This is one of those I've come to think of as Roberts' "super" romances--they're longer, have a strong family presence (or community or both), and wit...moreThis is one of those I've come to think of as Roberts' "super" romances--they're longer, have a strong family presence (or community or both), and with at least two romances simmering to resolution. This one features the small town of Progress, North Carolina as its setting and is dominated by two families, one local royalty, the other... mixed (Tori's mother is white trash, but that's due to her own bad choices. Her uncle is the town banker and a minor "big man").
Generally speaking, if you connect with at least one of the couples, these books go off well enough. That said, it's hard to connect strongly as there tend to be multiple story threads, lots of viewpoint shifts, and the unifying suspense (they tend to be suspense-based) may or may not carry enough weight to maintain momentum in the resulting chaos. This book was one of the rare super romance stories that drew me in completely.
Tori was the cornerstone for holding my interest. She has the interesting psychic ability and has a fragility that draws sympathy and a strength that maintains the emotional connection when things go badly. Her through-line is the most obvious and it's well-supported. Cade helps this by being not only what she needs, but by also needing Tori as much, in his own way, as she needs him. Wade and Faith were more background, but their arc was as strong, though in their own unique idiom.
So the characters were strong as individuals. But their backgrounds raised this book to the next level by drawing in the long-lasting effect of parents, family, and the need for love that children have. Not in the sappy way that you might first imagine, though. This story is mostly about the crappy things parents do to their children out of their own emotional weaknesses. Whether physical abuse or emotional starvation, our main characters all (well, not so much Wade) have deep-seated issues to overcome to be healthy enough that we can believe their HEA will actually work. The beauty of it is that they do so naturally, without didactic preaching or authorial intervention. In other words, it works out in a way that is not only believable, but actually central to both the story's plot and the development of the characters into the relationships that they eventually build. It was artfully done and I loved watching it unfold.
The suspense plot of the story is the weakest aspect of the book, but even that folded into the exploration of abuse in families in interesting ways. There weren't a lot of reveals or a building of suspense as such, though. Indeed, a lot of the mystery happened in the past and was revealed/discovered by exposition more than by actual plot movement. I didn't mind this, though, as I am seldom engaged by the suspense.
I do have to admit that I was a bit surprised by two kind of random jabs at Republicans in the book. I was getting all pissy about it when Roberts made one of the most sympathetic men in the book also a Republican. Not that I care much for Republicans, myself, really, but it seemed out of character for Roberts as she's seldom overtly political. Anyway, it ended in a wash, even if I was preparing to get all het up about it...
In the end, I enjoyed the book a great deal. It's a solid 4 stars though I reserve the right to bump it to five if I'm still mulling it over after a week or so. Could do...
A note about Steamy: This had more explicit sex scenes than Roberts' standard (three plus with more than one plus), though it's also a good bit longer. So really, I think it ends up about her standard, really.(less)
Ignore the cover copy, this isn't at all one of those female disguised as male stories. Oh, she dons a scholar's robe occasionally to get in and out o...moreIgnore the cover copy, this isn't at all one of those female disguised as male stories. Oh, she dons a scholar's robe occasionally to get in and out of places, but she never "takes her brother's place". And James isn't in disguise nor does he blow her cover. Seriously, who writes these things?
It's the characters that stand out in this novel. Ellen and James are charming and just a whole lot of fun to spend time with. They have true wit and their discussions are fascinating, both with each other and with others. Yes, their attitudes (both of them) about education for women are out of place for the era and that's a little hand-waved, but Kelly does an excellent job of making it feel real to the time and place, even so. What I mean is that she lets those attitudes play out realistically when set into the Regency era so that you can see both how absurd it is to believe women aren't fit for education even as you can see how such attitudes persisted.
Even better, Kelly does a bit of gender-role judo by allowing Ellen to wallow in her restrictions as a woman and then turning that on its head when we see that external constraints are a universal condition of living in society with none of us free to pursue our own interests selfishly. This was extremely well-done--particularly as it didn't excuse the dreadfulness of the restrictions on women's education while doing so.
The romance plotline is serviceable, if somewhat predictable. I enjoyed the characters well enough that this didn't bother me in the least, though. I suppose I was too busy enjoying their friendship to worry so much over what course their romantic relationship would take. Ellen stays unaware of her real feelings a bit longer than I cared for, but that wasn't unexpected and I didn't mind terribly, in the end.
In all, this was a great read for a quiet Sunday afternoon.(less)
This book was a light, but entertaining mystery/romance and about what you'd expect from Nora Roberts--i.e. well-written, with interesting characters,...moreThis book was a light, but entertaining mystery/romance and about what you'd expect from Nora Roberts--i.e. well-written, with interesting characters, and a firm sense of place and people.
I really like Reece as someone recovering from a truly awful, traumatic experience. She's been nomadic for a while and settles in a small Wyoming town when her car breaks down there. It isn't long before she finds herself integrating into the town, making friends, and setting down the beginnings of roots.
I'm less sanguine with the leading man, Brody. He's a bit caustic, in an alpha male, take-charge kind of way. He fights falling for Reece a little too assiduously and seems randomly emotionally immature. It ended up working, I guess, and I buy their eventual HEA, but with the occasional needlessly exasperating moment.
The mystery of the novel was a bit awkward, too. I guessed the real culprit relatively early, though there's a real paucity of information through most of the book so it's never possible to be sure. By about the three-quarters mark, I was ready for that part to be done--or at least show some progress. The nature of the mystery meant that once any details came out it wouldn't take long for the rest to fall into place, though, so Roberts really had no choice but to string it out a while. As I said... awkward...
In the end, this was a good romance with a relationship that worked, if rocky in places. Not my favorite Nora Roberts, but certainly worth the time.
A note about steamy: On the light side for Roberts. One full-on explicit sex scene, on the short side, and a handful of playful interludes.(less)
I don't normally start with the third in a series, but I got the book on loan from a friend (a signed copy, no less) so I set my scruples aside for th...moreI don't normally start with the third in a series, but I got the book on loan from a friend (a signed copy, no less) so I set my scruples aside for this one. I can't say that I'm glad I did, but I do say I thoroughly enjoyed the book.
It's unfortunate that the publisher chose a title designed to invoke the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. Yeah, the lead guy is scarred and something of a recluse (hey, if you were visibly scarred and could afford to withdraw from the staring eyes of society wouldn't you?), but the resemblance to the classic tale ends there (thankfully).
What made this book work for me were the two main characters. Alistair is essentially kind and finds himself as enmeshed in Helen's children as he is in her. There are some genuinely touching moments in the interactions with the children and not in any way forced or saccharine. That's an astonishing achievement, really, as it's really hard to involve children without going melancholy--particularly in a story where the heroine is fleeing the father of her children in order to maintain custody of them.
It even works that both characters are dealing with consequences of their past that they really cannot "fix". Which means they understand one another when they make the conscious choice to accept consequences and move forward. It's maybe a bit harder for Alistair, as his wounds are inescapably visible, but they nevertheless share a common ground, here, that allows each to bridge the pain of the other and form a real connection that seems solid.
But the heart of what made the book work, for me, is all on Alistair. It turns out (and I'm surprised I did not know this) that I'm deeply attracted to the humbled alpha as a romantic lead. It's unclear if Alistair has always been this way (and I suspect he has, given some hints of his background) or if it was the result of his injury and subsequent acclimatization to it, but he is strong and determined, but in a way that is focused outside of himself and his own wants and needs. It doesn't hurt that the emotional climax of the book is him overcoming the one selfishness he has allowed himself. This was masterfully, even poetically, done.
Two things keep this from being a complete win for Hoyt, though. First, the villain is absolutely impossible to believe. This isn't a spoiler as we get Duke Lister's viewpoint early in the novel so I'm going to make this one explicit: an 18th century Duke who is determined to "keep" (i.e. control) a mistress he no longer sees regularly is completely ridiculous--and I mean that in it's basest sense (as worthy of ridicule). Lister would be laughed at by his family, his peers, and probably his servants as well for an obsession that is, frankly, psychotic.
Second, I have a really hard time with historical romances where potential pregnancy doesn't even cross the heroine's mind. Helen has two kids, for heaven's sake! It's not like she doesn't know, intimately, the potential consequences of sex (and the life-altering nature of those consequences). I'm sorry, but I can't buy that it never enters her head, before, during, or after. This may be a convention of the historical romance genre, but it's a silly one and breaks some of my immersion in the story. Hoyt otherwise does well with evoking the era (though that may be because the bulk of the novel happens in an isolated Scottish castle), so I found this birth-control-blindness highly distracting.
Anyway, those two quibbles aside, I deeply enjoyed this book and look forward to reading the first two in the series. I hope they hold up to the quality of this one. Oh, and to make it explicit, I do not recommend starting with this one. There's enough plot hangover from the others that I did feel the lack of having read them.
A note about steamy: This is at the high end of my steam tolerance. There's a good half-dozen explicit scenes of middling length (two to four pages). I did mean good, mind you, but they're more than I'm used to. Not quite high enough that I'd avoid it, but close.(less)
This was a great read, which is a surprise because I don't typically like such a passive main character. Yes, Smithy is a loser (as the cover copy so...moreThis was a great read, which is a surprise because I don't typically like such a passive main character. Yes, Smithy is a loser (as the cover copy so cheerfully trumpets), but that's mostly an aspect of his passivity. He lets life pass him by. Or has done.
The novel really picks up once Smithy's life falls apart, jolting Smithy out of his rut(s). But even before then, McLarty does a fantastic job keeping the reader engaged by giving us flashbacks to the boy that Smithy was and the disaster that is his sister, Bethany. Indeed, McLarty's use of flashbacks is incredibly well done, weaving a tapestry with each piece masterfully placed so that the scenes inform one another (present and past), each enhancing the other.
And I think I'll leave it there. In the end, the book is about discovery. Smithy ends up discovering himself, but that's almost a pleasant side-effect of his journey outside himself. His passivity and easy acceptance of others allows us into myriad other stories, glimpses of beauty and horror that we all have inside. And again, these disparate vignettes come together in a wonderful whole with Smithy as the frame. Okay, I'm starting to have English Lit flashbacks, here, so I'll truly stop now.
Suffice it to say, if you're interested in character and internal journeys incredibly well-told, you owe it to yourself to pick this one up.
A note about Audible: I was shocked at the end to realize that Ron McLarty read this, himself. He's an incredibly talented actor (he was in Spenser: For Hire!!!), so this works amazingly well. Seriously, if you like listening to books, get this one on audio.(less)
I was only able to give this book a couple of hours before deciding to stop wasting my time. Initially, I was impatiently waiting for the story to sta...moreI was only able to give this book a couple of hours before deciding to stop wasting my time. Initially, I was impatiently waiting for the story to start. At about the quarter point, I'm still not sure that it has. There's lots of expositive filler about the characters, but with nine people to keep track of (four sisters and their five daughters), I'm afraid that they simply aren't very well differentiated. Even the ones with princess names (that give you something to hang onto) end up sounding and acting more or less the same (a single quirk based on your name is not enough to hang an entire characterization on).
So what I'm saying, I guess, is that Carroll needs to spend some time honing her craft. The exposition is way too much and doesn't achieve its job of informing the reader very well. She tells the reader things that end up feeling unnecessary and unimportant. The settings feel like empty sets in a play (an entire McDonalds and two cavorting teens attract zero attention?). The characters are undifferentiated and interchangeable (they all sound the same despite what we're told of their so-called personalities). And sometimes, the author intrudes enough to feel like I'm receiving a lecture with wisdom culled from teen dating magazines.
In the end, this came across as an author's vanity piece without bothering to find ways to engage anybody else. It's an interesting premise that ultimately doesn't go anywhere.(less)
A good, straight-forward romance, though with more family drama than most and a satisfying emotional core. Indeed, much of the novel depends on EJ's c...moreA good, straight-forward romance, though with more family drama than most and a satisfying emotional core. Indeed, much of the novel depends on EJ's connection to her partially-surrogate family. Even more hinges on Rich getting EJ's mother right and she set herself quite a job with it. The mom is a selfish one-time child star with little time for her daughter and enough reprehensible incidents in the past to push her past sympathy as a character. Working out a way forward with EJ seems hopeless (and, frankly, unwise), so getting there and remaining at all believable was quite an undertaking. A successful one, I might add.
I ended up enjoying the book, though some of the drama around Jess (the angel) was a little much towards the end. All in all, a good read and a great value.(less)
This novella was free, short, and did exactly what it was supposed to do--interest me in the rest of the series. Amber and Parker were great fun and t...moreThis novella was free, short, and did exactly what it was supposed to do--interest me in the rest of the series. Amber and Parker were great fun and their short-short romance really worked. Carson was able to make this story work so quickly by including a relevant and relatable backstory so the entire relationship didn't have to take place in these scant pages. And her talent drew me in so that I believed both the strength of their emotional connection and their desire to make it work going forward (for it culminates with them mainly wanting to develop a full relationship, really). I'll definitely be picking up the first of the series (also written by Carson, though it appears the remaining three weren't--which I find a little weird).
Oh. Right. Steamy: One sizzling explicit scene. Really all the short format could handle. I worried about Amber's emotional risk as much as anything else throughout the scene, but that turned out to work rather well, actually...(less)
I hate when I delay writing reviews as long as I have on this one--I'm left with my vague impressions and risk getting details wrong and I hate that.
T...moreI hate when I delay writing reviews as long as I have on this one--I'm left with my vague impressions and risk getting details wrong and I hate that.
The story suffers a bit from being split between two different points of action (that, yes, eventually come together). In one, Cassandra is a mid-teen. Sixteenish. I think. And is deeply in love with her boyfriend, Aidan. They've been together for a while, when the novel picks up, and they're awful familiar with each others' bedrooms. It's never said whether or not they've had sex, and that coyness is more than a little annoying because Aidan is, shall we say, mature and independent for his age. The problem is that whether they have or not is an important distinction for the emotional impact of the events of the novel. Their relationship is strained by events and I was uncertain how to weight the various emotional byplays. That was disconcerting and, in the end, off-putting. It didn't help that there was nothing else about Cassandra for me to feel connected to her in any way. This robbed some events of the power they might have had if I had been invested in her at all.
I was a touch disappointed by the ending, as well. It was left more open than I wanted (no cliffhangers, thank heavens, but less resolution than I wanted) and was thus somewhat unsatisfying. I trust Blake not to botch things up with the series, so this isn't going to hurt my eventual rating, terribly, but it was off-putting enough to mention.
I much preferred, and enjoyed, the sections with Athena and Hermes (and later, Odysseus). I loved their struggle for information in the face of finding out that they might not be so very immortal as they had always assumed. I particularly enjoyed Odysseus' growing relationship with Athena as she begins to reconsider the whole virgin part of her portfolio. The gods are changing, but can they change so much?
While Cassandra's story and the ending were weak, I never felt bored or tempted to stop reading. Indeed, I had a hard time putting the book down. And I really loved Athena. This was a solid four stars and while it might have wavered a bit lower in the end, I'm going to keep it there and look forward to the next installment.(less)