Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Snakes & Jails & Puppy Dog Tails is a sweet short story about a couple in love who are reunited after bein...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Snakes & Jails & Puppy Dog Tails is a sweet short story about a couple in love who are reunited after being separated for eight years. Reunions are a favorite theme of mine in romance, so that made this novella very appealing to me. We don't get much from Levi's perspective but what we learn of him throughout the story makes him a likable and admirable hero. He was possibly the only responsible person in his entire family, so much so, that he gave up his true love to rectify his brother's mistake by marrying the woman the brother got pregnant. Even though it appears he tried to be a good husband and father, over the years, he never stopped loving Arabella and kept a picture of her in his Bible which I thought was very sweet. Bella is a lovely heroine with a really big heart. She's a school teacher who loves kids. All she ever wanted was to marry Levi and have some of her own, but that plan got derailed for several years. Thinking he had betrayed her, she tried to put Levi out of her mind but was never able to banish him from her heart, so when she finds him snake-bitten by the side of the road and his young children without supervision, she's quick to act and forgive.
Aside from a few lines of dialog that were a little unnatural, the story is well-written. Due to the short length, events occur and conflicts are resolved pretty quickly and easily. It might have been nice if it were a little longer to flesh things out a bit more, but overall, it was a very good read. Snakes & Jails & Puppy Dog Tails was a cute novella that left me with warm, fuzzy feelings all over. This is the second short story I've read by Mallary Mitchell that made me feel that way. I can't wait to try out one of her full-length novels to see what she can do with a longer format. Unfortunately, it looks like Snakes & Jails & Puppy Dog Tails is no longer available for purchase, and since the author doesn't appear to have a website either, I don't know if it will be made available again at any time in the future. That makes me very glad that I got it when I did. (less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" My Life with Snoopy is the love story of one man and his faithful dog. It is a compilation of vignettes about the...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" My Life with Snoopy is the love story of one man and his faithful dog. It is a compilation of vignettes about the 13+ years they spent together as best friends, along with some background information on the author, events in his life that affected his decisions to, at first, not want a dog, and later to finally adopt Snoopy. I've always believed that our animal friends can teach us many things. This is a phenomena I've experienced firsthand, so when the author talked about how Snoopy was such a major influence on his life, I could relate. I also fully understood the serendipity of walking into an animal shelter and simply knowing that a certain animal is meant for you. When we let them, pets have a way of grabbing onto our hearts and never letting go, even in death. This seems to be exactly what happened with Joey and Snoopy.
After a serious childhood trauma in which a puppy he had come to love was abruptly ripped away from him, Joey didn't really want to have another dog. Much later in life when he was forty and had spent time around friends' dogs, seeing how the animals enriched their lives, he decided to take another chance and went to the animal shelter. There he found Snoopy, the dog who would become his best friend for the next thirteen years. I loved reading about all the adventures these two had together. Snoopy's sweet, lively, intelligent personality shone through in all the little stories about their friends, neighbors and other animals they met along the way. The other obvious thing was just how much Joey adored Snoopy. These two were virtually inseparable until Snoopy's life on this mortal plane came to an end.
Of course, the end of life stories of pets are always heartbreaking, and this one was no different. I've personally been in the author's shoes multiple times, and it's never easy to say goodbye. I have to commend Joey though for making Snoopy's passing as peaceful and comfortable as possible. After dealing with this myself, I was shocked to learn of people who simply abandon their sick, elderly pets, unable to cope with letting them go in a healthy way, so whenever I read about someone who cares enough to “do it the right way,” I have to give them a pat on the back for their compassion and bravery. Snoopy was obviously a very special dog who deserved the best in both life and death. As difficult as the ending was to read, I rejoice in the fact that one less dog was left on the streets neglected or worse yet, euthanized way too early. Joey and Snoopy were, without a doubt, made for each other. I'm so glad they found one another and had those thirteen years of fun, adventure, laughter and tears together.
My Life with Snoopy is written in a breezy, conversational way that made me feel like I was sitting down with a friend, listening to him recount stories from his and his dog's lives. Mr. Camen is a good storyteller who kept me engaged throughout the book with his fun and occasionally heartbreaking tales. The only reason I knocked off a half star is because I found a number of mistakes that a good editor/proofreader should have caught and which could be a tad distracting. Overall though, I very much enjoyed reading My Life with Snoopy. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good animal story. It would also make a great gift for the animal lover in your life.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Warm Bodies is probably the most unique work of fiction I've ever read. It is a tale of post-apocalyptic human sur...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Warm Bodies is probably the most unique work of fiction I've ever read. It is a tale of post-apocalyptic human survival against a zombie horde, except in this case, the main character and first-person narrator is one of the zombies. Said zombie is an existential philosopher who is trying to discern his reason for living (or being undead as the case may be). All of this is couched in a love story, although I hesitate to classify it as romance like many other readers do. It just simply isn't written in the style of romance, nor are the emotions as palpable as they are in most romance novels. However, I will certainly allow that love is a driving force in the story and without it there couldn't have been the happy ending that is classic to romances.
In my opinion, what makes this story so unique is it's protagonist, a zombie simply known as R. He can no longer remember the name he had when he was one of the Living, but he recalls the first letter being R. He spends his days in an often stupefied state at the old airport which is inhabited by his hive, lumbering around and groaning. Despite his outward appearance and actions, R has a rich inner thought life in which he analyzes his existence as a zombie. At his heart, R is a philosopher, but even though he can ruminate on the deeper meaning of life and death, he cannot remember enough human speech to verbalize much of what he's thinking, and even if he could, there is no one around who would care. I liked that R exhibited an unusual sense of morality for a creature such as himself. Although his “wild nature” drives him to hunt humans, he's not entirely comfortable with doing it. He's also a collector of human artifacts, which I saw as a way for him to remain linked to his humanity. Something inside R begins to fundamentally change the day he goes hunting and eats the brain of a young security officer named Perry. R promptly starts feeling guilty about this, because through consuming the scrumptious morsel, he becomes privy to all of Perry's thoughts and memories. Some of his most compelling memories are of his time with a girl named Julie. Essentially living vicariously through Perry's memories, R decides that Julie, who was present when Perry and most of the other members of her salvage crew were killed, is not someone to be eaten, but someone to be protected. He takes her back to the airport with him, and she becomes the first person he has ever really tried to communicate with since being turned zombie. Together, they embark on an adventure in which they must try to figure out why R's interactions with Julie have begun to change him, why some of those changes seem to be transferring to other zombies in his hive, and whether they might be able to stop or even reverse the effects of the plague that made the zombies.
Julie is the main female character, but we only see her through R's eyes. Because of this, there were times when I felt like something was missing. There wasn't quite sufficient explanation about who she was as a person and her motivations for doing certain things. She's had a pretty rough life in which she had to grow up fast in a world that was crumbling around her. She's a brave spitfire who doesn't really take any grief from anyone, and she has a curious nature too. This may be part of why she's so open toward R almost from the start. She sees that he's different from other zombies she's encountered, and after a short period of fear, she becomes almost blasé about being friends with him. This is where being privy to her thoughts would have helped me to understand her motives better, but as I read further and learned more about her life, my understanding of her character gradually became clearer.
There are a few secondary characters who play significant roles. Perry, despite being dead, lives on in R. The way in which he begins communicating with R reminded me somewhat of the relationship between Melanie and Wanderer in Stephanie Meyer's The Host. Perry was an intriguing character who appeared to be a rather doom and gloom person. He had essentially decided his life was all but over anyway and that he probably wouldn't live much longer. I think I understood what fueled this attitude in him, but again, like with Julie, it would have been nice to know a little more about him. Perry, in effect, becomes R's conscience, driving him to seek more from life. Julie's best friend, Nora, is another kick-butt girl who doesn't take any crap. R's zombie friend, M, also recognizes when things begin to change and helps lead the revolt. Then there is Julie's father, the general in charge of the human security forces, who unfortunately has become so blinded by his own hatred for the zombies, he won't listen to reason when Julie tries to tell him that she thinks she may have found a way to start curing them. Luckily, his second in command and Julie's surrogate grandfather, Rosso, sees what his friend doesn't.
It appears that one of the major genre categories for Warm Bodies is young adult fiction which makes sense given the age of the protagonists. Although their ages aren't outright specified, it is implied that Julie, Perry and Nora are still teenagers, but in many ways they act older, probably due to their circumstances. No one really knows how old R is, but there is some speculation that he was probably only in his twenties when he was turned. Given the young adult classification, there is some content in the book to which parents might object. For starters, there is quite a bit of language, including frequent uses of the f-word. Given that most of the characters appear to be teenagers, there is also some underage drinking going on. Sex is more talked about than actually described, but there is some mature content in that respect. Some of the things that occur: R briefly describes zombie sex which is basically a poor imitation of human sex, a character watches porn, a character's arousal is implied, a character tells of having prostituted herself at the age of thirteen, and a boyfriend and girlfriend are mentioned to have made love several times. When looked at in perspective, none of these things, language, drinking or sex, are terribly surprising though, given the rough nature of the post-apocalyptic setting in which people are struggling for day to day survival and social niceties have, for the most part, become a thing of the past. Of course, last but not least is the violence and gore. More than once the zombies go on hunting raids, looking for humans to eat, and sometimes, the consumption of human flesh is described. At times, it made me a little squeamish, but overall, I didn't think it was overly graphic. There are some good messages for young people here too about standing up for what's right, looking for common ground to solve differences, not giving up even though things seem hopeless, and the fact that love can heal a multitude of hurts. Overall though, given the content and the philosophical nature of the book which might be difficult for younger readers to understand anyway, I would only feel comfortable recommending it to readers sixteen and up who wouldn't be bothered by any of the things I mentioned.
In Warm Bodies, Isaac Marion has crafted a very unusual story that was an enjoyable read. I liked the world-building here, and he described everything in a way that was easy to envision. He's also a master of metaphor. Not only is he clever with a turn of phrase, but the entire story becomes a metaphor for hate, avarice and a plethora of other sins, a morality tale of sorts. While it was a very well put together story, I wouldn't say it was perfect. In addition to some character motivations being a bit murky as I mentioned earlier, the pacing was a little slow in places, especially given the post-apocalyptic setting filled with zombies. This novel is written in present-tense which I think was appropriate, but the author has a tendency to frequently use present perfect tense when I thought simple present tense would have given the narrative more punch and a greater sense of immediacy. Despite me zoning out a little during the earlier parts of the book, the ending was pretty action-packed, keeping me on the edge of my seat. For this reason and because of the delightful oddity of the story, I decided it was worthy of keeper status. While Warm Bodies is a self-contained story, it does leave some room for a continuation which it appears Mr. Marion is working on as we speak. There are also some short stories he wrote which are set in the same world and star the same characters. I'll be looking forward to checking those out while waiting for the next installment in the series.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" One with the Night was another great read in Susan Squire's Companion series. Once again, I'm rather shocked by th...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" One with the Night was another great read in Susan Squire's Companion series. Once again, I'm rather shocked by the somewhat lower ratings for this series. Then again, perhaps it has something to do with the fact that she has a penchant for seriously torturing her heroes, sexually and physically. Said heroes are also typically more docile and submissive than most vampire heroes, though I hesitate to call some of them betas. However, for the most part, none of this bothers me. Overall, I enjoy the juxtaposition of the heroine essentially saving the hero. I also love how Ms. Squires takes her characters on an emotional and psychological journey that always culminates in them not only finding true and lasting love, but also finding some peace with their companion which up to that point has usually tormented them. I thoroughly enjoy watching them learn about themselves and each other and grow throughout the story to a place where I can believe in their rightness for one another and the power of their love.
Like nearly all of the heroes in this series to date, Callan is a deeply tortured man who was another of the evil Asharti's victims. She put him through hell as her own personal plaything, repeatedly raping and physically tormenting him throughout his time with her. At first it was via compulsion, but eventually, he submitted to her tortures which only left him further psychologically confused about whether he was a warped man who truly enjoyed her “attentions.” She coerced him into committing other atrocities for her as well, and when she was finally dead, he tried to create a vampire haven where others of his kind could find solace. Unfortunately, that plan backfired to the point that he became known as a traitor both to humans and vampires. Because of all this, he believes himself evil and unredeemable, but it doesn't stop the good in him from coming out in small ways. I loved how his part of the story opened with him “cleaning house” in a brothel and throwing the cruel manager and customers out while offering a new life to the prostitutes. Little good deeds like this are his way of trying to atone for the wrongs he committed in the past, but in reality, he doesn't believe he's doing much good. Callan is so tormented, he has tried several times to kill himself, but his companion won't allow it. Therefore, when he hears of a possible cure for vampirism, he's all too eager to find the doctor who is trying to discover it. Callan thinks that if he can become human again, he might finally be able to return to a normal life, and if not, then at least he'd be able to commit suicide. He just didn't expect to find love in the process. Not surprisingly, since escaping Asharti, Callan has chosen a celibate life for the past two years and doesn't really want to have anything to do with women or sex, but he can't resist the way Jane draws him. She's innocent, good, generous, and shockingly positive even in the face of her own vampirism. Although he desires her deeply, he believes it's only his companion driving him to the call of life, and he also believes himself not even close to good enough for her. Callan loathes himself so much for the things Asharti made him do that he eventually allows Jane to believe some things about himself that, while technically true, have more nuance to them than he's willing to admit. He even lets her think he's willingly having sex with the villainess, Elyta, when in reality she is compelling him in one way or another. Poor Callan has been raped so many times, first by Asharti and then Elyta, that he has trouble differentiating between a loving, healthy sexual relationship and abuse, but luckily through Jane's gentleness and their love for one another, he is finally able to experience and recognize the distinction.
Jane has always lived in the shadow of her father but is a very talented scientist and healer in her own right. She learned a great deal about doctoring by simply watching her father and reading anatomy books. In fact, she's a very bookish young lady in general, which was something I loved about her. She also taught herself midwifery by lying to her father about where she was and going into the slums to help pregnant woman. Despite all this, her father has little faith in her abilities, mainly because she's a woman, which has left her with some psychological scars of her own to overcome. Because of how she was turned vampire in a laboratory accident, Jane is still innocently unaware of the full extent of her condition and powers. She only knows what she and her father have been able to deduce scientifically. Because his only child has this “disease,” her father is working tirelessly to find a cure. It's very cute how Jane tries to comport herself like a proper lady, drinking her blood from a teacup, not allowing her "affliction" to turn her into a beast. This measure of control she exhibits over her companion definitely comes in handy in convincing Callan that not every vampire is a slave to the creature that shares their blood. She's definitely a scientist through and through. The fact that she treated her one and only sexual experience years ago as a science experiment was amusing, yet it was sad that she thought of herself as not attractive enough and too much of a bluestocking to be marriageable. This is what led to her wanting to experience sex outside of marriage, but her experiment definitely didn't produce the results she was looking for. She'd been told it would be a transforming experience, but hers was anything but until she meets Callan. However, Jane leans so far toward being a liberated woman that her first love-making experience with Callan leaves her feeling frightened that she might lose herself and her ambitions in her feelings for him. She also thinks it's just her companion producing a heightened sexual response, and that makes her feel warped for wanting sex with him so badly. Luckily, she finally comes to terms with all of this and eventually embraces every part of her new self. I also couldn't have been prouder of her when she showed her intelligence by deducing (with a little help) what was actually going on between Callan and Elyta and putting stop to it.
This is the first book in the series in which both characters begin the story as vampires, so the dynamic between them is a little different. Because of the companion in their blood, they experience an intense, raw sexual attraction from the moment they meet. It even provokes a sexual response when Callan is gravely wounded and unconscious. Events that occur later in the story change this dynamic, as they experience their attraction for each other in a different way. Always though, Callan is thinking of Jane first and foremost in everything he does which I found very romantic. They each also see things in the other that they can't see in themselves. Callan recognizes Jane's talents, creativity and femininity all of which she tries to hide or deny, because of how her father treated her as the son he never had. Jane intuitively senses the pain in Callan's past, because she can see it mirrored in his eyes. She also sees the goodness in him when he thinks of himself as nothing but evil. Both of them admit their love for one another to themselves, but each think the other can't love them back, which delays their verbal declarations until the very end. A part of me wished that they could have had a little more faith in each other and their ability to love, but it all ended well anyway.
For the first time in this series, I have to admit that the sexual abuse of the hero was a little harder for me to take. I think it was because a large part of it was happening in real time with Elyta, interspersed with some flashbacks to his time with Asharti as well, which made it all a little too overwhelming. It got to the point that Callan was spending so much time engaged in torturous sex acts with the villainess that I felt it was taking something away from his and Jane's burgeoning love. Of course, none of this is his fault, because Elyta first compelled him with her vampire powers, and later, by hanging Jane's safety over his head. At the time, he had little else with which to bargain except his body, so I did admire him for putting himself on the line like that to protect Jane. It was just difficult to read about him being abused over and over when he was already deeply damaged from his time with Asharti. It also didn't allow for a lot of time for Callan and Jane to develop a healthy sexual relationship, so that part seemed slightly rushed. Having Callan and Jane finally rekindle their intimacy right on the heels of the abuse seemed a little too soon as well. However, I will admit though, that their interactions were very sweet and romantic, and the author did a great job of differentiating between the two experiences for Callan.
There were a few common characters from past books who appear in One with the Night. Jane's father was first seen in The Companion as the doctor who Ian turned to, looking for a cure, and it is through his blood sample that Jane was infected. Stephan Sincai's mentor, the monk, Brother Flavio, arrives with Elyta and her maid, Clara. Although Flavio seems to have a guilty conscience for not doing more to help Stephan and is obviously not evil like Elyta, he is largely passive throughout the story. I thought it was sweet that Clara had been in love with Flavio for a long time and unable to express her feelings inside the confines of Mirso Monastery. She finally finds her voice, but sadly, we don't get to see much of what happens between these two. Perhaps they will appear again as supporting characters in future books of the series. There is also the vampire, Khalenberg, who is out to prevent anyone from discovering a cure. Although I don't distinctly recall him from the previous books, he may have appeared before, because he seemed to have knowledge of the other now-happy couples. I also thought the inclusion of the Loch Ness monster was clever.
Overall, I enjoyed reading One with the Night and thought that it was another worthy effort in the Companion series. The only reason I marked off the half-star was for the somewhat excessive sexual abuse, but in the grand scheme of things, it didn't take too much away from the rest of the story for me. I liked the journey to finding a cure and how that all turned out. I also admire the author for her talent with character studies and how she was able to bring Callan and Jane full-circle in both their relationship with each other and their individual relationships with their companions. Although the main characters for the next book of the series look like they are going to be brand new, I look forward to meeting them when I continue the series soon.
Note: The sexual tension and love scenes between the hero and heroine are fairly steamy but not really what I would term erotic. However, there are multiple scenes of the hero being raped both in the present and in flashbacks that are pretty intense and contain some BDSM style interactions (including a D/S “relationship”, bondage, flogging, and intimate piercing) between him and his female abusers, which are not for the faint of heart.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Susan Squires has done it again with yet another story in the Companion series that I thoroughly enjoyed. Ms. Squi...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Susan Squires has done it again with yet another story in the Companion series that I thoroughly enjoyed. Ms. Squires has a lyrical writing style that I find very beautiful. She also knows how to create heroes and heroines who are imperfect yet highly relatable, starring in character-driven stories in which true love and sensuous passion overcome the torments of the past. In some ways, I'm surprised I haven't heard more about this series, because I've been thoroughly entranced by it. On the other hand though, I can see why some readers possibly may not be thrilled with it. There is some repetition in character types with each of the heroes in the series so far having suffered great physical and sexual abuse at the hands of sadistic women, but then finding healing and happiness in the arms of the one woman who is perfect for him. I don't mind this overly much, because the stories are always enthralling and each of the heroines is different in her own way, as are the plots. The hero and heroine always share a tender and passionate love that is exactly what I read romance for, so I'll definitely be eagerly continuing on with the series.
Stephan is a two thousand year old vampire who was born not made. He bears a tremendous amount of guilt over things he's done in the past, not the least of which was flaunting the Rules set by the Elders by trying to prove that made vampires and born vampires are equal. Centuries ago, he took Beatrix (The Hunger), a born vampire, and Asharti, a made vampire, and tried an experiment in which he attempted to treat both as equals. However, his feelings got in the way when he fell in love with Beatrix but was unable to love Asharti in the same way. Asharti ended up leaving the shelter of Stephan's home and going on rampages, during which she tortured, killed and turned many humans into vampires in an attempt to create a vampire army to take over the world. Stephan blames himself for all the evil Asharti spread in the world and believes he is unforgivable. His only desire is to return to Mirso Monastery in the Carpathians Mountains, where he grew up, and take a vow to remain there for all eternity. Unfortunately, when he arrives, he finds anything but the refuge he was hoping for. The Eldest, Rubius, insists that Stephan atone for his mistakes by learning the control that will increase his power. Then he alone must go after the creatures Asharti made and kill them all before he will be accepted at Mirso permanently. The “training” Rubius' daughters put him through is bordering on rape. The only reason I hesitate to call it such is that Stephan initially submitted to their tutelage voluntarily, although at the time, he had no idea what he was in for. They compel him to maintain his erection for long periods of time and to prevent him from reaching orgasm, believing that bottling up his sexual energy is the way to build up his vampire powers. They basically torture him with sex to the point that it becomes nothing more than a compulsory chore in which they're using him for their own pleasure while giving him little or nothing in return. They also torture him physically when he dares to deviate from their rules. Stephan probably could have chosen to leave, but he desperately wanted to prove himself worthy of the refuge of Mirso. He truly believed this was the only way, so he suffered through the torment day in and day out, thinking that he somehow deserved it for his misdeeds. Still, at the same time, he experiences a sense of revulsion both at what the Daughters are doing to him and at the cold, soulless creature he's becoming because of it. He also feels a sense of shame when the memories assault him. When Stephan meets Ann, he tries to keep his emotions locked down, but even though he attempts to convince himself that Ann is not important, he can't help caring about her. It's simply part of his nature and something the Daughters couldn't torture out of him. Underneath it all, Stephan is an idealist who prefers peace and harmony to killing and strife. In an emotional sense, he tortures himself every bit as much as the Daughters did physically. Even in the end, he still has trouble forgiving himself and is uncertain of his worthiness of a pure, innocent woman like Ann. While some readers may think this calls into question their HEA, I appreciated it for its realism. People simply can't overcome such deep-seated emotional turmoil overnight, so leaving it as a process that Stephan will have to work through for a long time to come rang more true to me than an easy fix would have.
Ann is a really sweet young woman who looks like a small, fragile porcelain doll on the outside, but who has the courage of a lion inside. She possesses a psychic gift that allows her to see the entire history of an object or person simply by touching them. Doing so, however, causes her great distress. Her mother possessed the same ability and went mad the one and only time she had sex with her husband, which was also when Ann was conceived. Because of her gift, the people in the village believe she is a witch or possessed by an evil spirit, which has made her an outcast. Between that and Ann not wanting to accidentally touch anyone, she spends most of the time in her familiar nursery at the top of the house. The only time she ventures out is through the secret passageways late at night. It was during one of these jaunts through the countryside that she found a cave that has become her special place. Since her parents died, the only person she could count on was her uncle, but now, he is dying and wants to see her married and taken care of before he passes on. To that end, he invites their distant and ultimately distasteful cousin, Erich Van Helsing, who is a caricature loosely based on the vampire hunter Van Helsing from the Dracula legends, to visit. He's nothing but a fortune-hunter who thinks he was cheated out of his rightful inheritance and plans to marry Ann to get it back, caring nothing about her possibly going insane from touching him. In fact, he welcomes it, so that he can place her in an asylum and be done with her. Unfortunately, Ann's ailing uncle has the wool pulled over his eyes with regards to Erich and gives the other man his blessing, leaving Ann with no idea how she's going to escape her fate. Ann is a very gentle, peaceful person who is quite loving and forgiving of others. She has no desire to see anyone hurt, no matter how bad they might be, and is always ready to help someone in need if she can which is how she ended up meeting and falling in love with Stephan. I think it was wonderful how Ann's love for Stephan gave her the courage and insights she needed to take matters into her own hands on more than one occasion, and how she refused to let Stephan face his enemies or his emotional demons alone.
In the beginning, Stephan and Ann's relationship seemed to move a tad slowly, although I realize it was probably necessary to tell the story the way Ms. Squires did. At first, Stephan's emotions were so closed off, it made it difficult for me as the reader to sense the budding romance, but his desire to take care of Ann was admittedly very sweet. Also, Stephan and Ann have minimal interactions when one of them isn't unconscious until about a third of the way into the story. At that point, they begin to talk, but each is afraid of what the other must think of them. Stephan fears that Ann knowing everything about him will make her view him as a monster, while Ann worries that Stephan thinks her a witch like the people in the village. Even as they slowly overcome those fears, they are only able to talk. There is still the barrier of her not being able to touch him, because the one time she did, it sent her into a three day coma. Once they figure out the answer to the puzzle which allows them to become more physically intimate, then the connection between them is unmistakable.
The lack of emotional connection and the somewhat slow pace of the first half of the book are the only reasons I knocked off a half star. Otherwise, The Burning was a great story that drew me in and kept me guessing as to how Stephan and Ann would overcome the many obstacles in their path to happiness. Readers are introduced to Callum Kilkenney, a made vampire, who is purportedly following in Asharti's footstep, raising a vampire army, and whom Stephan is sent to kill. As it turns out, there is some surprising depth to his character, and he will become the hero of the next full-length novel in the series, One with the Night. One of the Daughters, Freya, isn't as bad as the other two. She is redeemed to become the heroine of the novella Beyond the Night from the anthology Dead After Dark. I'm definitely looking forward to reading those stories and continuing with the series soon.
Note: The sensual scenes between the hero and heroine are only moderately steamy, but Stephan's time with the Daughters is definitely not for the faint of heart. They subjected him to all manner of eroticism and sexual stimulation, including multiple partners, anal play, and BDSM.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Although I'm an eclectic reader, I don't usually read a ton of books that fall outside the romance genre. I do, ho...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Although I'm an eclectic reader, I don't usually read a ton of books that fall outside the romance genre. I do, however, like to stretch my mind, so I enjoy finding books in other genres that entertain me. So far, The Dresden Files are doing just that. When starting a new book in this series, I've noticed that it can take a little while for things to get going, but about halfway in, I'm usually hooked. There's always lots of action and suspense, and Jim Butcher is masterful at ending each chapter with a mini-cliffhanger that keeps me turning the pages. With all this being the case, I always seem to have a good time reading any Dresden Files novel or short story. In this particular book, Harry goes up against several different werewolves who come in a variety of species, most of whom are quite vicious.
I probably wouldn't be having nearly as much fun with this series if not for it's protagonist, Harry Dresden. Part of the reason I love Harry so much is that I could easily picture him as the hero in one of my romance novels. He's chivalrous toward women which I personally find very appealing, but which the independent, kick-butt ladies who tend to appear in these book often find annoying. He's very honorable, always trying to do the right thing, and he views his wizard powers as a serious responsibility, always trying to use them to defeat evil even if it means putting his own life on the line to do it. I love that Harry's magic isn't an automatic fix-it for every situation that comes his way. For a large part of this book, his energy was so depleted he couldn't even conjure, and even when he can, it isn't always enough to overcome the supernatural forces he's up against. This lends itself well to higher suspense since there's more on the line, and it also means Harry must often use his wits to get out of sticky situations instead of relying on an easy solution.
In each book, it seems readers will get tidbits of both Harry's past and his future. It appears that the author is slowly building a series arc in which someone very powerful is out to kill Harry and is using the villains of each book to try to accomplish that objective. I'll be interested to see where this leads in future books of the series. We also learn just a little more about Harry's past. Because of things that happened with his first love and his mentor, Harry has a hard time trusting anyone, especially women. His character has undertones of a loner, but at the same time, deep down, he would like to have a relationship with someone. In the first book of the series, he became involved with Susan, a reporter from the Arcane, a tabloid style newspaper that covers supposed supernatural occurrences. At first, she only seemed to be using Harry to get the scoop, but in this book, she shows some surprisingly strong feelings toward him. They have a casual, yet somewhat complicated, romantic relationship, and they share one love scene in this book minus any real details. At the same time though, I think Harry has a bit of a crush on Karrin Murphy, his police department liaison, leading me to wonder if something might happen between them somewhere down the line. In this book, however, Murphy is still quite miffed with Harry because of things he kept from her in the first book, which have led to her being under investigation by Internal Affairs. She has become deeply distrustful of him even though she still likes him as a person, so as a consequence, they spend a lot of the book arguing.
As to other secondary characters in the story, there are a whole host of werewolves, some good, some bad, and still others who fall somewhere in between. Of course, it becomes Harry's job to figure out which ones are which. Before he can accomplish that though, several innocent people die, including one surprising character who I was just starting to like a little, because this person finally seemed to be warming up to Harry. One of the wolves, Tera, is one of those kick-butt heroines who the reader is kept guessing about throughout the story. I enjoyed the little twist with her character at the end. Enigmatic mobster, Johnny Marcone, is back too, first trying to hire Harry, then winding up in the sights of the bad guys. I don't think this would be a Dresden Files book without Harry's mischievous spirit sidekick, Bob, who's always good for a few laughs and his loyal but aloof cat, Mister. Overall, I really enjoyed Fool Moon, as well as the series as a whole. I would highly recommend it to anyone who likes urban fantasy mixed with mystery and suspense. I know I'm certainly looking forward to continuing it soon.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews ************************Spoiler Alert************************ Review contain spoilers for the Maiden Lane series.
"4.5 stars" El...moreReviewed for THC Reviews ************************Spoiler Alert************************ Review contain spoilers for the Maiden Lane series.
"4.5 stars" Elizabeth Hoyt never ceases to amaze me with her beautiful romantic tales, and Duke of Midnight is no exception. I didn't find the first half or so of the book to be quite as engaging as the last three in the Maiden Lane series, which is the main reason I knocked of the half star, but it was still a great story. The characters were likable, and I always felt like I understood them. The author continues her tradition of a fairy tale that mirrors the main story, excerpts of which begin each chapter. The writing was strong as usual, and the romance, while not quite as swoon-worthy as the previous three books, was still quite lovely once the hero and heroine really started getting to know one another. The love scenes were intense and steamy too. All in all, Duke of Midnight was another wonderful addition to this already wonderful series.
Maximus is a man who embodies a brooding intensity. He's extremely reserved and deeply introverted, treasuring his morning walks with only his dogs as companions. He also takes everything he does quite seriously, whether it's his work in Parliament, finding a suitable wife, or haunting the streets of St. Giles at night as the Ghost. However, we quickly discover that his graveness is fueled primarily by having borne witness to his parent's murders when he was only fourteen. Prior to that time, he was a typical mischievous boy, but after, he viewed it as his sworn duty to uphold their memory by not only finding their murderer and bringing him to justice, but also by doing everything as perfectly as he could to bring honor to his father's Dukedom. Maximus is a very pragmatic man who begins his pursuit of the heroine's cousin, Penelope, mainly because she's perfect for him on paper and he believes it is his responsibility as a Duke to marry. He thinks it's quite normal to enter into that commitment with someone he doesn't love. Of course, from the moment he meets Penelope's companion, Artemis, he is drawn to her and feels protective toward her. He recognizes and admires Artemis's inner strength, and enjoys her company when she joins him on his early morning walks. He finds that he can talk to her about deeper things that he could never discuss with Penelope. Despite that, he is devoted to doing what he thinks is the right thing for the Dukedom, which means that the only way he can entertain the notion of being with Artemis is with her as his mistress. In his mind, her family history of madness and her lowly position as a lady's companion make her unsuitable as anything more, yet it's obvious in his actions and the way he makes love to her that he cares for her fiercely. As I expected from his introduction in his sister, Hero's book, Maximus is a man of strong principles coupled with an underlying devotion that can be easy to miss, and he turns that passion on Artemis with an explosive effect. In spite of his take-no-prisoners attitude, Artemis effectively becomes his Achilles heel. It was so sweet that he thought of her as his goddess, and he couldn't bear to see her unhappy. Her honest pleading and tears for her brother did far more for her cause than her previously determined coercion.
For four years, Artemis has been living the life of the poor relation. After her parents died and her twin brother, Apollo, was wrongly accused of murder and committed to Bedlam, she had no one to turn to except her distant cousins. They were kind enough to take her in and give her a position as companion to Penelope, but the girl can be pretty self-centered. Artemis appreciates their generosity, but has little to call her own and feels like she's going to be stuck in the role of servant, at Penelope's beck and call, for the rest of her life. During this time, she has never doubted Apollo's innocence and visits him in the asylum every chance she gets. She is completely loyal to her brother and would literally do anything for him, especially if it means possibly getting him released from his prison. I did have a few reservations about her attempting to blackmail Maximus, but I understood why she was doing it. While Maximus did get angry about it, on some level, I think he also realized that it was something completely out of character for her to do and that it was an act borne out of desperation. Artemis appreciates him taking the time to listen to and speak with her which is something a woman of her low station rarely experiences. She recognizes the feral tiger buried beneath Maximus's cool facade and relishes engaging that part of him. Unlike most young women of the era, she doesn't have any maidenly fears, and in fact, fully enjoys giving herself to Maximus even when their love making is fierce and raw and even though it means she's become a fallen woman. Artemis loves Maximus so much, that a part of her is willing to accept any part of him she can get, even if it means only being his mistress. However, it doesn't stop her from feeling guilty about loving the man meant for her cousin. This leads her to make a very tough choice between becoming his kept woman and letting him go to prevent others from being hurt.
Together, Maximus and Artemis make a somewhat more reserved couple than others in the Maiden Lane series, but that's not to say they weren't appealing in their own way. I enjoyed the ease with which they can talk to one another. It created a nice connection, but I found that they weren't sharing a great deal of personal information about themselves, in the beginning, especially Maximus. Artemis was intelligent enough to discern on her own that Maximus was the Ghost, but he didn't offer much in the way of explanations about his endeavors until near the end of the story. On the flip side, Maximus had investigated Artemis as part of his thoroughness in searching for a wife, so he already knew a fair bit about her. With this being the case, I don't think there was quite as much room for getting-to-know-you moments as there could have been, which may have been why I didn't really start feeling the connection between them until later in the story. Also, between him playing it close to the vest, and her blackmailing him, it created some tension in their relationship that somewhat stifled the romance early on. Once he rescues Apollo and she expresses her appreciation by giving herself freely to him, things gradually start to change, but it's still a slow burn that required an explosive climax for Maximus to fully realize how much Artemis had come to mean to him and that she was worth risking everything for.
Duke of Midnight also boasts a number of well-drawn secondary characters. Many previous Maiden Lane cast members return in cameos or small supporting roles. Penelope of course, is front and center, being courted not only by Maximus but also by another much older duke. I have to admit I like the way the other man handled the sometimes spoiled heiress and was slightly disappointed that there was no solid resolution to their relationship. Asa, the black sheep of the Makepeace family, finally puts in an appearance in the epilogue as a friend of Apollo. Artemis acts as a temporary companion to Maximus's younger sister, Phoebe, whose eyesight continues to fail. Best of all though, was Apollo who is very protective of his sister. Every time she comes to visit him in Bedlam, he tries to put on a brave face so she won't worry about him, and he's concerned for her well-being when he begins to suspect that Maximus has seduced her. Apollo also has a noble streak in him, trying to rescue another poor unfortunate inmate in Bedlam from being raped, and ended up paying a high price for his bravery. I'm already enamored of his character, and since he played such a prominent role in this book, I can't help wondering if he might become the hero of the next one and who his heroine might be. No word on this yet, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Duke of Midnight was another engaging read in this series, and I can't wait to continue it when the next book comes out, hopefully in the spring of 2014. (less)
"4.5 stars" Baby Love is a wonderful book that is reminiscent of a grown-up fairy tale, a Cinderella story. As the hero...moreReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
"4.5 stars" Baby Love is a wonderful book that is reminiscent of a grown-up fairy tale, a Cinderella story. As the heroine, it has a young woman who has known the meaning of hard work since she was only fourteen, when her father passed away leaving her with the responsibility of caring for an ailing mother and baby sister. Then an incredibly evil stepfather entered her world bringing nothing but heartache and abuse. When she finally is able to make her escape, she meets up with a scruffy, drunken bum. She briefly entertains a fantasy that he will be her frog that will turn into a handsome Prince Charming. Imagine her surprise, when she discovers that he is really a gorgeous, multi-millionaire rancher who wants nothing more than to give her the happy ending she so richly deserves. Actually this description is a charming underlying element in the narrative, but far too simplistic to express the wealth of complexities and underlying emotions in this beautiful story. It is, at it's heart, a story of two souls, each deeply wounded in their own way, who find hope, love, comfort and healing in each others arms. Catherine Anderson is masterful at creating tight plotting, even with somewhat cliched elements, to bring about a heartwarming story.
Rafe Kendrick is a rather dreamy but tortured hero, just the way I like them. I think nearly every woman wants to believe that men like Rafe actually exist (and of course they do, but seem to be a rare breed). I found it to be an incredibly endearing twist to have Rafe fall hopelessly in love with Maggie at first sight, while it took her a little longer. He has a history of being a romantic, as he fell in love at first sight with his first wife as well. It was also a refreshing change to have the hero be the sort of guy who doesn't sleep around with lots of women before finally finding one who captures his heart. Before Maggie, Rafe had only been with one other woman, his first wife, and he loved her very intensely. He was a man of deep emotions who was a kind, gentle, compassionate caregiver to Maggie in every way, both physical and emotional. I love the way that Rafe held himself back from making love to Maggie, giving her time to heal emotionally and learn to trust him. He helped her to do that by indulging in romantic courting rituals even though they were already married. One of my favorite scenes is when Rafe reassures Maggie that her body is still beautiful in spite of the flaws and imperfections that have been brought about by childbirth. Another favorite scene is when he wraps Maggie in his arms while she is nursing the baby, which I thought was a wonderful family bonding moments. I also love it when the hero finds his pregnant or nursing wife beautiful, because so many women are self-conscious about their bodies during that time. I think the thing that endeared me to Rafe the most though was his acceptance, without reservation, of Maggie's past and most especially her son, not hesitating to give Jaimie his name and be a father to him in every way that counts.
Maggie was a wonderful heroine who was not unlike many women who find themselves in abusive situations. The fact that she endured and survived such horrifying abuse and eventually found a way to escape showed a great strength of character in my opinion. She was also never whiny or clingy, always stubbornly insisting on doing for herself as much as possible even to her detriment. She also insisted on paying her own way, nearly driving Rafe to distraction when all he wanted to do was help her, never expecting anything in return. I think that Maggie's devotion to her infant son, Jaimie, who was conceived and born out of incredibly difficult circumstances was nothing short of amazing. Also her love and sense of responsibility for her young sister, Heidi, and her mentally childlike mother was very heartfelt. Yet her conflicted feelings about her own lost childhood because of that responsibility were very realistic and relateable. I love the way that Maggie grew and changed throughout the story, in the end finding strength she never knew she possessed and using her wits to help save herself and her baby from a very dangerous situation.
In Baby Love, Ms. Anderson has woven a wonderful cast of characters from the hero and heroine right down to the supporting characters who are believable and well-written. The Kendricks especially create an amazingly warm and loving family that anyone would be proud to call their own. As heartwarming as the story is though, it is still very heart wrenching as well. As a warning to sensitive readers, I would say that this story is primarily driven by the emotional conflicts of the death of family members, including young children, and the aftermath of horrific abuse. While neither subject, in my opinion, is given a graphic treatment, there is enough descriptive detail to make the reader's heart break for both characters. Sometimes though, heartbreak can make for a wonderfully inspirational story, and Baby Love definitely fits the bill, while also being extremely well-written. One example of this great writing was that early on, Rafe's care and concern began to border on control, leaving Maggie feeling palpably fearful and me a tad uncomfortable as well. True to form though, Ms. Anderson explains his behavior believably, and also gives him a wake-up call and increased self-insight, which was another thing that I loved about his character. There were a couple of minor things that I might have changed though. The description of Rafe's courting of Maggie immediately following their marriage was too brief to suit me, and I thought would have been even more romantic if some of the things they did together had been explored in more detail. There was also one scene in which Rafe lost his temper and said some rather ugly things which were difficult to read, but that I understand were probably necessary to propel the conflict to another level. I have seen other reviewer complaints about having to suspend disbelief in order to read this story, which to some degree is true, but for any reader who is an imaginative and hopeless romantic like I am, this book should be just the thing.
Baby Love is the first book in Ms. Anderson's Kendrick/Coulter/Harrigan series. In it readers are given a strong introduction to Rafe's brother, Ryan, who is just as sweet as Rafe and becomes the hero of the second book, Phantom Waltz. The remaining books in the series up to this point are: Sweet Nothings, Blue Skies, Bright Eyes, My Sunshine, Sun Kissed, and Morning Light, with Star Bright due out in January. Ms. Anderson also has a historical series tied to members of the Coulter family. I have to admit that historical romances are my real reading passion and I don't tend to read a lot of contemporaries, but if they are well-written, I am open minded to trying almost anything. Ms. Anderson is one of those rare authors who is so good at her craft that I can't seem to get enough of her stories no matter which genre they fall into. Baby Love is a story that was simply so good that at times I could barely put it down. I would highly recommend it to all romance readers no matter what their usual genre preference is. It has certainly earned a place on my keeper shelf, and I am eagerly off to read Ryan's story now.(less)
"4.5 stars" My False Heart was the first book Liz Carlyle wrote and the first book by her that I have read. All I could...moreReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
"4.5 stars" My False Heart was the first book Liz Carlyle wrote and the first book by her that I have read. All I could think of throughout the story and especially after finishing it was that if this is her debut novel, I can't wait to see what else she has to offer in her later works. Ms. Carlyle wrote two absolutely wonderful characters in Elliot and Evangeline, as well as a full complement of secondary characters from friends and relatives to servants. I loved watching Elliot change from a bitter, vengeful, unhappy man to one who had finally found his heart's desire, as well as watching Evie finally learn to rely on someone else instead of feeling like she was all alone in her responsibilities. Elliot was made even more appealing by the inclusion of his daughter, Zoe, and the fact that he loved her deeply, but didn't know how to show it until he met Evie. His interactions with Zoe after that were endearingly awkward, and full of humanity. I adored Evie's eclectic family unit. It was easy to see why Elliot's cold heart was so warmed by all of them. Ms. Carlyle's characterizations made me wish that such a place and family actually existed, so that I might become a member of it too. I found the children to be particularly delightful, and there were even a few adorable pets who played minor roles in helping to set the tone.
All the characters, including the secondary ones, were amazingly well fleshed out. The author makes liberal use of lengthy passages of prose to give readers thorough insights into the characters thoughts and feelings, and to explain their back stories. Ms. Carlyle is masterful at creating truly romantic situations and sexual tension. Even the simplest of kisses became a thoroughly sensual reading experience. The author gives a believable interpretation of two people slowly falling hopelessly and desperately in love. Ms. Carlyle is also masterful at writing completely beautiful and romantic love scenes. She gives the reader the sense that Elliot and Evangeline truly love one another and are not merely lusting after each other in a physical way, as is unfortunately the case with many romance novels. I felt that the characters gave their initial decision great care and consideration and truly gave more of themselves to each other than just their bodies when they made love.
Often, stories that rely on secrets and misunderstandings to create conflict between the hero and heroine can become tedious and annoying, but I found that Ms. Carlyle does such a wonderful job with these elements that they became a believable part of the plot. I like the way that the author slowly feeds the reader bits and pieces of back story as well as the mystery element. It made me keep wanting to come back to the story to find out more about the characters and what happened next. The mystery was done so well that I did not figure it out until shortly before it was revealed in the story and even then, I wasn't sure I had it right until I actually read it. I loved the way that Ms. Carlyle intricately wove many of the secondary characters into the plot, much the way that a spider weaves her web. This made the story much more interesting, as they would often pop up in unexpected places, sometimes adding to the mystery. I really appreciated the author's use of intelligent, as well as historical, words and phrases. I like a story that makes me think, and this one certainly kept me on my toes, with not only it's rich vocabulary, but also it's extensive cast of characters and intricate plot. Ms. Carlyle's use of lush descriptive details transported me to another time and place, making me feel like I was right there watching the events unfold and could feel every emotion that each of the characters felt. Occasionally, I thought that some of the detailed prose could have been pared down just a bit for the sake of conciseness and to pick up the pacing just a little, but overall, I enjoyed the languid nature of the story. I think it really helped to build a believable illusion of the hero and heroine falling in love instead of rushing into it.
While Ms. Carlyle does not seem to officially consider her books to be a series, many of her stories, not surprisingly, have interconnected characters. My False Heart introduces us to Frederica d' Avillez, Evangeline's cousin, who is just a little girl in this story, but who grows up to become the heroine of her own novel, The Devil You Know. It also introduces readers to George Kemble, Elliot's intriguing multi-talented valet, who has such a vast network of acquaintances that he can find out almost any piece of information his employer or anyone else might want to know. Kem currently appears in five more of Ms. Carlyle's novels including A Woman of Virtue, No True Gentleman, The Devil You Know, A Deal with the Devil, and The Devil to Pay. My False Heart was a wonderful book about which I can find little to criticize. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and am anxiously looking forward to reading more of Ms. Carlyle's books as soon as possible. This story was a truly phenomenal first effort from a writer who is clearly incredibly talented, and the book has definitely earned a place on my keeper shelf.
Note: While none of Ms. Carlyle's earlier books seem to be officially considered a series and each seems to stand well on it's own story-wise, I would caution that reading her later books first may give away spoilers to her earlier books. Such is the case when I skipped one book and was left wishing that I had read it first. My suggestion for readers like myself who don't like any spoilers would be to begin with My False Heart and continue reading the books in the chronological order in which she wrote them. It is also my opinion that the reading experience would be greatly enhanced by doing this, because Ms. Carlyle's character web is so complex. The entire backlist, in order, can be found on her website.(less)
"4.5 stars" Season for Miracles is a tender, heartwarming Christmas love story. Sometimes it is nice to read an uncompl...moreReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
"4.5 stars" Season for Miracles is a tender, heartwarming Christmas love story. Sometimes it is nice to read an uncomplicated, character-driven story, and this book definitely fits the bill. It's all about facing the obstacles that life throws in one's path, and making the best decisions you can to overcome them. I thoroughly enjoyed the charming, small-town feel of the Bethlehem, New York setting. I had thought that it was probably a fictional town, and was surprised to discover that such a place actually exists. Marilyn Pappano has created such a warm and inviting atmosphere, it will likely make the reader wish to live there too. The town has a soul-healing quality generated by it's residents and the three guardian angels who watch over and help those in need. I found this story and it's characters to be inspiring and uplifting, giving a true sense of the awe and wonder of the Christmas season and that miracles really do happen. It brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion.
The characters are all absolutely wonderful, with not one evil character in the entire book. Emilie was a very sympathetic heroine who has been through a great deal in her life, and yet never truly has let her difficulties get her down. I loved her commitment to her family, and felt that she was making her decisions the best she could under the circumstances, always with them in mind. Nathan also had a less than ideal upbringing, but in spite of that was a kind, loving and sensitive beta hero. Also, after his first wife and best friend's cruel betrayal, Nathan had little cause to trust anyone, yet he freely opened his heart to Emilie and the children and to the love that the residents of Bethlehem showed him. The children, Alanna, Josie, and Brendan, were beautifully rendered secondary characters with each child having his or her own vivid personality, and each personality being consistent with how children might act in the circumstances in which they had been raised to that point. I liked that the children weren't always perfect angels, sometimes fighting with each other just like all brothers and sisters do. This just made them seem more realistic. The residents of Bethlehem, especially elderly neighbors, Agatha and Corinna, were a joy to read and were the true expression of the town's warmth and charm, really bringing it to life. A reader couldn't ask for a more eclectic and endearing cast of characters.
This story is just so lovely there really isn't anything to truly dislike. It would have been nice if the romance between Nathan and Emilie had been explored a little more deeply. There were times that I felt like the children and the rest of the story overshadowed their relationship a bit, but there were still some lovely scenes between them. There were a few passages of dialog where I felt the author wasn't clear as to which characters were speaking, as well as a few passages where the perspective changes from one character's thoughts to another without full clarity as to which character is thinking which thoughts. It wasn't too bad though, and things became more clear after a second reading of the passage. There were also a few places where Ms. Pappano's general wording could have been a little more clear and concise, but again it wasn't particularly difficult to follow. Overall, this was just a wonderful story in almost every respect.
This was the first book I had read by Marilyn Pappano, but it certainly won't be the last. From very early on, I felt like the story had the feel of a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Hallmark had indeed made the book into a movie also titled, A Season for Miracles, which I am very eager to watch. Season for Miracles is the first book in Ms. Pappano's Bethlehem series, a group of stories which all take place in the tight-knit community for which the series is named. The remaining titles in the series are Some Enchanted Season, Father to Be, Gabriel's Angel (a novella from the Yours 2 Keep anthology), First Kiss, Getting Lucky, Heaven on Earth, Cabin Fever, and Small Wonders. The first two books in the series both center around the holiday season. Season for Miracles was an enchanting keeper of a book which I hope to make a Christmas tradition. I am also looking forward to reading the other books in the Bethlehem series, as well as exploring the non-Bethlehem books that Ms. Pappano has written.(less)
"4.5 stars overall" Holiday Spirit by Kay Hooper – Although Holiday Spirit had the well-worn romance novel cliché of a...moreReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
"4.5 stars overall" Holiday Spirit by Kay Hooper – Although Holiday Spirit had the well-worn romance novel cliché of a misunderstanding coupled with a lack of communication as it's main premise, there was the added uniqueness of some ghostly characters and the intrigue of the ill-fated love affair of Antonia's ancestors to help enliven the plot. Sometimes in a novella, it can be difficult for the author to fully capture the essence of their characters, but Kay Hooper made good use of the short story format to make me care about her characters, both human and ghost. I enjoyed finding out the history of the ghostly lovers right along with the heroine. While their story was both romantic and tragic, they, with a little help from Antonia's grandmother, were able to bring about a reconciliation between Antonia and Richard, which I also enjoyed reading. I tend to like stories about lost love that is found again. The Christmas theme was secondary to the rest of the story, but I think there is no greater gift one can give or receive during the holidays besides love. Overall, I found Holiday Spirit to be a quick and easy read that held my attention well with it's light mystery surrounding the tragic lovers, while at the same time being very romantic and sensuous. This was the first time I had read anything by Kay Hooper, and I will definitely be checking out other works by her in the future. Rating: ****
Surrender by Lisa Kleypas – For a short story, I thought that Surrender was quite well written. It can be difficult in the novella format for an author to fully develop the characters and plot, but Lisa Kleypas has done a masterful job. I found both Jason and Laura to be likable characters. For all his brooding cynicism on the outside, Jason was kind and sensitive on the inside, and for all her tension and fearfulness on the outside, Laura was spirited and passionate on the inside. I enjoyed reading the story of a couple, who even after two months of marriage really don't know each other at all, but were able to discover new levels of intimacy in their relationship. Being part Irish, I also liked reading about the Irish immigrants of that era, including all the prejudices and poverty that they suffered. This element just made the story seem more realistic. The “opposite sides of the tracks” aspect of the story was very appealing, and I found the Victorian Boston setting to be rather unique, as I haven't read any other romance stories in that setting. The story is also infused with plenty of Ms. Kleypas' trademark loving sensuality, which I personally find very beautiful. Overall, I thought that Surrender was a wonderfully romantic novella that is on par with Ms. Kleypas' full-length novels, and one that I highly enjoyed reading. It reminded me in many ways of her book, Again the Magic. Surrender has earned a spot on my keeper shelf alongside several of Ms. Kleypas' other works. Rating: ****1/2
Note: Both of these stories are reissues that were previously seen in other holiday-themed anthologies.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Xavier's Loving Arms is a tender, emotional romance about a young woman who is trying her best to recover from an...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Xavier's Loving Arms is a tender, emotional romance about a young woman who is trying her best to recover from an eating disorder, but at the same time, the rest of her world seems to be crumbling around her. Luckily, she finds unconditional love in the arms of a wonderful man right when she needs it most. KT Grant confesses in her author's note at the end of the book that she herself has battled an eating disorder, and in my opinion, her first-hand knowledge of the condition definitely shows through in Becca's character. I have to applaud Ms. Grant for her courage not only in tackling a serious topic like this but for putting herself and her experiences out there in hopes of inspiring and/or helping other people.
From the beginning, it was obvious that Becca was a woman who had experienced deep hurts in the past. At first, she tends to cover up those hurts by being a bit prickly. She works hard at two jobs, but still can't make ends meet and is about to lose her house that she has lived in most of her life. It's an old Victorian home that her grandmother had dreamed of converting into a Bed & Breakfast before she fell ill. Becca's grandmother, who is her only living relative, now suffers from a severe case of Alzheimer's. Needless to say, Becca's life is pretty much a three-alarm fire, and she's struggling to “stay on the wagon,” and not revert back to her eating disorder to feel in control. The one thing that I predict some romance readers may take issue with though, is Becca's relationship with her ex-boyfriend, Dev. It's pretty clear that he played a big part in her developing an eating disorder in the first place, because she practically worshiped the man when they were dating and he pressured her to lose weight. Their relationship was tumultuous, to say the least, and probably emotionally abusive. Now that Becca is healthier, she knows Dev is bad for her, and yet, she still allows him to keep coming around and trying to weasel his way back into her life. Even though she obviously doesn't like Dev in that way anymore and doesn't welcome his advances, I felt like she was kind of sending him mixed signals by occasionally leaning on him emotionally before her romance with Xavier developed. Becca did try to put her foot down and tell Dev she only wanted to be friends, but he clearly was not getting the message and even started blackmailing her to get her back. Since the man didn't seem to be capable of respecting her boundaries, I thought she should have taken stronger measures, kicked him to the curb, and demanded that he stop coming around. Still, there was a part of me that understood he was a comfortable and familiar person in the midst of her turmoil, and her loneliness and low self-esteem kept her from fully putting him in his place.
Xavier is an absolute dreamboat. I want a Xavier for myself.;-) The man is suave and charming, but despite his wonderful personality, Becca kind of gives him the cold shoulder at first. Even though she refuses to go out with him initially, Xavier is determined to win her over. Also, from the moment they meet, he feels protective toward her and instinctively knows that she has been deeply hurt in the past. All he wants is to be the one to heal her and take care of her, but at the same time, he is willing to give her space when she needs it. He naturally respects her as an individual, and leads her to the resources she needs, so that she feels like she's helping herself rather than him just swooping in to give her everything on a silver platter. Of course, this is something Dev never understood, so I felt like this was an ingenious way to show the contrast between these two men. Xavier has a large, loving, close-knit family, which is something Becca desperately needed in her life too. Xavier is quite simply a sweet, gentle, comforting and supportive man who intuitively knew when Becca was in distress and was always there with a shoulder for her to lean on when she was open to that.
I did worry a little about Xavier and Becca's relationship, because in the beginning, it seemed a little unbalanced and dysfunctional to me. As wonderful as it was to have Xavier playing the knight in shining armor, Becca was in an emotionally needy place in her life. Sometimes their love scenes were born out of her emotional desire to escape her present circumstances, even if only for a short time. It kind of left the scales somewhat out of balance, with Xavier doing all the giving and Becca all the taking, which in the real world isn't usually a good place from which to start a relationship. Despite that, I still understood the dynamics at play and was generally OK with it, especially when Becca finally returned to therapy in the end.
Xavier's Loving Arms is the third book in the Sweet & Sinful series and the first I've read by KT Grant. Normally, I wouldn't read series books out of order, but I didn't realize until after I bought an ebook copy that was part of a series. Since I needed an “X” book for my A-Z title reading challenge and since I rarely buy more than one ebook by an untried author, I decided to take a chance. I'm happy to say it turned out quite well. There are a lot of supporting characters who I suspect played roles in the previous books, but it wasn't too difficult to figure out who they were, even though knowledge of those other books probably would have helped. Xavier was the third point in the love triangle in book #2, The Claiming of Suzy, and the hero and heroine of that book showed up in a couple of scenes.
Overall, Xavier's Loving Arms was a very good read that only had a few small downsides. Maybe it's because I'm an introvert, but the social situations during the early part of the book and the sheer volumes of secondary characters were sometimes a little overwhelming for me. Once it got to the scenes of Xavier and Becca alone together, I found it to be a much more comfortable read. It took a little while to build up to the love scenes which I'm completely fine with, but once they finally did start, there seemed to be a few too many too close together. Granted they were snowed in for the day, but it seemed like page after page of sex with only minimal depictions of other activities in between. I think a little more balance here might have been nice. Also, some of the words used during the love scenes weren't exactly romantic to me, but that's a fairly minor quibble. Otherwise, I really enjoyed the story. Xavier made it more than worth it and made me long to be the one wrapped in his 'loving arms.' I look forward to backtracking and checking out the earlier books in the series as well as KT Grant's other work.
Note: This book contains some frank language that I typically only see in erotic romances. However, I would consider the content of the love scenes to be on par with steamy mainstream romances and not kinky at all, except perhaps the hero and heroine coming up with a creative use for ice pops.;-)(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Lately, I've allowed myself to become distracted from some of my favorite authors, so it has been quite a while si...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Lately, I've allowed myself to become distracted from some of my favorite authors, so it has been quite a while since I've read a Lisa Kleypas novel. Where Dreams Begin has been on my TBR pile for nearly two years, and I believe that was due in part to it rarely being mentioned as a fan favorite which led me to believe that it probably wasn't one of her stronger efforts. Now that I've finally read it, I'm kicking myself for not picking it up sooner. In my opinion, Where Dreams Begin is every bit as good if not better than Ms. Kleypas' other works (that I've read to date), and I found it to be a real pleasure to read. I thought it embodied her trademark style in both plot and characterizations, and although perhaps not quite as steamy as some of her later books, it was still plenty sensuous. There was also quite a bit of lightly humorous bantering between the hero and heroine that really livened things up, and lots of sweet, tender romance. Where Dreams Begin was an all-around wonderful story about a proper lady who is tasked with making a silk purse out of a sow's ear, only to find out that it's the roughness around the edges which make her hero so attractive to begin with.
Zachary was yet another of Lisa Kleypas' heroes who begins as an ordinary low-born man, but uses his intelligence, diligence and determination to work his way into a hard-earned fortune. He is a real diamond in the rough with a heart of gold who has never forgotten his humble roots and is constantly working for the betterment of the lower classes much to the consternation of the upper classes. It is often said that one can tell the measure of a man by how he regards his mother, which to my way of thinking makes Zachary a virtual saint. He has a huge heart behind his enormous bank account and treats his mother like a queen and his sister like a princess, and can't help spoiling both Holly and her daughter, Rose, too, when they come to live with him. Zachary is more of a father-figure to Rose than her blood uncles were after her father died. He absolutely adores this little girl from the moment they meet and the feeling is mutual. Their scenes together positively melted my heart. Zachary may be as sweet as pie and take the utmost care of the women in his life, but he is a completely incorrigible, unrepentant rogue until his love for Holly literally brings him to his knees. In business, Zachary has a take-no-prisoners approach and a reputation for doing anything it takes to get the job done, and he also has a natural knack for bending others to his will to get what he wants without being overly arrogant. Described as an “ape” by a member of the nobility, this hulking man was not considered particularly attractive by the standards of the era, but he certainly was incredibly appealing to Holly, and I'm sure will be to most readers as well, myself included. It might have been nice to have a little deeper insight into the hardships that Zachary endured which made him the man he was in the story, but overall, he was yet another delectable hero to come from Lisa Kleypas' talented pen.
Holly was no slouch herself. She was a strong and courageous woman who carried on with life after the death of her beloved husband even though she felt like rolling up in a ball and dying herself. Even though it has been three years, Holly is still grieving her husband's passing when she and Zachary meet and share an accidental but incredibly passionate kiss. I loved how she took a chance and followed the desires of her heart when Zachary offered her employment as a social etiquette tutor to him and his family. It took a lot of spunk to risk becoming a social pariah for living under the roof of a man who was looked down upon by the ton in order to better her daughter's future. Not to mention, the backbone it took to keep a rake like Zachary in line. Holly was incredibly prim and proper, having had an extremely loving marriage with her first husband, albeit a somewhat puritanical one. By comparison, Zachary's dark sexuality is almost overwhelming for her, but I liked that she was up to the challenge. He may have made Holly blush to her toes on occasion, but I admire her for never shying away from his hot-blooded nature and for embracing her own unexplored passions that were lurking beneath the surface right from the start. I also liked that Holly had a sense of humor and was often amused by Zachary's blunt comments rather than being offended by them. I did feel like shaking her a couple of times when I felt like she was taking a little too long to come to her senses and realize that Zachary was perfect for her, but at the same time, I understood her fears and reluctance. Ms. Kleypas did a good job of conveying Holly's continuing grief over the loss of her husband and her confusion over keeping promises that she had made to him on his death bed, but I did get a little impatient while waiting for her to come to terms with everything and accept that she could fall in love again.
The secondary characters were great too. Little Rose was just as cute as a button, and in my opinion, rendered in a very age-appropriate way. She really added a lot to every scene she was in. Zachary's sister, Elizabeth was a vivacious young woman looking for a love of her own, but not feeling that she was good enough to land the kind of husband she wanted. Zachary's mother, Paula, also felt unworthy of the station to which she found herself elevated by her son's wealth. She was a very shy woman who found directing servants to be a difficult adjustment after having worked in jobs that were even lower than they were. Holly and her husband, George's best friend, Vardon, ended up being a wonderful man who deserved his own HEA. Ms. Kleypas mentions on her website that she might write a story for him someday if she can find the right one. There was even a surprise cameo by the handsome, young Dr. Jacob Linley who played a strong role in the Bow Street Runners series and has his own little story in Against the Odds, a novella from the Where's My Hero? anthology. All in all, I thought it was a very nice well-rounded cast.
There were many memorable elements in Where Dreams Begin. Ms. Kleypas managed to seamlessly weave lots of information on social etiquette into the story which I found to be quite interesting. I really enjoyed the shrewd negotiations that took place between Zachary and Holly for her employment, as well as their bantering in general. Most of all, I loved how Zachary and Holly simply enjoy each others company, while slowly building a friendship, and how Zachary comes to the realization that he would rather spend a quiet evening with Holly than go out carousing in town. The only thing that could have made this better is if the reader had been made privy to more in-depth conversations between them which I thought would have added a more intimate feel to their relationship. The sexual tension was good with several “almost” moments to fill in the long stretch between their initial smoldering kiss in the first chapter and their next which didn't occur until about 2/3 of the way into the book. I'll admit I became somewhat impatient, but the author made up for it with plenty of sensuality in the last third of the story. I've never been a fan of anger turned to passion moments, so I have to commend Ms. Kleypas on her writing of a couple of these scenes. Even when Zachary and Holly had been arguing, their anger never spilled over into their lovemaking. Instead it was every bit as tender as if they had started from a calmer place, which I loved. I don't want to give away too much, but there were some wonderful moments in the final chapters that were both sweet and intense, which really conveyed the depth of love this couple shared. Other than the few minor complaints I've already voiced, Where Dreams Begin was a really lovely book that allowed me a few blissful hours of escape from reality. In my opinion, this is one of Lisa Kleypas' most undervalued works, and one that has certainly earned a place on my keeper shelf.(less)
"4.5 stars" This was a sweet, tender, lighthearted romance that I found to be very emotionally satisfying. It had very good character and relationship...more"4.5 stars" This was a sweet, tender, lighthearted romance that I found to be very emotionally satisfying. It had very good character and relationship development which is a big plus for me. I loved both Stephen and Hayley, the hero and heroine. Stephen was a little tortured but not particularly dark. His life just lacked warmth and love, and he never realized what he was missing until he met Hayley. Hayley was one of the most well-balanced heroines I think I have ever read, and she embodied so many wonderful qualities. I really like that she could be so kindhearted as to give up her life to care for her family, but was never a push-over. She had enough feistiness to give Stephen a piece of her mind more than once, and was brave enough to ask for what she wanted too which I admired. I also enjoyed that they didn't bicker a lot or have any really BIG misunderstandings. I also liked that when things did go wrong between them, there was lots of room for apologies and forgiveness. The secondary characters were great too, a wonderfully funny and eclectic bunch. Overall, this was a really fun read that was a definite keeper for me. Although this was my first book by Jacquie D'Alessandro, it certainly won't be my last.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Storm Front was a very good start to the full-length novels of the Dresden Files series. The first half or so of t...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Storm Front was a very good start to the full-length novels of the Dresden Files series. The first half or so of the book was admittedly a little slow in places and could be a bit narrative heavy throughout. I think this may be partly owing to the first in a series syndrome, where the author must spend time building the characters and their world. The first half also focuses more on the mystery aspect of the story with Harry simply doing some good old-fashioned sleuthing, but the second half really takes off, ratcheting up the suspense and focusing more on the paranormal and urban fantasy aspects. The mystery portion perhaps wasn't quite as mysterious as it could have been. Once I got to a certain point in the story, it was pretty easy to figure out who the perpetrator was and there were few surprises after that, but I still had fun with it anyway. All in all, a very enjoyable read.
The biggest reason I'm slowly becoming a fan of this series is Harry. He's an awesome hero and someone a geek like me can relate to. I'm already half in love with him and will unabashedly add him to my list of literary crushes, and this isn't even a romance. Despite being a very talented wizard, Harry is pretty much the underdog. Except for his cat, Mister, and his sidekick, Bob, he is basically all alone in the world. He has acquaintances, but at this point in the story arc, few people I would call close friends. On the contrary, practically everyone is out to get him at various times, even his police contacts, Murphy and Carmichael. Because of things that happened with a dark wizard in Harry's past, the White Council has sent a warden, Morgan, to watch him. Morgan and some of the council members are just waiting for Harry to screw up again, so they can execute him. So far, we've only gotten tidbits of what happened and what Harry did, so I'm really looking forward to learning more about his past. I like that just because Harry is a wizard, he isn't invincible or able to do anything with his powers. In fact, he uses his intelligence and ingenuity to get out of sticky situation more so than his magical powers. He also has problems and vulnerabilities just like any normal human, such as being late on his rent and puking at crime scenes. In addition, his wizard powers have a tendency to render technology of any kind useless around him, so he has no choice but to use his wits.
I think what makes Harry so lovable though, at least to a woman like me, is his sense of honor and integrity. He always tries to do the right thing. He may think about doing the 'wrong' thing to get out of a difficult situation, but in the end, he always chooses to take the high road. He has a good sense of self and is confident without being cocky or arrogant. He's smart, resourceful and kind of on the geeky side. He has horrible luck with women, is pretty awkward around them, and appears to be rather inexperienced when it comes to the fairer sex. Despite that though, he still admires the ladies and is old-fashioned, gentlemanly, and loves helping damsels in distress. He's also kind and honest with a sensitive spirit. What's not to love? I even adore his leather duster and how he's always wearing odd clothing combinations (or none at all;-)). His sarcastic sense of humor keeps me on my toes too.
There are some supporting characters who I believe will play roles throughout the series. Harry's cat, Mister, is really cute and the fact that Harry rescued him from a trash can when he was just a kitten shows what a good heart Harry has. Harry's sidekick, Bob, is a mischievous spirit who lives inside a skull. Bob is full of sarcastic comments and is always doing things to get himself or Harry into trouble, but at the same time is a big help to Harry. Murphy and Carmichael are the Chicago PD detectives with whom Harry works. Murphy has seen enough with her own eyes to mostly believe that Harry is for real and that there really are things that go bump in the night. She can have a little bit of a softer side, but most of the time doesn't let it show and doesn't cut Harry any slack either. Her partner, Carmichael, on the other hand is a complete skeptic when it comes to the supernatural. Then there is Harry's warden, Morgan, who is looking for any excuse to whack Harry, but at the same time has a certain sense of honor and fairness. The villain, victims, and other secondary characters were well-drawn and interesting too.
Overall, I had a good time reading Storm Front. It kind of has the feel of a noir detective novel mixed with fantasy and paranormal elements. There is plenty of action and suspense, but at the same time, a lot of Harry's one-liners and some of the situations he ends up in are LOL funny. Harry himself is just a wonderful character, a great mix of powerful wizard and everyday guy, and I can't wait to read more of his adventures.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Wild at Heart is a beautiful and unique book, perhaps not to literature in general, since it's overarching plot of...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Wild at Heart is a beautiful and unique book, perhaps not to literature in general, since it's overarching plot of a “lost man” being found in the wilderness apparently unable to speak is reminiscent of stories such as Tarzan or The Jungle Book. However, for the romance genre, it is definitely an unusual tale. Patricia Gaffney certainly appears to have done her homework, giving the reader authentic historical and scientific tidbits throughout the novel. The heroine's father is an anthropologist, and the experiments he tries with Michael as well as some of the terminology in general seemed scientifically sound. She also depicted in detail the often inhumane conditions in which zoo animals were kept in the late 1800s. Most enjoyable of all to me though, were Ms. Gaffney's descriptions of the exhibits and attractions at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. I had never read any stories that incorporated a World's Fair, so this was quite fascinating, driving me to do a bit of research on my own. Last but not least, I felt that the author managed to keep her characters within the stricter social mores of the era, which is something that many historical romance authors tend to overlook.
Wild at Heart primarily focuses on Michael, “the lost man,” and his journey from being found, to being used as a science experiment, to re-learning all the things he had “forgotten” while surviving in the wilderness and then learning anew how to navigate through the social structure of a large city, while also becoming a valued member of the family of the anthropologist who was studying him. It was a joy watching him grow and change from a boy in a man's body to a more mature individual. Michael was incredibly intelligent, soaking up information like a sponge as Sydney and her brothers taught him about everything from reading and writing to playing games. He had an innate curiosity and an insatiable desire to learn, devouring all the books Sydney would bring him and still wanting more. It was so cute how when they took him to the World's Fair he was virtually inexhaustible and could barely be pried away. Michael is almost too sweet for words, especially in the beginning. He also can be funny, and quite thoughtful, often taking the time to ponder things very deeply. Having grown up around wild animals and counted them as his only friends, he has an intense love of all living creatures. I think the thing I loved most about Michael is his honesty. Since he hasn't been around other human beings enough to become cynical, he is totally guileless, which makes everything he says, especially to Sydney thoroughly beautiful and sincere. He just doesn't know how not to be honest. Michael also has an instinctive sense of morality, which makes him understand the difference between “having sex” and “making love,” even though Sydney's brother, Phillip, nearly leads him wrong, and he just knows in his heart, right from the beginning, that the only woman he wants is Sydney. Michael is quite possibly the most gentle, sensitive, loving and passionate romance hero I've ever read, and I absolutely loved him.
Sydney is a widow who is still grieving for her husband eighteen months after his death. They were only married a year, and had a loving relationship, although Sydney always felt that their marriage lacked true passion. She has also spent most of her life trying to please her family, and was particularly looking for the approval of her father who always seems to be too caught up in his science experiments to take notice of his children. As such, she has a “don't rock the boat” mentality, while Phillip is the more rebellious one, trying to get her to break free. Sydney slowly begins to come to Michael's defense, and eventually becomes his most ardent supporter. I did find myself wishing during the early parts of the book that she would stand up for herself a little more, particularly with her father, aunt and almost-fiancée. She tended to take a more passive-aggressive approach, but when she finally decided to take her brother's advice, she did it in a big way. Her actions made a lot of people angry at first, but I think that in the end, it was what also made them finally give her the respect she deserved. What I liked most about Sydney was her patience and tenderness with Michael, never truly fearing him, giving him the gift of her trust, teaching him, and loving him when he couldn't remember ever having felt the love of another human being in his life.
Wild at Heart had a very colorful cast of secondary characters who really enhanced the story rather than bogging it down. Sydney's little brother, Sam, is such a cute kid, and I was thrilled to finally read a child character who actually acts like a child instead of a miniature adult. He is fascinated with Michael from their first meeting, and views him as a second big brother. He's always excited to spend time with Michael and teach him things, in an exuberant way that only a kid could possess. Having been pushed into studying science when he really wanted to be a writer, Phillip is rather cynical and rebellious. It's obvious that he adores his siblings though, and it was great to see him grow throughout the story and have a hint of an HEA of his own by the end. Dr. Harley Winter is a brilliant scientist, but not a particularly interactive father. He tends to get completely lost in his work and intellectual pondering, rarely making an actual decision unless forced to do so. When Harley's wife died, his spinster sister, Estelle, became the matron of the house. She is a stern lady who is essentially feared, or at the very least, not well-liked by anyone. I was really thrilled to see Sydney make peace with both her father and Aunt Estelle before the end of the book, because I thought it showed how vitally important family is even when they don't always agree or get along.
The main thing that kept Wild at Heart from being a perfect read for me is that the pace was rather slow, especially in the beginning, and sometimes the voice was a little too passive to be able to fully engage my emotions. Things did pick up later in the story though, and there were a few times I had a very difficult time putting it down. I also admit that the languid pace was in some ways necessary. For example, the fast and frequent sexual encounters that are found in some romances would not have been appropriate here with Michael being so childlike at the start. Instead, the author keeps his and Sydney's romantic interactions very proper with sexual tension being created through small shared intimacies that slowly build on one another, with things going just a little further each time they come together. One of my favorites scenes in the entire book is when Sydney tells Michael they aren't kissing enough and asks for “just kisses.” A more measured scene like this can be quite sensual, because it's all about holding back and letting the passion build. There are only a handful of love scenes in the book all of which are only moderately descriptive, but when they happened, I thought they were utterly beautiful. Once again, I was floored by how powerful it can be to use a virginal hero, because if written well, their enthusiasm for the act alone can be quite intoxicating.
In spite of some occasional predictability, Wild at Heart was an incredibly memorable book with lots to set it apart from other romances. Heroes as sweet and perfect as Michael are hard to come by and after a less than stellar male lead in my last book, he was just what the doctor ordered. I borrowed Wild at Heart from the library, but have every intention of seeking out a copy for my keeper shelf as I can't even fathom not wanting to re-read it at some point. This was my first book by Patricia Gaffney, but after a lovely read like this, I'll definitely be checking out her backlist.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Loving the Boss is a sweet and sexy, M/M romance novelette. The characters are likable and the story was quite enj...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Loving the Boss is a sweet and sexy, M/M romance novelette. The characters are likable and the story was quite enjoyable. Alan is a very conscientious employee, always arriving for work early to have his boss's favorite coffee prepared and his office arranged just so. I got the sense that he was a hard worker regardless, but part of the reason he does these things is because he's been in love with his boss from afar for nearly the entire three years he's worked for him. He just doesn't really expect anything to come of it. The entire story is told from Alan's third-person perspective, so we only get to know Kincaid through his eyes. Kincaid is an attorney who lost his partner, Ben, to cancer not long before Alan came to work for him. I thought it was sweet that even though Ben was really the animal person, Kincaid kept all of the animals after he died, and it's quite the menagerie. When Kincaid finally admits to himself that he's fallen for Alan, it led to a nice steamy scene. There aren't any unrealistic declarations of love, which is oftentimes a deal-breaker in a romance, but sometimes actions speak louder than words. I could still feel an emotional connection between these two, and this along with them having known and been attracted to one another so long, made me believe that they definitely had a future together.
This was my first read by Shawn Lane, but certainly won't be my last. Loving the Boss is the first story in her Loving series. It introduces Alan's best friend, Lorrie, who becomes one of the heroes in the next novelette, Loving the Assistant. I'll definitely be checking that one out, as well as Shawn Lane's other work. It appears that Ms. Lane has only written short stories and novellas so far, but she definitely has a talent for it. Her writing in general is quite solid, telling a satisfying story within a short space with few technical errors. All in all, Loving the Boss was a very pleasant way to spend an hour of my reading time.
Note: This book contains a scene of explicit sensuality between two men which may offend some readers.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Lover at Last was yet another novel of The Black Dagger Brotherhood that left me with a contented sigh and a smile...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Lover at Last was yet another novel of The Black Dagger Brotherhood that left me with a contented sigh and a smile on my face. Qhuinn and Blay have been there since the early days of the Brotherhood when they were both pre-trans in training to become warriors. They were the very best of friends and even though they'd drifted apart more recently, there was still an unbreakable connection between them. It was so good to finally see everything come together for these two males and for them to get their HEA ending. This book had so much going on though, besides the core romantic relationship. There's a lot of forward progression of the overall story arc, and while it wasn't the least bit difficult to keep up with all the sub-plots, I did sometimes find myself wanting to hurry through them to get back to Qhuinn and Blay. I laughed, I cried, and as always, I had a great time reading this latest installment.
Qhuinn is every bit as tortured as all the other members of the Brotherhood, and for the first half or so of the story, it still seems like he can't quite catch a break, which only seems to solidify his low opinion of himself. The opening flashback scene to Qhuinn's past in his parent's house was heartbreaking. He was treated lower than dirt by his aristocratic family who couldn't abide any imperfection in their offspring, even one as small as having mis-matched eye colors. As a result, Qhuinn rebelled and became as different as he possibly could be, and then, when he saved his friend from a vicious attack, resulting in injury to another aristocratic vampire, his family disowned him all together, even sending an Honor Guard to beat him nearly to death. He was left all alone except for Blay, his best friend in the whole world, but when Blay admitted he was in love with him, Qhuinn couldn't handle it. He was taken in by the Brotherhood and fights alongside them, but is still pretty much a loner. Blay moved on with his life, taking another lover, and Qhuinn's other best friend, John Matthew is already mated, leaving Qhuinn kind of floundering on his own, but his life is finally about to change for the better. After what Qhuinn did to save Wrath's life in the last book and what he did early in this book to save Zsadist's life, the Brothers are beyond impressed with this guy. He's smart, brave beyond measure, and a leader when he needs to be. Qhuinn truly is a male of worth, something his family never recognized. He didn't in any way, shape, or form deserve all the crap they put him through, but I can't think of anyone who is more deserving of the honor the Brotherhood bestows upon him. In the last book of the series, Qhuinn serviced Layla through her needing and now she is pregnant with his young. I love how he tenderly looks after Layla, and what he did to Havers for the way he treated the female was priceless. When Qhuinn talked to his unborn young it was such a sweet moment. As for his relationship with Blay, Qhuinn has finally realized that he wants the other male so badly he'll take any piece of him he can get, but in some ways, getting what he's wanted for so long leaves him even more broken and vulnerable than before. I rejoiced right along with him when everything finally worked out. All Qhuinn ever wanted was a family to love and accept him, and now everything has come full-circle, giving him more than he ever could have hoped for. I'm so happy for him.
Blay is the solid rock who's always been there for Qhuinn through thick and thin. He was the one who got him through all the nastiness with his family and gave him a safe place to stay. Blay has loved Qhuinn since they were pre-trans, but when he finally revealed his feelings, Qhuinn immediately shut him down. Since then, their relationship has been strained to say the least, and when Blay became lovers with Saxton, it only distanced them further. Even though they haven't been close for a while, deep down, Blay still loves Qhuinn, but when Qhuinn finally offers himself up on a silver platter, he can't quite bring himself to believe that it's going to last. Blay intimately knows Qhuinn's sexual history and doesn't want to be just another notch on the guy's belt, but after all the times Qhuinn pushed him away in the past, he thinks one time is all they'll ever have. Because of this fear, he ends up allowing Qhuinn to believe some things about him that aren't true, which was a tad frustrating, but I understood where he was coming from. In contrast, to Qhuinn, Blay has loving, supportive parents who also have loved Qhuinn for years and hate what his family did to him. I adored Blay for how sweet and gentle he was with Layla, understanding how very much the young she's carrying means to Qhuinn. What Blay secretly did for Qhuinn and Layla was incredibly generous and unselfish. Blay truly is a gentlemale who has always been there for Qhuinn when it mattered the most, and I'm so glad to finally see them happy together.
As a couple, Blay and Qhuinn's chemistry is off the charts. Right from the beginning, all the pent up longing and desire between them is so thick you can cut it with a knife. When they finally unleashed it on one another, it was amazing. I knew that first love scene was going to be good, but it even exceeded my wildest expectations. It was beautiful, intense, passionate, raw, powerful, emotional, and smokin' hot. It left me weak in the knees and breathless and sent a shiver down my spine. Whew!;-) Then they did it all over again a few chapters later. Unfortunately, they both harbor uncertainties and insecurities, which makes the aftermath of their love-making rather awkward. A part of me wishes these scenes could have ended differently, but what happened made sense. When Qhuinn finally started to open up to Blay emotionally, it was a very touching moment that reminded me why these two were best friends, and when they finally allowed themselves to enjoy their love-making, it was very sweet and poignant. In spite of that, they still struggle with their feelings for one another, with Blay being afraid of getting hurt and Qhuinn being afraid of who he is. This lasts right up until the final pages, which was also a little frustrating, but what occurs in those pages is so romantic it made the wait completely worthwhile.
As with all the Black Dagger Brotherhood books, there are lots of secondary characters and sub-plots. I'll start with Layla, because she was probably the most important supporting player. As I mentioned earlier, she is pregnant with Qhuinn's young. During the early stages, she's very much alone in her pregnancy. She and Qhuinn haven't told anyone about her going through the needing and him servicing her, so she's trying to keep the pregnancy under wraps. Unfortunately, she experiences complications that end up making that impossible, but in the meantime, she goes through a lot on her own. Qhuinn is very attentive to her, but she knows his affections lie with Blay and she's trying not to be burden. I felt really bad for her during this time, because she's struggling to be independent and not being treated very well by Havers and his staff when they find out who she is. Layla is such a sweet person, I really enjoyed seeing her get assertive with them. It was funny how she yelled at them and blackmailed them in order to protect herself and her young, but still remembers her manners and thanks them when they comply. What she did to protect Qhuinn from Phury was really cute too. Layla is a truly wonderful character who deserves to be happy with someone who'll love her to distraction, and it looks like that someone may be Xcor. She can't stop thinking about her encounter with him, even though she feels guilty for caring about an enemy of her king.
Xcor is another warrior in this series who seems to have been brought to his knees by a little thing called love. He spends the entire book pining for Layla, and her sweetness and gentleness have spoiled him for any other female. I loved the way that Layla has made Xcor go all gooey inside and want to protect her, but I also respected him for not acting on his instinct to try and take her from the Brotherhood, knowing that he can't give her what she needs. Deep down though, he knows he's not worthy of her which really tugs at the heartstrings. He's never known real love, only the harsh reality of being a warrior, but in his heart of hearts, he really wants to be loved and doesn't believe that will ever happen for him, not only because of his disfigurement, but also because he knows he's a bad boy. I haven't forgotten that Xcor tried to assassinate Wrath and is still trying to dethrone him, but I also can't help feeling sympathetic toward him. I'm now convinced that he can be redeemed. I'm just not sure how or what would have to happen, but I look forward to finding out.
The Band of Bastards are all still backing Xcor up. All five now have names which is pretty cool. As a group, they're out fighting lessers every night just like the Brotherhood, but behind the scenes they're plotting with Xcor to take the throne from Wrath. Even though they do need to pay in some way for what they did to the king, I don't really want to see anything too bad happen to them.
Wrath continues to work with Saxton on the old laws, moving forward with exactly what I expected him to do at the end of the last book, while Beth spends a lot of girl time with Layla, talking about babies and such. Beth really wants to have a young, but the prospect scares Wrath to death. I do believe that the author is foreshadowing a future little one for this couple who are slated to be brought back to the forefront in the next book of the series, The King, which is scheduled for release in the Spring of 2014.
Saxton finishes his work for the king and stays on at the Brotherhood mansion as Wrath's personal solicitor. I couldn't help feeling rather bad for him. Even though he never intended to fall in love with Blay and knew that theirs was a limited love affair, he did fall for the other male anyway. I have mad respect for the guy though, for bowing out extremely gracefully, while still maintaining a friendship with Blay. I hope that perhaps he can find an HEA in a future book.
Rehvenge's former right hand men, the Shadows, Trez and iAm, return for more action. They both continue to run their respective businesses, but things really start hearting up for Trez. It seems he has an obligation to his race which he is not fulfilling and is trying to avoid the high priest who is looking for him. Trez desperately doesn't want to have anything to do with what his people have planned for him, and perhaps as overcompensation for it, has turned into a man-slut. He has sex with virtually every woman he meets, sometimes several times a day, and the implication is that he has a sexual addiction. In the midst of all this craziness though, he meets the woman of his dreams, a female who has been on the canvas for a very long time. I'm looking forward to seeing where things go for these two.
The lessers are still around, but are only one of several villains in this story. There's a new fore-lesser in town, Mr. C, who is trying to rebuild the lesser army to it's former greatness. In an effort to do this, they form an unholy alliance with a vampire. There also appears to be some kind of “new and improved” lesser that we don't really get to learn much about, and in a major plot twist, the Brothers discover something important the lessers have been hiding for a long time.
Last, but not least, are the vampire, Assail, and a new female character named Sola. I'm not entirely sure where J. R. Ward is going with their storyline, but sadly, it was the only one I never quite warmed up to. The fact that she set these two up in a dance of desire makes me wonder if she's planning a prominent story for them in the future, but if so, I think she's going to have to dig a little deeper to get me to connect with them. Assail has helped the Brothers in some ways, but ultimately, I couldn't quite get past his drug-dealing, drug use, and arrogance to see him as a hero type character. I can't help feeling that he's really loyal to no one but himself, and his attraction to Sola is more lust that love at this point. Sola was an interesting character. In the realm of private investigations and security, she does a little bit of everything, including some illegal stuff, to make a living for herself and her elderly grandmother. I have to admit that I like her style. What she did to get back at the Benloise brothers when they stiffed her on payment for services rendered was very fitting. Assail and Sola's story was my least favorite sub-plot in this book though, which is the main reason I bumped off the half-star. It just didn't hold my attention well, which is unusual for this series. However, it did end on a cliffhanger which makes me a bit curious as to who Sola's enemy is and how Assail finds them.
Otherwise, Lover at Last was a great book that was a pleasure to read. There may have been some parts that moved a tad slowly, but most of it held my attention throughout. The scene with Qhuinn and John Matthew at the drugstore in the first chapter cracked me up, and the plot twists near the end certainly woke me up. All the Brothers are here as well as some of the shellans. Payne has a small but very pivotal role to play. I might have wished for just a little more Qhuinn and Blay action, but all their scenes together were awesome and the ending left me with a sweet sigh. Overall, Lover at Last was another solid read in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, and I'll be eagerly waiting on the edge of my seat for more Wrath and Beth action in The King. Trying to be patient for the next book is always the thing I like least about this series.:-)
Note: This book contains quite a bit of strong language and explicit scenes of sensuality between two males, as well as a M/M/M/M/F menage between five supporting players, all of which may offend some readers.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Hard Drive is a short little e-book quickie, so there isn't a lot to the story. It's mostly about a computer geek...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Hard Drive is a short little e-book quickie, so there isn't a lot to the story. It's mostly about a computer geek and a beautiful real estate agent who discover a deep attraction for one another when she brings her computer into his store for repair. As with another short story I read by this author, I thought Ms. Kirk did a great job of building some decent character development in such a short space. I adore geeky heroes and Carlos definitely is one. He lives, eats, sleeps and breathes computers, which is just like a certain hubby I know.;-) Not only is Carlos intelligent, he also owns his own successful business even though it isn't what his parents would have wished for him. I completely understood why he would question Dana's intentions when he found out about her side job. Geeks like him rarely get the beautiful girls, so it would be natural for him to be suspicious. Carlos was a sweet, gentle guy with a sexy, sensuous side that I loved, and I have to give Ms. Kirk kudos for writing a true geek. Dana was a nice heroine too. I loved that she was attracted to Carlos from the start and had always wanted him for herself, not her side business. She seemed to understand his doubts though and did her best to put them to rest.
This short story takes place in only a few days time, so there are no unrealistic declarations of love and commitment, merely an acknowledgement that they are a good match and would continue seeing one another. I personally felt that the author created enough of an emotional connection between Carlos and Dana to make me believe that they were meant for each other and would make it for the long haul. They just seemed to have a strong mutual respect and good chemistry. The one love scene was hot and sensuous, not quite what I would call erotic, but it did contain a couple of explicit words I rarely see in more mainstream contemporaries. I also appreciated that the author seems to have a good grasp on the technical aspects of writing. In all honesty, I'm not sure why Hard Drive has such low ratings. I personally enjoyed it thoroughly, and after two winners in a row, I'm really looking forward to trying more of Ambrielle Kirk's work.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Thunder Point is the new Virgin River. I have to admit that I was a little sad at the prospect of Robyn Carr leavi...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Thunder Point is the new Virgin River. I have to admit that I was a little sad at the prospect of Robyn Carr leaving Virgin River behind to start fresh in a new small town. Even though I haven't finished the Virgin River series yet, I have a feeling that when I do get to the end, I'll have a hard time saying good-bye to the characters who have become like family to me. But I can now console myself with a new “family” in the residents of Thunder Point, and The Wanderer even had a small tie to Virgin River with the hero being a good friend of Luke Riordan. So far, this new series from Ms. Carr is shaping up to be every bit as good as Virgin River, and I'm greatly looking forward to getting to know everyone and seeing what's in store for them next. I'm also hoping Thunder Point might have a few more ties to Virgin River too, and if there are, I'm sure I'll have fun spotting them.
Hank Cooper, know to everyone as just Cooper, is a bit of a nomad. He was a helicopter pilot in the Army which is where he met Luke, and after getting out, he flew oil company employees back and forth between the oil rigs and the mainland. After the big oil spill in the gulf, he became disillusioned and quit his job. He lives out of a fifth-wheel trailer and was just about to go visit Luke in Virgin River when he received a call about the death of another good army buddy, Ben Bailey, which takes him to the small community of Thunder Point on the Oregon coast. When Cooper arrives he discovers that Ben has left him a run-down bait shop/bar and acres of extremely valuable beach-front property. Cooper is a really nice guy who's very laid back. It seems the only thing that upsets him is innocent people being bullied, because he spent a lot of time in his youth moving around with his family and being the new kid at school which often led to him being bullied. I loved the way he stood up for Landon and helped him with the kids who were bullying him. Even then, Cooper was always calm and cool in a crisis, never angry or out of control. Even when Sarah was paranoid of this new guy in town showing an interest in her brother and kind of laid into him about his motives, Cooper took it all in stride. He wasn't the least bit offended by Sarah's initial prickliness, but to the contrary, found it rather amusing and sexy. I also like that Cooper wasn't quick to sell Ben's property even though it was worth a fortune and took his time trying to find out why Ben would leave him something so valuable and trying to honor his memory by doing the right thing. Overall, Cooper is just a really chill guy who can be quite the charmer with the ladies and nice to everyone all the way around.
In contrast, Sarah has had a rather rough life. Her parents died in a tragic accident when she was barely an adult herself, leaving her with a brother who was only a little boy at the time. Now he's a teenager, and although Landon has always been a good kid who wasn't a lot of trouble, being a single parent has been hard on her, plus she had to deal with the fall-out of an abusive aunt who was Landon's first guardian. Somehow, in between all the responsibility of raising a child, she was able to complete her training and become a top-notch Search and Rescue helicopter pilot for the Coast Guard. I thought this was a unique occupation for a romance heroine, and I also admired her for looking after her brother the way she has. Along the way, she fell in love and married one of her co-workers, but he turned out to be a huge jerk who cheated on her with the maid of honor on their wedding day and numerous other times during the year they were married. The whole experience has soured her on men, and she has sworn never to fall in love again. Then Cooper comes along with his easy-going ways, offering her a no-strings relationship on her terms, and she can't resist. I'm glad that Sarah's paranoia over Cooper's intentions didn't last beyond their first meeting, but it was pretty understandable given the circumstances. After that she warmed up to him quickly, even though she did hold herself at arms length emotionally.
The only weakness I found in this book and the only reason I marked off a half-star was Cooper and Sarah's relationship. They are supposed to be the core romantic couple in this book, but oddly enough, they don't even meet until nearly the halfway point of the story. Granted, things escalated from there rather quickly with them going out on a couple of dates right away, before falling into bed with one another, but ultimately, they felt like merely two players in an ensemble cast, rather than the main couple. This isn't unlike many of the Virgin River books, but even still, Cooper and Sarah's interactions felt more like two friends getting to know each other or merely a “friends with benefits” arrangement. Although they do share a few romantic moments, it wasn't the kind of heart-stopping, intense romance that I favor. Cooper asserts all along that he doesn't know what he's doing and will probably leave Thunder Point at some unspecified time in the future, and with Sarah having commitment issues, she insists that what they share is nothing more than a physical relationship with no emotional attachment. I simply felt like this left some distance between them which isn't bridged until the final pages of the novel. However, I'm hoping that their romance will develop more fully in the coming books of the series.
As I mentioned earlier, The Wanderer has an ensemble cast with lots of great characters who will be a part of upcoming books in the series. Mac is the local deputy sheriff, and Gina is a waitress at the diner. Both of them had babies as teenagers, who are now teens themselves. Their daughters are best friends and so are Mac and Gina. They already do almost everything together. Gina is in love with Mac and would like to take their relationship to the next level, but Mac has been hesitant. His wife left him with three kids to raise, and he's a little reluctant to get more involved with Gina even though he cares for her too. By the end, things start to heat up for this couple in preparation for them becoming the main hero and heroine of the next book in the series, The Newcomer (release date set for July 2013). Mac's aunt, Lou, is quite a character. She raised him after his parents died and has been helping him with the kids ever since his wife left. She has a little romance of her own on the side with one of Mac's fellow officers who is ten years her junior. Scott, a doctor, has newly moved to town and taken up the office space next door to Mac's office. He's a widower with two little children, obviously looking for companionship, and ripe for a story of his own in the future. Sarah's little brother, Landon, struggles with the local bullies, while romancing Mac's oldest daughter, Eve. These two make a cute couple. Even though he's dead, the spirit of Cooper's friend, Ben, still lives on in the legacy he left behind. It's too bad he had to die as the set-up for the story, because it seemed like he was a really great and interesting guy. There's a light mystery sub-plot surrounding the circumstances of his death.
The Wanderer was a great start to the Thunder Point series. I love the set-up of the town and all the wonderful characters in it. It kind of reminds me of the TV series, Everwood, where the town is just big enough to have some variety, but still small enough that everybody knows everybody else and is always happy to lend a helping hand. I may have wished for the romance between Cooper and Sarah to be stronger, but I cannot deny that the overall story was very appealing. Robyn Carr has created yet another place I'd love to visit if only it were real. The town and the people who populate it have definitely sparked my imagination, and I can't wait to see what's in store for them next.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author's publicist in exchange for an honest review.(less)