Dreadful Retrospective – Best of 2013

The Best of 2013…

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Not all of the following were published in 2013, but here is a sampling of thirteen of the best I read and reviewed this past year.

Wallbanger by Alice Clayton is in a word FUN. When we meet Caroline she has just moved into a lovely sublet in San Francisco and everything seems perfect until the first night. The title really says it all, poor Caroline, who has misplaced her “o”, the “O” for those of us who require further elaboration, is an involuntary auditory spectator to her neighbors sexual antics adding insult to injury considering her “o-less” state.

on-the-island-cover1I absolutely devoured this book, I read it at every opportunity that being said Tracey Garvis GravesOn the Island isn’t for everyone. The relationship that develops between Anna and T.J. is contentious both within and without the book. The question is, what would make a romantic relationship between a woman in her third decade and a much younger man okay? If On the Island was an idealized version of the romance between a teen-aged boy and a woman in her third decade A Much Younger Man by Dianne Highbridge is the real story. If you have trouble choosing just read both. flat-out_love_-_jessica_park

Julie of Jessica Park‘s Flat Out Love has just found out first hand why you should never rent an apartment through Craig’s List. When she arrives in Boston ready to commence her college career instead of the 1-bedroom walk up agreed upon she finds a burrito stand instead. This might not be catastrophic under other circumstances but in a college town in August… This deceptively intricate multi-layered novel is not one to be missed. After you have finished it, NOT BEFORE, read the companion novel Flat Out Matt, a selection of chapters from Flat Out Love from his POV.

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Here is a short list of places I am now scared to go, thanks to reading Karina Halle’s Experiment in Terror series: lighthouses, the New Mexican desert, old hotels…wait no, that was because of The Shining but I am sure if I wasn’t already afraid, I would be after reading The Benson. I suppose things could be worse and I could be afraid to go into my own basement as Stephen King is purported to be? Seriously, this series uniquely combines horror and romance something that is sadly very rare, download the first here it’s free! Darkhouse (Experiment in Terror #1)

Ghost-Planet-MM_final-with-blurb_2Elizabeth Cole is dead, she just doesn’t know it yet. How would you react if faced with an exact living breathing sentient replica of a significant, if not beloved person from your past… who also happens to be dead? Ghost Planet combines exquisitely, a poignantly emotional romance and a compelling science fiction story, Sharon Lynn Fisher hit it out of the park with this debut.

In Dear Adam, Ava Zavora‘s Eden receives a random tweet complimenting her review of the most recent novel of one of her favorite author’s. Truly there is no surer way to a blogger’s heart, and so begins a series of exchanges with the mysterious, intellectual Adam, her long lost book twin.

COVER-Isnt-She-LovelyLauren Layne’s Isn’t She Lovely was that perfect combination of irreverent and serious. If this book was a dessert I would have to compare it to key lime pie that perfect blend of sweet without crossing the dreaded line into saccharine but with just enough tang to keep things interesting. I am not always a fan of New Adult literature but I would defy anyone to read Lauren Layne’s take on Pygmalion and not be converted.

RWRealm Walker is a chimera of all the best aspects of the paranormal genre. Kathleen Collins’ has skillfully reinvented the classic paranormal paradigm with the mysterious hard boiled investigator type with just enough femininity as to be a convincing romantic heroine and the autocratic yet emotionally vulnerable vampire who loves her in a dark world full of monsters and the result is a fresh and entertaining read.

MadScientistsDaughter-144dpiEvery once and a while there is that perfect inexplicable union of words that creates that perfect bibliophilic high. Cassandra Rose Clarke‘s The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is for me one of those coveted works. Honestly, how can you miss with “A Tale of Love, Loss and Robots“?

This may sound like an oxymoron but if you are looking for an intelligent “bodice ripper” though I highly doubt The Ideal Gentleman would ever be so crass, look no farther than Sherry Thomas‘ work. All of which are favorites of mine, in particular her latest offering The Luckiest Lady in London.

The Husband's Secret

Last but not least by any means is The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty, cleverly disguised as women’s fiction what I found instead was a terrifyingly real psychological thriller for lack of a better classification, there is none of the typical earmarks of the genre yet it is a deeply disquieting read.

This is just a few of the many stories I read and enjoyed so very much this year and I hope that if you have not read some or all of them that you will read and like them as much as I did.

Happy New Year – Penny Dreadful Books and Reviews

The Lightning Charmer – Kathryn Magendie

Goal: find out what to do next. Dream: know what to do next. Fears: what comes next. 

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A literal “square peg in a round hole” Laura is lost in the world around her. Desperate to fit in she pretends she loves the city, dating the right man, wearing the right clothes convinced she is the problem rather than the other way around. Finally she cannot resist the pull of home any longer and returns to her parents’ house nestled in the mountains of North Carolina.

She had pretended to love it as much as he did because she’d wanted to be a part of something huge and pulsing with energy. But she’d lied, just as she’d pretended to like sushi and the crowds and noise.

It would not be an understatement to say that Laura is one of the most frustrating characters I have ever encountered. While I did not dislike “her” per se. I found her unrelenting obstinacy was aggravating and compromised my enjoyment of the entire book and as such I didn’t have a lot of empathy for the plight of her character wishing that she would do something, anything rather than whine and moan from scene to scene and when she finally did spur herself into action she simply repeated the mistakes she made in New York proving that she was not just lacking in self-esteem but intelligence too.

Laura is caught between the modern and the mystical, struggling to lead a normal life in New York despite a powerful psychic connection to her childhood home in North Carolina—and to the mysterious stranger who calls her name.

She’s a synesthete—someone who mentally “sees” and “tastes” splashes of color connected to people, emotions, and things. She’s struggled against the distracting ability all her life; now the effects have grown stronger. She returns home to the mountains, desperate to resolve the obsessive pull of their mysteries.

Alexander Scriabins key-color association
Alexander Scriabins key-color association (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As much as Laura’s character was vexing, Ayron was appealing, yet I found that even as “the lightning charmer” of the title that his character was under utilized. So many opportunities to have these characters interact were missed and instead the reader was subjected to a literary version of Laura with her hands over her ears chanting “I CAN”T HEAR YOU!” set on repeat indefinitely.

What was fascinating was the concept of synesthesia, a concomitant sensation; especially :  a subjective sensation or image of a sense (as of color) other than the one (as of sound) being stimulated. A phenomena more commonly associated with those who have schizophrenia or who are autistic. It certainly put an interesting spin on my daughter’s claims that the colour red gives her a headache? Which I had always dismissed as more than a little odd but not reason for alarm.

Kathryn Magendie is a good writer and the story of The Lightning Charmer was interesting for all of my complaints about Laura. Yet I felt that something integral was absent, instead of a good ol’ yarn of the likes of a Deborah Smith novel, what I read was a tale missing an essential component. In that the characterization was somewhat two dimensional, particularly in the case of Matthew and Flem, each who seemed to lack reason for their motivation. While characters like Laura’s brother Bryan and her neighbour Betty were likable and delightfully quirky, they simply played too small a part to enhance the whole. Though conceptually sound The Lightning Charmer came close but just wasn’t electrifying enough.

AUTHOR: Kathryn Magendie

RATING: 3 Stars (rounded up)

GENRE:  Women’s Fiction/Romance

Disclaimer: ARC was kindly provided by the publisher for an honest review. 

From Loathing to Lust – The Awakening: Britton – Abby Niles

The Awakening Britton CoverReading The Awakening: Britton by Abby Niles was a happy accident, normally I would have bypassed it thinking that it was another somewhat pedestrian, formulaic paranormal romance, I would have been wrong. Disguised behind a somewhat innocuous cover is a fascinating unlikely romance between bitter rivals.

The shifter community lives in secret following sacred archaic laws, of which Britton Townsend has been the recipient of their particular brand of justice. Val Calhoun was appointed to head their secret police after Britton’s downfall which only added fuel to the fire of their mutual dislike.

Half-shifter and lead SPAC agent, Val Calhoun, has listened to women gush over the Don Juan of the precinct for the last four years. Yeah, Detective Britton Townsend is hot and has stunning blue eyes, but that foul mouth he saves only for her? What a waste of good looks. And no way does Val want that mouth anywhere near hers. When the shifter community is threatened, Val is assigned to the case…and fails. So the High Council turns to the rogue shifter they’d sentenced to twenty years as a human–that same obnoxiously sexy Detective Townsend. And sends the two arch-enemies deep into the North Carolina Mountains-—together, and alone.

We have seen it in the media countless times where that attraction simmers just waiting for the right spark to set it aflame. I took it for granted as a universal truth until I conducted one of my lightning surveys and found out of the group of people I spoke to that I was the only one who had personally experience with this phenomena. Granted I was a teenager at the time and like all had more than my share of angst. My close friend’s brother irked me, curly blond hair and blue eyes not withstanding and the feeling was mutual! I remember going to call on her and being told unceremoniously that she wasn’t home and then HE CLOSED THE DOOR IN MY FACE!

When it becomes apparent that Val will be unable to neutralize the threat to the shifter community without assistance. The High Council temporarily reinstates Britton, and then it would not be an understatement to say the fur started to fly. Having to answer to Britton makes Val realize how condescending and cruel she has been and Britton with his newly awakened shifter instincts rather than feeling repelled which he always has by Val is strangely attracted to her.

The Awakening: Britton was part Taming of the Shrew, with a delightful twist of the paranormal. As for me, you might ask…well when I confessed my secret attraction to my friend, she of course, like any 14 year old girl sworn to secrecy, immediately told her brother and we ended up dating that whole summer.

AUTHOR: Abby Niles

RATING: 4 Stars

GENRE:  Paranormal Romance

Disclaimer: ARC was kindly provided by the publisher for an honest review. 

Awakening the Warriors (Legends of the Seven Galaxies 1.5) – S.E. Gilchrist

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I love sci-fi, and am not adverse to the thought of erotica in space so Awakening the Warriors was a natural choice for me. Though I remain skeptical of the idea of putting up with more than one man permanently I am willing to entertain the notion in fiction.

Fran must have been crazy to leave her ordinary (and safe) life and volunteer as a colonist to terra‐form a new earth. Now she is trapped in a prison cell on an alien planet a zillion miles from home and bound for a hideous death in notorious research chambers.
She has one chance of escape. Awaken the long dormant sexual urges of the Darkon Warriors shackled in the next cell.
A desperate job, but someone has to do it.

Fran and her fellow captives are being kept in desperate straights, rather than the salvation they were promised, they are facing almost certain death. The only hope lies literally in the cell beside them. The Darkon are a feared race of warriors, if only the women can convince them to aid their escape. Fran draws the short straw so to speak and is the sexual sacrifice they offer. Not one to shirk her duty Fran embraces her task fully, in as much as we didn’t get to know her well. Fran is a plucky character with plenty of backbone yet didn’t cross over into the dangerous territory of arrogance.

Being a novella there was not a lot of opportunity for character or plot development but regardless of the short length S.E. Gilchrist managed to peak my curiosity and I imagine I will be spending more time in the Legends of the Seven Galaxies world in the future.

AUTHOR: S. E. Gilchrist

RATING: 3 Stars

GENRE: Erotica/Sci-fi-Romance

Disclaimer: ARC was kindly provided by the publisher for an honest review. 

Hidden – Catherine McKenzie

Some secrets should stay hidden

Hidden Cover

“This is going to sound strange, but … do you wish you could do your life over again?”

“Everyone wishes that sometimes.”

“I mean really actually do it, start again. See if you can get it right the second time around.”

I have been meaning to read Catherine Mackenzie‘s work for some time, I was intrigued by the premise of Arranged, a work about a woman who mistakenly employs an agency specializing in arranged marriages. But it was Hidden demanded that I read it sooner rather than later and somehow it ended up among my purchases when I was doing my Christmas shopping, honestly I have no idea how it got there. It was the Buy Three Get the Fourth Free promotion so really I barely need to justify it. Regardless of my book buying compulsions Hidden is a powerful story that I read in a single day concluding the novel with my heart in my throat and burning eyes.

When a married man suffers a sudden fatal accident, two women are shattered—his wife and someone else’s—and past secrets, desires and regrets are brought to light

While walking home from work one evening, Jeff Manning is struck by a car and killed. Not one but two women fall to pieces at the news: his wife, Claire, and his co-worker Tish. Reeling from her loss, Claire must comfort her grieving son and contend with funeral arrangements, well-meaning family members and the arrival of Jeff’s estranged brother—her ex-boyfriend—Tim.

HiddenHidden is densely layered novel with each character vying for your sympathies. It is an exploration of love, not only between husbands and wives but between parent and child and even between siblings. Told from alternating points of view the reader comes to know Jeff Manning, his wife Claire and Tish Underwood intimately. Much like Tracey Garvis Graves’ Covet but with a realism missing from the former Hidden focuses largely on the emotional affair between Jeff and his coworker Tish.

Covet, for me, was in many ways a “lunch bag letdown” there was this huge buildup and then no follow through just a conclusion that was so neat and tidy it was patently unbelievable. In comparison the tension builds and builds in Hidden despite the readers knowledge of how it ends which is an illustration of this author’s expert storytelling ability.

Throughout the story and upon its conclusion the question circling the readers mind is “how bad is an emotional affair?” Like all things I would say that the answer is subjective depending on your own moral compass. What I found particularly impressive about this story was the directness of the characters and their actions. There was no coy evasions regarding intercourse literally or subjectively, Catherine Mackenzie has masterfully portrayed her characters with realism and sensitivity.

AUTHOR: Catherine Mackenzie

RATING: 4 1/2 Stars

GENRE: Women’s Fiction

The Holiday Survival Guide – Jane O’Reilly

Holiday Survival Guide cover

Though it smacks of “cutting off ones nose to spite ones face” Erica Parker is determined not to enjoy herself. A tabloid journalist, she makes her career revealing the things that others would prefer never saw the light of day. Nathan Wilde is a survival expert, a former military man his claim to fame is teaching those what they need to do to endure.

Be prepared for any and every eventualityThe Holiday Survival Guide

Perhaps it is because I am Canadian, or more likely because I am strange but I have always wanted to sleep in an igloo. I made several failed attempts at building my own as a child and have largely put away that particular fantasy as I am not overly fond of the snow. Despite these contradictory urges, part of me does still want to pack up and head to Quebec to stay in their famed ice hotel ala Die Another Day, which will go down in infamy as the James Bond movie that ruined Pierce Brosnan for me.

When tabloid journalist Erica Parker is forced to take a holiday, she’s determined to make it the most miserable holiday she possibly can, but not even her impressive imaginative powers could have come up with sharing a tent with survival expert Nathan Wilde.

Nathan was a married man with a successful TV show before Erica got to work on his life. Now the hottest man she’s ever met is single, furious, and he’s got her alone in the wilderness for three long days…

English: Ice Hotel in Sweden. Deutsch: Eishote...
English: Ice Hotel in Sweden. Deutsch: Eishotel (Schweden). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After her boss forces her to take a “vacation” rather than going somewhere warm, Erica in a fit of defiance, or is it penance finds herself in Sweden not to enjoy herself but to participate in survival training. The local expert is none other than the man whose wife she caught and exposed in an extramarital affair with a popular married footballer. Apparently some of the spurned spouses would have preferred to live in ignorance thus the reason for Erica’s holiday cum banishment.

Nowadays when faced with the choice between the great outdoors roughing it Survivorman style or the Alaskan cruise my husband wants to go on I think I will have to accept that even with the advent of the Magic Igloo Maker I won’t be braving an Ontario winter night in my backyard anytime soon. However if I want to retreat the wild in my mind for a spot of ice fishing and spooning in a tiny tent Jane O’Reilly‘s The Holiday Survival Guide is the place to go.

AUTHOR: Jane O’Reilly

RATING: 3 1/2 Stars

GENRE: Contemporary Romance

http://www.escapepublishing.com.au/product/9780857991126

Disclaimer: ARC was kindly provided by the publisher for an honest review. 

Innocence – Dean Koontz

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In Innocence, Dean Koontz revisits a common theme throughout his writing, that of people living in isolation among us. Alienated from those who should be there to give comfort and support but instead are reviled and abused. Addison is a monster, grossly deformed though he is not embittered by the cruel treatment he has been subjected to. After his mother’s death, 8 year old Addison finds himself alone in the city and in an unbelievable stroke of luck finds another like himself who shows him how to live in the vast network of beneath the city. His appearance is so horrific Addison dares not come out in the light of day on one such nocturnal adventure he comes upon a girl being pursued by an attacker ending his days of solitude and loneliness.

He lives in solitude beneath the city, an exile from society, which will destroy him if he is ever seen. She dwells in seclusion, a fugitive from enemies who will do her harm if she is ever found. But the bond between them runs deeper than the tragedies that have scarred their lives. Something more than chance—and nothing less than destiny—has brought them together in a world whose hour of reckoning is fast approaching.

Beauty&Beast (1)

With elements of Phantom of the Opera and Beauty and the Beast, Innocence reads with a lyricism in keeping with its fairy tale like themes. Inspired by a dream featuring the now decreased Thomas Tryon, the author stated that Innocence sprang into his mind fully formed. Personally I found Innocence reminded me somewhat of his incredibly popular work Watchers only a more fully matured version with a credibility that the former lacked in my opinion.

The cozy yet fully functional subterranean refuge employed by Addison was also familiar to me. Though many of you wouldn’t remember the 1987 television series that featured Linda Hamilton of Terminator 2 fame and Ron Perlman, Beauty and the Beast, it was a favorite of mine. Seriously, don’t we all wish that we had a hidey hole tucked away deep in the bowels of the city with power and running water? Or is that just a side effect of mine having a preteen and precocious first grader? I am sure upon scrutiny the logistics of such a set up may not hold up but unlike Watchers, for me, the mental comparisons I made when reading Innocence were largely favorable despite his somewhat precious moniker. Truly, it was an uncommon feat not to hold a grudge after a mob tries to burn you to death then to name your character Goodheart was a bit heavy handed. Regardless of Addison’s surname, almost incongruous in its suitability, Innocence is a enjoyable read gently reminding us all to look deeper rather than accepting the first impression as gospel.

AUTHOR: Dean Koontz

RATING: 3 1/2 Stars

GENRE: Fiction

Disclaimer: ARC was kindly provided by the publisher for an honest review.