Reviewed for THC Reviews "2.5 stars" Normally, I'm a huge fan of both time travel and Native American romances, so I really thought I was going to enjoReviewed for THC Reviews "2.5 stars" Normally, I'm a huge fan of both time travel and Native American romances, so I really thought I was going to enjoy this book. I'm sorry to say though, that Stargazer simply didn't pass muster for me. It was an unsatisfying read for me on a number of levels, not the least of which was that I didn't feel emotionally connected to the characters at all. The other major problem I had with it is that there is very little plot to speak of and what existed moved at a snail's pace. The entire book takes place over, I believe, only four days time, but it was like four days of watching paint dry. I've never been a big fan of full-length novels taking place over such a short period of time, but I've read several that were much more engaging than this one and had lots of page-turning action. Stargazer is just way too heavy on the internal conflicts, with the characters spending far too much time inside their own heads. It also contains so much Native American mysticism that it completely overwhelms the story. I'm interested in Native American culture, but this was simply way too much, when what I really wanted was to see the mystery better developed, see some man out of time aspects to the time-travel, and understand the characters' relationships to one another, as well as feeling that all-important emotional connection. I saw numerous missed opportunities for stronger and deeper character and plot development, which frustrated me to no end, making this a very difficult book for me to finish and one that I was quite glad I'd borrowed from the library.
In my estimation, all the characters showed a distinct lack of motivation, but none more so than the hero and heroine. I didn't feel like I understood their drive and purpose at all. Their personalities were flat and monotone rather than being alive and vibrant. I learned very little about either Lonewolf or Willow and what I did learn didn't always make sense, because it either wasn't explained well or didn't go deep enough. They both seemed like good people, but I had a hard time investing myself in either character or their relationship, because I didn't really understand them.
Lonewolf was a Native American warrior/medicine man/stargazer (someone who has the ability to divine things from the stars) from 1863. He's catapulted into the late twentieth century by the stars he follows, but for what purpose he doesn't know until quite a ways into the story. He also doesn't seem to be overly surprised to discover he's been transported into the future. Occasionally, he finds some modern technologies a bit strange, but overall, he just takes it all in stride, generally shrugging it off as nothing. Lonewolf was raised by white parents after being sold into slavery. They were good people who treated him well, but we don't really learn anything about what this was like for him until very late in the story. Even then, this part of his story was over almost before it began. We also learn that his white parents were killed, and that event somehow led him back to his tribe, the Navajo, where he wasn't entirely accepted either, partly because of how he was raised and partly because of his stargazing ability, which sets him apart from everyone else. Last but not least we learn that his wife and child were both killed by an enemy tribe. Unfortunately, all of these things are little more than facts about his life. They don't really speak to who he is as a person or how these events affected and transformed him, yet surely they must have. Instead, he doesn't seem to have any particular emotions about any of it. There was a lot of good material here that could have built Lonewolf into a strong, vibrant and sympathetic character, but it wasn't utilized in such a way as to draw on my emotions and make me feel connected to him.
I had almost identical issues with Willow's character. She's a Navajo tribal police officer, who has visions of her own that she's rejected for years. She also has a strong animosity toward stargazers because her father was one. She seems to blame the stars for her father's death and her mother leaving, but I didn't fully understand her reasoning because we see so little of how those events affected her. Willow was raised by her grandfather but they seem to be at odds, as she struggles between her grandfather's traditionalism and her own sense of modernity. She almost seems to resent his hold on the past, but I struggled to understand why. Maybe it's because I'm a sentimental kind of person, probably more like her grandfather, who believes in preserving the past for future generations, so I simply couldn't relate to Willow's scorn for it. Willow is angry about a whole lot of things for reasons I had a hard time discerning and this seemed to be the only emotion which she was capable of expressing. Also she is the guardian of a young boy named Mauelito. If I recall correctly the boy's mother died and his father is an alcoholic, so Willow was named his guardian, but I don't recall reading anything to explain why she was chosen for that role. I kept waiting for more information to be revealed about her relationship to this child, but I don't think it ever was unless I somehow missed it. She obviously cares about Manuelito and worries about his condition, but I didn't really feel that deep emotional bond of a mother/son relationship.
As for Lonewolf and Willow's romance, I didn't feel much anything at all between them. She doesn't fully trust him, because she found him at the scene of a murder and initially thinks he might have somehow been involved. He doesn't tell her much about himself, not even that he's a time-traveler, which was extremely disappointing. In fact, he doesn't even realize that he's slipped through time until having a conversation with Willow's grandfather which happens off-canvas while she's at a neighbor's house making phone calls. I could understand Lonewolf keeping this information from her for a little while because of her distrust of the stars, but she has to figure it out for herself and even then, not until over halfway into the story, which I found rather frustrating. Despite their issues with one another, they end up making love after only knowing each other for two days. Lonewolf actually admits to himself that he was mainly using her to feel alive, which didn't give me warm fuzzies either. Their subsequent love scenes seemed to have better reasons, but the characters were so underdeveloped that I couldn't really comprehend what they saw in each other. There is also precious little in the way of emotions being expressed during them, which made it nearly impossible to discern their connection to one another. Little occurs between them of a truly romantic nature except the sex scenes, and even these supposed romantic moments felt flat and dull for me, lacking any real spark of attraction or sexual tension.
The prose in Stargazer is pretty dense, so that I had to concentrate really hard to understand what's being said. It's not a writing style that's naturally conducive to drawing me into a story and is a little like slogging through a mud pit – very slow going with limited payoff. It just felt like words... upon words... upon words that ultimately said very little. Yet for all it's over-wordiness, there's still a frequent lack of the simplest details. Eg. The characters go from sitting to standing or vice versa with no mention of them moving. Or Willow is draining noodles that she never put on to cook. Or Lonewolf and Willow have a conversation about the dead boy, then he suddenly asks, "Who is the boy?" At first glance, it seems like he's asking about the murder victim, but both Willow, and the reader apparently, are somehow supposed to extrapolate that he means the boy in her visions and not the murdered boy. There were a number of instances like these that could be rather confusing and made the narrative difficult to follow. It also prevents it from being more lively when the reader can't clearly envision what's happening due to a lack of details in the characters' actions. I also detected some passively-worded narration and the use of weak verbs, when stronger ones would have made the prose much more vibrant.
Now considering all the criticisms I've had of this book, readers may be wondering why I even gave it two and a half stars instead of rating it lower. This is because I feel I must give credit where credit is due, and the one thing at which the author really excelled was in setting the scene. As an Arizona resident, I can honestly say that Ms. Baker brought the desert Southwest setting to vivid life. I really felt like I was out in middle of the desert on the Navajo reservation or in Canyon de Chelly, or in one of the small surrounding towns. The author has obviously visited this area, probably several times, or perhaps even lives there, and knew how to make the setting a character unto itself. I can also tell that she did her homework quite well in order to describe the Native American attitudes, as well as the mystical beliefs some still hold, with so much detail. If only she were half as good at building her characterizations, at making that all-important emotional connection between both her hero and heroine and between them and the reader, at creating an engaging mystery, or at presenting a believable time travel tale with all it's potential inherent problems, then Stargazer could have been the excellent and intriguing story I was expecting when I picked it up....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Elizabeth Hoyt never ceases to amaze me with how she can write such beautiful love stories filled with tenderness and passion.Reviewed for THC Reviews Elizabeth Hoyt never ceases to amaze me with how she can write such beautiful love stories filled with tenderness and passion. Her characters are always flawed but extremely likable and relatable. There's usually a little something else going on in the background, in this case a touch of danger and suspense as multiple kidnapping attempts are made toward the heroine, as well as a bit of mystery surrounding who is engineering these attempts and why. We also have a tender young heroine who wants nothing more than to live life to the fullest but has never really been allowed to, and an older hero who thinks he's simply too old and too common for the likes of a duke's sister. Their love builds gradually and believably throughout the story, culminating in some of the steamy and emotion-laden love scenes for which this author is known. And as always, accompanying the main story is a little fairy tale that mirrors it, told in excerpts at the beginning of each chapter. Dearest Rogue had everything I've come to expect from this author and left me with a huge smile on my face and a contented sigh when I turned the final page.
Phoebe, younger sister of Hero (Notorious Pleasures) and Maximus (Duke of Midnight), has been a part of the Maiden Lane series almost since the beginning, when she was a just teenage girl whose eyesight was failing. I've been waiting all this time for her to get her own story, so I was quite excited when the announcement that she would was made last fall. Now completely blind, Phoebe chafes at her brother's restrictions upon her. She has a naturally adventurous spirit that hasn't been curbed by her blindness, so she becomes increasingly frustrated by what she views as Maximus' over-protectiveness. She wants more than anything to be normal – or at least as normal as she can be without the use of her sight. In the previous book, she wasn't too thrilled to have James as her “babysitter,” but the longer he's around, the more she gets used to him until she can't imagine life without him by her side. I like how Phoebe's love for James develops slowly. At first, her feelings for him confuse her. He is her bodyguard after all and based on his voice, a rather dour and dispassionate one at that. Her feelings gradually become stronger, but she doesn't really understand the full depth of her emotions until faced with him leaving her brother's employ and never seeing him again. Phoebe was a perfect heroine for me. She's sweet and kind to everyone and can light up a room with her presence. She hasn't allowed her disability to define her as a person. It's just one part of who she is. I love her fearlessness and most of all how she brightens up James' life in ways he didn't realize he needed. I also have to commend Ms. Hoyt for doing an incredible job of showing Phoebe's POV through her other senses such as smell, hearing, touch. You never feel like she's missing anything, because all of her senses are attuned to what's going on around her.
As he's served as Phoebe's bodyguard, James has come to see the beautiful young woman she is, not only on the outside, but inside as well. He's fallen deeply in love with her, so much so that it's almost torture to be so near her every day and not able to act on his feelings. James is an adorably stuffy and disciplined soldier through and through, who desperately needs someone like Phoebe to loosen him up. He takes his duty to her very seriously and I admired him for his protectiveness. He knows though, that it would be improper on a number of levels to pursue his attraction to her, so he stuffs his feelings away, hoping she doesn't notice anything is amiss. It's so sweet how he gazes at her like a lovesick puppy when no one else is around. Knowing that she can't see the adoration written across his face gives him the freedom to at least look his fill, although believing he can never have her, it only torments him more. James doesn't think he's good enough for Phoebe. He knows that she's far above him financially and in social station, so a marriage between them is extremely unlikely. Also, being twelve years her senior, he thinks he's too old for her, just a broken down soldier with a bum leg, while she's young and vibrant. I love how Ms. Hoyt makes James seem dispassionate through his dialogue. Initially, he's a man of few words with lots of “Yes, my lady” and “No, my lady.” However, the author shows him to be a passionate man through his thoughts, introspection and actions. He tries and tries to resist Phoebe, telling himself and her that he's not right for her for a myriad of reasons, but in the end, he simply can't stop himself from loving her. When she fully captures his heart, James can be quite the poetic charmer, making me love him all the more. I also like that even though it's difficult for him, he comes to realize that Phoebe's spirit can't be locked up like a bird in a gilded cage, but she needs to spread her wings and fly. He just needs to give her some space and be there to spot her if she truly needs his help.
As I mentioned before, James and Phoebe's romance is a slow-building one. It takes Phoebe a while to sort out her feelings, and James tries to hold his back. Still, unlike some other books I've read where this was the case, I never felt their connection was in any way lacking. It's there from the start, simmering beneath the surface, just waiting to be embraced. And when they do, it's swoon-worthy romance at it's best. With her blindness, touch is incredibly important to Phoebe, and the author deftly uses this to advantage to create some sizzling sexual tension. Even early on, her innocent touches nearly drive James to the brink of madness with wanting her. Later when they begin to grow closer, Phoebe's gentle exploration of his body sends him right over the edge. I love how Ms. Hoyt places them in close quarters, pretending to be husband and wife for the sake of her safety. It builds the tension between then to an exquisite level before they finally give in to the deep desire burning between them. Once they do, their love scenes are sweet and tender, while also full of explosive passion and intense emotion.
Since James and Phoebe spend a fair bit of time alone on the run from her would-be kidnappers, we don't see quite as much of the secondary characters as we have in some of the other books. Early in the story, we get to see a little of Phoebe's family, mostly Maximus, since he employs James and is heading up the investigation into the kidnapping attempts against her. There is also one brief meeting of the Ladies' Syndicate, in which we see most of the previous heroines and their growing families. Later in the story, we get to meet James' family. James hasn't been home in twelve years and feels he failed them, so there are some negative emotions they have to work though to find healing. Mostly, the author introduces the reader to a brand new character, Eve Dinwoody, who has ties to Valentine Napier, the Duke of Montgomery, whom we met in the previous book. Eve caught my interest very early on. She appears to be a woman who's been badly hurt in the past and doesn't really trust men. I look forward to getting to know her as the heroine of the next book, Sweetest Scoundrel, due for release in November (2015), where she'll be paired with Asa Makepeace. I'm also still wondering about Val himself. After the events in this book, I'm not sure whether to be intrigued by him or dislike him, but I feel certain we haven't seen the last of him yet.
I really can't say enough good things about Dearest Rogue. It had everything that I read romance for: likable and relatable characters, a passionate love affair, a bit of excitement, and a sweet HEA. What more could I ask for? I loved every minute I spent reading it and wouldn't change a thing. In fact, I was rather sad when I turned the last page, because there was no more left to read. At least my wait won't be long for the next book, and I'll be eagerly looking forward to reading Asa and Eve's story by the end of the year....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews I agreed to read and review Mark Tedesco's book, I Am John, I Am Paul: A Story of Two Soldiers in Ancient Rome, because I haveReviewed for THC Reviews I agreed to read and review Mark Tedesco's book, I Am John, I Am Paul: A Story of Two Soldiers in Ancient Rome, because I have a certain degree of interest in the history and culture of Ancient Rome but have only had the opportunity to read a few stories set in that era. The book got off to a rather slow start for me, partly because the first few chapters didn't really draw me in very well and partly because of the writing style. We discover in the opening paragraphs that John is in prison and he's basically starting at the beginning and writing down an accounting of his life. Therefore, it's written in more of a journal or memoir style. It tends to skim over the surface of John's life, hitting all the high points, and in general, it's an interesting and adventurous journey. However, it doesn't delve too deeply into his feelings, nor does it go into great detail with regards to most events. He often skips quickly through time, jumping over days, weeks, or even months. It's written in such a way as to emulate the feel of sitting down with a friend and having him regale you with his life story. This made it very difficult for me to get into at first, because it's pretty much all telling and no showing. I primarily read fiction to escape into another world for a while, to live alongside the characters, which to some extent I was able to do with this story. However, I also like to immerse myself in their experiences, feeling what they feel and understanding how they think, and I didn't really get this kind of reading experience with this book. I will admit though, that around Chapter 4 or 5, when John and Paul strike out on their own to rescue Constantine's kidnapped daughter, things started to pick up a little. I gradually became more and more invested in the story, which is why I was able to give it four stars in the end.
After finishing the book, I did a bit of research, and discovered that this is a biographical fiction, inspired by the lives of Sts. John and Paul. There's apparently enough of a historical record to know that these two men were indeed Roman soldiers, who were eventually martyred for their Christian faith and were later granted sainthood by the Catholic church. Their remains are buried in their own home, over which the Basilica Santi Giovanni e Paolo was later erected. These underground areas were rediscovered in the late 19th century by the rector of the Basilica, who was searching for the tomb of the martyrs. I've seen some of the photographs of this underground area, and it's quite impressive. I can see why Mark Tedesco might have been inspired to write about it and these men.
That said though, because of the telling and not showing style of the writing, I can't say that I got a strong sense of who John and Paul were. We learn quite a bit more about John than Paul, because he is the first-person narrator of the entire book, with the exception of the last chapter. We learn that he is a loyal and skillful soldier, who is a leader of men and who follows orders even when being treated unjustly. He's also brave and physically strong. He loves his family, particularly his mother and sister, and misses them when he's stationed far away. John is also a man of faith and a spiritual seeker. He initially follows the teachings of the Roman god, Mithra, but he still feels an empty space in his life and is searching for something more. Most importantly, we also know that John shares a deep friendship with his fellow soldier, Paul. Except for three years when John was stationed in Egypt, the two men are pretty much inseparable. They do most things together and after earning the gratitude and favor of Emperor Constantine for rescuing his daughter, which included a prominent home, they also lived together. While there are a couple of very subtle remarks that could be taken as there being more between these two men than mere friendship, this part of the story is left pretty ambiguous. While I don't think it's necessarily important what the exact nature of their relationship was, it's obvious that they were at least best friends and brothers of the heart. Where I kind of had a problem though was in understanding exactly how they came to be so close. I was willing to accept that their friendship was a fact, but since the author doesn't delve into feelings and emotions, showing how that friendship came about, I simply didn't grasp the why of it.
I enjoyed the parts where John and Paul rescue Constantina, and I especially enjoyed the parts where they begin to learn of and follow the new Way of the Christus. I've always had an interest in early church history and the beginnings of Christianity, so that part drew me in more than some of the others. I also liked that the inspirational message is present, but not in any way overpowering. I can tell that Mark Tedesco's background in history served him well in writing this story too. He even includes several endnotes, which while not unheard of, are definitely unusual for a work of fiction. The fact that he piqued my curiosity sufficiently to make me want to look things up on my own says something as well. The lack of emotional engagement, however, left me feeling distant from his characters. If he had drawn out their humanity more and made me feel what they were feeling, I could easily see this book having keeper-status potential. The book is also free of anything potentially offensive. It has no bad language, no sensuality, and considering that the two main characters are soldiers, even the violence is kept at a minimum, so IMHO, it would be appropriate for most readers. Even without the emotional attachment I would have liked to see, I'm willing to recommend I Am John, I Am Paul to readers who are interested in the history of Ancient Rome or early Christianity, as long as they don't mind a more journalistic style of writing.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" After finishing Southern Exposure, I'm having similar feelings about it as I did with Southern Comfort, the firstReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" After finishing Southern Exposure, I'm having similar feelings about it as I did with Southern Comfort, the first book of Karen Kelley's Southern series. Once again, I couldn't help feeling that both the characters and plot were somewhat lacking. As with the first one, this book is pretty short for a full-length novel (262 pages), so it seems to me like there would have been plenty of room for more character and plot development if the author had chosen to do that, but for some inexplicable reason she didn't. Southern Exposure basically picks up right where Southern Comfort left off, except the romantic focus shifts from Wade and Fallon in Texas to Fallon's long-lost, presumed-dead sister, Jody, and her love interest, Logan, in New Orleans. Fallon and Jody's uncle remains the villain. He's about to be extradited to New Orleans to stand trial, but he's not going quietly. Sometimes, it felt like the author didn't quite know what to do with the characters, so at times, the plot meandered IMO. She also includes a few too many POV scenes for secondary characters, when I couldn't help thinking that she could have used that space to build her main characters more fully. The first half of the book moves rather slowly, with very little action taking place, then about halfway through, the plot comes to a screeching halt, while Jody takes her best friend, Andrea, for a make-over and clothes shopping spree (the author seems to have a penchant for these as something nearly identical happened in the first book). This little detour had no real bearing on the overarching plot and did nothing to propel things forward. Instead, it just seemed like little more than unnecessary filler. The second half of the book picks up a little, with the uncle escaping no sooner than he's arrived in New Orleans which leads to a little suspense and a happy reunion between the sisters. Again, just like with the first book, the suspense part was pretty predictable, but it was also the part that kept me from dropping the rating any lower.
Jody was a heroine I had a hard time getting a read on from an emotional perspective. When the story opens, she seems like almost a carbon copy of her sister, an alpha female commitment-phobe, who works in law enforcement. She and Logan have a one-night stand right after barely meeting, but she gets angry with him when she finds out he's not actually a stripper but was working on a story for the newspaper. I couldn't have agreed more with Logan that she didn't really have any right to be upset with him for not telling her he was a reporter when she wouldn't even so much as tell him her last name. Not to mention, if she hadn't skipped out on him before the next morning, things might have gotten more real between them. However, Jody's surly side doesn't last long, before she transforms into a more vulnerable woman. She's deeply affected by nearly being killed by her uncle when she was just a child and is also bothered by her psychic visions. This softer side of Jody almost seemed at odds with how she was before. Later on though, she goes right back to being prickly with Logan and not trusting that he won't write the article about her. Because of this back and forth in her personality, Jody's characterization felt uneven to me. Ultimately, I guess she came off as less anti-social than her sister, so for that reason, I liked her a little better, but it was still rather difficult to understand her at times.
As hard as it was for me to connect with Jody, I never felt like I got to know Logan well at all. He's a journalist who is vying for a promotion to assistant editor of the newspaper. In an effort to make that happen he's been writing a series of articles in which he allows the readers to challenge him to work any job for one shift. As a result, he's working as a stripper when he meets Jody, and his next assignment brings him to the police department to learn about being an officer. He's assigned to ride with Jody and his nose for news smells a deeper story with her than what she's letting on. Logan did do some things that proved he had a good heart. For starters, I liked that when he and Jody had their one-night stand, he asked her several times if she was sure she wanted it before actually having sex with her, so I had to give the guy kudos for being cautious for both his own sake and hers. He also doesn't hesitate to risk his life for her, and in the end, it's clear that he cares more for Jody than his job. I can't deny that Logan definitely came off as one of the nice guys, but there just wasn't a whole lot to his character to make him memorable.
As for Logan and Jody's relationship, I can't say that I felt much of a connection between them. Just like with the last book, it starts out with insta-lust and sex right out of the gate, which is definitely not my favorite way to begin a story. Unless the author can make me feel a deep emotional connection between the hero and heroine, I prefer for the romance to build slowly. Neither of these were the case in this story. Jody fully intends for their first encounter to be nothing more than one-time sex, until Logan shows up at her work, and even then she resists the idea of it happening again, even though she's still attracted to him and admits he's the best lover she's ever had. Of course, it does happen again… and again… and again. Considering the sheer frequency and the fact that the love scenes do get a little spicy with some creative uses for chocolate syrup and whipped cream (as well as a couple of sex toys being used in a secondary character love scene), one would think that this would be a really hot, steamy story, but IMHO, despite the little sensuous extras, the love scenes fell horribly flat. They were too short, too lacking in descriptive details, and desperately in need of more expressions of feelings and emotion. The love scenes could have been great, but without those things, especially the emotion, I felt virtually no connection either to or between the characters, so that these scenes were nothing more than just sex.
As I mentioned before, I think the author could have done a lot more to make the story more exciting. Except for one instance in which Jody actually sees a crime in progress and can't ignore it, Logan's ride-alongs with her are pretty dead, because her chief has told her to hang back in order to keep him safe. The secondary romance between Jody's friend, Andrea, and Logan's brother, Kevin, didn't really do much for me. IMO, their scenes weren't integral to the plot and therefore not really necessary. Every time their POV came up, I was thinking how that space could have been better utilized on Logan and Jody. Not to mention, their romance and love scenes were equally as lacking in emotion as the main romance. I did enjoy catching up with Wade and Fallon. Their scenes had more bearing on the overall plot, and I didn't find them to be as distracting.
In the end, Southern Exposure was an OK read for me. It wasn't a bad book, but neither did it reach the heights of greatness. The hero and heroine were likable enough even though I didn't feel like I knew them very well. While the romance didn't do a whole lot for me, I suppose the suspense kept me somewhat intrigued. I've read a lot worse books, and it admittedly wasn't a major chore to finish. There is one more full-length novel in the Southern series, Hell on Wheels, but since the main characters' names aren't familiar to me, I have no idea what the connection between the books is. After two so-so reads in a row from Karen Kelley, I'm somewhat undecided as to whether I'll continue with the series. I'm using it for a reading challenge in which I'm participating, so if I can't find anything else to replace it, I most likely will in a few months. All I can say is we'll see.:-)...more