Reviewed for THC Reviews The Promise was a little better than The Chance, the previous book of the Thunder Point series, for me, but I still didn't fee...moreReviewed for THC Reviews The Promise was a little better than The Chance, the previous book of the Thunder Point series, for me, but I still didn't feel like it was quite up to the caliber that I know Robyn Carr is capable of. The plot and characterizations were also a little too similar to The Chance. A heroine who is soul-searching after a major upheaval in her life...check. She's just passing through town and decides it might be a nice place to sojourn until she gets things worked out in her head...check. A hard-working hero with a heart of gold who almost instantly falls in love with her...check. A heroine who is reluctant to commit, because she'd be giving up a lucrative and fulfilling career...check. A heroine who leaves town for a while when unexpected things occur, leaving the hero to wonder if she really loves him and is coming back...check. It was like Ms. Carr was telling the same tired story all over again, only with different characters and slightly different situations. The only thing that really saved The Promise for me and made it a little better than The Chance is that I generally found the heroine to be a bit more relatable.
Peyton is a physician's assistant who fell for the doctor she worked with. He was a brilliant surgeon and a charismatic man who was easy to like in the workplace, but when she agreed to move in with him, all hell broke loose. His kids were completely out of control, and he left her to take care of them and clean up the mess while he was hardly ever at home. Needless to say, things went south between them pretty fast, and now that she's left him, Peyton is doing some soul-searching while looking for her next job. She wanders into Thunder Point to discover that the one and only doctor in town is looking for a PA. He can't offer her much salary wise, but realizing it's a place where she can find some peace and quiet to recover from her chaotic relationship debacle, she agrees to a three month commitment. After that, all bets are off. Peyton is from a traditional Basque family and was raised on the family farm with her seven siblings. They didn't have a lot, but they were brought up well and the family is very close, so ill-behaved kids like her ex's are a foreign concept to her. I really enjoy learning about new cultures, but sometimes the way Ms. Carr presented Peyton's Basque background seemed like a bit of an info dump. It was like she was trying to cram everything she learned about the Basque culture from her research into the story, without really taking the time and care to truly craft it into her characterizations. Sometimes, like when Peyton visits the family farm, we get to see that culture in action; other times, it was more like she was rattling off a bunch of facts. Peyton is a talented PA who cares very much about her patients and people in general. Despite her bad experience with a man who already had kids, she warms up fairly quickly to Scott's youngsters, although she still has a few misgivings about becoming more deeply involved with him. Overall, I think that Peyton was a likable and admirable heroine, but it seemed like her POV dominated the story a little too much. It got to the point that I was starting to notice Ms. Carr repeating things we already knew about Peyton or belaboring certain issues in her life.
Because the story was so heavily weighted toward Peyton and her problems, I felt like Scott really didn't get much of a foothold in the story. Many of Ms. Carr's heroes have been among some of my favorites, and I think Scott could have been too, if his characterization had gone a little deeper. We already knew from previous books of the series that Scott was a grieving widower with two young children, although by the time this story opens, he seems to be mostly past the pain of losing his wife and finally ready to have a serious relationship again. He's a very caring doctor who works hard to keep his practice afloat, while still finding time to be a devoted father. Overall, he's a great guy, but I didn't feel like we got to know him very well, at least not beyond the obvious surface stuff. He has a few insecurities that rise up when Peyton's ex comes to town in his fancy car, but I didn't feel like Scott's feelings were given the weight they deserved. Instead, they're essentially brushed off as him being silly and acting like an idiot (ie he's the one in the wrong), rather than using them as an opportunity to further define him.
Much like with The Chance, I felt like the romance between Scott and Peyton was on the weak side. There wasn't much build-up in their relationship (ie not much in the way of truly romantic interludes) before they start dating a few times and fall into bed together. At this point, I felt like their emotions and attraction for one another was being told to me more than shown. While I suppose there's something to be said for two people communicating openly and honestly, having Scott and Peyton talk so frankly about having sex right before they do took some of the mystery and romanticism out of it for me. This was another area in which The Promise was identical to The Chance. It just felt like they were treating their sexual relationship in a matter of fact way, not really caring what the future held but instead living in the moment, which doesn't usually work well for me. I need a couple to either have casual sex that then builds into something much deeper or have a true relationship that includes sex as well as certain expectations for the future, rather than this odd amalgamation of the two that Ms. Carr seems to be leaning toward in many of her more recent books. I'm also not much of a fan of the commitment-phobe heroine. Scott declares his love for Peyton very early in their relationship, but she waits until the end, still thinking that she might leave town when her three months are up. She wasn't quite as bad as Laine in the previous book, but I still think Scott deserved more. I'll admit that there were a few moments when I felt the connection between Scott and Peyton, but I know that the author is capable of writing much better romanticism than she did in this book.
Throughout these two most recent books in the Thunder Point series, Robyn Carr seems to be getting away from the multiple POVs that have become her trademark. I'm not sure what or who is responsible for this change, whether Ms. Carr decided to pare them down herself or if it was an editorial decision or something else. I know some readers didn't care for the secondary storylines drawing the focus away from the “main” hero and heroine, but I've actually gotten used to them and kind of miss them. There were still a few of these scenes present, but most of them were over in the blink of an eye and didn't add a great deal to the character whose perspective was being presented. Spencer and Devon (The Hero) finally tie the knot, but I would have liked if the wedding had been written out in a little more detail. Cooper and Sarah (The Wanderer) experience a blessed event, again with few details. Carrie is injured, leading to a newly developing friendship with Rawley, which looks like it may become romantic down the line. And Mac is up for a promotion that will take him away from Thunder Point to a neighboring community for work. No worries though, because he's going to commute, leaving him, Gina, and the kids likely to remain background characters. There were no new characters introduced in this book, although Mac and Gina do discuss his replacement as the new sheriff's deputy, a guy named Seth. He's apparently a former resident of Thunder Point who's finally coming home as the hero of the next book, The Homecoming, due for release in August (2014).
Unfortunately, The Promise seemed to end a tad too abruptly. I would have liked for Peyton to have at least said “yes” to Scott's proposal. Instead, we're left hanging with the assumption that she accepted because of the things she said prior. Still, having that final pat answer would have been nice. Besides that and the other weaknesses I've mentioned, it was a decent story that I mostly enjoyed. I just wish that Robyn Carr would build up her heroes a little more so that we, as the readers, can truly fall in love with them like I almost always did with the Virgin River heroes. These last few heroes in the Thunder Point series have been great guys, but IMHO, they've been rather weak compared to the scrumptious heroes of Virgin River. I'm not sure if it's because Robyn Carr released a women's fiction novel earlier this year and has been so immersed in the female POV that she had difficulty getting away from it to write these last couple of Thunder Point books with a more balanced male/female perspective or what. In any case, it looks like Seth may have an intriguing story to tell, and since we don't know much anything about him yet, I'll keep my fingers crossed that he gets more page time in his upcoming book than the last couple of heroes have had.
Note: I received an ARC copy of this book from the publicist in exchange for an honest review.(less)
I'm the author of this book, so I don't feel like it's my place to rate and review it. (Of course, I love it!;-)) I'll leave that up to my readers.
Thi...moreI'm the author of this book, so I don't feel like it's my place to rate and review it. (Of course, I love it!;-)) I'll leave that up to my readers.
This is an emotional best friends to lovers contemporary romance that has a new adult vibe. My heroine, Becca, is a 24-year-old vet student, although my hero, Ethan, is a bit older at 30. After living inside my head for over five years, Ethan and Becca have become like family to me. Theirs is a sweet, fairy-tale romance with a healthy helping of sensuality.
I hope my readers will come to love my characters as much as I do and enjoy going on this emotional and deeply romantic journey with them as they discover a true love that was right in front of them all the time.
Happy Reading! And may all my readers find their own HEA!(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" Carly's Rule is a sweet, contemporary romance with a reunion theme. The hero and heroine had a summer fling when t...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" Carly's Rule is a sweet, contemporary romance with a reunion theme. The hero and heroine had a summer fling when they were teenagers, while he was visiting friends in her small hometown of Corrigan, West Virginia. Even though he promised to return, he never did, and now, fourteen long years have gone by. Despite that, neither one has ever quite forgotten the other, so when he finally does return to Corrigan for his work and they happen to meet up again, their feelings for one another reignite. Normally, I'm a huge fan of the reunion romance, and this one was nice, but in a mundane sort of way. The first half of the book was really slow-paced. I kind of felt like the characters were going through the motions but very little was actually happening. In my opinion, there needed to be more action, not the action movie type of action, but simply more for the characters to do. As is, it felt like they were going through their busy, ordinary days much like most people do, but their lives didn't really spark off the pages for me. At least, I liked the characters for as well as I got to know them.
After Luke didn't return for her, Carly eventually got on with her life. She created a niche for herself, running her own bakery and café, but before that, she spent several years in Atlanta, working as a pastry chef. She had a relationship with her employer who had a two-year-old son. Carly fell more in love with the little boy than she did his father, so much so that the child had started calling her mommy. Then things fell apart, leaving her devastated to have to leave the boy who had become a son to her. Now her first rule of dating is that she won't go out with anyone who has children. When Luke shows up in town, it's obvious that Carly is still hurt by what she perceived as his betrayal in not keeping his promise. A part of her wants to know why he never came back, but another part of her reasons that she put him behind her and that's where he should stay. It also becomes equally obvious that she's still very attracted to him. Carly has had quite a bit of heartbreak in her life, which she had to be strong to overcome, but what I really wanted to know was how she felt about these things and how they affected her life on a deeper level. I felt like the author was barely scratching the surface, and as a result, I didn't get a good sense of who Carly was as a person.
Luke is a talented woodworker who travels around the country restoring the wood in historic homes and furniture and such. He has a twelve-year-old daughter from a brief failed marriage. Unfortunately, I had similar feelings about Luke as I did Carly. In my opinion, Ms. King took a little too long to reveal why he didn't come back for Carly. About forty or fifty pages into the story, it finally comes out, but up to that point, I was getting very antsy for something to happen or for one of them to say something. Even after the reveal finally occurred, I still didn't fully understand why Luke never contacted Carly again if he really loved her, especially after he got his life back together. I can understand how losing someone close would be a traumatic event in a person's life and might even change them in unexpected ways, but there was still a disconnect there. I think this was owing to the author not really explaining very well just how losing his father affected Luke's life. He offers a cursory explanation with little emotion behind it, and that's it...end of story. I do, however, have to commend Luke for being a good father, and for stepping up to the plate to take care of his daughter when his wife bailed on them.
As I've already alluded, I really would have liked to see the author dig a little deeper with her characterizations. Luke and Carly were obviously good people and there wasn't anything wrong with them per se. I just didn't feel like I got to know them very well. I think a lot of this was owing to a little too much passive narration. The author has a tendency to simply tell about things that happened in the past or even things that are happening in the present rather than writing them out with more detail (showing), which would have lent much more vibrancy to both the characters and the narrative. There were some really good ingredients here. The story just needed a little more seasoning to make it truly great.
Carly's Rule is the first in Vickie King's new Braddocks series about Carly and her siblings. She introduces some characters who I suspect will get books in the future. Carly's best friend, Roxie, is going through a tough time, but it looks like Carly's brother, Landon, may be interested in helping her pick up the pieces. Next up though, is another brother, Dusty, who seems like an intriguing character. He lost his wife and unborn child in a tragic car accident and ever since, has been keeping his distance from everyone. I certainly think he has potential, so I might be interested in reading his story, Dusty's Fall, which appears to have just been released (May 2014).
Overall, Carly's Rule was one of those gentle stories that makes a good rainy day read. It had a good message about not letting our fears get in the way of us trying again when life hands us lemons. This would be a good story for sensitive readers too. Aside from Dusty showing up with a black eye from his work as a private investigator, there's no violence and no bad language. Sex is implied, but the door stays closed with no details. A little less telling and a little deeper POV would have gone a long way toward me making a stronger connection to the characters and story, but overall, it wasn't bad for Ms. King's first foray into full-length novel writing. The story kind of reminded me of Debbie Macomber's old Harlequin titles, so if you're a fan of hers, then you might enjoy Vickie King as well.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author's publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews One with the Shadows was a pretty good story, but it didn't resonate with me quite as deeply as the other books in the Compani...moreReviewed for THC Reviews One with the Shadows was a pretty good story, but it didn't resonate with me quite as deeply as the other books in the Companion series so far. For readers who found the earlier books in the series to be too heavy with rape and abuse themes, this one is an easier read. There is only one scene of this nature in the entire book as opposed to it being almost continual in the previous books. However, I didn't feel like the characters were developed quite as well as they were in the other stories. Susan Squires has always had a somewhat languid pace to her books, but I found the first several chapters of One with the Shadows to be slower than usual. A lot of this was owing to me wanting to know more about the hero who seemed quite intriguing, but we don't get his POV until chapter 7. Even then, it started out with pretty minimal information that didn't really draw me in at first. Once the POVs evened out, the pacing was more what I expect from this author, but I still saw a few missed opportunities for better reader engagement.
Kate is a fortune-teller, who basically bilks the wealthy out of their money by giving them the psychic readings she thinks they want to hear. Despite her profession, Kate is a very sympathetic character. There are a couple of flashbacks to her childhood which were very sad. She was abandoned at the age of six and has no memory of the time before she awoke on a trash heap. From there, she lived on the streets of London, Oliver Twist-style, and learned very quickly how to pick pockets and break into houses. Eventually, Kate ended up in an orphanage, but as a teen, she was taken in by Matthew, a man who claimed to be her father, but who merely used her to make money by telling fortunes and occasionally servicing their male clients in other ways as well. When one of those clients was about to make Kate his permanent mistress, Matthew had her deliberately attacked and her face permanently scarred, so he wouldn't lose his only source of income. Kate is very self-conscious of her scars, but I thought perhaps the author could have done a little better job of conveying how profoundly her disfigurement affected her life. It never really went much beyond her simply thinking that no one could love her and doubting Gian's motives because of the scars. A few people along the way thought she was cursed or marked by the devil, something that she's learned to live with, but overall, I didn't get a strong sense of how it affected her emotionally. Kate's background does come in quite handy on multiple occasions as she saves Gian's life, and the pair embark on a mission to return some very unusual gems to their home in the desert of North Africa. During these times, she is very brave and courageous, doing what she must to help the man she loves. She was also surprisingly unfazed by the revelation that he's a vampire. In fact, she was smart enough to figure out a lot on her own before he even admitted it. Despite having many positive qualities, I thought Kate's characterization still could have been a bit better. There are some things about Kate's past that aren't revealed until near the end of the book, which I think would have helped build her character more if they'd been woven in a little sooner. Much like with the scarring, I detected a couple of other instances where the author does more telling about Kate's issues rather than showing the impact they had on her life. Otherwise, Kate was a pretty admirable and likable character.
From the beginning, Gian is a darkly seductive hero. He's loved and admired for his handsome features by every woman with whom he comes in contact, and is basically the vampire version of Casanova. He's taken numerous lovers over his incredibly long life-span, but after watching his parents marriage end in tragedy, he's never allowed himself to truly fall in love. Gian is an honorable man who is very committed to anything he sets his mind to do. His current mission involves finding a mystical emerald and returning it to the vampire enclave of Mirso Monastery. Gian experiences the ennui that seems common to many of the vampires in this series (in fact, his has gotten so bad, he's become impotent), so once his mission is over, he isn't certain what he wants to do with his life. He's considering the possibility of taking the vow and staying at Mirso permanently until Kate comes into his life, giving him renewed purpose. I love that Gian never really sees Kate's scars, but instead, looks past them to the woman she is inside. Even though he's the perfect specimen of masculinity, he never thinks of her as damaged or ugly, only beautiful despite her disfigurement. Gian definitely lived up to his Casanova-like persona by being a tender and thoughtful lover who thinks only of her pleasure. However, much like Kate, I saw a couple of missed opportunities to deepen his characterization. First, he seems rather tortured by his time fighting the vampire war to conquer Asharti's army in Algiers, but we don't get much background information about this. Unlike with the other heroes in the series who had frequent flashbacks to their tortured pasts, Gian's is more of a distant memory that haunts him occasionally, rather than something that consumes him from an emotional standpoint. The other intriguing thing about him is that he has the unusual ability to produce spontaneous combustion when someone makes him angry. He is said to be a firebrand, the first time I believe that term has been used in this series, but little explanation is given for why he's able to do this. I really wanted to know more about this oddity.
Gian and Kate's relationship development had some weaknesses as well. Shortly after meeting, they take a lengthy carriage ride together, during which they share some conversation, but for some reason, it didn't spark as much of a connection as I would have hoped. Not long after arriving at their destination, they share their first love scene. I couldn't help wishing there had been a little more build-up leading up to it. In general, Gian and Kate seem to essentially hold each other at arms length. Kate believes no man could love her because of her scars; Gian believes no woman can love him because they would think him a monster if he revealed the truth about himself. Kate also believes that Gian is a love-them-and-leave-them kind of guy and that he will soon abandon her just like her parents did. While I understood their vulnerabilities, there were times when both seemed a little belabored and I just wanted them to have a good conversation about it and move forward. They don't end up declaring their love until the last ten pages or so, and even then, it's a rather tentative sharing of feelings. It just wasn't quite enough to fully convince me that they were ready to make a commitment to spend eternity together. Therefore, I found the romance in this book to be somewhat weaker than in the other books of the series, but I will say that, as always, the author has created some delectably sensual love scenes which are in themselves a way for Gian and Kate to express their feelings for one another. This is one area in which Susan Squires really excels in her writing.
Being the fifth book in the Companion series, One with the Shadows does contain a few common characters with other books in the series. The villainess is the vampire, Elyta, who was first introduced in the previous book, One with the Night. She is basically taking over the role from Asharti, whom she apparently mentored, so it isn't too surprising that she spends most of her time sexually dominating and torturing men, while plotting to take over the world. However, she doesn't show her teeth quite as prominently in this book as in the last one. Gian and Kate visit briefly with Ian and Elizabeth (The Companion), who help them prepare for their journey into the desert. Finally, Gian's mother, Donnatella, a beautiful contessa, adores her son and would do anything for him, but she herself has been nursing a broken heart for centuries. She believed in the rules of the Elders and made the grave mistake of not turning the one true love of her life into a vampire when she had the chance. Now it looks like she'll have the opportunity to right the wrongs of the past by traveling back in time in her own book, One with the Darkness, the next in the series.
Despite having a few flaws, One with the Shadows was still a good read overall. Another area in which Susan Squires excels is her research. As a reader and fellow writer, I can tell that she has either personally visited many of the places she writes about or has done very extensive research. Her attention to detail in both her historical and environmental descriptions is superb. She always chooses unusual settings for her stories, and I appreciate the variety. I felt like I was being transported to another time and place. I also liked the way that she wove the vampires into real historical events, making their appearance there plausible. All in all, I enjoyed reading One with the Shadows even if it wasn't quite as strong as some of the other stories in the series. I'm definitely intrigued with the possibility of Donnatella time traveling to Ancient Rome, so I'll be looking forward to reading her book soon.
Note: Sensitive readers should know that this book contains one fairly graphic scene of the hero being raped and tortured by a powerful female vampire.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Grave Peril is the third full-length novel in the Dresden Files series. Up to this point, I've been pretty engaged in this ser...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Grave Peril is the third full-length novel in the Dresden Files series. Up to this point, I've been pretty engaged in this series, but for some reason I can't quite put my finger on, this book didn't quite do it for me. It was still a pretty good story, but I just didn't feel as drawn into it as I have with the other thus far. I freely admit that part of the problem may have been me. I read the majority of the book while completely exhausted, as well as having a lot going on in my life that presented some distractions. That being said though, even when I'm tired and lacking focus, if a story is really good, it will still draw me in, but that wasn't entirely the case here. There was just something about the way it was written that didn't fully engage my brain.
Maybe it was because I didn't feel like I got enough insights into Harry's life this time around as I did with the previous books. Harry has always been an intriguing character to me and one of my biggest literary crushes. However, I didn't feel that this story was as good of a vehicle for his underlying charm and geekiness. He does exhibit his trademark chivalry and can never resist a lady in distress, which I find endearing. He's also very determined to win the day or die trying, which is an admirable trait as well, but I just didn't feel as connected to him this time. Perhaps it was because Harry wasn't interacting with the supporting characters in a deep and meaningful way. In some ways, they seemed like more of a means to an end, like they were just there to give Harry something to do or someone to play off of, rather than being an integral part of the story. I'm also becoming very impatient to learn more about Harry's background. Thus far, we've barely scratched the surface with regards to his first love and his mentor, and I'd love to know more about this part of his life and how it has shaped him into the person he is. But I'll admit that even with the foibles in his character development this time, Harry is still pretty cool.
In this book, Harry's love life takes on a new dimension. He first became involved with tabloid reporter Susan Rodriguez in Storm Front and their relationship progressed in Fool Moon. Now he's slowly coming around to admitting that he's in love with her. Unfortunately, though, we see so little of their interactions as a couple throughout these books that it felt like their romance went from 0 to 60 in mere seconds. It didn't help that they had to travel a pretty rocky road in this book, with some big changes occurring for Susan. Even though she usually ends up involved in whatever mayhem is going on, it seems more like Susan orbits the periphery of Harry's life rather than being a partner in it, which makes it difficult for me to become invested in their romance. Without that deep connection it was difficult to fathom the decisions he made regarding her and the risks he was willing to take for her sake.
The other thing that bothered me was that I was having a hard time following the story this time (which admittedly could have been due to my exhaustion), but it just didn't seem like the mystery flowed as smoothly as it could have. At times, I found myself rather confused and I don't think I could have speculated on what was causing the ghosts to rise in force if I tried. I also struggled a bit with the introduction of some new characters. First was Michael, a Knight of the Cross, who wields holy power. I really liked him as a character and hope we see more of him in the books to come. Also present was Harry's fairy godmother, Lea, with whom it seems he made some kind of pact a long while ago. She seems to enjoy tormenting him, and I think digging deeper into her character could definitely add to Harry's characterization. However, where I struggled was with how these two characters were introduced. They just pop into the story with very little background insights into Harry's relationship with either one. Lea has obviously been a part of his life for a long time, and he's been trying to avoid her. Michael, on the other hand, it seems Harry met while working on another case months before, which tied into one of the villains of Grave Peril. I kept feeling like I was supposed to already know about the villain and this previous case, like it was part of another story, but try as I might, I couldn't recall reading anything like that up to this point in the series. I just couldn't help feeling like there were pieces to the story I was missing.
In addition to Michael and Lea, there are some other secondary characters who either are introduced and appear to play roles in future stories of the series or who had been previously introduced in prior books of the series. Karrin Murphy doesn't play as big of a part in this book, but she does show up. Harry has an intriguing admiration for her that IMHO, in some ways overshadows his relationship with Susan. I've speculated before about whether there might someday be something more between Harry and Murphy, but considering the path his romance with Susan took, I'm not so sure anymore. The red vampire Bianca, first seen in Storm Front, is back in all her bad-ass glory. A new white vampire, Thomas, becomes an ally for Harry. And last but not least, Harry's sidekicks, Bob and Mister, were in fine form as always.
Overall, Grave Peril may not have been the best book in the series for me so far, but it does set up some pivotal events that I'm sure will play out in the next book or books of the series. I'll be interested to see where things go from here, considering all that happened in Grave Peril, so I'll definitely be picking up the next book Summer Knight soon and hoping that I'm not as confused by the storyline or as tired the next time around.:-)(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews I found Maggie Mine to be a rather unusual book that was difficult for me categorize. I went into reading it thinking it was a...moreReviewed for THC Reviews I found Maggie Mine to be a rather unusual book that was difficult for me categorize. I went into reading it thinking it was an erotic romance, because the first couple of pages inside mention that the publisher, Blushing Books, specializes in spanking romance. However, I didn't find the story to be all that erotic, mainly due to the fact that the spanking element is presented as domestic discipline. Because of this, I perceived a huge disconnect between the discipline aspect and any sexual desire. For that reason, the story held less appeal for me. In fact, I discovered, while doing a bit of research on the topic, that the mere thought of domestic discipline tied my stomach up in knots. For readers who are really into domestic discipline, this will probably be their perfect cup of tea, and may explain the high ratings this book has on GoodReads and other book-related sites.
For me, Maggie Mine was just an OK read for a number of reasons, first and foremost of which was that the characterizations were pretty one-dimensional. I suppose Nicholas and Maggie were likable enough for as well as I got to know them, but unfortunately, that wasn't very well. Nicholas is a knight recently returned from the Crusades, who was given a new holding by King Edward for his loyalty. The cover blurb indicates that he is sad and battle-wearied, but he never really comes off that way. He just kind of continues on with life in a matter-of-fact way, and doesn't seem to have any deep feelings about the experience one way or the other. Nicholas seemed to be an honorable man, and I will admit that, aside from the discipline aspect, which he thankfully never undertook in anger, he was pretty nice to Maggie and believed in her innocence when the worst happened. Maggie is a spirited, headstrong Scottish lass, who hates the English, because they've been attacking her family's castle while her father and brothers were away fighting in the Crusades. This leads her to impetuously shoot Nicholas with an arrow when he shows up at her gates with the bad news of her relatives' deaths and that he is now her guardian. Maggie is so stubborn, she has many TSTL moments in which she does outrageous things that any person who takes the time to think would realize were bad ideas. I guess the author had to have her do these things to give Nicholas a reason to spank her, but to me, it made her seem like an immature, impulsive, featherbrained girl who never learned her lesson.
Unfortunately, Nicholas and Maggie's relationship was equally as lacking in depth as their individual characterizations. I really didn't understand their initial reluctance to give in to their attraction. They were well-suited to one another insofar as they came from similar stations. Although they irritate one another, they also intrigue each other. In addition, they are both physically pleasing to the other, so why Nicholas never considered Maggie a good choice to fill the role of a wife in his life, I couldn't really figure out. For her part, Maggie is initially reluctant because of her hatred of the English, which was somewhat understandable, considering that they were attacking her castle, but she seems to get over that pretty quickly and with little fanfare. This part just wasn't given the weight that it deserved. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, she begins holding a grudge against Nicholas for leaving her brother, Brodie, behind on the battlefield, although given the circumstances, I don't know what more Nicholas could have done. By the end, when Nicholas' life is on the line, Maggie completely misunderstands his actions and thinks the worst of him when he was only looking out for her well-being. I thought this made her seem ungrateful and shrewish. In general, I simply didn't feel much of an emotional connection between Nicholas and Maggie. Any feelings they may have developed for one another seemed forced, because there was way too much telling and not enough showing. I honestly can't say that I know why, or exactly when, these two supposedly fell in love, because the emotions were so stunted.
As I mentioned earlier, going into reading this book, I thought it was an erotic romance, which I also thought would contain some nice, steamy love scenes. Sadly, that was not the case. There are only two relatively short love scenes in the entire book. With the very first of these, the reader is literally dropped right into the middle of the action. This left me feeling kind of ripped off, because there was no sexual tension or buildup to the moment. One minute they're at their wedding feast, and the next–poof!–they're in bed in the middle of love-making. Overall, the two love scenes were way too short to be satisfying or to consider erotic, as well as being mostly uninspired and lacking emotion.
I enjoy a good BDSM story with a little spanking from time to time, but the spanking theme here was, in my opinion, given a very heavy-handed treatment (no pun intended:-)). Like with love scenes, I felt that this theme should have been incorporated into the story in such a way that it advanced the plot and flowed seamlessly with the other elements, but I pretty much felt like I was being hit over the head with it right out of the gate. All of the characters who have any significant role in the story very obviously have spanking on the brain almost constantly, whether it be giving or receiving. I was starting to get bored with it, because it was so frequent and there was so little variety except in the chosen spanking implement. Because this wasn't like any BDSM story I'd read before, I had to do a little research, and that's when I discovered that the spanking element is being portrayed as domestic discipline. After understanding this lifestyle better, I'd also go so far as to say that this technically isn't a BDSM-themed book. It felt like Nicholas was simply discipling Maggie like an errant child for every infraction, and there was only one time in which the spanking was immediately followed by sex. Nicholas did get a bit hot and bothered once or twice while spanking Maggie, but in my mind, there was always a clear differentiation between the spanking and any sexual desire. This is probably because the spankings weren't being administered to cause sexual arousal, but rather to punish, which gives the story a much different feel than any BDSM book I've ever read.
In addition to the lack of character and relationship development, the other thing that garnered Maggie Mine only three stars was the writing itself. I initially struggled a bit, because there was something about the way it was written that prevented it from flowing smoothly. I had to concentrate a little harder than usual to keep up with what was happening. This eventually got better, but I still think it could have used more descriptive details, as well as better transitions between character actions. This would have made it so much easier to envision the scenes clearly. As written, this felt like a wallpaper historical, because there is so little historical detail and some of the details present seemed anachronistic to me. I've also read much better renderings of the Scottish brogue in dialogue. I had a much harder time hearing it in my head than I typically do, and that certainly wasn't helped by the author using “dinna,” “doona,” and “dunna” all interchangeably to represent “do not.” The book definitely needed much better editing too. I found lots of grammatical errors, clunky wording, anachronistic wording, times when too many unnecessary words were used and other times when too few were used, causing a lack of clarity. There are times when a POV character assumes something about another character that he/she couldn't possibly know, which should have been stated much differently. I mentioned earlier about the dreaded “telling not showing” of which there were many examples. One of the most frustrating of these is when the author tells about an event after the fact, when showing it as it was happening would have given the narrative much more immediacy and also given more weight to how the event shaped character and plot development. In short, it felt like the book either wasn't edited at all or was done so very poorly.
Overall, despite my many criticisms, Maggie Mine wasn't a terrible story. I may have gotten frustrated with the writing and certain character actions, particularly Maggie's, at times, but I wasn't honestly bored while reading it. I also liked Nicholas for as well as I got to know him. The book had a certain entertainment value to it and some decent ingredients, which if nurtured a lot more could have been polished into a truly great story. The headstrong heroine and the alpha hero with a heart of gold reminded me a bit of Julie Garwood's medievals, so if you enjoy her books and wish they had some spanking in them, then this may be the book for you.;-) Maggie Mine is the first in an untitled duet of Scottish medieval stories. The follow-up book is The Great Scottish Devil, which features Maggie's brother, Brodie, as the hero. Even though this book was just OK for me, I think Brodie has potential, and since I already have his story on my TBR pile, I'm sure I'll read it eventually.
Note: Due to the spanking element which transitions into sex, or at least sexual desire, a couple of times, I ended up feeling compelled to categorize this book as erotic, even though to me it was more of a standard historical romance with a lot of spanking in it. However, the spanking is presented as domestic discipline, which differs from the discipline aspect of BDSM in that it isn't intended to titillate but to punish bad behavior and maintain control of the household. The love scenes are only semi-steamy with language that is typical of mainstream romances rather than erotic romances.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews When the announcement came out last year (2013) that the next Black Dagger Brotherhood book was going to be about Wrath and Be...moreReviewed for THC Reviews When the announcement came out last year (2013) that the next Black Dagger Brotherhood book was going to be about Wrath and Beth again, I saw many fans complaining, wondering why J. R. Ward would give them another book. Their argument was that this couple had already had their story told and didn't need another one, but I thoroughly disagreed with them. Dark Lover had been good and was, of course, the book that started me on this crazy journey with the Brotherhood and made me a fan of paranormal vampire romance. For that reason, it holds a special place in my heart, but I always felt like Wrath and Beth's story was a tad rushed. Theirs was the shortest book in the series, and with all the typical secondary POVs on the canvas, there wasn't quite enough time to really dig into their issues. From the moment I finished reading Dark Lover, I began hoping that there would be more story for this couple, but believed it was probably just wishful thinking on my part, or that I would simply have to settle for them being supporting players in other characters' stories. So for me personally, the announcement for The King was a very welcome one indeed, and this book definitely did not disappoint in any way, shape, or form. I loved every minute I spent reading it, even better than Dark Lover, and hated to see it come to an end.
Wrath is as sexy as ever, and it was so much fun to have him at the forefront as the main hero again. He's always had a hard time with being the king. It took him a couple of centuries to ascend to the throne, which he did at the end of Dark Lover with Beth's help and encouragement. Since then, he has been plagued with struggles: the desire to be back out in the field fighting with his Brothers, going completely blind, the seemingly endless piles of paperwork, and doubts about being able to live up to his father's legacy. There are days when Wrath really doesn't want to be King, and throughout these parts, I couldn't help thinking, “What better person to be in charge than someone who doesn't want to be?” I know this might sound strange, but it all goes to the idea that if someone isn't seeking power, wealth, or prestige, then they're likely less corruptible. I couldn't have been more right as this concept played out over the course of the story. Wrath finally comes into his own and begins building his own lasting legacy for future generations, and I couldn't have been more proud of that. While he's in the midst of coming to terms with all of this, the glymera and the Band of Bastards continue with their efforts to dethrone him, during which he has to muster all the mettle he can find to overcome their machinations. On top of all that, Beth desperately wants a young, but Wrath flatly refuses to do the baby thing. He's scared to death of possibly losing Beth if her pregnancy doesn't go well, which leads to a major argument for the couple. And whoo-wee! All I can say is that Wrath does not take Beth leaving him, even for one night, well at all. Not surprisingly though, he eventually comes to his senses, leading to a wonderful reconciliation.
For her part, Beth wants a baby so badly, she's been spending all her free time with Layla in an attempt to jump start her needing. She also still fears for her hellren's life after the attempted assassination in Lover Reborn. They begin to experience some typical marital issues that often come about when a couple has been in a long-term, committed relationship. Beth feels distant from Wrath because his overwhelming responsibilities as King keep him incredibly busy, not to mention they have a major disagreement about whether to have kids when Wrath finds out what Beth has been doing. Wrath is adamantly against it, so much so that he won't even talk about it, and Beth understandably has a hard time dealing with that. Once they both cool off, I loved how they came back together and had a great heart-to-heart conversation about everything. It just went to show that their relationship meant more to them than the things standing in their way. As she's always been, Beth was Wrath's rock and a freakin' genius to boot. She's the one who found a loophole in the glymera's evil plan, and she also helped Wrath come to terms with his monarchy, showing that she is indeed worthy of being queen.
As with all the BDB books, there are secondary plots and characters aplenty with lots of forward progression on all fronts. For starters, we have the Shadow brothers, Trez and iAm. Trez is a combination of Rhage, with his sexual addiction, and Rehvenge because he took over the other male's shady business enterprises. Of course, both of these things make Trez a very bad boy.;-) His sexual addiction has gotten to the point that he simply does it by rote. It's more of a compulsion that he doesn't really even enjoy anymore. In some ways, I think he's also doing it to thumb his nose at the s'Hisbe and the Shadow queen, who expect him to mate the queen's daughter and be the prize stud of his race. In the last book, Trez met Selena and realized she was the woman of his dreams. He didn't dare to hope that the Chosen returned his feelings, so he's extremely surprised when she makes it abundantly clear that she does. Selena has been attracted to Trez since the moment she first saw him. She now believes that she's contracted a mysterious disease that has killed some of her Chosen sisters in the past, making her want to live life to the fullest in the present. This makes her throw caution to the wind where Trez is concerned. He shrewdly comes up with a temporary fix to his problem with the Shadow queen, but essentially has to make a deal with the devil to do it. However, he still doesn't feel the least bit worthy of Selena. These two are going to have a lot of obstacles to overcome in their path to happiness, but I'll be rooting for them all the way. iAm is backing Trez up too. He constantly worries about his brother, which always sends him into a cooking frenzy. The scenes with him and Beth's cat, Boo, were hilarious, and I loved how he stepped up to the plate to look out for Beth when Wrath couldn't. iAm has always been the quiet one of the two brothers, but we learn a few very interesting tidbits about him in this book. His devotion to Trez is very touching and reminiscent of Phury with Zsadist. I can't wait to read more about these two brothers when they become co-heroes of the next book, The Shadows, which if the BDB books stay on their current release schedule, will be out next Spring (2015).
Next up is Assail and Sola. I hadn't fully warmed up to this couple in the last book of the series, but that all changed here. Their story had ended on something of a cliffhanger with Sola being kidnapped near the end of Lover at Last. From the moment they first appeared in this book, I was fully engaged. Sola kind of reminds me of Xhex. She's a tough cookie who isn't about to wait around hoping a man, namely Assail, will save her. She takes matters into her own hands the best she knows how and probably would have gotten away from her kidnappers even if Assail hadn't showed up in time. The way Assail sees it, drug wholesaler, Benloise, took his woman and he's not messing around when it comes to getting her back. He goes all Rambo on Benloise's men, which oddly enough is when I finally started warming up to him. What really cinched it, though, was Assail's intense focus on finding Sola, and most of all, his loving care of her grandmother until he does. This little old lady had me cracking up with the way she left Assail and his cousins speechless with her assertive, take-charge attitude. Assail's tenderness toward Sola when he finally finds her, especially after being so utterly ruthless with her kidnappers, was astounding and the thing that really made me start liking the guy. Sola is obviously his Achilles heel. I was glad to see that Sola trusted him in that situation too. After the rescue, things heat up for these two pretty quickly, but it's far from a happy ending for them. They're still pining for each other, though, so the potential for a long-term relationship is very much alive and well. I'm so looking forward to more character building for these two, especially Assail, but he's definitely going to have to clean up his act to be worthy of Sola.
The theme of this book's secondary romances seemed to be good (or mostly good) girls falling for very bad boys. The last of these couples is Xcor and Layla. Xcor still intrigues me a great deal. I know that he's done some terrible things, particularly toward Wrath, so he'll certainly have to pay in some way for that. IMHO though, Xcor is an empty shell of a male who needs something in his life to feel whole again. All along, he's believed that gaining the throne is the thing that will give him what he desires. However, he couldn't be more mistaken, and I think he's slowly coming to realize that. Poor Layla is going through the difficult throes of pregnancy, but she's still very happy about it and maintaining a cheerful attitude. She was very brave to approach Xcor about ending his mission to take Wrath out as King. His response in some ways surprised me, but in other ways, it didn't. I very much want Xcor to be redeemed and have a life with Layla, but I have a feeling it's going to be a long, hard road for them to get there. That road may be complicated by his relationship with Throe, which has hit a rocky patch, creating a lot of friction within their friendship as Xcor's priorities shift.
Poor Saxton isn't unlike Qhuinn in that his father (who happens to be one of the gymera members actively seeking to depose Wrath), hates him because he's gay. I'm so proud of Saxton being First Council to the King and wish he could wave that in his father's face, but to do so would have tipped off the baddies. I think Saxton is going to find–or perhaps has already has found–a new family with the Brotherhood in service to the King, and I hope he finds true love along the way too. Some new gymera members come to the forefront in this book. I can't recall if any of them were introduced in past books, but if they were, their parts were small. The most important of them is Abalone who is the only one of the gymera, other than those within the Brotherhood's fold, who supports Wrath, which definitely works in his favor. Last but not least, John Matthew's seizure episodes return, which cause him to begin experiencing unfamiliar feelings toward Beth, as well as some visions of Darius's life.
Throughout all the flashbacks to the Old Country, I enjoyed reading about Wrath's parents. Their romance was every bit as lovely as any of the main couples in the series, and it was wonderful to know that they were so much in love. All their scenes together added depth to their relationship, as well as the overall plot. Once again, the past was seamlessly woven into what was happening in the present, which made it all the more intriguing.
Overall, The King was yet another fabulous book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. I loved the double twist ending, and every single one of the storylines, from Wrath and Beth's, all the way through each of the secondary characters' was engaging and intriguing. I greatly enjoyed reading each and every one, and can't wait for some of these characters to get their own books. The hardest part of reading a great book like this is that, with all good things, it must eventually come to an end. This is one case where I'm glad these books are long, so that I can derive more hours of enjoyment from them before that happens. Of course, the other difficult thing is waiting another full year for the next one to be released, so I'll be on the edge of my seat, eagerly counting down the days until I get to read The Shadows and learn what's in store for Trez, Selena, and iAm.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews When reading anthologies, I usually pick up one novella here and there to fill in gaps between longer books and rarely read th...moreReviewed for THC Reviews When reading anthologies, I usually pick up one novella here and there to fill in gaps between longer books and rarely read them straight through. With that being the case, I've decided to post reviews of each story as I finish it. Reviews on the remaining novellas and the overall book rating will be forthcoming.:-)
Playing Doctor by Lori Foster -
The Lady of the Lake by Erin McCarthy - The Lady of the Lake is the third novella in Erin McCarthy's Bowling Friends series. It pairs the geeky Violet with hot, sexy baseball player, Dylan. The two meet when he rescues her from where she's treading water in the middle of Lake Erie after accidentally falling off her boyfriend's fishing boat. Unfortunately, her boyfriend is even geekier than she is and got so wrapped up in fishing and chatting with his friends that he didn't even notice she was missing. Enter Dylan, who becomes Violet's knight in shining armor. Of course, being saved by a hot guy is great, but Violet is painfully shy and self-conscious about her body. She's a very sweet heroine, and when Dylan starts hitting on her, she can't believe that someone like him would want someone like her. Aside from her overly endowed chest, which she's spent most of her life trying to hide, she thinks of herself as pretty ordinary right down to even wearing glasses. She's basically a prim librarian in a stripper's body. When Dylan finds Violet, she's extremely upset and disappointed, not just because she realized she's so unnoticeable that her boyfriend left her in the middle of a lake, but also because she wants more than anything to have a baby and was counting on his sperm to accomplish that. Violet's self-consciousness is very endearing and relatable. She's also very sympathetic, because she has no idea why her girlfriends go on and on about how great sex is. She doesn't even like sex, because it's never been good for her, not that she's the type to sleep around though. Overall, I really liked Violet a lot, and was pleased to find that I correctly predicted that she would be my favorite heroine of the series (thus far anyway).
Dylan is a sweetheart too. The day they meet is his birthday, but he's not feeling very celebratory. Most of his adult life, women have thrown themselves at his feet, but that's not what he truly wants. He's spent the last year celibate, simply because he realized that his sexual encounters had turned into nothing more than two bodies joining together with no feelings attached. He longs for someone who wants him and loves him for himself and not just for his money, or prestige, or for the bragging rights of having had sex with a celebrity. When he realizes how sweet and innocent Violet is, and most of all, that she doesn't want anything from him like most women do, it makes her incredibly attractive to him, so much so that he impulsively offers to father the baby she so desperately wants. I admit that it takes some suspension of disbelief to buy into the idea of two strangers agreeing to make a baby together the same day they meet, but this story was very light-hearted which made it easier to not take it too seriously. Also, it's definitely all about the fantasy, and what girl who's a plain Jane geek wouldn't want a hot guy to give her all his attention and show her exactly what she's been missing in bed. I also loved that Dylan wasn't satisfied with just making a baby, he wanted to be there for Violet and make a commitment to her, regardless of whether he got her pregnant or not.
Kindra, Ashley and Trish, all three of Violet's best friends, along with Mack and Luke, the heroes from the first two novellas were there for Violet as she awaited the results of her pregnancy test. I was a little disappointed with what Trish pushed Violet to do toward afterward, but at least, Violet realized it wasn't the right thing and admitted it to Dylan. I suppose in her defense though, Trish thought she was just looking out for her friend's best interests, so hopefully, her actions won't taint my reading of her novella (“It's about Time” from Bad Boys of Summer) which is the next and final one in the series.
Usually lack of believability in any romance is a downside for me, but The Lady of the Lake ended up being a really good read. I liked and related to Violet so much and loved that Dylan treated her with such care, it would have been impossible for me not to have fun while reading it. Not to mention, it was off the charts hot without quite stepping over the line into erotica. Overall, it was another great novella in this, so far, very enjoyable and steamy series. Star Rating: ****1/2
Hardhats and Silk Stockings by HelenKay Dimon - (less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews I didn't find Promise Canyon to be one of the stronger books in Robyn Carr's Virgin River series, but it was still a pretty go...moreReviewed for THC Reviews I didn't find Promise Canyon to be one of the stronger books in Robyn Carr's Virgin River series, but it was still a pretty good read that had several positive points. Probably the first and foremost of those would be that both main characters were Native American. I think this is the first romance I've read in which that was the case. The hero is a bit more traditional with strong roots in the Native American community, while the heroine hasn't even visited the reservation in years, and in many ways, has tried to distance herself from her background. It all gave the story a slightly different flavor than the other books in the series thus far.
Clay is one seriously hot and sexy hero. He has classic Native American good looks: bronze skin, a sculpted body from working with horses all day, and long, raven black hair that falls past his waist. Yum!;-) He's kind of a jack of all trades when it comes to horses. He's a vet tech, a farrier, and he trains them. Clay has a very special connection with the horses in which he can sort of communicate with them psychically. I loved his relationship with the problem horse, Streak, and how he gently coaxed the nervous stallion into a trusting bond. He definitely has a way with the animals. One of the things I liked most about Clay is how he stepped up to the plate and didn't shirk his responsibilities as a father. Even though he was only seventeen when his son was born, he actually wanted to be a father to the baby. He fought for and won that right from the mother and her family who were ready to give the child up for adoption. He was a very involved dad for the first eleven years of his son's life. Even after that, when he went out on the rodeo circuit and later to live in California, he always kept in touch with his son and went back to the reservation to visit him often or brought the boy to visit him. Now, he wants nothing more than to finally live with his son in the same place. I think this side of him went a long way in convincing Lilly that he was a good guy in spite of her past experience with another Navajo man. Clay ends up coaxing Lilly into a relationship much the same way he does with the horses, slowly and gently, while refusing to take no for an answer. He's just an all-around scrumptious guy.
Lilly cares very much about animals, so much so that she's a vegan. I love how she took time out of her busy day to save a horse's life, then build a bond with the abandoned animal. Much like Clay she has a way with horses and a special connection that draws them to her. After getting pregnant in her early teens by a young Navajo man who was several years older, Lilly is pretty gun-shy around Native men. She is also a stubbornly independent woman who has been trying to distance herself from her Native roots, and the traditional paternalistic culture. Despite her distrust of, and other issues with, Native men, she can't deny that she finds Clay attractive from the moment they meet. While I could appreciate that Lilly was afraid to get involved with Clay because of what happened with the Navajo boy from her past and because of her independent streak, I wish her reasons had been brought out a little more prominently. I just felt that her reluctance didn't have quite the depth of feeling that it should have. She essentially comes off as a bit immature, simply stubborn and holding on to the pain of the past, which ended up being the main reason that was revealed anyway. I'm so glad that her gay best friend, Dane, finally gave her a metaphorical slap in the face and some tough love (I was totally cheering him on:-)), otherwise, I'm not sure she ever would have given Clay a chance to explain what happened with his ex. Overall, Lilly was a nice heroine, but maybe not as much of a standout as other heroines in the series.
I was somewhat disappointed in the relationship development between Clay and Lilly which is the main reason I knocked off a star. There just wasn't much in the way of getting-to-know-you or romantic moments between them before they fell into bed together. Prior to that they shared an obvious physical attraction for one another, but their interactions seemed mostly superficial. This made their instant trip to the bedroom the first time they were truly alone together feel a little too rushed. That first love scene, the only moderately detailed one in the book, was nice, but it would have been even nicer if I had felt more of a connection between them. Even after that, they don't do a whole lot together to really build the romance before things started falling apart when Clay's ex-wife showed up unexpectedly. The setup for the conflict was another weak link. IMHO, Clay didn't really have much of a reason for not telling Lilly that his ex-wife was visiting. Since he knew that Lilly was going to be delivering feed the next day and might run into the ex, you'd think he would want to warn her and maybe do a little preventative damage control, but of course, he doesn't which leads to a major misunderstanding. If he'd simply been more truthful and forthcoming, things probably never would have escalated to the point that they did, but for her part, Lilly should have allowed him to explain instead of locking herself away and refusing to even speak to him. It made her seem like the immature young girl she'd been all those years ago when her heart was broken. Not to mention, she seemed to be unfairly painting Clay with the same brush as the love who cheated on her and abandoned her when she needed him most.
As with all the Virgin River books, Promise Canyon has plenty of secondary characters, some of whom get their own POV scenes and sub-plots. First, the town says a sad good-bye to a character who's been there since the beginning. This leaves Jack with a big responsibility he didn't ask for and half the town mad at him for not doing what they want. As always, Jack is the backbone of Virgin River and has the town's best interests at heart. Also, most of the main characters from past books rally around to get matters in order and hold an estate sale. A group of four women show up in Virgin River for a brief sojourn at Luke's cabins. Two of the women, Jillian and Kelly, are sisters who seem to be taking a liking to the area, but both currently have high powered jobs in San Francisco. Each of them will return as the main heroines in their own book, Kelly in Harvest Moon, and Jillian in the next book Wild Man Creek, paired with Colin, one of only two remaining Riordan boys still standing. The Riordan brothers band together to help Colin in this book after he's involved in a serious helicopter crash that leaves him pretty banged up. He's very surly about it and also gets himself hooked on pain killers. I have a feeling he'll be coming to Virgin River to rest and recuperate from all the drama. Nathaniel and Annie (“Under the Christmas Tree” from That Holiday Feeling) appear too. Nathaniel hires Clay to work for him in his vet clinic and horse boarding/training business, while Annie pairs up with Lilly to start a trail riding program for young girls in the area. Last but not least, a new young man named Denny shows up in town after being discharged from the Marines, following a stint in Afghanistan. He's looking for his long, lost father, but so far, he's just feeling out the waters and not saying who it is. I have a sneaking suspicion I know who and will be looking forward to that reveal. In the meantime, he's befriended Jack and will be staying on long enough to get his own book, Bring Me Home for Christmas.
There are times when I wish Robyn Carr would dig into her characters a little deeper, and Promise Canyon was one of those books. It had some great characters, but I didn't feel like I got to know them as well as I would have liked. She engages in quite a bit of omniscient narration which results in more telling than showing. Instead of this, I'd really like to see her get into the meat of her characters and allow the reader to be an active part of their lives. I've felt this more with some of her other books, but not as much with this one. It was still a pretty good read, but IMO it could have been better. I've been trying to finish the Virgin River series while staying up to date on her new Thunder Point series at the same time. Maybe I've just been reading a few too many of Ms. Carr's books too close together and need to put more space in between them, so I can appreciate them better when I do pick one up. Or maybe, it's just that she's come to a point in both series, where the ideas aren't flowing quite as freely, and therefore, the books aren't quite as polished. I suppose only time will tell as I continue to read both.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews When reading anthologies, I usually pick up one novella here and there to fill in gaps between longer books and rarely read th...moreReviewed for THC Reviews When reading anthologies, I usually pick up one novella here and there to fill in gaps between longer books and rarely read them straight through. With that being the case, I've decided to post reviews of each story as I finish it. Reviews on the remaining novellas and the overall book rating will be forthcoming.:-)
Stray Magic by Diana Peterfreund -
Payment Due by Frances Hardinge -
A Handful of Ashes by Garth Nix -
Little Gods by Holly Black -
Barrio Girls by Charles De Lint -
Felidis by Tanith Lee -
Witch Work by Neil Gaiman -
The Education of a Witch by Ellen Klages -
The Threefold World by Ellen Kushner -
The Witch in the Wood by Delia Sherman -
Which Witch by Patricia A. McKillip -
The Carved Forest by Tim Pratt -
Burning Castles by M. Rickert -
The Stone Witch by Isobelle Carmody -
Andersen's Witch by Jane Yolen -
B Is for Bigfoot by Jim Butcher - B Is for Bigfoot is a cute short story in the Dresden Files series. Harry is hired by a bigfoot to find out what's happening with his son at school and why he's coming home with injuries. The son, Irwin, is a bigfoot/human hybrid (aka scion) who lives with his human mother and doesn't know about his father. Of course, the dastardly bullies are otherworldly as well, making things a little more challenging for our intrepid investigator.
I really enjoyed this novella and think the bullying theme is one to which kids and teens will be able to strongly relate. Even though Irwin is much larger than his tormentors, he's a shy, sweet kid who doesn't want to hurt anybody. I liked how Harry assisted him in finding a solution that helped him to stand up for himself but didn't involve violence. Much like in Restoration of Faith, one of the early shorts in the series, Harry shows his big heart toward kids. Not to mention, he can relate to the boy on a deeper level, because he used to be just like Irwin when he was a kid. I loved all the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy references. Even though I haven't read the books yet, my husband is a big fan, so I understood all the jokes. Unlike the other Dresden Files books, this one was pretty clean in deference to its younger audience. There were only one or two mild profanities and no other objectionable content unless the idea of a human and a bigfoot producing a child is bothersome. However, the bigfoot in this story, while still quite hairy, is portrayed as a highly intelligent, humanoid being. Overall, I found B Is for Bigfoot to be a fun read that was an enjoyable way to spend about an hour of my reading time. Star Rating: ****
Great-Grandmother in the Cellar by Peter S. Beagle -
Crow and Caper, Caper and Crow by Margo Lanagan -(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" My Life with Snoopy is the love story of one man and his faithful dog. It is a compilation of vignettes about the...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" My Life with Snoopy is the love story of one man and his faithful dog. It is a compilation of vignettes about the 13+ years they spent together as best friends, along with some background information on the author, events in his life that affected his decisions to, at first, not want a dog, and later to finally adopt Snoopy. I've always believed that our animal friends can teach us many things. This is a phenomena I've experienced firsthand, so when the author talked about how Snoopy was such a major influence on his life, I could relate. I also fully understood the serendipity of walking into an animal shelter and simply knowing that a certain animal is meant for you. When we let them, pets have a way of grabbing onto our hearts and never letting go, even in death. This seems to be exactly what happened with Joey and Snoopy.
After a serious childhood trauma in which a puppy he had come to love was abruptly ripped away from him, Joey didn't really want to have another dog. Much later in life when he was forty and had spent time around friends' dogs, seeing how the animals enriched their lives, he decided to take another chance and went to the animal shelter. There he found Snoopy, the dog who would become his best friend for the next thirteen years. I loved reading about all the adventures these two had together. Snoopy's sweet, lively, intelligent personality shone through in all the little stories about their friends, neighbors and other animals they met along the way. The other obvious thing was just how much Joey adored Snoopy. These two were virtually inseparable until Snoopy's life on this mortal plane came to an end.
Of course, the end of life stories of pets are always heartbreaking, and this one was no different. I've personally been in the author's shoes multiple times, and it's never easy to say goodbye. I have to commend Joey though for making Snoopy's passing as peaceful and comfortable as possible. After dealing with this myself, I was shocked to learn of people who simply abandon their sick, elderly pets, unable to cope with letting them go in a healthy way, so whenever I read about someone who cares enough to “do it the right way,” I have to give them a pat on the back for their compassion and bravery. Snoopy was obviously a very special dog who deserved the best in both life and death. As difficult as the ending was to read, I rejoice in the fact that one less dog was left on the streets neglected or worse yet, euthanized way too early. Joey and Snoopy were, without a doubt, made for each other. I'm so glad they found one another and had those thirteen years of fun, adventure, laughter and tears together.
My Life with Snoopy is written in a breezy, conversational way that made me feel like I was sitting down with a friend, listening to him recount stories from his and his dog's lives. Mr. Camen is a good storyteller who kept me engaged throughout the book with his fun and occasionally heartbreaking tales. The only reason I knocked off a half star is because I found a number of mistakes that a good editor/proofreader should have caught and which could be a tad distracting. Overall though, I very much enjoyed reading My Life with Snoopy. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good animal story. It would also make a great gift for the animal lover in your life.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews One Night is a sweet M/M romance novella about two men from disparate walks of life who serendipitously meet at a vacation res...moreReviewed for THC Reviews One Night is a sweet M/M romance novella about two men from disparate walks of life who serendipitously meet at a vacation resort while each of them is there for very different reasons. One is attending a winemakers' convention, while the other is there doing some soul-searching before entering into a marriage of convenience with a woman who his family views as the perfect choice for him from a social standpoint. They spend a few romantic days and one steamy night together before circumstances come between them, leaving them with some very important decisions to make about the future.
Liam is a very sweet beta hero who is confused and vulnerable. Three years earlier, he had married his pregnant best friend since childhood to give her and her baby the protection and stability of his family's name and wealth. She died mere days after the baby was born, leaving him a grieving single father. He loves his little girl more than anything in the world, so much so that he is about to enter into another marriage of convenience, thinking that his daughter needs a mother in her life. His fiancée is a woman who is socially and financially perfect for him on paper, but he doesn't love her. In an attempt to provide all the best things for his daughter and please his family, he became an attorney. He works long hours in the family law firm and doesn't see his little girl as much as he would like. Deep down, Liam is an artist at heart, who would much rather be out taking photographs than toiling away behind a desk or in a courtroom. Mere weeks before his wedding, he decides to take a vacation, during which he hopes to clear his head of all the confusion. Liam knows he's gay, but he doesn't have much experience at being gay. He's still in the closet, because of his fear over what his semi-famous family will think of him. Liam experimented with gay sex a bit in college, but he hasn't been with anyone since. He wants to find a guy who's amenable to a one night stand, thinking it will help get it out of his system, so that he can go through with his wedding. Because of his past experiences with sex, he's very confused about what gay sex is. He thinks it's supposed to be nothing more than quick and dirty with no tenderness and no commitments, and because of where he's at in his life, he believes that's what he wants. With that being the case, when Micah tries to take things slower and actually make love, it's scares him. Liam was an amazing guy to do what he did for his best friend, but since losing her, he hasn't really had any friends. He's a shy guy who doesn't make friends easily, so when Micah comes along, he finds himself longing for that type of connection again but afraid to take the necessary leap to have it. Liam's vulnerability over his sexuality was very touching, and I think Micah was the perfect person to help him sort things out. When Liam finally stood up to his parents and decided to take control of his life, I was cheering him on.
Micah is a well-adjusted gay man with strong family ties. He and his two sisters own and run the family winery business which he's been in charge of since their parents died when he was only eighteen. As such, he's a very responsible guy, who's something of a control freak and a bit of a wine snob. His sisters always insist on sending him on a trip to California each year to attend a winemakers' conference. Like Liam, Micah has his own introverted side. He hates being the public face of the family business and is much more at home in his role of vintner. He prefers growing the grapes and making the wine over giving tours of the winery or schmoozing with his competitors at the convention. When he meets Liam by chance on the beach one day, the attraction is instant and palpable. Part of the reason Micah's sisters sent him on the trip is because they think he needs to find a hot guy and have some equally hot sex, but that isn't really Micah's game. I loved that he was a relationship guy who wasn't into meaningless sex. The way he took care of Liam when he got drunk and refused to sleep with him while he was in that state was sweet and showed him to be a real gentleman. He really likes Liam and wants to give him far more than the other man seems to be looking for.
One Night is a fairly short novella that takes place over only about a week's time. I liked that the author took things slowly though, and allowed Liam and Micah a little time to get to know each other. They spend some really good quality time together, doing some very romantic things, before falling into bed. Even then Micah was a little hesitant, but Liam's overt sexual overtures and overall hotness proved a bit too much for him to resist. Still, I liked that he stuck around afterward even though Liam was trying his best to push him away. Of course, some unexpected circumstances temporarily tear them apart, while Liam makes up his mind about his life. Then they share a sweet reunion, which left the door open for a happy future for them together. Some readers may have to suspend disbelief to buy into the notion of these two men knowing they were meant for one another and Liam making the sort of life changes he did after having only spent a few days together, but it was just so tender and romantic, I didn't have much trouble. I really loved this story and almost gave it 4.5 stars. The only thing that held me back is that the ending, while somewhat satisfying, felt like it happened too soon. I would have loved to see Liam and Micah have a deeper reunion moment, and I would have loved to read more about them as a couple.
The other thing that knocked off half a star was that the story could have used a little better editing. There were lots of places where more contractions were needed, particularly in dialog, and some of the longer sentences should have been broken up to make things flow better. There were also a few spots, the ending included, where it would have been nice if things had been written out in more detail. I think this would have added even more depth to the story. The author had a tendency to skim over certain things, engaging in a bit of telling rather than showing. However, I did just discover that Ms. Scott apparently has gotten back the publishing rights to her stories that were previously released by Silver Publishing, one of which was One Night. She added to the content of the book before republishing it herself. For readers who purchased an old copy of the book put out by Silver, she is offering a free digital replacement copy that includes the updated material. I wish I had realized this before reading it, because she may have fixed some of the things I had issues with. If I discover that she has, I will update my review. In the meantime though, One Night was still a very enjoyable read that I would recommend to fans of the M/M genre who like sweeter stories.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Stand-In Wife is another gentle contemporary romance in Debbie Macomber's Those Manning Men series. As with the other Manning...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Stand-In Wife is another gentle contemporary romance in Debbie Macomber's Those Manning Men series. As with the other Manning books so far, this novel didn't have a very involved plotline, but overall, it was sweet and enjoyable. In this one, Paul Manning is suddenly widowed when his wife dies of complications following childbirth. She leaves him with young twin sons and a newborn baby girl to raise. With the multiples stresses of child care, home care, his job, and grieving, Paul is barely keeping his head above water, until his dead wife's sister steps in to help out. With them living in the same house together, unexpected feelings begin to surface, leading to a marriage of convenience and much, much more.
Paul is a man at loose ends. He's grieving for the loss of his wife, but at the same time, doesn't have the luxury of taking time to really grieve with three young children to care for. He and his sister-in-law, Leah, bond over their shared loss. When she offers to move in with them, Paul appreciates her help, but his sense of pride sometimes gets in the way. I think it makes him feel rather inadequate as both a man and as a parent that he can't do it all himself. It was kind of amusing that when Paul started having confusing feelings toward Leah, he pushed her toward Rob, a guy she'd only casually dated, but then he experienced unfamiliar jealous feelings when the pair actually went out. Soon his parents convince them to marry, because of Leah having no health insurance and the children, especially baby Kelsey, viewing her as their mother. Of course, by then, Paul knows he's falling for Leah; he just doesn't fully understand the extent of his feelings until faced with the fear of losing her when she thinks she might be pregnant. Even then, he, unfortunately, doesn't go about expressing those feelings in a clear and healthy way. It's not until the end that he figures everything out and is able to tell her how he really feels in a way that she understands.
Leah was tremendously selfless to give up her teaching job to move in with Paul and take care of the kids until they're older and in school. Her sister was her only family, so Leah loves and misses her deeply. With her sister gone, Leah sees this as an opportunity to stay close to the kids, who are now the only family she has left, as well as a way to fulfill a "promise" she made to Diane when her sister appeared to her in a dream the night she died. Leah goes into it believing this to be a temporary arrangement, but when she starts having feelings for Paul and realizes she would never be able to leave the children, accepting his marriage proposal isn't a difficult choice. Still, she believes it to be little more than a marriage of convenience, because she thinks Paul could never truly love her the way he loved her sister. They're just too different. Diane was the beautiful, vivacious one, while Leah was the shy, bookish, plain Jane. Although Leah always loved her sister and never blamed or envied her, their mother always treated Diane differently, like she was the golden child, while Leah was only second-best. This still makes her feel inadequate in more ways than one, especially when she misunderstands some of Paul's words and actions. Then Leah begins, for the first time in her life, to envy Diane even though she's dead. It takes a long time for Leah to finally realize that Paul loves her every bit as much as he did Diane, but in a different way.
Things get rolling for these two when they share a passionate kiss. Both are rocked to the core but afraid to admit it, which unfortunately leads to them reading things into the other's reactions that aren't entirely true. They have an almost impossible time communicating how they really feel, because they are both confused by their emotions. Paul is still in love with his dead wife and feeling guilty for loving another woman too. It doesn't help matters that the woman in question is his wife's sister. At the same time, he thinks she was repulsed by his kiss, when of course, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Leah loved every minute of it but has trouble believing Paul could be attracted to her after being in love with her gorgeous, outgoing sister. As a result, they spend a lot of time around each other walking on egg shells. This lasts throughout most of the book, with the primary conflict being various misunderstandings, based on miscommunication, lack of communication, and misperceptions. This isn't my favorite form of conflict, but it seems to be par for the course in all of Debbie Macomber's books I've read so far. It wasn't too bad here, because at least, I understood most of the time where they were coming from. However, it could sometimes be a little frustrating that they didn't communicate better.
Stand-In Wife brings back Paul's brother, Rich and his wife, Jamie (Marriage of Inconvenience). We get to see the happy couple and their growing family a little ways down the road from their book. The last Manning sibling standing, Jason, becomes a sounding board for Paul and has some surprisingly good advice for someone who's never been married. This carefree bachelor becomes the hero of the next book, Bride on the Loose. Overall, Stand-In Wife was a light and easy, but enjoyable read that has left me looking forward to seeing what's in store for Jason. Stand-In Wife was originally published as a stand-alone novel in the Silhouette Special Edition line, and was later reprinted in the single-author anthology The Manning Brides along with the first book of the series.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Divergent is proving to be a tough book for me to review, because I finished it with very mixed feelings. The premise behind t...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Divergent is proving to be a tough book for me to review, because I finished it with very mixed feelings. The premise behind the story is quite good and intriguing, but ultimately, I felt like the execution was somewhat lacking and not quite up to the standard I expected based on the outrageously high ratings it has on GoodReads and other book-related sites. I can see why many are enamored of this book, but IMHO, it wasn't as good as similar books I've read. Because of its dystopian setting and its tough, teenage, female protagonist, the comparisons to The Hunger Games are inevitable. While I go into reading every book, trying to judge it on its own merits, I have to admit it was difficult for me to avoid drawing those comparisons too. Whereas, I was engrossed and enthralled by the world of The Hunger Games, the Divergent world didn't quite draw me in the same way. Whereas, I always felt like I understood Katniss even when she made choices I personally wouldn't have, Beatrice often confused me. Whereas, I totally fell head over heels for Peeta, who is now one of my all-time greatest literary crushes, Four didn't quite capture my heart. Whereas, I was very emotionally invested in Katniss and Peeta's romance, Tris and Four's romance seemed lackluster by comparison and just didn't have the same depth of emotion. As I'm sure you can tell, Divergent simply didn't meet the high standard set for me by The Hunger Games, but I'll admit it was good enough to make me want to continue with the series.
Beatrice aka Tris is the first-person narrator of the story. She was born into a dystopian world in which everyone is separated into five different factions based on their personalities and beliefs. At the age of sixteen, which Tris now is, she must choose whether to stay in Abnegation, the faction into which she was born, or switch factions, but to do so would mean leaving her family. Tris obviously loves her family, which made her choice to join a different faction a difficult one, but in her heart, she felt like she didn't belong there anymore. To top if all off, the aptitude test she took before the Choosing Ceremony labeled her a Divergent, someone who doesn't fit neatly into any one faction. She is also told never to speak of her result, because anyone knowing this information could be extremely dangerous for her. As Tris goes through the initiation into her chosen faction, she proves herself to be a very worthy candidate. She's tough as nails and never gives up even when things get rough. In this respect, I'd say she was an admirable character and a good role model. However, where I found myself having problems with Tris is in her seemingly contradictory personality. Sometimes, she could show brief moments of compassion and kindness, but more often than not she squelched those feelings, which sometimes led her to being cruel and callous. She loves and misses her family and faction to an extent, but also doesn't seem to have any real qualms or regrets about taking an independent stand. She sometimes thinks of herself as weak, but exhibits a great deal of strength. One minute she's upset, maybe even crying, in a moment of vulnerability; the next, she shuts down her emotions and turns cold and angry. Ultimately, Tris was a big bundle opposites that made it difficult for me to get an emotional read on her. I strongly suspect that the author was attempting to use this dichotomy to express Tris's Divergence, but having her bounce around from one behavior and feeling to another was simply confusing to me. I think Ms. Roth could have found a better way to show that Tris was different without turning her into an enigma. As she was written, I can't really say whether I liked Tris or not. Sometimes, I very much admired her actions, and other times, I was very disappointed in her thoughts and behavior. I think the thing that bothered me the most was her seeming unforgiving nature, especially toward anyone who ever wronged her, even in small ways. I think an author can show a character to be strong without making them appear cold and unfeeling toward others, especially when Tris was raised in a faction that was the exact opposite. So, in the end, I'd say I have rather ambiguous feelings toward Tris. She was an OK character, but not one that I found to be compelling enough to carry the entire story on her small shoulders.
One of the drawbacks to writing a story in first-person POV is that the secondary characters can become little more than window dressing. Unless they're in the hands of an extremely talented writer who knows how to bring them to life through the eyes of the narrator, they can be difficult for the reader to get to know, and that's largely how I felt about the supporting players in Divergent. The most important character besides Tris is her love interest, Four. He is one of the trainers of the initiates and eventually becomes more than that to her. When Four first appeared, he was an intriguing character, someone whose philosophy is honorable and stands out in stark contrast to that of the other trainer and faction leader, Eric, who is cruel and ruthless. However, I correctly guessed two of the most important pieces of information about Four long before they were revealed, making those parts rather anti-climactic. There were tidbits of ingredients sprinkled throughout the book which if nurtured could have made Four a real stand-out character, but overall, I felt like he didn't live up to the potential. A large part of the reason he didn't is that he and Tris never really shared much in the way of meaningful interactions or conversations that would show what makes him tick. The only thing I can think of is Four allowing Tris into his fear landscape, which showed a certain level of trust in her, but they don't really discuss the experience afterward. I truly wanted to love Four in the same way so many other fans seem to, but ultimately, much like with Tris, I couldn't get a strong enough impression of him as a person to feel like I knew him. As to most of the other characters, they tend to fall into prescribed roles of friend and foe and rarely deviate from that. The one time someone does, I was stunned by this character going from good to bad in a heartbeat, and never understood what would drive him to do what he did. Overall, there was just enough development to make me care about some of the supporting players, but I never really felt like I truly got to know any of them on the deep level I crave.
As a parent, I feel that Divergent is suitable for the young adult age group for which it is intended. As with many dystopian novels, the element which would probably be of primary concern is the violence. There is a fair bit of this, but I felt it wasn't nearly as graphic as it could have been. However, it can get somewhat brutal at times. The initiate training can seem rather severe with the kids beating up on each other until one is knocked out cold and/or bleeding. They also do other dangerous things and often get injured. A character is stabbed in the eye with a knife. Tris is kidnapped by some villainous boys who threaten to kill her and inappropriately touch her. A character presumably commits suicide. They must face their fears inside a fear simulation which could be troublesome if the reader experiences any of the same fears as the characters. In the end, a war breaks out in which many are killed, including some characters readers have come to care about. This also necessitates Tris and Four carrying firearms and killing others in self-defense. Otherwise, there is little in the way of objectionable content. I believe I counted only three mild profanities. Four is seen a bit buzzed on alcohol in one scene and others are drunk in the background. Tris and Four share some kisses that gradually get more passionate as the story progresses, but there isn't much in the way of sexual content. There is one scene where Four removes his shirt while they are alone together, which stirs some fluttery feelings in Tris, but overall, any sexual references are pretty minimal and mostly veiled.
For a dystopian novel, I felt like Divergent moved rather slowly for about the first ¾ of the book. It focuses pretty narrowly on Tris's initiate training with a sprinkling of tidbits here and there to show that things in the world at large are not as perfect as they seem and that tensions are rising. There is some action and adventure as Tris goes through her initiation process, just enough to hold my attention, but what I really wanted to know was how this deviant world and its factions came to be. Unfortunately, there was really no backstory to explain all this, which was disappointing. Even the explanation of why it was dangerous to be a Divergent wasn't revealed quickly enough to suit me, but I did like the ideas behind it once I fully understood it. Then after plodding along, everything finally escalates at a breakneck pace during the last 100 pages or so. I would have preferred if the political jockeying had been woven in a little more prominently and sooner to build more suspense and an overall sense of the peril that was to come.
The last thing that kind of bothered me about Divergent is the writing itself. Despite being classified as young adult, this book is written at about a fifth grade reading level. Most of the time, the author's word choices and sentence structure are pretty simplistic, which made it quick and easy to read, but difficult for me to connect with because of its lack of sophistication. I know many readers enjoy the spare type of writing style that Veronica Roth employs, but I much prefer the richer complexities of language that paint vivid word pictures and metaphors. When used well, it allows me a window, not only into the mind of the characters, but the writer herself. When Ms. Roth isn't writing overly simple sentences, she has a tendency to use run-on sentences which IMHO needed to be broken up to maintain the flow. She also needed way more contractions than what she used. As written, the wording was often stilted, especially in dialog. I honestly couldn't envision a group of goth-like daredevils speaking in such a formal manner, so I had to contract the words in my own mind.
After all my many criticisms, readers might wonder why I still chose to give this book four stars. In all honesty, I'm not entirely sure I can explain it myself. As I mentioned when I started this review, I have very mixed feelings about Divergent. It does have a measure entertainment value, as I wasn't really bored while reading it. It also has a certain appeal in its world-building, enough so that being left with an unfinished ending makes me want to continue. As much as I didn't feel like I got to know the characters well enough to genuinely say I liked them, I, at least, liked them well enough to be curious about what happens next for them. In this respect, I guess one could say Ms. Roth was successful in her mission as a writer, because even though I thought the story could have been much better constructed, she still sufficiently peaked my interest to make me come back for more. And this I suppose, is the main reason I still felt compelled to give Divergent a favorable rating despite its many shortcomings.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Warm Bodies is probably the most unique work of fiction I've ever read. It is a tale of post-apocalyptic human sur...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Warm Bodies is probably the most unique work of fiction I've ever read. It is a tale of post-apocalyptic human survival against a zombie horde, except in this case, the main character and first-person narrator is one of the zombies. Said zombie is an existential philosopher who is trying to discern his reason for living (or being undead as the case may be). All of this is couched in a love story, although I hesitate to classify it as romance like many other readers do. It just simply isn't written in the style of romance, nor are the emotions as palpable as they are in most romance novels. However, I will certainly allow that love is a driving force in the story and without it there couldn't have been the happy ending that is classic to romances.
In my opinion, what makes this story so unique is it's protagonist, a zombie simply known as R. He can no longer remember the name he had when he was one of the Living, but he recalls the first letter being R. He spends his days in an often stupefied state at the old airport which is inhabited by his hive, lumbering around and groaning. Despite his outward appearance and actions, R has a rich inner thought life in which he analyzes his existence as a zombie. At his heart, R is a philosopher, but even though he can ruminate on the deeper meaning of life and death, he cannot remember enough human speech to verbalize much of what he's thinking, and even if he could, there is no one around who would care. I liked that R exhibited an unusual sense of morality for a creature such as himself. Although his “wild nature” drives him to hunt humans, he's not entirely comfortable with doing it. He's also a collector of human artifacts, which I saw as a way for him to remain linked to his humanity. Something inside R begins to fundamentally change the day he goes hunting and eats the brain of a young security officer named Perry. R promptly starts feeling guilty about this, because through consuming the scrumptious morsel, he becomes privy to all of Perry's thoughts and memories. Some of his most compelling memories are of his time with a girl named Julie. Essentially living vicariously through Perry's memories, R decides that Julie, who was present when Perry and most of the other members of her salvage crew were killed, is not someone to be eaten, but someone to be protected. He takes her back to the airport with him, and she becomes the first person he has ever really tried to communicate with since being turned zombie. Together, they embark on an adventure in which they must try to figure out why R's interactions with Julie have begun to change him, why some of those changes seem to be transferring to other zombies in his hive, and whether they might be able to stop or even reverse the effects of the plague that made the zombies.
Julie is the main female character, but we only see her through R's eyes. Because of this, there were times when I felt like something was missing. There wasn't quite sufficient explanation about who she was as a person and her motivations for doing certain things. She's had a pretty rough life in which she had to grow up fast in a world that was crumbling around her. She's a brave spitfire who doesn't really take any grief from anyone, and she has a curious nature too. This may be part of why she's so open toward R almost from the start. She sees that he's different from other zombies she's encountered, and after a short period of fear, she becomes almost blasé about being friends with him. This is where being privy to her thoughts would have helped me to understand her motives better, but as I read further and learned more about her life, my understanding of her character gradually became clearer.
There are a few secondary characters who play significant roles. Perry, despite being dead, lives on in R. The way in which he begins communicating with R reminded me somewhat of the relationship between Melanie and Wanderer in Stephanie Meyer's The Host. Perry was an intriguing character who appeared to be a rather doom and gloom person. He had essentially decided his life was all but over anyway and that he probably wouldn't live much longer. I think I understood what fueled this attitude in him, but again, like with Julie, it would have been nice to know a little more about him. Perry, in effect, becomes R's conscience, driving him to seek more from life. Julie's best friend, Nora, is another kick-butt girl who doesn't take any crap. R's zombie friend, M, also recognizes when things begin to change and helps lead the revolt. Then there is Julie's father, the general in charge of the human security forces, who unfortunately has become so blinded by his own hatred for the zombies, he won't listen to reason when Julie tries to tell him that she thinks she may have found a way to start curing them. Luckily, his second in command and Julie's surrogate grandfather, Rosso, sees what his friend doesn't.
It appears that one of the major genre categories for Warm Bodies is young adult fiction which makes sense given the age of the protagonists. Although their ages aren't outright specified, it is implied that Julie, Perry and Nora are still teenagers, but in many ways they act older, probably due to their circumstances. No one really knows how old R is, but there is some speculation that he was probably only in his twenties when he was turned. Given the young adult classification, there is some content in the book to which parents might object. For starters, there is quite a bit of language, including frequent uses of the f-word. Given that most of the characters appear to be teenagers, there is also some underage drinking going on. Sex is more talked about than actually described, but there is some mature content in that respect. Some of the things that occur: R briefly describes zombie sex which is basically a poor imitation of human sex, a character watches porn, a character's arousal is implied, a character tells of having prostituted herself at the age of thirteen, and a boyfriend and girlfriend are mentioned to have made love several times. When looked at in perspective, none of these things, language, drinking or sex, are terribly surprising though, given the rough nature of the post-apocalyptic setting in which people are struggling for day to day survival and social niceties have, for the most part, become a thing of the past. Of course, last but not least is the violence and gore. More than once the zombies go on hunting raids, looking for humans to eat, and sometimes, the consumption of human flesh is described. At times, it made me a little squeamish, but overall, I didn't think it was overly graphic. There are some good messages for young people here too about standing up for what's right, looking for common ground to solve differences, not giving up even though things seem hopeless, and the fact that love can heal a multitude of hurts. Overall though, given the content and the philosophical nature of the book which might be difficult for younger readers to understand anyway, I would only feel comfortable recommending it to readers sixteen and up who wouldn't be bothered by any of the things I mentioned.
In Warm Bodies, Isaac Marion has crafted a very unusual story that was an enjoyable read. I liked the world-building here, and he described everything in a way that was easy to envision. He's also a master of metaphor. Not only is he clever with a turn of phrase, but the entire story becomes a metaphor for hate, avarice and a plethora of other sins, a morality tale of sorts. While it was a very well put together story, I wouldn't say it was perfect. In addition to some character motivations being a bit murky as I mentioned earlier, the pacing was a little slow in places, especially given the post-apocalyptic setting filled with zombies. This novel is written in present-tense which I think was appropriate, but the author has a tendency to frequently use present perfect tense when I thought simple present tense would have given the narrative more punch and a greater sense of immediacy. Despite me zoning out a little during the earlier parts of the book, the ending was pretty action-packed, keeping me on the edge of my seat. For this reason and because of the delightful oddity of the story, I decided it was worthy of keeper status. While Warm Bodies is a self-contained story, it does leave some room for a continuation which it appears Mr. Marion is working on as we speak. There are also some short stories he wrote which are set in the same world and star the same characters. I'll be looking forward to checking those out while waiting for the next installment in the series.(less)