Reviewed for THC Reviews Love Is in the Title is a short novella that is the first in RJ Scott's Love Is in the... series which follows teen crushes Lu...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Love Is in the Title is a short novella that is the first in RJ Scott's Love Is in the... series which follows teen crushes Luke and Cameron. It is a sweet romance that was written with a young adult audience in mind. It contains a small amount of strong language, but no other objectionable material unless a loving, kisses-only gay relationship is of concern.
The story is written from Luke's point-of-view and he is a very endearing character. He is a math geek who has been admiring football jock, Cameron, from afar. I thought it was really sweet that Luke kept anonymously requesting songs for Cameron on the radio and always seemed to know just the right thing to say through the music for whatever Cameron was feeling or going through. I liked that even though Luke had been bullied for both being a geek and being gay that he still held his head high, and it was great that Cameron had defended him. I also thought it was very brave of Cameron to come out to the football team. Most didn't take it well, but he got to be true to himself and find out who his real friends were. I loved how Luke and Cameron spent most of the story just whiling away the night talking and kissing. It was enchantingly romantic and reminded me of the days in my own youth when I was first falling in love. Love Is in the Title is the second story by RJ Scott that I have thoroughly enjoyed. It has earned a spot on my virtual keeper shelf and Ms. Scott a spot on my favorite authors list. I'm eagerly looking forward to spending more time with Luke and Cameron and further exploring RJ Scott's backlist.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 star" In Drums of Autumn, Diana Gabaldon has once again created another enjoyable installment in the Outlander saga. I do...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 star" In Drums of Autumn, Diana Gabaldon has once again created another enjoyable installment in the Outlander saga. I don't think I'll ever tire of spending time with soul mates, Jamie and Claire and their collection of family and friends, although I have to admit that the romance in this book seemed more subdued than in the earlier stories. When they were originally released, the first three books of the series were marketed as romance, but Drums of Autumn seems to be something of a turning point, in that it decidedly had more of the flavor of historical fiction with a romantic element. There are implications of intimacy written in veiled terms or with the door being shut before any juicy details are revealed, but there were only two moderately descriptive love scenes that I recall, one for Jamie and Claire and one for Roger and Brianna. Having the love and romance aspect of the story toned down a bit was somewhat disappointing but by no means a deal-breaker. I just love Jamie and Claire so much, I think anything they do would be interesting to me.
There is no doubt that Drums of Autumn was intriguing and enjoyable, but the first half of the book moved at a relatively slow pace. Unlike with the first three books, it was not particularly difficult to put down. I think this is because Jamie and Claire have finally settled into a more “normal” life and are just kind of going through the motions of day-to-day living. It was also very different having them in the American Colonies. They have a number of mini-adventures, but for the most part it seemed like a series of unconnected events. Some of these things did end up being related to other events later in the book, but at first glance, it was like a whole new story was being set up for Jamie and Claire. There also was initially no main objective that the couple were working toward like there was in the first three books of the series, and although a villain does rise up for them to “battle,” I didn't find him to be quite as compelling as Jack Randall or Geillis Duncan. I know we haven't seen the last of him yet though, and perhaps he will come into his own in the next book. About halfway in, Brianna travels through the stones, followed by Roger, and at that point things began to gradually get more exciting and imbued with a greater sense of urgency, but it wasn't until about the ¾ point that things really got intense as Brianna reveals some shocking news and I really worried for Roger's safety after his inauspicious first meeting with Jamie. All of this led to a fairly climactic and satisfying ending. Although there were a few loose threads which I'm sure will be built upon in future books of the series, overall, the story had a more finite ending that the first three.
In the first three books, Jamie had some tremendously romantic and noteworthy lines. He wasn't quite as quotable in Drums of Autumn, but by no means has he forfeited his spot as my all-time favorite romantic hero. It's so sweet that even after all these years, Jamie still occasionally shows shades of innocence in his sexual relationship with Claire. I love Jamie's intelligence too. He's extremely well-read and multilingual with a true talent for picking up new languages fairly easily. He's never questioned Claire being a time traveler and her own knowledge of things that he doesn't fully understand. If anything, he shows an innate curiosity about things like baseball and a man traveling to the moon. I've always liked that Jamie treats Claire as an equal partner in their relationship, which is far more than many men of the era would have done. He also greatly respects her for her knowledge of the future and her medical expertise and supports her practicing medicine in any way he can. Jamie is a man with dignity and honor who doesn't want to appear a beggar even if he is currently penniless. It's almost inconceivable that Jamie would think he isn't a good man, but the fact that he does question his own goodness, I believe, shows great vulnerability and self-awareness on his part. He is also still greatly respected as a leader among the Scots who populate the Colonies, and it was great to see Jamie wearing the plaid again. I've always thought it so sad that fate robbed Jamie of the privilege of raising either of his biological children, but he's been a great father in every sense of the word to Fergus and young Ian, treating them like his own blood sons. It was great to finally get to see him interacting with Brianna. Even though he isn't quite certain what place he has in her life, he loves her to a fault and would do anything to protect his “little girl.” Too bad he ended up beating up the wrong guy to do it. Although Jamie and Bree can both be stubborn and end up hurting each other more than once, they had an equal number of tender father/daughter moments. I also loved the scenes with Jamie and William. Unlike Brianna who is grown, Willie is still a boy, and I like that Jamie has at least had a few stolen moments with him. Jamie truly is a wonderful father and his family is only expanding.
Claire is a wonderful life partner for Jamie. I think she understands him in a way that no one else fully can. Their soul deep love for one another shines through to Brianna so that she sees the difference between loving someone because you feel you must and loving someone because you simply can't stop. I think that Claire still struggles a bit with guilt over her failed relationship with Frank, but has no regrets about loving Jamie. I love how Claire stands by Jamie and doesn't try to push him into one decision or another, but instead just says she'll follow him anywhere. As a doctor, Claire cares very deeply for her patients, and even if they are a hopeless case and can't be saved, she still grieves for their loss. Throughout the story, she has to make many difficult decisions as a medical practitioner, but I believe that she always did the right thing. When John shows up, old jealousies flare up for Claire, but it was nice to see that she recognized where those feelings were coming from and that John posed no true threat her happiness with Jamie. Still Claire and John definitely have a strained relationship at first. Although each of them sees the good in the other, it doesn't stop them from feeling those pangs of jealousy. I loved the scenes where they were forced to spend some time alone together, because it helped them to grow as individuals and build a mutual sense of respect and admiration for one another that I'm sure will continue on throughout the series.
Drums of Autumn was not just about Jamie and Claire this time though. It was almost equally about their daughter, Brianna, and her growing love for Roger Wakefield Mackenzie, the young Scottish historian who had helped Claire locate Jamie in the past. I really enjoyed this burgeoning love story, but they sure don't have an easy time of it. Brianna doesn't initially trust in their love, because of feeling like her parent's (Claire's and Frank's) marriage was a lie. Roger patiently waits for her, but by the time she finally does come to terms with it, she has decided to go back through the stones. Of course, his love for her makes him follow. I thought it was sweet how they married themselves in a traditional Scottish hand-fasting ceremony. Their first love scene was full of tenderness and realistic awkwardness but an undeniable passion. I was saddened to see them fighting so soon after, but understood each of their positions. Unfortunately though, it led to a great deal of heartache and a terrible misunderstanding which caused them to be separated for a very long time. When they finally do come back together, they've both changed so much, it was like they had to get to know each other all over again.
Brianna is a very intelligent young woman. Much like her mother, she went against the grain by studying to be an engineer which was still primarily a male profession even in her own time. I would have loved to see her use her skills in that area more once she's in the past. When the story opens, Brianna is still very conflicted about her parentage. She loves Frank and still views him as her "real" father, but she can't help being curious about Jamie even though she hasn't entirely warmed up to the idea that he is her father too. She worries a great deal about becoming like her mother who loved Frank in her own way, but whose real passion lay with Jamie. Brianna definitely inherited her mother's frankness and her father's stubbornness. When Bree travels back through the stones, I loved how she put her fiery temper to good use, standing up to Loaghaire just minutes after meeting her. I also enjoyed seeing Brianna learn about her father through the eyes of Ian, Jenny and their family. Even before she met him, I think she was finally starting to admire Jamie and believe that her mother's assessment of his character was true. Much like Claire, Brianna is a very strong young woman who gets along pretty well on her own two centuries in the past. It was funny how she insisted on wearing men's clothing at first and scandalized nearly everyone she met because of it. Even Roger, who'd seen her in much less in their own time, became jealously possessive of her when he saw her dressed like that. Brianna finally meeting Jamie and reuniting with Claire seemed a little rushed and anti-climactic. I guess I was expecting a bit more form this moment, especially the meeting with Jamie. If I were them, I would have been shocked to see her and had all sorts of questions about why she had come back in time, but they just seemed to mostly take it in stride. I did like how Brianna blended in with them almost like she had always been a part of them. Not long after she arrives though, Bree drops a bomb on her mother that I honestly didn't see coming, and the stress of those events plus Roger going missing puts her on an emotional roller-coaster, during which time she doesn't always act entirely rationally. In an eventual fit of desperation, she proposes to John which was actually rather funny. I like how she and John became fast friends and he supported her through a difficult time when she really had no one else to lean on.
Roger can be very sweet at times, but when Brianna tries his patience, he sometimes looses it a little. Roger is very protective of Bree and in many ways is a lot like Jamie, so it's not too surprising that they ended up butting heads more than once. At first I thought it rather interesting that Brianna would fall for a man who is so much like her father even though she had never met Jamie, but the more I got to know Roger, the more I realized that he is kind of a cross between Jamie and Frank. I love that Roger respected Brianna enough to want to marry her before making love to her, and even though she was willing to have sex with him, he always made it crystal clear that he wanted far more than that from her. I thought Roger following Bree through the stones proved his love for her, but even still, the poor man got put through the ringer to continue proving himself before they could finally find some peace and happiness.
Lord John has a very significant role in this book that advanced his character development. He is a man who is every bit as honorable as Jamie. Since Jamie can't be there to raise his son, it's something of a comfort to know that a good man like John is there in his stead. From what I can tell so far, John has done a great job of fathering Willie. Jamie and John have a very interesting and remarkably close relationship. They both seem to treasure their friendship deeply even though there have always been other feelings bubbling beneath the surface for John. It's even more unusual that Jamie is able to accept John knowing how he feels about him. However, I believe it is John's love for Jamie that makes him incredibly loyal not only to Jamie, but his family too. I love what he did for Brianna when she proposed to him and his frank discussion with her after that event was utterly refreshing. She definitely chose the right man to approach, because John is every bit as protective of anyone Jamie loves as Jamie would be himself.
As with the other books in the series, Drums of Autumn is populated with a plethora of secondary characters, some old and some new. I'd say that the two most significant ones were Jamie's aunt, Jocasta and his nephew, Ian. Jocasta is the aging matron of a North Carolina plantation who has been widowed multiple times. For being an older woman and blind at that, she was very strong and determined and gets on quite well on her own with the help of her servants. She definitely has a head for business and could run the plantation by herself, if it weren't for the fact that no one would do business with a woman. Even though Jocasta could be rather meddlesome at times, I think her heart was in the right place and I admired her for that. In spite of all he's been through, when the story opens, Ian is really still just a boy, but by the time it ends, even though he's still only seventeen, he has definitely become a man. While gambling, Ian wins a scruffy wolf/dog who becomes his best friend and constant companion. He is a great help to Claire and Jamie as they build their own homestead in the mountains. When John arrives with young Willie, the lad and Ian get into some hilarious mischief right away. Ian makes friends with a group of Indians, learns their language, and often goes hunting with them. In hindsight, it's almost like everything he does throughout the whole book is preparing him for his penultimate moment. Where things end for Ian was rather bittersweet, but he seems to have openly accepted his fate. He is a strong young man who I believe is up to the task before him.
I may have had a few minor complaints about Drums of Autumn, but overall, it was still an excellent book. Jamie and Claire have essentially become pioneers, carving out a new life for themselves in the North Carolina wilderness and making new friends and acquaintances along the way. As with the other books in the series, the hardships of the era are vividly painted, but Jamie and Claire's love for one another sustains them, much like I think Roger and Brianna's will in the future. Jamie and Claire's soul-deep bond is one that certainly breaks the barrier of time and space. Just like they will always love each other, I think I will always love reading about them, no matter what they might be doing.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" A Mother's Wisdom is a lovely collection of stories, anecdotes, wise words and poems from mothers to their childre...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" A Mother's Wisdom is a lovely collection of stories, anecdotes, wise words and poems from mothers to their children. It is reminiscent of the Chicken Soup books geared toward the maternal side of the parent/child relationship. Some of the authors celebrated their children, others expressed their hopes and dreams for their child/grandchild's future, and still others imparted life lessons that they hope their children will, or already have, learned. In every case though, they articulated things that I, as a mother, can relate to and wish for my own children. Reading this book, I felt much less alone in the ups and downs of parenting. The stories by older and perhaps wiser women talked of things that I often need to be reminded of and encouraged me not only with the day-to-day stuff, but also with the things I know are coming but I have yet to encounter, such as my kids growing up and leaving home. Not only was this book uplifting, but it made me feel mothered through all the wonderful nuggets of wisdom. A Mother's Wisdom would make a great gift book for mothers of all ages, but because it is written to children, it would also make a wonderful gift from a mother to their child who is perhaps graduating, about to become a parent, or going through some life-changing transition. I highly recommend this book. It certainly expressed many of the thoughts I've had about my own children, but can't always put into words.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the editor in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Last Resort is a cute, lighthearted, sweet romance about two people who meet and fall in love while working at an...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Last Resort is a cute, lighthearted, sweet romance about two people who meet and fall in love while working at an upscale resort in Florida. Either the author has first-hand knowledge of the travel/tourism industry or she did her homework well, because I felt like I was with Lila and Jackson in the more relaxed atmosphere of a resort community. Of course, it's not always fun and games for the staff, but they do manage to carve out a little time here and there for romance and recreation. Although some of the situations are more grown-up in nature, the content of the story is very mild, which in my opinion, would make it suitable for most romance fans including teens and sensitive readers.
Lila is a nice girl whose two-timing ex not only cheated on her but ripped off her tuition money to go on a ski trip. Now she's faced with figuring out how to pay for the remainder of her education just when her boss decides that cut-backs are needed at the company where she works. Even though Lila was facing her own hardships, I thought it was really kind of her to volunteer to go on location at the resort so a co-worker who was in even worse straits could keep her job. Once there, she's initially somewhat out of her element, but she caught on fast and was really good with the kids at the resort day-care where she was assigned to work. Lila has a good heart and is nice to nearly everyone, but after her experience with her ex, she's not too trusting of Jackson. At first, she thinks he's just a player, but gradually, she begins to warm up to him. Still, when the circumstantial evidence points to Jackson possibly having another girlfriend and him having run off with Lila's money, she isn't too keen on listening to his explanations even though she still has feelings for him.
Jackson had been partners with his dad in a tour boat company, but with his dad having recently passed away, he's faced with some tough decisions about whether to continue with his father's dream of expanding the company. He goes to work at the resort to get away for a while and do some soul searching in a more relaxed environment. I liked that Jackson wasn't really interested in any of the other female staffers at the resort. Even though more than one of them was practically throwing themselves at him, he basically ignored them, but when Lila showed up, he was instantly smitten. His protective tendencies toward her were really cute. The way he kept coming to her rescue and simply looking out for her well-being was quite sweet. Jackson was equally wonderful with the kids too. In the end, I loved the choices he made about his business and could definitely see things working out great for everyone involved down the road.
Last Resort was a light, easy read that was still very fun and enjoyable. It would make a great beach read for the upcoming summer season. The cast of characters was likable and easy to root for. Even though some of the resort staff initially come off as rather shallow, most of them ended up showing that there was more to them than meets the eye. The conflict primarily revolves around Lila seeing Jackson in the same light as her conniving ex, which leads to several misunderstandings and her being a bit stubborn about letting him explain. This normally wouldn't work well for me, but in Lila's defense, all the stuff with her ex had happened very recently and was still fresh in her mind, plus there were a couple of antagonists working against her and Jackson behind the scenes, planting evidence. All this along with Lila finally admitting to herself in the last chapter that she hadn't been very fair to Jackson, made this trope much more palatable to me than it usually would be. Overall, I had a really good time reading Last Resort. I found it to be well-plotted and well-written, and although it was a relatively simple, uncomplicated story, I have to admit that sometimes it's nice to just slow down with a gentle read. It's like comfort food for the soul. This was my first book by Rebecca Boschee, but I'll definitely be checking out her other novels when I'm in the mood for something low-key.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Princess of Bretagne is the first book in Vijaya Schartz's new medieval fantasy series, The Curse of the Lost Isle. This book...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Princess of Bretagne is the first book in Vijaya Schartz's new medieval fantasy series, The Curse of the Lost Isle. This book and the series in general is steeped in Celtic history and lore, and also has a basis in Arthurian legends too. Ms. Schartz brings the setting to life with the use of authentic period details regarding warfare and day to day life in a medieval fortress and a Viking camp, some of which can be rather dark and gritty. She also draws on the mythology of the era as the people's beliefs in the gods of old are challenged by the growth and proselytizing of the Christian church. The clashing of these religions poses a dangerous threat to the heroine of the story who is pagan. There is also a political dimension to the story, not only in regards to religion, but also as the tribes of Briton find themselves invaded by Vikings and in growing need of a high king to unite them.
Pressine of Bretagne is one of the Ladies of the Lost Isle, women who are immortal and part fae. They serve the will of their Goddess and in this case, Pressine has been chosen to marry King Elinas of Dumfries. It has been prophesied that she will help him to unite all of Briton to become the high king of Alba and defeat their Viking invaders. Pressine is slightly reluctant at first, worrying that the king might be an unattractive, old man, but upon meeting him, she is quite drawn to him. Elinas is thirty-five, and while Pressine's age is never given, I know by the customs of the time, that she was likely quite young. Pressine is a little different than Ms. Schartz's other female leads I've read to date, in that she isn't exactly a kick-butt heroine. She doesn't wield a sword or physically fight, but she does have a strong spirit and is cool under pressure. She also takes her responsibilities very seriously, and doesn't want to use her powers unless absolutely necessary. I liked that she delayed binding the king's soul to hers through his sword and instead won his heart with her own natural charms. Pressine has many gifts and talents, as well as a curse, none of which have been fully tapped yet, so I'll be interested to see where things lead for her in the next book of the series.
King Elinas is a brave and honorable man who is still mourning the loss of his beloved queen when Pressine arrives at his fortress. I thought that he did fall for Pressine rather quickly under the circumstances and the courtship was a little too short for my taste, but their interactions were sweet and loving. Elinas is a strong warrior on the battlefield but a kind and gentle man with Pressine. He is very protective of her and treats her as a woman of worth and not just an inferior. Sadly, though he is blind to the machinations of his oldest son who is a zealous Christian harboring hatred for Pressine and her kind, believing them to be instruments of the devil.
There are some strong secondary characters who get their own point-of-view scenes and almost as much page time as the hero and heroine. Pressine's brother, Gwenvael, renounced his mystical powers to become a Christian monk, but he is more accepting of people of various backgrounds and faiths than many Christians of the era. He willingly goes with a Viking warrior hoping to turn some of the Vikings to his beliefs, and ends up becoming a valued member of their camp. He enjoys a minor romance with a slave woman in the Viking camp. Bodvar, the Viking whom Gwenvael accompanied, is a rough, battle-scarred warrior who leads an invasion against Briton. With his barbaric ways he's not an easy man to like, and perhaps, I'm not supposed to. I'm glad that he has treated Gwenvael well, but ultimately, he's a much better antagonist than a hero. In any case, I'm sure we haven't seen the last of him yet.
It took me a little while to get into the story, mainly because things seemed to move at breakneck speed for the first few chapters, leaving little time to get to know and like the characters. As I already mentioned the romance was a little too quick as well. To some extent, I've come to expect this from Vijaya Schartz's novels, as they tend to be more plot-driven than character-driven, but once I started getting more insights into the characters' motivations, I gradually became more engaged. The exciting battles and period details also drew me in as did the intrigue surrounding Elinas' son trying to prevent him from marrying Pressine. Overall, Princess of Bretagne was a solid story that I enjoyed reading. I'm very much looking forward to finding out what's next for Elinas and Pressine when the series continues with the release of Pagan Queen.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews There is a lot happening in Second Chance Pass, both good and bad, for the residents of Virgin River, both old and new. The po...moreReviewed for THC Reviews There is a lot happening in Second Chance Pass, both good and bad, for the residents of Virgin River, both old and new. The population of this little town is beginning to grow not only because more people are finding this little slice of paradise, but also because more babies are either on the way or being born. I'm constantly astounded by how real Virgin River and its residents seem to me. Every time I read one of these book, I wish that it were indeed a real place, so that I could go and visit. It is such a warm and wonderful town that is like a modern frontier community where everyone pitches in to help everyone else when there is a need, and they all come together to celebrate weddings, graduations, births and other joyous occasions. In this installment, the “main” hero and heroine are Paul and Vanni whose relationship was introduced in Whispering Rock.
As this story opens, Paul is still pretty messed up over the death of Matt, Vanni's husband and his best friend. He is obviously still madly in love with Vanni, but feeling guilty about being attracted to his best friend's wife. In the midst of his grief and turmoil and in a moment of weakness and vulnerability, he succumbs to a one-night stand with Terri, a woman he had previously dated a couple of times. Next thing he knows, Terri is claiming to be pregnant by him which only makes his desire to make a move on Vanni all the more complicated and seemingly impossible. Paul was an incredibly sweet guy who was shy and lacking confidence with women which is why his best friend ended up with Vanni in the first place even though Paul had seen her first and instantly fell in love with her. Early on in the story, I had to agree with Jack that if Paul was ever going to get the woman he loved, he was going to have to show more assertiveness. Luckily, Paul did finally tap his inner alpha to lay claim to Vanni. Once he had her in his arms, I thought it was quite sweet that he wasn't very experienced and somewhat uncertain of his sexual prowess, but he poured everything he had into making love to Vanni and ended up being an amazing lover. Paul was also wonderful to Terri even when he found out the truth about her situation and even felt sorry for her. He was just an all-around nice guy.
I was very impressed to find out that Vanni was already thinking of Paul in a romantic way when the story began. It seems that since her husband was away at war for nearly a year before he was killed that she didn't need as much time to grieve as some widows might, because it already felt like he'd been gone a long time. She had also been attracted to Paul from the moment she first saw him, but had been swept off her feet by Matt. After Matt's death, Paul had been such a source of strength and support for her that she couldn't help falling in love with him and was just waiting for him to make a move and show that he thought of her as a woman and not just his best friend's wife. Because Paul holds back for a long time, Vanni begins to get discouraged. In a moment of vulnerability, she accepts a couple of dates with another man, but luckily, nothing beyond a chaste kiss happened between them. Vanni has a bit of a temper and at first, I was worried that she was going to be one of those hotheaded heroines who doesn't listen. She seemed to keep jumping to conclusions and not letting Paul explain himself, but when Paul got his alpha on, she finally sat up and took notice. After that, she simmered down, and although she still had a pretty feisty personality, I was convinced that she wasn't going to run roughshod over Paul all the time. She was also a really good woman to stand by Paul though all of his complications and issues, willing to accept him and love him no matter what.
I have to admit that throughout the first quarter or so of the book, I was feeling rather jealous for both Paul and Vanni. Paul had the baby issue with Terri and her hanging on him, hoping he would change his mind about marrying her even though he made it clear that he was in love with another woman. Then Vanni had Cameron, a pediatrician her in-laws had set her up with, traveling a long distance just in hopes of seeing her. Although he seemed like a nice enough guy, I thought he was being just a little pushy. I was glad to see Vanni putting her foot down and not allowing him to take things too fast between them. Ultimately, in spite of this love quadrangle, Paul and Vanni actually got together much quicker than I expected them to. However, them getting together so early in the book, left very little for them to do for the rest of the story. I guess since they had been friends for a long time and their romance started building in Whispering Rock, this was somewhat to be expected. Luckily, the slack was picked up by a whole bunch of sweet secondary romances and other events that kept me pretty well engaged.
First, there was Vanni's best friend, Nikki, who had just broken off a terrible relationship with a man who had been less than honest with her. She comes to visit Vanni several times in Virgin River where she catches the eye of Joe Benson, the last of the group of Marine buddies to still be unattached. Things heated up between these two surprisingly quickly as they share an intense and romantic night together, but Nikki is afraid to trust that what they're experiencing is real. For Joe it's very real and far more than a one-night stand, so he just can't let Nikki go. I loved the way things turned out for these two and hope to see more of them in future books, although sadly they don't appear to be a main hero/heroine combination.
Then we had Vanni's little brother, Tommy and his girlfriend, Brenda. These two teenagers are madly in love much like Ricky and Liz. Tommy was so sweet to Brenda as they experience their “first time” together. I like that they both acted very responsibly in their decision to make love and communicated extremely well throughout, better than many adults in romance-land. In my opinion, it made for a very romantic encounter. It's really cute how head over heels in love Tommy is with Brenda, but with Tommy heading off to West Point, they're going to have to deal with a long separation. I can't help but hope they make it for the long haul, but as of right now, they don't appear to have a starring role as the hero and heroine of a future book either. And last but not least was a romance for the young at heart as Vanni's dad, Walt finds himself attracted to retired movie star, Muriel, when she moves back to the area where she grew up to get away from the Hollywood rat race and find some peace and quiet.
A few other secondary characters pop in for a visit. Vanni's cousin, Shelby, who we also briefly met in Whispering Rock is a really nice woman who has spent years caring for an ailing mother. When her mother passes away, she feels it's time for her to start a new life. It looks like she'll be spending a lot more time in Virgin River as the main heroine of the next book, Temptation Ridge. Also Jack and Company receive word that Ricky is being sent to Iraq. Before he leaves, Rick stops in to visit. He's obviously still crazy about Liz and they get to be the hero and heroine of book #7, Paradise Valley. Also, the “illegal grower,” Dan aka Shady Brady shows up yet again, and I have a strong feeling that there's much more to him than meets the eye. Mike learns some new info on this mysterious character, while Dan strangely continues to play the reluctant good Samaritan.
All the previous heroes and heroines, Jack and Mel, Preacher and Paige, and Mike and Brie play roles too. Jack and Mel are pretty front and center as they welcome their new baby and deal with various happenings around town. I've always adored Jack but Mel is probably my least favorite heroine in the series, because even this far along she doesn't always seem to appreciate Jack in the way I think he deserves. She just seems more likely to give him a hard time about one thing or another than she is to express her love and gratitude for all the wonderful things he does for her. There are times though, like during the pivotal event at the end of the book, that I think she may understand just how special Jack is, but at the same time, I wouldn't be surprised to find her ragging on him again in the next book. Preacher and Paige also welcome a new little one while preparing to expand their living quarters. Preacher was just so utterly charming and adorable during the birth scene, definitely a proud, protective, doting father and husband, which just reminds me why he's my favorite hero of the series. Mike and Brie were mostly in the background this time, but they too are looking to build a home and had a big announcement to make.
All in all, Second Chance Pass was a wonderful book, brimming with likable characters that were easy to become invested in. My only minor complaint is that Robyn Carr can sometimes get a little long-winded on the dialog which she often writes in large blocks, almost like the character is telling a story rather than engaging in conversation. It tends to make characters like Paul or Preacher who are supposed to be shy and introverted seem more extroverted than they supposedly are. However, it didn't bother me as much this time as it has in some of the previous books, and was a relatively small thing in an otherwise lovely story. Second Chance Pass has definitely solidified the Virgin River series as a favorite of mine and I'm eagerly looking forward to reading the next book soon.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews KTL23 is a steamy e-book quickie told from the first-person point-of-view of a soldier who falls for the genetically engineere...moreReviewed for THC Reviews KTL23 is a steamy e-book quickie told from the first-person point-of-view of a soldier who falls for the genetically engineered warrior that he's been guarding. When the man, who Horatio has dubbed Kelty, starts exhibiting symptoms of illness and the scientists believe the cure is sex, Horatio is more than willing to volunteer himself to “heal” Kelty. Thinking this was probably a one-time thing, Horatio wanted to keep some emotional distance between them, but I love how once he was in the same room with the hunky guy he'd been admiring from afar, he just couldn't help himself. Having been created in a lab and never ventured outside the walls of his room, Kelty, of course, was a virgin, and Horatio very patiently and lovingly tutored him in the art of sexual pleasure. Kelty was absolutely adorable in his innocence and eagerness to please, but much smarter than he at first seems, as the clever little plot twist at the end attests. There were no unbelievable declarations of love in this short story, but there is plenty of tender, loving interactions that were also quite spicy. I had no trouble believing that Horatio and Kelty were perfect for each other and would have a happy future together. KTL23 was my first read by Missy Welsh, but it was so fun and enjoyable, I'm looking forward to trying something else by her soon.
Note: This novella contains a scene of explicit sensuality between two men which may offend some readers.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" After reading Hiding Space, the first in Linda Andrews' sci-fi series which follows intrepid space adventurers Bro...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" After reading Hiding Space, the first in Linda Andrews' sci-fi series which follows intrepid space adventurers Brongill of Da'Hap and Alderina of Rutgers, I was very undecided about how to rate it. I had liked the characters and enjoyed certain aspects of the story, but I was a bit disappointed at the lack of romance and a little confused by the socio-political details of the world they inhabited. Now that I've read Animosity, I'm wondering if I missed something, because I thoroughly enjoyed this follow-up volume. Maybe it had something to do with the story taking place on the surface of Brongill's home planet, Terrill, rather than in outer space, or maybe it was the addition of some lively new characters, but whatever the reason, Animosity ended up being a really fun read. This book was packed with non-stop action and adventure that kept me turning the pages wondering how Brongill and Ally would bring peace to the warring factions and defeat their common enemy. Although the focus was still squarely on the sci-fi elements, I was pleased to find a little more romance this time. There is some sexual tension peppered throughout the narrative and one relatively mild love scene, but it was just enough to make me comfortable with actually categorizing this one as sci-fi romance. Also, the world building was much clearer this time. Either it was explained better or I was paying closer attention, but whichever was the case, I had no trouble understanding what was going on and who was who which only added to the enjoyment.
Animosity begins with Terrill being in a virtual post-apocalyptic state. Sentient machines have essentially taken over the planet and are trying to off the humanoid beings (this part reminded me in some ways of The Matrix or Battlestar Galactica). It is on this world that Brongill, Ally, and the crew of the Tyche crash land in the opening chapters (there's nothing like having your spaceship blow up right out of the gate;-)). From there, it's all about their survival and the search for Ally's children and the rest of Brongill's crew, but in order to accomplish that, they must face the now-hostile environment of Terrill. Along the way, Brongill and Ally discover that an ancient prophecy says they will unite the races and bring peace to the world, which of course, is a very heavy burden to bear, but they seem to be very much up to the task.
As with the first book, Animosity is more plot-driven than character-driven, but I felt like I got to know the characters a little better this time. Ally is tough as nails and cool under pressure, while still being kind and compassionate. She's also very intelligent, often managing to reason her way out of some very sticky situations. She's a great mom, always thinking of her kids, and a wonderful bondmate to Brongill. I thought it was very cool how she could control the nanites (amazing microscopic machines that can both build and destroy). Ally thinks of Brongill as a natural-born leader, but throughout the course of the story, she discovers that innate ability within herself too. Brongill is the same no-nonsense commander he's always been, a man who sees what needs to be done and just does it. I think being with Ally has softened him up a bit, as he shows a more loving side, but Ally and her safety are always his first priority. It was rather funny how Brongill could be a little cave-mannish in his protection of Ally, while she balks at him trying to treat her like fine china. She is definitely a strong, spirited woman, but in a good way.
There are lots of supporting characters who add energy to the story, and somehow, I managed to keep them all straight. They represented a wide variety of personalities and purposes which only added interest. I was quite fascinated by the fantastical creatures who inhabit Terrill, particularly the lynuktars, giant, flying, purple cats (I want one for a pet;-)). There are some pretty scary things too like toblets (shark-like fish), speek (pterodactyl-like birds), and of course the machines. Linda Andrews certainly has quite an imagination to come up with all these creatures. I was kind of sad that we don't get to see more of Ty. She only appears in the first few chapters, but it was interesting to see her in her natural element with her own kind.
As you can probably tell by now, I had a really good time reading Animosity. All the action and the twists and turns of the plot kept me on the edge of my seat, eager to learn what would happen next. I don't know if there will be any more adventurers for Brongill and Ally, but if there are, I would be very interested in reading them. But, perhaps I should just check out some of Linda Andrews' other titles and see if I can find some new, exciting characters to spend time with instead.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Rosa is a lovely rendering of Rosa Parks' courageous act in a picture book format that is accessible to younger re...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Rosa is a lovely rendering of Rosa Parks' courageous act in a picture book format that is accessible to younger readers. I think most people are familiar with Mrs. Parks refusal to move to the back of the bus which sparked a huge wave in the civil rights movement, but author, Nikki Giovanni, gives the reader a little more information about the before and after. She begins by giving a bit of background on Rosa Parks which even educated me. I didn't realize that she was married, caring for an elderly mother and worked as a seamstress. Ms. Giovanni continues by detailing Mrs. Parks act of civil disobedience which led to her arrest. I was a little disappointed that she didn't tell any more about Mrs. Parks herself following that event. Instead the author finishes up by explaining how Rosa Parks' actions sparked a whole movement which eventually led to the Supreme Court ruling against segregation.
Artist Bryan Collier's illustrations are a lovely compliment to the text. I really felt like he captured Rosa Parks' essence in the pictures of her and the details are amazing. The textures and patterns of the clothing and accessories as well as some other items were very realistic looking, almost more like a photograph than a painting. Each one also has a kind of pieced-together look. I spent quite a while perusing each one, trying to figure out how Mr. Collier accomplished this. It wasn't until I read on his website that he incorporates watercolors and collage that is started to make sense. All in all, some very impressive artistic work.
Rosa was the winner of both the Coretta Scott King award and a Caldecott Honor Book, both of which I think are well-deserved. Overall, it was a lovely book that would be a great tool for teaching younger children about Rosa Parks and this particular chapter in the civil rights movement.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Nina Benneton's debut novel, Compulsively Mr. Darcy, is a delightfully fun, lighthearted, contemporary spoof of Ja...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Nina Benneton's debut novel, Compulsively Mr. Darcy, is a delightfully fun, lighthearted, contemporary spoof of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Much to my shame I have not yet read P&P (never fear, it is on my TBR list;-)), so I can't offer any kind of comparative analysis. However, the book stands very well on its own merits. It would have been equally as enjoyable even if the plot of the book was not in some fashion following the plot of P&P and the characters had been given different names. I have to admit that initially, the sheer volume of characters could be a little confusing, and this is where some previous knowledge of P&P might have been helpful, but eventually, I got everyone straight and had a lot of fun spending time with them.
Compulsively Mr. Darcy begins in Da Nang, Vietnam of all places. What a unique setting for a romance novel! I enjoyed learning a little about the country and the culture, as well as reading about Elizabeth's colorful Vietnamese relatives. The story then moves to New York City and on to California as we follow the hero and heroine through their adventures.
In this retelling, Fitzwilliam Darcy is the OCD billionaire of a very successful company specializing in acquisitions and mergers. He begins the book quite stuffy and uptight, but I immediately discerned a very appealing man underneath the control freak veneer. I actually loved how he took such good care of everyone around him, both family and friends. I think he was a naturally kind, caring, loving person, whose anxieties and OCD just make him go a little overboard. Ultimately though, I thought it was rather sweet. Elizabeth must have agreed with me, because she was never off-put by his neurotic behavior either. William never stops worrying about everyone, most especially Elizabeth and his sister, Georgianna. He does manage to live a fairly normal life in spite of being a worry-wort, but I really loved the moments when he was able to loosen up a little bit. He was actually surprisingly good with babies (dirty diapers not withstanding;-)) which leads me to believe that he would be a great father. He was already a wonderful husband, lover, friend and brother, so he can just add another check-mark to his repertoire.
Elizabeth has a rather inauspicious beginning, first snapping at William when he comes to check on his friend, Bingley, who is under her care at the hospital and later thinking that they are a gay couple which led to all sorts of hilarity. In spite of her initial grumpiness, Elizabeth turns out to be a very sweet, loving woman. She and her sister Jane are women after my own heart, the way they are giving selflessly of themselves to work in a third-world country helping others. I also love how completely accepting she is of Darcy, faults, neuroses and all. I think her only shortcoming is that she has a bit of a jealous streak which led to the dreaded misunderstanding and a temporary breakup. Even though it could have been cleared up with a candid conversation, in terms of page-time, it didn't last too long, led to a very sweet make-up, and was played a little lighter, more like a comedy of errors, so I guess I can mostly forgive the lapse. Elizabeth was very funny too with her frugal ways. Even after she found out that Darcy was a billionaire, she couldn't help herself. She was still trying to pinch pennies and couldn't stand the thought of being wasteful, which is something I can totally relate to. I'd probably be the same way even if I suddenly came into a lot of money.
Overall, I had a really good time reading Compulsively Mr. Darcy. William and Elizabeth are just the sweetest couple who practically dote on each other nearly all the time. They can't stand to be without one another and always seem to have fun when they're together. I absolutely loved all the gentle teasing and bantering. The secondary characters were great too. Bingley is a hoot with his lighthearted, boyish manner, and Darcy's cousin, Richard, is always trying to look out for him while he looks out for everyone else. All of Elizabeth's sisters have their own unique personalities too. Everything just came together to make this an extremely enjoyable read. Nina Benneton is a talented new author, and I'll definitely be looking forward to seeing what else she comes up with. In the meantime, if the original Mr. Darcy is half as charming as William, and Pride and Prejudice is half as delightful as Compulsively Mr. Darcy, I know I'm going to have a blast when I finally read it.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Chocolate Therapy was another fun read in Abby Irish's “Chocolate” series. Readers get to follow along with protagonist, Amy K...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Chocolate Therapy was another fun read in Abby Irish's “Chocolate” series. Readers get to follow along with protagonist, Amy Kayden, through more of the ups and downs in her sometimes zany life. Amy is also the first-person narrator of the story and she does so in a breezy, conversational way, actually talking directly to the reader on occasion which is a rather unique, amusing element. For some reason, the book seemed to start off a little slow. Maybe that was partly because Amy's boyfriend, Joel, who is a big draw for me and a great balancer for Amy's wackiness wasn't there for the first few chapters. Whatever the reason, I gradually started getting into it more and more, and eventually, things were going at a pretty good clip as events in Amy's life run the gamut from absurd (being run over by a motorized shopping cart driven by her nemesis) to surprising (a daughter she didn't even know had a boyfriend announcing she's getting married in mere weeks) and emotional (the passing of one of her dear pooches) to romantic (Amy trying to surprise Joel with a cruise but the surprise ends up being on her). It all came together to make me run the emotional gamut too, from chuckling at Amy's antics to shedding a few tears over Jerry's passing.
It was nice to see that Amy hasn't changed a bit. She's still her crazy self and sometimes her life reminds me of an episode of I Love Lucy, one of my all-time favorite TV shows. I don't think anyone but Amy (and Lucy of course;-)) could get themselves into so much trouble. Amy is as klutzy as ever, a bit neurotic, cooking-challenged, and obsessed with chocolate, but she is also a woman with a big heart who loves her family passionately, and that family includes her dogs and of course, Joel. In this “chapter” of her life, she must deal with upheavals in her daughters' lives, as I mentioned earlier, the death of one of her “boys,” and helping Joel to integrate into this “three-ring circus.” Amy is a great mom who is always there for her kids, supporting their decisions the best way she knows how which was something I could relate to. Amy is a woman who always seems to be running around like a chicken with her head cut off, but whatever she does, it's always with the best intentions at heart.
I had totally fallen for Joel in the first book, There's Always Chocolate!. After reading that book, I had characterized him as a prince among men, and I still stand by that assessment. Much like Amy's first husband, Joel works a lot, but where they differ is that Joel always seems to find time for fun, games and just to be with Amy. He is also very kind, loving and patient. Now that's not to say perfect, because he did have one foible in Chocolate Therapy when he up and left for a week after the long-time bachelor side of him couldn't quite figure out how he fit into Amy's family. I appreciated though that he didn't try to make any excuses for his behavior and came around fairly quickly, and throughout it all, his feelings for Amy never changed one bit. I loved that he was not only willing, but actually eager, to marry Amy even after having been through two failed marriages. He simply never lost faith in the idea that they had been meant for each other since they were kids. It just took them thirty-some odd years to realize it.
With it's lighthearted, breezy and sometimes downright funny take on the life of a fifty-ish widow, Chocolate Therapy reads much like chick-lit for a slightly older generation. It shows that there definitely can be life after loosing a spouse and that one can still find an HEA even in the “middle ages.” Overall, I enjoyed reading this follow-up to There's Always Chocolate!. The only minor complaint I have is that it could have used a few more contractions. The way it was mostly written with the words spelled out, especially in dialog, made it seem too formal and stilted, but otherwise, this was a well-written book. I would recommend Chocolate Therapy to anyone who enjoys a good slap-sticky, romantic comedy that focuses equal parts on the romantic relationship and family relationships. I don't know if there will be any more forthcoming for Amy and Joel, but if there is, I would be happy to read more about them or see what other zany stories Abby Irish comes up with next.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews I agreed to review P. O. Box Love because it was billed as a romance and the theme of reunited loves is a favorite of mine. It...moreReviewed for THC Reviews I agreed to review P. O. Box Love because it was billed as a romance and the theme of reunited loves is a favorite of mine. It definitely is a love story, however, I will caution my fellow romance readers that this is a literary romance rather than a genre romance. When I first started reading the book and realized this, I wasn't sure if I was going to like it or not, but in the end was very pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable it was. P. O. Box Love is the story of two high-school sweethearts who serendipitously find one another again after thirty years apart. They then rekindle their relationship through writing letters to one another over a period of four years, punctuated by once a year romantic interludes in France. P. O. Box Love is primarily an epistolary novel comprised of the letters exchanged by the two main characters, but these missives are interspersed with the heroine's first-person narratives. This is another way in which the story is much different than most romances I read in that Emma and Frederico spend most of the novel apart. Their romance also takes on a somewhat melancholy tone, because it is a rather impossible one due to Frederico already being married and very reluctant to leave his wife. Normally, this thread of infidelity would be quite troublesome to me, but for some reason it didn't bother nearly as much as I thought it would. I think this was mainly owing to the fact that, much like Emma, the reader gets to know very little about Frederico's wife, and as a result, it almost seems like she doesn't exist.
Being every bit as passionate about books as Emma is, it would have been impossible for me not to like her. She is the owner of a bookstore in Milan called Dreams & Desires which specializes in books relating to love and romance. I think that Emma's store shows that she is something of a hopeless romantic, which is probably why her heart was open to the possibility of reigniting a long lost love when Frederico reappears in her life, and also why she continued the relationship in spite of several times being tempted to end it. Emma is rather old-fashioned as well. She refuses to use a computer or a cell phone, and has a general aversion to most forms of technology which is how she ended up writing letters to Frederico rather than e-mailing, texting or phoning. On some level, I agree with Emma's views, because technology has created a certain loss in the art of communication. Hardly anyone ever sits down to write a letter anymore, so this aspect gave the story a very quaint feeling that I adored. I also thought it was rather sweet and funny that Emma's friends and family seemed to subconsciously view her as some sort of expert on love and romance because her store was focused on those subjects, as they all bring their relationship woes to her.
Frederico is an architect who is working in New York City on the reconstruction of the Morgan Library. We really only get to know him through his letters to Emma and the tidbits of dialog they share when they are together. He is definitely a man who is conflicted. Emma had always thought that Frederico broke up with her due to a youthful indiscretion that led her to kiss another man, but in reality, he had given in to pressure from his family who didn't feel Emma was good enough for him. In the end, he married a woman befitting his station and who was good at being a wife, but whom he never loved in the same way as Emma. He didn't deliberately seek Emma out, but when he found her again, he couldn't resist starting over with her in spite of his marriage. I believe a part of him wanted to leave his wife and be fully with Emma, but his sense of responsibility toward her and their daughter wouldn't allow him to. While I don't condone his infidelity, I did understand it on some level. It was never just about the sex, but about the fact that he enjoyed a deep friendship and an intimacy with Emma that I don't believe he ever had with his wife.
I really enjoyed the progression of Emma and Frederico's relationship and the way that they communicate their emotions through the language of books and architecture. Throughout the story they influence each other a great deal. Through Frederico's passion for architecture, Emma learns to appreciate buildings and their design more, and through Emma's passion for books, Frederico learns to appreciate them more. Suddenly, his work on the Morgan library is much more than just building something as he begins to think more about the things that will be housed there. The language of books was such a lovely way for Emma and Frederico to express their emotions. Even though I have to admit that I've read virtually none of the books mentioned, I couldn't help but feel connected to them anyway, especially Emma. The titles of the books may have been different than the ones that I usually read, but I believe wholeheartedly that the language of books is a universal one to anyone who is passionate about them.
Paola Calvetti does a wonderful job of conveying a sense of time and place too. Emma's bookstore is almost a character unto itself. I thoroughly enjoyed watching it grow and change. It was kind of like watching a butterfly emerge from it's cocoon, as was Frederico's work on the Morgan. I loved all of Emma's window displays and shelf themes. Organizing by themes is something I can definitely relate to as I do that a lot myself. All the “peaceful oases” that Frederico finds within the bustling metropolis of New York City made it seems like a much more tranquil place than I'm sure it is. The Strand bookstore and the Morgan Library itself both sound like little slices of heaven on earth to a book lover like myself. Emma and Frederico's romantic hideaway in Brittany sounded absolutely wonderful as well, a secluded place that is almost outside of time and space.
The decidedly literary quality of P. O. Box Love in many ways puts me outside its target audience. This style made for a bit more dense reading than I'm used to, but I'm very glad that I had the opportunity to read it and take a step outside my comfort zone. The prose had a beautifully lyrical, almost poetic feel to it that I appreciated for its ability to draw me into the story and make me feel like I was there with the protagonists. There were only a couple of small trouble spots that I found. One was that there were occasional major jumps in time and/or thought processes with no warning such as a page break which could be a little jarring. The other is that sometimes in the dialog it was hard to figure out who was speaking, at least when those passages first begin. Otherwise, P. O. Box Love was a well-written story. Considering that it was originally penned in Italian and translated to English, I'd say that the translation process was handled very well too. The only reason I didn't mark it higher is that in spite of enjoying the story, I can't honestly say that it was difficult to put down which is the true mark of a keeper for me. However, it was a very pleasant read that was a solid four stars and a surprising winner which has left me open to reading more from Paola Calvetti if any of her other novels are translated to English.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the publicist via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" The Shack is one of those books that ended up being far more than what I was expecting, although I have to admit t...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" The Shack is one of those books that ended up being far more than what I was expecting, although I have to admit that precisely what I was expecting, I'm not sure. I knew that this book was billed as Christian literature, but I also knew that it was highly controversial. However, I wasn't entirely certain whether it had caused upheaval in non-Christian or Christian circles. Turns out it's apparently both, which in my estimation means that it has done a good job of hitting its mark. If both sides are simultaneously criticizing and loving it, then the book has struck a good balance in my opinion.
I've mentioned several times in my reviews of other “Christian” books that in spite of being a Christian myself, nothing will turn me off faster than a book that is preachy, which is why I approached The Shack with a certain degree of caution. What I found in it was something that I never would have imagined. It is a deeply moving, spiritual story of a man seeking answers to some very tough questions. I wouldn't call it a religious book, because it doesn't seek to moralize. It is more of a journey in faith to a richer understanding of who and what God is and is not, and how God relates to the human race as a whole. I know that it has challenged me to think of God in a new way which is something that I've been trying to do for a while now, but I often find myself being held back by the strictures of religion. The story in The Shack succeeds in breaking down those barriers to give a look at a God who many people, Christian or not, may never have encountered or even considered. The message here is one of a God of love, gentleness, patience, and goodness, rather than one who is angry, wrathful and ready to smite us at the slightest provocation.
As I read The Shack, I sometimes found myself trying to label it, but it doesn't fit neatly into any one category. It contained elements of apologetics and elements of allegory, but it is difficult to stamp it as having been born out of any one literary device. Instead it is very much rooted in the author's own faith journey. The beginning and ending chapters, as well as the foreword and after words give the uncanny feel of a non-fiction story. It is definitely written in a more factual tone and style. I'm apparently not the only reader who wondered if Mack was a real person who actually had experienced the events detailed in the book. The author states elsewhere that The Shack is a work of fiction, but rightly implies that there is a little bit of Mack in all of us. Pretty much anyone who has experienced difficult or life-changing circumstances or have struggled with their faith could be a Mack.
The Shack definitely left me with a great deal of food for thought. I'm not sure that I'm even doing it justice in my review, because there are so many wonderful messages to be gleaned from its pages that I have a feeling I'll be thinking about it for a long time to come. I loved the imagery in the story. It spoke volumes to me, as did Mack's struggles with understanding God and His mysterious ways. I, without a doubt, related to him in a very profound way. The only reason I didn't give this book the full five stars is because I felt like it was a bit slow in places and the philosophy, no matter how hard I tried to understand, occasionally eluded me. However, I'm willing to admit that when this happened perhaps my spirit just wasn't ready for that particular message yet. The rest of it though made absolute perfect sense. The Shack is definitely a book that will be worth coming back to over and over, and I'm sure each time I'll find something new and exciting within its pages. There are many spiritual truths housed in this simple yet elegant story that I know I will need to be reminded of time and time again which is why it is going on my keeper shelf. I highly recommend The Shack to anyone who wants to be challenged in their faith and understanding of God or anyone who might be looking for a different interpretation of God than what many churches are offering today.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Finn was a fabulous wrap-up to Cathy Yardley's new Player's Club trilogy. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I have...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Finn was a fabulous wrap-up to Cathy Yardley's new Player's Club trilogy. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I have to say once again that I'm astounded by how much I've enjoyed this series. I love the club's philosophy of living life to the fullest with no regrets, but it's not about thrill-seeking so much as facing your fears to grow into a more confident person. Throughout reading this series, I've often thought it would be great to have my own Player's Club to support me through those bumps in the road when I'm not feeling very self-assured. Not only is their philosophy great, but they're so close, that they've essentially become each other's family when some of their own families have either completely failed them or simply didn't understand them.
Throughout the first two books of the series, Finn did not stand out to me for some reason. Maybe it was just that out of all the Players he was the most like a true adrenaline junkie, but in this book he really came into his own and came alive to me as a character. The nature of his need for adrenaline rushes became much more clear and understandable as well, which made him more relatable to me. Still, at the beginning of the story, he is kind of pushing the boundaries of sanity with his stunts becoming more and more dangerous until even his best friend, Lincoln is having a hard time supporting him anymore. In spite of his somewhat excessive “need for speed,” Finn's energy and zest for life is rather infectious. I love how Finn saw Diana as a challenge and how the thought of seducing the “ice queen” was pushing all the same buttons for him that those adrenaline-inducing thrills did. I think the thing I liked most about Finn though is his intuitive nature. He always seems to just know when something is wrong with Diana. He is eager to help make things better for her, and gently prods her to open up to him. Finn just really had a way with melting Diana's frozen heart. He's also a very forgiving person when he finds out the real reason Diana went along with his bet with his father. He just can't seem to help pouring all his positive energy into loving her.
Diana is a rare Asian heroine. She is a no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners attorney who is the head legal counsel at Macalister Enterprises, the company owned by Finn's father. After growing up poor with a junkie mother, Diana pulled herself up by her bootstraps to become a top-notch lawyer and feels she owes Finn's father almost everything for where she is today. In the beginning, she was ready to do anything she had to to get Finn to comply with his father's wishes. She didn't earn the nickname “The Hammer” for nothing, but even during those early moments in the story, I could sense her need to let loose bubbling beneath the surface. Diana is definitely the most buttoned-up of the three heroines in this series, but when Finn began drawing her out, I really liked her. She's become my favorite heroine of the three, probably because she needed the Player's Club the most. Her challenges were kind of funny, but the type of things I probably would have chosen myself except for writing the job operations manual. Of course, that would be a total snooze. Yet, that's also what made it so funny, because it's so uniquely Diana. I could really relate to her fears, although sometimes she's a little more stoic than I probably could be. Underneath that hard facade though is a hurting little girl who needs to heal, so it was a joy to see her loosening up and experiencing kid-like enthusiasm.
Together Finn and Diana were absolutely amazing. Right from the start, they share sizzling chemistry. The sexual tension is so thick you can cut it with a knife, and it was only made more delicious by their rapier-sharp bantering. It was definitely a case of opposites attract, but in a good way, rather than the "I can't believe these two are getting together because they drive each other insane" way which I often have a hard time buying into. With Finn and Diana, I always saw exactly why they were so into each other, even if they couldn't have seemed more different. Their first love scene is completely explosive, and every one after that was equally wonderful. There was lots of variety, but each scene perfectly conveyed their intense passion, tender emotions and burgeoning feelings for one another.
Most of the key Player's from the first two books returned in supporting roles. Scott and Amanda (Scott) were more in the background this time, but computer hacker, Tucker had an important job to do. As Finn's best friend and fellow leader of the Player's Club, Lincoln was a little more front and center and Juliana had a couple of scenes too. Finn's evil cousin and ex-Player, George teamed up with two sidekicks, one of whom was quite dastardly. George has been increasingly becoming more sinister as the series has progressed. He finally got what was coming to him, but not before a few tense moments unfolded.
Overall, Finn was a great wrap-up to the Player's Club trilogy. I highly recommend this book and the series in general to anyone looking for a Blaze story with a little fuller character development that isn't often found in this shorter format. It definitely left me feeling quite satisfied. This book earned a spot on my keeper shelf and Cathy Yardley a spot on my favorite authors list. I'm now very eager to check out her backlist titles.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I've been following a few tried and true paranormal vampire romance series, but haven't read any new ones in a whi...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I've been following a few tried and true paranormal vampire romance series, but haven't read any new ones in a while. I was hoping to liven things up with a whole new group of vamps, and that's exactly what happened with How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire. The Love at Stake series has a slightly different mythology than the other series I've been reading, plus an added dose of humor that isn't often found in the paranormal sub-genre. Kerrelyn Sparks uses a good bit of traditional vampire lore while adding a few little twists that are all her own. The funny parts had me chuckling many times, while also keeping things from getting too heavy, but there's still a fairly good dose of seriousness, angst and emotion. All these elements came together to create a very enjoyable start to this new-to-me series, and a pretty impressive debut novel from this author.
Roman was a really yummy hero. He's a genius scientist, technically a virgin, and hot to boot. Romance heroes just don't get much more scrumptious than that to me. The author created a very interesting twist to Roman's character by having him be a monk in his mortal life. As a result he is a pretty tortured hero who believes that God has abandoned him and that his soul is damned to hell. Even though he thinks of himself as an evil creature, Roman is an innately good man who has never forgotten his calling as a healer. He has saved countless vampire and human lives with his invention of synthetic blood, and is working on a formula to keep vampires awake during the day which could also have implications for mortals. Roman is a man who truly cares about people and doesn't want to endanger mortals by feeding from them, nor does he want to turn any more humans for fear of damning their souls as well. Roman is also the American coven leader and as such, he has gained more than a few enemies from both the vampire and human world. I do wish that the author had brought out his genius (read geeky) nature a little more, because we don't get to see much of him at work. Overall though, Roman was a great hero. He adores Shanna and would do anything to give her a “normal” life.
Shanna is a dentist who is afraid of blood. Yup, you read that right.;-) This made for some pretty funny moments when Roman came to her to get his broken fang fixed, but it was also very emotionally touching because of the reasons for her fear. Shanna witnessed a hit by the Russian mob in which her best friend was killed, and now she is hiding out in the witness protection program. She works the overnight shift at a 24-hour dental clinic where she thankfully doesn't see much action, until Roman shows up, and then her whole world is turned upside down. Shanna discovers that things she didn't believe in, namely vampires, actually do exist, but she has an uncanny ability to resist their mind control. I loved the psychic connection she shared with Roman, and the vampire mind sex was pretty hot too. What I liked most about Shanna was her kindhearted, caring nature. Of course, she's shocked and even frightened when she finds out what Roman is, but she comes around pretty quickly, always seeing the good man and not the monster he thinks he is. She actually treats Roman with a compassion that is quite foreign to him.
How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire has lots of great supporting characters, many of whom get their own books in the series. I think my favorites were the kilted Highlander guards. They are led by Angus (Be Still My Vampire Heart), another coven master and one of Roman's closest allies. Among their ranks are also the charming Connor (Vampire Mine) and the cute, boyish-looking Ian (All I Want for Christmas Is a Vampire). There is also the handsome Frenchman Jean-Luc (The Undead Next Door), a third coven master who is allied with Roman. He's a clothing designer, but make no mistake, he's no sissy. We also have playboy, Gregori (Sexiest Vampire Alive) who is Roman's right hand man, and Phil (Forbidden Nights with a Vampire), one of his daytime guards. Next up in the series though is Austin (Vamps and the City), a vampire slayer and member of the Stake-Out team. I also noticed that Caitlyn Whelan who I assume to be Shanna's sister is the heroine of Eat, Prey, Love. Of course there are lots of baddies from the Russian coven including Ivan, their coven master and long-time enemy of Roman. All these characters came together seamlessly to make a very colorful cast.
Overall, How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire was a very fun read and a great start to the Love at Stake series. The humor made the story very cute, but it still managed to maintain a certain degree of the edgy emotion I've come to expect from paranormal romance. My only two small complaints would be that the dialog could occasionally get a little long-winded which as an introvert can be a bit tiring to read. The other thing is that the narrative takes place over probably less than a week's time which is a little too quickly for me to 100% buy into the notion of a lifetime commitment by the end, but unfortunately, that seems to be par for the course with many current romances especially in the paranormal genre. Otherwise, I really enjoyed the story and am looking forward to continuing with the series. How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire has definitely breathed some new life into my paranormal romance reading.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Lincoln is the second book in Cathy Yardley's new Player's Club trilogy. It got off to a slightly shaky start, mainly because...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Lincoln is the second book in Cathy Yardley's new Player's Club trilogy. It got off to a slightly shaky start, mainly because I wasn't quite sure what to make of the heroine. As the story progressed I slowly began to like her more and more, and in the end, was once again pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the book overall. The premise of the series, that of a group of guys (and now girls too:-)) who try to live life to the fullest, is a fun one, and I especially love the club's philosophy that it's not just about cheap thrills but about facing your fears to become a better, more confident person. I adore the fact that they allow geeky types to join too, and that it's not just a club full of gorgeous babe-magnets. It all just comes together to make the characters and stories more relatable to me. If it were any other way, I doubt I would like the series half as much.
Lincoln is a founding member of the Player's Club. Aside from one brief lapse in judgment, I really liked him in the previous book, Scott. He was a deliciously mysterious character and his inscrutability continues until about halfway through this novel when the reader finally gets to learn his backstory. I enjoyed finding out where he came from and thought it explained a lot about how a filthy rich guy could be so down to earth. He is a man who lives by his principles, and I love his deeply loyal, brotherly bond with the other members of the club. Lincoln is a very serious-minded guy without being a stick in the mud. I thought it was very sweet that he wanted to get to know Juliana better before becoming more intimate with her, although if that happened the reader doesn't get to see any of it which was a bit disappointing. I guess it's the thought that counts though. Lincoln is also a very insightful guy. He really sees people for who they are, and cares about them enough to really help them. I love how encouraging he is to his fellow Players and how he created the club as a place for people to face their fears to live a fuller life. Lincoln is just an all-around great hero that I adored.
As I already mentioned, I had some doubts about Juliana early in the story. At the beginning, she's pretty much exactly what Lincoln had her pegged as: a psuedo-celebrity who was a publicity hound. She knows she's attractive, and she's not above using her body to get what she wants, namely membership in the infamous Player's Club. It was hard to like her in the first few chapters, because she doesn't really respect the philosophy of the club and was also ready to throw over the club and all its members for her own personal gain. I also had misgivings about her wanting to do something blatantly illegal for one of her challenges, but I have to admit that turned out OK for me. My opinion of Juliana began to improve when she helped out geeky Terrence with one of his challenges, although I couldn't help wondering why she did as she just didn't seem like the type to be sympathetic to that kind of situation. It may have taken a while to get there, but about halfway through the book, I finally started liking Juliana. After her meeting with her parents, I understood that she wasn't just a poor little rich girl, but someone who needed a family and a sense of belonging. The Player's Club could offer her that, and eventually she realized it although not before she screwed up big time. In spite of that, I still respected her, because once she became aware of how many people she would be hurting, she stepped up to the plate, confessed all, and did her utmost to make amends. By the end of the book, I thought she had done an excellent job of turning her life around.
Probably because I didn't like Juliana much at first, I had a hard time feeling any connection between her and Lincoln as a couple. Their relationship starts as a basic love/hate scenario, which is not one of my favorite romance tropes, because I have a hard time buying into the idea of someone being attracted to a person who drives them insane. Initially, they don't share much more than a strong physical lust for one another, and I have to admit that they did seem to fall in love a little too quickly and easily to be fully believable to me. They don't appear to have a whole lot in common, but as Juliana began to change, I also began to like them more as a couple, most likely because I was now seeing what Lincoln had seen in her from the beginning. Although I still thought their relationship could have used a little more zing and their love scenes weren't quite as hot as they were in Scott, I still ended up feeling like Lincoln and Juliana were a pretty good match.
There were some common secondary characters who returned from Scott. Lincoln's fellow founding member and hero of the upcoming book three, Finn, was back, and since he's also Lincoln's best friend, we get to learn a bit more about his character. Out of all the guys so far, he seems to be the one who is the most like a true adrenaline junkie. He's kind of a laid back, good ole boy who really seems to get a rush from doing all their stunts and for him, the bigger the better. I found it intriguing that apparently he and Lincoln both had life threatening experiences which seemed to propel them to “live life like they were dying.” I'll be interested to see if Finn's previous health crisis has any impact on his upcoming story. Of course, Scott and Amanda (Scott) return as background players who attend the meetings and participate in some of the challenges. Obnoxious, sleazy, ex-Player, George is also back stirring up trouble for our intrepid hero, and although he was taken down a peg, I doubt we've seen the last of him yet.
Overall, Lincoln was another enjoyable read in the Player's Club series. It had a yummy hero and a heroine who may not have been very admirable to begin with but who grew a surprising amount in such a short space. So far, I'm finding Cathy Yardley to be an author with a pretty entertaining writing style, and I'll be looking forward to seeing what's in store for Finn next.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews More than two years after its original release, The Help is still an incredibly popular book. I'm not usually quick to jump on...moreReviewed for THC Reviews More than two years after its original release, The Help is still an incredibly popular book. I'm not usually quick to jump on the bandwagon of the hot book of the moment, and I might not have even read The Help except that it was chosen as a book club read for the GoodReads Readers Against Prejudice and Racism group to which I belong. I'm so glad that it was, because it encouraged me to pick it up. Now that I've read it, I can say unequivocally that it lived up to the hype and is one of the best books that I've ever read. The Help is a very empowering story for women, for minorities, for anyone who has ever felt looked down upon for not being “good enough.” It also carries a strong message about standing up for what you believe in no matter the cost, and pursuing your dreams even when they may seem out of reach. The Help is quite simply a beautiful book that I know will linger in my memory for a long time to come.
Having been raised in the mid-west and now living in the west, I have to say that Southern culture, especially in the historical context, is something of a curiosity to me. I would expect the rich to have maids, but it's interesting that even middle class white families in the South employed black maids. In The Help, the dynamic between these black maids and their white ladies is a richly complex, multi-layered dichotomy of love and hate. Some white ladies, like Hilly, were so blinded to their own faults and prejudices that they never change. It angered me when Hilly started pushing her agenda of segregated bathrooms for the household help by acting like the blacks were ridden with diseases, because it was nothing short of ignorance and fear talking. Other white ladies loved their maids like a mother, sister, or best friend, and even if they couldn't overtly admit it due to the deeply seated racism in the South, they showed it through their loyalty. Some of the black maids understandably could hardly stand the white ladies they worked for, and even if they were treated fairly, had often been taught not to get personally involved with them. Still, many of these maids also developed a deep affection for their employers or at the very least their children. These beautiful, heartfelt relationships brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion while reading this book, and yet so could all the horrific, heartbreaking things that were happening in the black community because of hate.
Skeeter is a young woman who I could relate to. She thinks of herself as unattractive, because she's taller than most girls, rather plain and has frizzy hair that won't behave, but inside she is full of passion and spirit. Skeeter is very intelligent to the point that I could almost see the wheels turning in her head. Society has told her what she can and can't think, and be, as a woman. She feels like she doesn't have much of a choice in the matter, and yet she longs to break free from that mold to do something bold. Skeeter's family's old maid, Constantine, taught her some very valuable lessons about believing in herself that I think in part, fueled her dreams of becoming a writer. She's searching for that elusive, original idea, and when it comes to her, she tenaciously keeps trying even though it doesn't seem like it's going to work out. In spite of being white, she also faces some potential danger and must work on her project in secret. While she covertly writes what is on her heart, Skeeter experiences her first love. Even though her love interest, Stuart, realized that she wasn't like other women, I don't think he ever fully appreciated the precious jewel he had in his grasp.
Aibileen is a maid to one of Skeeter's best friends, Elizabeth, and she is the first to agree to help Skeeter with her book. Aibileen is a woman who has known hardship and heartbreak, but with the help of her best friend, Minny, she was able to overcome and keep going with life. She is a wonderful, inspiring woman who I'd be proud to have as a mother. In fact, she was more of a mother to many of the seventeen white babies she raised than their own mothers were. That includes Elizabeth's daughter, Mae Mobley, who Elizabeth largely ignores. It just warmed my heart how Aibileen encouraged Mae Mobley by telling her she was good, and smart, and important when her mother scolded and tore her down. I also loved the “secret stories” they shared. Aibileen was a very brave woman to not only take part in Skeeter's book but recruit others to help too. She was there every step of the way and became a true friend to Skeeter when her other “friends” abandoned her.
Minny is a lady with a hard exterior who can sometime seem abrasive. With five kids and an abusive husband, she has a lot on her plate, but she works hard to take care of her family. Minny has a bit of a temper and a smart mouth that has gotten her in trouble with her employers more then once. Minny was a character who frequently cracked me up. Through a large part of the book, she kept a big smile on my face, because I found her honesty quite refreshing. She certainly doesn't mince words. When she starts working for Celia, it's a whole new experience for her. Minny calls her “crazy lady,” and says she doesn't care about her, but her actions speak louder than words. It was funny how she played along, keeping Celia's secret about hiring her, and later it was very touching when she sat with her through a tragedy and kept an even bigger secret. I actually liked Celia and wish that her reasons for keeping so many secrets from a husband who obviously adored her were clearer. I think she just had a case of really low self-esteem, and was desperately in need of a friend, and ultimately, Minny became that friend even though she tried to act like she wasn't.
Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny are three characters who I will not soon forget. Throughout the course of the story, they all, in their own way and time, came to the realization that they could take control of their lives and follow their dreams to a better place. These women have three very different personalities and yet I had no trouble relating to each one in turn as the author alternates between their first-person perspectives. These three ladies touched my heart in a very profound way, to the point that it's almost like they actually exist somewhere. Kathryn Stockett has an amazing talent for drawing me into the story and making me really care about each one of them. I truly became invested in what became of them and what life had in store for them. It was rather ingenious how the author sometimes ended a section with a mini-cliffhanger. It really kept me turning the pages to see what would happen next. The sense of fear surrounding Skeeter's project was palpable, as was the the general danger for blacks in the South during the peak of the civil rights era. The author's mention of several real-life events added to the sense of place and time to help make the story come to life.
The Help was an amazing book that I can't say enough good things about. In a sea of sameness, this books is a gem of originality. I'm astounded that this is Kathryn Stockett's first and only novel to date. I have no idea what she might have planned for the future, but I know for now, it will be hard saying goodbye to Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny. If Ms. Stockett writes anything else for these ladies, or anything else at all, I'll be there to buy it, but in the meantime, it will be difficult to move on to another book after such a wonderful read. The Help is definitely a book that I would recommend to everyone, especially women, and it is a book that without a doubt will be going on my keeper shelf.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Fear the Darkness is a short story that is about the length of a chapter set in the Dark-Hunter world. It follows Nick Gautier...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Fear the Darkness is a short story that is about the length of a chapter set in the Dark-Hunter world. It follows Nick Gautier as he returns to New Orleans for the first time after being turned into a Dark-Hunter. This story added some depth and dimension to Nick's grief not only over his mother's death but also the destruction of his beloved home town following Hurricane Katrina. I liked that Nick was having some small measure of doubt about his anger toward Acheron for those two events, but he's not going to give up his burning need for revenge quite so easily with two villains playing his emotional turmoil for their own selfish gain. Overall, Fear the Darkness was a good story that appears to be a nice set-up for future events in the series. Even though I still miss the old jovial Nick, I'll be interested to see where this path takes him. Fear the Darkness is available as a free e-book download from the author's website.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews The Boy Who Dared is an inspiring work of historical fiction based on the real life exploits of a German teenager who dared to...moreReviewed for THC Reviews The Boy Who Dared is an inspiring work of historical fiction based on the real life exploits of a German teenager who dared to defy Hitler's edicts during World War II and payed the ultimate price for his bravery. I'm sure most tweens and teens today have some awareness through their history classes of the atrocities committed by Hitler against the Jews, but I wonder how many know of the thousands of non-Jewish Germans who were tortured, imprisoned and even put to death for their beliefs. This book would be a great starting point for young people to learn more about the German Resistance movement. It also imparts a strong message about thinking for oneself and not becoming a blind follower, as well as standing up for what's right even in the face of impossible odds or even death.
Helmuth Hubener was a boy who did exactly that. I was very impressed by how intuitive he was. Even at a young age, Helmuth seemed to have an instinctive sense of right and wrong. He was never entirely comfortable with the things Hitler did and became even less so as Hitler imposed even more restrictions upon the German people. In school, Helmuth wrote what he had to to make it sound like he supported the Reich but hated every minute of it. He also was forced to join the Hitler Youth, but again was not comfortable with their activities. After graduating, Helmuth got an apprenticeship with a company where he was shocked to find forbidden books in the basement. He began borrowing them, and they continued to solidify his belief that Hitler was lying and he must do something to enlighten his fellow Germans. When Helmuth's brother came home from Reich Labor Service with an illegal radio he purchased on the black market, it proves too much of a temptation for Helmuth. Every night he listens to the BBC and learns the truth about what's really happening in the war. This only further fuels his anger until he comes up with the idea of producing pamphlets and flyers detailing the things he learns on the radio and passing them on to other people. He and three friends daringly acted alone as a small insular pocket of resistance against Hitler's reign of terror.
I can't even imagine how much courage it must have required to take a stand like that. I was only reading a fictionalized account of these events long after they happened and could still feel the fear and tension emanating off the pages of the book. I know that sometimes extraordinary circumstances can make ordinary people do things they might never have thought themselves capable of, but what makes this story so notable is the age of its protagonist. Helmuth began his subversive activities when he was only sixteen, and even before that, he was a very intelligent and articulate young man. Just these actions alone could be called heroic, but when he was arrested at the age of seventeen, he essentially fell on his own sword so to speak, taking as much of the blame upon himself as he could and even goading the judges, so that his friends lives might be spared. I think Helmuth's example of standing up for what's right is one that all teens can and should learn from.
The narrative of The Boy Who Dared jumps back and forth between Helmuth in prison on death row and past events starting in his early childhood leading up to his imprisonment. In my opinion, this added some suspense to the story because it kept me wondering how he got there and if there was any hope of him being pardoned. The book is written in present tense. I don't think I've ever read a book written like this, so it took me just a little while to get into it. Once I adjusted to the unfamiliar writing style, I was completely engrossed by the story. Although the author used her own imagination to fill in the missing pieces of Helmuth's life, I would say, based on her notes at the end of the book, that she did her homework extremely well, trying to bring as much authenticity to the story as possible. She even had the privilege of personally interviewing Helmuth's brother and one of the friends who also went to prison for helping him. By reading this book, I felt that I learned not only about the life of a heroic person, but a few other historical details as well (eg. I had no idea the guillotine was still in use during WWII or that there were Mormons in Germany at that time). If one pays attention, I think this book could also be a cautionary tale of taking care not to repeat the mistakes of the past. I have to say that I found Hitler's words very disconcerting, because of the fact that some politicians of the present day use similar rhetoric.
Overall, The Boy Who Dared was an amazing and inspiring story that I highly recommend. Although it has no truly objectionable content and I felt the author took care not to sensationalize any of the violence, the subject matter is still rather mature. As I mentioned earlier there is a palpable sense of fear which might lead younger and more sensitive readers to fret and worry with good cause for Helmuth's safety. They also may not understand and/or be disturbed by certain events in the story as well as the ending. For this reason, I recommend it for middle grades and up, but it is definitely a book from which both kids and adults alike can glean a great message.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Lucky is a cute picture book about a spunky little dog who looses a leg in an accident, but doesn't allow his disability to ho...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Lucky is a cute picture book about a spunky little dog who looses a leg in an accident, but doesn't allow his disability to hold him back. The story is a rather simple one and not quite as involved as I was expecting based on the synopsis. It is probably best suited for read-aloud with very young readers, and the easier vocabulary would be perfect for beginning readers as well. In spite of its simplicity, I cannot deny that Lucky conveys a positive message about not giving up when life throws you a curveball, as well as love and acceptance of anyone with a disability, and it does so in an upbeat way. The illustrations are a whimsical compliment to the story. There is a lot going on in the pictures that invites further exploration and interaction. My only complaint is that I wish Lucky's owner had adopted him from a shelter rather than purchasing him from a pet store. I think this would have passed along another subtle message to children about the importance of providing loving homes for all of our homeless animal friends. Overall though, Lucky was a gentle and enjoyable book that should appeal to any little one who loves animal stories.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author via the publicist, Bostick Communications, in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews The Count's Lair was another pleasant, uncomplicated read from Stephanie Burkhart's Budapest Moon series. It got off to a rath...moreReviewed for THC Reviews The Count's Lair was another pleasant, uncomplicated read from Stephanie Burkhart's Budapest Moon series. It got off to a rather slow start, but the pace picked up about halfway through. Ms. Burkhart has a very gentle, easy writing style that doesn't really challenge me as a reader, but that can be a welcome change of pace when I'm in the mood for something lighter. Having now read four of Ms. Burkhart's books, I can say that I've noticed a trend toward them not having a great deal of conflict. The problems that do exist are overcome fairly easily, but at least The Count's Lair did have a couple of true antagonists stalking the hero and heroine. In fact, I think this may be the first time in the series that an actual physical altercation took place. I also believe it was the first time that there was a more extended scene while the hero was in his wolf form. Still, his lycanthropy isn't quite as front and center as it is in most paranormal romances. Rather than having the elaborate world-building of most paranormal stories, this book and the series in general have more of the feel of historical novels in which a few characters transform into wolves once a month, but for the most part, maintain a fairly normal human existence.
After reading the first book of the series, The Hungarian, I found myself rather intrigued by Anton and felt that he and Amelia had the potential for greatness. I did very much like them. It would be hard not to since they were both such nice people. Perhaps I simply set my expectations too high, but I couldn't help feeling that there was a little something missing, and I think that missing ingredient was the conflict. Anton seemed like this terribly tortured soul who lost his mother at a young age and whose father and brother treated him quite shabbily. He also had pursued another man's wives and had just begun to feel remorse over that. Amelia only recently discovered she had been cheated on by a husband she adored right before he was tragically killed in an accident. These events could easily have led to some deep emotional turmoil for both of them. In fact, considering that Anton went away for a couple of months to do some soul-searching, I think they did cause quite a bit of upset, but by the time the story opens most of that is over with. Anton and Amelia both have some minor issues. He fears that she might leave him, and she fears that he might cheat on her, but for the most part, it's kind of in the background and not a major part of the story. The author is good though at slowly building the love connection between her characters. I liked that Anton held back his passionate nature until Amelia had figured out that he was a werewolf. The sexual tension simmers just beneath the surface until they finally give into their feelings for one another.
What I liked most about Anton was that he's not the least bit intimidated by Amelia's talent and independence like her first husband was. To the contrary he is quite proud of her musical abilities and loves to hear her play the piano. It was very sad that Anton didn't have much of a family life growing up, but I enjoyed watching him discover a sense of family with his servants and Amelia. While this book isn't marketed as a Christmas story, a large part of the narrative takes place around the holiday season. Anton had never celebrated Christmas before, so it was fun to have Amelia introducing him to some of the joys of the season. As for Amelia, I was happy to see that she was smart enough to figure out what Anton was from the clues he gave her. Most of all, I loved how accepting she was of him right from the start. She knew of his past pursuit of Matthias's wives but chose to believe the best of him when he said he'd changed and put that behind him, and she never wavered in her love for him even when she realized he was a wolf.
Since Amelia and Kate, the heroine of The Hungarian, are best friends, Kate and Matthias play prominent secondary roles. Although Matthias is still understandably wary of Anton, the two men finally put their feud to rest to become allies against a common enemy. Also, Anton finds not only the family he craved but the support he desperately needs during the full moon from his new servants, Georg, Esme and Tomas when he rescues them from another unsavory wolf. They become not only his loyal servants but his staunchest allies.
Overall, The Count's Lair was an agreeable read populated with likable and relatable characters. I think my only small complaint would be that author's wording could use a little more variety. She has a tendency to repeat certain words and phrases, and in my opinion more diversity would add greater interest to both the narrative and dialog. In general, it wasn't too bad, and the only phrase that really gave me pause was “stepped into his/her personal space." Even though it was only used in the narrative prose, it had an anachronistic feel to it that was jarring, and I also felt that it wasn't a very romantic way to express two people moving closer to one another. On the upside, I really enjoyed Ms. Burkhart's exploration of werewolves and the church, whether it was possible for them to go to church and why they had a history of being perceived as evil due to certain things happening to them in holy places. The Count's Lair is the second book in the Budapest Moon series. I'll be looking forward to the next novel due for release at the end of this year (2012) that will continue with the next generation of Vargas with Anton and Amelia's daughter, Sophia's story. (less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" Firestorm was my first full-length novel by Ann Jacobs. I had previously read several of her novellas, some of whi...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" Firestorm was my first full-length novel by Ann Jacobs. I had previously read several of her novellas, some of which I really enjoyed, in particular Shana and Bear's stories which come earlier in the Black Gold series. I thought I would really like Firestorm too, but unfortunately, it left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied. I don't think I've run into a hero in my romance reading who is quite as stubborn as Jake is about falling in love which is the main reason for my discontent. Firestorm is also different from other romances I've read in that it takes place entirely in the realm of powerful oil barons. All the talk of oil drilling and the oil business in general reminded of the old TV show, Dallas.
As I mentioned, Jake is an incredibly closed-off hero. He was devastated when his first wife, Alice, aborted their child, something he had desperately wanted for years, and left him for another man while he was out working the oil fields. Jake could have been a really tortured hero, and in some ways, I guess he was, but to me he came off as more cold and cynical. I know that he was badly hurt and betrayed by his ex-wife's actions, but it was rather annoying that he spent a large part of the story unfairly judging Kate by the very poor standard Alice had set. Jake stubbornly refused to believe that any woman could be anything but manipulative and calculating, or actually want the same things he wanted from life. He just always seemed to expect the worst of Kate at every turn even though she was nothing but sweet, kindhearted, and loving toward him when he didn't really deserve it. It was almost like he was looking for reasons to not fall in love with or trust her, and I thought him asking her to marry him while outright telling her he didn't love her and probably never would was pretty cold. Now that's not to say that Jake is a completely horrible person. I did respect him for initially backing off from his seduction of Kate when he realized she was an innocent and all he was really looking for was to get laid. He also treated her well enough. He was never abusive toward her and gave her everything she could have dreamed of from a material standpoint. He was also pretty protective of her. He just willfully kept his hardened heart locked up tight, and refused to let her in. Jake's eleventh hour turnaround in the final pages of the book, was almost too little too late, except that his declaration of love seemed heartfelt. Depending on how one views his character, I suppose it could be said that he loved her all along and just wouldn't or couldn't admit it to himself or anyone else, because he did do an awful lot of protesting, perhaps a little too much for someone who didn't care at all.
Kate is a very sweet, gentle, innocent heroine. She loves kids and was a school teacher before her father became ill and she came home to nurse him. After his death, she was pretty much alone in the world except for a couple of good friends. She owns the land that Jake's company is leasing for oil drilling. I found Kate to be a pretty likable heroine, but she may be a bit too sweet and traditional for some readers. Her fondest dream in life is simply to have a family and take care of her husband and kids. She is a twenty-eight year-old virgin, and while I have no real difficulty buying into the idea, it seems that most contemporary women who reach that age without having sex have some reason for it, such as religious beliefs or no time for relationships. It would have been nice if that side of her had been explored a little more deeply, because she was previously engaged and there was no mention of her or her fiancé having any strong beliefs that would have precluded a sexual relationship. Aside from that issue, I have to admit Kate was perhaps just a bit too passive even for me. I did have to wonder a little about a woman who definitely isn't a gold-digger but who would marry a man who had blatantly stated that he didn't love her. I wish that she had shown a little more backbone too, instead of allowing Jake and his family to practically steamroller her into a gaudy engagement ring and an elaborate wedding when she would have preferred something simpler. In the end, I guess she was admirable for loving Jake in spite of his major flaws, but I don't think I could have been so patient.
I've never been a big fan of instant attraction, and Jake and Kate's was perhaps even less believable to me than most because of them having immediate lustful stirring for each other within the first few pages of the book. They jumped into bed too quickly for my taste, and I just wasn't feeling any real connection between them for a large part of the story mainly due to Jake's stubbornness keeping them at arms-length. It's too bad that they didn't get to know each other better or communicate more, because they both shared virtually the same hopes and dreams for a traditional family life, but didn't even know it. Jake spends most of the time thinking that Kate is no different from other women, namely his ex, and for quite a while, she thinks that Jake is just a player who has no desire to put down any roots. The only way they seem to truly connect is physically, but even the bedroom scenes were a bit lackluster for me. It got a little better as the story progressed, but initially there wasn't much feeling to their love-making. It was more like sex for the sake of sex. The other Ann Jacobs stories I read were very erotic while this one leaned more toward the sensuous. The language was still pretty explicit, but the love scenes themselves were no more detailed than most mainstream romances. In fact, it was almost like Ms. Jacobs held back a little too much. Even after finishing the novel, I haven't quite decided if this was a true weakness or to the contrary, was genius, in that it conveyed the emotional distance that existed between Jake and Kate.
There are several secondary characters in Firestorm, including some that have appeared in other books of the Black Gold series. We get to meet Jake's entire family who I don't think were previously introduced, except for Shana. It was really nice getting to see Shana and Bear (Love Slave & Forever Enslaved) again, and that they're still crazy about each other. They're my favorite couple in the series so far, and must be a favorite of Ann Jacobs as well. She has given them their own love scene in every story of the series they've appeared in up to this point, and I must say it was quite spicy. In my opinion, it was better than Jake and Kate's scenes, because it conveyed a depth of emotion that the other couple's didn't. Also Blake (Another Love) had a brief appearance as Jake's friend and attorney. The information on the proper ordering of the Black Gold series is kind of sketchy, maybe because it appears that Ms. Jacobs wrote them out of order. I had previously thought that Blake's book came later in the series, but since it was mentioned in Firestorm that he was already happily married to Erin, the heroine of Another Love, I may have to revise my previous knowledge of the series. I can at least say that Firestorm had no discernible spoilers for Another Love.
Generally speaking, I've enjoyed Ann Jacobs writing style, although Firestorm had a few weak spots that I thought could have been better. In my opinion, the prose needed more detailed descriptions of the settings as well as character appearances and gestures to really make it come alive in my mind's eye. There were also a few continuity errors and a couple of minor plot holes. When Kate was knocked unconscious by the arsonist, I found it odd that Jake called for the sheriff, but not an ambulance. Additionally, it was a little unusual that Jake wanted to take Kate to meet his family when he wasn't serious about her. I also feel compelled to warn pro-choice advocates that Jake constantly refers to abortion as the killing or destroying of his child. I didn't personally have any issues with this, but to anyone who might, I'll say in his defense that Jake wanted desperately to be a father and felt utterly betrayed by his wife going behind his back to get an abortion. Still, he is very assertive and bitter about it to the point that I know some readers could be off-put if not outright offended. On the up side, I really enjoyed the fact that Jake's family has become this melting pot of different cultures, religions and backgrounds, and yet everyone gets along really well. Overall, Firestorm was a decent read even though I couldn't fully get into it due to Jake's personality and him holding back his love from Kate for so long. However, I'm still interested in continuing with the Black Gold series to learn more about the other characters yet to come. Although I don't know if they'll put in any more appearances, I certainly wouldn't object to seeing more of Shana and Bear either.
Note: Aside from the explicit language, the style and tone of the sexual encounters between the hero and heroine of this book are on par with steamy mainstream romances. However, there is one love scene between secondary characters that involves the moderate description of nipple piercings and the brief use of a cock ring.(less)