
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Pages: 206
Published by Good Mourning Publishing on July 14th 2012
Publisher's WebsiteAmazon
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The heart of aces is where an anomaly lives, where love’s definition takes a deviation from the common rules.
These eleven stories dive into asexual relationships, where couples embrace differences, defy society’s expectations, and find romantic love. In this collection is a full spectrum of asexuality in all its classifications. From contemporary fiction to fantasy, from heteroromantic to homoromantic, join these unique characters on their journey to finding the person that speaks to their hearts.

Guest Review by Amy:

The Heart of Aces is a collection of short stories around the theme of asexual romance. This comes as a surprise to some, but there are people who are perfectly happy with romance who get little to nothing out of actual sexual intercourse. If you think it over for a bit, you’ll imagine–correctly–that there’s quite a variety of experiences to be had in there, and this collection gives us a sampling of some of those.

Considering the collection as a whole, I was pretty impressed; there are eleven stories here, showing a good variety of asexual experience, characters from different walks of life, both new and established relationships, relationships both gay and straight, and including a couple of transgender people. I would liked to have seen more straight romances–there were several same-sex relationships depicted, and it felt slightly off-balance. The thing I found refreshing about this collection is that the relationships weren’t depicted as “weird” or “other-than”. In every case, the relationship was a positive move for the participants. As I expected, many of the asexuals struggle with their identity, or are afraid to start relationships, out of fear of rejection–that, for me, was one of the strongest resonances of these tales.

Some of the individual tales bear mentioning as especially high-quality, to this reviewer.  A. J. Hall’s “Out of the Dead Land”, which starts the book, is a very well-crafted story of a first meeting between two older men. Philip is a same-sex-attracted “ace,” and he meets Kevin at an old movie showing. The tension is high, as Philip has been burned many times. Out of fear, just as things get interesting, he flees rather than reveal his sexuality to Kevin–but his new friend isn’t done. The ending is as affirming and sweet as anyone could want. “Aphrodite Hour”, by Sarah Sinnaeve, introduces us to a radio love-advice talk show host who, ironically perhaps, is an asexual. She meets a fan, who isn’t at all taken aback, after shaking off the advances of a strange man in a bar. Another favorite of mine was Chelsey Brinson’s “Shades of Grey (A)”, wherein we meet a man who–in his coming-out to his best friend–says that he’s “only ever really been attracted to one person:” his best friend, of course, who doesn’t realize that he is the target of his demisexual friend’s affection until the very end of the story.  The end of the book brings us “Good PR”, by Esther Day, and a young man who’s been living the party-it-up lifestyle as a cover for his own suppressed strangeness. When his corporate-bigwig mother insists that he must marry, things get dicey for him, especially when his mother sets it up with his best friend, a gay doctor. He must come to grips with his own identity, and his feelings for his friend, and that is predictably difficult; the ending shows us a really cute couple, two people deeply in love with each other, and left me, at least, wanting another page or two to enjoy.

Overall Rating: B-. Some of the stories, as I’ve noted, were quite good, and I identified with characters and enjoyed the settings and plots. Short stories are tricky, because you don’t have pages and pages to set scenes; you have to cast them in a place where the reader can fill in the gaps for themselves satisfactorily, and the stories I named here–and a couple of the others–do that very well. A few of the stories really left me scratching my head, though, and it was a serious downer for the collection, for this reader at least. If you’re interested in learning more about the experiences and struggles of asexuality, I do recommend this book, as you’ll learn a fair bit from the better stories in the group. If you’re an asexual looking for a good collection of romances to enjoy, then some of these will fit the bill, certainly–but others just will leave you high and dry.  I was very encouraged seeing this collection in my to-read pile, but I would have liked a more solid set of stories.  The Heart of Aces is a mixed bag, so buyer beware.

Guest Review: I Will Fear No Evil by Robert A. Heinlein

Guest Review: I Will Fear No Evil by Robert A. HeinleinI Will Fear No Evil by Robert A. Heinlein
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 512
Published by Penguin on April 15th 1987
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Johann Sebastian Bach Smith is immensely rich— and very old. His mind is still keen, so he has surgeons transplant his brain into a new body —the body of his gorgeous, recently deceased secretary, Eunice.
But Eunice hasn't completely vacated her body...

Guest review by Amy:

to sail beyond the sunset by robert heinleinRobert Heinlein, often dubbed “the Dean of Science Fiction,” is a difficult author to review, in my opinion. My first exposure to Heinlein was To Sail Beyond The Sunset, which I read at a relatively young age. It was his last work, released 1987, and it amazed me in its frank treatment of social, moral, and sexual issues; I’ve often said since that once you’ve read that one, you’re corrupted beyond all redemption, and nothing else Heinlein ever wrote will surprise you. Robert Heinlein’s work–particularly his later work, after the mid-1960s–is nothing if not thought-provoking.

For me, at least, I Will Fear No Evil gave me much to think about not only on my first reading years ago, but on my second reading recently. You see, six years ago, I came out as a transsexual, and began the process of transitioning to life full-time as a woman. So this story of a most-unusual sex change has a special sort of resonance with me, and I can read it with a unique set of eyes.

Johann Sebastian Bach Smith is old–in his late nineties, he’s kept going by rather extreme life-support measures, but he can afford it; he’s easily one of the wealthiest people on the planet. He and his attorney come up with a scheme where people with his rare blood type (AB-Negative), will be kept on retainer–if one of them dies of some trauma, he would have his brain surgically moved into the younger body. Before too very long, it happens, and he is stunned to discover that the body is none other than that of his former secretary, a beautiful young woman named Eunice Branca. Shortly, he begins to hear her voice in his head, coaching him on how to be a better woman–but in truth, he doesn’t really need much coaching, it seems.

There’s more to it than that, of course, but I don’t want to spoil the whole thing for you; I’d rather you read it for yourself. There are a few angles I want to talk about, though, for this review.

First, let’s look at the mechanics. When Heinlein had just finished the first draft of this book, he suffered a life-threatening case of peritonitis, which put him on hiatus for two years. It is widely thought that I Will Fear No Evil suffered as a result, through not getting his usual level of attention to detail and polish. I’ve read quite a lot of his work, and I would agree; indeed, the Kindle edition I downloaded contained numerous typos (something that could be an artifact of the digitization process, to be fair), and there were a number of continuity errors that I spotted–in particular, we’re never made entirely certain of Smith’s age. He asserts at several points that he grew up during the Depression of the 1930s, and several times states his age as ninety-five years old, but there are minor discrepancies here and there; none that truly influenced the story, but it was the kind of detail failure that you don’t see often in well-edited works. Overall, our cast is well-developed, interesting, and approachable, and we’re given a sense of time and place that makes clear the state the United States is in–but more on that in a moment. Smith is a lovable, crusty old coot, who’s seen it all and grown cynical, even after his transformation, and I’ve seen this pattern in so many of his later-era male leads that I sometimes wonder if it isn’t the Mary Sue effect–Heinlein casting his male leads as he saw himself. I don’t consider this book Heinlein’s best effort, from this perspective, but it’s still classic Heinlein, in many ways. My one complaint about it is that the main friction point of the story–the “struggle”, if you will–just isn’t much of one. Johann Smith has virtually endless money, so this wild scheme of his actually pans out. Her healing as Joan Eunice is breathtakingly quick–implausibly so–and her transition into life as a woman went remarkably smoothly–wish I had it so easy! With the voice of Eunice helping, and with the assistance of her nurse/maid Winifred, she manages to make the switch very easily; as someone who’s lived through that particular struggle, I’d have liked to have seen more about that process.

What makes Heinlein stories so thought-provoking, for me at least, is the commentary that he blends with his stories. Robert Heinlein had a number of interesting viewpoints on the world around him, and he was not a bit shy about writing them in. Whether it was society, religion, sexuality, space travel, gender roles, or economics, you know he has an opinion, and it shines through in his work. His earlier juvenile works were frequently mellowed somewhat by the audience he was writing for, but even then, he was not above taking a poke at what he saw as a society slowly crumbling around him.

farmer in the sky by robert heinleinFor an example of this, and as a glance at Heinlein’s commentary on society, take a look at Farmer in the Sky, a juvenile work, and contrast it with Friday, a very late work. In both cases–and indeed, in I Will Fear No Evil–we have leads who are seeing society slowly getting more and more intolerable; in Farmer, there is overcrowding and excessive regimented structure, in Friday, it manifested in many small nations, with an overarching corporate shadow-government, while in Evil, we see a world where the government has basically given up; violence and lawlessness are common. Heinlein described himself in his later years as a libertarian, or even a philosophical anarchist; from this story among many others, he makes it clear that the only way to prevent the downfall and collapse of a society is not through top-down government action, but through individuals strong-willed enough to stand against the tide and do something about it. In the present work, we find a nation that has possibly slid past the point of no return. Judge McCampbell, who helps Smith in court with identity hearings that establish that he–no, she–is not, in fact, dead, is a bit of an atavism; he demands that his courtroom be civil at all times, and isn’t afraid to throw everyone out–which triggers a riot, as people have lost the spectacle they came to see. If you read a number of Heinlein’s works, you’ll see his social commentary over and over, and the different paths he places society on to try to stem the tide–few of which actually work.

The other issue that Heinlein speaks to in this work, understandably, is human sexuality and the role of gender.  I’ll say it point blank: by the late 1960s, Robert Heinlein was a dirty old man. By this time in his life, Heinlein was absolutely unafraid to write openly about sexual liberation and freely-practiced sexuality; he was not at all against polyamory, when practiced among consenting people. So much so that I have observed among the “poly” people I know a trend toward modeling their households along a very Heinlein-esque axis. As someone who does not quite grasp jealousy as exhibited in this day and age, I can appreciate his jealousy-free, love-as-you-will approach, and I approve of that aspect of it. Where Heinlein’s notions about sexuality become problematic, for me, is in his too-stereotypical treatment of gender roles; while his female leads are strong and empowered–and most of them, bisexual–they’re almost unilaterally willing to defer to the strong man who is central in their life–or, as in Joan Eunice’s case, at least make it appear so, to him.  Heterosexual women in Robert Heinlein’s later works are somewhat uncommon, and it’s taken as a matter of course that any woman who is hetero, or who isn’t an enthusiastic connoisseur of sex, is easily converted.  Even the men are not immune to this sort of treatment, but with women, it is just de rigueur. I find this, as well as Heinlein’s total lack of lead characters who are not as sexually active, somewhat frustrating. He paints us an attractive vision of the future where people don’t have to be jealous of their one-and-only, because the notion of one-and-only is accepted as one possibility among many. But if he could have been alive somewhat later, and paired that vision with the enormous breadth of sexuality and gender role experience that the 21st century holds, his vision would have been even more beautiful.

Escape Rating: A-. As I said earlier, this is not Heinlein’s best-crafted work; ask any fan you know, and you’ll probably get several good recommendations for better ones, depending on what you’re looking for. But this one, for me at least, provided plenty of fun story, with interesting people, and the thoughtful and challenging commentary that marks Robert Heinlein as one of the great authors of 20th century science fiction.

moon is a harsh mistress by robert heinleinMarlene’s Note: A review of one of Heinlein’s works in singularly appropriate for this particular weekend. I will be at the World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City, and Heinlein’s name will be invoked multiple times in multiple contexts. The context that would be nearest-and-dearest to his heart if he were still among us will be the Heinlein Society Blood Drives, conducted every year at Worldcon in his honor and memory. Some other invocations of his name will be much less charitable, for any possible definition of invocation and/or charitable.

I read I Will Fear No Evil a long, long time ago. For me, his dirty-old-man-ness overwhelmed the story, which wasn’t nearly as well written as some of his best. I think my first exposure to Heinlein was probably Stranger in a Strange Land, which made interesting reading for a teenager. My favorite work of his is still The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. While some of his attitudes towards women are both on display and slightly obnoxious in Moon, the story as a whole still stands up. And his lesson to Mike on humor, the difference between “funny once” and “funny always” is a distinction I still use whenever applicable.

Guest Review: The MasterHarper of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

Guest Review: The MasterHarper of Pern by Anne McCaffreyThe MasterHarper of Pern by Anne McCaffrey
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, science fiction
Series: Dragonriders of Pern (Publication Order) #15
Pages: 422
Published by Del Rey on January 12th 1998
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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In a time when the deadly scourge Thread has not fallen on Pern for centuries--and many dare to hope that Thread will never fall again--a boy is born to Harper Hall. A musical prodigy who has the ability to speak with the dragons, he is called Robinton, and he is destined to be one of the most famous and beloved leaders Pern has ever known.

It is a perilous time for the harpers who sing of Thread--they are being turned away from holds, derided, attacked, even beaten. In this climate of unrest, Robinton will come into his own. But despite the tragedies that beset his own life, he continues to believe in music and in the dragons, and he is determined to save his beloved Pern from itself--so that the dragonriders can be ready to fly against the dreaded Thread when at last it returns . . . .

Guest review by Amy:

Dragonflight by Ann McAffreyMost any Pern fan will tell you that the best way to read the series is in publication order, and I would mostly agree with that. By 1998, Pern was a richly-populated world, with loads of great stories told–and plenty more to tell. One of the most interesting characters in the series is Robinton, who at the beginning of the Ninth Pass of the Red Star is the MasterHarper. In the very first Pern novel, Dragonflight, we get to meet this fascinating, talented man, and the first six books of the series feature him heavily. He’s shown as an older man, late middle-aged, exceedingly gregarious, with a taste for fine white wines and a glib tongue for diplomacy, but we’re told nothing whatever of his backstory.

In The MasterHarper of Pern, McCaffrey corrects this glaring gap, and she takes us back to the very beginning, to his birth to the MasterSinger Merelan and MasterComposer Petiron. Growing up in the Harper Hall is difficult, especially with his father being so inattentive and difficult to get along with, but Robinton excels at every part of the musical tradition, and is composing tunes of his own at three Turns of age. This, of course, annoys Petiron when he finds out, when the boy is almost 10, and we have a clash of parenting that feels almost modern, that lasts for years, ending only with Merelan’s death. Even then, Petiron is difficult, and the battle comes to a head when Robinton is elected MasterHarper.

But Robinton has other things to worry about. In the High Reaches, where he had served on his first journeyman assignment, a young bully named Fax is taking over more and more territory, and gradually building himself an empire, going against every custom, and against the Charter. The other Lords Holder won’t confirm him as a Holder, but are powerless to stop him. Robinton must watch, and do what he can, as he protects his Harpers and the common folk as best he can.

The Weyrs are of mixed mind, as many of the Lords Holder are, whether Thread will ever return to Pern. Without Thread, the great dragons that protect the planet are no longer needed. But if it returns, so few dragons remain, that they may not be able to protect all of Pern! Robinton’s lifelong friendship with F’lon and his sons F’lar and F’nor are part of the puzzle–they believe Thread will return, and Robinton’s association with them harms his reputation with those who disagree.

Action, drama, romance, political intrigue: this epic has it all, just like our own lives do over that much time.

dragonsong by anne mccaffreyEscape Rating: A-. The great strength of this book, in my opinion, is that it ties together a great many loose threads from a whole bunch of other books. For instance, why did Petiron (yes, the same one) not communicate better with the MasterHarper in Dragonsong? And the mentally-disabled Camo, who appears in that book as a drudge at the Harper Hall–what’s his story? The headwoman Silvina seems exceptionally tolerant and caring of him, but why? These things, and so many more, are gathered up into a nice neat package for us, and we can begin to see how some of the stray stories fit together. When we meet F’lon, he’s not yet Impressed his dragon, and is called Fallonner; astute Pern fans will figure out the honorific contraction many chapters before Robinton hears the drum message that his friend has Impressed, but it’s a fascinating peek into life before the events of Dragonflight and the tale of his two sons.

Where The MasterHarper of Pern falls slightly short for me is that we’re telling an epic tale almost as a series of connected short stories or novellas.  One chapter actually starts with “While the MasterHarper waited over the next five Turns,” and these skips clearly hop over things that could be interesting. It’s a bit of a quibble, really, because it does set us up for the timetable in the other books, but as a big fan of the character, it wouldn’t have bothered me a bit to make this epic even moreso, by filling in some of those gaps. McCaffrey liked this length of book, it seemed–all three of the original trilogy, and many of the subsequent novels, were about as long as MasterHarper, and she never really stretched out into “epic fantasy,” like any number of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover books, or Jacqueline Carey’s grand epics of Terre D’Ange (otherwise known as the Kushiel series). She could have, I’m reasonably certain, and sold just as many books, so I’m unsure why she didn’t.

With the caveat that my only complaint about this book is that it’s not long enough, I can heartily recommend this book. Pern fans will see so many loose ends tied up for them, and even if you’ve not read all the other stories in the series, you’ll find a great tale of a fascinating person!

Guest Review: Mindkiller by Spider Robinson

Guest Review: Mindkiller by Spider RobinsonMindkiller by Spider Robinson
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from bookstore
Formats available: hardcover, paperback
Genres: dystopian, science fiction, thriller
Series: Lifehouse Trilogy #1
Pages: 246
Published by Berkley on November 1st 1983
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From the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author of Time Pressure comes a pulse-pounding tale of action and suspense as two men and a woman search for--and find--the ultimate frontier of experience. "The new Robert Heinlein . . ".--New York Times.

Guest Review by Amy:

Norman Kent has had enough of life; his experiences in the war, his failed marriage, his dead-end career…and in the opening words of this tale, he’s ready to end it all. But an unfriendly stranger gets in the way of his plan, and he returns to his apartment, only to find his sister there, whom he’d not seen in years and years. Shortly, she disappears abruptly, without a trace.

Hop forward a few years, and a clever, tech-savvy burglar who doesn’t know his own name finds a woman with a wire in her skull, trying to kill herself with pleasure. He pulls her back from the brink, only to go on a crusade with her against the forces that created the pleasure addiction of “wireheads.”

Spider Robinson’s brain just doesn’t work like the rest of ours, I don’t think; if you’ve ever read any of his Callahan’s stories, you’ll understand; in those books he deals in puns and wild stories, while giving the reader a peek into a community of people where “shared joy is increased, shared pain is lessened,” a notion that has created substantial communities of fans here and there around the digital world (full disclosure: I am a member of one such community). The New York Times’ review of this book pinned the label “the new Robert Heinlein” on Robinson, but as a Heinlein fan, I’m not quite going to agree to that; Heinlein fans will enjoy this tale, and feel right at home with Spider Robinson’s style, but it’s…different, in ways I can’t quite put my finger on.

Something I missed early on in this book was that time was jumping back and forth; we begin Norman’s story in 1994-1995, and are jumping to 1999 for the story of the burglar and the wirehead. Once I caught onto that, things started to make a little more sense for me, and I raptly followed both plots, wondering when and how they would converge, and when an antagonist would appear. Once a name was mentioned in both plots, things kind of clicked into place–no other explanation fits the facts at hand, so if you’re watching for it, you’ll figure it out before our protagonists do. Naturally, if you miss it, Robinson helpfully provides an intrusion between the story lines, in the form of Norman’s ex-wife Lois, to help you pull it all together. The apparent climax is not-unexpected, but even here, when you think you’ve got it figured out, the author gives us a lovely new twist, right at the end. Jarring, yes, but utterly necessary, and provided a way to tidy up several loose ends still dangling.

Escape Rating: A. Unlike Heinlein, who aggressively pursued a world that got better over time, and where characters pushed for that, Spider Robinson gives us a world that has clearly spiralled downward; our heroes show no particular desire to turn it around; they’re just trying to deal with it. There is no ultra-rich Howard Family pulling the strings to make things better, just avarice and dog-eat-dog individualism, easily recognizable in our own world at times. Our heroes are hard-boiled pragmatists, jaded by the world around them; so much so that when the burglar Joe heard young Karen talking about her crusade to go after the inventors of the wirehead technology, he thought she was crazy. But Karen had lived rough herself, and was willing to play hardball to do what must be done, and for reasons he doesn’t quite grasp, Joe joins her, because–for the first time he can remember–he actually cares about someone!

Our cast of characters is well-developed, every one of them with clear motivations, and rich description. Once I got past the time-hopping confusion of the first couple of chapters, I was able to track what was happening, and the story moved along crisply, without a lot of needless embellishment. A little bit of a thriller and a little bit of dystopian sci-fi, mixed in just the right proportions with engaging characters, made this a real page-turner for me. If you’re looking for a classic dystopian novel with a great thriller thrown in the mix, I heartily recommend Mindkiller.

Guest Review: Red Lily by Nora Roberts

Guest Review: Red Lily by Nora RobertsRed Lily (In the Garden, #3) by Nora Roberts
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from bookstore
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: In the Garden #3
Pages: 351
Published by Jove on November 29th 2005
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Three women learn that the heart of their historic home holds a mystery of years gone by, as number-one bestselling author Nora Roberts brings her In the Garden trilogy to a captivating conclusion, following Blue Dahlia and Black Rose. A Harper has always lived at Harper House, the centuries-old mansion just outside of Memphis. And for as long as anyone alive remembers, the ghostly Harper Bride has walked the halls, singing lullabies at night...
Hayley Phillips came to Memphis hoping for a new start, for herself and her unborn child. She wasn't looking for a handout from her distant cousin Roz, just a job at her thriving In the Garden nursery. What she found was a home surrounded by beauty and the best friends she's ever had-including Roz's son Harper. To Hayley's delight, her new daughter Lily has really taken to him. To Hayley's chagrin, she has begun to dream about Harper-as much more than a friend...
If Hayley gives in to her desire, she's afraid the foundation she's built with Harper will come tumbling down. Especially since she's begun to suspect that her feelings are no longer completely her own. Flashes of the past and erratic behavior make Hayley believe that the Harper Bride has found a way inside of her mind and body. It's time to put the Bride to rest once and for all, so Hayley can know her own heart again-and whether she's willing to risk it.

Guest Review by Amy:

In this book, the climax of the In the Garden series, we spend time peering out at the Memphis mansion of Roz Harper through the eyes of her distant cousin Hayley, who came to the mansion while pregnant with her first child, looking for a new start. Roz took her in, of course, and Hayley joined the busy household, and started working at Roz’s very-successful business. She’s started to fall for Roz’s son Harper, and is a little bit freaked out by that; she’s worried about what Roz will think, but the older woman makes it quite clear that her son is a grown man and can make his own decisions.

The ghost story started in the prior two books continues, and the Harper Bride is turning it up a notch! Clearly insane, the ghostly woman confuses the current Harper son with the one who had done her wrong years ago, and begins sneaking into Hayley’s mind, and taking control of her body. When she does this during an intimate moment, Harper is horrified, and both he and Hayley are quite terrified.

This possession aspect, a new trick for the Bride, really ramps up the suspense and terror of this story for me; it’s suddenly very important that our three couples find out who the Bride was, and how to free her, and the remaining space in the story is dedicated to that. There’s a bit of back-and-forth between Harper and Hayley, as he wants very much to keep her safe, and wants to send her off the property to protect her. She’s having none of it, of course, and the friction between them just adds to the tension as we hurtle toward the finale. The ending, while somewhat predictable, is satisfying to everyone.

blue dahlia by nora robertsEscape Rating: A+. I’m giving this one all-aces. By now, all of our cast of characters are well-developed, and no new major players are introduced. Everyone’s purposes and motivations are clear and straightforward, and the plot is driven hard by the increasingly-unhinged actions of the Bride. The development of the relationship between Hayley and Harper is, given the circumstances, quite easy to buy into. Typically for these supernatural-romance trilogies that Roberts does, the third volume ramps up the suspense/terror aspects pretty sharply, and that makes it a real page-turner, for me. Overall, I’d give the In the Garden series an A-, with two outstanding stories starting with Blue Dahlia (reviewed here)  bookending a merely good one (Black Rose) in the middle.

 

Guest Review: Black Rose by Nora Roberts

Guest Review: Black Rose by Nora RobertsBlack Rose (In the Garden trilogy #2) by Nora Roberts
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from bookstore
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, paranormal
Series: In the Garden #2
Pages: 355
Published by Jove on May 31st 2005
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A Harper has always lived at Harper House, the centuries-old mansion just outside of Memphis. And for as long as anyone alive remembers, the ghostly Harper Bride has walked the halls, singing lullabies at night...

At forty-seven, Rosalind Harper is a woman whose experiences have made her strong enough to bend without breaking--and weather any storm. A widow with three grown sons, she survived a disastrous second marriage and built her In The Garden nursery from the ground up. Through the years, In The Garden has become more than just a thriving business--it is a symbol of hope and independence to Roz, and to the two women she shares it with. Newlywed Stella and new mother Hayley are the sisters of her heart, and together the three of them are the future of In The Garden.

But now the future is under attack, and Roz knows they can't fight this battle alone. Hired to investigate Roz's Harper ancestors, Dr. Mitchell Carnegie finds himself just as intrigued with Roz herself. And as they being to unravel the puzzle of the Harper Bride's identity, Roz is shocked to find herself falling for the fascinating genealogist. Now it is a desperate race to discover the truth before the unpredictable apparition lashes out at the one woman who can help her rest in peace...

Guest Review by Amy:

red lily by nora robertsBlack Rose picks up right where Blue Dahlia left off (see my review). Stella and Logan are preparing for a wedding, and the Harper Bride is as much a mystery as before. In the prior entry in this trilogy, we were introduced to a professorish fellow named Mitch Carnegie, whom Roz originally hired to do some of the research to figure out who the Harper Bride is. He was such a bit role in Blue Dahlia that I just didn’t see it coming, at first, but he ends up on Roz’s radar pretty quickly. We start to figure out more about the Bride, and we also start to see a blossoming relationship between Roz’s son David, and her distant relation Hayley, our third-woman and presumably the subject of Red Lily.

Mitch is an interesting man; he has a son from a prior relationship, and is a strong enough man to own up (not only to himself, but to Roz and her extended ‘family’) to what he had done to end it, and what he was doing to prevent it happening again. He’s a bit of an anachronism; the forgetful scholar, who is surrounded by books and so engrossed that he forgets to water his plant. He’s not part of the richer social circles that Roz begrudgingly attends to, and he finds seeing the actions of the upper-crust set an interesting study. It’s quickly clear that he dotes on Roz, supportive without asking her to not be the strong woman she is…which is, of course, exactly the kind of man she needs. Roz waffles a bit at first; she’s used to going it alone, and knows she doesn’t *need* a man in her life for it to be fulfilled and successful. But after a while, she decides that she *wants* one–that one. Her ex is in town causing shenanigans, which complicates matters as she deals with him, but she does it capably and in style, which puts Mitch in awe of her (as well it should). Stella and Hayley are amused by the older couple’s relationship, teasing Roz in a private moment: “…we know you had sex. You’ve got that recently waxed and lubed look,” Hayley quips on the morning after. Roz’s son takes note, and goes on his own to make sure that Mitch’s intentions are good.

The Bride begins pushing back harder against Roz as she lets her relationship with Mitch develop. A non-Harper woman in the house getting involved annoyed her, but Roz is a Harper, and the Bride is clearly enraged by the independent Roz’s actions. On several instances, she directly attacks Roz, raising the urgency for dealing with her. Roz is only briefly frightened by her antics; she mostly feels sorry for the poor woman, and promises her that she will find a way to free her.

blue dahlia by nora robertsEscape Rating B+: I enjoyed this book, because we continue to see the lives of three interesting women unfolding, and the ongoing ghost story, but to me, Black Rose was not as strong a book as Blue Dahlia. The book had some more fantastically fun Southernisms in it (leading me into giggling fits more than once, as my daughter can attest). The strong spot for me was the way that Roz and Mitch let their relationship happen–two older adults, who figure out what they want, and go there, without a lot of misdirection or beating around the bush about it. As an older woman myself, this approach appeals–I do not have time or energy for the sort of games that happen to the younger set, or the chasing around less-than-savory locations to find Mr. Right.

My problem with the tale, mostly, lies in a weakness of this triple-novel format that Roberts is using here. Since we have three women, we must have three novels. We moved the ghost story plot forward a bit, but some of this story seemed like filler, to set us up for the climax of the trilogy in the next book. I know in my review of Stephanie Bond’s I Think I Love You, I complained that the author was trying to do too much putting all three tales in one book, but it seems to me *almost* the case that Roz’s story could be rolled up into the books on either side of it. It’s an enjoyable read, but it’s a quicker read than Blue Dahlia, and left me feeling like there needed to be more said, more tension, more…something.