Really, really wanted to read Head Over Heels but remembered for some unknown reason that I haven't even read the first two. Gaaaah! Rectifying this mReally, really wanted to read Head Over Heels but remembered for some unknown reason that I haven't even read the first two. Gaaaah! Rectifying this mistake and now reading this one. I hope it's as feel-good as it seems to me!
So hard to rate anthologies ... also, while I'd love to sit here and write an actual review, have to just make this short and simple. So muuuch love fSo hard to rate anthologies ... also, while I'd love to sit here and write an actual review, have to just make this short and simple. So muuuch love for Jill Shalvis! Have bought her books already but don't think i have read any yet, so this is a first for me.
Jill Shalvis: All He Wants for Christmas
My, oh my. So when they say "heating up" they really mean it, heh. So many things to love about it: the inverting the usual unrequited love trope, the actual development in the love story, the whole Christmas season not overwhelming the story ... the banter, haha, I live for the banter and the tension. Dustin, how do you not love Dustin? I don't know how Christina held out for so long. :P But seriously though, I love how I went through a whole range of emotions, having those highs and experiencing those lows ... especially that pinch in your heart you get when you know, when you know that there is no way this heartache should even last.
(I don' t normally think up of real life people to base characters on but for som reason, Dustin's description just made me think of Rodrigo Santoro in Love Actually, with his quiet demeanor and his glases amd his hotness. Hahaha.)
Wow. I ... did not see that coming, but the tears, there were no stopping them. I had to pause and put the book down and gather myself first before reWow. I ... did not see that coming, but the tears, there were no stopping them. I had to pause and put the book down and gather myself first before reading the last few pages left. It was that emotionally satisfying for me, to read that scene that made me cry. Oh, so good....more
He hides his true colors while she hides her true self. That statement alone would have gotten me to read this book right away, but as it was, back inHe hides his true colors while she hides her true self. That statement alone would have gotten me to read this book right away, but as it was, back in April or something, I kept hearing about this book with many readers either abhorring "that scene" and hating the book completely, or admiring the book because of it ... I didn't want to be spoiled so I went ahead and downloaded this and read straightaway. I was so very curious to see what everyone was talking about, and I was really interested to discover also what kind of reaction it would warrant from me. And oh, my. What an experience it was.
I'm not going to lie. This book is a difficult read for me. I don't like reading about betrayal and deception to begin with, because I can't abide by it in real life. Duplicity is the ultimate risk, and trust once broken is so, so hard to earn back. But then again .... people lie all the time. We tell others half truths, we tell them white lies, mostly it's sprung from our (misguided) love and our need to protect others. Truth hurts. But it hurts even more to know that the person we have trusted with our heart has outright lied to us.
Truth hurts, but it doesn't kill. Except maybe if you're Diccan, and you've uncovered a Plot To Kill Someone, and then suddenly the whole country's safety is at stake. As a spy masquerading as a diplomat, he takes his duty to serve his country to heart. He has been doing this for so long, pretending to be someone he's not, that he's perfected the art of Being Somebody Else. And he has been fine with living that kind of life, being known as The Perfection. Up until he got caught in a compromising situation with Grace. Now there's another person who exemplifies duty. As a soldier's daughter, she has learned to sacrifice her own desires. All her life, she has been exactly what others need her to be. She could not wait for the day when she is able to live freely and honestly, without reservation. Grace has dreamt of it for so long, and damn, she has definitely earned it. But she can't have it. Because that choice has been stripped away from her, and she finds herself obliged to Do The Right Thing once more. Diccan and Grace marry.
Truth doesn't kill, but it suffocates. Diccan does the honorable thing and marries Grace (although he bungles that up by not even asking properly in the first place). He knows that he was set up, and that he would be able to protect Grace by staying together. Maybe both of their names can be salvaged. When women get asked The Question, it usually signifies a happy start to their future, not a sad goodbye to dreams now dissolved. Grace entered this marriage with her eyes wide open and her heart already broken. Neither of them harbors the illusion that this marriage is a blessing.
But they do their best.
We see glimpses of who Diccan can be when not bogged down by all the secrets and lies. I think this is why I can never truly hate Diccan. Because as much as it pains me to see the repercussions of his actions are, especially towards Grace, we see how conflicted he is and how much it pains him to do the things that must be done. I think if Ms. Dreyer didn't do an exceptionally good job of showing us how this is greatly affecting Diccan as well, I wouldn't have been able to finish this book. Because truly, some of the things that Diccan does seem well and beyond redemption. To put his duty to his country over his love? Over and over again? How horrible must the choices be to choose from? And to know that each time he is hurting somebody else. Somebody who has become real to him -- a person he has come to care a great deal for. Those moments of inner conflict, when it shows he regrets his actions and that he is even disgusted with himself for putting her through so much, you get the feeling of just how unjust and cruel the fates have been to them. Because Diccan is not a detestable person. He is honorable. He is thoughtful. Protective and gentle. Despite everything he has done, he is still capable of love.
When you're just tolerating someone, you don't really get to see them for who they are, for what they have to offer, and for who you could become because they're present in your life. But once you start caring for them, you start admiring their strengths. You start being attracted to them, not just because of their looks, but because you've seen beyond. Without even knowing, you have come to accept the person just as they are. You begin to see them in a different light, respect blossoms, and love begins to grow.
Grace may not be called beautiful, she may be too tall, she may be a cripple, and she may not know the ways of the ton, but she is not just amazing ... she is real. She is smart. She recognizes truths for what they are. She is so giving, always sharing a piece of herself. Grace is a good person; kind, decent, and loving. Just don't mistake her for weak, because when she is put to the test, her strong character, solid sense of dignity and her heart worthy of love is something remarkable. I fell in love with her. No wonder Diccan fell in love with her.
But it wasn't easy. Like I said, this was tough for me to read. It was challenging for me to finish the first time because of how real it was for me. I don't know how many times I have picked this book up since I first read it. Sometimes I just flip to a page and start reading from there. More often than not, after doing that, I find myself going back from the beginning, completing the book. I've picked this book up when I was very upset at something. I picked it up when I was feeling much angst. I picked it up when I was feeling content. It didn't matter the mood and the time, I suppose, because always, it always feel like a rollercoaster and I'm guaranteed to feel something.
Grace's plight was so heartbreaking. I tried to explain it to a friend once, and usually when I do something like this I like to quote (I remember words.) a passage from the book, a part of the dialogue between the characters ... I couldn't come up with one. The book was littered with those poignant moments, when we have access to Grace's penetrating thoughts and we are allowed passages to those moments of her agonizing and heartrending resolve. It felt to me as if pieces of Grace's heart were scattered in those passages, and I felt as though I was the one who has lost her heart. I had to keep reading. I wanted to know that she didn't give up so much of herself that she becomes lost in the process. I wanted to know that she's learned to not just accept things as they come, but to fight for what she wants and what she needs. I had to know that Grace makes it, dignity in tact, heart pieced back together. I had to be strong for this character, because she had to be strong. As distressed and lost and heartbroken as I was, I still couldn't help but hold on to the hope that she will be wanted and needed and loved. Such was my tenacity in believing in their Happy Ever After.
Because Diccan and Grace, they're essentially two wounded, lovable, damaged, good people caught in the charade. Because as much as truth devastates their heart, it also ultimately frees their soul. Because everything they have been through, all the hurt, humiliation, and anger they were subjected to only strengthened character and fortified their resolve to live the life they deserve with the person they want, and need, and love.
All I can say is that the book did not disappoint. It's a rare book nowadays that can get a reader to experience a whole gamut of feelings and emotions. Surprise, happiness, angst, loneliness, rage, betrayal, shock, confusion, heartache, concern, hope, love .... and in the kind of intensity the story and the characters compels you to feel. There are times when I was just astonished at how much one person can give and overwhelmed at just how much they can take, when I was touched by simple gestures that show their real person, when I was just tempted to close the book and walk away because of the extent of anger and hurt I was feeling at that moment, and there were times when I just wanted to hug the book so close to my chest and never let it go.
Robert Knight, the ninth duke of Hawkscliffe, is a man of integrity, power and honor; he is otherwise called the paragon duke. He is a responsible broRobert Knight, the ninth duke of Hawkscliffe, is a man of integrity, power and honor; he is otherwise called the paragon duke. He is a responsible brother, a competent duke, and an eloquent man. In other words, flawless. Miss Belinda Hamilton is a loving daughter, an intelligent beauty with a giving heart, a principled and dignified woman. It is important to remember who they were, to understand who they become, and to know who they truly are. Because when their lives converge, it is not through the glorious act of love, but of bitter revenge.
Granted, it is love that pushes them to exact revenge ... it is love that becomes their undoing. For him, it is his undeclared love for a certain married woman, a now-suspiciously-dead woman; and for her, it is really her love for her father, and for herself, that was key in her decision making, which lead her to this ... Good people, driven to revenge. Revenge and deception, concealments and charades. Both playing a dangerous game, both manipulating and being manipulated.
[It would do well to remember: false ploys lead to real heartbreaks. I find myself caring for these two people very much that I'm afraid for the moment reality sets in and their hearts get broken.]
"In this life, we make our choices and we pay the price." True words from Bel's father, but oh, if he only knew what price his daughter has to pay, what kind of sacrifices she has to make, and what kind of life fate has awarded her for all her troubles, he wouldn not be able to forgive himself. Maybe then he will choose money over books? Harsh reality over pride and principle. His ideals cannot did not really allow them in their situation to live a simple albeit comfortable, with food in their stomachs and shelter in their daily lives. In the end, his very choices only exposed Bel to jeopardy; left defenseless against the unwanted advances of a horrible, nasty man. It was she who had to suffer the most.
Because of what happened, she saw herself as "another sort of creature now, as lost and degraded as the prostitutes." This is the divide. As painful and traumatic as her experience was, it only proved that she is made of sterner stuff. That as wounded and hurt as she is, she will not break, she will not disintegrate. When she was finally able to pick herself up, she has decided. She will fight. Fight back and refuse fate to dictate her life. Anger as her propellant. Her body as ammunition. Her actions as retribution.
So Bel sought to have a protector, "someone to help her, take all her fears away." A protector she will need, for she has chosen to extract a delicious revenge ... to be the mistress of his worst enemy. Dolph Breckinridge is the man she blames for all her tribulations, for his obsessive pursuance of her, for his calculating and cruel attention. In choosing the man to use in her revenge against Dolph, she only cares that he would be able to give her two things for her to make it worth his while: he only had to be gentle with her and not too unpleasant, and be there for her to rescue her father and when she faced her rapist. And there he was, Hawkscliffe with his guilt, feeling honor-bound to find out what really happened to the woman he was supposed to marry, Lady Coldfell. Willing to do it, at whatever cost. Not so noble now. The man accused of harming the woman? No other than Dolph Breckinridge.
One mortal enemy. Together they concoct a scheme. Bel as bait to prove Dolph's guilt so that Hawk can avenge Lady Coldfell's death, and Hawk as Bel's protector, exploiting the fact that Dolph could never have her. Foolish people. Angry souls. Two months of pretending, of living together in Knight House, of giving protection, money, and of not being required to bed him.
My question then, was this: for how long will they each be able to keep up this charade? For Hawk is a gentle man, kind, and regardless of whether he wanted to or not, right from the very beginning his actions already betray him -- his care for Bel shines through. And what of our Bel? Trying to hard to forget her past, to fill the "fearless and hardened" courtesan role she thinks she now must personify - her heart just will not mislead her. Attraction is strong from the get-go, and their chemistry is sizzling. Every interaction is revealing. The more time spent together, the better they understand each other. He makes her feel safe, she makes him feel needed. She brings joy to his life, and he shows her tenderness. She opens his mind to other realities and he gives her assurance to be confident again. They take what they need from each other, and they give ... they give as best they can. The little gifts they share shows how much they have come to care for one another. To make each other happy is to be happy.
If only they could trust each other explicitly. If only holding on to their principles is easy. If only politics would not interfere, ambitions, and families and scandals and society. If only loving each other is enough so they can live happily.
The ultimate challenge if for them to live the lives they so desperately want and deserve, without losing sight of who they are in the process. What good is living life without your love? And yet, would you be able to live with your love knowing you have betrayed yourself? They are left with few choices. They have to know which life they are willing to give up in order to live the life they want. It was not easy, by God, it was anything but that. It was complicated and messy and heartbreaking, and it was soul crushing. To be broken again and again, to be shattered just as they have only healed ... it takes strength of character, resilience and fortitude. It takes love. For self. For others. Simple and utter devotion.
And love ... it is what they have. Theirs to take. Theirs to give. It was beautiful. And you know what? It was good.