Review: Doc by Mary Doria Russell

doc by maria doria russellFormat read: ebook borrowed from the library
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: historical fiction
Length: 394 pages
Publisher: Random House
Date Released: May 3, 2011
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

The year is 1878, peak of the Texas cattle trade. The place is Dodge City, Kansas, a saloon-filled cow town jammed with liquored-up adolescent cowboys and young Irish hookers. Violence is random and routine, but when the burned body of a mixed-blood boy named Johnnie Sanders is discovered, his death shocks a part-time policeman named Wyatt Earp. And it is a matter of strangely personal importance to Doc Holliday, the frail twenty-six-year-old dentist who has just opened an office at No. 24, Dodge House. Beautifully educated, born to the life of a Southern gentleman, Dr. John Henry Holliday is given an awful choice at the age of twenty-two: die within months in Atlanta or leave everyone and everything he loves in the hope that the dry air and sunshine of the West will restore him to health. Young, scared, lonely, and sick, he arrives on the rawest edge of the Texas frontier just as an economic crash wrecks the dreams of a nation. Soon, with few alternatives open to him, Doc Holliday is gambling professionally; he is also living with Maria Katarina Harony, a high-strung Hungarian whore with dazzling turquoise eyes, who can quote Latin classics right back at him. Kate makes it her business to find Doc the high-stakes poker games that will support them both in high style. It is Kate who insists that the couple travel to Dodge City, because “that’s where the money is.” And that is where the unlikely friendship of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp really begins–before Wyatt Earp is the prototype of the square-jawed, fearless lawman; before Doc Holliday is the quintessential frontier gambler; before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral links their names forever in American frontier mythology–when neither man wanted fame or deserved notoriety. Authentic, moving, and witty, Mary Doria Russell’s fifth novel redefines these two towering figures of the American West and brings to life an extraordinary cast of historical characters, including Holliday’s unforgettable companion, Kate. First and last, however, “Doc “is John Henry Holliday’s story, written with compassion, humor, and respect by one of our greatest contemporary storytellers.

My Review:

I’m having a difficult time starting my review for this book. It is one of those stories that I suspect people will either love or hate. I loved it. I also got so immersed in it that I’m having a hard time stepping back from it.

Book hangover, anyone?

The book is a fictionalized version of the life of John Henry Holliday, much, much better known as “Doc” Holliday. And even though the event that made him life in the legends of the American West is the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, this book doesn’t get that far in Doc’s relatively short life.

epitaph by maria doria russellThat part of the story is coming in Epitaph, which has probably just moved up my reading schedule a couple of months. Even though I know perfectly well how it ends. Doc, at least, is a book where the journey is much more interesting than the destination.

The story in Doc feels like it is more about the way that Holliday became involved with the Earp brothers (Wyatt, Morgan, James and Virgil) than about any possible gunslinging. Not that Doc seems to have done anywhere near as much of that as legend makes out.

Doc Holliday was mostly two things in Dodge City, Kansas where this part of his story (and theirs) takes place. In his own mind, first he was a dentist. He was no quack, either. He earned that title, “Doc” at the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery. He graduated as D.D.S., Doctor of Dental Surgery, in 1872.

People didn’t like to visit the dentist in 1872 any more than they did in 1972, or possibly 2072. In the very wild Western cowtown of Dodge City, Doc earned his living as a gambler. Which was a considerably more respectable occupation than it is today.

There was one other thing about Doc Holliday which affected his whole short and often unhappy life. He contracted tuberculosis in his early 20s, and spent the rest of his short life staving off his early death.

He moved west from the Atlanta area in the hopes that the hot dry summers would be better for him than sticky, wet, muggy Atlanta. No one thought about all the dust. Or that a dentist couldn’t make a living, but a gambler could. But gamblers generally work in smoky saloons late at night, and that wasn’t better at all.

Doc was a cultured and mannered gentleman in a town where cowboys squandered their hard-earned pay in drunken sprees at the ends of months-long cattle drives. He was also a man who simply could not hold his own in a barroom brawl, because he was a tall, skinny man with a death rattle cough that doubled him over on an all too frequent basis.

In this story, we see him coping with increasing debilities as the disease steals his life an inch at a time. We also see all the lives that he touched in Dodge, especially the Earp brothers. Wyatt Earp tried his hand at being a standup, unbought lawman in a town where everything was for sale. As the place started to become more civilized by Eastern standards, Wyatt made himself some backers among the reform-minded people, and made enemies of the saloon and brothel owners who held all the money in town.

Doc both saved his life, and fixed his teeth. The Earps saw Doc as another brother. Which is part of the reason they all ended up in Tombstone in 1881. The friendship that they formed in Dodge City put them all on a path to legend and myth.

Escape Rating A-: One of the things that consistently surprises you during this story is just how young they all were. We think of them as grizzled veterans, but all of them, Holliday, the Earp Brothers, and even Bat Masterson were all in their mid-to-late 20s when this story takes place, and not much older at the famous gunfight in 1881. The legends all came much later, when they were old, or dead.

As I read, Doc reminded me of both Lonesome Dove and Deadwood, which I realize is probably an odd combination.

lonesome doveI’m not just including Lonesome Dove because it is also a big, sprawling Western, or at least is set during this same time period of U.S. western expansion, but because of the way that both stories bring every single character to life and immerse the reader in a way of life that the characters love but know is passing.

The Earps are mostly itinerant lawmen. Many of their wives were prostitutes, or at least had been working girls. There were damn few of what would have been considered “respectable” women around a cattle boom town in the middle of nowhere. No one in this story is a stock character. Every person, not just the Earps and Doc, but all the side characters including all the “soiled doves” have their own story and part to play in the wider narrative.

One of the strongest characters in the book is Kate Harony. She was a prostitute known as Big Nose Kate. She was also the daughter of Hungarian aristocrats who lost power during the Mexican Revolution. In the story (and in real life) she was Doc Holliday’s partner – but he certainly wasn’t keeping her. It seems pretty clear that mostly she was keeping him, and helping to take care of him when his illness flared up.

At the same time, this story reminds me a lot of Deadwood because the powers-that-be, such as they are, are entirely corrupt. Not necessarily in the sense that they run businesses that someone might find of questionable morality, but because they bought and sold everyone and everything in their path.

They are also aware that the harbingers of civilization will drive them out sooner or later, so they are always on the lookout for their next big chance to fleece a lot of cowboys and anyone else foolish enough to come under their sway.

So while the story focuses on Doc, there are layers within layers about the life of the town and the slow demise of the frontier that it represents. In the center of the story, Doc is always dying, and always fighting to live the best he can no matter how painful it becomes. And his story is marvelous and heartrending all at the same time.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: The Chosen by Theresa Meyers

The Chosen Theresa MeyersFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: Mass Market Paperback, ebook
Genre: Steampunk romance, Paranormal Romance
Series: The Legend Chronicles #3
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Kensington Zebra
Date Released: March 5, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

The Chosen: a prophecy older than dirt and more dangerous than death. Even as they perfected steam-powered gadgetry and rounded up varmints from Hell, the Jackson brothers didn’t believe in it. But when the chips are down, three brothers named for weapons aren’t going out without a fight…

A Walk On The Wild Side

Attorney by day, demon-hunter by night, Remington Jackson is used to being on the sunny side of the law, even in the Wild West. But it’s showdown time, and Remy and his brothers are getting desperate. They don’t have the relic they need to slam the door shut on evil—so Remy is going to have to find and steal part of it.

Enter China McGee, shapeshifter, thief, beauty, and current prisoner. When Remy offers her freedom in exchange for a little light-fingered help, she’s pretty sure she’s going to end the association with a good old-fashioned seductive double cross. But there’s something about fighting through a jungle full of Mayan ruins that makes you want to settle down together. China could change. Remy might be special. But none of that matters if the devil takes them all…

In this final volume of Theresa Meyers’ Legend Chronicles, this western-themed steampunk series took its Indiana Jones’ style of peril and adventure with a trip to the jungles of Central America.

Romancing the StoneIt reads like “Indiana Jones meets Romancing the Stone” except that the end of the world was at stake. (But then, Indy had that whole adventure with the Ark.)

In other words, The Chosen is brings the Legend Chronicles to a rollicking conclusion, with Meyers particular brand of forbidden romance between Darkin Hunter and the supposedly evil Darkin that are their normal prey spiced up with the added tension that in this case, Remy Jackson is falling for one of his younger brother Colt’s ex-lovers.

China McGee just happens to be able to turn into a mountain lion whenever she’s feeling a bit catty.

It turns out that China is keeping a much bigger secret from Remy than even he expects…and he expects that she’s keeping quite a few. But this one is downright explosive!

Escape Rating A-: I had to give the rating so I could start talking about what I liked about the story. As the conclusion of a fantastic trilogy, it’s difficult to talk about the plot without revealing something of the first two books.

The Inventor Theresa MeyersThe unsung hero of the Legend Chronicles is Sir Marley Turlock, their madcap inventor. His inventions either work spectacularly, or blow up in your face. There’s a marvelous, and slightly bittersweet, scene in The Chosen that has much more resonance if you’ve read the prequel novella The Inventor. It’s probably still good otherwise, but it has more depth if you’ve read The Inventor.

The Chosen does follow the pattern of The Hunter and The Slayer, with one of exceptions. Unlike the other two women, China doesn’t appear out of the blue. Colt and China are ex-lovers. (Talk about awkward future family reunions!)

But there is the same scene in Tombstone from early in the previous two books, this time told from Remy’s point of view. It’s interesting, possibly unique to have read that same scene three times, and have it be slightly different each time!

The romances are of the “forbidden-fruit” type in each story. The Jacksons are Hunters, sworn to fight the Darkin. The women are all Darkin of one type or another. They spend most of the story resisting each other, because they’re not supposed to be on the same side, and they are sure their alliance is only temporary. “The enemy of my enemy” and all that. Except it turns out that the hunter and the hunted have more in common than any Hunter has with someone who has lived a so-called normal life.

Once they finally do give in to their attraction, Theresa Meyers really does “put the steam in steampunk”! Ramping up the sexual tension but having a good reason to not fulfill it makes for a very hot love scene when it finally does happen.

I do not want to spoil the end of The Chosen, but I will say that the series is a delightfully satisfying read. If you have a love for adventure with a romantic steampunk flavor, The Legend Chronicles should be your cup of tea. Or motor oil.

The Chosen Tour button

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Interview with Authors Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall

My very special guests today are Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall, the authors of the Cowboy and Vampire series. And one of the most fascinating (and detailed) interviews it has ever been my privilege to host. Read it and get a taste of why you should dive right into their Cowboy and Vampire thriller series (see my reviews of The Cowboy and the Vampire and Blood and Whiskey for all the deliciously gory details–we’re talking vampires, there’s supposed to be some gore!)

Marlene: Clark and Kathleen, can you please tell us a bit about yourselves? What do you do when you’re not writing?

Clark and Kathleen: Leading with an absolute stereotype, all authors are boring and we are not exceptions to that rule. Serious authors (and we don’t mean authors who lack cheerful dispositions, nor do we mean those who are financially successful — we’re talking about authors who take the pursuit seriously and place it equal to or above all others) tend to spend most (all) of their spare time locked in a room, examining the motivations of make-believe people moving across a fictional landscape. It’s self-imposed schizophrenia and there is simply nothing interesting about it other than, hopefully, how it makes readers feel later when they make their way through the finished product. But there is a lot of hard, boring work to get from idea to finished product.

That’s a long-winded way of saying the only thing we do when we are not writing is think about writing, talk about writing … and read. Reading is not only an enjoyable pursuit, it keeps the brain primed with what writing feels like once it’s delivered.

To make a boring story even more mind-numbing, we both work in communications — Kathleen for a research university, Clark for a national financial services company — so we spend all of our days writing, or thinking about the strategy behind how words will affect an audience. We both write for a living, and we both write to live, which is awesome, but also tiring. And boring.

Which is a shame because we live in Portland, Oregon — one of the coolest cities in the country. Along with all the creative people, great food and tremendous beer, it’s smack dab between the lovely, rocky and often undeveloped coast to the west, the sagebrush-covered high desert to the east and the mountains of the Gifford Pinchot Wilderness (where Bigfoot walks!) to the north. We do try to get away whenever we can, but generally tote our laptops and notebooks along with us to write or talk about writing.

Marlene: And speaking of writing, what is it like to co-author a book? What’s your process for writing a novel together?

Clark and Kathleen: Writing together is like making diamonds from carbon. It takes a lot of time, heat and pressure to end up with something rare, something that endures, something that people want to own. The time is something we carve out ourselves. The heat is generated by the shared creativity and the epic fights we have about … well, everything — from the phallic nature of em-dashes to the value of flashback sequences. As for the pressure, it’s self-imposed; we feel a responsibility to create simply the best work possible, work that — despite the seemingly crazy subject matter: cowboys and vampires — will stand the test of time and not do a disservice to the efforts of writers who came before us and those who will come after us.

For example, we’re not Kafka, but it’s okay — desired, actually — to aspire to that level of creativity and skill and to try and replicate his ability to change perceptions, if only for a short time, of readers. We write about cowboys and vampires, among other things. Kafka wrote about a man who turned into a giant cockroach. We want to be known for fun, entertaining books that still deliver quality fiction. Our books use familiar icons to take readers on a journey that examines the nature of reality, the meaning of consciousness and the nature of evil. And of course, it’s all wrapped up in a dark comedy and a sizzling love story.

The process of writing together is pretty straightforward. First, we come up with the concept. Then we plot it out. Next up is assigning chapters. After that comes the most crucial step: murdering our “regular” lives. We give up on social events, family obligations and anything fun. We immerse ourselves in the process, crank out chapters and then swap them to edit and back and forth, ad infinitum. Despite great odds, in the midst of all that madness and mayhem, a book begins to take shape. And after countless edits passing it back and forth, and countless fights and going to bed angry over the most ridiculous things, our two visions of the world are gradually, painstakingly shaped into a seamless whole. And hopefully that whole will be a glittering diamond and not fool’s gold (pyrite, which is formed under much less extreme conditions than diamonds).

Marlene: What made you decide to get into this whole co-novel-writing thing in the first place? There must be a story in there.

Clark and Kathleen: We started writing together to try and save our relationship. We were tentatively exploring the idea of reconciling after a two-year separation following an ugly break up. We had crashed together in an intense and passionate relationship but the intensity, the energy generated, was bigger than we were at the time, so we came up with creative ways to sabotage our own happiness and retreated to lick our wounds. In the time apart, we realized we had turned our back on something huge, something that deserved another attempt. But we wanted to be smarter this time, so we agreed on some ground rules.

We decided to write together to divert some of the crazy, creative energy into fiction. So far, so good.

Marlene: Would you care to tell us a bit about how you got together? It sounds like your story might make a good romance novel just by itself?

Clark and Kathleen: Right? Thank you! We think it would make an awesome story. We met while working survival jobs in a restaurant in Portland. We were both unhappily married to other people at the time and there was an immediate, visceral, magical connection like we’d met in a past life, or several past lives, but — and we want to make this very clear: nothing came of it. Other than having some fantastic conversations and, probably, flirting a bit more than we should have, absolutely nothing happened.

Several years later, luckily, our paths crossed again and we were both single. Lots happened then, so much so that we combusted into an epic break up (see above).

Marlene: The series you’re writing is Cowboy and Vampire. Western meets horror. Two genres that don’t normally ride together, so to speak. What inspired you to blend them?

Clark and Kathleen: When we got back together the second time and decided to write together, we wanted to come up with a concept that brought together our interests. Clark grew up in Montana and is a big fan of the west, interested in how modern life in cowboy country is built on all of the myths and legends of that short, golden era of the American west. Kathleen is interested in the intersection of science and religion, exploring concepts such as where the self exists, how morality is created and what Near Death Experiences mean. And we both have a macabre, dark side. Bring all that together, along with a desire to write something fun that would really grab readers, and you can see how undead buckaroos bubbled to the surface.

We met up after our two-year seclusion at a truck stop in Madras, Oregon, halfway between our respective homes — a neutral, no-man’s land. We started pitching ideas and when we got to cowboys and vampires, we both got really excited and the more we talked about it, the more possibilities we saw. We sketched out the rough plot line for the first book in crayon on the back of a paper placemat, then returned to our homes and started working on it. At the time, this was 1998, we didn’t have email (insert your own “when I was young” jokes) so we mailed the chapters back and forth written in long hand.

Marlene: Can you briefly describe the Cowboy and Vampire series, so readers know what to expect when they step into your world? Can they start with Blood and Whiskey, or do people really need to start at the beginning?

Clark and Kathleen: The Cowboy and Vampire Thriller Series is a love story about the power that exists when worlds collide and opposites attract. And Tucker and Lizzie, the main characters, couldn’t be more opposite.

Tucker is a down-on-his-luck cowboy living in LonePine, Wyoming, population 438. He’s got a small ranch, big bills, an overly-sensitive dog named Rex and a good, but simple life. His world is completely upended when he falls hat-over-boot-heels in love with Lizzie Vaughan. She’s a hot-shot reporter from New York on assignment from her magazine to chronicle the disappearing west. They meet, sparks fly and bed sheets get twisted, and that might have been the end of it — a few nights of passionate sex and enough good memories to last a lifetime — but Lizzie has ancient vampire blood in her veins and the ruling elite of the vampire world want it bad.

In The Cowboy and the Vampire, Lizzie finds out she is a vampire and turns to Tucker for help. They have to fend off a horde of evil vampires, led by her maniacal father who is bent on stealing the power in her veins and using it to reshape the world to his own twisted liking, while coming to terms with the fact that she will need blood to live.

In Blood and Whiskey, which picks up on the action but is a standalone read, they face a new challenge ­­— a race war brewing between the two species of vampires, Reptiles and Royals — and LonePine is caught right in the middle. As foreign vampires bent on testing Lizzie’s strength swarm to the tiny town, an undead assassin straight out of the old west has Lizzie in his gun sights.

Marlene: What book do each of you recommend that everyone should read, and why did you pick that particular book?

Kathleen: Animal Liberation, by Peter Singer. It’s a little outdated now, but it still gets you thinking about cruelty and our own role in it. Thinking about cruelty is a good state of mind to be in when you write about vampires.

Clark: Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo; I think it’s one of the greatest books ever written and the level of character development is inspiring. Hugo spent more time developing minor characters than many contemporary authors spend on their protagonists. And that final chapter is just heart wrenching. I’m not sure the book would get published today because modern readers seem to prefer less exposition, but I consider it is a true monument to the craft.

Marlene: Will there be more books in this series? What is next on your schedule?

Clark and Kathleen: We are hard at work on book three, tentatively called Undead Frontiers. And we are debuting a new paranormal detective series shortly after that. It has a tough female lead and is written in the old noir style. We call it “paranoir.” The first in the series is tentatively titled Plantlife.

Marlene: Now can you tell us 3 reasons why people should read your books?

Clark and Kathleen:

1) Pure entertainment. Our books are a great blend of funny and suspenseful. There’s intrigue, backstabbing, betrayal, pulse-quickening action and steamy romance all punctuated with deadpan black humor. For example, after barely surviving an undead assault at a horrific slaughterhouse and flash-freezing a vampire, Tucker has this to say:

“Vampire-sicles,” Tucker said. “There’s a flavor that ain’t gonna catch on at the Tastee Freeze next summer.”

2) Gets your brain juiced up. Our vampires are sustained by The Meta. They die every morning, completely, and their “souls” — the sense of individuated self — reside temporarily in The Meta, a giant energy field that contains, sustains and stores life in between physical incarnations. For vampires, who have a near death experience every morning, it’s fairly run of the mill. For humans, accessing The Meta is life-changing. This aspect of the story continues to draw interest.

“While a number of existentialist underpinnings give the series some depth, the book is first and foremost a thriller, upping the ante in every chapter as bullets fly and relationships strain under the weight of old loyalties and new revelations. In a way, it’s a shame more time isn’t spent exploring the existence of this meta world where consciousnesses wait out the daylight hours and immortality has all sorts of ramifications for human spirituality.” Kirkus Reviews.

3) Welcome to the real modern west. The western part is utterly realistic and based on Clark’s experiences growing up on a ranch in Montana as well as our shared love of the remote reaches of Oregon. For example, we so fell in love with tiny Plush, Oregon on a recent trip there to mine sunstones, we decided to feature it — and sunstones, the state gemstone of Oregon — in Blood and Whiskey. A review from the nearest paper, the East Oregonian, indicates that we got the cowboy part right.

“These books are billed as romantic thrillers, and it’s certainly non-stop action from the get-go. They are full of the down-home dry wit and laid-back attitude that cowboys do so well. And as unlikely as their relationship is, Tucker and Lizzie’s bond is what makes the whole scheme work. So if you’re looking for a combination of sex, blood and Western romance, pour yourself a shot of the good stuff and settle in for a wickedly good read.” Renee Struthers, The East Oregonian

Marlene: Each of you, morning person or night owl?

Clark and Kathleen: Neither of us are really night owls, but only because our work schedules get us up early and send us to bed pretty early, with our brains spent. In a perfect world, one in which we never had to leave our little world (lovingly referred to as Reclusia) we would probably stay up later and sleep later.

Thanks so much for letting us stop by!

And thank you for interrupting your real and writing life (or that much-needed trip to Reclusia) to answer all my questions. This was awesome! Vampire-sicles, OMG I’m still laughing about the vampire-sicles.

Review: Blood and Whiskey by Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall

Format read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: Trade paperback, ebook
Genre: paranormal
Series: Cowboy and Vampire #2
Length: 362 pages
Publisher: Pumpjack Press
Purchasing Info: Authors’ Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Wanted: Lizzie Vaughan, Dead or Alive. Relationships are always hard, but for a broke cowboy and a newly turned Vampire, true love may be lethal. After barely surviving an undead apocalypse in The Cowboy and the Vampire, Tucker and Lizzie hightail it back to quirky LonePine, Wyoming (population 438), to start a family. But she’s got a growing thirst for blood and he’s realizing that mortality ain’t all it’s cracked up to be when your girlfriend may live forever. With a scheming Vampire nation hot on their boot heels and a price on her head, how far will Lizzie and Tucker go to protect their unlikely love? Blending evolution, religion and an overly sensitive cow dog named Rex, Blood and Whiskey drags the Vampire myth into the modern west, delivering double-barreled action, heart-pounding passion and wicked humor.

Blood and Whiskey by Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall is definitely “A Cowboy and Vampire Thriller”, just like it says in the subtitle. Meaning that it involves a cowboy, (actually multiple cowboys, but one in particular), a vampire (again multiples, some good, some definitely not so good) and is it ever a thriller.

Also, it’s the sequel to The Cowboy and the Vampire (reviewed here), and it helps a ton to have read the first book first. These vampires have a whole religion of their very own. (There will be spoilers here for the first book. You have been warned.)

When last we left out heroes, Lizzie was the new queen of the vampires, her nemesis (and father) Julius, was permanently dead, and she was pregnant with Tucker’s baby–with no idea whether said baby was going to be human, vampire or some combination of the two. After all the crazy changes in her life, she just wanted to go home, and that meant Tucker’s home, little ole LonePine, Wyoming.

Where the vampire world descends in droves. With Julius dead, there’s a vacuum of power, and everyone wants to know if Lizzie is even capable of filling it. If she isn’t, or doesn’t, chaos will rule. A chaos that will be very, very bad, not just for Lizzie, and for the “good” vampires, but also for the human race. They’ll just be food, like cattle. On the worst-tended factory farm anyone could possibly imagine…and probably for the shortest time in (unlikely to be) recorded history.

Then night will fall. A night that will make the first Dark Ages look positively bright in comparison.

While Lizzie figures out whether she can “woman up” (maybe that should be “vampire up”) and deal with the politics, Tucker has a mission of his own: helping his best friend, conspiracy theory-happy Lenny rescue his kidnapped niece Rose from a feed lot. It turns out Lenny’s conspiracy theories were right after all, just not quite the way anyone imagined.

It forces Lizzie to accept the consequences of her choices as a vampire, and not take the easy way out. Not as a vampire, not as leader, not as a queen. She can either consciously choose to consume evil, or she can become evil by default. It’s her choice, and her destiny.

The right choices are never the easy ones. Lizzie is lucky that cowboys learn that before they fall in love with vampires.

Escape Rating A-: Blood and Whiskey had less philosophy and more action than the first book, and that made for a much more action-packed, and more absorbing story. I picked this one up and totally lost track of time–always an excellent sign.

Every writer who tackles the “vampire question” puts their own unique spin on it, and Hays and McFall are no exception. Their take on vampire philosophy/metaphysics as “good” vampires being those who consume evil humans, and “bad” ones as those who just eat whatever they darn well please made for an interesting moral conundrum, along with the two different pictures of “love as redemption” painted by Tucker’s steadfast love for Lizzie in spite of her change, and the reptile-descended vampire Eliza’s surprising discovery of love for the beautiful Virote.

The question at the end, whether enlightened self-interest is enough to redeem an entire species, is one that I hope will be answered in later books in the series.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand? 9-23-12

If you haven’t hopped on over to the Naughty or Nice Blog Hop yet, what are you waiting for? Nat at Reading Romances organized a terrific blog hop around the age-old question, “what kind of romances do you like best, naughty romances or nice?” If you’re willing to answer that question on this blog, you’ll have a chance at a $15 Amazon Gift Card. There are almost 90 blogs participating, so there are lots of other fantastic bookish giveaways!

What else happened besides the blog hop this week? Funny you should ask. I did review a few books.

B+ Review: The Cowboy and the Vampire by Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall
B Review: Racing With The Wind by Regan Walker + Giveaway
B+ Review: Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
C- Review: The Last Victim by Karen Robards

There is still plenty of time to get in on a chance to win a copy of Regan Walker’s Racing With the Wind. If you enjoy historical romance, especially if you liked Shana Galen’s Lord and Lady Spy or the historical parts of Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series, give this one a try.

But what about this week, I hear you asking? Or at least I hope I hear you asking. (Mostly, I’m hearing a cat with the “screaming me-me’s”at the moment because I’m blogging instead of paying attention to Her Highness!)

Schedules happen. That’s not quite how that saying goes, but we’ll take it as read. After Monday’s Ebook Review Central (this week it’s the Hexapost) this week I definitely have the interview with Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall about their fascinating journey towards each other and to the writing of their darkly romantic western vampire thriller series, Cowboy and Vampire. They’ll be here on Wednesday, along with my review of the second book in the series, Blood and Whiskey.


Before Wednesday, we’ll have a real treat. It’s that chocolate treat I promised last week. Suzanne Selfors will be here to talk about The Sweetest Spell, her fairy tale about an outcast girl who is the only person in her world who has the magic to make chocolate. Talk about a much, much better version of the King Midas power! Wow! One lucky commenter on the blog will receive a very special prize from Suzanne. Come back Tuesday to read the review and her interview and find out what the prize is and how to enter.


Chocolate on Tuesday, Vampires on Wednesday, what’s left? Mystery. On Thursday, my guest will be Carol Tibaldi, discussing her kidnapping mystery, Willow Pond. Part of the fascination of Willow Pond is the setting; it’s not just set in the 1920’s, so there’s the whole Art Deco/Roaring 20’s era style, but it’s also the time of Prohibition and speakeasies and the Mob. The story also has the hint of Golden Age Hollywood and a high-profile kidnapping.  This story has oodles of mystery and suspense in an utterly fascinating time.

It’s going to be a busy week. Looking ahead to next week, there’s something more important than any individual book I might be planning to read, and that’s the freedom to read whatever book I might want to read.

Next Sunday, September 30, is the beginning of Banned Books Week. A week that celebrates the freedom to read. Last year, there was a Virtual Read-Out, an opportunity to upload a video of a reading of a banned or challenged book. The list of books you can pick from is frightening. And ironic.

I’m planning to do it again this year. I’ll read from Fahrenheit 451, wearing my Fahrenheit 451 t-shirt, explaining why the book is important. Or maybe I’ll pick Brave New World this time. It’s also on the list. It’s all about the irony of not letting “Big Brother” choose my reading for me.

If you don’t want “Big Brother” to ever be able to choose your reading for you, support Banned Books Week.




Review: The Cowboy and the Vampire by Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall

Format read: ebook provided by the authors
Formats available: Trade paperback, ebook
Genre: paranormal
Series: Cowboy and Vampire #1
Length: 408 pages
Publisher: Midnight Ink
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Reporter Lizzie Vaughan doesn’t realize it, but she has 2,000 years of royal Vampiric blood coursing through her veins. Neither she nor Tucker, her cowboy lover, has any idea that Julius, the leader of the undead, has a diabolical plan to reign over darkness for all eternity–with Lizzie at his side. Lizzie battles for her life–and her soul–as she and Tucker find themselves caught up in a vampire war, pursued by hordes of Julius’ maniacal, bloodthirsty followers. Who will be left standing when the sun rises?

To use the western vernacular that the cowboy-hero of this tale wears like a second skin, this dog should not hunt, but somehow, it does. It should buck the reader off like a ride on badly broken bronco. Instead, you stick with the tale until the bloody and bittersweet end. It’s a compulsion. Lizzie and Tucker were mis-matched when she was just a New York magazine writer and he was the man she dubbed “The Last Cowboy.”

By the end of the story, they should be even wronger (and yes, in this story that IS a word) for each other, but they have earned a little bit of peace.

Their enemies will be back. After all, I read The Cowboy and the Vampire to get ready for Blood and Whiskey, the second book in the series (review and interview with the authors on Thursday).

There’s more mystery than romance in this story that the authors subtitled “A Darkly Romantic Mystery” and with good reason. When the book opens, Lizzie and Tucker are already in the middle of their love affair. Their only problem is that Lizzie has gone back to NYC, and Tucker is in LonePine (all one word) Wyoming. Their worlds don’t normally intersect. Only they do. They just can’t figure out how to make anything long term work, no matter how badly they want to.

Then Lizzie’s heritage rises up to bite her. Literally. And there’s the mystery. And the solution to Lizzie’s and Tucker’s relationship problem, as well as the cause of a few zillion more problems. As the deep, dark secrets of Lizzie’s past, and her potential future, are revealed, she turns to Tucker as the only person she can trust when her world turns upside down. In life, or in death. And whatever comes after that.

Escape Rating B+: The idea that vampires have their own biblical-type texts and their own version of the creation was kind of cool, and more than a bit twisted, in a neat way. Also that one of the leaders of the opposing vampire camps was THE Lazarus. Eternity seems to make for twisted politics yet again, and this set of vamps was wackier than the usual run.

Tucker’s family and friends were an absolute hoot. Lenny as the crazy cowboy version of James Bond’s Q was beyond priceless, but he’s just who you’d want in this situation, not that anyone half normal would ever be in this situation.

I enjoyed the differences between Tucker’s internal thoughts and his actual words, he was always more sentimental inside than what he said out loud.

Julius, the evil vampire (this is not an oxymoron in context) was a bit overblown and over-the-top. I’d have believed in him as the big bad a little more if he’d been just a tad less out there on the demonic bwahaha scale.

I also sincerely hope that in the next book there will be an explanation of who or what Lizzie’s “voices” are. That one is driving me crazy. Blood and Whiskey, here I come! (The book, not the liquids–maybe I’ll need the whiskey…)

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.