Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Wow! I just finished this book, and I'm still trying to process exactly how it all went down. As I began reading iReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Wow! I just finished this book, and I'm still trying to process exactly how it all went down. As I began reading it, I wasn't worried in the least, and even as the pages started flying by and there was less and less space in which to resolve things, I still kept telling myself, “This is a romance, so everything is going to be OK. It has to have an HEA. J. R. Ward has made me think all was lost before and always came through for me in the end, leaving me with a smile on my face and my heart soaring.” Well, I kept up that mantra until the last fifteen pages or so, when I finally realized I was going to have to face facts, and the fact was, it wasn't going to end the way I wanted it to. Now let me be clear here: There is an HEA, but it isn't exactly the HEA that I and apparently most other readers were expecting. Not to mention, there is an abundance of sadness, leading up to said HEA, that IMHO really overshadowed it. (No pun intended.) Annnnnd… I'm not really sure how to feel about that. On the one hand, I mostly understand why Ms. Ward wrote it this way, and based on what I've read, the events in this book are definitely going to fuel the main part of the story in the next book. I also have mad respect for Ms. Ward as a writer and completely understand her wanting to stay true to her vision, so it's very hard for me to criticize the choices she made here. But… that doesn't mean I have to like it, and despite there being some happiness, my heart is still broken.
The main part of this book definitely belongs to Trez and Selena. Poor Trez carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. Throughout the last several books, we've known that he is the Anointed One of his race, the s'Hisbe. For years, he's been running from them and his destiny that was written in the stars, but he knows the time when they will expect him to return and do his duty as the prize stud of s'Hisbe royalty is drawing to a close. Knowing how much his people value purity, Trez became a man whore in an attempt to defile his body to the point where they wouldn't want him back. The thing that finally put a stop to his self-destructive behavior was an encounter with Selena. He fell in love with her the moment he saw her, and after finally making love to her in the last book, she spoiled him for any other woman. He still, however, doesn't feel he's worthy of a Chosen and has been keeping his distance from her for months. We also know from the last couple of books that Selena is suffering from a rare disease that has only affected The Chosen and has always been fatal. She's been keeping this from Trez, but when she has another attack and he is brought to her side, he finally realizes just how sick she really is. Then he has to face the fact that the female whom he calls his queen and whom he loves more than life itself, has very little time to live, while still hoping for a miracle.
Trez is caught between a rock and a hard place. He has this responsibility to his people which he doesn't want and didn't ask for. It was forced upon him. It's pretty obvious early on that if Selena dies, Trez has every intention of taking his own life, but even if she lives, he doesn't know how he's going to get out of the deal his parents struck with the s'Hisbe queen the day he was born to be with Selena. I had to admire him though for trying very hard not to even think about it, instead focusing solely on taking care of Selena and making what he believes will be her final days the most memorable of her life. I think he succeeded beautifully. I loved the dates Trez and Selena go on, and how Trez even faced his fear of heights to show her an unbelievably awesome time. They definitely had some lovely romantic moments and madcap adventures, including a wild ride through the streets of downtown Caldwell with Fritz behind the wheel (Who knew the proper butler was a crazy stunt driver?) that totally had me cracking up. It was equally amusing that a proper Chosen like Selena was loving every minute of it, while Trez was a little freaked out. I think Trez allowed her to do more living during these dates than she'd probably done in her centuries-old life. As always, I'm head over heels for the intensity of the bonded males. The thought of having all that ardent emotion directed at one female is a heady brew. Also, Trez's willingness and determination to stay by Selena's side, no matter what happens, was incredibly touching.
This book is titled, The Shadows (plural) though, so of course Trez's twin, iAm, has a story of his own too. I've always thought the brotherly love and devotion between these two is very reminiscent of Zsadist and Phury. iAm has basically sacrificed his whole life for Trez. First he was the leverage the s'Hisbe used to keep Trez in the palace, then after they both escaped, it was iAm who watched over Trez and tried to keep him from self-destructing. He really hasn't lived a life of his own, separate from his brother, until this book. He's still a centuries old virgin who has been so focused on his brother's well-being that he hasn't even been interested in any female, but that all changes when he risks his life, going back to the s'Hisbe Territory and sneaking into the palace, looking for a cure for Selena's illness. There he meets a simple hand-maiden, going by the name maichen, who completely changes his life. They share an instant attraction that leads to so much more than iAm ever could've dreamed of. The relationship between these two is very sweet and heartfelt, but in some ways, I felt like they got the short end of the stick. Their scenes are fewer and shorter, and IMHO, their romance is somewhat dimmed by the intensity of what's happening with Trez and Selena. I really would've loved if iAm and maichen's scenes had been at least equal to Trez and Selena's, but I still enjoyed them, even though they were probably the most predictable part of the plot for me.
This being the BDB, there are lots of secondary POVs and side plots. First, I'll say it was great seeing so many of the original brothers involved in this story, none more so than Rhage though. He gets lots of his own POV scenes, observing what's going on with everyone else. I think this is the first time he and Mary have had any significant page time since their own book. As Rhage watches Trez and Selena, he has a major struggle with why he and Mary were blessed with their HEA. Needless to say, he's having “lots of feels,” some of which lead to panic attacks for him. By the end of the book, he still hasn't reached any resolution on the things that are bothering him, and now I know why. After I finished the book, I went online and discovered that like with Wrath and Beth in the last book, Rhage and Mary are going to be in the hot seat again, when the next book, The Beast, comes out next spring (2016).
The next most prominent supporting characters were probably Xcor and Layla. Layla is still sneaking out to see Xcor, ostensibly to keep him quiet about the location of the Brotherhood's mansion, but the more time she spends with him, the harder time she has convincing herself that that's the only reason. As she watches what her sister, Selena is going through, Layla finds herself wanting to live in the moment and throw caution to the wind. This makes her a bit more bold with Xcor than she's ever been before. Although Xcor has made it clear in the past that he expects sex from Layla at some point in return for his silence, he hasn't touched her yet out of respect for her pregnant condition. Even though he's finally admitting to himself that he's bonded with her, deep down, he doesn't feel worthy of a Chosen, both because of his deformed face and his time with the Bloodletter. When Layla starts coming on to him, it's more than he can bear. He wants to treat her with gentleness and respect, but her innocent overtures stir an animalistic passion within him, causing him to send her away for her own safety. The more time Xcor spends with Layla though, the more his priorities start to shift. He wants more than anything to keep Layla safe and happy, and he knows that further attacks on the Brotherhood will do neither. This leads to dissension in the ranks of the Band of Bastards, and a not-too-surprising split amongst them.
In this book, we learn a lot more about the s'Hisbe as a race, and I must say that they are as bad if not worse than the symphaths. Their stalwart insistence upon following the stars to the exclusion of any kind of personal choice, cannibalism, infanticide, and ritual cleansings which many don't survive show a definite need for a revolution much like the symphaths had when Rehvenge took over as their leader. I can't say much more about this without giving away spoilers, but this is definitely where a lot of the exciting action occurs. I can't say that I had any particular liking for s'Ex, the queen's executioner, in the previous books, probably because he never seemed to be doing much except dogging poor Trez and iAm with threats of taking Trez back to the Territory. I can't deny though that he often cut them some slack, although usually only because they paid him well with women and booze. That all changed here as Ms. Ward took s'Ex down an unexpected path that makes it pretty obvious that she's setting him up to get his own story at some point.
We get to see more of Abalone in his role as advisor to the King, and his loyalty to Wrath is, as always, quite commendable. He really sticks his neck out for Wrath while trying to keep their enemy close. Readers are also introduced to Abalone's daughter, Paradise. She has been raised as a pampered glymera princess who is expected to merely mate and have young, but much to her sire's chagrin, she begins to test the waters with her independent spirit when she hears that the Brotherhood will be reopening the training center. In the meantime, she works for Wrath under her father's tutelage. Paradise has several conversations with her best friend, Peyton, who has apparently been one of the young glymera males in the running to be her mate. From what I could tell so far, he seems like a pretty upstanding guy except for his streak of chauvinism. However, Paradise doesn't appear to be meant for him. Instead she meets Craeg, another young male who comes to the audience house looking for an application for the training center. The one scene these two shared was electric, and I think they have awesome potential as the first couple in the new spin-off Black Dagger Legacy series. The first book, Blood Kiss, is due for release in December (2015).
Last but not least, we get to see a little bit of Assail, who is still pining for Sola. He remains Caldwell's drug lord, but his unholy alliance with the lessers, who have been dealing his product, comes to a head when the forelesser, Mr. C, starts using the money to buy guns, which are then in turn used on the Brotherhood. Assail finds himself at a critical crossroad and makes some surprising choices in order to maintain his position of power, but which also show him to be redeemable. And finally, we get a couple of scenes with Qhuinn's brother, Luchas, who is still suffering a great deal of ill-effects, both physical and psychological, from his time as a prisoner of the lessers. He's unfortunately throwing a pity party for himself and is determined to die. He's not listening to anyone, but help comes from an unexpected source.
Until now, I would have named Lover Awakened or maybe Lover Unbound as the most difficult book of the series for me to read, but The Shadows has now, without question, far surpassed those stories in emotional intensity. As always, I loved my visit to the world of the Black Dagger Brotherhood, but this time, as I leave, my heart hurts, which is something that has never happened before and which I hope will never happen again. In time, I'm sure it will heal, as long as J. R. Ward doesn't pull any more stunts like this again. Other than the way everything turned out in the end, the only small complaint I have is that, to me, the love scenes didn't seem as hot this time around. I wouldn't have even noticed except that Ms. Ward is an author who can write scorching, erotic-level love scenes, but most of the ones in this book seemed shorter and, in general, less descriptive than usual. A couple were even fade to black. Otherwise the writing and storytelling is solid and engrossing, so I didn't feel I could mark off any more than a half star without penalizing the author for simply doing what she felt was right and who am I to judge? Every time I read one of these books, I'm awestruck by this world that she's created and how much I love the characters within it. The Brotherhood and everyone they take under their protection is a family by choice, though not always by blood, and it constantly amazes me how when one of them is hurting or in need or their life is on the line, they're all there to lend their love and support, no matter what it costs them. These characters have become a family of a sort to me, which I'm certain is why I feel so sad. But if the cost of remaining in their world a while longer is a temporarily broken heart, that's a price I'll gladly pay. I may have to grieve along with Brothers, but I'll live to fight alongside them another day....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" Southern Comfort got off to an interesting and rather unique start with the heroine, who was working undercover wiReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" Southern Comfort got off to an interesting and rather unique start with the heroine, who was working undercover with the DEA, having her cover blown. She then fights her way out of the situation and runs for her life, but sees no way to get out of the hotel where they are without being found. Instead she corners the hero, has him strip naked at gunpoint, and “accidentally” makes love to him, all in an attempt to elude the bad guys. I wasn't quite sure how I felt about all this. While it was certainly an out of the ordinary beginning to a story, I couldn't help feeling it was also a little far-fetched. I definitely had to suspend disbelief a bit in order to buy into the premise, but I was willing to go with the flow, except that from there, instead of becoming more interesting and exciting, it became rather boring for the remaining first half of the book. Nothing of note really happens besides the hero and heroine engaging in page after page of sex. While I'm sure many readers will find their encounters hot and steamy, they didn't really do much for me, because I felt no emotional connection between them. At about the halfway point, things finally started to pick up a little, when Wade takes Fallon on a shopping trip to the mall, where she meets two of the supporting characters, Audrey, an older woman from Wade's little town, and Callie, the teenage girl who cleans house and cat-sits for him. Audrey is one of those larger than life characters who is good for a few laughs, and Fallon gets to put her DEA agent skills to good use scaring off Callie's sleazy older boyfriend. After returning to Two Creeks, Wade and Fallon finally get a lead on where the bad guy is hiding out and head to Mexico, undercover, to try to take him down. While this part was rather predictable, it still helped to liven up the story a little and keep me from dropping the rating any lower.
Fallon was a heroine to whom it was difficult for me to relate. She reminded me a lot of Shaw from the television show Person of Interest with perhaps just a touch better developed people skills. She's a tough, no-nonsense girl who is devoted to her job and taking down the bad guys. She's also very prickly and rough around the edges, while her thoughts and actions remind me more of a man's. IMHO her rule of never sleeping with a guy more than once was more than a little off-putting. Of course, she finds Wade irresistible and figures if she's stuck with him for a few days, she might as well have some fun. Fallon's family is dead, and she ended up on the streets when she was only a teenager, where she was found by her DEA boss. The author hints at some of her vulnerabilities early on and does build on them somewhat, but still not quite enough to suit me. So, in the end, Fallon was just an OK heroine for me.
Wade is developed even less than Fallon. Initially, I had him pegged as a fun-loving guy who was up for just about anything. The fact that he had sex with a woman who had been holding him at gunpoint mere minutes before certainly suggested that. He used to be an undercover detective, who left that life to move back to his small hometown to become their sheriff. His reasons for doing so had to do with him feeling like he was losing himself in his undercover persona and becoming too much like the bad guys he was hunting. While I am aware of this phenomena occurring among those who work deep undercover like that, I didn't feel like the author developed this part of Wade's background sufficiently for me to understand it. It was almost impossible for me to reconcile the kindhearted, caring, small-town boy Wade was toward everyone in the story with someone who had nearly become one of the monsters he was trying to put away. The Wade I saw was someone who took in an abused, one-eyed, three-legged cat, or who saw Callie as merely a troubled girl who needed a break, or who rushed to the scene of an accident trying to help, or who cared enough about Fallon to walk back into the pit of hell with her just to make sure she was safe and to help her take down the villain. This Wade I liked and admired, so to say that he was, at one time, just as bad as the other criminals didn't only seem out of character for him, it also, somehow tainted him a little and made him seem less heroic to me.
As I mentioned before, I never really felt much of an emotional connection between Wade and Fallon. Their near constant sexcapades during the first half or so of the book were merely that – just sex – and as an aside, I didn't really care much for the lack of condoms or discussion of birth control. Pretty much throughout the whole story, I felt plenty of lust emanating from the pages but no real love or even any actual romance. Both of them are resigned to it being a short-term temporary fling, which is something I'm generally not a fan of in my romances, because IMHO, it stunts the romantic relationship. It didn't help that they don't really do anything of a romantic nature either. To be honest, I'm not quite sure what they saw in each other. Aside from the fact that she presents a challenge to him, Wade's attraction to Fallon seemed pretty arbitrary to me. Fallon, for some inexplicable reason, finds Wade far more irresistible than any other man she's ever been with. Overall, I'd have to say that their mutual attraction appeared to be based more on the fact that they have great sex than any true chemistry, romantic feelings, or compatibility.
In general, I felt the writing itself could have been a bit better too. More details definitely wouldn't have gone amiss. There are a number of weakly explained occurrences that could have been shored up much better, and considering that the book is less than 300 pages long (pretty short for a single-title romance), it seems like the author would have had plenty of room to build her characters and plot more soundly. I have a hard time characterizing this as a romantic suspense story, because the actual suspense only occurs during the second half of the story and despite being a little gritty, it still felt rather light. Perhaps this was because the first half is pure fluffy, quirky contemporary romance. IMO, Ms. Kelley also needed to use the character's names more often, especially in dialogue tags. Sometimes, it could get really confusing as to who was speaking or doing certain things. Lastly, I detected some repetition. There was an overabundance of characters opening their mouths and snapping them shut. Somehow, I don't think people do this all that often.:-)
Overall, Southern Comfort was an OK story for me. It was better than some books, I've read, and once I got past the tedium of the first half, it was a reasonably entertaining, if somewhat predictable, read. This is the first book in Karen Kelley's Southern series. A number of interesting supporting characters were introduced, but only one, Wade's sister, Bailey, appears to have gotten her own story later in the series. She becomes the heroine of the novella, It's a Wonderful Life (from the I'm Your Santa anthology), which falls after book #3 in the series ordering. Since her character wasn't quite as developed as some of the others, I was a little surprised about that. I can't really say anything about the characters in the next book, Southern Exposure, without giving away a significant spoiler, but one of them is definitely related to someone in this book but isn't a character we've gotten to meet yet. Southern Comfort was my first read by Karen Kelley. While this initial foray into her work hasn't left me with a burning need to continue, I will anyway since I have this series on a challenge I'm working on this year. It was admittedly entertaining enough to not be a chore to finish, so who knows, maybe the next book will be better....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" I've been looking forward to reading The Courage to Love for some time now, mainly because, based on the cover bluReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" I've been looking forward to reading The Courage to Love for some time now, mainly because, based on the cover blurb, it sounded like a book I would really enjoy. I admittedly did end up mostly enjoying it. Overall, the mechanics of the writing are fairly sound, especially for an erotic romance. The story also has a high level of emotional and sexual intensity, which helped me to feel the connection between the characters reasonably well. But ultimately, there isn't much substance to the plot or characters. I would say more than anything, this is a story of sexual exploration between three people who have loved each other from afar for a long while. The other elements of the plot, of which there are few, are definitely secondary to the sex. The main subplot revolved around Kate having been raped while Jason and Tony were away on the Continent, but the only time this really comes into play is when the man who instigated it reappears, leaving her a bit shaken and the heroes challenging the man to a duel. Unfortunately, even this wasn't particularly satisfying, because the man doesn't really pay for his crimes, which was pretty disappointing. Given that this is a historical romance, the reader will have to suspend disbelief somewhat in order to buy into the notion that Jason and Tony's “special relationship” seems to be rather well-known, not just among their close friends, but also among the ton at large, which leads to a bit of censure. It was probably equally odd to believe that Kate's niece, who is only sixteen and basically grew up learning to be a proper lady at a girl's school, as well as Jason's mother would not only accept Jason, Tony, and Kate's unconventional relationship, but also encourage it. Not to mention, Jason's mother made a miraculous turnaround to do so. So while the sex was hot and I could tell that these three really did care deeply for one another, I still came away from reading this book with a half-full feeling.
I liked Jason, Tony, and Kate for as well as I got to know them, but unfortunately that wasn't really well. Jason and Tony fought together in the Napoleonic Wars, and both apparently have their share of emotional demons, but we don't see any of that. Instead, they just briefly tell about how the horrors of war made them disconnect from other people and from their own emotions. Then they accidentally discovered a way to reconnect by sharing sexual partners, and they shared this information with other young soldiers who were similarly affected. I felt like there was something missing from this part of the story, and I really wanted to know more about how they arrived at this conclusion. As is, it merely seemed like a miraculous discovery that also happened to be a convenient plot device. As for their personalities, Jason is more driven by his emotions and prone to impassioned moments, while also enjoying playing the sexual dominant. Tony, on the other hand, is more controlled in his actions, and happy to play the submissive. While the two men have shared women before, they've never crossed that line into becoming lovers to one another until they rekindle their relationship with Kate.
I found Kate to be equally, if not more, underdeveloped than the men. She married a gentleman, who was a friend of Jason and Tony, when she was quite young, and appeared to have a reasonably satisfying relationship with him. However, he died, leaving her with a mountain of debt and no way to keep her young niece in school. Having no other option at the time, Kate became the mistress of several different gentlemen over the next few years, until one of them cruelly betrayed her by basically facilitating her gang rape at the hands of himself and several of his friends. I felt like this should have made her a deeply tortured soul, but in all honesty, she seemed to suffer few ill effects from this experience. When Jason and Tony return, she's reluctant to become involved with them, but not for the reasons one might think under these circumstances. Instead, she's all too willing to indulge in one night of sexual play with the both of them to appease her fantasies. I'm afraid I had a somewhat difficult time believing that a woman who had been brutally raped in that way would be so eager to be with not one, but two men relatively soon after her horrible experience, no matter how attracted to them she was. I also felt like she was perhaps protesting a bit too much with regards to why she couldn't be with the two of them for more than one night, but then she gets over it pretty quickly. I guess they turned her brain to mush with all the hot sex.;-)
As for the romance between the three of them, I really felt like the book was sorely in need of a prologue or some kind of introduction to explain how these three met and why they had fallen for each other years before. All we know is that Jason and Tony met Kate when she ended up marrying their friend. We don't really know at all what it was each of them saw in the others. Nursing broken hearts, Jason and Tony took a trip to the continent, and when they returned, their friend was dead and Kate was already mistress to another man, so they left again. This dance continued for three years, I believe, during which Jason and Tony thought that Kate was sowing her wild oats so to speak, while of course, what Kate was experiencing was something entirely different. She would have loved for Jason and Tony to come whisk her away from that life, but they kept leaving her. I thought this made Jason and Tony seem rather oblivious. Not to mention, if they really loved Kate and wanted her that badly, why didn't they get their alpha on and pursue her anyway? It's not like she was married to the men she was seeing. She was only trying to survive and should have been able to walk away from these relationships if she so chose, but Jason and Tony never presented her with that option until the worst had already happened. I noticed that a short prequel story titled Love and War: The Beginning was written six years after this book was first published, and perhaps it will answer some of these questions, or at least, I can hope. However, for the time being, with no real understanding of the origins of their love, I felt like I was simply immersed in this intense desire they all feel for one another without any build-up. The scenes are emotional, but I didn't grasp the why of their chemistry. I just feel like the characters needed to be developed more fully before throwing them into this torrid sexual relationship, and unfortunately, they don't grow much beyond the brief descriptions I gave of their characterizations earlier. It's simply page after page of more and more heated sexual encounters, which while appealing in their own way, would have been even better if there had been more actual romance.
The Courage to Love is the first book in the fairly prolific Brothers in Arms series, which is currently twelve books long. Several of the young men to whom Jason and Tony taught their secret formula for overcoming the nightmares of their time in the war are introduced, and they are basically Jason and Tony's inner circle of friends. I think all of them will become heroes in future books of the series, but there were so many of them and so little time to get to know them that few sufficiently stood out for me to recall their names. The only exceptions would probably be Phillip and Jonathan, whom the trio met up with while out getting ices at Gunther's. They and Maggie, the young lady they were with, become the heroes and heroine of the next book, Love Under Siege. Maggie kind of caught my eye, because she seemed really sweet. The others would be Michael and Wolf. Michael shared a passionate encounter with Kate's niece, Veronica, about which he felt quite guilty afterwards. Veronica, however, is a head-strong miss, who wasn't really fazed by it except in a positive way. These three will become the heroes and heroine of book #8, Prisoner of Love.
In addition to the deficiencies in plot and characterizations, there were several other things that bothered me about this book. While I did state earlier that it was reasonably well-written – and that is true – there were still the occasional grammatical errors or clunkily worded sentences that a sharp editor should have caught. The dialog, especially during the love scenes, which were a little too chatty for my taste anyway, felt rather clumsy and stilted. Oftentimes, the characters' actions and introspection would follow the dialog, but my editor taught me that these tidbits of narrative should come before it. It not only increases the impact of those actions but also makes it clearer who is speaking. I also feel like the author overused the "f" word. It's not that I'm offended by it or anything. I expect it to be used frequently in any erotic romance, but it was used so repetitively that it become rather annoying to me, just like any other overused word would. I also feel like using strong words like that too frequently, instead of in controlled moments, lessens their impact on the reader. The book is also basically a wallpaper historical, with little actual history and few historical details in it, which considering that the author's bio says that she's a history major, is pretty disappointing. Even some of the dialog is anachronistic. Last but not least, the author engages in almost constant head-hopping POVs, which was only made worse by the fact that there are three main characters instead of only two. I've never really cared much for this style of writing, as I feel that the reader can connect more deeply with a character when they see things from their perspective for longer periods of time. Despite my dislike for it, I got used to it after a while, but still found it very jarring when the POV switch came mid-paragraph, again something a good editor should have caught.
It may seem like I've had a lot of criticisms of The Courage to Love, and admittedly there were a number of things I thought could have been better. However, as I said at the beginning of the review, I still mostly enjoyed it for what it was. It might not have been quite as good as I was expecting, but it was still a pretty agreeable way to spend a few hours of my reading time. It appears that this may have been Samantha Kane's first published novel, and it looks like the future books of the series have higher rating, so perhaps she's learned and grown as an author since this early effort. I have to admit a certain degree of curiosity about Maggie, Phillip, and Jonathan, so I'm sure I'll give their book a try at some point.
Note: This book contains explicit language and sexual situations which may offend some readers, including menage a trois, some light dom/sub dynamics, a little biting, one instance of minor spanking (really just a playful swat) and anal sex within M/M/F and M/F/M combinations....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" One Wish wasn't a absolutely perfect read for me, but IMHO, it was better than all three of the Thunder Point bookReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" One Wish wasn't a absolutely perfect read for me, but IMHO, it was better than all three of the Thunder Point books that were released last year. A large part of my enjoyment of this story had to do with me actually feeling the connection between Troy and Grace more palpably than any of last year's couples. Even though their relationship begins as a friends with benefits arrangement, it was easy to sense that their feelings ran much deeper, even if they hadn't acknowledged them yet. I could simply tell that they were good for one another and they were both down-to-earth people who took pleasure in each other's company. For this reason, I have to give Robyn Carr a few extra points, because oftentimes, I don't care much for romances that begin as sex only agreements. I also related to the hero and heroine better than the previous three couples, which only added to my satisfaction with the story. With that being the case, One Wish became the only book of the series since the first two that has earned keeper status from me.
Grace is a former champion figure skater, who won every major competition, including the Olympics, but then she walked away from it all at the height of her career. As a huge fan of figure skating, I loved this aspect of her character, but at the same time, I could totally understand her giving up the intensive training and constant competing in favor of living a more normal life. She's built a totally new life for herself in Thunder Point as the little town's only florist, but she's earned a reputation that brings in business from neighboring towns too. She loves her boutique and the little apartment above it, and she isn't afraid of hard work, even though she grew up in almost incomprehensible wealth. Grace's mother was the typical stage parent, who was trying to live out her dream through Grace. Grace certainly had the natural talent of her own to make it as far as she did, but her mother pushed her very hard, leading to a lot of friction between the two. Her father, who was also her first coach, died when she was only a teenager, and she's basically been estranged from her mother ever since she announced her retirement from figure skating. I really liked and related to Grace on a number of different levels, not just her former occupation. I felt like I had a lot in common with her. We're both essentially only children, with our only half-siblings being much older. There was a considerable age difference between our parents. We were both loners growing up, who felt like no one really knew or appreciated us for who we were inside. We both had contentious relationships with our mothers, although for somewhat different reasons, and we both had to deal with those mothers experiencing major terminal illnesses. Oddly enough though, I think the commonality that struck me the most was our shared love of romance novels and our plethora of book boyfriends.;-) Grace even reads some of the exact same books I do, and I loved the author's shout-out to the Black Dagger Brotherhood. Grace is just a sweet, lovable, innocent young woman, who is still a virgin at twenty-eight. I absolutely adored everything about her, which is something I'm not often able to say about Robyn Carr's heroines, not because I don't like them on some level, but because I don't usually relate to them as well as I did to Grace.
Troy is a wonderful hero, who's pretty much Ms. Carr's go-to archetype for her male characters. Like so many of her heroes, he's a former Marine. I didn't realize until reading this book that he was first introduced in Bring Me Home for Christmas, one of her Virgin River novels. He was one of Denny's buddies who went to Virgin River to visit him over the holidays to do some hunting. With Troy and Becca both being teachers, he had a fairly extensive conversation with her in the truck while they were out duck-hunting, which make Denny rather jealous. He seemed like a pretty great guy then, and the fact that he had a little more prominent secondary role made me wonder if he might star in his own book someday… and he did. He just had to transplant to Thunder Point in order to get it.:-) We don't really see a whole lot of Troy in action as a teacher in this book, but with what little is there, along with his supporting role in the previous book, I can tell he's very good at his job and truly dedicated to it. The one thing about Troy that I didn't relate to very well was that he's essentially a dare-devil adrenaline junkie who loves extreme sports and taking risks. That being the case, there were times when he was a little too high energy for my taste, but he won me over with his sweetness and charm. I loved that he didn't push Grace to open up about her secretive past faster than she was willing. Even though his curiosity got the better of him and he went online to check her out, he didn't tell her that he'd done it until it was relevant to events that were taking place at the time. He just patiently waited for her to trust him enough to tell him. Troy was also a tender lover, taking his time with Grace in the bedroom and treating her like a precious jewel. I liked that he cared enough about Grace to try to smooth things over between her and her mom, when her mother suddenly reappeared in her life. He also stands by her side as she deals with her mother's manipulations and the revelation of her illness, and he treats her mom quite gently and chivalrously. The only thing that throws Troy for a loop is the realization of how extensive Grace's wealth actually is. He goes through some doubts about his ability to offer her anything special, when she already has so much, but I thought that was pretty understandable. Overall, Troy was perhaps a little too much like several of Robyn Carr's other heroes to truly stand out in my mind for the long haul, but he was a very sweet, lovable guy who I thought was perfect for Grace.
As has been the case with most of Ms. Carr's more recent books, there aren't as many side plots and POVs, but there are still a few. In this book, we get a pretty good dose of local real estate agent, Ray Anne, and get to see how her relationship with Al is going, as well as a quick update on his three foster sons. We also get to see her interacting a bit with her gal pals, Carrie, Lou, and Gina (The Newcomer). Mainly though, the reader is introduced to Ray Anne's niece, Ginger, who has always been like the daughter she never had. Ginger is deeply in mourning for a failed marriage and the loss of her baby to crib death, but Ray Anne is determined to do whatever it takes to bring her out of her grief and depression. With a little help from Grace and her best friend, Iris (The Homecoming), she's already making significant headway in this endeavor by the end of the story, which is a good thing, because Ginger becomes the heroine of the next book, A New Hope. We also get to see just a little of Iris with Seth, and another little bit of Scott and Peyton (The Promise) as they prepare for their huge traditional Basque nuptials, along with updates on these relationships.
As I mentioned earlier, One Wish wasn't a perfect read. As frequently seems to be the case in Robyn Carr's writing, the dialog can get a tad long-winded at times, and I really feel like she needs to intersperse a bit more narrative within her dialog, particularly that which shows what the characters are doing. A few more tender looks or touches in these moments definitely wouldn't have gone amiss. Also, as someone who has been watching figure skating since the 1980's, I couldn't help feeling that the figure skating terms the author uses are a little off. There were a number of them I'd never heard of and I even Googled some of them to be sure. Eg. I couldn't find a move called a leaning tower spiral. In fact, the top search results for that term were excerpts from this book. Also there's not really such a thing as a straddle split jump. It's known as a straddle jump in gymnastics, and merely a split jump in figure skating. Additionally, the author has Grace performing figure eights and axels as part of a warm-up routine. Figure eights are really more of a compulsory exercise, which was taken out of competition in 1990, and with axels being the most difficult jumps, a skater who hasn't been skating regularly for years, would probably be more likely to try something a little easier, like a toe loop, flip, or Salchow, before bringing out the big guns like axels. Overall though, these are relatively minor quibbles in an otherwise enjoyable story. I really liked the characters and the storylines, and best of all, I could actually feel the connection between Troy and Grace, which is an all-important must in any romance. Since I liked Ginger in this book, I'm now looking forward to reading A New Hope to see what's in store for her future. After the tragedies in her life, she really deserves an HEA.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author's publicist in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Much like with the first book of the Divergent series, I finished Insurgent with rather mixed feelings. This book and the seriReviewed for THC Reviews Much like with the first book of the Divergent series, I finished Insurgent with rather mixed feelings. This book and the series in general are reasonably entertaining reads that mostly keep me engaged, but at the same time, they aren't what I would call un-put-downable. No matter how hard I try, I can't seem to help drawing parallels between Divergent and The Hunger Games. In large part, The Hunger Games was so compelling, because the menace of The Capitol and President Snow can be felt so intensely. Also, everything is pretty much constantly life or death, and it's very difficult to tell who is friend and who is foe which ratchets up the suspense quite a bit. Any time a character dies, it's with tears and regrets on my part, because I feel like I've gotten to know them as individuals who will be deeply missed. With Divergent, I haven't felt the same kind of menace. We didn't even really know who was pulling the strings until the end of Divergent, and throughout Insurgent, I never felt like Jeanine was nearly as creepy and evil of a villain as President Snow. I don't think enough information was given to support her motivations, and with what little there is, I couldn't help feeling like she was more of a misguided soul who thought that she was doing what was best for everyone through questionable means, rather than a strong villain who is essentially trying to take control of the world – or at least her little corner of it. While there are certainly some life and death situations in Insurgent, I didn't feel them as intensely, in part because Tris generally has a decent sense of who can be trusted and who can't. Also when characters die (and several do), even though it's sad, I never cried or screamed “Noooo!” in my head, mainly because I never got to know any of them on a deep enough level to palpably feel their absence from the story. So while Insurgent, and the Divergent series as a whole, has been an agreeable diversion, it's more like mind candy that just hasn't quite lived up to my expectations thus far.
I would have to say that the main reason I haven't been as caught up in these stories are the characterizations. Tris, our intrepid heroine and first person narrator is a Divergent, which for anyone who isn't following the books, is a person who exhibits an aptitude for more than one of the designated factions within her dystopian society. As a long-time student of personality typing, I think there are certain personalities that are naturally “divergent,” and they tend toward being those persons who don't see the world in absolutes, but rather in many shades of gray. When I took the Faction Test in the back of my copy of Divergent, I tested Divergent, and if I'm remembering correctly, I had an aptitude for Amity, Abnegation, and Erudite. I can see how all of those apply to me, but ultimately, I'm simply who I am. I like what I like; I feel how I feel; and I believe what I believe. I don't try to fit into those faction categories; I just do by virtue of who I am. With that being said, there were times when I felt like the author was trying too hard to make Tris (and sometimes Four as well) fit into the faction molds for which they tested as having an aptitude. It was like she was thinking, “Oh, here I need to make her/him do X, so that they seem more like Abnegation or Dauntless or Erudite.” In my opinion, Ms. Roth didn't allow their personalities to develop in as organic of a way as she possibly could have, and I think they would have been better for it if she had. I feel like I would have understood them and related to them in a stronger, more meaningful way if that were the case. Instead, it felt like she was focused a little too narrowly on making them behave a certain way rather then letting them behave the way they wanted to. I strongly suspect that this is why both Tris and Four came off as being pretty enigmatic to me. Sometimes they seem hard, and unforgiving, while other times they seem more kind, and compassionate. Sometimes they are strong and fearless, while other times their fears can get the best of them. Sometimes they think outside the box, while other times they are calculating and logical. This made it feel like they were constantly all over the board with their emotions and actions running either hot or cold. In this way, it was like the fact that they were both Divergent seemed like it was almost continually in my face. It was like their state of being ruled them, when they should have ruled it.
As a couple, I feel like Tris and Four are a little too much alike to make a truly good match. They're both Divergent, they're both largely enigmatic, and they think and act a whole lot alike. Their personalities simply aren't as distinct as they probably should be for a successful romantic pairing or even for two main characters in the same story for that matter. Just because they're both Divergent doesn't mean that they can't and shouldn't be different in the way that they act, feel, and think. After all they are still unique individuals, or at least they should be, but to my way of thinking, they don't come off that way. In general, I'm still having a hard time comprehending the reasons for their attraction to one another. In the first book, they didn't spend all that much time together and now that they're in each other's company almost constantly, one would think the why of their chemistry would be more obvious, yet I still didn't feel much of an emotional connection between them. I think the main reason for this is that they're both terrible communicators. They both continue to play it very close to the vest, only revealing what they absolutely have to about themselves and their feelings. I never really saw a good reason for this, especially on Tris's part. I can definitely see how Four might have deep-seated trust issues stemming from his past abuse, but Tris had a good upbringing with parents who loved her deeply. I've said many times before in my reviews, that for me, trust is a major component of a romantic relationship, perhaps equally if not more important than love, yet this seems to be the thing that Tris and Four have the least of, and in many ways, it's to their detriment as both individuals and as a couple. There were many times throughout the story that Tris kept things from Four and to be fair, he did a few times as well, at least to the extent that we know what he's thinking. This was bad enough, but there was one instance where he asked her something point blank, giving her the perfect opportunity to come clean, but she lied, leaving me stunned. Behavior like this is always frustrating to me, especially when there doesn't seem to be a compelling reason for it.
As of yet, the Divergent series hasn't shown up on the ALA's banned/challenged books list, which is surprising considering that The Hunger Games has been on it for several years running and the two book series are quite similar. The 2014 list isn't due out until next month though, so anything can happen. As always, I'm anti-book banning, and as a parent of a teenager, I would have no issue with my child reading these books. As with the first book of the series, Insurgent contains a fair bit of violence, which is probably going to be the most troublesome element to sensitive readers. There are quite a number of shootings, stabbings, and fistfights, most of which aren't rendered all that graphically. There is, however, one real-time execution of a prisoner by a prominent character, and a threat of execution made against Tris while she's being held prisoner. There is also a somewhat disturbing scene in which a young boy is shot point-blank in the head right next to Tris, and another scene in which a couple of girls step off a roof while under mind control. I also had rather mixed feelings about how Four goes about putting his father, Marcus, in his place. As I mentioned earlier, several characters die, some of whom we don't know at all and others whom we've gotten to know a little. In most of these instances, the author doesn't linger over them for a particularly long time before moving on though. There is no sex, but Tris and Four share a number of kisses, some more passionate than others, as well as some touching, and in a couple of these cases, their intimacies arouse some sensual feelings within her body. They sleep together platonically for comfort a couple of times too. Otherwise, aside from a couple of mild bad words and a little bit of name-calling (eg. “Stiff” to refer to members of Abnegation), I can't think of anything else that could be potentially objectionable, so in my opinion, the book is appropriate for a mature teen audience.
Insurgent is a book that has both its good points and not-so-good points. In addition to the characterization issues I had with it, on the down side, I still feel like the author's writing style is a little too simplistic for it's intended young adult audience. There just isn't a lot of nuance to it. She often uses simple sentence structures and very basic word choices, which were most apparent in the use of "be" verbs or extremely simple action verbs like “get” when stronger action verbs would have made the prose more vibrant. As with the first book, this one could definitely have used a lot more contractions. I understand that some of the factions like Erudite and Abnegation speak a little more formally, but the Dauntless definitely don't. Tris, being one of them, probably shouldn't have either spoken or thought (since it's all written in her POV) that way. I'm quite surprised the editors didn't catch both of these things, since they seem so obvious. On the upside, where I found the first book to be quite predictable, the author did manage to surprise me with a couple of plot twists toward the end of Insurgent that I didn't see coming. Although the world-building hasn't quite sucked me in as fully as some other books have and it could have had been a little more well-thought-out, I did enjoy getting to know some of the other groups, like Amity, Candor, and the Factionless, of whom we saw virtually none in the first book. Also, the way in which this book ends and the secret that is revealed in its final pages have sufficiently whetted my appetite to finish the series. Overall, Insurgent might not be the best young adult, dystopian science-fiction story I've ever read, but I can't deny that it offers a certain degree of entertainment value for the reader who is willing to overlook its weaknesses....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews You Cannot Find Peace Until You Find All The Pieces is author Marie Maiden's inspirational memoir that is primarily about herReviewed for THC Reviews You Cannot Find Peace Until You Find All The Pieces is author Marie Maiden's inspirational memoir that is primarily about her eighteen year search for her father and how that affected her life, both before and after locating him. Her story is a relatively short one. It only took me a couple of hours to read, but she manages to pack quite a bit into its sixty-four pages. It begins with an explanation of how, in the course of trying to find her father, she first found her heritage, which traces back to slaves on the plantations of Virginia in the 1800's. In the first couple of chapters Ms. Maiden chronicles many of the details she discovered about her ancestry and some historical facts from that era. Being a history buff, this part was very interesting from a historical perspective, but I didn't feel like it gave me much insight into how, or if, discovering this information affected her on a personal level or contributed to her later emotional healing.
From there the author takes us through her early life growing up and the difficulties of becoming the teenage mother of a handicapped child. During this time she felt her father's absence keenly. He had left the family when she was very young, so she had no real memories of him, only what little information she'd gleaned from her mother. I really admire her for finishing school and continuing on to college in spite of the challenges of doing so with a small child. I also can appreciate how hard it must have been to make the loving choice to eventually allow someone better capable of the task to raise that child. After one failed marriage and a string of failed dating relationships, Ms. Maiden met a woman who invited her to church, and that's when things really started to change for her. Feeling a strong need to do so, she began searching for her father in earnest. I really have to give her credit for sheer persistence. It took many years, lots of phone calls, and thousands of letters to finally make some contacts with people who actually knew her dad. Although by then, the man himself had already passed on, leaving no chance of a happy father/daughter reunion, she was able to learn about him from his friends and family members, many of whom welcomed her.
Once this task was accomplished and she had found all the missing pieces of the puzzle of her life, everything seemed to fall into place for her, to where she finally felt that the healing could begin. In the latter chapters, the author discusses how God really began to move and change her for the better. I have to say that I was very impressed with her self-awareness, and her willingness to apologize and ask forgiveness from others she had wronged in the past. This is a very difficult thing for most of us to do. I also appreciated how she talked about constantly renewing our minds. I recently read something similar in another book, but it's a truth of which I always seem to need reminding. Maybe God is trying to tell me something?:-)
Overall, I enjoyed You Cannot Find Peace Until You Find All The Pieces. The story moves at a pretty fast pace, and I never felt bored at all. In general, I thought it was well-written, although a little more attention could have been paid to editing as I found some repetition in wording. I also have a feeling that many readers will balk at the nearly $20 cover price for a paperback book that is essentially novella length (and I can't blame them), but it is a very worthwhile read. Perhaps the author will eventually be able to release it in e-book format for a cheaper price, which I think would make it possible for her to reach a much broader reader base. All in all though, despite any small misgivings, I found You Cannot Find Peace Until You Find All The Pieces to be an inspiring little book that I think would help others who might have experienced similar circumstances in their lives.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review....more