Yesterday I asked the readers of the RIASS Facebook page whether they make themselvesThis review originally appeared at www.readinasinglesitting.com.
Yesterday I asked the readers of the RIASS Facebook page whether they make themselves finish reading a book that's really not to their tastes, or whether they put such a book down. And if the latter, at what point would they do so?
There's a reason that this review is appearing about a week later than originally scheduled. And that's because it took me about a week to read this. And not because it's a particularly long or challenging read. I simply found it incredibly difficult to get through, for a number of reasons, although having at long last finished the book, I'm a little more mixed in my response.
Faith Holland has returned to her small New England home town after hightailing it out of there after a disastrous wedding day in which her fiance Jeremy came out as gay. Faith is not only nursing a broken heart, but also a good deal of loathing towards Levi Cooper, whom she blames for encouraging Jeremy to come out. Levi, meanwhile, is still recovering from the collapse of his marriage. But sparks, of course, begin to fly between Faith and Levi, no matter how much the two try to deny it by turning their attentions elsewhere--Levi to his police work and his sister Sarah's struggles with fitting in at uni; Faith to her landscape design business and her utter determination to fix up her widower father with a new partner.
In a way I'm glad that I forced myself to keep reading through this one, because the book's redeeming qualities are largely at its end. We begin to see some nuance to chauvinist Levi and obnoxious Faith (even though this mostly occurs through a series of excruciatingly long flashbacks), and they become slightly less appalling than they are at the outset of the book. Because, my goodness, if I knew these people in real life I'd be fleeing away from their venomous, misogynistic attitudes as quickly as my little legs could take me.
I'm afraid that I'm one of those people who doesn't really find much humour in putting down people, and I'm not someone who appreciates sexist, misogynistic attitudes, and The Best Man has plenty of both. It's this that had me very, very close to setting down the book by the end of the first chapter, and if I hadn't been asked to review this one, I would have been done with it then and there.
The anti-women sentiments abound in this book, so I'll just pull out a couple of examples for you. We have an instance where Faith is on a date with a man who is (unbeknownst to Faith) married, and whose wife shows up and begins calling Faith a "whore" over and over. We see Faith and her family constantly look down on other woman, calling her father's maybe-girlfriend Lenora a "gold digger" (and indeed Lenora is portrayed as a money-grubbing individual; she's also made a subject of ridicule for the outfits she chooses to wear); and behaving cruelly towards another woman they initially think might have been a possible partner for Faith's father. And let's not even get into the horrible scene where a transgender person is called a "shemale" and where Faith and her sisters behave horrifically cruelly.
To be honest, I'm not sure that I can think of one woman in the book who's actually portrayed in a positive light. Perhaps Levi's sister? (Although she's not a great feminist herself--from memory, she calls her room-mate a "slut".) It's certainly not "slutty" Jessica, Levi's ex from high school, and nor is it Levi's ex-wife, who's portrayed as a man-eating beast. If I subtracted a star each time the word "slut", "slutty" or "whore" was used in this book, the universe would be a very dark place. (Incidentally, I just did a search and came up with fifteen instances of "slut" or "slutty"; sixteen of "whore"; and one of "whorish".)
We get the odd moment of positivity out of Faith's grandmother, but that's downplayed by her husband's apparent loathing of her. With this sort of attitude towards woman going on in this town, it's little wonder that Faith's overarching goal in life is to get married (as you probably raised an eyebrow at in the book summary above, no, she didn't seem to care at all about Jeremy's sexual orientation or his own happiness, just as long as he married her in the end)--what else is there? Curiously, the only arcs that are dealt with with any degree of sensitivity are those of Jeremy and Levi.
What's frustrating is that beneath all of this cheap name-calling and jokey sexist hatred, there is a story that's worth reading, but in my opinion, it definitely doesn't come out in the book's current incarnation--or at least, for a reader of my own outlook it doesn't. I have no issue with warts-and-all portrayals, but that's not what's going on here, and I'm afraid that this one wasn't to my taste at all....more
Whew, here I am, having emerged from air after slogging my way through Elizabeth Hoyt'This review originally appeared at www.readinasinglesitting.com.
Whew, here I am, having emerged from air after slogging my way through Elizabeth Hoyt's Lord of Darkness, the latest in her Maiden Lane series. Though not a long novel, Lord of Darkness certainly feels it: I suspect that there might be some sort of time dilation powers hidden within its pages.
There's a reason that category romance novels tend to fall in at just under two hundred or so pages, and that's that it's terribly difficult to sustain a plot that's entirely predicated on the romantic back-and-forth between two people beyond that. Category authors work within some stringent word length constraints to be able to give us a story arc that's believable, and to flesh out their main and secondary characters as well, and the more I read within the romance genre, the more I appreciate the skill involved in doing this well.
Though I've read a handful of shorter historical romances, Hoyt's Lord of Darkness is my first foray into the heftier works in this genre, and I have to say that I've come away feeling a little dizzy and not entirely enlightened. In part I suspect that this is because I've come in mid-way through a series, and that the novel leans heavily on previous the preceding volumes. But my ambivalence has a lot to do with the fact that overall this is a sadly uneven book...which makes it feel much, much longer than it actually is.
The novel largely involves the development of the relationship between hero Godric, widower nobleman by day and ye olde time vigilante Ghost of St Giles by night, and Megs, with whom Godric entered into a marriage of convenience two years prior in order to stave off gossip about Megs's pregnancy--to a man who had been recently killed. The two have lived entirely separate lives since then, each mourning their respective partners, and in Megs's case, the loss of her baby. But now Megs is back in Godric's life, and she's determined to have a baby. Of course, doing so will involve consummating the marriage and coming to terms with the losses of their loved ones.
So much of a romance novel is about the relationship between the two main characters and the reader's connection with them. Unfortunately, I never really connected with Godric's character, nor with that of Megs, and by the end of the novel I felt like one of the many long-suffering guests forced to board at their home: I wanted nothing more than to escape their frustrating bickering and the infuriating repetition of their interactions. Obviously as the two are already married, we need something to keep them apart, which here is Godric's love for his deceased wife and Megs's love/guilt surrounding her lover. But the way that these issues are overcome feels abrupt and at odds with the set-up that they're given: we go from chastity and mourning to endless (and not in a good way) sex scenes.
In addition to the romance between Godric and Megs, there's all sorts of other stuff going on, much of it between characters who I imagine must have played significant roles in previous books, because there are plot threads here that seem to be ongoing--such as that of Artemis, a point of view character who slips in and out of the narrative for a reason I couldn't fathom without having read the prior books in the series. The society scenes are hard to parse without this background knowledge, and the Ghost of St Giles business is a bit of a mess--the plot conceits to get both Godric and Megs in the same place and to eventually reveal Godric's secret identity feel contrived; the Secret Garden allusion with Megs's dead tree in the garden felt forced as well. Oddly enough, the high point of the novel has nothing to do with the main characters and their arcs, but is rather grumpy old Aunt Elvina and her pet pug Her Grace, both of whom snuffle and snort around and get up to all sorts of mischief.
With Lord of Darkness I found myself alternating between floundering through scenes where I felt like a gatecrasher at a party and between feeling as though I was forcing myself through a viscous vat of verbiage. Though I'm sure having read the previous books in this series would have helped me get a better handle on this one, I'm not sure I want to commit to reading four other books that might well suffer from the same issues as this one....more
My poor husband has been quite disappointed that in all the romance novels that have mThis review originally appeared at www.readinasinglesitting.com.
My poor husband has been quite disappointed that in all the romance novels that have made their way on to my bookshelves, his own occupation has not so far represented. Where's the IT geek love? he wants to know. With Leah Ashton's A Girl Less Ordinary, he can finally feel vindicated, because the hero in this one gives my geeky husband a run for his money.
Both are uber-nerd software programmers. Both run their own businesses. Both are billionaires. Um, okay, perhaps not the last one (if you're wondering, it's the hero in the book who's the billionaire, not my husband), but two out of three isn't bad.
A Girl Less Ordinary is a reunion romance, and I should admit up-front that, grumpy cynic that I am, I'm not a huge fan of this particular genre. For this reason the book and I got off to a little bit of a rocky start: the prologue, where we rewind from our present-day setting to witness a cringe-worthy--read: unrequited--declaration of love from our then-dorky heroine towards our then-dorky hero, didn't quite work for me.
However, once we get past those awkward teen years and into the present day Ashton really hits her stride. Despite the fact that the premise does indeed hinge on a reunion between our hero and heroine, Ashton doesn't fall prey to mawkish, soft-focus flashbacks. Instead, she keeps the focus on the present day, allowing the past to be alluded to through the way in which the characters react to each other and contrast their present day selves with those of the past.
And goodness, how they've changed. Though our hero and heroine might have started at roughly similar places on the personality spectrum, after ten years they've diverged to the point of serious polarity. Jake is a scruffy, work-obsessed introvert who spends his spare time getting back to nature (cue Castle-esque: "can you feel the serenity?"); while Eleanor, once not so dissimilar, has transformed herself into stylish image-obsessed party-girl Ella. And the circumstances of their reunion? Ella has been hired by Jake's company to transform the reclusive programmer from geek...to chic (sorry, sorry, couldn't resist).
One of the things that I loved about Ashton's debut Secrets and Speed-Dating was that she pushed the boundaries of the category romance; in A Girl Less Ordinary she does so again. There's something in the characterisation that I can't quite put my finger on--perhaps that the story seems to emphasise Jake's point of view and show him in a more sympathetic light than Ella?--but there's a definite sense of this being a category romance with a difference.
In A Girl Less Ordinary the focus is less the romance between Jake and Ella than it is the rekindling of a deep friendship between the two and their subsequent efforts to come to terms with the circumstances that have led to them becoming the people that they are today. Ella in particular is a deeply troubled person, and I was impressed that Ashton was willing to take a risk in writing such a relatively unsympathetic, clearly tormented heroine. That Ella's self-worth was something she herself was tasked with developing, rather than having it sort of bestowed upon her by the cliche of the love of a good man was something that I really appreciated, too.
However, although there was much to enjoy about this one, and I do think that Ashton is an immensely promising writer, I did have a couple of issues with this one (and not all of them due to my grumpy cynical ways). The romantic gesture at the end of the novel felt a little out of character for Jake (although yes, if you've clicked on my proposal link above, you've probably seen that geeky guys can be pretty darn' romantic when they want to be), and I didn't quite buy the way that things turned out. The proofreading in this one was also an issue, which was a surprise, as usually Harlequin books are top-notch in this regard.
In all, though, this is an enjoyable romance from a strong local talent, and I look forward to seeing more from Ashton in the future....more
With a fair chunk of romance novels under my belt now, I’ve developed a few tentativeThis review originally appeared at www.readinasinglesitting.com.
With a fair chunk of romance novels under my belt now, I’ve developed a few tentative hypotheses and correlations about the genre. One of these is that the more ridiculous the hero’s name, the more fun the book. (I remember fondly a book last year involving a hero called Obediah “Dyer” Straits.) If this correlation holds true, then with names like Slade, Hutch and Boone, it’s little wonder I’ve enjoyed Linda Lael Miller’s Big Sky series.
Part of what makes Miller’s books such a delight is the humour that infuses them. She’s not at all afraid to plant tongue firmly in cheek as she writes, and there are plenty of fun little metafictional moments in her books. A personal favourite is that the aforementioned Slade is named after a hero in one of his mother’s favourite romance novels. Hermeneutic recursiveness at its best, folks! In this one, too, we have a bit of a piss-take regarding our hilariously named hero: ”Boone?” thinks our heroine Tara. “Good heavens, even his name was redneck.”
Miller has an inordinate amount of fun pairing up poor Boone, an overworked widower who lives in a rundown trailer, with Tara, a Mercedes-driving city girl who owns a snazzy property with a lovely view of said rundown trailer. Tara’s attempting to transform from urban to chicken farmer despite an utter inability to harm so much as a feather on a fowl, while Boone is trying to learn the ropes of fatherhood–and learning pretty quickly that an entertainment system comprising an old black and white TV doesn’t hack it with the youth of today. The fish-out-of-water trope is milked to delightful effect here, and Miller good-humouredly skewers both city and country natives by contrasting the two to highly entertaining effect.
As with the other stories in the Big Sky series, we have a Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett animosity-turning-to-love type narrative on our hands, only of course in this case our Mr Darcy is still only on ten thousand a year (not quite so impressive in 2013) and has a toilet blooming with flowers in his front yard. And our Lizzie has a thing for chicken eggs and overalls. Oh, and both have kids/step-kids from previous marriages. Often I’m not a huge fan of romance novels that are overrun with wee ones, because it’s very easy for the story to become more focused instead on the adults’ interactions with their kids, and that is an issue here. That said, the youngsters in this are surprisingly enjoyable to read about, and much of the character growth we see from Boone and Tara occurs because of their interactions with their own and each others’ kids.
Unfortunately, although we spend quite a bit of time watching Boone and Tara develop their relationship with their kids, their own romantic relationship is given far less page space. At the beginning of the book the two have only met a handful of times in passing, so it’s not as though they’re building on a relationship that was begun and aborted some time in the past, which from memory is the case for the two previous books in this series. Because of this, the shift from using each other as babysitters (and general sources of consternation) to moving in together seems abrupt at best, and though I appreciate that (minor spoiler alert, but c’mon, it’s a romance, you know how it ends) Miller allows a bit of a postponement to the formalising of the HEA, it still feels as though their relationship has emerged, fully formed, out of thin air.
I think partly my ambivalence over this whole series is that it falls somewhere in between romance and women’s fiction, and doesn’t quite fit with my expectations regarding the conventions of either genre. Although a romance is certainly present, it’s not the key story arc. Much of the story, in fact–and of the series as a whole–is focused on the town and townsfolk of the small town of Parable. If anything, it’s more a novelisation of a soap opera than it is a romance novel.
And yet, my repeated misgivings about the lack of emphasis on the romances in this series aside, I really have enjoyed reading these. Miller writes settings and people you want to get caught up in, and even if half the book is about water towers and puppies (and kittens and chickens etc) rather than smouldering looks and spunky men in tight jeans, there’s something delightful in sitting back and letting her imagined worlds and cheeky names wash over you. I’m looking forward to the fourth in the series, which should be released mid this year....more
I know that I often come across as a grumpy contrarian yelling at kids to get off my lawn (well, I would if I had a lawn), but I'm quite willing to toss aside all of my curmudgeonly angst for the right book. I have certain expectations for certain genres, and when it comes to romance, I want to be able to soak in a narrative bubble bath. I want to be charmed, I want to visit somewhere more appealing than where I live, and I want to come away with a bit of an imbecilic grin on my face. Ah, Jill Shalvis, you know how these things work.
Shalvis is covering all of her bases with the last in the latest of her Lucky Harbor series-within-a-series, and to great avail: Forever and a Day is easily as charming as its predecessor At Last, which I reviewed over here. If I was ever on the fence about this book--if you allow me a moment to be utterly superficial, the unconvincing hairline of the guy on the cover did give me pause--the presence of a bratty pug puppy called Tank pretty much sold it to me. If pugs aren't your thing, there are plenty of references to chocolate as well, as well as a bonus spunky doctor, some pretty scenery and some sassy humour.
Actually, this book is big on the humour and even bigger on the sass, and it's more of a romantic comedy than a straight romance. Our heroine is Grace, a one-time big-shot financial advisor who's seeking a bit of distance from the crushing expectations of her high-achieving parents. Instead of screaming "buy, buy!" amidst a crush of designer suits she's become the odd-jobs girl of Lucky Harbor, doing a spot of rudie-nudie modelling here and a bit of babysitting there. But her cushy nest egg is beginning to dwindle, so when she receives a wrong number asking her to take up a dog-walking role--no matter that Grace scarcely knows what a dog looks like--she's in like Flynn.
Quite a lot like Flynn, as it turns out, for her new employer is the spunky Dr Josh, a harried single father who's also responsible for his paraplegic younger sister Anna--who snarks it up in serious twenty-something style throughout the book--in addition to the clinic he inherited from his dad upon his parents' death, and a growing number of patients over at the local hospital. No wonder the poor guy has a receding hairline before his time.
Sparks fly and hilarity ensues, with Grace ending up in a stand-off with goggly-eyed, devil-souled Tank, playing parent Josh's son in a strictly learn-on-the-job basis, trying to cope with Anna's mischief, and continuing to juggle her zany array of odd jobs. Josh, on the other hand, is sleep-walking through his days, doing everything he feels he should, but as is so often the case with these things, is doing none of it well.
Forever and a Day plays out as a struggle of identity and responsibility, with Grace wanting to live a fulfilling life on her own terms rather than those of her academically obsessed parents (I'm pretty sure her mum is my dad, by the way--sorry, Dad, still no PhD on the horizon here), and Josh seeking to be a better father and brother while still doing right by his late parents with regard to the clinic's future. The romance between Josh and Grace unfolds with flair, with a nice balance between angst, passion and humour, but really it's Grace's relationships with Josh's son and sister, as well as those with her two close girlfriends, that really steal the show here. I really appreciated that although the romance element is clear and evident, both characters have rich identities and relationships beyond each other, and that Shalvis devotes so much time to these.
I was also pleased to be able to connect as a reader not just with Grace, but also with Josh, whose internal struggles I felt believably rendered. Rather than being some macho dude whose idea of wooing someone is chucking a girl over his shoulder and beating his meaty chest with his even meatier fists, he's beset by all manner of human difficulties and insecurities. He's not your gruff, taciturn alpha male figure, but rather someone who's always attempting to put others first--an admirable trait that, even as he struggles with it, he attempts to maintain. (And, while I'm at it, he's not even a retired Marine/SWAT guy/police officer/other job that requires you to carry a gun. He's just a normal guy. Fancy that.)
In all, Forever and a Day is an appealing, engrossing and witty romantic comedy, and the saps (and pug lovers) among my readers will no doubt get a kick out of it....more
Uh oh, Linda Lael Miller, you're in trouble. Because I've just spent my weekend working my way through At Last and Forever and a Day (review tomorrow) by Jill Shalvis with all the delight that I usually save for your laconic cowboys, pink-fringed, bedazzled cowboy boots and the wedding dresses you describe, quite deliciously if not entirely sartorially appealingly, as confections.
Although Shalvis is lacking a little on the cowboy side of things, and there's not as much here fashion-wise to cackle about, never fear: there's plenty else to enjoy, including endless references to chocolate, and a trio of muscular men swanning about in a way that's not at all as neanderthalic as one might expect. Bonus points for the distinct lack of knuckle dragging, Ms Shalvis.
Anyway, At Last is the second in a trilogy of romances (and the second set of trilogies in the overall series, if you'll let me get a bit recursive) set in Lucky Harbor, a sunny, beachy, outdoorsy place that attracts the lovelorn and heartbroken and sets things to rights with lots of love and chocolate brownies. This mini-series follows the "spin-off" approach so common in romance, where we come across a group of friends or siblings (friends in this case, cowboys in the aforementioned Linda Lael Miller's case), and watch each member of the group fall in love (only one per book, mind: love has to be rationed). It's an approach I quite enjoy in that it results in generally well-fleshed out minor characters across a series, and also tends to encourage the creation of fairly likeable characters at that. (Aside: Charles de Lint does this in his Newford books, although it wasn't until I started reading romance that I realised what he was up to. Clever man, that Mr De Lint.)
In At Last we follow Amy Michaels, a recent big city blow-in who's looking to start anew after a difficult childhood, and Matt Bowers, the local forest ranger (hey, he's almost a cowboy), who's moved to Lucky Harbor after seeing his marriage fall apart over the stress of his previous police officer role. The two negotiate their attraction through plenty of banter, awkward outdoors moments, and some soul-searching courtesy of a teen runaway Amy decides to take under her wing.
I'll admit that I was a touch wary going into this one, and largely because of the characters' backgrounds. I dislike the use of abusive/disadvantaged childhoods as a way to justify a character's lack of trust and difficulty in being able to develop healthy relationships: I feel it's not only overused, but largely unnecessary. The former law enforcement officer (marine, airforce officer, etc) can also be a problematic trope in that it can so easily be used as a shortcut to create emotional tension. There were some moments throughout the book where I felt that Shalvis walked a fine line with regard to this--the "black moment" in particular--but despite my misgivings I came away relatively grumble free.
Because, honestly, Shalvis's books are so very charming, and I think that's utterly key for these sorts of beachy romance reads. When I read a romance I want to feel as though I'm taking a holiday that's somewhere more pleasant than my gloomy ol' native Melbourne, and I want to turn the last page and suddenly feel a rush of love and appreciation for my husband. Yes, that's probably the sappiest thing I've ever written on here, but that's how my romance-ometer works. (One quick gripe about the cover, though: it's lovely and cheery, but what's with the floral dress? Amy's meant to be a tough gal who gets around in stompy boots and all black.)
I did raise an eyebrow at the fact that Matt and his buddies Josh and Ty, the heroes of the other two books in the trilogy, all have solid careers, while Amy and her friends seem to be either in between jobs or working in traditionally less valued roles. This is something that I kept in mind throughout both this and Forever and a Day, keeping a rough mental tally of the different professions and roles of the townsfolk. But Shalvis comes through with the goods, and there are plenty of female professionals and generally strong and independent women living it up in Lucky Harbor. Good stuff.
On a similar note, I wanted to comment on the fact that Shalvis also makes a point of her female characters actively saying "yes" when initiating a sex scene, which is way more appealing for me as a reader than just watching a bloke forging ahead on tacit approval. In addition, Shalvis underscores that her heroes value the strength of the word no. For example, in a scene where Matt needs to take Amy to hospital despite her insistance that she's fine, he says, "No would normally work on me, but not this time."
So, we have a nice feminist undercurrent going on, some pretty scenery, a good lookin' forest ranger, and a recipe for brownies in the back of the book. What's not to like?...more
“First rule of the wild: never take your eye off a predator. You never turned your bacThis review originally appeared at www.readinasinglesitting.com.
“First rule of the wild: never take your eye off a predator. You never turned your back on wild dogs, even comatose ones. Unless what was coming at you was more dangerous…”
Clare Delaney is a veterinarian tasked with releasing a team of wild dogs back into their natural habitat. But things go horribly awry when a group of men arrive on the scene, hijacking the mission and taking Clare hostage. Clare finds herself in a dangerous situation where both the lives of her beloved dogs and her own life are at risk–but she’s determined to escape.
A calculated assessment of the men who are holding her captive leads her to believe that one of them might well be her way out. He’s obviously concerned for her welfare and doesn’t want to see her hurt, unlike the others, who seem to view collateral damage as something to be expected. Clare hopes that by seducing this man, whom she nicknames “Alpha”, she might be able to increase her chances of escape.
But Clare’s calculated plan begins to unravel when she begins to feel something for this man, who seems to respond in kind. Deeply conflicted over her emotions, which may be real, or may be some sort of manifestation of Stockholm Syndrome, Clare eventually makes a break for it–only to be left wondering what might have been.
It’s a challenging promise for a romance novel, even one that falls into the romantic suspense subgenre, and I’ll admit that I had serious difficulty in allowing myself go along for the ride in this one. The author does suggest fairly early on that there’s more to Alpha and his role in the mission than Clare suspects:
“But he wasn’t here to win awards for chivalry, he told himself, shoving a kitchen chair out of the way as he passed through. You’re here to secure the shipment. There was a reason he’d been assigned this job, a reason he was working with men he couldn’t stand on a project that turned his stomach. He was the best. And the best should be able to multi-task. Get the assignment done while minimising collateral damage.”
But even so I found it incredibly disturbing to watch the two get together in such a situation, and to watch Alpha (or Simon, as we later on learn his name to be) take advantage of Clare. Even if he isn’t the evil kidnapper we’re first led to believe, he’s still in a position of power, and no matter that the two are ostensibly consenting in their actions, this just isn’t the case.
To be fair, the author does go to great lengths to show the emotional conflict of both characters, and Clare does receive counselling to help her deal with the ordeal. But I’m afraid that I just can’t accept that a relationship that has its origins in the victim-captor binary can possibly be something to identify with or cheer for, and this undermined my enjoyment of the book.
The vast majority of the story occurs some six months after the kidnapping incident, and things really do pick up from here–the plot takes all manner of suspenseful twists involving false identities and betrayals that will keep readers on their toes, and I found the latter two thirds of the book quite enjoyable. Logan does a good job of drawing the reader into her vividly drawn setting, and Clare’s passion for her work comes across very realistically.
However, the relationship between Clare and Simon, which picks up again at the six-months-later mark, continued to bother me. No matter the trials they face and the discussions they have about their feelings for each other, I just couldn’t bring myself on board with it at all. For me the relationship just feels so deeply unhealthy, and smacks of a coercive abuse of power.
Perhaps if the narrative had begun after Clare’s escape, or their first romantic encounter had occurred after this point, then I might have been able to set aside my misgivings. But my appreciation of both the novel and the relationship (the former being hugely influenced by the latter–this is a romance, after all) was utterly clouded by Simon’s actions during the kidnapping. I just can’t trust a guy who takes advantage of a hostage and says stuff like: ”The pleasure of possession flared in him. He wanted her marked, wanted the world to know she was his.” I don’t care how much you say you’re in love with her, buddy, you’re an abusive weirdo.
At the prose level, I found things a little uneven as well, particularly in the first third of the book. The abrupt sentences do lend a sense of urgency, but at the same time result in a stilted read. Sentences like “Stomach acid threatened and she swallowed it back” and ”Contrite grey eyes rose” and ”brown eyes fixed on his left shoulder, the color now high in otherwise ashen cheeks” abound, and the strange dropping of possessive pronouns and determiners makes for a choppy read. It’s a writing style that I’ve noticed is quite common in romance, and particularly in romantic suspense, and I have to say that it’s one that doesn’t work for me personally.
Thematically, the concerted effort to draw parallels between the behaviour of wild animals and the kidnappers/Simon felt a little too blatant as well. Although there’s certainly something to it, I just felt that this might have been done a little more off-the-record, rather than with an unambiguous series of paragraph-to-paragraph comparisons.
In all, I enjoyed the suspense element of this book far more than the romance element, which I found to be disturbing despite the author’s best efforts to deal with the issues surrounding it. The Zambian setting is intriguing, and Logan’s passion for nature and wildlife shines through, but I’m afraid that this one wasn’t for me....more
When I picked this up last night I joked to my husband that I was taking a cowboy to bThis review originally appeared at www.readinasinglesitting.com.
When I picked this up last night I joked to my husband that I was taking a cowboy to bed with me. My husband, in true geeky form, gave a vague “huh” and returned to his iPad game. What a trusting man he is.
As it turns out, he was right: there was no need to fear that Huch Carmody, the hero of Linda Lael Miller’s latest novel, would drive a wedge into our marriage. Though I’m ordinarily a huge fan of Miller’s work, everything about this one felt a little flat to me–sadly, the only fireworks in this book are the ones that occur on the 4th of July.
The second in Miller’s series based in small-town Parable, Montana, Big Sky Mountain focuses on the elusive romance between wealthy rancher Huch Carmody and his one-time high school flame, Kendra Shepherd. It picks up nine months after Big Sky Country, in which we watched Hutch’s hilariously named half-brother Slade and software developer Joslyn scrap about, fight, seethe, and eventually get hitched, and begins, a little head-spinningly, with a wedding. Hutch’s wedding.
Three pages later, and Hutch is saying I don’t, his bride is bemoaning the coast of the almost-wedding, and the gossip mill is moving at an impressive pace: even the town of Parable, it seems, isn’t above putting together a We Hate Hutch Facebook page. But Hutch knows that he’s made the right decision. Sure, he wants to settle down and have kids (this is a necessity if you’re to be a Miller hero), but it’s got to be with the right woman. And the fact that he’s spent the past nine months accidentally calling his bride-to-be Kendra doesn’t really bode well for their future together. But Kendra’s got plenty enough on her own plate already. She’s only just adopted four-year-old Madison, the daughter of her cheating, recently deceased ex-husband, and she’s juggling new motherhood along with finding a new place to live and her career as a realtor. However, Madison seems to have taken a shine to Cowboy Man, as she calls him, and thanks to her, Kendra and Hutch begin to cross paths increasingly often . Though the tension between Kendra and Hutch was set up in the previous novel, it seems so much less evident here. For one, I kept wondering how Hutch came to be (almost) marrying another woman, but unfortunately, this is never really explained beyond a laconic “I made a mistake”. And Kendra’s focus is for the most part of the novel on Madison rather than on Hutch, making this one feel a lot more like women’s fiction than a romance novel. Hutch and Kendra seem to come together just because they spend enough time together that they might as well, rather than out of any real passion. Both seem fixated on what ended their relationship all those years ago, but this is never really resolved–they just seem to kiss and make up rather than actually working it out.
Though the characters are generally what I love most about Miller’s work, I felt that there was a lot going on here with minor characters that caused things to lag a little. There’s a subplot, for example, involving the awful deputy Treat that seems extraneous–and given that it involves Hutch sticking up for his ex-fiancee, doesn’t really help move the romance along. (Curiously, I find it difficult to imagine Hutch sticking up for Kendra in the same impassioned manner.)
There’s also a lot of dog-adopting and horses-as-gifts going on here, which although always pleasant to see, is kind of getting a bit stale, particularly given that the same thing happened in the previous book. How many stray pups and out-to-pasture ponies can there possibly be in a small town? The young-adopted-child thing feels familiar as well, as does the fact that the child in question is astonishingly precocious. Will we ever see a four-year-old who’s an out-and-out brat rather than these articulate and insightful mini adults who seem so common in romance novels?
To be honest, the Madison plot line detracted from the love affair between Hutch and Kendra a good deal for me: Madison waxes lyrical about wanting to be part of a nuclear family so often that it almost feels as though Kendra gets it on with Hutch purely to play happy families. And goodness, the constant reiteration about people being prime mother or father material began to grate after a while–surely there’s more to a relationship than the possibility of progeny?
Though I do love being able to curl up with one of Miller’s cowboys, and I always enjoy getting to know her well-rounded characters and marvel at their terrible small-town fashion, on the whole this one just didn’t quite work for me. Still, you can be that I’ll be hanging out for her next release....more
Echo Emerson’s days of being part of the cool group are over. Sure, she might have beeThis review originally appeared at www.readinasinglesitting.com.
Echo Emerson’s days of being part of the cool group are over. Sure, she might have been the girl who topped every class, won awards for her art, and who filled in her afternoons with all sorts of upbeat extra-curricular stuff, but things have changed. Now she spends her days making as little impact as possible on the world. She hides her scarred arms beneath sloppy, long-sleeved jumpers, avoids eye contact with her peers, and quietly slinks off for hours or mandated counselling.
The rumours abound, but no one’s quite sure what happened to transform Echo from a friendly, bubbly teen into the ghost she’s become. Even Echo doesn’t know, because her memories of the night that completely changed her life are hidden somewhere deep within. All she knows is that her mother had something to do with it. And she and her counsellor are determined to reach back in time to stitch back together Echo’s lost memories.
But Echo doesn’t plan on falling for the troubled Noah, a foster care boy who’s struggling with a past of his own, and who’s doing his best to repress it with whatever numbing influences he can find. When the two are assigned as study partners, with Echo given the task of getting Noah’s grades back up to scratch, the chemistry between the two is impossible to ignore, though neither wants to admit it. Echo’s in no state to be thinking about a relationship, after all, and Noah’s nothing but bad news. But as the two grow closer, they realise that they’re not as different as they seem, and that perhaps they do, after all, inhabit similar worlds. The obvious comparison for Pushing the Limits is Simone Elkeles’ Perfect Chemistry, and I’ll admit that I found myself frequently making comparisons between the two as I read. Both are told from dual perspectives and feature a privileged female slumming it with a boy from the wrong side of the tracks, but who despite his tough exterior in reality has a heart of gold. And both take the relationships between their main characters into directions that make me slightly uncomfortable. In Perfect Chemistry I disliked the fact that the relationship essentially stemmed from a bet between the hero and his best mate; in Pushing the Limits I disliked the fact that Noah seemed to compete for Echo, going so far as to get into a punch-up with her (admittedly jerky) ex, and the constant reiteration of her being “his”, and belonging to him. Though Noah apparently loves her to the point of getting down on one knee (yes, really), he seems often to treat her more like a beautiful object rather than a person.
Echo, who is clearly emotionally damaged and has serious trust issues, struggles with choice and agency, and invariably capitulates to authority. Her constant refrain for the first half of the book is “yes, Daddy”, as she avoids any sort of confrontation with her overbearing and overprotective feather. It’s hard to believe then, that Echo truly falls for Noah: it’s very often tempting to see their relationship as one into which Noah, who is very often aggressive and authoritative, has drawn her. This is particularly the case given that Echo also agrees, though she loathes the idea, to date her ex, Luke, persisting through several dates with him even though he demonstrates no redeeming characteristics whatsoever. Echo comments at one point that Luke behaves around her like a dog marking its territory, but yet, Noah does exactly the same thing with his constant claiming and possessiveness. On the flip side of the coin, Noah frequently calls Echo his siren, raising the suggestion that he’s being drawn into something against his will. Is this relationship more about the irresistible lure of chemistry than it is any actual desire to get to know and love someone?
In addition to the problematic nature of the romance plot, I often found it difficult to understand why Echo makes the decisions that she does, and in part I think this is because of the fact that there’s so much going on in this book that she’s being pulled in all manner of directions as the various subplots require. Although Perfect Chemistry certainly had its fair share of drama, from memory it was largely kept to the key romance narrative. Pushing the Limits, on the other hand, attempts to fit in an immense amount of material, but in doing so confuses and dilutes our understanding of Echo and her gradual overcoming of her past. Echo is not only attempting to remember the night where she was so horribly injured, but she’s also attempting to deal with her grief at her brother’s death, with her father’s pressure over her future career, her stepmother and erstwhile babysitter’s pregnancy, her awful ex, and being bullied at school. And there’s a similar amount of complexity on Noah’s side, making for what feels like a good deal of drama, and a fairly slow middle.
So many of the other characters act in ways that are strange and surprising, too, and it’s hard to fathom the motivation behind their behaviour. Why does Echo’s father push Echo’s relationship with Luke–and to such a degree that he’s essentially encouraging the two to spend the night together–despite being frightfully conservative, not to mention surely aware of Echo’s dislike for the boy? Does Grace really care so much about Echo’s injuries that she’s ready to ditch a friend over it? And why does Noah break in to the school at the end of the book? And, while I’m asking the tough questions, why does he comment so frequently on Echo’s hair smelling like cinnamon?
Though Echo did grow on me, it did take me a good while to connect with her, and I think in part this was because of the drama that as constantly being sent her way. The book bordered on melodrama at times, and I felt that this detracted from the realism that the author seemed to otherwise be striving for. For example, the circumstances behind Echo’s injuries were given enormous emphasis, with all sorts of flash-backs and nightmares and angst, but were eventually revealed to be fairly anticlimactic. When what happened is revealed, it’s fairly promptly cast aside in a way that doesn’t, to me at least, feel satisfactory given that this event is what has apparently defined Echo for so long. I also found the depiction of Echo’s mother’s mental illness a little disappointing, particularly since it was effectively the reason for Echo severing her relationship with her mother. I also found the resolution of Noah’s problems a little abrupt: throughout the book Noah’s key goal is to claim guardianship of his brothers, but this thread is eventually wrapped up with a single conversation, which I didn’t feel was enough to do this complex issue justice. Finally, I just didn’t quite feel the progression of the relationship between Noah and Echo. Though I was on board with their falling in love and their passionate affair after that, the very adult, serious turn that the relationship took seemed a little much for a YA, even if it is a YA romance. I know that Harlequin is all about the happily-ever-after ending, but I felt that this one was a little overt for a book geared at teens, and the more of these books I read, the more concerned I am about “first love” being consistently portrayed as a “forever” love.
Although I did have my reservations about the relationship between Noah and Echo, I suspect that many of my problems of this book could have been done away with with some streamlining of the book’s middle in favour of a more measured approach to the conclusion. This isn’t a bad read by any means, and I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t enjoy it–I did. I think that many of my complaints are due to my being old and grumpy and averse to relationships that emphasise possessiveness as something desirable....more
Every time I visit my grandma in her hometown of Ouyen, in Victoria’s Mallee region, I’m always struck by how little changes from year to year. Ouyen is the place of my childhood holidays, and so much of what I remember of it from then remains the same today. The red, Mars-like ground with its scrubby, reachy trees; bingo nights at the local pub, where the same dusty farmers sit by the front door playing the pokies; the freezing swimming pool with its faded diving board; the golf course with its rabbit-made divots and terrible sand-scrape greens. Even the people remain the same, and sometimes I have the eerie impression that when I leave, everything pauses until I return.
In a place where little changes, it’s no surprise that there’s such a strong, shared sense of community–and a very, very long memory when it comes to those who have slighted the town or one of its residents. Needless to say, I wasn’t at all surprised to read the gossip that precedes the return of Ellie Hughes to the small town of Hope’s Junction (aside: I’ve never heard of an Aussie town with a name like this–I’m more used to stuff like Underbool, Wycheproof and Manangatang) in Rachael Johns’ debut Jilted.
Having ditched her fiance, golden boy Flynn Quartermaine, on the day of their wedding ten years before, Ellie hasn’t exactly earned herself much goodwill in the small town she temporarily called home in her teens. Since that fateful day, however, Ellie’s spread her wings, moving to Sydney and managing to nab herself an ongoing role in a popular soapie. But in a small town, out of sight isn’t exactly out of mind, and when Ellie returns to look after her ailing sometime foster mother Mat, she’s not exactly greeted with open arms. It’s not just the townsfolk who are stuck in the past, though. Upon arriving at Mat’s house, Ellie heads off to the bedroom of her youth only to find herself staring down at her never-worn wedding dress, which has remained there on her bed, untouched, for a decade. (Mat is not one for tidying up after other people.) Ellie finds herself reflecting on her relationship with Flynn, and how things might have turned out differently. Of course, being a small town, it’s only a matter of, well, about five minutes, until the two ex-lovers cross paths, and oh, the tension.
But attraction aside, both Ellie and Flynn have moved on with their lives, and they have plenty else on their minds to keep them from leaping back into the romantic fray. Ellie has her hands full attempting to regain the trust of the suspicious locals, while Flynn’s busy keeping an eye on his mischievous kid sister and waggling his eyebrows at the local nurse. Both do their best to remain civil whilst going about their daily business, but again and again Flynn finds himself sticking up for Ellie when she’s treated poorly, and Ellie, in spite of her efforts to present herself as unaffected by the unfair treatment she receives, finds herself turning to Flynn for support.
Structurally, Jilted plays out as a traditional romance novel, but there’s substantially more scope to it than allowed by the strict word count required for category romances, and it sits quite easily in the newly popularised rural romance niche. There are a good number of subplots here that allow for the rounding out of the main romance plot and the characters, something which isn’t ordinarily possible in traditional romances. Johns does an excellent job of leveraging these elements, and we really do get a sense of Hope’s Junction as a community, rather than a simple setting into which hero and heroine are deposited, as can so often and awkwardly be the case. Her efforts to introduce depth to even her minor characters are admirable, and the novel is all the stronger for this–Ellie and Flynn don’t exist in some sort of romantic limbo, but rather as part of a wider context where their past and present actions and relationships have an influence.
Independence and identity are key themes of the novel, and it’s not just hero and heroine who are seeing to affirm their sense of self. Even the minor characters–such as Flynn’s younger sister Lucy, who is exploring both a potential career identity as well as her sexual identity, and the flirtatious Lauren, whose outwardly bimbo-esque persona is slowly peeled away to reveal something much deeper–have goals and aspirations, and are constantly stretching and reaching. Mat, who has been both friend and mother to Ellie, is also determinedly independent, something highlighted by her career as a travel writer. She clings fiercely to this independence even throughout the twists and turns Jilted has in mind for her, and it’s easy to see how her guidance has shaped Ellie as an individual.
That said, I did have a few reservations about the book that dropped it down slightly below excellent status for me. First, I’m a cynical, grumpy person who finds it difficult to suspend disbelief at the thought of a couple reuniting ten years after their breakup, particularly when the couple in question were teens when they first began dating. People change so much during their teens and twenties, and this is certainly so in the case of Flynn and Ellie, that I find a reunion narrative of this type a difficult one to accept. Ellie’s decision to give up her life and career in Sydney for a small-time gig in Hope Junction running a drama school also seems a little unbelievable, not least because not only does this not seem to jive with Ellie’s progressive outlook on life, but I’m not sure how a town of less than 2000 people would support a drama school.
Probably my biggest bugbear with the book, however, involved the reveal about Ellie’s reasons for leaving Hope’s Junction, Flynn’s response to it, and the “black moment” where all appears lost. Without giving too much away here, I have to admit that I felt disappointed about the portrayal of and response to such a sensitive situation, and one that I felt sat oddly with the rest of the narrative in the first place. I couldn’t understand Ellie’s reaction to the situation–as an independent, empowered woman, why wouldn’t she have spoken to someone about what happened, rather than blaming herself and running away? Moreover, Flynn’s response to the situation is cruel, self-serving, short-sighted and trivialises what is a hugely complex and deeply affecting situation, and to be honest, after this moment, I was all for Ellie ditching him and returning to Sydney to find a bloke with more progressive values. Instead, Flynn’s the one who does the ditching, leaving Ellie to her shame and misery and becoming tragically desperate in her efforts to reach him.
Still, although this element did have a significant impact on my appreciation of its ending, overall I did enjoy Jilted, and think that Rachael Johns is an author with a lot to offer this genre. If you’re a fan of rural romances, I’d recommend giving this one a try. ...more
I know I typically begin my reviews with a personal anecdote, but it’s a little hard tThis review originally appeared at www.readinasinglesitting.com.
I know I typically begin my reviews with a personal anecdote, but it’s a little hard to find something that ties in with a Viking historical romance. I do have a friend who claims to have Viking blood, and I was a member of the Melbourne University Scandinavian Club (there was no Russian Club, so this was as close as I could get). Does that count?
Lady Anywn’s forced marriage to the revolting-sounding Torstein (think a balding dude clinging to his youth by growing what’s left of his hair and plaiting it) has come to an abrupt end after Torstein’s love of red meat and beer finally triumph over his embattled arteries. Lady Anwyn might have let out a whoop at that were she not so well bred. Or had any personality whatsoever. Anyway, other than a few bad dreams of the halitosis-inflicted Torstein, Anwyn moves on pretty quickly, focusing her energies on the upkeep of her land, and on raising her son.
But conflict is in the air. These are Vikings we’re talking about, after all. Lord Ingvar, who lords over the adjacent area, wants to consolidate his property with Anwyn’s, and has marriage on his mind. And he’s happy to put that ring on under duress if required. Ingvar’s plans are arrested, however, by the arrival of Wulfgar Ragnarsson, who apart from having one of the best names I’ve seen in a romance (the winner thus far is Dyer Straits), is a sword-for-hire with a whole bunch of mercenaries at his command. Wulfgar soon finds himself employed by Lady Anwyn to keep her people safe from the cruel Ingvar. Not to mention employed in Lady Anwyn’s bed. But Ingvar shows no sign of backing down, and Wulfgar and Anywn promptly resort to that historical romance must-have: a marriage of convenience. But will their responsibilities pull them apart, or will they begin to see each other in a new light?
Sorry, had to put the ol’ rhetorical in there.
I’m a tad disappointed by this one, as I was looking forward to a bit of Viking fun. Unfortunately, occasional scenes of bloodshed aside, it’s all rather dull. Lady Anwyn is utterly unforgettable, and Wulfgar doesn’t really live up to his Name of Awesomeness. Moreover, in spite the multiple uses of the word frisson in this book, there’s really not much of anything intense or thrilling going on. The book panders to all of the romance cliches of precocious children, evil husbands, dark pasts, and histories of orgasmless sex without making anything new or interesting of them. It even contains the line “but for all that [violence against her], he never crushed her spirit.” There’s also the whole “Oh wait! I am a lord, too! Ha-ha! Your evil schemes will come to nothing!” pronouncement.
I really do have a growing appreciation for this genre and the efforts that romance authors go to to ensure that inevitable Happily Ever After ending is reached in surprising and clever ways, but this one doesn’t seem to do so. Rather, it plods along, and I can’t help but feel that both hero and heroine would rather be reading a book in bed than doing the dirty. Even the sudden turnaround after the “black moment” feels contrived. I can imagine Wulfgar checking his watch sundial and going, “Yggdrasil’s leaves, it’s time to make my re-entrance already? Sigh.”
The setting, too, is rather vague, and other than the Names of Awesomeness, could really be anywhere a long time ago. It also suffers from a common problem in historical novels: a hero and heroine with modern sensibilities, but who just happen to be wearing bearskin cloaks and handmade boots. I understand that getting into the nitty gritty of the times would detract from the romance element of the book, but I’m always up for a bit of realism in my books. Yes, even Viking romances.
Though a standalone, The Viking’s Touch follows on from Fulford’s previous novel The Viking’s Defiant Bride, which I’ve not read, but suspect must involve a heroine a good deal more sassy than mopey Lady Anwyn. If you plan to check these out, I’d suggest that maybe opting for the first in the series may be a better bet....more
What’s that, you say? Two beach-themed books in a row? Anyone would think that I’m a sad little Melburnian rugged up in multiple layers and chasing down my husband so that I can put my cold feet on him.
Beach Season landed on my desk on Friday, and thanks to that oh-so-sunny cover illustration, I pounced on it right away. Surely reading about a warm climate can be an effective (and cheap) form of heating? After all, there’s a reason I obsessively seek out books about Maine, Alaska and Siberia during winter. Unfortunately, Beach Season does not involve warm beaches and sunbathing, but if you count romance as a way to get your personal fires going, well, this collection has it in spades. The volume comprises four “second chance” novella-length romances that have less to do with sunshine and warm days than they do with the warmth that comes with finding love where it’s least expected.
Cathy Lamb’s June’s Lace gives us June McKenzie, hippie chick turned lawyer turned wedding dress designer whose failed marriage continues to haunt her–largely because her ex, a lawyer himself, is making the divorce process as difficult and expensive as possible. June is doing her best to keep things civil, and spends her days focused on building her alternative bridal gown business and turning her back on all things related to the male species. Until, one day, whilst walking along the beach, June is swept off her feet. Quite literally. Fortunately, country-and-western songwriter Reece is around to pull her to safety–but his interest in June isn’t just in her short term safety. June, however, is unwilling to become embroiled in another relationship when the ink on her divorce papers still hasn’t been signed, and when her ex refuses to see that things are over.
June’s Lace is a sweet and generally satisfying read full of quirky characters and heart-and-soul song lyrics, but though I loved June’s hippie background, I disliked the way that her backstory was infodumped into the narrative through a series of long speeches. I also found the final “confrontation” scene with June’s ex over the top, and struggled to believe the insta-romance between June and Reece.
June’s Lace is followed by Holly Chamberlain’s Second Chance Sweethearts, a novella that is in many ways similar to the one that precedes it, and I’m surprised that the two weren’t spaced out, as I think the book suffers from having two such stories following immediately after the other. In Second Chance Sweethearts we meet Thea Foss, a teacher on the run from an ex husband who’s proved himself to be a charlatan and a swindler. Broke and down on her luck, Thea seeks refuge in a small town, where she rents a modest flat owned by a wise spinster cat lady (you know the type), and takes a job waiting tables. Things only get better when she bumps into her childhood sweetheart Hugh, and the two begin to slowly rekindle a relationship that was stymied in its early stages by protective parents and a class divide. But Thea’s new-found happiness is short-lived when her husband tracks her down–and proves that he’s not prepared to leave without a fight.
If I’d read Second Chance Sweethearts as a standalone, I probably would have been more impressed by it, but I think that it suffers from its position in the collection. Though I enjoyed Thea’s character, her friendship with sweet cat lady Alice, and the gentle relationship with Hugh, the husband-as-bad-guy element that so resembles that in June’s Lace feels repetitive and tired. Not to mention that I found myself wondering why on earth so many women are apparently willing to marry men who are clearly domineering, swindling creeps. Although it’s good to see these characters making better choices the second time around, it becomes frustrating to read about and sympathise with characters who have been so easily sucked into unhealthy situations.
The third story in the volume, Rosalind Noonan’s Carolina Summer, takes a slightly different tack, but like the two novellas before it, begins with a woman on the run (and also, where’s the warm weather in this so-called beachy volume? I’m three stories in by this point, and still feeling cold). Jane Doyle, however, isn’t escaping a relationship gone bad, but rather, is fleeing from a hit-man hired by a mafioso who wants to prevent Jane testifying about a murder she’s witnessed. New York’s finest, apparently, have little interest in keeping her safe, so she’s off in search of safer shores. Soon enough, Jane finds herself in a small beach-side town where she picks up a cash-in-hand cleaning job and manages to find a place to stay while she hides out. Jane’s luck, it seems, is about to take a turn for the better–th e place she’s renting belongs to the local sheriff. And the local sheriff is keeping a very close eye on Jane. Although I enjoyed the tension between Jane and Sheriff Cooper, I have to say that the rest of this story was a bit of a head-scratcher. There are so many elements that don’t seem to work and that invite questions. Jane goes on the run with only a few hundred bucks in her wallet as she doesn’t want to leave a trail, but then says nothing when her brother offers to wire her money. How would she access said money without using a card or using electronic means that would alert her stalker of her presence? And if she’s a witness in a gangland murder, why isn’t the NYPD keeping her safe? Why don’t they do anything when things get so bad that she has to flee the city? All of this, combined with the bizarrely over-the-top final confrontation, which ends with the gunman basically just wandering away, had me feeling a bit bamboozled.
The final story in the collection is Lisa Jackon’s The Brass Ring, a “second chance” story that’s very different in tone from the others. It’s a story of jilted brides, car crashes, amnesia, and fake paternity claims, and it’s so unlikely that it’s kind of brilliant, even if it does use far too many exclamation marks for its own good. It’s sort of like reading a novelisation of an episode of Passions. Shawna is blissfully in love with her fiance Parker, and is counting down the minutes until they’re married at last (by “at last”, I mean after a few months of meeting). But when Parker doesn’t show up to the wedding (an event foreshadowed by a fairground fortune teller), Shawna knows that something must be terribly wrong. And it is. Parker’s been involved in a car crash, and has lost his memory–or at least the few months of it that involve Shawna. Shawna, however, is intent on helping her fiance make a full recovery, even if it means that he has to learn to love her all over again. But then a pregnant teenager arrives on the scene claiming that Parker is the father of her baby. And though Parker’s memory is fragmented, he recognises the girl…
This one has a big-haired, 80s vibe to it, and it’s full of scenes involving Shawna, who’s also a doctor, kneeling at Parker’s bedside, and muscling in on his space in her determination to protect him. Even when Parker’s accused of infidelity, she just grits her teeth and gets on with helping him learn how to walk again. And yes, this is a man she’s only known a few months. (What is it with romance novels and these whirlwind marriages?) I did appreciate that The Brass Ring has a very different style from the others in the volume, and avid readers of traditional romances will probably appreciate the love-against-all-odds approach of this one. But to be honest, I found it difficult to connect with Shawna and her forceful approach to thrusting Parker back into his life–surely as a medical practitioner, she would be mindful of the fact that Parker has suffered serious injuries and that his rehabilitation should be an ongoing process? I’d be a little afraid of Shawna if I were Parker.
Overall, Beach Season offers a good few hours of diverting romance reading, but readers currently suffering through winter like I am should know that there’s a notable absence of warm beaches and sunshine. Moreover, though the book’s cover indicates that it’s a volume of mainstream or women’s fiction stories, it’s traditional romance through-and-through. With the exception of Lisa Jackson’s, the stories are all very similar in nature, and I’d recommend spacing out your reading of this one rather than reading straight through. ...more
One of my favourite things about romance novels is the brilliant titles these authorsThis review originally appeared at www.readinasinglesitting.com.
One of my favourite things about romance novels is the brilliant titles these authors come up with. They’re often witty and zany enough to rival the best lines out of the country music genre, and descriptive enough to put Jules “I describe my books’ plots in their titles” Verne to shame. And indeed, Harlequin author Kimberly Lang is quite the pro at this: how can one not want to read a book by an author whose titles include Magnate’s Mistress…Accidentally Pregnant! and Boardroom Rivals! Bedroom Fireworks! (I’m talking about Kimberly Lang here, by the way, not the afore-mentioned Jules Verne, although I’m sure that the latter’s description of bedroom fireworks would be very scientifically accurate, if not especially titillating.)
While descriptive titles might be less than ideal in other genres, they’re no big deal in romance: the reader knows the ending from the get-go, so spoilers aren’t really an issue. Really, rather than surprising us with the book’s ending, the author’s job is to surprise us with how the characters arrive at that ending. I can imagine that it’s not an easy job: how do you keep a reader interested when they’re all-too-aware of the basic structure of a category romance novel? Often the answer’s a whole lot of humour, plenty of larger-than-life characters, endless smouldering looks, and more miscommunication than is typically involved in trying to pay your phone bill through a service that uses voice recognition software.
As might be inferred from the above, Redemption of a Hollywood Starlet is essentially about exactly that. Caitlyn Reese is a young Hollywood wild child who has spent the past year or so trying to make up for the Lohan-esque actions that have made her the darling of the paparazzi. Whilst waiting for the media hubbub to subside, she’s spent her days in London honing her craft and acting for the stage, and doing what she can not to reprise her days of stumbling out of cars and passing out in public. Convinced now that the gossip rags have other actresses in their sights, and that she’s done her bit to make herself once more presentable in the eye of the public, Caitlyn jetsets back to the US to take up a role in the film The Folly of the Fury, a blockbuster vehicle specifically designed to rake in the awards.
But the title of the film proves to be quite apt when Caitlyn finds that the film is being produced by none other than Finn Marshall, the very man who led Caitlyn astray in her wilful youth. Though the two attempt to deny the attraction between them, it’s not long before they’re sneaking out and about together and getting up to their familiar mischief. But Caitlyn is torn: is Finn worth throwing her newly reinvented career away for?
Redemption of a Hollywood Starlet contains all of the angsty banter and ambivalence that’s required to divert the reader away from that inevitable HEA, as well as the requisite foreshadowing of our hero’s need to settle down and get started on that whole child-rearing bizzo. But while Finn and Caitlyn do their bit of sizzling and smouldering, it’s Finn’s family who appeal most here: for some reason they feel a good deal more grounded than the key characters–no doubt because this is one of a series of linked books involving the Marshall family. Indeed, so much of the story here, ie Finn and Caitlyn’s debauched past, feels as though it’s occurred prior to the novel, and I couldn’t help but feel as I read this that I was working through a sort of summary of past events. The book feels almost more like a retrospective or an epilogue, and lacks the immediacy I hoped for.
There was also a repeating motif regarding the redeemed/conquered bad girl that bothered me. While Finn is never judged for his past hell-raising ways, Caitlyn has suffered for hers. The same theme seems to apply to the wives of Finn’s brothers: both comment on their own similar pasts, and there’s the implication that the love of a good man has put them on the right path. Indeed, even the title of the film in which Caitlyn is acting implies that a hell-raising woman is in some way ineffective and silly. While I understand Caitlyn’s desire to be appreciated for her acting talents and dedication to her career, it would have been nice to have seen Finn fight to redeem himself in a similar way. Instead, we get to watch him stalk about the page and revel in the easy-peasiness of sexist double standards, topping it all off with his effective conquering of Caitlyn through a marriage proposal that’s designed to make an honest woman of her and put things to rights.
I won’t deny that I enjoyed the light and breezy style of this one, and the chemistry between Finn and Caitlyn is certainly palpable, but the redemption theme and the post-hoc description of events dropped this one a little in my estimation. ...more
Set in the town of Parable, Montana, Big Sky Country introduces a new slew of burly heroes and winsome heroines from best-selling romance author Linda Lael Miller. And having inhaled this book in prompt order, I can happily say that Miller’s on her game. Despite having a mark against it for not being set in Texas, my favourite setting for anything involving tasselled leather, deep fried breakfasts, and frenzied bursts of horse riding, Big Sky Country is Miller through and through, and every time I pick up one of these books I’m impressed by the degree to which the author clearly knows her audience. Sure, there’s a formula to these books, but it’s a formula because it works.
Hutch and Slade (the latter named after a hero in one of his mother’s favourite romance novels) are half-brothers, one the legitimate heir of the vast Whisper Creek Ranch, and the other the out-of-wedlock son who’s never been formally acknowledged by his father, and who’s grown up living in a trailer on the outskirts of town. Needless to say, they’re not exactly fine friends. So when their father passes away and leaves the ranch to both men, things start to heat up. Hutch, who’s worked on the ranch his entire life, offers to buy out Slade, but Slade, now the town sheriff, decides that perhaps running a ranch mightn’t be such a bad idea after all. Particularly if helps put Hutch in his place.
The two are part-way through drawing their battle lines when extra trouble crops up: trouble in the form of Jocelyn Kirk, the step-daughter of a man who fleeced half of the town out of their life savings. Slade’s immediately smitten, or at least as much as his gruff exterior will let him admit as much–but Jocelyn’s got plenty of her own issues to work out before so much as looking his way. And then there’s Hutch, with whom Jocelyn was close during her teen years…oh, and the fact that Slade’s ex-wife is back on the scene.
Jocelyn, for her part, is returning to make amends for her step-father’s wrongdoing. Having made her fortune selling off her software development company, she’s endeavouring to repay all of the townsfolk affected by her father’s greed, and to make a fresh start in the place she once called home. But memories in a country town are long, and Jocelyn’s efforts aren’t exactly being met with big smiles and open arms. But there’s Hutch, her old school friend, and not to mention his brother, Sheriff Slade Barlow, who’s more ubiquitous than biscuits and gravy.
You can just feel the drama, can’t you? Big Sky Mountain is all terrible dress sense–sequins, pink cowboy boots and floofy dresses–and comfort food (blueberry breakfast balls, anyone?), and I devoured it in the same manner that I would an episode of Passions when I was in my teens. As in all of Miller’s books, each major character has a dark past that prevents them from being able to fall in love, and there’s all manner of familial complexity to help keep the tension running on high. But like Passions, there are just a few things that have the reader in a bit of a “you don’t say?” mindset.
There’s the fact that young Jocelyn has built up a software empire by “learning lots of languages” and sold it off for a gajillion dollars just like that. As someone married to a software engineer who runs his own business, well…let’s just say that we’re not quite gajillionaires yet. And then there’s Jocelyn’s apparent desire to slough off her education and success to become a real estate agent’s receptionist. I’m all for taking a brief sabbatical, but it seems odd to switch gears so drastically. And why are the town’s animals all drawn to Jocelyn? At last count there’s a dog, a cat (with kittens), and a horse–perhaps she’s moving in to become the town’s new animal whisperer? Finally, well, not finally, but the last that I’ll comment on, there’s the giggle-worthy scene of the horse race challenge between the two brothers to decide who’ll get the ranch. Although, admittedly, I did kind of love the sheer ridiculousness of it. “That’s not a spoon! This is a spoon!”
But the silliness is a constant reminder that Miller’s books are almost a pastiche of themselves, and there are plenty of winks to the reader that indicate that she’s perfectly aware that she’s working in a fantasy world. Indeed, Miller’s writing is humorous and self-aware enough that you’re happy to let these things slide until you’ve closed the book....more
Naomi’s Wish represents the third time this year I’ve been tricked by a cover that is completely at odds with the contents of a book. The cover of Rachael Herron’s latest may suggest a rural romance novel full of rough-housin’ cowboys, farmin’, and plenty o’ big hats and them there stompin’ boots, but think again! Though it is indeed set in a country town, which is apparently enough to classify something as ru-ro these days, this book is all about lurve ‘n’ knitting. Yes, we’re talking about a town obsessed with purl, y’all. The American cover and title, Wishes and Stitches: a Cypress Hollow Yarn, portray this neatly enough, although it may underemphasise the romance element, but the Australian one misses the mark entirely, and I don’t doubt that this obvious misrepresentation affected my enjoyment of the book.
Naomi Fontaine is Cypress Hollow’s doctor–the town’s only doctor since her business partner has found that he quite likes taking sabbaticals–and she’s finding it tough. It’s not that she’s not good at her job, as she’s a dedicated practitioner who’s never put a foot wrong, but it’s that her top-notch bedside manner doesn’t extend beyond the examining room. Naomi makes your average computer programmer look like a social butterfly. But Naomi longs for acceptance, and every time she sits down to work on her wedding shawl project, she can’t help but wonder whether she should out herself as a fellow knitter to the members of this, er, tight-knit community.
Enter Rig (yes, Rig), the new doctor in town. Not only does Rig have plans to buy out Naomi’s business partner’s half of the clinic, but he has designs on Naomi, too. Although, of course, he doesn’t intend to buy her. But where Naomi is utterly socially inept, Rig specialises in friendly: within a few days he’s the best buddy of half the town. But Naomi’s focused on her career and on living up to her dead father’s expectations of what makes for a good doctor–which doesn’t include making out with a fellow doctor in the window of the clinic. And tensions only mount when Naomi’s mischief-making sister and her mother show up–both unannounced, and both with news of their own. With all this going on, how’s Naomi going to wrestle her way into a knitting circle?
Naomi’s Wish is a prompt and zippy read full of the typical quaint and quirky small-town characters one expects from a novel set in the US south. But other than that it’s a little unsure as to its genre: it features many of the romance tropes, but also astonishing amounts of knitting. A quick google informs me that this is actually the third in a knitting-theme trilogy, but while I’m used to cozy mysteries being filled with hobbyists stitching and scrapbooking and so on, it feels very odd indeed to read about a hero and heroine alternating between dropping stitches and dropping pants. It’s not Naomi’s knitting habit that’s so odd, exactly, it’s that the entire town apparently sits about knitting. Including the blokey farmers. They go to social events and knit! Their barbecues are all about knitting!
As you can see, I’m quite perturbed by this knitting mania.
Bizarre knitting obsession aside, I found the novel a little difficult to get in to, in part because Naomi’s character, being so introverted, is hard to relate to. Her awkwardness makes for a number of scenes in which she’s entirely passive, and there are also a few that rose my hackles a little, including one where she disbelievingly and utterly insensitively outs her assistant as gay. I’m sure that this scene isn’t meant to come across as intolerant, but it can’t help but do so, and this made me recoil a little more from Naomi’s character–fortunately the slight twist at the end of the novel helps atone for this.
In all, I felt myself a little bamboozled by the novel: it’s sweet and saccharine at times (knitting, people!), and then there’s all sorts of raunchy naughtiness going on. The doctor espouses progressive views about women’s bodies and their right to choose, yet comes across at times as a homophobe. Add in a tough-to-believe secondary romance, and I felt as though I needed a winch to suspend my belief.
Still, I can’t help but wonder how much of my reaction is based on the fact that I believed I was sitting down to read something entirely different from what I eventually got. Had I picked up a book with the US cover and title, I might have been quite ready for all that stitching and casting (albeit maybe not the bedroom shenanigans)....more
The more I review, the more I realise how important a book’s cover is. Not simply because I’m the kind of reader who equates a beautiful cover with aThe more I review, the more I realise how important a book’s cover is. Not simply because I’m the kind of reader who equates a beautiful cover with a brilliant read (I’ve been burnt a few times for succumbing to that particular lure), but because a cover is such an integral part of branding. Particular cover designs are associated with particular types of books, and heavily influence a reader’s expectations. When a cover fails to effectively communicate what the book is about, the reader suffers from a disconnect in terms of the product they thought they were buying, and the one actually purchased.
This is my long-winded way of saying that although Kelly Hunter’s Single Girl Abroad looks for all the world like a chick-lit novel, it’s not at all. Though in tone it features some of the elements of a chick-lit, structurally it’s a contemporary romance. More bewilderingly, as I found out halfway through the book, it’s actually a two-in-one. Despite the blurb breezily and blithely describing Aussie Madeline Delacourte as a lass who’s “having the time of her life in Singapore…young free, and absolutely single…rich-as-rich-can-be [want wanting] for nothing, especially not an annoyingly complicated relationship”, the book has nothing to do with Singapore Slings and the Raffles Hotel, and everything to do with our heroine committing to a monogamous relationship with a view to marriage.
Once a Ferrara Wife… was a tad melodramatic for my tastes, and I suspect that it might have worked better as a short story or novelette than at its prOnce a Ferrara Wife… was a tad melodramatic for my tastes, and I suspect that it might have worked better as a short story or novelette than at its present length; I can’t help but feel also that the backstory could also have been worked in in a way that still allowed the present day narrative to progress. It may have been that I was misled by the hilarious tagline (“For better…or for bedding?) on the back of the book, but I was expecting something with a little more levity and a little less pregnancy, and I think this affected my overall reading experience.
When I was twelve, I was prescribed glasses, and a whole world of edges and corners and precision opened up to me. Trees had leaves! Street l3.5 stars
When I was twelve, I was prescribed glasses, and a whole world of edges and corners and precision opened up to me. Trees had leaves! Street lamps were more than great fuzzy bursts in the sky! The milkbar prices weren’t plucked from the air, but were actually written on the whiteboard behind the counter!
But although I have myriad options open to me when it comes to my vision–glasses, contacts, and perhaps even eye surgery one day–Meg Linley, the protagonist of the Regency romance A Lady’s Point of View, is far more limited when it comes to hers. The eldest daughter of a middle class family that has fallen on bad times, Meg is doing the rounds of the debutante circuit in order to snap up a suitable match and thus have a means of providing for her family in the future. Unfortunately, having poor eyesight at Meg’s age is quite the dealbreaker, and she is forbidden to wear corrective lenses lest someone see her as flawed.
Unfortunately, without glasses, Meg is rather like me: a danger to herself and others. And when you’re doing your best to comport yourself in high society, stumbling about and unwittingly snubbing various eligible chaps is not the way to go. As none of the others know about her visual woes, Meg’s poor peripheral vision results in the scandal of the season–she fails to acknowledge a close family friend and possible suitor.
Texas Hold Him is a slight, simple read, and it’s hard to argue that the premise is anything awe-inspiring. The speed with which Lottie throws away heTexas Hold Him is a slight, simple read, and it’s hard to argue that the premise is anything awe-inspiring. The speed with which Lottie throws away her lady-like upbringing to go and work on a boat full of harlots and gamblers feels a little off, and the reader does wonder why she doesn’t go through more standard channels before resorting to playing poker as a way of saving her father. But once that initial disbelief is suspended, it’s all a good deal of fun: witty (and often crass) banter, untimely meetings and overheard conversations, and innuendo galore.
Let me preface this review by saying that I’m iffy on vampires for the most part and I’m not generally much of an erotica reader, although I’ve read mLet me preface this review by saying that I’m iffy on vampires for the most part and I’m not generally much of an erotica reader, although I’ve read my fair share of Kerrilyn Sparks and Nalini Singh. But having heard Gena Showalter’s name bandied about as one of the stars of the naughtier side of the romance genre, I thought I’d give this one a go. Unfortunately I can’t say I’ve been converted to the cause.
The cover is such that it was with misgivings that I picked up the book and started reading, and things didn’t improve much once within the covers. The story opens with a confused fairytale-esque vibe and continues in that tone until its awkwardly orchestrated happily ever after, and the plotting is essentially a mix of rape and torture scenes, sex scenes, and the occasional flight scene. And given the sloppy, repetitive prose, weak and broad-brush characterisation and fiendishly bad dialogue there’s not much else to redeem this one, I’m afraid.
With the bookish proposal earlier this year and my subsequent running of a wedding website, it looks as though love is well and truly in the3.5 stars
With the bookish proposal earlier this year and my subsequent running of a wedding website, it looks as though love is well and truly in the air for me. In addition to all of this, I’ve had Texan cowboys and spunky firefights thrown my way (well, at least on paper), much to my poor nerdy fiance’s chagrin. Needless to say, the fiance was thoroughly perturbed once again when this anthology arrived on our doorstep: it contains four novellas all about fiesty young lasses falling for billionaire (or occasionally millionaire–pfft!) employers, all of whom, I have to say, would well and truly fail any sort of HR assessment regarding the appropriate treatment of staff. But oh, it’s saucy, and occasionally very witty, fun indeed.
Linda Lael Miller’s books are where I go when I’m looking for some sunshine and some spunky men in chaps, and although this novel may dash foreigners’Linda Lael Miller’s books are where I go when I’m looking for some sunshine and some spunky men in chaps, and although this novel may dash foreigners’ beliefs regarding Texas being warm and sunny all year long, you’ll be pleased to know that it doesn’t skimp on the cow-rustlin’ pardners.
Personal distate for smart-mouthed, tequila-shooting, alpha-inclined main characters aside, I enjoyed Chasing Fire. Yes, both the mystery an3.5 stars.
Personal distate for smart-mouthed, tequila-shooting, alpha-inclined main characters aside, I enjoyed Chasing Fire. Yes, both the mystery and romance elements are roughly as tidy as Ro after two (two!) bottles of tequila, but the intriguing setting and the secondary characters–particularly Ro’s dad and his new girlfriend Ella–kept me quite happily turning the pages.
Okay, I admit it, despite the fact that I live in the inner suburbs of a major city and sThis book originally appeared at www.readinasinglesitting.com
Okay, I admit it, despite the fact that I live in the inner suburbs of a major city and spend my days anchored to a computer I have a soft spot for tree changes, simple livin’, and cow rustlin’. Perhaps it’s nostalgia for my family’s farming background, or just the fact that it’s bloody cold here in Melbourne right now and I’m yearning for some sunshine, but Lael Miller’s The Creed Legacy hit the spot for me.
My first encounter with Lael Miller was with A Creed in Stone Creek, a by-the-numbers cowboy romance that trotted along nicely enough to begin with, but came a little unstuck with its emphasis on old-school, pre-feminist ideals and its slightly creepily inbred characters. But although The Creed Legacy relies heavily on the tropes of night-and-day twin brothers, dead parents, mysterious pasts, and poorly timed pregnancies, it’s a solid enough read that delivers exactly the sort of tug-of-war romantic shenanigans you’d expect from a small-town romance–and with some bonus humour and lovable small-town types thrown in to boot.
Brody Creed is the stubble-toting, lasoo-tossing, bronco-riding twin brother of Conner Creed, but unlike sweet-as-pie (but still acceptably manly) Conner, Brody bears the scars of his past mistakes. Brooding and introspective, he has quite the knack for getting people offside. Not least, of course, Carolyn Simmons, around whom he’s liable to witness more sparks than Nicholas Tesla. But Carolyn’s been burnt by bad-boy Brody before, and like all good romance heroines she finds herself more than a little ambivalent about getting into the ring again with this bronco.
The romance in The Creed Legacy is fairly par for the course, with the two main characters flitting regularly between loathing and loving, and the author milking every opportunity for miscommunication for all it’s worth. Admittedly, this does get a mite ridiculous at times, particularly given that Brody and Carolyn spend so much time navel gazing–simply voicing some of those thoughts would help move things along with far less pain, boys and girls! But Lael Miller stops all of this from becoming too much of a drudge with her surprisingly likeable cast of secondary characters–bonus points in particular for Winston the cat, who manages to be surprisingly articulate for someone with a vocabulary limited to “Mreow”.
Lael Miller also does a solid job of fleshing out her setting, and though everything is seen through rose-coloured lenses, it’s easy enough to suspend disbelief. I did find that the pacing was a little erratic, with constant flashbacks dragging things down somewhat, and roughly a hundred pages spent describing Carolyn’s much-loved “gypsy skirt”…all of which is followed up by a wham-bam ending of some hot sex, a couple of ”I love you”s and the inevitable marriage. Goodness, these cowboys move fast–particularly given that Brody and Carolyn hadn’t seen each other for seven years before this, and they end up going out on a total of two dates. I know that an HEA involving marriage is essential for a romance novel, but this all moved along something akin to a hooning teenager on the freeway. It all happens so quickly, in fact, that the marriage is rather randomly appended into the epilogue.
There are a few other quirks that may be romance genre standards, or that may be Lael Miller’s own idiosyncracies (I’m not familiar enough with either to say for certain). Brody seems to like the idea of an independently minded woman (as does Carolyn), yet both spend plenty of time dreamily fantasising about home-cooked meals and foot rubs and so on; we similarly get a weird contrast between Brody’s desire to “make love” with Carolyn and then his subsequent pressuring of her, something which never sits well with me. There’s one scene in particular that I’d chalk up as sexual harassment, too–and the fact that Carolyn laughs it off with an “oh, you!” is a bit teeth-gritting. I would also love to see a heroine who didn’t constantly struggle with issues of self-worth. While Lael Miller tries to depict Carolyn as strong and independent, all of this is somewhat undercut by Carolyn’s tragic past and what seems like a need to be rescued. (And as an aside, why can’t beautiful women ever see that they’re beautiful?)
In all, though, The Creed Legacy is a solid read, and Lael Miller does a fine job of fleshing out her characters, making the most of that romantic tension, and in giving us a setting that we want to return to. Ah, those cowboys. They really are hard to resist, aren’t they?...more
Melissa O'Ballivan is Stone Creek's prosecutor, and prides herself on her commitment toThis review originally appeared at www.readinasinglesitting.com
Melissa O'Ballivan is Stone Creek's prosecutor, and prides herself on her commitment to the law, her health, her family. In fact, the only area where Melissa struggles with commitment is with those of the male persuasion. Diamond rings? Children? The very thought makes Melissa run a mile--and that's in addition to the two she runs every morning. Even the thought of looking after a pet makes her break out in hives (literally). So when defence lawyer Stephen Creed strides into town--and with kid and dog in tow, no less--Melissa's first instinct is to make like an ostrich and stick her head very firmly in the sand. But Stone Creek is your quintessential small town, and it's hard to avoid a newcomer, particularly when you share friends, family, and even a court case.
Regular readers of RIASS will know that I'm not an avid romance reader; in fact, I'm scarcely more than a dabbler, with only a handful of romance reads to my name. But some quixotic, parochial inner part of me has a thing for small towns and the American South, and if you wave such a book in front of my nose, I'm all but guaranteed to pick it up. And let me say that A Creed in Stone Creek has all things southern and small-town in spades. In fact, this small-town mentality is so evident that I think a disclaimer is required at this point: this is the kind of book where you'll need to check feminist and progressive attitudes at the door (a hard thing for me to do, admittedly). The book very much has a 1950s aesthetic to it, and with a feel not unlike something out of The Stepford Wives or Pleasantville. Delightful, chirpy families abound, all of them with doe-eyed children, cheerful pups, and attentive grandmothers in tow. The women dress in polka-dot dresses complete with ruffles (except for the octogenarian nudists, of course, but we won't go there!), and are fabulous cooks, exemplary cleaners, and have spectacular gardens, while the men are utterly adoring of their spouses and children, boast huge arm muscles, and have respectable manly careers. There's certainly an end goal in this book, and given the ubiquitous references to pregnancy, children, and all things related to breeding, it's something along the lines of "go forth and multiply".
One of the major foibles of our heroine, of course, is that she tries to avoid letting her uterus be her guiding force in life. But because of this, she has a job that, while fulfilling her desire to have an impressive qualification and a smart-sounding role, is generally less than inspiring; her culinary skills are limited to microwaving a frozen Weight Watchers dish; and her clothes contain things such as darts and tailoring, rather than ruffly goodness. It's a bit of a painful contrast, and it's hard not to take issue with the contrast between the hard-working spinster and the brownie-baking housewife. But this is a romance, after all, and I set aside my misgivings as best as possible (until the final chapter, but we'll get to that in a bit).
Curiously, A Creed in Stone Creek is less a romance than a mainstream novel that contains some romantic elements. Steven Creed is for the most part more interested in renovating his newly purchased ranch and looking after his adopted (and Children of the Corn-like creepily precocious) son than he is in engaging in a romance. Besides that, his heart was once broken by a lawyer, so it's pointless to go there again. It's a slightly bizarre motivation, and one that brings to mind plenty of pouting and petulant expressions, but weirdly it's the sort of motivation that's rife throughout this book. While most of the characters are pleasant enough archetypes--the sort that you'd see on a daytime soap--our hero and heroine are wildly vascillating in their motivations, reasoning, and actions. They're more up and down than a sine graph, and it's hard not to be confused by the childish, nonsensical ways in which they act around each other. There's a weird mix of the chaste and the promiscuous, and the rather out-of-the-blue raunchy scene in which they get down and do the dirty seems a touch odd after all of the ruffles and blueberry pies we've been reading about to this point. Moreover, while I accept that a romance necessarily has a scene in which the hero and heroine have to fight before getting back together again, the background for this in this book lacks believability, and the severity of the characters' reactions (Melissa's in particular) just seems bizarre. Refusing to talk to a man because he's agreed to take on a court case as part of his job? Hmm.
While I managed to suspend my feminist leanings throughout Melissa's existential and career-related struggles, I have to say that the ending of this book did manage to elicit a snort of indignation (or perhaps despair) from me, and resulted in a bit of a drop in my flashy little star rating below. While a happily-ever-after ending is requisite for this genre, the saccharine nature of this one has to be seen to be believed--and even then it's hard to understand. Our man-loathing, career-oriented, culinarily-impaired, canine-allergic heroine suddenly switches to the dark side, quitting her job to work in a pet shelter, becoming a domestic goddess, eschewing her tailored slacks in favour of peasant dresses, and getting engaged right off the bat (and pregnant with, of course, twins, since one bun in the oven isn't enough). All of this happens in the last five pages, making it all a touch difficult to fathom (and resulting in a slightly bilious taste in the reader's mouth).
Still, on the whole, the novel flows well, and is comfortingly familiar. It doesn't pack any punches, and you won't find yourself struck by any narrative twists or complexities, but you'll be able immerse yourself in the sweet-as-pie town of Stone Creek--complete with parade floats, diners, baking, and pet shelters--for a good few hours, and it's all pleasant and aww-inducing enough. There are a few minor plotlines, such as that involving a teenaged recidivist and his slimy friends, that seem a little forced, and there's a mystery element that would probably have been better left alone. In addition to that, there are quite a few scenes involving tiresomely mundane activities such as baking, getting dressed, going for a job, and putting petrol in the car that could have done with a bit of editorial excision, but overall, the novel is solid enough if very much reliant on cliches and archetypes. Oh, and the hero isn't an alpha male, which is a relief!
For a warm and friendly read that doesn't push the boundaries, but rather tries to take you back in time to a land of white picket fences and smiling wholesomeness, A Creed in Stone Creek is a solid read. Expect small-town shenanigans, all of your favourite archetypes, and plenty of lurve and family-oriented elements, but don't expect a plot that will knock your socks off or in-depth characterisation. This is the kind of book you read while sitting at home on a Friday night with a family sized packet of Maltesers in your lap. ...more
A protocol universally applied to Psy children, the Silence program is designed to ameliorate any propensity towards violence, a trait that has an eerA protocol universally applied to Psy children, the Silence program is designed to ameliorate any propensity towards violence, a trait that has an eerie prevalence amongst the highly intellectual race. However, in seeking to protect the few who may pose a threat, Silence goes a step, or several, further. Completion of the program results in what is near enough to an emotional lobotomy: a dimming of expression, the loss of creativity and spontaneity. For many Psy, this is simply the way things are. For some, those with certain attributes that require them to hungrily engage with emotion, such as the elusive E-Psy, the empaths of the race, Silence is a cage. But for some, it is a form of protection.
Judd Lauren is one for whom this is the case. Designated a Tk-Psy, or telekinetic, from birth, Judd is part of the subset of Psy most predisposed towards violence. Unbeknownst to most, though, the ever-pragmatic Psy Council has devised a specialised use for these individuals, subjecting them to highly specialised training in order that they might become Arrows, skilled and deadly assassins. Judd, having defected along with his family from the all-encompassing PsyNet, has been granted asylum amongst the SnowDancer wolves, but although his days as an Arrow are formally over, he continues to work as a contractor for the wolf alpha, performing whatever violent acts are required of him. It is in this contractor role, albeit in a rather unusual iteration of it–rescuing, rather than slaying–that he first comes across Brenna Kincaid, a changeling who has been mentally and physically brutalised at the hands of the wayward erstwhile Psy councillor Enrique Santano.
While Brenna seems initially all but broken as a result of her ordeal, she fights to regain her sense of autonomy and strength, refusing to allow Santono to continue to wield his power over her after the event. But Brenna is affected more deeply than she admits: not only has she lost her ability to shift, a vital part of her changeling identity, but she is experiencing strange mental disturbances that she can’t help but associate with those of the Psy. As a result, Brenna’s sense of self is tenuous, and is about to become more so. It seems that Brenna is once more at risk–and this time the threat seems to be coming from within the DarkRiver Pack. Her investigative efforts thwarted time and time again by her protective Pack brothers, Brenna finds herself turning quite unexpectedly to Judd Lauren for support and, it turns out, quite a bit more. But Judd is scarcely in a position to deal with her advances. Judd is one of the few who takes solace in Silence, relying on the Pavlovian viciousness of his conditioning to keep his dark inner self in check, and getting too close to Brenna may result in an outcome as cruelly terrible as that instigated by Santano.
Caressed by Ice is the third in Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling cycle, and while it’s possible to read it as a standalone, those who do so as part of a sequence will likely get more out of it. Singh has constructed a dense backdrop against which to pin her novels, and her cumulative approach to world building will put readers at a bit of a disadvantage if they come into this series midway. However, it’s unfortunate that while her world building is generally the strongest component of these books, helping to raise them above the standard shifter romance fare, there are certain inconsistencies that pop up between the books. It’s as though Singh has happily put in the hard yards with the broad-brush world building, but has no issue with taking a few liberties with some of the smaller novel-level elements, which she is happily making up as she goes along. The Tk-Psy in this book, for example, are a subset of Psy not previously mentioned; similarly, the F-Psy were novel to the previous volume. There is also the introduction of the Arrows, an introduction which, forefronted rather blatantly in the prologue, feels tacked on rather than integrated, and one can’t help but feel that in the next book we might become privy to yet another subset of heretofore unmentioned Psy capabilities or even a new chunk of Psy history. It’s a shame that these elements are introduced so awkwardly, as they serve to undermine what is otherwise a largely coherently constructed world.
It’s not just the retrospective world building that sits a little awkwardly (rather like a jauntily tilted cap in a gusting wind) in this particular installment of the Psy-Changling cycle, however. While I have to admit that Singh does offer a wonderfully paced rip-snorter of a novel that really is quite difficult to put down, I found myself rather more ambivalent about this third outing than I did about the previous two books. The relationship between Judd and Brenna is rather difficult to stomach, for one. Brenna, perhaps due to the trauma experienced at the hands (and mind) of Santoro, latches on to Judd almost on a whim, it seems: Judd, unlike her protective brothers, sees no point in handling Brenna with kid-gloves, and Brenna seems to take this as a sign that they are fated to become mates, which, for those not in the know, is a life-long, monogamous pairing. Brenna’s attraction to Judd is so abrupt that it seems almost ersatz, almost plaintively wishful, and her constant, needy advances and increasingly possessive behaviour towards him become rather painful, particularly when one is given insight into Judd’s reticence at instigating a relationship. Judd, after all, is struggling to deal with a two-pronged set of challenges. First, his rigorous training under the Silence doctrine is such that every touch, every emotion that bubbles its way to the surface is met with incalculable pain. But worse, he has a very real fear that breaking the Silence in order to be with Brenna may result in her death, or the death of others. Despite the fact that Judd is open with Brenna about this not insubstantial problem, she persists, which seems an odd response given her prior ordeal with Santano, whose particular psychic abilities rather eerily mirror Judd’s own. But Judd himself seems to submit to Brenna’s advances rather promptly–odd, given that he has a lifetime’s worth of conditioning against feeling in the first place, and that he is aware of the potential outcome. Moreover, when Judd does eventually choose to break from Silence, the entire event, one that he has spent some time anguishing over beforehand, is over with little more than a snap of the fingers and a few pieces of broken furniture.
Readers should also be aware that Caressed by Ice is less of a mystery than its predecessors (both of which, despite being largely romance-focused, did contain fairly substantial mystery elements). While the reader is led to believe that they should be attempting to solve a who-dunnit whilst raising an eyebrow at Judd and Brenna’s shenanigans, the eventual reveal is rather less than inspiring given that the character in question has only been mentioned once prior, and even then only in passing. Rather than focusing on the murders, it’s perhaps best to turn one’s attention to the gathering storm that is the clustering of dissent on the PsyNet–despite the frantic positioning of the Psy Council, there are a number of disenfranchised Psy poised to take action that may result in a drastic power shift in Psy governance. Given Singh’s sophisticated approach to world building, I’m intrigued to see how this political manoeuvring plays out–given the callous and calculating nature of the Psy, things are no doubt about to become a good deal more interesting. I should also mention that, to Singh’s credit, the author does deal with Brenna’s response to her ordeal in a sensitive and thoughtful manner, rather than resorting to simplistic ‘victim’ or ‘empowered as a result’ discourses.
Caressed by Ice is not a book without flaws. In fact, it’s a book that is somehow immensely readable despite its flaws. And, in spite of myself, I have to admit that even given my numerous and unremitting qualms about these books, I find myself increasingly taken with the world that Singh is slowly and carefully building. While the romantic aspects of her books aren’t necessarily my cup of tea, I can certainly see how they will appeal to others, and for me, well, the speculative elements are doing their fair share to hold my interest enough to pick up subsequent books in the series.
Foresight. Precognition. The third eye. If these were musical compositions,they'd be grouped together as ubiquitous, omnipresent 'variations on a themForesight. Precognition. The third eye. If these were musical compositions, they'd be grouped together as ubiquitous, omnipresent 'variations on a theme'. The notion of the sibyl seems, after all, to resonate across the entirety of the literary canon, with stories abounding of people, usually women, capable of seeing into what is for the rest of us an impermeable fog. While foresight and future-seeing are staples of superstitious tales of the fantastic, they've also taken a strong hold in science fiction, with all manner of works dealing with issues raised by the ability to see--and therefore change--the future. Amongst the rosier approaches, such as the psychohistory found in Asimov's Foundation series, there are also grittier efforts, such as those of Philip K Dick (his Minority Report is one example). It's this latter approach that Singh takes: her F-Psy, as they're known, are trained to channel their talents towards the mercantile and political, reporting on yet-to-happen commercial takeovers and business developments so that their clients can respond accordingly.
Given their potential to drastically affect economies on both the local and global scale, F-Psy are immensely valuable assets to the Psy, who are known, in addition to their astounding mental capabilities, for their impressive business acumen and their unwavering single-mindedness. Those who fall under the F-Psy designation are rare, though, and their precognitive strength varied. The F-Psy who rank as cardinals on the scale that is used to measure the ability boast substantially higher predictive hit-rates than their lower-ranked peers, and of these, one individual in particular is virtually unparalleled in terms of the accuracy and frequency of her visions. Faith Nightstar, a member of the powerful Nightstar clan, is famed for her exemplary precognitive control, having by her early twenties earnt many times over what might be expected of her competitors. However, her condition, as with all F-Psy, is delicate. The F-Psy are known among Psy society for living a firework-esque existence, burning brilliantly until collapsing in on themselves in madness after only a few decades of productivity. As such, Faith, an immensely valuable asset, is kept in both physical and social isolation in order to stave off the crushing mental fatigue that her minders tell her will inevitably result from too much exposure to others. But Faith, despite her isolation, despite adhering to the strict rules and procedures around which her life is scheduled, is beginning to see things that are far removed from, if you'll pardon the pun, futures trading. Instead, she is increasingly overwhelmed by flashes of violence, of cruelty, of sadism. While she does all she can to stave off these unbidden images, to explain them away as aberrations, things come to a head when her sister is reported as having been murdered. On the brink of mental collapse, a terrified Faith escapes into changeling territory in search of the only person she believes may be able to help her: Sascha Duncan, a rebel Psy who has defected from Psy society.
But while Faith is, after much discussion from the wary changelings who intercept her mid-flight, offered asylum within the DarkRiver community, her troubles are far from over. Already struggling under the increasingly crippling weight of her fragmented mind, she finds herself dealing with a number of challenges, each of which has the the potential to overwhelm her in her current state. Changeling society is vastly alien to her, its pack hierarchies and rules scarcely comprehensible, and its emphasis on touch and physical affection as socialising norms pure anathema; Faith finds herself struggling to cope with the nature of the input she is receiving on both the mental and physical planes. Worse still are the decidedly not-so-platonic advances of the dangerous jaguar changeling Vaughn, whose wild, untamed personality borders on the feral, but whom she is increasingly drawn to as her Psy barriers are broken down. And last, but certainly not least is the ever-present threat of the powerful and terrifyingly vicious Psy Council, which she suspects may be behind the attacks she is seeing in her mind's eye--attacks that show no sign of abating.
In many ways, Visions of Heat retraces the plot of Slave to Sensation, the first in the Psy-Changeling series (see our review). The pairing of the alpha-style male changeling with the broken Psy is in full evidence, and even the complicating factors of the threat of the Psy Council, the unrepentant and relentless murderer, and of integration into an unfamiliar culture are present. That said, Visions of Heat is the stronger of the two, and reading it I felt that Singh had really begun to hit her stride as an author. She allocates more time to defining and teasing out Psy society, as well as settling a number of qualms I had about seemingly contradictory elements of their culture when reading the first book, and Visions of Heat is quite a strong book for it. I appreciate the thought given to world-building and to creating a culture that feels not only coherent, but that it has evolved and developed over time in response to a series of internal and external threats, rather than having been created, as these races so often feel like they have been. The Psy, I feel, are given a rather fairer treatment in this novel, with Singh depicting the race as more nuanced and complex than in the previous novel, where they were scarcely more than evil Vulcans--but without the charm of the pointy ears. Singh takes the time to introduce a number of secondary characters who have rather piqued my interest in subsequent books: Anthony Kyriakus, Faith's father and a fellow who appears to wield considerable political and economic influence in a way that has the potential to undermine the Council; and a new and rather terrifying addition to the Council hordes, Kaleb Krychek.
Moreover, in this novel we're given not only a stronger supporting cast, but also stronger main characters. Faith is presented as a more rounded character than was Sascha, the protagonist of the previous novel: rather than leaping to join the changelings, who in the first book were portrayed as arbiters of love and hugs, as Sascha did, she expresses a good deal of ambivalence over whether to join changeling society, and in so doing, renounce her culture and upbringing. Moreover, she spends more time reflecting on the nature of her relationship with Vaughn, rather than simply succumbing to his frankly quite terrifying alpha male ways. While I certainly wouldn't go so far as to say that theirs is a healthy relationship, built as it is on a foundation of submission and loss of self-identity, Faith feels as though she has more agency in the decision than Sascha did, and I'm a little more comfortable with the outcome.
I do, of course, have some quibbles, such as the slightly weaker plotting this time around: the mystery is very much downplayed in this second outing, and the reader is forced to deal with some awkward tacked-on moments such as the coincidental event that eventual serves to ingratiate Faith into the pack. I also found myself a little annoyed that the same prose-level issues that were apparent in Slave to Sensation were abundant here--right down to the repetition of the very same phrases that so vexed me in the first book.
In all, though, Singh's second Psy-Changeling novel is a fast and compelling read, and I veritably powered my way through it. It's a guilty pleasure, of course, but one in which I might even be willing to be seen indulging in public!
With a half-Italian background and a birthday smack in the middle of the Leo section of the Zodiac, it would be a touch misleading for me to claim toWith a half-Italian background and a birthday smack in the middle of the Leo section of the Zodiac, it would be a touch misleading for me to claim to be a mild-mannered and unemotional person. According to my stepfather, my favourite place to be is on top of my soapbox, from which position I happily rant and rave about all manner of extremely important things, such as whether it’s necessary to wear matching socks if no one can see them, or the fact that Smarties are most certainly not an inferior product when compared with M&Ms. Needless to say, if I were one of the Psy in bestselling author Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling world, I’d be considered rather definitively broken.
The Psy are a deeply eerie race, coldly logical and starkly emotionless as the result of generations of Pavlovian conditioning under a program known as Silence. While this program was ostensibly implemented in order to ensure unerring efficiency amongst the highly intellectual Psy, there is frequent allusion to the fact that this conditioning program has its roots in a movement designed to quell the Psys’ apparent propensity for violence and madness. Still, with their pesky emotions swept and smothered beneath a carpet of brutal stoicism, the Psy are able to engage in a variety of intellectual pursuits in a way that may not be otherwise possible. The cerebral nature of the Psy is such that each individual demonstrates certain mental abilities of varying strengths: telekinesis, telepathy, foresight, among others. And it’s the ‘among others’ where Sascha Duncan comes into the picture.
For Sascha Duncan, the conditioning has not taken as expected, and rather than being privy only to the typical emotional radio silence of the Psy mind, she finds herself dealing instead on a daily basis with a white noise of emotion whose effect she struggles to conceal from the cold suspicions of other Psy. It is agreed that Sascha is in some way wrong, but any effort to pinpoint the reason for this, or exactly in which way she is deficient is carefully avoided. Sascha, after all, is the daughter of powerful Psy Council member Nikita Duncan—although this means less than one might imagine, given that the Psy, in a way reminiscent of the film GATTACA, carefully plan and control the nature of their offspring through emotionally bereft genetic probability calculations.
Sascha’s daily struggles are compounded when she is sent to deal with the DarkRiver changeling clan over a contentious housing project. Despite her careful efforts to control her problematic mental feedback, she finds herself deeply affected by the presence of Lucas Hunter, the leopard pack Alpha and a man whose interest in her steps rather quickly over the bounds of the business/personal divide. Lucas, for his part, finds himself strangely taken with Sascha, who challenges his stereotypical perspective of the Psy. But Lucas has a secondary motive for participating in the housing project: he is helping to investigate a series of depraved murders his pack suspects can only be the work of a cold-blooded Psy who has somehow broken conditioning—and Sascha may well be the key to obtaining the information he needs to head off the killer before another victim is found.
Singh’s conceptualisation of her Psy-Changeling world is an intriguing one, and is in some ways far stronger than I might have expected of a novel with an emphasis largely on its romantic elements rather than its speculative fiction ones. Her approach is uneven, however, and while I applaud her deft touch in some places, in others I can’t help but feel she has resorted to heavy-handed generalisation and hand-wavium rather than developing a cohesive and coherent world. Her depiction of how the Psy came to integrate Silence into their world is quite chilling indeed, but one can’t help but question its apparently all-encompassing nature and what this truly represents. We’re told that it is impossible to stamp out one particular emotion with any success, which is the reason behind the totality of the Psy conditioning, but this seems to ring a little false, and comes across more as a point of authorial convenience than anything (this is particularly the case when, in later books in the series, which I’ll review throughout the week, certain characters have severe reactions in response to particular emotions and stimuli, rather than responding in a universally similar manner to all stimuli).
On a related note, I found myself rather struck by Singh’s depiction of the Psy as a race that is universally cruel and callous, particularly given her sympathetic portrayal of changeling society. The Psy may be intellectual giants, but it seems that they have few other redeeming elements–even, apparently, to their own. It’s strange that Singh works so hard to build a strongly multicultural cast amongst the Psy, but that, contradictorily, she treats the race itself as some sort of monolithic evil. This positioning of the Psy is only emphasised by the highly compassionate stance taken towards the changelings, who are painted very much as emotion-ruled creatures who are hyperaware of both the relationships they build with those of their pack, and of those with the earth. Changeling culture, though, is anything but benevolent–we’re told of extremely violent acts conducted against various other changeling packs, and their eye-for-and-eye and pro capital punishment positions strike me as something a little less than good and harmonious. It seems odd, then, that the violent exigencies of the Psy are condemned as aberrant, whilst those of the changelings are explained away as being the unavoidable product of their animalistic natures and of their pack culture. It seems that we’re looking at quite the same thing, really, but one group’s actions are condemned, whilst the other group’s are simply shrugged off.
Another issue that never fails to make me somewhat uncomfortable in a novel involving shifters is the role of the alpha male in cowing the female he seeks to possess. This is a trope that is in full evidence in Slave to Sensation, although Singh does work to make Lucas Hunter a largely likeable character, and the tension between Lucas and Sascha is generally very well drawn (if described to redundancy in places). Still, Sascha is portrayed as a character who is mentally quite fragile and conflicted, and one can’t help but feel a tad off about Lucas’s incessant efforts to possess and dominate her. Moreover, the fact that Sascha is expected to relinquish integral elements of both her identity and her social and cultural background in order to become a part of the Pack just doesn’t quite sit well with me. I do understand that the Psy are supposed to be evil and horrid and all, and that, well, Sascha’s rather failed to endear herself to them, but is it really logical (or advisable) that she might defect in such a way, trading one type of bloodthirsty ownership for another?
The fact that I’m responding to this book in such a way, though, is certainly not all bad. Rather than indicating my lack of interest, it shows how oddly invested I became in this book, and the world and the characters contained within. It’s not a flawless book by any means, and in addition to my macro-level problems with it, I do have some other gripes, such as the convenient neatness with which the book concludes, the rather-too-evident identity of the serial killer Lucas is hunting, the occasional illogicalities in terms of plot development and character motivation, and some prose-level redundancies (the endlessly repetitive description of Sascha’s ‘night sky’ eyes, and of hands ‘fisting’, and of Lucas’s cat ‘rising’, for example).
But still, given the myriad problems I’ve identified, I really enjoyed this book. Enough, in fact, to have read the next two in the series (which I’ll review later this week). Singh’s approach to the paranormal genre is different enough to feel fresh and interesting, and her attention to the speculative elements–such as the PsyNet, and the various Psy abilities–is most welcome. Even with my qualms about the Lucas-Sascha affair, it’s hard not to cheer for them, and it is rewarding seeing Sascha finally come into her own as a self-aware and self-accepting individual (although one suspects that it might take some time for all of that Catholic-esque guilt to truly subside). The pacing is taut, and the tension remains high almost throughout the entire novel, making it rather difficult to put this book down. (I’m also happy to note that Singh expands her narrow view of the Psy in later books, and that the supplements the hinted-at back story with some interesting tidbits that strengthen the overall conceit, but more on that when I review the subsequent volumes.)
I was lucky enough to win this, and the rest of best selling author Kerrelyn Sparks‘ back catalogue, through an Avon romance competition a few weeks aI was lucky enough to win this, and the rest of best selling author Kerrelyn Sparks‘ back catalogue, through an Avon romance competition a few weeks ago. I have to say that I was a little dubious about the books, given that I’m not generally a huge romance reader, and vampires tend to hold very little appeal for me. However, I cracked up laughing when I read the blurb to How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire, and knew that I was going to have a fun time with this book. See for yourself:
Roman Dragenesti is charming, handsome, rich. . .he’s also a vampire. But this vampire just lost one of his fangs sinking his teeth into something he shouldn’t have. Now he has one night to find a dentist before his natural healing abilities close the wound, leaving him a lop-sided eater for all eternity.
So, having read that bizarre blurb, I was off reading. Soon I was ensconced in a bizarre vamps-on-vamps gang warfare book replete with a company that manufactures fake blood with product names such as Chocolood, vampire conferences, a vampire-slaying CIA team, and some vampire dental work that turns out to be difficult to manage given that our heroine, Shanna Whelan, finds it difficult to see a vampire and his teeth in her little dental mirror.
I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this book, which sort of has a bit of a Buffy or Angel feel to it. Sparks draws on a lot of the old vampire tropes, but does so without taking herself too seriously, and I think it’s largely for this reason that the book really works. She teases her characters and throws them into absurd situations, and gives them bizarre character quirks that need to be worked out. Many of the vampire tropes are twisted in hilarious ways that, rather than being a bit tired, really add to the book. Her characterisation is generally very good, and the plotting and pacing are great. I did feel the end came a bit abruptly, which was perhaps due to the book’s being part of a trilogy. However, in terms of pacing, the only sections that I thought sagged a little were some of the romance sections, where vampire Roman and his lover dentist Shanna (who does finally replace his lost fang) declare all sorts of love for each other or wistfully consider the type of life they could have. My only other gripe is the book’s bizarre title, which has nothing to do with the book at all, and sounds as though it’s trying to fit in with a bunch of other recent titles that boast long and whimsical titles.
All in all, this is a surprisingly good book, and I now have the guilty temptation of Sparks’ other six books sitting on my bookshelves and waiting to be read....more