Category Archives: Adult Fiction

Stories meant for adults, featuring adult themes, or plots too advanced for children.

Maids of Misfortune

Locke, M. Louisa. Maids of Misfortune: A Victorian San Francsico Mystery (2009). 336 Pages*. $2.99**

From the Author’s Site

It’s the summer of 1879, and Annie Fuller, a young San Francisco widow, is in trouble. Annie’s husband squandered her fortune before committing suicide five years earlier, and one of his creditors is now threatening to take the boardinghouse she owns to pay off a debt.

Annie Fuller also has a secret. She supplements her income by giving domestic and business advice as Madam Sibyl, one of San Francisco’s most exclusive clairvoyants, and one of Madam Sibyl’s clients, Matthew Voss, has died. The police believe it is suicide brought upon by bankruptcy, but Annie believes Voss has been murdered and that his assets have been stolen.

Nate Dawson has a problem. As the Voss family lawyer, he would love to believe that Matthew Voss didn’t leave his grieving family destitute. But that would mean working with Annie Fuller, a woman who alternatively attracts and infuriates him as she shatters every notion he ever had of proper ladylike behavior.

Sparks fly as Anne and Nate pursue the truth about the murder of Matthew Voss in this light-hearted historical mystery set in the foggy gas-lit world of Victorian San Francisco.

First Lines

The bastard!

Annie Fuller gasped, shocked at even allowing such an unladylike expression to enter her mind. She had been enjoying her tea and toast while sorting through her mail in splendid solitude.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Book Review, Historical Romance, Mystery & Suspense, Realistic Fiction

Steam & Sorcery

Pape, Cindy Spencer. Steam and Sorcery (2011). 305 Pages*. Carina Press. $5.99**

Don’t let the cover stop you. The contents of the story are much better than the cover suggests with its cheesiness.

From the Publisher

Sir Merrick Hadrian hunts monsters, both human and supernatural. A Knight of the Order of the Round Table, his use of magick*** and the technologies of steam power have made him both respected and feared. But his considerable skills are useless in the face of his greatest challenge, guardianship of five unusual children. At a loss, Merrick enlists the aid of a governess.

Miss Caroline Bristol is reluctant to work for a bachelor but she needs a position, and these former street children touch her heart. While she tends to break any mechanical device she touches, it never occurs to her that she might be something more than human. All she knows is that Merrick is the most dangerously attractive man she’s ever met– and out of reach for a mere governess.

When conspiracy threatens to blur the distinction between humans and monsters, Caroline and Merrick must join forces, and the fate of humanity hinges upon their combined skills of steam and sorcery…

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Book Review, Chick-Lit, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Historical Romance, Paranormal, Romance, Speculative Fiction

Patient Zero

Maberry, Jonathan. Patient Zero (2009). 419 Pages. St Martin’s Griffin. $14.95

Joe Ledger: Book One

This post is long-overdue. When I read Rot & Ruin, I was thrilled. I’d found a zombie book which was also about humanity. I had to find out if the author had more in him, so I went out of my way to pick up Patient Zero from the library. I devoured it in a little under a day, and spent a little over an hour gushing about the pair of them to my mother, who has now decided that she needs to read it. And then, life happened.

I got sucked-in to a writing project– yes, I also do creative writing– and a few old forums that I haven’t been on in ages. I got extra hours at work, I’ve been on a fierce job-hunt, and reading has really fallen by the wayside. I am attempting to get myself back on track, which will likely happen as a direct result of me setting myself a posting-schedule.

Synopsis (via Goodreads)

When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week there’s either something wrong with your world or something wrong with your skills… and there’s nothing wrong with Joe Ledger’s skills.  And that’s both a good, and a bad thing.  It’s good because he’s a Baltimore detective that has just been secretly recruited by the government to lead a new taskforce created to deal with the problems that Homeland Security can’t handle. This rapid response group is called the Department of Military Sciences or the DMS for short. It’s bad because his first mission is to help stop a group of terrorists from releasing a dreadful bio-weapon that can turn ordinary people into zombies. The fate of the world hangs in the balance…

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Book Review, Fantasy, Horror, Mystery & Suspense, Paranormal, Sci-Fi

Petty Magic

DeAngelis, Camille. Petty Magic: Being the Memoirs and Confessions of Miss Evelyn Harbinger, Temptress and Troublemaker (2010). 320 Pages. Crown Publishers. $24.00

From the Cover:

Evelyn Harbinger sees nothing wrong with a one-night stand. At 149 years old, Eve may look like she bakes oatmeal cookies in the afternoon and dozes in her rocking chair in the evening, but once the gray hair and wrinkles are traded for jet-black tresses and porcelain skin, she can still turn heads as the beautiful girl she once was. Can’t fault a girl for having a little fun, can you?

This is all fine and well until Eve meets Justin, who reminds her so much of a former lover that one night is no longer enough. Eve’s coven has always turned a blind eye to her nighttime mischief, but this time they think she’s gone too far– and they certainly don’t hesitate to tell her so. Dodging the warnings of family and friends, Eve must also defend her sister, Helena, when another beldame accuses Helena of killing her own husband sixty years previously.

As the evidence against Helena begins to pile up, Eve distracts herself by spending more and more nights– and days– romancing Justin as her former self. There are so many peculiar ways in which Justin is like Jonah, her partner behind enemy lines in World War II and the one true love of her life. Experts in espionage, Jonah and Eve advanced the Allied cause at great personal sacrifice. Now Eve suspects that her Jonah has returned to her, and despite the disapproval of her coven and the knowledge that love with a mortal man can only end in sorrow, she can’t give him up. But can she prove it’s really him?

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Book Review, Contemporary Romance, Fantasy, General Fiction, Historical Romance, Romance, Urban Fantasy

Match Me If You Can

Phillips, Susan Elizabeth. Match Me If You Can (2005). 383 Pages. WilliamMorrow. $24.95

Chicago Stars Series | Book Six

When I was on a family vacation, I got Natural Born Charmer, and read (and enjoyed) it. However, it was obvious that there was at least one book before it in the series, and I figured I should read it, so I got Match Me If You Can from the library. Turns out it’s the sixth book, but it’s also very capable of standing alone. There are hints of what you may have missed, but in general, while other characters make cameos, it’s not about them.

From Goodreads

Annabelle’s endured dead-end jobs, a broken engagement . . . even her hair’s a mess! But that’s going to change now that she’s taken over her late grandmother’s matchmaking business. All Annabelle has to do is land the Windy City’s hottest bachelor as her client, and she’ll be the most sought-after matchmaker in town.

Why does the wealthy, driven, and gorgeous sports agent Heath Champion need a matchmaker, especially a red-haired screw-up like Annabelle Granger? True, she’s entertaining, and she does have a certain quirky appeal. But Heath is searching for the ultimate symbol of success — the perfect wife. And to make an extraordinary match, he needs an extraordinary matchmaker, right?

Soon everyone in Chicago has a stake in the outcome, and a very big question: When the determined matchmaker promised she’d do anything to keep her star client happy . . . did she mean anything? If Annabelle isn’t careful, she just might find herself going heart-to-heart with the toughest negotiator in town.

First Lines

If Annabelle hadn’t found a body lying under “Sherman,” she wouldn’t have been late for her appointment with the Python. But dirty bare feet stuck out from beneath her nana’s ancient Crown Victoria. One extremely cautious glance under the car revealed that they were attached to a homeless man known only as Mouse, who was famous in her Wicker Park neighborhood for his lack of personal hygiene and fondness for cheap wine.

Thoughts

Annabelle Granger is a charming character who you can’t help liking. She’s determined to make her match-making business “Perfect For You” work, no matter what the cost, and landing Heath Champion might cost her an awful lot. He’s a determined, demanding pig of a client who expects a ton from Annabelle because he’s an agent and he does a ton for his clients. It’s obvious to any seasoned reader what is going on between them, but it takes Heath a very long time to figure it out. (And kudos are due to Annabelle for not being a weak heroine, she sticks to her principles right up to the end.)

I enjoyed the narrative structure, and the basic mechanics of the writing, as well as the plot. I feel like I’m in a literature class when I say that, but there are some authors– now and then– whose stories I like, but whose execution could use some work. Thankfully, Susan Elizabeth Phillips is not one of those authors. I enjoyed the story and the way it was told and the words she chose to tell it.

I suppose there are other books in this series– like the five which come before it– that are probably just as enjoyable, and I may eventually get around to reading those, but for now, I’m content with this. Also, I liked the cover on this one considerably more than I like the covers on some of her other books. It’s got a nice swirly motion thing going on.

When all is said and done, it gets a 4.5 out of 5– it loses a half point for dragging the drama and cluelessness out just a little too long for my taste.

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The Mammoth Book of Regency Romance (Anthology)

Telep, Trisha (ed.) The Mammoth Book of Regency Romance (2010). 592 Pages. Running Press. $13.95

Good lord that was a lot of romance. I do enjoy regency romance quite a bit; it may be my favorite historical era, and it certainly is fun. At just under 600 pages, and 23 stories, it took a while to read. It was worth it, and entertaining, to boot. My biggest complaint might be that several of the stories could have used some more space to grow; they felt rushed with the number of pages they had. Pruning the collection to 20 stories and giving the survivors the extra pages would have done wonders for several of them.

There is no good synopsis for the whole book, and indeed, several which I have found are either inaccurate or misleading, so instead I’ll say a little about each story.

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Devil’s Bride

Laurens, Stephanie. Devil’s Bride (1998). 416 Pages. Avon. $7.99

Cynster Novels | Book One*

Sharing books with friends and roommates can be problematic; it seems silly to each have your own copies of all the books in a series, so while one of you may own the first volume, another may own the second. This works in practice until one of you moves out, or away. This is how I ended up getting Devil’s Bride for my shiny new kindle despite the fact that I own the rest of the series in print**.

Synopsis

Honoria Wetherby never intended to marry. “Devil” Cynster felt much the same way. When a series of unfortunate circumstances find them trapped in a woodsman’s cottage unchaperoned, Devil does the only thing he can think of to protect Honoria’s reputation; he declares their engagement.

Unfortunately for Devil, Honoria is determined to hold out, and rejects him at every turn. Unfortunately for Honoria, Devil sees her challenge as an invitation, and intends to convince her in any way he can.

First Lines***

Somersham, Cambridgeshire

August 1818

“The duchess is so very… very… well, really, most charming. So…” With an angelic smile, Mr. Postlethwaite, the vicar of Somarsham, gestured airily. “Continental, if you take my meaning.”

Standing by the vicarage gate while she waited for the gig to be brought around, Honoria Wetherby only wished she could. Wringing information from the local vicar was always one of her first actions on taking up a new position; unfortunately, while her need for information was more acute than usual, Mr. Postlethwatie’s comments were unhelpfully vague.

Thoughts

It is not often that romance novels stand up to re-reading; often, they are a nice enough story the first time, but approaching them again is considerably less enjoyable. Fortunately, Stephanie Laurens manges to write romance in such a way that it can be read more than once.

I vividly remember reading Devil’s Bride for the first time my sophomore year of college. I think I may have been avoiding The Aeneid, but I can’t be sure. I blame my roommates for getting me hooked on romance novels; the ultimate escapist books. Even when things are tense and stressful, you know the characters will end up together, and they will be happy.

There are some things which, depending upon taste, can be construed as positive or negative. For example, the precept is that the Cynster clan is full of handsome men who have an innate urge to conquer. They have money, power, and land. The latest generation, the “Bar Cynster,” have lived lives of relative ease, sleeping around, and enjoying rake-dom. But each of them has their meeting with “fate” in the form of a woman– typically “strong willed”– who makes them realize that they want to marry her. They then spend most of the book heading for that goal.

There are quite a few sex scenes, which are full of the classic cliches; he is experienced, she is innocent. He is “hard,” and she is “soft.” He is in control, and she is overwhelmed by the experiences. Generally your classic romance stuff.

Overall, it’s a fun book with a reasonable story– a murder mystery of sorts– though there’s not much mystery (I, at least, felt the villain was glaringly obvious from the beginning) there is quite a bit of fluffy, happy romance. It gets a 4/5– well worth the time to read it.

Also, check out the pretty covers. (Too bad the US editions aren’t like these.)

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* Strictly speaking, by publishing order, this is book one, and The Promise in a Kiss came out three years later. As far as interior chronology, it is preceded by a prequel which I will choose to address as book zero, because it is not necessary to read it first, as it was published later.

** On the bright side, knowing that my old roommate lacked volume two because she’d read my copy meant that choosing her Christmas present this year was very simple.

*** I often judge a book by its first lines (I’m sure my review format shows this habit). I find that you can tell a lot about an author by the way they open; do they throw you into the action, or spend time setting up the scene? Is it speech, or description, or some combination? How they set up says a lot about what you can expect later in the book. If this series hadn’t come highly recommended, I may not have read it.

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Glass Houses

Caine, Rachel. Glass Houses (2006). 239 Pages. Penguin. $6.99

The Morganville Vampires: Volume 1

From the Back Cover

Welcome to Morganville, Texas. Don’t stay out after dark.

It’s a small college town filled with quirky characters. But when the sun goes down, the bad comes out. Because in Morganville, there is an evil that lurks in the darkest shadows– one that will spill out into the bright light of day.

Claire Danvers has had enough of her nightmarish dorm situation. The popular girls never let her forget just where she ranks on the school’s social scene: somewhere less than zero. And Claire really doesn’t have the right connections– to the undead who run the town.

When Claire heads off campus, the imposing old house where she finds a room may not be much better. Her new roommates don’t show many signs of life. But they’ll have Claire’s back when the town’s deepest secrets come crawling out, hungry for fresh blood…

First Lines

On the day Claire became a member of the Glass House, somebody stole her laundry.

When she reached into the crappy, beat-up washing machine, she found nothing but the wet slick sides of the drum, and–like a bad joke– the worst pair of underwear she owned, plus one sock.

Thoughts

I clearly have a strong bias towards strong female characters, which are not really present in this series. Claire is smart, but she’s a victim; she doesn’t get revenge, doesn’t stop the bullying, and the violence, she just flees. There are definitely times when retreating is the best idea, and this book is full of those times.

There’s a lot going on here; an entire town is run by vampires, and most of the human denizens live in fear, and are largely treated as livestock. They are branded by their “protector” who has control over many parts of their lives. They are required to donate blood, their movements are tracked, and they don’t even pretend to have the freedom to leave. What makes them put up with it? Fear and complacency.

Perhaps because of the fear and complacency, when Claire gets into trouble, the only people who try to help her are the loners and outsiders, the people who nobody else wants; Eve, Shane, and Michael. Things start to get really crazy when the four outcasts realize that they can’t keep running, and they aren’t safe, even together.

The novel manages to be interesting, and relatively unique. Everything fits together, and it seems cohesive, which is something. It’s hard to read about characters who are victims to everyone, who never have a true victory, and who are unfortunately at the bottom of the totem pole with no hope of ever rising from that position. There are still moments of humor which lighten the whole thing up, and which count for quite a bit.

This particular volume ends in a semi-cliffhanger, so I would advise having the second volume on hand to continue the story.

It gets a 3.5/5; it’s good, but not amazing.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Book Review, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

The Seduction of His Wife

Chapman, Janet. The Seduction of His Wife (2006). 331 Pages. Pocket Books. $6.99

It’s not often that I come across romance novels that I feel are worth reading more than once. Despite the beautifully and perfectly cliché title and cover, this is a good story, with a fun romance and an interesting premise.

From the Author’s Website

Sarah quite willingly – and happily – becomes a wife, a mother, and a widow all in one week by agreeing to marry by proxy Grady Knight’s eldest son, and adopt Alex’s children to secure their custody before it is publicly known Alex is dead. But sometimes even the most well-intentioned plan can backfire on its perpetrators – which Sarah discovers the day Alex Knight comes back from the dead.
So what’s a woman to do when she finds herself married to a complete stranger? Run back to her tiny island in the Gulf of Maine, and resume running a Bed & Breakfast she no longer owns? Or put up with her very-much-alive husband just long to keep Grady Knight out of trouble, then quietly divorce Alex and continue her plan to operate a set of sporting camps three miles farther up the shoreline of Frost Lake?

Bolstered by the smart, confident, feisty heroines in the romance novels she reads, Sarah decides to stay and fight for her dream – all while fighting her growing attraction to her maddening husband. Alex, on the other hand, sets out to seduce Sarah for all the wrong reasons, but quickly finds himself falling in love with her for all the right ones.

First Lines

Alex Knight fought the fatigue weighing on his eyelids and brushed an unsteady hand through his hair in an attempt to wipe the fog from his brain. He needed to stay focused on the road ahead, to avoid the final irony of cheating death in the jungles of Brazil only to die in a car wreck less than ten miles from home.

Thoughts

It’s difficult to know what to expect when reading a romance novel; will it be the same old (winning*) formula with different names and a new setting, or will it somehow put new twists on an old story to make it fresh again? Sometimes, all that really matters is that there are two characters who eventually love each other, and who live happily-ever-after (or at least for now).

It’s not often that you start with characters who are already married, who don’t really know each other, and who end up falling in love. That’s part of what makes this so interesting. Add to that a sense of humor– Sarah reads silly romance novels which Alex discovers he enjoys reading out loud to her– and a few good characters, and what you’ve got is a funny, relatively-unique (for the genre) book which is solidly written.

I also enjoyed the setting; rural, northern Maine, in a logging town. I’m from a fairly small, rural town (which had its own fair share of logging after the San Francisco Fire). It’s always sort of fun to read books which are either reminiscent of or outright about your hometown, and this book was no exception. (It helped that I have at least a passing familiarity with most of the big equipment mentioned in the book).

Because it is a romance novel, which tend to have a low re-read rate, and I did re-read it, this book gets a 4/5.

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* Romance novels are a huge market for good reason; they’re nice, fluffy books which make you feel good as they set ridiculous standards for the behaviors and relationships of men and women. The idea of boy-meets-girl-they-fight-then-fall-in-love-and-live-happily-ever-after may not be unique, but it is gratifying to know that you were right from the beginning, and they could be happy together.

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Sunshine

McKinley, Robin. Sunshine (2010 ed). 405 Pages. Speak. $8.99

Sunshine is not a vampire story the way Pegasus is not about winged horses. Sunshine is about Rae Seddon– commonly called Sunshine– a young woman whose life is forever altered by her choice to go out to the local lake, alone, and at night. It is there that she is grabbed by Others and dragged to a remote, abandoned house.

At first Sunshine is confused, because she isn’t dead yet, and Vampires don’t usually play with their food for long. However, she is not alone in the abandoned mansion; she is to be dinner for Con, a vampire no freer than she is.

To get out of this alive, Sunshine needs his help, and strangely enough, he needs hers.

First Lines

It was a dumb thing to do but it wasn’t that dumb. There hadn’t been any trouble out at the lake in years. And it was so exquisitely far from the rest of my life.

Monday evening is our movie evening because we are celebrating having lived through another week. Sunday night we lock up at eleven or midnight and crawl home to die, and Monday (barring a few national holidays) is our day off. Ruby comes in on Mondays with her warrior cohort and attacks the coffeehouse with an assortment of high-tech blasting gear that would whack Godzilla into submission: those single-track military minds never think to ask their cleaning staff for help in  giant lethal marauding creature matters.

Thoughts

While Sunshine’s world is similar to ours, it is not ours. It is a sort of parallel dystopia, in which the Voodoo Wars– a battle between the Humans and the Others– have left humanity struggling to rebuild in a wasteland. This world is simultaneously eerily similar to, and startlingly different from our own*. There is a lot going on here; the human population has been decimated, Others are discriminated against, part-bloods held responsible for their heritage, cities are slowly growing, around the “bad spots,” and places like Charlie’s Coffeehouse are small havens from the insanity.

I think the world-building may be my favorite part of this book, actually. The characters come second to the world for me. I wanted more about the world, more about the why, the what, the how. Things are hinted at, bits are mentioned, there are “bad spots” where humans dare not go, left-overs of powerful magic. But why are they there? My curiosity was not completely satisfied, which was a little frustrating, because I’m usually quite content with her worlds.

I do like Sunshine, but she is not the strongest female McKinley has ever written, and I have an affinity for the strong girls. At first, Sunshine is rather inactive, she is victimized, and spends a lot of time recovering from the trauma. She struggles with her sense of self, with needing support and being afraid to reach for it, with the ramifications of what exactly she has done, and with her bond.

Something which is particularly problematic to me are the relationships in this book. Sunshine is dating Mel**, but they seem stuck in a sort of loose dating, where they’re together when it’s convenient. Sunshine never seems to talk about things to him, and though he could be there for her if she just asked, she doesn’t. There are hints about her heritage, things which her mother may have been hiding, but it is never verified, it remains Sunshine’s theory, and is never really tested. She’s surrounded by family and friends and people who care about her, and some of them are powerful enough in their own right that they could protect her, but she doesn’t turn to any of them. She instead relies upon a Vampire who she has only known for a brief amount of time.

When I first read this book, I remember really liking it. I was on a vampire kick, and I was reading everything I could. This was not a YA book then, but that didn’t stop me. Looking at it, and having read it, I wonder if it is a YA book now. There is a fairly explicit scene around page 250 which left me wondering if it should be called YA. I don’t necessarily feel that teens need to be protected from everything sexual, but I felt a little awkward reading this scene, and I’m an adult. I imagine most teens would either be titillated or would feel as awkward as I did.

It is sad, knowing that I will never know more. McKinley doesn’t write sequels. She may eventually venture back into the same world, if her muses drag her there, but this is the only guaranteed book in this setting. It’s a pity, because there is so much you can do with a post-apocalyptic world. There are options, and ideas, and worldwide locations.

Anyway, this volume gets a 4/5. There is a lot more that could have been done with Sunshine, and I wasn’t wholly satisfied (and not just because I wanted more, which is a good sort of unsatisfied.) It is worth reading, because it is enthralling, and it’s very different from what you expect, if you’ve been told it’s a vampire book, because it’s not. There are vampires, but ultimately, this book is about Sunshine.

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* It left me thinking of Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan world, actually.

** I like Mel, a lot. He’s got magical tattoos, which remind me of Pritkin’s tattoos from Karen Chance’s books.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy