Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" The Kandy Shoppe was a spicy novella about two people who have been in love with each other for years finally gettReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" The Kandy Shoppe was a spicy novella about two people who have been in love with each other for years finally getting together. I wish that Jason's reasons for walking out on making love to Kandy five years ago had been explored a little more deeply. It seems he simply wasn't ready yet to make a commitment to her and settle down into being a one woman man. Kandy was understandably upset about this, but he did really work hard at making it up to her. It was rather sweet that he was being so persistent, although perhaps a bit underhanded on his part, to purposely not fix her freezer so she'd have to keep calling him for repairs. Even though Jason had been the star of all her dreams and sensual fantasies all these years, Kandy was being stubborn about not letting him get to her, so I guess Jason was somewhat justified in his methods. In the end, it all worked out. Their previous relationship and the fact that neither one had ever gotten over the other made their quick hook-up believable. Their love scenes were just this side of erotic and so smokin' hot they nearly set my eReader on fire.;-) Overall, The Kandy Shoppe was a really fun and enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half of my reading time, and a great way to warm up on a cool winter's day. It was my first read by Debora Dennis, but definitely won't be my last....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Winter Wonderland is a sweet Traditional Regency romance that got off to a good start. It begins with a prologue where the autReviewed for THC Reviews Winter Wonderland is a sweet Traditional Regency romance that got off to a good start. It begins with a prologue where the author gives us a look back at the incident between the then-nineteen year-old hero and heroine which in many ways shaped Barnaby's life. Then it quickly fast-forwards eleven years to a much more mature heroine who has seen a great deal of hardship since then and a hero who has changed from a painfully shy youth into a man who, while no longer bashful, is still on the reserved side and described by many of the young ladies of the ton as forbidding. They chance to meet up again as both are traveling to Barnaby's brother's house, he for the holidays and she to become their new governess. The early chapters where they are journeying by stagecoach, robbed by highwaymen, and then stranded alone together for a couple of days at a small inn were delightfully warm and witty with just the right amount of emotion. Once Barnaby and Miranda were found by Barnaby's brother, Terrence, and returned to his home, I felt like some of the magic they had shared began to fade. Also, the misunderstanding drug on a little too long, really for the entire book, which I usually don't care for, because in my opinion, it takes away from the intimacy that could be building between the characters while they are instead holding themselves at arms-length.
I felt so sorry for poor Barnaby in the opening pages. The cut Miranda gave him at his first ball no less, was absolutely brutal. Having been timid in my youth like Barnaby and the butt of much teasing and jokes as well, I could really relate. In the moment, it was completely devastating to him, but immediately after, he vowed never to let something like that happen again. Since then, he has apparently enjoyed a rather storied career in the military and now works for the home office as a diplomat. Although his sister-in-law seems to be constantly playing matchmaker, Barnaby doesn't appear all that interested in marriage. In fact, he's been scaring away the young ladies with his cold and daunting frowns. When he meets up with Miranda again, Barnaby immediately recognizes her as the girl who humiliated him, and finds that he's still holding a grudge about it. In spite of him still stinging from Miranda's set-down all those years ago, I liked that Barnaby managed to behave like the proper gentleman he was, kindly saving her from both the unwanted advances of their fellow coach passenger and the highwaymen. Also, when they were stranded at the inn, and he got worked up into a pique of temper and was rude to her, he had the decency to feel badly about it later. During these parts, I found Barnaby to be quite funny, because it was obvious that he still liked Miranda and was very attracted to her, but wasn't about to admit it to himself or anyone else. After that though, I thought he allowed his resentment to go too far, even to the point of proposing to another woman just because he was too closed-minded to let himself believe that Miranda could have changed. At this point, I started to loose some respect for him. I know that he had been very hurt by Miranda in the past, but it was obvious to almost everyone but Barnaby that she was a very different woman than she was in her youth. At least, he made something of a comeback at the end, so I still generally liked him after all.
The way Miranda cut Barnaby in the prologue was so rude and obnoxious I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to warm up to her, but the author did an excellent job of making me forgive her almost instantly. It seems in the last eleven years, she has had to eat a huge slice of humble pie. Any happiness she might have had in the marriage she thought would be perfect, was in actuality very short-lived. She herself felt the constant sting of humiliation as her husband gambled away their fortune and ran through a succession of mistresses until he ultimately died in a duel with a husband he'd cuckolded. The uncaring lout didn't even leave Miranda a penny in his will, so after her year of mourning was up, she had to turn over all property to her brother-in-law who was the rightful heir to her husband's estate. He and his wife were going to allow Miranda to stay with them, but it turned out to be a backhanded offer with the wife in particular behaving insufferably toward Miranda until she knew she had to get away from them by making her own way in the world. She had already learned to live with a skeleton staff, doing many of the household chores herself, so applying for a position as a governess didn't seem like much of a stretch. Even the few meager possessions that Miranda called her own were cruelly taken from her, so she definitely was a sympathetic character in spite of her inauspicious beginning. I liked her determination to make lemonade with the lemons life had handed her. She ended up being very good with Terrence and Delia's children even though she had no real experience with kids. I also liked her willingness to sincerely apologize to Barnaby when Delia finally reminded her of her transgression, and that she was properly horrified by her former behavior. I think it all showed that she truly was a changed woman.
Winter Wonderland has a colorful cast of secondary characters, primarily Barnaby's brothers and their wives who seem to have a penchant for meddling in his life to the point of driving Barnaby to distraction. Being the youngest of four brothers by ten years, Barnaby's siblings have essentially lavished him with fatherly affection since he was born, and have always been overprotective of him, never allowing him to fight his own battles. Barnaby's sisters-in-law, especially Honoria, have a penchant for matchmaking. Honoria seems to think it her sworn duty to find him a wife, and she believes she found the perfect mate for him in sweet little Livy, a comely but timid girl who appears to be having trouble finding a husband due to her shyness. I liked Livy through most of the story and was hoping that as the third wheel, she wasn't going to get left out in the cold. I needn't have worried, because as it turns out, she already had a suitor waiting in the wings. Her mother simply thought the man wasn't good enough for her and Barnaby would be a better catch. I wholeheartedly believe that Livy ended up with the right guy, but I do wish that she had shown a little more backbone when making her choice. Her indecisiveness left me with a little doubt about her HEA. Then there were Barnaby's nephews, of whom the youngest, Jamie, reminds Barnaby of himself at that age. The boy is kind of on the shy side and like Barnaby is coddled by his older brothers, so Barnaby tends to show Jamie special attention.
Overall, Winter Wonderland was a pretty good read. The beginning really drew me into the story, and I thought it might end up becoming a keeper for me. It probably would have too, if it hadn't been for Barnaby's grudge and the misunderstandings resulting from it dragging on too long for my liking. He kept going back and forth between being Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and wouldn't communicate with Miranda at all about the incident that left him “scarred for life.” Not being a fan of anger turned to passion moments, their first kiss didn't do much for me either. However, both Barnaby and Miranda were pretty likable characters, and their “starting over” scene was really cute and romantic as was the epilogue, so in the end it balanced out fairly well for me. Elizabeth Mansfield is one of the better Traditional Regency authors I've read, so I'm looking forward to checking out some of her other non-Christmas-y works. Winter Wonderland can be purchased as a separate book or as part of the two book anthology A Christmas Kiss and Winter Wonderland....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Scott is the first book in Cathy Yardley's new trilogy, The Player's Club. Due to the shorter length, Harlequin noReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Scott is the first book in Cathy Yardley's new trilogy, The Player's Club. Due to the shorter length, Harlequin novels in general and the Blaze line in particular can be rather hit and miss with me, but I'm happy to say that Scott was the best Blaze novel I've read to date. I read Scott for review, and in all honesty it probably isn't a book I would have picked up on my own. Based on the cover blurb, I had the mistaken impression that the members of The Player's Club were just a bunch of crazed adrenaline junkies, but I couldn't have been more wrong. Yes, they do some “crazy” things like skydiving and running with the bulls, but there is much more depth to the main characters than mere thrill-seekers. I actually found them to be quite relatable. The premise ended up being really fun too, and even though I couldn't truly imagine myself throwing caution to the wind like The Players do, it was still a thoroughly enjoyable fantasy to think about. Bottom line: I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book.
Scott is the truly nice guy next-door. It was really sweet how he was looking out for Amanda's welfare when she found him on her fire escape in the opening chapter. Although he doesn't really act like a true geek, I enjoyed the fact that he has the geeky profession of a data analyst. He views himself as boring, because his ex-girlfriend broke up with him for being “too nice.” Of course, in my book there's no such thing as too nice, but Scott is still stinging a little from her reason for the break-up and feels like he needs to do something to make himself more exciting. When he stumbles upon the legendary Player's Club, he can't resist their offer to join even though he initially has a few reservations which I thought just made him more genuine. I like how he defended the rights of a woman (Amanda) to join the club, and how he stood up to obnoxious Player, George. I loved that Scott hates to get drunk and that he's more of a relationship kind of guy, rather then the type to sleep around. If he hadn't made the huge faux pas of essentially choosing The Player's Club over Amanda, he would have been a perfect hero. As is, he at least had the decency to feel badly about it right from the get-go, so in the end, he was still a pretty good hero anyway.
Amanda is the nice girl next-door who only seems to have two speeds, going like the Energizer bunny or crashing out. She's recently divorced and just sold her business, so she's looking for a change of pace and something to spice up her life. Her best friend, Jackie, thinks Amanda needs to have a fling. The only problem is Amanda is more of a relationship kind of girl and not really the fling type. She is really attracted to her neighbor, Scott, so she decides to invite him over, let him know she's available, and see where things go. When she accidentally figures out he's in The Player's Club, Amanda thinks that may be just the thing to cure her boredom. She offers to help him with his challenges if he'll nominate her for membership once he's in.
As a couple, Scott and Amanda have sizzling hot chemistry. Their love scenes are frequent and very steamy, really burning up the pages. What makes them a great couple though, is that underneath it all, they have a lot in common besides great sex (I loved that they both had rather nerdy pastimes). Each time they get together, I could feel the passion and love building between them which made the little glitch in their relationship just a bit disappointing. It separated them rather abruptly, and then they got back together almost equally as quickly. Their communication could have been better too. Even though both of them prefer relationships to flings, each one spends most of the book thinking the other is just wanting a fling and/or might be using them. As a consequence neither wants to talk about it for fear of loosing a good thing, and ultimately, it was a misunderstanding that messed things up between them. Overall though, Scott and Amanda were just two average everyday people who wanted to spice up their lives with a little adventure. I think they both got that, and more, once they came to the realization that the other loved them for who they were and the adventures they shared were just the icing on the cake.
Scott introduced some interesting secondary characters, including the heroes of the next two books. Lincoln, the leader and one of the founders of the club, is a suave and mysterious man. I loved his vision and philosophy for The Player's Club, and how it was almost more like a gentleman's club. They may do wild things, but it's really more about facing their fears and living a life without regrets than about a cheap thrill. I also liked that they were pretty respectful of women. They may have brought in dancers for entertainment, but Lincoln didn't allow the guys to paw them. I was a little disappointed in Lincoln for being so quick to believe that Scott betrayed the club when there was an obvious dissenter right in their ranks, but overall he was a really cool guy and an intriguing character that I look forward to getting to know better in his own book which is the next in the series. The final hero of the series, Finn, is Lincoln's best friend and fellow founding member. I didn't get as much of a feel for him, but he seems like a more laid-back, outgoing kind of guy. Finn's cousin, George, is pretty much the villain of the story. He's an obnoxious jerk who thinks The Player's Club should be a big frat party, and tries to challenge Lincoln's authority.
Overall, Scott was a very enjoyable read populated with likable characters. I really appreciated that through all their big adventures, Scott and Amanda never lost their innate likability. Underneath their thirst for adventure, they were still the same people, just with an added dimension. Most of their exploits were great fun, but sometimes, like with the desert vision quest, they found it wasn't quite all it was cracked up to be. I think moments like this just gave the story a more realistic feel. There were a couple of minor things that threw me off momentarily. I found a few continuity errors, and the virtually non-existent explanation of how the reporter was able to track George down, didn't quite work, but these things weren't a big enough deal to really diminish my overall enjoyment of the novel. Scott was a great start to the series and a surprise winner all the way around that really has me looking forward to reading Lincoln soon.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews It's so nice to be back in Virgin River. This is such a great little town to be in at any time of the year, but especially asReviewed for THC Reviews It's so nice to be back in Virgin River. This is such a great little town to be in at any time of the year, but especially as Christmastime. Seeing how the townspeople come together, and the beautiful Christmas tree that they decorated to honor those who've served in the military really put me in the Christmas spirit. That wonderful tree topper that was a beacon to light the way home made my heart clench. As always, the door of Jack's bar is perpetually open, offering hospitality to the newcomers. While some things remain the same, the one thing that was different about A Virgin River Christmas compared to the other Virgin River books is that the focus stays squarely on the hero and heroine without all the side plots we normally have. There are some great moments with Jack and Mel (Virgin River), Preacher and Paige (Shelter Mountain), and Mike and Brie (Whispering Rock). Even Paul and Vanessa (Second Chance Pass) put in a quick appearance, but in every one of these scenes, Ian and/or Marcie somehow play a part too, and the focus never strayed away from their point of view which was a nice change of pace.
Marcie is a stubborn, vivacious woman who weathered her husband's prolonged invalid status and subsequent death with a great deal of grace and dignity. She was very lucky to have her family and friends to support and love both her and Bobby through that difficult time, and she never wavered in her appreciation for Ian saving Bobby's life. After Bobby finally passed, Marcie felt indebted to Ian, wanting to give him some things to say “thank you,” but also needing to know why he had left the Marines and then disappeared, not answering any of her letters. I really admired Marcie's tenacity in hunting Ian down, even though it took her last dime and her sister thought she was crazy for doing it. On the surface it seemed that Ian had checked out on life and abandoned everyone, but Marcie was steadfast in her belief that Ian was a good man who must have some pretty big demons to drive him into hiding like that. Marcie was obviously a woman who cared very much about people in general and Ian in particular, and it was that devotion which helped Ian take a few steps back into the land of the living. With Marcie being such a strong woman, I was a little disappointed that she allowed her big sister to boss her into leaving Ian when there was still unfinished business between them, but at least she came to her senses quickly. I also felt somewhat let down that she was prepared to leave town when everything was settled between them, and yet had no solid plan to see Ian again even though she had fallen in love with him. Marcie is the kind of woman I would have expected to fight for that love even though there were still things to work out, but in the end, it was more circumstances that brought them back together than any active role on her part.
Ian is a man who went away to find some peace after a difficult time in his life. He had certainly found that and more in his secluded but primitive mountain-top cabin. It was really more of a case of everyone else failing him rather than him checking out on life. Ian has actually been rather content with his minimalistic lifestyle and surviving quite nicely, but not truly living. He doesn't even realize it until a little red-headed spitfire comes to his door. In spite of all the growling animal noises he's fond of producing to scare people away, Ian is definitely a man whose bark is worse than his bite. Underneath it all he's really quite sweet and kindhearted, a man who's full of surprises that I won't mention here, because it's so much more fun to find out for oneself. I loved how Ian saved Marcie from nearly freezing to death and then tenderly cared for her when she got sick with the flu as a result. The way he offered to wash her hair was really romantic. Marcie slowly wiggles her way into Ian's heart by simply making him feel loved and cared about, something he hadn't experienced in a long time. It was really nice to see how Ian grows throughout the story and come to the realization that, on some level, he misses having relationships in his life. The comradeship Ian feels with Jack and the gang when he finally comes out of hiding was very heartfelt.
I really enjoyed the interactions between Ian and Marcie, but was rather disappointed that the actual romance wasn't stronger. Living together for several days in a tiny one-room cabin, they glimpsed each other in various states of undress, and yet, in all honesty, I thought the sexual tension was pretty minimal. I really liked the way that Ian took such good care of Marcie, but ultimately, they were only acting like really good friends for over half of the book. There wasn't truly even a hint of them wanting to hug or kiss or them feeling anything for each other beyond friendship, so when things finally did heat up it seemed rather abrupt to me. Even then, they were still treating what was happening between them as a casual fling with no commitments, which to my way of thinking, created a certain distance in their relationship. In the end, Ian and Marcie finally came together on the same page and got their “I love yous” out, but ultimately, it was more of an HFN than an HEA, which didn't fully satisfy me. I do hope that we might see more of them in future books of the series, so that I can be more certain how things turn out for them.
Other than the romance being on the weak side, the only other thing that bugs me a little about the Virgin River series in general is that Robyn Carr isn't quite as good at writing introverted characters as some other authors I've read. Being an introvert myself, I think I can say with some degree of authority that the way these characters behave doesn't always quite ring true. It's more a case of her simply saying that they're shy rather than actually showing it through their actions and behavior. Even if a character is described as being more reticent in earlier books of the series, once they gets to their own book and beyond, they suddenly become very talkative which just doesn't work well for me.
Otherwise, I really enjoyed A Virgin River Christmas, and thought that it was a very heartwarming holiday story. When Ian finally allowed Marcie to tell him about Bobby it was a very touching scene, and when Marcie had her flashback to Bobby's death, it brought tears to my eyes. There were some lighthearted moments to balance out the sadness too. Not to mention, the closeness and warmth of the Virgin River community is enough to melt the heart of Scrooge himself. Each time I read one of these books, I marvel at how real this little town seems. These characters have really gotten to me in a way that makes me feel like they actually exist out there somewhere, and I'm looking forward to seeing what's in store for them next....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews The Promise was a luscious little e-book quickie that in my opinion, had a pretty good balance between the story-telling and tReviewed for THC Reviews The Promise was a luscious little e-book quickie that in my opinion, had a pretty good balance between the story-telling and the sex. It can definitely be difficult to find decent character and plot development in a story as short as this one, but I thought the author did a good job with the abbreviated format. I liked that Tina wasn't the kind of girl to jump into bed with a man without getting to know him first. As it was, she had known Craig for about eight or nine months during which time they had shared some sexy flirtations, so it only seemed logical for them to take the next step. I also liked that Craig had been pursuing Tina that whole time. I thought his persistence showed that he really did want a relationship with her. It was very sweet and romantic that he cooked dinner for her before they got snowed in together and things heated up between them. It was nice that Tina showed a touch of vulnerability. Even though she knew from the moment she went to Craig's Christmas tree farm what she wanted to happen, she was still just a little shy about it. Their hot tub love scene was very steamy while still being tender. This novella seems to be categorized as erotic romance, but other than the language being a little more explicit, I thought it was pretty much on par with most steamy mainstream romances. The only thing that bothered me a little was that there was no discussion of or exercise of safe sex which I definitely prefer in contemporary romances. Otherwise, The Promise was very enjoyable for such a short novella. I would have loved to read a longer story about Craig and Tina. This was the first time I'd read anything by Ambrielle Kirk, but I thought her writing was very solid. I'm now looking forward to checking out her other works....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews I loved the first two books in Donna VanLiere's Christmas Hope series, and now I can add The Christmas Hope to my list of all-Reviewed for THC Reviews I loved the first two books in Donna VanLiere's Christmas Hope series, and now I can add The Christmas Hope to my list of all-time favorite holiday-themed stories. In spite of my Christian background, I often find it difficult to read inspirational fiction, because it too frequently seems trite, vapid and/or preachy to me. Not so with Donna VanLiere's books. She somehow manages to impart an inspiring message full of depth and meaning that utterly warms my heart without making me feel like I'm being beaten over the head with it. In my opinion, she doesn't water down the faith aspect of her stories, but neither is it exactly overt which I think makes the books accessible to people of many different faiths and backgrounds. Ms. VanLiere just has a very gentle way about her writing that really speaks to me.
The Christmas Hope is told primarily in first-person from the main protagonist, Patricia's point of view. Patricia is a dedicated social worker who goes above and beyond the call of duty in loving and caring for the kids she helps. She had a rather rough life growing up. When her father left them, it was only through the kindness of strangers that her mother, brother and she survived. Now she seems to be paying it forward to other people through her work, but when the story opens, she has no Christmas spirit left and hasn't celebrated the holiday in four years. Patricia is a little on the OCD side, but I later came to understand that her obsession with tidiness was her way of trying to feel in control after the chaos that has been wreaked on her life by the death of her son. Her marriage is failing, with she and her husband acting like little more than polite strangers which I found quite sad especially after learning about their closeness and the very romantic start to their relationship. Everyone grieves in their own way, but I occasionally had a hard time relating to Patricia's way of dealing (or not, as the case may be). On the surface, she seems to have it all together, but inside she had buried herself so deeply in her grief that she wouldn't let anyone in to share it, not even her husband. Patricia frustrated me a little when she kept saying that she didn't know what to do to stop her marriage from crumbling and her husband from leaving, but her friend and co-worker, Roy, had it right when he said that she did know. It was at those moments that I kept wanting to jump into the story and tell her, "Just do it! Just hug him or do something, anything, to show him you still care." Luckily, a sweet little girl named Emily came along to gently wiggle her way into Patricia's closed-off heart when she least expected it, and a Christmas “miracle” finally brought closure to her deep-seated grief.
Patricia's husband, Mark, seemed like a really great guy who was very kind and loving. Since we don't get any scenes from his point of view, I can't be absolutely certain what he was thinking, but I always got the feeling that he didn't really want his marriage to be over. He was just at the end of his rope and didn't know what to do to reach his wife and couldn't stand living in the same house like strangers anymore. Emily inspires Mark every bit as much as she inspires Patricia, and he seemed a little quicker to respond. He saw what Emily needed and was ready to give her that long before Patricia was willing to admit it. He really got into the holiday spirit, buying the perfect gifts for Emily like a regular Santa's helper and excitedly putting up decorations. I just love how when the door opened a crack he eagerly walked through it, more than happy to soak up the love Emily gave and give it in return, as well as being there for Patricia when she was finally ready.
Emily was an absolutely adorable little girl who was a ray of sunshine in Patricia and Mark's lives. Even though she's been through a lot, she has a generosity of spirit and a peace about her that is like a gentle rain on this couple's parched souls. In fact, she touches the lives of so many people just by being herself. Emily's youthful wisdom reminds me of the Bible verse, “...and a little child shall lead them,” because she certainly did lead Patricia and Mark out of a very dark time in their lives and into a brighter future.
Since the main characters weren't familiar to me when I started The Christmas Hope, I wasn't sure if it had a direct connection to the first two books of the series or not. I was very pleasantly surprised when Nathan and Megan Andrews (The Christmas Blessing) showed up, eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child. Nathan also has another unexpected connection to Patricia which he slowly figures out when she brings another of her “kids” to him for treatment of a heart condition. Nathan is a wonderful doctor who is amazing with children. It's obvious that he's finally found his true calling in life. Another former protagonist, Robert Layton (The Christmas Shoes), also shows up in a brief cameo role.
It almost seems like Donna VanLiere has a preoccupation with death especially around Christmastime, but I have to admit that I really like the way she handles this ofttimes difficult topic. As someone who has had trouble with this issue, I can say that she really imparts an inspiring message about death being another step in life. It also wasn't quite as sad for me in The Christmas Hope, because no major characters were dying. In fact, I was surprised to find that this book actually had some lighthearted moments too, with characters gently teasing each other which made me smile. Overall, The Christmas Hope was a heartwarming story that was an inspiration to read, and I'm proud to put it on my keeper shelf to be enjoyed again and again during future holiday seasons. I love Donna VanLiere's way with creating stories in which the characters lives intricately intertwine in wonderful, miraculous and unexpected ways. I can't wait to see what's in store for the next book of the Christmas Hope series....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" From the moment I first read the synopsis and excerpt of The Christmas Throwaway, I was drawn into the story and wReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" From the moment I first read the synopsis and excerpt of The Christmas Throwaway, I was drawn into the story and wanted to know more. I was almost positive I would enjoy it, even though at the time I had never read a male/male romance, and I have to say it did not disappoint. The Christmas Throwaway is the heartwarming holiday tale of a young rookie cop and his mom who willingly take in a teenage throwaway who he found half-frozen, sleeping on a bench in the churchyard on Christmas Eve. Is this a story that would likely happen in real life? Probably not, or at least not often, but it certainly is the type of story that we should, in my opinion, hear about all the time. In this day and age, taking in a stranger can be an understandably frightening prospect (even Ben's brother initially thought that Zach might be a drug addict or in some way dangerous to his family), but The Christmas Throwaway gently challenges the reader to look beneath the surface and see the individual. It is also the truest expression of the Christmas spirit, yet at the same time heartbreaking, because I know that there are teens out there who are experiencing the same kind of rejection that Zach did. If there were more people like Ben and his mom in this world, it would certainly be a much better place.
Zach was a sweet young man who was extremely polite and kind. He was wary of Ben and his mom at first, but still treated them with the utmost respect and was very grateful for everything they did for him. He had been a straight-A student who had never been in trouble for anything. The only thing he did “wrong” in the eyes of his family was being gay, and as punishment for this “transgression” he was denied the school he enjoyed, was no longer allowed to associate with his friends, was regularly beaten by his father, and ultimately, thrown out of the house at gunpoint when he refused to enlist in the military. As a result, he ended up on the streets in the dead of winter, cold, hungry and nearly freezing. What Zach's family did to him was utterly sad and appalling, but it allowed Ben and his mom to show Zach the true meaning of Christmas not just at Christmastime but all year round. Zach's wonder over spending Christmas with these strangers who treated him like he was one of the family was deeply heartfelt, and yet I could still sense his fear. It was like all his dreams were coming true, but he dare not believe it.
Ben was an extremely well-brought-up young man whose mother has always loved and accepted him for who he is. He obviously adores his mom, and even though he has his own house, he can't resist coming home frequently to visit and get some of his mom's good cooking. He also loves his small hometown and serves them faithfully as an officer of the law, cheerfully doing all that was asked of him as the rookie, including working the holidays. I thought it was great that Ben had chosen to specialize his training by learning more about teens in trouble, especially throwaways. I loved the way that Ben felt so protective of Zach right from the moment he met him, and it was readily apparent that looking out for Zach meant more to him than just a job. All he wanted to do was keep him safe and ease his pain, both physical and emotional in whatever way he could. I also liked that even though Ben was strongly attracted to Zach, he acted in a very professional and adult way by not allowing things to go any further between them than a hug or a tender kiss until Zach was of age and had time to sort through some of his problems.
Overall, The Christmas Throwaway was a lovely story of redemption and new beginnings. My only complaint and the only reason I didn't give it the full five stars is that it wasn't quite long enough to suit me. The bulk of the narrative takes place over about a week's time, but toward the end, the author quickly advanced the plot by about six months and then again by about a year. I realize that Ms. Scott did this to allow time for Zach to age and work through some of the emotional turmoil from all he'd been through before he and Ben gave into their feelings for one another, and I truly respect her for that. However, I couldn't help wondering what Zach and Ben had been doing during those big time jumps. Obviously, they were falling love, but we don't really get to see much of that. I would have loved to have a few more romantic interactions building up to the consummation. I also would have liked to see more of Zach's metamorphosis. As is, he goes from being a frightened teenager just trying to survive to a more confident young man in charge of his life in a matter of a few short chapters. Otherwise, The Christmas Throwaway was a well-written story that I very much enjoyed. It really tugged at my heartstrings. This was my first book by R. J. Scott, but definitely won't be my last. I look forward to checking out some of her backlist titles soon.
Note: This book contains scenes of explicit sensuality between two men which may offend some readers....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews I began the Budapest Moon series with the third book, Danube in Candlelight, and have now backtracked to the first book, The HReviewed for THC Reviews I began the Budapest Moon series with the third book, Danube in Candlelight, and have now backtracked to the first book, The Hungarian. Doing so has given me a much clearer picture of the overall story arc, and I have to say that the mythology is quite a bit different than other paranormal romances I've read which also makes it rather interesting. While most paranormal romances celebrate their supernatural heroes and heroines and more often than not have them acting as warriors for their race, The Hungarian treats the hero's lycanthropy as more of a medical condition that must be weathered through and treated each month on the full moon. He also struggles against the effect that the phases of the moon has on his emotions. There are those among the werewolves who embrace a more violent lifestyle, but there is no common enemy to be vanquished. Instead, the hero was turned against his will and is now simply trying to live as normal a human life as he can with his condition, while not really using his enhanced werewolf abilities for any particular purpose. This all gives the book (and the series in general) more of the feel of a historical romance in which some of the characters happen to turn into wolves a couple of nights each month.
Katherine was a very nice heroine. I really enjoyed her being so passionate about books and having a dream of opening her own book store which is something I can really relate to. I very much admired her for not allowing Matthias' personal problems with his former mother-in-law, Lady Ashton, and the potential harm it could do to her reputation, to scare her away from seeing him. Katherine definitely showed she had some backbone when she stood up to Lady Ashton and her English nanny “spy” on a few occasions. Katherine was very sweet and loving with Matthias' daughter, Emily, treating her like she was her own child. Katherine had a sympathetic past, being partially raised by an aunt who didn't seem to want her around and was emotionally abusive toward her. She sees something similar happening with Emily and her grandmother, and is determined to do whatever she can to prevent Emily from suffering the same fate she did. The thing I liked most about Katherine was her willingness to accept Matthias for what he was, and her open-mindedness in believing him when he told her he was a werewolf. The only thing about Katherine that I disliked was that she was a little too stubborn, and toward the end of the story, I wished that she would be more sympathetic to Matthias' feelings about Anton. Instead, she secretly went about trying to prove that they weren't brothers, so that they could put their feud to rest. On the surface this was an admirable cause, but her secrecy seemed a bit hypocritical, since earlier in the story, she was disappointed in Matthias for keeping secrets. I also didn't see any particular reason for her doing so other than it being a plot device to stir up a little trouble for our newlyweds. Otherwise, I really liked Katherine and thought she was a good match for Matthias.
Matthias was an appealing hero. He's a very attentive father. Deep down, he's something of a romantic, and he treats Katherine with a great deal of tenderness and care. He also inspires supreme loyalty in his servants. Matthias is just an all-around good man. He has a huge amount of self-control, not only in his passion for Katherine, but also in his dealings with Lady Ashton. I liked how he patiently took the high road with her even when she constantly pushed his buttons, and by doing so avoided giving her any fodder to help her case against him. He was a near-perfect hero and I almost had him pegged as a beta until toward the end of the book, when he develops a major jealous streak. I understood that he was deeply hurt in the past by his first wife encouraging Anton's attentions toward her, but I thought he took his jealousy a bit too far. Even after sensing out Katherine's feelings for him with his wolf powers, he still questioned her fidelity toward him, at least in an emotional sense. I also thought that Matthias overcame his reluctance to have more children a little too easily, but other than those two things, I found him to be an intriguing hero.
As a couple, Matthias and Katherine possess a potent sexual tension right from the opening paragraphs. Even though they had a strong, immediate attraction for one another right from the start, the author took the time to slowly build their romance in a palpable way, with each encounter becoming progressively more passionate. The teasing banter they share was a lot of fun to read, and I thoroughly enjoyed all the sweet, romantic things Matthias and Katherine did together: The walks, the rides, the bonfire and dancing, and most especially looking at the stars. The only thing that slightly disappointed me was that Katherine learns a lot of details about Matthias and his background from his servants. I do understand that he had an unusual relationship with them, and that they were much more than mere servants to him. I also comprehended that they wanted nothing more than to see Matthias happy again, but when third-party information-relating occurs, I can't help but feel that it is a stolen opportunity to create more intimacy between the hero and heroine by allowing them to communicate directly with one another. I'll admit that it wasn't as troublesome to me as it has been in some other romances I've read, and at least Matthias' biggest secret, that of being a wolf, came directly from him, so alls well that ends well, I suppose. Ultimately, this was a story about loving and accepting someone for who they are, and that message was conveyed beautifully, in my opinion.
Late in the story, the reader is introduced to Anton and Amelia who become the hero and heroine of the next book, The Count's Lair. Anton appears to be a very complex character who I think has great potential yet to be explored. Even here, he is a man with a troubled family background which he thinks includes Matthias being his illegitimate half-brother. He was also turned into a wolf on the same night as Matthias. As a result of these things, Matthias has become a scapegoat for Anton's anger over the past, with him doggedly pursuing Matthias' wives for what appears to be no other reason than revenge. When Katherine shows him some small kindnesses, Anton realizes the error of his ways. I'll be interested to see him fully redeemed in his own book. Then there is Amelia who is a lovely woman with a true talent for music and a husband who doesn't appreciate her. When Katherine moves to Hungary with Matthias, Amelia becomes her best friend, and after a tragedy strikes, Amelia also begins a friendship with Anton. Amelia is a woman who seems to be in need of some happiness in her life, so I think I'll enjoy seeing these two get together in the second book of the series.
Overall, The Hungarian was a pretty good read. Stephanie Burkhart is good at telling an interesting story that holds my attention. Other than the small critiques I've mentioned already, the only thing that would, in my opinion, have made it better is if her writing itself was just a little stronger. Ms. Burkhart has a tendency toward repeating certain words and phrases, and in general, has a somewhat simplistic style. I found a number of places where sentences could have been worded a little differently to make them more engaging and compelling, as well as less repetitive. I think making more interesting word choices would have really made the narrative pop. Otherwise, I enjoyed the story and characters that Ms. Burkhart has created in The Hungarian, and I look forward to continuing the Budapest Moon series. I think Anton and Amelia certainly have the potential to become my favorite couple in the series so far.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Just when I thought that paranormal romance had little to offer outside of vampires and werewolves, along comes thReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Just when I thought that paranormal romance had little to offer outside of vampires and werewolves, along comes the Fallen Angels series. Don't get me wrong, I love vamps and weres, but sometimes it's nice to mix it up and the Fallen Angels definitely does that. Covet has a little bit of everything. The overarching plot is that of a man who has been chosen to save seven souls from the seven deadly sins, and if he fails, the world as we know it will come to an end. (No pressure.;-)) The paranormal creatures here are angels and demons, but there is also plenty of other supernatural activity in the form of black magic, possessions and psychic visions. There is also a fairly strong mystery/thriller element with brutal murders and a few scenes from the viewpoint of the killer which was reminiscent of a supernatural version of a Karen Rose novel. Then, of course, there is the romance which was sweet and heartfelt while also being very hot. To top it all off this series takes place in the same world as J. R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood, so there is some overlap in characters. There are parts of it that reminded me of the BDB, and I really enjoyed watching for all the little BDB references and tidbits that were peppered throughout the story. Caldwell is certainly a hotbed of paranormal activity. Apparently, it is to New York what Sunnydale is to California.:-)
Our heroine, Marie-Terese was first introduced as a secondary character in the 7th book of the BDB series, Lover Avenged where she worked at Rehvenge's club, ZeroSum, as a prostitute. When Covet opens, she is still a working girl, but now employed by one of Rehv's former bodyguards at a new club and starting to become soul-weary of her job. During Lover Avenged, I had gotten the feeling that there was more story to come for Marie-Terese, so I was happy to find out that she was a main protagonist in this book. I've read very few prostitute heroines, but Marie-Terese was very sympathetic. On the run from an abusive, obsessed ex-husband, and deeply in debt with a little boy to raise, she felt she had few other options. Marie-Terese is a loving, caring mother who never gave up trying to find her son when his father kidnapped him. Now she is living in hiding and everything she does is to keep him safe. Underneath the outer veneer of her hooker costume, Marie-Terese is a gentle, caring soul and a truly good person which is why I think Vin was drawn to her. She definitely isn't your run of the mill prostitute. She regularly attends church, confession and a prayer group not only because she is a woman of faith, but also as a way to keep herself grounded in some kind of normalcy in her otherwise chaotic life. Marie-Terese never really believed in the paranormal until she met Vin, and then it all became much more than mere fantasy for her. I really liked that she was so accepting of Vin just as he was, all his weirdness included, and in some ways her goodness also helped to save him.
Vin begins the story as a cold, calculating businessman who isn't particularly emotional or romantic, but the Warden is a master at redeeming guys who seem irredeemable. Once she warmed him up and used Marie-Terese to melt his icy heart, Vin became almost irresistible. He definitely has a tortured past, not unlike that of the Brotherhood. Both his parents were alcoholics who regularly beat up on each other and him, until they finally killed one another when he was only seventeen. Vin grew up poor in a bad area of town, so it's not too surprising that as a self-made man, he now enjoys living “the good life” in a luxury apartment at the Commodore which I think is even more lavish than Vishous and Manny's (BDB) condos there. All his life, Vin has dealt with psychic visions which branded him an outcast among his peers. He thought that he had purged them from his system until he meets Marie-Terese and then they come back full-force. I thought that Vin's gift added a fascinating new dimension to the story. Best of all, I loved how he is so gentle and protective of Marie-Terese, always putting her safety above his own. He sees her as a beautiful woman who is worthy of his love and not just a body to be used for his pleasure. Vin was equally accepting of her as she was of him, always treating her with the utmost respect in spite of her profession.
Together, Vin and Marie-Terese made a great couple. I loved how when they first saw each other they locked eyes across the club. The electricity between them virtually sparks off the pages. Normally, I don't go for the instant attraction or love at first sight, but J.R. Ward had a way of getting me to believe that these two really saw something special in each other. I loved how the first thing Vin did with Marie-Terese after she left her job was reveal the deepest, darkest part of himself by taking her to his childhood home. It was as intimate a scene as I've read in recent memory and perfect for the situation, because she needed to know that she could trust this man and that he wasn't like the other men she's known all her life. Marie-Terese was perhaps a little slower opening up to Vin, but given her background and the fact that she was on the run from her crazed ex, that's pretty understandable. Most of J. R. Ward's couples have great chemistry, and Vin and Marie-Terese are no exception. Although not quite as erotic as the BDB usually is, their love scenes are still classic J. R. Ward hotness.
Vin may have been the romantic lead, but this story has another hero in the form of Jim Heron. Jim is a military guy with a shady past, apparently as a government assassin, and the powers that be still seem to have a hold over him. He's currently hiding out and working construction for Vin. Much like Vin, he has also had a difficult life. His mother was murdered when he was just a kid and he was the one to find her as she lay dying. In spite of his outward tough guy persona though, inside he has a heart of gold. When a scruffy stray dog decides Jim is his new master, Jim protests, but only weakly. Ultimately, he ends up becoming quite attached to the little guy in very short order. He also seems to care about people in general, and is especially respectful of women, probably because he has very fond memories of his mom. Jim unexpectedly receives a divine mission to save Vin's soul, and the way it all comes down was not what I was expecting. When it came to Jim, there were lots of surprises, and since he'll be the common character throughout the entire series, I'll be interested to see more of his backstory unfold and learn more about his mission.
There are some other secondary characters who I suspect will be following Jim throughout the series. First, was Vin's almost fiancée, Davina. I immediately started wondering what was up with her when she acted sweet and vulnerable for Jim, and then became a confident sex-goddess with Vin. All I can say without giving too much away is that I knew right from the start that she wasn't on the up and up. Then there are Jim's two “friends,” Adrian and Eddie. Like Davina, they definitely knew too much and were acting a little strange, but it took a while before who's team (good or evil) they were playing on was revealed. There are also the Four Lads, as Jim calls them, a group of four well-dressed angels with British accents who give Jim his assignments. Then there was Dog. Every scene he was in I just wanted to say, “Awwww!” He was simply too cute for words, and made me want to jump into the story so I could scoop him up and give him some love. Although I'm sure he will only appear in Covet, I think Marie-Terese's son, Robbie, is the first child character I've seen in a J. R. Ward novel (at least those I've read so far). He's a cute kid with a few issues from his father kidnapping him and he and his mother having to live on the run, but Ms. Ward did a good job with making him act his age.
Covet was in some ways reminiscent of the Black Dagger Brotherhood with its tortured hero and heroine and unusual character types, and since the Fallen Angels are a spin-off of that series, there are some common characters as well. Trez, one of Rehvenge's former right-hand men, is the owner of the club where Marie-Terese works. Trez is a pretty good guy in spite of his shady business dealings. He's a lot like Rehv in that he's protective of Marie-Terese and takes good care of all his girls. Butch's former partner, Jose de la Cruz shows up to handle the murder investigation, and BDB fans should keep their eyes peeled for the cameos by Phury and Butch. Blink and you just might miss them.;-)
Overall, I thought Covet was an excellent start to the Fallen Angels series with a different sort of premise that will definitely keep me coming back for more. I'll be interested to see who Jim will be helping next. It all kind of reminds me of a dark, gritty, no-holds-barred version of Touched by an Angel. The story entertained me and kept my brain engaged, but at the same time could be pretty dark and creepy almost making me want to cringe at times. I really enjoyed the book and was usually eager to get back to it when I had to put it down, but for some reason, I didn't quite come away from it with that “Wow!” feeling which is why I didn't give it the full five stars. I'm not entirely sure why that was, but maybe it was because the romance isn't quite as front and center as I would prefer it to be and everything happened rather quickly. But in any case, it was still a great story. Anyone looking for a paranormal romance that breaks the mold, should look no further. In my opinion, J. R. Ward has yet another winner on her hands with the Fallen Angels. ...more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" I typically never read series books out of order, but in the interest of providing a timely review for the author'Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" I typically never read series books out of order, but in the interest of providing a timely review for the author's latest release, I made an exception and skipped straight to Danube in Candlelight without any prior knowledge of the Budapest Moon series. Ms. Burkhart had assured me that the books could be read as stand-alones, and true to her word, I never felt lost at any point in the story. However, I do believe that reading in order would enhance the overall experience, as Morgan and Adam's parents who play prominent secondary roles in Danube in Candlelight were the heroes and heroines of the first two books. Although not necessary to understanding the present story, it might have been nice to know a little more about their backgrounds and the fathers' apparent past feud over a woman. They are friends now, but that doesn't appear to have always been the case. In fact, I felt this book was almost as much a family drama as it was a romance, because the parents' stories continued to progress while the next generation steps in to move the overall story arc forward. I did wonder if Adam and Morgan were possibly introduced in the previous books as they already have an established relationship when the book begins, but since it takes place about twenty years into the future, I would guess it's rather unlikely.
I certainly appreciated the uniqueness of the setting. Historical romances that take place in eastern Europe and/or during the early twentieth century are few and far between. Danube in Candlelight is set in post-WWI Hungary primarily in the city of Budapest as the country recovers and rebuilds following the war. As an architect, Adam gets to play a strong role in those efforts. Budapest is a city rich in culture, and I could tell right away that Ms. Burkhart must have been drawing on her first-hand knowledge of the area. She includes many references to people, places and other cultural icons particular to the place and time. At least a couple of real life personages pop up as secondary characters as well: Miklos Horthy who was the prince regent, and silent film actress, Vilma Banky, who is famous for starring opposite Rudolph Valentino in a couple of movies. Although, I might have liked to see a bit more descriptive prose detailing the setting, all the little realistic tidbits helped to give the story a more authentic feel.
Adam and Morgan have been friends since childhood, but begin the story reuniting after a four-year separation due to the war. Normally I love the friends to lovers trope, but they and their relationship didn't quite come to life for me in the way I would have liked. To me, it felt like they went from being friends separated by time and distance to being attracted to one another romantically a little too quickly. This is where I began to wonder if there might have been some previous set-up for their story. I just didn't feel like I had enough basis for their attraction, and thought that a little more background on their past interactions, or a stronger reestablishment of their relationship, would have been helpful. Then they spent a large part of the story separated by personal conflicts that seemed a little weak to me. It's not that the reasons didn't make sense on some level (when Morgan first learns that she is part wolf, she has trouble coming to terms with that, and then later, Adam kept a crucial piece of information from her that led to a major change for her), but there just wasn't as much depth to the conflict as I would have liked. The fact that they were apart so much, in my opinion, kept their romance from really blossoming. I did, however, enjoy their love scenes. They aren't particularly long or descriptive, but I thought they were sweet and heartfelt with just a little spice. Adam and Morgan were nice characters whose love for their country and families showed through. I did find them to be quite likable, but overall, they were a little too bland to be stand outs. The story seemed a bit dialog heavy, so perhaps a little more narrative prose and introspection would have helped me feel more connected to the characters.
There were a number of supporting players as well. As I already mentioned, Morgan's parents, Matthias and Katherine (The Hungarian), and Adam's parents, Anton and Amelia (The Count's Lair) have significant roles as do their siblings. Morgan's sister, Emily, who I suspect was seen as a young girl in The Hungarian, and Adam's best friend, Max, have their own romance brewing in the background, but we don't really get to see the building of their relationship as it mostly takes place off canvas. There aren't truly any bad guys in the story. The supposed “villain,” Zoltan Kristos, deep down, is just a misunderstood werewolf who hasn't had the support system to help him deal with his condition like Matthias and Anton had when they were turned. He develops an attraction for Adam's younger sister, Sophia, an aspiring actress, and I suspect these two may become the hero and heroine of the next book, The Secret Door, due for release in late 2012. At the very least, they've been neatly set up for their own story.
Overall, Danube in Candlelight was a pleasant, easy read. Ms. Burkhart has created an interesting world with a mythology that is a little different than any other werewolf stories I've read to date, and the historical settings make them more intriguing to me than many contemporary paranormal stories. This book didn't take me through the relationship highs and lows like I usually prefer in my romance novels, but nonetheless, it was a reasonably satisfying read with relatable characters that has left me agreeable to backtracking to learn more about Matthias, Katherine, Anton, and Amelia, and in all probability moving forward when the new book comes out next year.
Note: I received an ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" I had a rather difficult time deciding how to rate Hiding Space for a couple of different reasons. First of all itReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" I had a rather difficult time deciding how to rate Hiding Space for a couple of different reasons. First of all it appears to be categorized as sci-fi romance, but I wouldn't really classify it as such. In my mind, it is first and foremost a science fiction story with only the barest hint of romance. The two main characters do form a mild attraction for one another, and at the end, it is implied that they are going to be sharing a home, but they never even so much as kiss during the course of the novel. Going into reading this story thinking it was a romance, but getting so little romantic interactions was somewhat disappointing. I admit I don't have a great deal of experience with sci-fi romance and those I have read tend to focus more on the action/adventure aspects, but in this case the romance was almost negligible in my opinion. However, the upside to the lack of sensuality is that I can recommend the book for most readers including mature teens, as there is little objectionable content except for a couple of strong profanities and a couple of instances of moderately gory violence. The downside of course is that I wasn't fully satisfied with the story.
The other thing that made Hiding Space difficult to rate is that I spent a large parts of the book feeling lost and confused. At the beginning of the novel, I kind of felt like I'd been dumped into the middle of the story and had very little concept of what was going on. I think perhaps a little more background set-up to explain why the aliens were abducting Ally and her children would have been quite helpful. All I knew was that they were somehow the key to the survival of the alien race. There are also bits involving an anonymous assassin that come and go rather quickly and at the time, I didn't really understand at all what his/her objective was. I realize this was all part of the author's attempt to create an air of mystery and intrigue and on some level it did work. She slowly revealed more and more tidbits of information which gradually increased my understanding of the backstory. I think I finally understood most of the overarching plot by the end, but there were still many of the finer points of the socio-political climate between the planets and races that continued to elude me. I normally pride myself on having excellent reading comprehension, but there was just something about the way this book was written that simply didn't mesh well with the way my brain functions. Maybe it was because most of the information was imparted through narrative dialog which isn't my favorite way of learning about things. Some of it must have absorbed into my sub-conscious mind though, because I did correctly discern, in part, who the saboteur was before it was revealed.
Even though I had some trouble keeping up with the complex background plot, I did very much enjoy the action/adventure sequences. There were plenty of exciting things happening that held my attention. It was almost like reading an episode of Star Trek. Also, some of the concepts that fueled the story were interesting such as the warriors ability to separate body and soul, leading to battles in a type of spirit realm. I also liked that Brongill's spaceship, Tyche, is a character in and of itself, a sentient life-form with which he can communicate telepathically. The nanites that are able to fix and create things were rather fascinating as well.
Hiding Space is definitely more of a plot-driven story than a character-driven one. I didn't feel like there were a great deal of insights into the characters' internal workings, but what I got to know of them I liked. Ally is a widow who was toughened up by having to deal with her mob-connected in-laws who murdered her husband and had been chasing her family for years. For her, being abducted by aliens was practically a walk in the park. Her three children were great too and added a fun, youthful flavor to the story. Their exact ages aren't given but based on their behavior I'd guess they ranged from about six to sixteen, and they all acted age-appropriately. Brongill is a bit more mysterious. As commander of the ship, he has a mission to complete, but at the same time, he has a personal vendetta to settle. That includes killing Ally, but the more he gets to know her, the harder it is for him to go through with his plan. It seemed like Brongill (and perhaps the aliens in general) have suppressed emotions. As Ty teaches him about human love and courting rituals from her database, he seems rather fascinated by the concept but it's still a foreign one to him. I thought that it would have been fun to explore that side of him more fully, and it probably could have led to a much more robust romantic relationship as well. Ms. Andrews has an upcoming sequel to Hiding Space titled Animosity which follows Ally and Brongill as they continue to try to bridge the gap between alien races, only now as a married couple. Even though I had some issues with the details of Hiding Space, I did enjoy the characters and the story enough to give the sequel a try when it comes out. I think it might be fun to see what kind of new adventures they have together. I'll just have to be sure I go into it not expecting much romance.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. ...more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Henry's Freedom Box is a wonderful storybook for teaching younger children about slavery and the Underground Railroad. It is tReviewed for THC Reviews Henry's Freedom Box is a wonderful storybook for teaching younger children about slavery and the Underground Railroad. It is the true story of Henry “Box” Brown who mailed himself to freedom. Henry's bravery and ingenuity were inspiring to read about. It is very sad that Henry lost his entire family when they were sold and apparently was never reunited with them, but it seems that his pain may have been a driving force in his quest for freedom. He also became an internationally renowned spokesperson for the Underground Railroad and abolition, and even wrote an autobiographical account of his life as a slave and his escape which I hope to read at some point.
Half the beauty of a picture book are the illustrations and the ones here are quite lovely. I was very impressed with how realistic and emotive they are. The pictures almost tell the story all by themselves. Kadir Nelson is a very talented artist. His illustrations combined with Ellen Levine's words to create an amazing book that became a Caldecott Honor book as well as winning numerous other awards and accolades. In my opinion, they are all well-deserved. I recommend Henry's Freedom Box to both children and parents, and I'll definitely be acquiring a copy for my own keeper shelf....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews As with most steamy e-book quickies, Seducing Jason was primarily composed of one long, extended love scene, but what a luscioReviewed for THC Reviews As with most steamy e-book quickies, Seducing Jason was primarily composed of one long, extended love scene, but what a luscious love scene it was.;-) As short as this story was, I found myself really liking the characters. Maggie exhibited a touch of vulnerability in the fact that she had gone to Jason's apartment many times before, but had never quite gotten up the nerve to go in and seduce him like she'd fantasized about doing. Even this time, she was having second thoughts until Jason caught her parked outside, but once he got her inside, she pulled out all the stops and finally allowed herself to be naughty even if it meant only having him for one night. Jason was a passionate but tender lover who held himself back in order to pleasure Maggie. It was sweet that he felt the same way about her too. This couple knowing each other for years and being friends also made the quick consummation much more believable and satisfying for me. Seducing Jason was my first read by Brandi Evans. I really enjoyed this taste of her writing style, so I'll definitely be on the lookout for more from this author. Seducing Jason is available as a free download from All Romance eBooks....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews There isn't a whole lot to this little e-book quickie. In a nutshell, it is the story of a battered woman's brief respite fromReviewed for THC Reviews There isn't a whole lot to this little e-book quickie. In a nutshell, it is the story of a battered woman's brief respite from her abuser, who is presumably her husband or at least a man with whom she is in a serious, long-term relationship. The bulk of the pages are taken up by a steamy love scene between the woman, Jenna, and a mysterious stranger she meets in the woods by her home, but I wouldn't characterize it as erotic. Normally, I would be off-put by the fact that Jenna is cheating even though on some level one might say that it is justified considering how she'd been treated, but I can't say that I had particularly strong feelings about it one way or the other. There just wasn't enough depth to the characterizations and story to make me become emotionally invested in the outcome. While some may disagree with me, I also felt like there was a small degree of ambiguity as to whether Jenna was actually experiencing the incident first-hand or perhaps as the title suggests was simply fantasizing. I might argue as well, that this technically wasn't romance due to the lack of an HEA ending. It was very much left open to the reader's imagination. Overall, the writing itself was pretty solid. It was also free and a very quick read that only took a few minutes of my time, so even though Woodland Fantasy was just OK for me, I didn't exactly feel like it was a waste of time. This novella is available as a free download from All Romance eBooks....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Victorian Scoundrel was my first steampunk romance, and I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised by howReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Victorian Scoundrel was my first steampunk romance, and I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The steam-powered machines were seamlessly woven into the storyline, so that I hardly noticed the oddity of their presence in the historical setting. Time travel also played a big role in the plot with the author exploring the ramifications of time travelers doing things that might alter the time line which is something I always enjoy thinking about. There was a decent dose of history too, with real-life personages, Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, their three oldest children, and Prime Minister John Russell playing secondary roles. Prince Albert and his work organizing the Great Exhibition of 1851 was a pivotal part of the plot. Readers even get a two-for-one on the romance element. I can say without reservation that the romance was truly romantic to me, and it's been a while since I've read a book where that was true. The sexual tension was wonderful, and while there were only two moderately descriptive love scenes between one of the two couples, they were very sensual. Everything just melded together into a fun, engaging story that was really a pleasure to read.
Instead of having only two main protagonists, Victorian Scoundrel has four and all of them are very likable. We have present day fictional royals Edmund and Alice. They and their families are in part patterned after the current, real-life British royals and share the same surname. Both Edmund and Alice have difficulty dating in the present day, because they can't seem to find anyone who isn't gold-digging or simply looking for the prestige that would come from being seen with a royal. They both desire to find relationships with partners who like them for themselves, so for them, traveling back in history where they can pretend to be commoners is a treat. Edmund (ala Prince Harry) is an adorable red-head who is thoroughly charming but has a penchant for getting into mischief. His cousin Alice is the level-headed one who follows Edmund back in time to make sure he stays out of trouble, but then can't resist the pull of her heart toward handsome Lord Swinton aka Grayson who I loved too. He is a real gentleman who truly cares about people. He is working with Prime Minister Russell to pass an alternative fuel bill that would cut down on the coal dust and soot that blankets London. What I appreciated most about Grayson was that he was a highly intelligent man to figure out what was going on with Alice and Edmund all on his own by simply putting the clues together. While I would have to say that Alice and Grayson's relationship was the primary focus of this story, Edmund certainly wasn't left out in the cold in the romance department. He got his own love interest in the form of the Prime Minister's daughter, Kiera, a sweet young woman who is a bit selective about her suitors but finds a kindred spirit in Edmund.
Victorian Scoundrel was a nice easy read, but sometimes that's just what the doctor ordered. The pacing was pretty snappy with the plot moving right along, while the dialog was sharp and sometimes witty. I really enjoyed the environmentally conscious, “go green” theme. There was just enough adventure and intrigue to keep me engaged. The conflict was pretty minimal as there are no actual villains in the story. Those who act a bit underhandedly only do so for the greater good. Occasionally the author used an odd word choice which didn't seem to fit as well in context as another word might have, and I found it a bit curious that she chose to use the modern word for certain things rather then its historical counterpart (eg. purse instead of reticule, glasses instead of spectacles), but since this is a fantasy story I decided to let it slide. The only real complaint I have is that the author does have a tendency to overuse certain character gestures such crossing arms, pursing lips and raking fingers through hair. Normally I like details like this but the frequent repetitions could be a bit grating. Otherwise, Victorian Scoundrel was a really enjoyable story. Ms. Burkhart even managed to throw in a big twist and a cliffhanger ending that has me already eagerly looking forward to the next book in the Windsor Diaries. I wanted to growl in frustration when I found out that it's not due to be released for another year. Perhaps in the meantime, I'll have to check out some of the author's other works.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Soldier was my first foray into the male/male sub-genre of romance, and I have to say it was a pretty good book wiReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Soldier was my first foray into the male/male sub-genre of romance, and I have to say it was a pretty good book with which to begin. This was a very sweet story about two men who are terribly wounded in both body and mind but find love and acceptance in each others arms. They in turn are able to pass that love and acceptance along to the seven abused little boys who are in their care and even a poor scruffy dog and a little puppy too. The interactions between the pair and their seven charges were utterly heartwarming, especially as a couple of the more severely abused boys slowly come out of their shells and begin to blossom under their care. It's readily apparent how much they all love each other, and they truly are one big, happy family. They couldn't be a closer, more caring bunch if they were related by blood.
Dillon is a sweet, wonderful guy who really stepped up to the plate to help these poor kids who no one wanted and who have completely gotten lost in the traditional social services system. Life is tough for them. The borrowed house they live in is falling down around their ears, and Dillon has to scrape on a daily basis just to provide food and the necessities of life for everyone in his care. As hard as he has to work though, I know Dillon wouldn't change a thing. He loves the boys just as much as if they were his own flesh and blood. After he was attacked as a teenager by his homophobic peers and left with facial scars, Dillon was resigned to probably spending the rest of his life alone until luck shone on him, bringing the man of his dreams right to his doorstep to help share his burden.
Soldier, as his nickname suggests, was in the military and fought in the war (presumably Iraq). His heroic actions saved several of his comrades lives, but he was severely wounded when a bomb exploded near him. He is now recovered from his injuries, but was left with extensive scarring on his face and body. Soldier has become something of a reclusive loner, a wanderer without much direction or purpose in life, until he finds a gorgeous guy with a bunch of kids living in one of his houses. Suddenly, Soldier knows what he wants to do with the rest of his life and the wealth that his dad left him. It's like he was just looking for a worthy cause, and Dillon and his boys were certainly that. I really admire Soldier for wanting to put his money to good use. I've often thought that if I had extra money that's exactly what I would be doing, searching for a philanthropic cause. Soldier had a lot more to offer than money though. As a military man and a big, strong guy at that, he was used to protecting and hadn't been able to do that since being injured. Now with Dillon and the kids, he has several someones to look out for. On the outside Soldier may have been a big, scary-looking dude, but underneath it all, he was just Gom's (and Dillon's ;-)) big, snuggly teddy bear.
Soldier and Dillon's first meeting, coupled with Gom coming out to ask a bazillion question and then fall asleep in Soldier's lap had just the right mix of awkwardness, emotion, sexual tension and sweetness. After that, things did kind of go from 0 to 60 really quickly in more ways than one. Normally, I wouldn't go for the love at first sight angle, nor the idea of an abused kid trusting a stranger so easily, but I think that they all just sensed something special in each other, a kindred spirit who could understand and relate to all their past hurts and share their fears of what the future might hold. In spite of knowing that, I did wish that there had been a little more development in Soldier and Dillon's relationship and a bit more exploration of their backgrounds. The reader is given just enough information on both men to get a feel for where they've been and what their lives were like before meeting, but not much else. I was a little surprised that Dillon didn't share his traumatic past with Soldier at any point in the story. However, I can respect that the author seemed to want to keep the focus on the present and how these two men interact with the boys and are trying to build a family unit together.
All the boys are a great bunch of kids, but two, Gom and Tommy, are stand-out characters who get quite a bit more face-time than the others. Little Gom (short for Montgomery) is just too cute for words and a real scene-stealer. He's been through a lot having been physically and emotionally abused by his drug-addict mother, but is still such a sweet, sensitive and thoughtful little boy. He doesn't sleep much until Soldier comes along and makes him feel safe and protected. Tommy is a little older and wise beyond his years. He too has been the victim of horrible sexual abuse and child prostitution. He's a quiet, gentle kid, but with Soldier there to back him up, he's able to face down his abusers. Even though these boys are just fictional characters they really got to me (probably because I know there are kids in the world just like them), so it really warmed my heart to know that they were being loved and cared for by two great dads like Soldier and Dillon.
Even though I loved the story, I did think that the writing itself could have been stronger. As is, it was a little too passive (too many “be” verbs), rather simplistic, and in need of more details. However, in spite of the mechanics of the writing being somewhat weak, I can't deny that Ms. Miles managed to create a story filled with heart and soul that really tugged at my heartstrings which is why I decided to give it keeper status. I haven't read a romance that embodied this much tenderness and emotion in a while. Soldier is the first book in the Scarcity Sanctuary series. Tommy and Gom grow up to get their own books next in the series, Tommy's Story and For Gom's Sake, and after falling in love with these little guys in this book, I can't wait to see what kind of young men they grow up to become. Soldier was definitely a pleasant introduction to male/male romance, and I'm really looking forward to not only continuing with this series, but seeing what else this genre has to offer.
Note: This book contains scenes of explicit sensuality between two men which may offend some readers....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews The first two books of the Virgin River series had left me feeling slightly underwhelmed. They were good, but not quite as gooReviewed for THC Reviews The first two books of the Virgin River series had left me feeling slightly underwhelmed. They were good, but not quite as good as I was expecting based on the rave reviews they tend to receive. Perhaps because of this I went into reading Whispering Rock with lower expectations, but it ended up being a wonderful read for me. Maybe it truly was a better book, or maybe I'm finally getting used to Robyn Carr's writing style, but this time I really connected with the hero and heroine as well as all the secondary characters and their sub-plots. Even though pages and pages could go by without seeing the main hero and heroine, I wasn't as bothered by it as I was the last time. I did roll my eyes once when the umpteeth woman turned up pregnant (there really must be something in the water in Virgin River ;-)). I think I'm beginning to understand why some other readers tire of all the births and women's health issues that come up in these book, but ultimately, it didn't bother me as much as I initially thought it might either. In fact, I usually found myself eager to get back to the book when I had to put it down.
Much like with Preacher and Paige in the last book, I could have done with a little more page time for Brie and Mike, but Ms. Carr seemed to make very good use of the scenes they had together. It certainly wouldn't have been realistic to have a woman who'd just been raped falling into bed right away, so I really liked the slow-building romantic relationship between this couple. I loved their quiet lunch dates and Mike frequently calling Brie just to talk. Having been the victim of a violent crime himself and a former cop who'd seen a lot, Mike was able to understand and relate to Brie in a way that her family couldn't. The author used these moments to create a truly lovely friendship between them before taking it any further, and to me that was thoroughly romantic in and of itself. Mike was a great guy, gently pushing Brie to get out a little more so that she doesn't get too depressed or lonely, and he tries to be there for her as much as he can in those moments to make her feel safe and secure. Yet he never rushes her in any other way. He just waits patiently for Brie to be ready, making it clear how much he cares for her through his actions. Brie is a very strong, courageous woman to face her attacker when he is finally caught. She is also an incredibly smart woman whose sharp attorney skills brought her through the trial with her head held high. I loved that she never had second thoughts when her ex-husband started coming around again, nor a moment of doubt about her love for Mike in spite of his previous track record with women. Mike, for his part, always treated Brie with tenderness and respect, like the precious jewel she was. I absolutely loved when he whispered sweet nothings to her in Spanish, and she pretended she didn't know what he was saying even though she was fluent in the language. Although there was only one detailed love scene between them, it totally turned me to mush and left a big smile on my face. These two were just a really well-matched couple that I enjoyed reading about.
As with all the Virgin River books, there are oodles of other characters, many of whom get their own POV scenes, making it more of an ensemble cast. Of course, our core couple Jack and Mel are back. As always Jack is kind of the heart and soul of Virgin River, or at least his bar and grill is. He's keeping busy building their new house, and Mel has plenty of nursing and midwifery to handle as they enjoy their growing family. Mel did annoy me once though, because in spite of being a nurse midwife, she can be pretty dense about her own reproductive health. My favorite couple, Preacher and Paige, were back, also taking care of the bar while trying to have a baby. Preacher was just too cute with his sex drive in overdrive. I think he's trying to make up for lost time.;-) As with their own book though, I couldn't help feeling that Preacher and Paige got a little shortchanged. They only had a handful of their own POV scenes, and they were rather brief at that, which saddened me. I dearly would have loved to be a fly on the wall on ovulation day;-), but I savored every tidbit I got with them. I didn't think to see Ricky again for a while, since he joined the Marines at the end of Shelter Mountain, but was pleasantly surprised to have him in a few scenes as Jack and Mel go to his boot camp graduation and he returns to Virgin River for a brief visit.
There are some new characters introduced as well. A retired army general comes to town with his teenage son, Tommy, in tow. Tommy kind of takes over as the resident teenage boy now that Ricky is grown and off in the Marines. He's a really nice kid with a good head on his shoulders. In fact, he may even be a little more level-headed than Ricky as he doesn't let his hormones get the best of him. In spite of his new friends playing it fast and loose, Tommy is still a virgin and just waiting for the right girl to come along. He thinks he's found her in good girl and straight-A student, Brenda. These two get tangled up in the fallout of drug abuse and date rape that is plaguing the teens of the area. Tommy's older sister, Vanessa, the wife of a Marine who was once under Jack's command comes to stay with her father and brother while her husband is deployed. Jack and Preacher's Marine buddy, Paul, who was seen briefly in Virgin River comes to town to help Jack with the home building. He is also best friends with Vanessa and her husband and was best man at their wedding, but is carrying a big torch for Vanessa and feeling rather guilty about it. When Vanni's husband is killed in Iraq, Paul is there to support her through her grief and the birth of their child. This pair become the main hero and heroine of book #5, Second Chance Pass. There is a little more sadness as well when a secondary character who has been there since the beginning passes away.
I have to say that the more time I spend in Virgin River, the more the characters become like family to me. Any misgivings I might have had about the series, virtually melted away as I read Whispering Rock. I loved Brie and Mike, and I really enjoyed all the other storylines as well, some more than others, but that's a given. All in all, it was a near perfect read for me, that left me feeling a little sad and bereft as I turned the last page. I'm now definitely looking forward to reading A Virgin River Christmas around the holidays, and continuing on with Paul and Vanessa's story in the new year....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews I have to give author, Shirley Kiger Connolly credit for attempting to tackle the topical issue of single motherhood out of weReviewed for THC Reviews I have to give author, Shirley Kiger Connolly credit for attempting to tackle the topical issue of single motherhood out of wedlock in her new inspirational romance, Say Goodbye to Yesterday. This is a problem that would have been dicey at best in a contemporary, but especially eyebrow raising for a historical. However, because of that historical context, I felt that she left two big questions unanswered. The first would be how Annabelle managed to get pregnant not once, but twice, without being married. In spite of being an orphan, she was a proper lady from a well-off family, and as such, would probably have been chaperoned everywhere she went, making it very difficult to be alone with a man. Not to mention, ladies in that era simply tended to be more cautious about such things as their reputation being ruined. The author never elaborated on how Annabelle even met her girls' father, much less her state of mind the two times she got pregnant. When we meet her in the story, she doesn't even really like the guy, much less love him, and what little we see of him, he's not a nice person. Now, in spite of the lack of details, I'm willing accept that occasionally, even a gently bred lady could make a mistake and find herself pregnant out of wedlock, but then that brings me to my next big question: In those days, when this happened, the woman's family would typically insist upon a shotgun wedding to save the lady's reputation, but in this case, Annabelle's family did the exact opposite, which was to forbid her from ever seeing him again. If more explanation of these things had been given, I probably could have bought into the premise, but as is, I felt like there were a couple of really big holes.
Unfortunately, these weren't the only details that were missing. Throughout most of the story, I couldn't seem to shake the strong sense of wanting to know more, and sometimes felt outright lost. It was like the author kept jumping ahead of herself and then not coming back to fill in the blanks. I just didn't feel like I had the complete picture of what was going on which could be very frustrating at times. I got the sense that she could see what was happening in her mind's eye, but just didn't express it in the written word as clearly as she could have. The editing could have been much better too. As I already mentioned, there were some passages that needed to be bulked up with more details, while there were others that needed to be pared down to make them cleaner, more concise and less repetitive (the characters were doing so much "swinging,” “spinning,” “curving,” and “twisting” I was starting to get dizzy;-)). The characters also had an annoying habit of not finishing their sentences. Additionally, I found several anachronistic words and phrases, such as “invading your space” and a character using the term “viral illness” when at that time, the idea of germs causing illnesses was nothing more than a theory and viruses weren't even discovered until twenty years later.
Even though I was left with a lot of questions about them and thought their characterizations could have been much deeper, I did like Carlton and Annabelle pretty well. Carlton was a career soldier who had earned a great deal of respect and worked his way up through the ranks to teach at West Point. He was very kind and chivalrous, always ready to lend a hand when Annabelle was in trouble. Carlton obviously adored children. He is completely taken with little Geraldine and interacts with her wonderfully right from the start, and he loved his own unborn child enough to go after him when it was clear that the mother didn't want him. Carlton was just an all-around nice guy who certainly didn't deserve what his wife did to him. I have to admire Annabelle on some level for weathering through single motherhood, and the stigma attached to it, fairly well. I could relate to her crisis of faith, but in my opinion, it was overcome too easily. As with other things in the story, I would have loved to know more about this aspect of her life. In my opinion, it would have made her a more real and vibrant character. The only thing about Annabelle that kind of irritated me was that she, in my mind, kept getting unjustifiably annoyed, if not outright angry with Carlton for helping her which I simply didn't get. I thought that Carlton and Annabelle's romance could have used a little more pizazz too. They're apart for large swaths of time, and during the first ¾ or so of the book, when they are together, what passes for romance is merely a strong physical attraction and a few lustful looks here and there. Later in the story, they shared a couple of tender moments which I enjoyed, but then a silly misunderstanding about Carlton's marital status kept them apart longer than necessary to my way of thinking.
That brings me to what, in my opinion, was the very best part of the book, Annabelle's little daughter, Geraldine. I've noticed that it can be difficult for authors to get child characters just right, and I can say without reservation that Ms. Connolly has the knack with getting them to “behave.” Geraldine definitely acts like the six-year-old she is rather than a miniature adult, and her breezy innocence and sunny personality is positively infectious. I really enjoyed reading her scenes.
Overall, I would say that Say Goodbye to Yesterday was a reasonably good read that could have been great. It was kind of like eating a soup that is agreeable to the palate, but there just wasn't quite enough substance to it to it fill me up. All the base ingredients were there to make a good story, but it simply needed more depth and dimension to both the plot and characterizations. More of those things would have made it the hearty and satisfying stew I crave in my reading material. Say Goodbye to Yesterday is the first in a planned series titled, Decisions. Even though it didn't quite wow me, I can't help being a bit curious as to whom the next book will be about. I'm thinking that Annabelle's cousin, Phillip, who already has an admirer, would make a good hero, or perhaps her older daughter, Suzanna, could be aged to make a good heroine. Either way (or if the author's choose to go a completely different direction), I might be open to trying the next book when it comes out.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Across Eternity is a bittersweet love story about star-crossed soul mates who have spent many lifetimes together. After our inReviewed for THC Reviews Across Eternity is a bittersweet love story about star-crossed soul mates who have spent many lifetimes together. After our intrepid hero spends his entire thirty-seven years searching the globe for his one true love, they finally reunite only to have this lifetime cut short. I've never read a love story centering around the idea of reincarnation, and I found it to be a unique and interesting premise. I really enjoyed the deep connection that Logan and Amber share, and can very much relate to a relationship which transcends the physical, crossing over into the intellectual and spiritual. I feel that I have that in my own marriage, and believe those relationships are the best and most fulfilling that life has to offer. I couldn't help but love all the deeply romantic moments that the author created between this couple: Their first night together on the beach, their first kiss, lunch at the English Tea Room, watching the sunset at Logan's quiet spot, and Logan's proposal, to name a few. They were all brimming with sweetness and intimacy. I also love how Logan and Amber's conversations take on a teasing tone as they get to know each other. Everything simply came together to create a truly romantic atmosphere and give the sense that this couple was definitely connected in a way that cannot be explained through the natural world.
Logan is an absolute charmer and a persistent one at that. Without the reincarnation element, his initial pursuit of Amber might have seemed a bit stalkerish, and her willingness to go to his house after only knowing him for one day would have been weird too. However, Logan never behaved as anything other than a perfect and chivalrous gentleman. In fact, he held back his desires for a long time, out of consideration for her feelings and wanting her to remember their past lives together, even when Amber was making it abundantly clear that she wanted to take their relationship to the next level. I loved that Logan was an absolute genius, yet was extremely humble about his intelligence and accomplishments. I also adored that he was an avid reader, and the man's library was positively to die for. Logan was a great family man too. The scenes with him, his mother, sister and nephew were just brimming with love and humor. Logan was quite simply a sweet, gentle, loving, giving and all-around amazing man which is part of why this story broke my heart into a million pieces.
Amber is a waitress who is struggling both financially and with the meaning of life itself when Logan “rides to her rescue.” The only real family she had was her sister, Heather, who taught her a lot about both living and dying. I could really relate to Amber's fears and her admiration for Heather for her lack of it, as well as Amber's feelings of not quite knowing where she belongs in the world. I liked that Amber was open-minded enough to believe Logan when he told her that they had spent past lives together, even though she couldn't remember the way he did and initially only had a gut feeling that she'd met him before. She does go back and forth quite a bit between getting upset and getting over it. At first, this was a little troubling and I wished that the author had explained her feelings a bit more in depth. Later though, I fully understood that she was wrestling with a sense of denial and not wanting to let go of the love she had just found. Ultimately, Amber was every bit as loving and generous as Logan even though it tore her heart out to give him that part of herself.
Across Eternity was certainly a poignant love story, but as with many self-published works I've read, it tended to get bogged down by editing and technical issues. I found numerous small errors such as typos, misspelled/incorrect/missing words, run-on sentences, etc. In some places, the dialog was just about perfect for conveying the emotions and atmosphere of the scene, but in others, it seemed to drag, with a lot of words being spoken but not a lot being said. I also felt that the narrative in general could have benefited from a bit more detail, and the prose could have been much richer and more varied. As is, the composition had a rather amateurish feel to it, in my opinion. However, I have to give the author extra points for drawing me into this couple's journey and really taking me through all the emotional highs and lows that they experienced throughout the story. In the end, even knowing that they will eventually find each other again, I was still torn up inside, and although it didn't exactly feel good, it was still quite beautiful. I have to give Ms. Whittier credit for making me feel that way and for making me care so much about her characters. As long as the reader isn't bothered by a lot of composition errors, I would recommend Across Eternity to anyone who enjoys a good tear-jerker. Now, I have to go find an HEA romance to heal my poor, wounded heart.:-)
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Christmas with Tucker is billed on the cover as a prequel to A Dog Named Christmas. While most of the events of thReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Christmas with Tucker is billed on the cover as a prequel to A Dog Named Christmas. While most of the events of the book take place long before A Dog Named Christmas, I still consider it to be the second in this untitled series. It begins with George McCray, the father and narrator of A Dog Named Christmas, reminiscing about Christmas 1962 which was a year that changed his life as a young boy. George is again the first-person narrator of this feel-good story about the importance of family, a boy's coming of age, and a boy's love for his dog. It is an inspiring tale about never giving up because you simply don't know what life might have in store for you.
At thirteen, young George finds himself at a crossroads in life. He's at that awkward stage between boyhood and manhood which is confusing enough as it is, but George has the added stress of dealing with the death of his father less than six months earlier. When his dad was killed in a farming accident, all the rules that George thought governed his life were broken, and now he feels helplessly adrift. George is also conflicted about leaving his grandparent's dairy farm, the only home he's ever known and one that he loves, to move with his mom to Minnesota to be near her family after the holidays. In addition to all this, George becomes quite attached to their neighbor's dog whom his grandfather brings home to care for temporarily when their neighbor gets into some trouble. George does a lot of growing up in the couple of months over that Christmas holiday. When a huge snowstorm hit, George really stepped up to the plate, working shifts to help his grandfather run the road maintainer (basically a snow plow), as well as taking on extra chores around the farm. When the power goes out he has to chop holes in the ice on the pond, so the cows can drink and milk them by hand too. It was definitely a man's job, but George really showed himself to be responsible. He was a very strong and smart kid. He so desperately wanted Tucker to be his dog and didn't think his neighbor Frank Thorne was a good dog owner, so he was quite tempted to take Frank up on an offer that would not have been good for Frank. Although George started out making the wrong choice in this situation, he took the time to think things over and in the end, made the right one. That wasn't the only time he had to make a mature decision, but each time, he did it with some careful thought which I found very admirable even though it was still from a kid's perspective.
Christmas with Tucker has a varied supporting cast, the most important of whom are George's grandparents, Bo and Cora. I remember George being a good father in A Dog Named Christmas, and he obviously learned from the best. His grandparents are very wise and loving, allowing George to learn from his own mistakes and guiding him with a gentle hand. At first glance, Frank Thorne doesn't seem like a very nice person, and at the beginning, he probably wasn't. As George learns and grows he begins to see a different side of Frank that he didn't initially. I really love the close-knit feel of this rural community and how they all pull together to help each other out when the big winter storm hits. They are completely reliant on the maintainer, because it's the only vehicle that can get through the snowed in roads. It was wonderful how they all happily shared whatever extras they might have with others until the roads could be cleared, and then when the ice storm hits not long before Christmas even the maintainer can't get through. In the end, it was George's persistence and his grandfather's ingenuity combined with the community's spirit that helped to “save” Christmas.
In Christmas with Tucker, Greg Kincaid has created yet another heartwarming Christmas story that was a good follow-up to A Dog Named Christmas as well as a great way to wrap up my holiday season's reading. The only reason I didn't give it the full five stars is that the first half or so of the book was a little slow for me. After the storms hit, things began to pick up a little and there were some exciting things happening to hold my attention better. Greg Kincaid is an author who is really in tune with animal natures. The prologue of the story written from Tucker's perspective was ingenious. Mr. Kincaid is also great with creating satisfying stories that are uplifting and poignant. I can see these two volumes becoming comfort reads at Christmastime or anytime. There is absolutely no objectionable content either, so Christmas with Tucker would be a great book to share with the family as a Christmas reading tradition....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Abe's Lucky Day is a really sweet story about a homeless man who doesn't have anything but the clothes on his back, but when lReviewed for THC Reviews Abe's Lucky Day is a really sweet story about a homeless man who doesn't have anything but the clothes on his back, but when luck shines on him and bring him a bit more, he willingly and generously shares his good fortune with others. In the end, Abe becomes the luckiest man of all when someone else shares what they have with him.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Abe's Lucky Day. It was an uplifting tale that reminded me of the basic principle of karma: Do good things and good things will come back to you. I thought it was a great story that can teach parents and kids alike the importance of generosity and selflessness. If someone like Abe, who had nothing, could help others, what might we be able to do for those in need. I believe that each one of us has something that we can give to the world even if it is just our time or talents and this story highlights that principle well. I think this book could also help kids to become more aware of the social issue of homelessness and to be on the lookout for ways they might be able to assist needy people in the community.
The illustrations were simple but colorful. I found them pleasing to the eye and thought they complimented the story well. Most of the words in the text are easy enough to be suitable for the 5-8 age range, and it would make a great read-aloud book for younger children. Overall, Abe's Lucky Day was a pleasure to read. It had a great message that I highly recommend for kids of all ages. This was Jill Warren's first published book, but I'll definitely be on the lookout for others that might be released in the future.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author via the publicist, Bostick Communications, in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" The Dream-Hunter was the sixth story in the Dark-Hunter series that I've read this year, and I'm beginning to thinReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" The Dream-Hunter was the sixth story in the Dark-Hunter series that I've read this year, and I'm beginning to think that perhaps I've read too many of them in too short a time span. I've been quite anxious to get to Acheron, and in my haste to make headway in this exceedingly long series, I'm starting to become rather apathetic about it. I had really enjoyed Phantom Lover, a Dream-Hunter novella that came early in the series, so I thought that in spite of the Dream-Hunter books generally not being fan faves that I might like them better than others did. Unfortunately, this first full-length Dream-Hunter novel ended up being as lackluster for me as it was for many other readers.
Arik and Geary were fairly likable characters, but I just never felt like I got to know them very well. Arik had spent his immortal life as an Oneroi (a dream god) in an emotionless state, until he went Skotos (basically the bad side of the Oneroi). Even then he could only feed off the emotions of the humans whose dreams he shared. When he found Geary, her dreams were so vivid they made him want to find out what it would be like to have human emotions, so he made a deal with Hades to make that possible. We eventually find out that Arik's emotions were essentially beaten out of him at an early age and between that and the punishments he received for defying the Oneroi, he carried many physical scars. Because of this, Arik could have been an extremely tortured hero, but he never really seemed like one to me. At times, it felt like he was almost as emotionless as he would have been had he remained Skotos. Mostly, it just seemed like I was being told about his feelings rather than experiencing them. Initially, the author did a pretty good job of bringing out how Arik felt when he first found out what it was like being human, how all the stimuli around him was an assault to his senses and emotions. However, for someone who had basically lived in a state of sensory and emotional deprivation for hundreds of years, he adjusted a little too quickly in my opinion. It was also cute how he didn't really know much about the human world, and was almost like a kid experiencing certain things for the first time. I really wish that more of these moments had been included in the story.
Geary is an anthropologist who is carrying on her father's work of trying to locate the lost civilization of Atlantis. She is having difficulty getting the necessary permits to excavate on the ocean floor, but when Arik arrives in human form, he is able to pull strings and cut through the red tape for her. For some reason which I never quite figured out, she is able to hear the voice of Apollymi, the Destroyer goddess of Atlantis (and Ash's mother). It may have had something to do with the Atlantean artifacts that her father left her, but it almost seemed for a while like there was something special about Geary herself that made it possible. Maybe I missed something along the way, but that part was rather confusing to me. In the end, Geary had to show a lot of strength and fortitude to rescue Arik from his fate, but in spite of that, she was just never a stand-out character to me.
I had high hopes for this couple at the beginning of the story. The main thing that had drawn me into Phantom Lover was the whole concept of the hero and heroine meeting in her dreams. Since the same thing happened in The Dream-Hunter, it got off to a good start. I really enjoyed the dream sequences, and Geary's reaction to seeing Arik in the flesh for the first time after he had starred in her steamy dreams was pretty intense, almost like sparks were flying off the page. Sadly, that was pretty much where the romance ended for me. I just didn't feel the same deep connection between them after the dream sequences ended. All in all, I felt like there was a lot of potential in these two characters and their relationship, but in my opinion, it was never fully realized. It seemed to me like their romance got rather sidetracked and overshadowed by all the mythology and god politics.
There were several aspects of this story that were rather muddled and confusing to me, not the least of which were some of the characters' motives. Geary had spent her whole life thinking her father was a crack-pot just like everyone else, but then a couple of artifacts that seemed like no more than trinkets, instantly changed her mind and make her believe wholeheartedly in Atlantis and continue her father's work. I also never quite understood why her father didn't show her these things when he was alive. Arik's brother, Solin, seems to want revenge on Arik, but then helps him instead which didn't make a lot of sense. Apollymi's entire agenda to this point has been getting free from Kalosis. She tries to bargain with Geary to let her out, but then when Geary refuses, she still helps her anyway which I didn't understand either. The Oneroi triumvirate had never seemed to be mean or violent before, but in this book at least one of them turns menacing. Overall, it just seemed like the characters' minds could change in a heartbeat and everything in general happened a bit too easily and without enough detail and explanation to suit me.
I felt the writing in general could have used more polish and did not reflect the seasoned author that Ms. Kenyon is. As with past books in the series, she way overuses the phrases, “Excuse me?” and “You have no idea,” as well as the word, “it'd”. I've always found that to be a very clunky contraction that doesn't flow well either in my mind or off my tongue, so the repeated use of it started to grate. Also, the phrases I mentioned, among other things, in my opinion, give the dialog a rather juvenile feel. Additionally, there were places where I felt that the dialog dragged and was nothing more than unnecessary filler.
Being a Dream-Hunter novel, there weren't a lot of carryover characters which in a way was a blessing, because I was already confused enough by all the god politics. However, the three Dream-Hunter leaders, M'Adoc, M'Ordant, and D'Alerian, who have all appeared in previous books, returned, as did Artemis' handmaiden, Kat, who becomes the heroine of the next full-length novel in the series, Devil May Cry. After her appearance in Seize the Night, I thought that Kat might become Ash's heroine, because she obviously loves him very much. I think I now have an idea as to why that is, and why she won't be romantically involved with Ash after all. However, Ash's true heroine, Tory, is introduced in this book, and is probably the single-most important reason for reading it. As The Dream-Hunter takes place about a decade before the first book of the Dark-Hunter series, Tory is only a teenager, but she is a geeky genius which I can appreciate. Hopefully, she will eventually grow into her role as a worthy mate for Ash. At the end, we also get a very brief visit with Ash, Kyrian and Nick (also as a teenager), but in my opinion, it didn't add much to the story and was just more filler.
From my many criticisms, it might sound like I would have marked the The Dream-Hunter lower than the 3.5 stars I gave it, but it didn't entirely bore me. I was just rather confused at times. I'm also trying to give it the benefit of the doubt, since I was extremely tired and having trouble staying awake while reading it. With that in mind, I feel I might have missed something important that I wouldn't have had I been more alert. In any case, I think I'll be laying the Dark-Hunter series aside for a while. Even without my fatigue factoring in, I'm simply becoming burned out on the series and Ms. Kenyon's writing in general, and definitely want to be in a better state of mind when I do get to Ash's book. Hopefully, taking a time out will help me to return to the series fresher and more ready to handle the author's quirks that can sometimes irritate me....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Blue Lioness was another enjoyable read in the Chronicles of Kassouk. If my memory and calculations are correct it picks up abReviewed for THC Reviews Blue Lioness was another enjoyable read in the Chronicles of Kassouk. If my memory and calculations are correct it picks up about a century after the third book, Black Jaguar ended. I was sad to see Dragomir and Tora, the King and Queen of Kassouk and the hero and heroine of White Tiger, murdered in the opening chapter. In fact, with this book taking place so far into the future, I cannot help but presume that all the past heroes and heroines of the series are now dead and gone. There were a few other characters from previous books, Mutants with a long enough lifespan, that were able to return. Dragomir and Tora's daughter, Esperana came back in a supporting role and is said to be a matriarch of the Star Children. Her exact relationship to them is not spelled out, but since she fell in love with Vanaru, the leader of The Chosen who it appears evolved into the Star Children, I assume that she is probably an ancestor. It also was not said what became of her romance with Vanaru, but perhaps her lifespan outlasted his. Lady Naya, one of the Mutant Princesses, who if memory serves was in all of the previous books, is Areila's grandmother. Also returning was the evil Brother Kohl as the villain. He had been Dragomir's archenemy and was exiled by the King in White Tiger. I had been quite curious at the end of Black Jaguar as to what would become of the Estrell eggs which had been implanted into the Chosen, and although once again, it was not spelled out in so many words, it's pretty obvious that Starro and his people are descended from them. I guess one could say that Blue Lioness is primarily a next generation story in the Chronicles of Kassouk, but there are also some threads from previous stories that are picked up again.
Starro is a sweet, gentle beta hero. Normally, I'm not as likely to go for the bald guys, but it just goes to show that I'm equal opportunity and beauty is more than skin-deep to me, as Starro is now the second bald hero in as many months that I've been crazy about. As a Star Child, he is a pacifist who reveres all life, and he also values chastity until bonding with his life-mate, making him a rare virgin hero. However, his collective mind connection with his people and with Ariela gives him knowledge that makes him a good lover in spite of his inexperience. I absolutely loved his special powers: telepathy, telekineses, the ability to heal both himself and others, just to name a few. They are exactly the type of powers I would want if I were a superhero. I must say that for all of Starro's supposed arrogance and superiority, he didn't really come off seeming that way to me. I'll grant that he did once or twice come out and say that the Star Children were a superior race, so maybe it was just because I was rather in awe of his powers that it seemed to me like he was simply speaking the truth, but not in a hurtful or purposely condescending way. Starro did act a bit differently when he was among his own people than he did when he was with the humans in Kassouk, and I'm not entirely clear as to why that was. His easy acceptance of Ariela as his life-mate and his willingness to do things that went against the teachings of the Star Children made it obvious to me that he had a distinctive way of thinking that was unlike the belief system in which he was raised. I really wish that the reasons for that had been more fully explored, but overall, Starro was a really sweet guy that I couldn't help but like.
Ariela is another one of Vijaya Schartz's kick-butt heroines, except that she didn't seem to have as much of a softer, more vulnerable side as many of the author's other female leads. She is a trained warrior who is as skilled in combat as any man, and is the captain of an elite garrison of soldiers know as the Black Swords. It can be difficult to be respectful of another race's culture while still being who one is inside, so I did understand and admire Ariela for wanting to maintain her individuality when she was among the Star Children. However, Ariela seemed to go back and forth a lot. One minute she can be loving and adoring of Starro and the next be irritated with him for being arrogant and condescending, or she might go from being in awe of his powers to being fearful of them in a heartbeat. I already addressed Starro's supposed arrogance, and since he had never harmed her and tried very hard not to harm anyone else with his powers unless it was for the greater good, I didn't quite understand her reasoning. Ariela was highly educated by her grandmother, and although the Star Children's powers went beyond anything she had personally experienced before, she couldn't entirely claim ignorance of such things. I can also understand a person running an emotional gamut, but I just think I needed a little more insight into her thinking processes to fully grasp her feelings about these things.
As I've come to expect of Vijaya Schartz's novels, the actual romance is pretty low-key. I did really enjoy the psychic connection between Starro and Ariela. The way he spoke directly into her mind and called her “Beloved” was not only a great way to break the ice, but also kept up some semblance of romance throughout the story. There is only one mild love scene, but because of Starro and Ariela's mind-link, I think it may have been the most intimate scene I've read in one of Ms. Schartz's novels. Them being able to share pleasure through that mental/emotional link, as well as physically, made it almost as sensual for me as if the scene had been more detailed and explicit.
I have to admit that I occasionally had a little trouble figuring out who I should root for. Starro and Ariela were pretty much continuously likable, while Kohl and his son, Kaleb were certainly the primary antagonists. However, some of the other characters tended to fall in between. I guess with any race there are good and bad elements within it, and the humans, Mutants, and Star Children were no exception. I was especially uncertain about the Star Children. Starro is one of them, and I thought since he was a good guy, that all his people might be too. Ariela was also relying on an alliance with them to defeat Kohl, which I thought would place them squarely on the side of good, but as it turned out, they could be rather selfish and very similar to their ancestors, the Estrelle, who were the villains of the last book. The only character who didn't have any ulterior motive was Hellion, Areila's lioness companion. At least animals can always be counted on to be uncomplicated.:-) Overall, Blue Lioness was another fun, action-packed fantasy novel from Vijaya Schartz that I enjoyed. I'll now be looking forward to the release of the Chronicles of Kassouk prequel, Noah's Ark, which is due to be released in Feb. 2012. Maybe I'll finally get to learn about the mysterious ancient beings who built many of the structures on Kassouk before the humans arrived.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Notorious Pleasures was a really good second installment in Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series. I liked it betterReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Notorious Pleasures was a really good second installment in Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series. I liked it better than the first book, Wicked Intentions, in large part because I connected with the characters more deeply. Also, unlike the first story which is set almost entirely in the London slum of St. Giles, I would say that the narrative was about equally split between St. Giles and the high society functions to which I've become accustomed in historical romance. I have to say that I began reading Notorious Pleasures with some doubts. I'm not a fan of love triangles, and it was clear from the synopsis that this was going to be a big part of the story. However, “love” might be a bit strong of a word since Thomas and Hero's impending nuptials are nothing more than a business arrangement and there is no love between then to speak of. I think in this case I wasn't as bothered by it as I might otherwise be, because I never felt like a great guy was going to be left out in the cold. I also spent a large part of the book wondering just how Hero and Griffin were going to get together. In Elizabeth Hoyt's capable hands, it became a romance of ups and downs that was full of passion as each of them comes to terms with their love for one another.
Right from the start, I could sense some hurt beneath Griffin's devil-may-care facade. Even though he was the second son, he has a much stronger head for business than his brother, Thomas, the Marquess. As such, Griffin has made sacrifices and taken risks for his family in order to secure their finances. At first, I had very mixed feelings about how he had accomplished this. I understood why he did it, but there were times when he seemed to have lost touch with how his business affected other people. Much like with Wicked Intentions, Ms. Hoyt took a chance on a character who had made questionable choices in his life, but in the end, he saw the light and not only found a way out of his shady business dealings but also found a way to made things better for those he had previously harmed. Griffin may have had some moments when he came off as hard and cynical, but he also had a vulnerability about him, especially when he thinks of loosing Hero or the respect of his mother whom he adores. There were times when Griffin seemed completely overwhelmed by how strong his feelings were for Hero. It was like he was a man adrift and drowning until she came into his life, bringing meaning and purpose, and then he became utterly immersed in his love for her, unable to live without her.
Hero is the daughter of a duke, but I had sensed during her few scenes in Wicked Intentions an inner desire to live a more normal life. Ms. Hoyt definitely built upon that in Notorious Pleasures. Hero has been groomed from the cradle to accept her place in society and therefore is very controlled in every aspect of her life, leading Griffin to dub her Lady Perfect. Underneath it all though, she longs to break free from her gilded cage and really soar but is too afraid of what might happen if she does. Hero is a very generous woman who is a patroness of the foundling home in St. Giles which was such a large part of Wicked Intentions, and which burned down at the end of that book. She is working very hard to see the orphanage rebuilt and the children properly cared for, but is running into trouble at every turn which is where Griffin comes into the picture, offering his help. She is very perceptive, not only about Griffin not being as bad as he allows everyone to think he is, but also about Thomas not being quite as perfect as he seems. Even though Hero initially didn't want to be attracted to Griffin, she was drawn to him like a moth to a flame. Although she had her doubts and uncertainties about a relationship with Griffin, she always gave very freely of herself to him every time they were together. It was rather frustrating to see Hero take so long to give into her feelings for Griffin, but ultimately, I thought she was brave to finally break free from society's expectations and just follow her heart.
Griffin and Hero have an inauspicious first meeting that was both sensuous and funny when she catches him in flagrante delicto with a married woman. Afterward, the pair engage in some deliciously sharp, witty bantering that perfectly expressed their mutual underlying attraction. I like how the author showed that their interest in one another wasn't merely lust. As Griffin was helping Hero with her work in St. Giles, they discovered an intellectual connection through a shared affinity for classical Greek literature. During these times, I thought their dialog was great. Their getting-to-know-you conversations just flowed very naturally. When they consummate their relationship, the love scenes were very intense right from the beginning and only grew more so as the story progressed. Sometimes, it felt like they weren't merely making love, but their very souls were connecting.
Much like with the first book of the series, the supporting players were strong and varied with some characters returning and new ones being introduced who may become future heroes and heroines. Griffin's brother and Hero's fiancé, Thomas, seems outwardly perfect, but could be a bit self-absorbed. Underneath it all, he wasn't a bad guy and was a lot like Hero, wanting to do things that society would frown upon but his title and position in Parliament weighed heavily on him. I was glad to see that things worked out for him in the end. Griffin's sister, Margaret, is a very nice young woman who wants to help Hero with the foundling home. She also wishes to marry, but wants it to be for love and so far, is having no luck finding the affection she so deeply desires. At first I thought Hero's brother, Maximus, might support her when it came time to break her engagement, but his stalwart stand against the gin trade which he holds responsible for the murders of their parents, ends up causing some friction between them. Much like Thomas, his friend and political ally, he wasn't a bad guy, just very staunch in his opinions. If Ms. Hoyt deigns to make him a hero, I think the right woman could certainly loosen him up a bit.;-) Hero's sister, Phoebe, is a sweet girl who is loosing her sight, and I think she would make a really interesting future heroine. It was great to see Winter and Silence again. Silence has not too surprisingly become a mother to Mary Darling, the baby who was left on her doorstep at the end of Wicked Intentions, and I'm pretty sure I now know who left the baby and continues to anonymously bring gifts for her. Silence continues to suffer from a lack of self-confidence and weathers through a tragedy as well. She sights Micky O'Connor, the man who both frightens and intrigues her, a couple of times, and I'm eagerly looking forward to their book, Scandalous Desires, which is coming in October (2011). Winter is still hard at work, running the orphanage, and is to become the hero of the fourth book, due to be released in the summer of 2012 and tentatively titled, Thief of Shadows. The Ghost of St. Giles returned as well. Once again, I thought I had figured out who he/she was, and once again, I was apparently wrong. This is a mystery I'll definitely be looking forward to solving. Last but not least, were the matrons of the Remmington and Batten families, Griffin's mother and Hero's Cousin Bathilda. Both were wonderful supportive ladies who were always ready with a word of wisdom and always looking out for everyone's best interests. Cousin Bathilda's little dog, Mignon, was adorable too, and knows a good man when she sees one.;-)
Overall, Notorious Pleasures was an enjoyable story with a great cast of characters who I took pleasure in getting to know. Due to Hero holding back her feelings for so long and a few somewhat slow places here and there, it wasn't quite a perfect read, but it came close. All in all, it was a very tight and well-written book. The ending was suspenseful and brought about closure to everything in the way I had hoped. I also loved the fairy tale told in snippets at the beginning of each chapter which has become an Elizabeth Hoyt trademark. I thought that it complimented the main story perfectly. Notorious Pleasures was an all-around fun read and I'm very much looking forward to the next book in the Maiden Lane series....more
I have suffered from occasional panic attacks for years but hadn't really put a name to them until somewhat recently. When I began experiencing generaI have suffered from occasional panic attacks for years but hadn't really put a name to them until somewhat recently. When I began experiencing general anxiety disorder in the summer of 2011, I began looking for more help. A quick search of Amazon brought up From Panic to Power. Lucinda Bassett's name happened to be familiar to me, because a friend had mentioned her anxiety program to me years ago before I knew what I was suffering from. I immediately got a copy of the book from the library and eagerly started reading it. From Panic to Power offered me a lot of comfort in knowing that I'm not alone, and that there is hope for living an anxiety-free life. What I love most about the book is that Ms. Bassett is just an ordinary woman who suffered from anxiety disorder and panic attacks. She somehow managed to overcome them on her own at a time when less was know about the condition. I felt that I could trust and respect her, since she speaks from experience, and apparently I'm not the only one. Her program is used and recommended by many doctors, clinics, and therapists all over the country. Since my anxiety is currently under control with medication, it's hard to tell just how effective the techniques outlined in the book are going to be with me, but I've been trying to put them into practice when minor flare-ups occur with reasonably good results. I have since purchased a copy for my keeper shelf and will undoubtedly use it in the future as a reference book. I highly recommend From Panic to Power to anyone who is dealing with anxiety disorder and/or panic attacks....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews I'm fairly certain that Come Gentle Spring is another re-read from my teen years. Although I didn't remember the story beforeReviewed for THC Reviews I'm fairly certain that Come Gentle Spring is another re-read from my teen years. Although I didn't remember the story before beginning, there were several moments where I felt a sense of deja vu. It takes place in Colonial America near the settlement of Jamestown close to thirty years after the events of Where Morning Dawns, and is a next generation story following the sons of Maggie and Towaye the hero and heroine of that book. In my opinion, there aren't nearly enough Colonial set romances, so I really appreciated that aspect of the book. It also explores some of the tensions between the white settlers and the Indians during that time period. It appears that the author did her homework when writing the book, as I felt like I had been transported back in time and could see the little cabin and tobacco fields near the banks of the James River. Much like its predecessor, Come Gentle Spring, it is another speculative story, this time concerning a legend which had Mary, Queen of Scots secretly giving birth to a daughter who grew up in a convent in France.
Hayley is the granddaughter of Mary, Queen of Scots through that legendary child, so she has lived the life of royalty, being pampered and well-educated. Her family had in mind to someday usurp the throne of England and make her queen, but when their plotting places her life in danger, she is sent to the New World for her own safety. Upon her arrival in the Virgina Colony, Hayley is so ill as to be virtually incoherent, and ends up in an accidental marriage of convenience with the hero, Philip. She had been rather tired of all the men in her life always calling the shots and her simply having to obey. When she finally wakes up, she is afraid that it is going to be just the same with Philip, but is pleasantly surprised to find that he treats her as an equal partner in their marriage. Much to her embarrassment, Hayley doesn't have any idea how to cook, clean, or do any of the chores associated with frontier life, but she was a quick study. I liked that in spite of her coddled background, she never acted spoiled and was a determined woman who wanted to be “useful” to Philip. I liked Hayley a little better than Maggie from Where Morning Dawns, but much like her mother-in-law had done with Towaye in that story, Hayley also avoids sharing Philip's bed for a long time, even though in this case, they were legally married, and Philip was making his interest pretty clear. This was slightly frustrating, but not quite as bad as in the first book, partly because I didn't feel like it was as big a part of the story and partly because it did make some sense since they were complete strangers to each other at first.
Just like Towaye, Philip was a wonderful hero who embodied a lot of his father's personality while embracing his mother's culture. He's very determined to build his own tobacco plantation that he hopes to grow into a legacy to leave to his children. Right from the start, he was kind to Hayley, taking care of her when others probably would have left her to die. He even gave up his only means of hiring a servant to help build his plantation and married Hayley when he had no intention of taking a wife right then, just so the Jamestown officials would allow him to take her to his mother to nurse her back to health. Philip was a very understanding man in more ways than one. He sensed that she wasn't familiar with menial labor and took it all in stride never expecting too much from her and helping her out until she learned everything. He also completely comprehended Hayley's reluctance to sleep with him and was more than willing to wait until a “great love” blossomed between them. It was a little odd and again frustrating, that when Hayley finally came around, Philip was the one who started being reticent. Thankfully, it didn't take long for his reasons to be revealed and when they were, I think I liked him all the more, because he turned out to be much more observant and intuitive than I would have imagined. My favorite thing about Philip though was how he brushed Hayley's hair every night before bed. It was such a gentle, intimate gesture that I thought spoke volumes about the kindhearted man he was.
One thing I really appreciated about this book is that the author didn't rely on the tired, overused cliché of inspirational romances in which one of the two main characters doesn't know God. In this case, both Philip and Hayley already had a well-established faith when the story opens, so it leans more toward the inspirational message of trusting God through difficult circumstances rather than feeling preachy. There is a continuation of the culture war from the first book though, because in spite of being mixed heritage, Philip has chosen to live the English way, while is brother, Saponi, has chosen the Indian way. In some ways, I felt like the author was giving more of a preference to the English way, due to Saponi's hatred of all things English and the fact that he and other Indian characters were primary antagonists. However, I wasn't quite as bothered by it as I might have been, because the reality of the time was that some Indians did disdain the English and their ways and often attacked settlers, even those who were trying to be at peace with them. Also, Philip ran into some prejudices of his own from the Jamestown residents in the beginning and later from others in the area when he decided to run for a seat in the House of Burgesses. I also enjoyed seeing Maggie and Towaye so many years after the end of their own story, and that they were still completely in love. It helped to solidify their HEA which hadn't been quite as perfect as I would have liked to see when their book ended. Overall, Come Gentle Spring was an easy read that I found to be pretty enjoyable, and a good wrap-up to this duet. I'll be looking forward to trying some of Irene Brand's other works now too....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Ever since meeting Hawk and Julianne in Vicky Dreiling's debut romance, How to Marry a Duke, I have really been looking forwarReviewed for THC Reviews Ever since meeting Hawk and Julianne in Vicky Dreiling's debut romance, How to Marry a Duke, I have really been looking forward to reading their story. I thought they showed great potential as lead characters, and for the most part, they were still pretty likable in How to Seduce a Scoundrel. The book got off to a wonderful start, with the first few chapters brimming with repartee that was fresh, clever, witty and occasionally just a bit wicked. While reading these parts, I spent a lot of time smiling if not outright laughing. I also liked that they had known each other and been comfortable friends for many years. Unfortunately, things started to get a little off track for me from the moment Hawk accidentally dissed Julianne after their waltz. From that point and throughout most of the rest of the book, I felt like both characters were often being too stubborn for their own good, but in the end, everything came together to make it a pretty good read.
Hawk is an utterly charming rogue. In spite of his wickedly rakish reputation, his best friend, Tristan, trusts him implicitly to act as temporary guardian to his sister, Julianne, so she won't have to miss the season's festivities while Tristan tends to his wife who is nearing her time to give birth. Hawk would do anything for Tristan, but still isn't entirely thrilled about having to escort Julianne around to all the balls and parties. However, he finds himself not minding as much as he thought he would, mainly because of Julianne herself. Almost from the start, Hawk begins to see her as the desirable woman that she is rather than the little girl who used to be his partner in mischief. That scares him to death, partly because best friend's sisters are off limits and partly because he has his own scandalous secret that makes him feel unworthy of a woman like Julianne. I thought it was quite amusing how Hawk was so protective of Julianne and jealous of all her suitors, but was so clueless about his own feelings, he didn't realize it at first. The reader also learns that his devil-may-care attitude is just part of the armor he uses to shield himself from the pain of past mistakes. I liked how he was able to grow though all this and become a better man in the end.
I thought it was very sweet that Julianne had had a crush on Hawk since she was a little girl (and had even proposed to him back then), and fell completely in love with him when he danced with her at her come-out ball four years earlier. Since then she's had numerous marriage proposals and turned them all down, never even allowing herself to be kissed, because she dreamed of Hawk being the first. Julianne may have been adorable in the beginning, but when Hawk got her hackles up, the claws came out and she could be pretty stubborn. I know that she felt Hawk publicly embarrassed her by saying he thought of her only as a sister after they had shared a particularly sensuous waltz, but for her to completely give up her long-held tendre for him over it, and so quickly, seemed perhaps just a little extreme for the circumstances. From that point on, Julianne seemed to alternate between being incredibly astute in her assessment of Hawk's behavior and not really seeing what was right in front of her. I did enjoy how Julianne slowly wised up as she came to realize that courtship wasn't as easy as she thought it was for the gentleman and that maybe she had been wrong about some things when she decided to write her scandalous pamphlet. I think the whole process was a good learning experience for her.
The dialog and overall narrative is fairly snappy, giving the impression that the novel is fast-paced, but in reality the plot progresses rather slowly. In my opinion, Hawk and Julianne's relationship kind of stagnates due to their frequent arguments. Although the couple's bantering could be rather amusing at times, I really hated to see them constantly at odds for such a long stretch. When that happens in a romance, it tends to put a damper on the emotional connection for me. I'm also not a fan of game playing in a relationship or the frequent small misunderstandings between them which led to an overall sense of distrust. I thought it placed a little too much distance between the pair when sexual tension should have been building instead. It was refreshing to not have them jumping into bed in the first chapter (in fact that doesn't happen until about ¾ of the way into the book), but I still think the story could have used a bit more steam in general and the love scenes needed a little more pizazz too. Vicky Dreiling tends to write these scenes at a moderate level at best, and I definitely don't mind that. However, I've read other authors who write mild to moderate love scenes with a lot more emotion and overall romanticism. With Ms. Dreiling it almost seems like she's trying too hard to hold back the sensuality level and as a result, I thought these moments came off feeling rather rushed. Hopefully, this is something that will improve as she gains more writing experience. The author is also very slow to disclose Hawk's secret. While I do like for a book to keep me on pins and needles waiting for the reveal, I thought perhaps she could have dropped a few more clues along the way. As is, she just kept reiterating that Hawk felt really bad about some big mistake he'd made in the past and then suddenly dropped it like a bomb. Lastly, Ms. Dreiling can be very good at allowing her characters to emote in just the right way to create a truly romantic air, but at times, I thought a little more subtlety would have been better.
The author did make good use of her secondary characters. Hawk's Aunt Hester was a hoot, especially in the beginning. I thoroughly enjoyed her blunt talk with both Hawk and Julianne, as well as how she was a kind, motherly figure to them both. I was a little disappointed that we never found out for certain that her “friend” was the true love from her youth she spoke of to Julianne, but I still liked that she got to have a little romance herself. I thought it went to show that love isn't just for the young, but the young at heart. Also, several of the bridal candidates from How to Marry a Duke returned, with Georgette and Amy front and center as Julianne's best friends and confidants. I liked plain, shy Amy right from the start, so I'm very happy to know that she gets to be the heroine of the next book in the series, How to Ravish a Rake. She will be paired with Hawk's errant younger brother, William, whose rakish reputation is just as bad as Hawk's, if not worse. He finally returned home at the end of the book, but was never in any scenes, so it will be quite interesting to see how he and his seeming opposite get along in their own story. In spite of feeling like a few things could have been better here and there, I found How to Seduce a Scoundrel to be a pretty enjoyable read, and I'll be looking forward to the next book when it is released in the spring of 2012.
Note: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher, Hachette Book Group, in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews After reading the first two books in Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series, I was eagerly awaiting Silence and Mickey's story. EReviewed for THC Reviews After reading the first two books in Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series, I was eagerly awaiting Silence and Mickey's story. Even though I had only seen glimpses of them in those two novels, I had become enthralled by their characters and thought that their own story would have to be good. Now that I've finally read it, I can say without a doubt that it wasn't just good it was absolutely amazing. Scandalous Desires exceeded my wildest expectations and was quite possibly the best romance I've read all year. It had everything I could have hoped for and more. The writing was superb. The plotting was ingenious. The romance was swoon-worthy. The love scenes were decadently sensuous and utterly beautiful with this couple holding back nothing from one another. The emotions were heartfelt. There were tidbits of humor scattered throughout that had me smiling. The characterizations were extraordinary, with even the secondary players being quite memorable. There was a death-defying climax that had me on the edge of my seat, nearly unable to put it down, and the ending left me positively dying for the next book in the series. What more could a girl possibly ask for in a romance novel?
Mickey has definitely earned a spot on my all-time favorite heroes list. Ms. Hoyt did an amazing job of redeeming this bad boy pirate. Mickey is a man who thinks he no longer has a heart. He believes his soul to be black and irredeemable, but nothing could be further from the truth. He is rather baffled by his attraction to Silence, but he can no more let her go than he can cease to breathe. Mickey hasn't experienced much softness in his life except what little his mum provided when he was young, and Silence reminds of everything that is good and pure and gentle. They are things that he hadn't even realized he'd been missing until he met her, and deep down, he somehow wants to recapture that. He's intrigued by Silence, because she's not like the other people around him. His gruff, grumpy attitude at the beginning was rather funny, but it was definitely a case of his bark being worse than his bite. Underneath it all, Mickey is a big marshmallow when it come to “his lasses.” He's just afraid to allow himself to truly care for Silence and Baby Mary, because of things that happened in the past and the threat they now face from his enemy. Mickey has been deprived of love and kindness for so long, he just soaks it up when Silence comes into his life even though he doesn't feel worthy of her care and affection. It's so sweet how he warms up to little Mary and she to him, and how his big, ugly dog follows him around everywhere. I find that babies and dogs can sometimes the best judges of character.:-) Mickey had not one, but two, amazing libraries (swoon), and in fact, he had a weakness for some very surprising things. He was a multi-faceted man who astounded me at every turn. Best of all, I thought it was lovely when Mickey told Silence that if he had been her husband, he would have believed her and listened to her, and he went about showing her that and more throughout the entire story in ways both big and small. I love how he just wants to know all about her and listens to the stories of her life so intently. Mickey was a man who may have taken a while to express his love in words and who didn't wear his heart on his sleeve (at least not at first), but his every action proved how much he cared.
Silence was a wonderful heroine, also an all-time favorite, and perhaps the best romance heroine I've read this year. I was drawn to her in the previous books, in part, because of her vulnerability and lack of self-confidence. At first, I was a little bothered that she seemed to have already lost a large part of those qualities when the story opens, until I realized that she actually began loosing them after her very first encounter with Mickey. I think he unwittingly taught her that she could stand up for herself and those she cared about. Since she'd done it with him before, she wasn't as afraid to do it again. It was quite funny how she initially kept defying Mickey as every turn, but ultimately, it was her spunk that earned his respect. Then she earned his love with her kind, compassionate heart. At first, Silence didn't want to think of Mickey as a human being, but she rightly intuited that there was much more to him than what he allowed most people to see on the surface. As she slowly got to know him better, I loved how she never wavered in her belief that there was still a good man lurking inside of him. Silence was brave, stubborn (in a good way), and persistent, always gently pushing Mickey to really examine his life and challenging him to become the man she knew he could be. That, in my book, is the mark of a perfect romantic heroine.
The secondary characters were so much fun to read about too. I loved Harry and Bert, the two burly men who Mickey tasked with guarding Silence. It was hilarious how she managed to wrap them around her little finger without even trying, and had them and her maid bringing her food when Mickey mulishly refused to feed her if she wouldn't grace his dinner table with her presence. Mary Darling was, well... a little darling. For such a tiny tyke, she had quite the big personality, yet she very suitably behaved like the one-year-old she was. I chuckled every time she called Mickey, “bad,” but when she warmed up to him, the two of them together were absolutely adorable. Lad, the dog, was funny too. It warmed my heart to know that big, gruff Harry had rescued him from a bull-baiter who was going to drown the poor thing. It was even cuter though that even though Harry saved his life, he'd taken a shine to Mickey and thought he was his dog even though Mickey frequently grumbled at him. Charlie Grady, the Vicar of Whitechapel, a gin dealer and all-around crook, was a crazy and dastardly villain. The identity of the Ghost of St. Giles is finally revealed, and I can't say that I was entirely surprised who he is. Most of Silence's family put in appearances including her sister, Temperance, and brother-in-law, Lord Caire (Wicked Intentions), as well as her brothers, Concord, Winter, and we are finally introduced to the elusive Asa. We also get a couple of brief visits with the Ladies Syndicate who are providing charitable assistance to the foundling home, including a glimpse of Hero (Notorious Pleasures) and an introduction to Isabel Beckinhall, a new addition to the group. She is a widow who seems to have a bit of a mischievous streak and enjoys subtly teasing Winter. These two pair up to become the hero and heroine of the next book Thief of Shadows, and after the cliffhanger ending of Scandalous Desires, I just might explode while waiting for it to be released.;-)
Overall, Scandalous Desires was sheer perfection. It was every bit as wonderful as I hoped it would be and more. I loved it so much I could barely put it down, but at the same time I didn't want it to end either. I'm thoroughly enjoying the Maiden Lane series as I've done with all of Elizabeth Hoyt's books I've read to date, and I'll be waiting with bated breath for the next 6-9 months wondering what happens to Winter. I have a feeling I just might enjoy his and Isabel's book equally as much as this one.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Hatchette Book Group, in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews George & the Virgin is a book that rather deftly crosses many of the sub-genres of romance. I suppose it is primarily a hiReviewed for THC Reviews George & the Virgin is a book that rather deftly crosses many of the sub-genres of romance. I suppose it is primarily a historical time travel with the hero going back in time to a medieval castle, but having a dragon terrorizing the nearby villagers also places the story squarely in the fantasy realm. The humor had me grinning like an idiot until my husband asked what was so funny, and that alone gives it a firm standing as a romantic comedy too. Additionally, it had a light paranormal element in the way in which the time travel took place, and tons of action and adventure as our intrepid hero sets out to slay the dragon. All of this made for a pretty fun read, but I still couldn't help feeling like there was something missing. Since I was enjoying most of the story, it took me a while to figure it out, but when I did, I sadly realized it was the romance itself that was rather lacking.
Alizon was a complicated young woman who was somewhat difficult for me to relate to. She begins the story as a fourteen year-old orphan girl who is trying to loose her virginity so she won't have to go to the annual virgin lottery and possibly be sent as a sacrifice to the dragon. She has reluctantly chosen an unkempt, callow youth who had been pursuing her, but he has no idea what he's doing. It was a pretty funny scene, but at the same time kind of sad because of her reasons for doing it. In the end she bravely goes to the lottery and eventually the dragon. Once we find out how she avoided falling prey to the dragon and had saved many other virgins lives over the years, she seemed even more courageous, but at the same time, she had been pretty selfish. Alizon is also way too stubborn and independent for her own good. In her mind, she laments her lot in life, how she is stuck in the castle with no conceivable means of escape, and seems to want someone to free her, but when George comes along to save her, she allows her fear to take over to the point that she literally tries to sabotage her own potential HEA. It was amusing that during Alizon's twelve years as the dragon's keeper she had become a pretty horny virgin, fantasizing about finally being deflowered the right way, but again, when George begins to show sexual interest in her, she wants to be in control of everything which only leads to further disappointment for her. I also felt that her lack of trust in George suppressed any intimacy between them. I really wanted to like Alizon and can't necessarily say that I disliked her. I did feel bad for all she had been through in her life and understood her actions on some level, but wish she would have lightened up a little sooner. Unfortunately, her quick turn around at the end wasn't entirely believable to me.
George ended up being a pleasant surprise for me. Not being a fan of professional wrestling, I wasn't sure if I would like him and thought he might end up being a cheesy character. I couldn't have been more wrong about him though. In spite of his profession, George was a real softie, much more of a beta hero than the chest-beating alpha I was expecting. He truly cares about people and has used the wealth he has earned to take care of his family. His opening scene where he is playing with his little niece was positively adorable. I liked how after traveling to the past George was able to manage cooking, cleaning, laundry and basically shocked Alizon with his ability and willingness to do “women's work.” George was also a very intelligent man whose hobby was studying medieval history. He had a love of all things from that era, so much so that he had built his own castle in the present day. I thought it very clever of him that he was able to decipher middle English to communicate with the people when he went back in time, and it was refreshing that he wasn't fooled by Alizon's crone disguise and recognized it for what it was right away. I did start to wonder when he was going to figure out that he had really time traveled and was no longer just in a guided vision, but I have to admit that his use of Jungian psychology to self-analyze this crazy “dream” he was having could be pretty hilarious. George was an extremely patient and forgiving man when it came to Alizon's shortcomings, more so than I could have been, brave to go up against the dragon, especially once he realized it was real, and just a fun, all-around great guy.
For a large part of the book, I felt like there was something missing. As I mentioned earlier, I came to realize it was the actual romance, but more so than that it was a lack of sexual tension, relationship development, and emotion in general. I understood on an intellectual level why Alizon was so stubbornly independent and even a little prickly. I do think that her situation warranted sympathy, but in spite of that, I never really felt much for her even when she was telling George the whole sad story of how she came to be mistress of Devil's Mount. What passed for sexual tension felt more like mere lust. Alizon had been feeling the stirring of desire for quite a while, so it wasn't too surprising that she was very attracted to George's masculinity. However, at first she only wanted to use him to finally rid herself of her virginity. George for his part, knew that Alizon was much younger than she pretended to be, but he doesn't even get to see her face until over a third of the way into the book and even then he still thinks she's just part of his dream world. Granted he did several kind and thoughtful things for her and was brave enough to attempt to slay a dragon for her with few weapons to hand, but I just didn't feel a deep emotional connection between them like I would have preferred. Even when they finally consummated their relationship, I was disappointed, as the setting just wasn't very romantic to me. In fact, it seemed downright uncomfortable. Not to mention, there had been so much teasing and build-up to it that I was expecting something explosive, but it was all over in a matter of a couple of pages with minimal details.
I may have been dissatisfied with the romance element, but I do have to give Lisa Cach a few extra points for basing her story on the actual legends surrounding a real place, St. Michael's Mount, a tiny island off the southern coast of England which really is connected to the mainland by a causeway at low tide. The village to which it leads is also the village in the book. Additionally, Ms. Cach took the time to thrown in a bit of Middle English, much like an author would do if they were showing that a character speaks another language. In essence they did speak another language in the middle ages, so I thought that little touch added a bit of authenticity to the novel as well. Overall, George & the Virgin was a cute, playful, lighthearted concoction that was a fairly enjoyable read in spite of its weaknesses. The action, adventure and humor helped to make up for some of the other deficiencies. After reading two books by Lisa Cach, I'm starting to see that she is a little better at creating swashbuckling daring-do than tender romantic relationships, so she'll probably be an author to look to whenever I'm in the mood for a breezy escapade rather than my usual more serious-minded fare. ...more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars overall" Hard Drive – I'm beginning to wonder if Erin McCarthy writes better short stories than full-length novelsReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars overall" Hard Drive – I'm beginning to wonder if Erin McCarthy writes better short stories than full-length novels. So far her novels have been rather hit and miss with me, but Hard Drive is the second novella in a row that I've read by her which I thought was a winner. It was a really sweet and sexy story that was a very enjoyable read.
Hard Drive is less than 100 pages, and because of its brevity, the hero and heroine don't get a lot of backstory. They've worked together at the same web design company for a year and have been very attracted to one another, but don't do anything about it until Mack catches Kindra reading an explicit email from her cyber-sex partner. He then boldly proposes to show her that in-person sex is way more fun and exciting than doing it online. Mack more than makes his point in a very hot, steamy way. I love the way he held himself in check in order to give Kindra lots of pleasure by acting out the sexy emails from her online partner. Yum!;-) I thought it was really sweet how he totally fell for Kindra and the way he wrapped up the story was just too cute. Kindra was a rather shy woman with an underlying passionate nature, just the type of gal I can relate to. Her last boyfriend was a total snooze, and she's never truly been satisfied by a man in bed. Kindra has taken to engaging in cyber-sex, because it's just easier for a reserved girl like her with some mild confidence issues. Luckily for her, Mack knows all the right buttons to push to bring that passion to the surface and make her feel like a beautiful, desirable woman. I will admit that the rapid progression of their relationship from supposed lust to madly in love within less than a day was just too quick to be believable (hence the half star reduction), but the story itself was so tender, emotional, sensuous and sweet (some of my favorite qualities for a romance) that for once, I hardly cared.
Hard Drive is the first novella in Erin McCarthy's Bowling Friends series. Kindra and her three friends, Ashley, Violet and Trish are all in a bowling league together. They share some fun banter in this story. Each of them has a very different personality, but I have a feeling shy, bookish Violet may end up being a favorite for me. These girls stories are told in each of the remaining three novellas of the series which I look forward to checking out. Star Rating: ****1/2
Press Any Key – I didn't like Press Any Key quite as well as the first novella in this anthology. For one thing, I think I simply didn't connect with the characters quite as well. Candy broke stereotype by having a brilliant mind for marketing, housed in a blond bombshell body which made it difficult for her to make friends. Men just want to ogle her, and women are jealous. She is also a divorcée who in the past has found men, including her ex, to be pretty selfish in bed, but for some reason which I never quite understood, she thought Jared would be different if only she could get him to notice her. I had mixed feelings about Jared. He certainly noticed Candy, but was disguising his lust with a prickly attitude. He had gotten himself fired from his last job for being caught dallying with the boss's secretary in the copy room, and didn't want that to happen again. This little fact was not endearing to me, and him doing it again with Candy even though she wanted it and was teasing him, brought his motives and self-control into question in my mind. Later on when they had an actual date, I liked him better, because he showed some sympathy, intuitiveness, and protectiveness toward Candy after she told him about her ex.
The progression of the relationship itself was a little more believable, because it only had them saying that they thought they might be, or could, fall in love with one another rather than outright declaring their love after only one day together. However, there just wasn't as much tender emotion, in my opinion. For both of them, it seemed like it was more about lust than love. Even though the love scenes were steamy and creative, I just didn't feel a deep connection between Jared and Candy that really made me buy into a permanent HEA. Still, Press Any Key was a generally fun novella and should be a worthwhile read for anyone who likes some good steam and isn't expecting too much. Star Rating: ***1/2
User Friendly – User Friendly was without a doubt my favorite novella this anthology. I absolutely loved the best friends finding forever love with one another theme, a favorite of mine. It reminded me in some ways of another Erin McCarthy story that was a keeper for me, You, Actually.
Evan is a hot, scrumptious computer geek, a favorite character type for me as well. I thought it was wonderful how he's so into Halley. He has been lusting after her and totally in love with her for years, but didn't want to ruin a great friendship in the event she didn't feel the same way. I loved how he just couldn't get enough of her and wanted nothing more than to pleasure her in every way possible. Halley is a determined young woman who has worked hard to build her own catering business from the ground up. She was just the right mix of a little bit daring and a little bit shy, making her very relatable for me. Halley has also had the hots for Evan for a long time and has buried her feelings out of fear of loosing him as a friend.
When these two finally got together (which didn't take too long since it is a short story;-)), it was absolutely combustible. Their relationship is full of playfulness and teasing that doesn't stop just because they get all hot and bothered. They also trust each other implicitly which is a key element for a romance to really work for me. I liked that they didn't play games with each other and communicated very well. Even when Halley started to feel awkward after all the steamy sex, Evan didn't let her run and hide. I love how they allowed themselves to become completely abandoned to their desire for one another. It made their lovemaking very hot, but at the same time, it was filled with tender emotion. Everything just came together to make User Friendly a big winner for me. The Bad Boys Online anthology appears to be Erin McCarthy's debut as an author, and I'd have to say that overall, I found it to be a pretty impressive first book. Star Rating: *****...more