Reviewed for THC Reviews ***********************Spoiler Alert********************** Review contain spoilers for the Maiden Lane series.
Lord of Darkness...moreReviewed for THC Reviews ***********************Spoiler Alert********************** Review contain spoilers for the Maiden Lane series.
Lord of Darkness is the third perfect read in a row for me from Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series. I'm not sure if I can do this superbly written book justice with my review, but I'm going to try. This story was intense, passionate, romantic, emotional, and absolutely smokin' hot. The hero is positively to die for. The heroine is a ray of sunshine and a breath of fresh air all rolled into one. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting with all of the previous couples from the series, except one who wasn't present. The other secondary characters are fun and intriguing, and will have me waiting with bated breath for the next book of the series. What more could a girl ask for in a romance novel?
The last two heroes in the Maiden Lane series (Mickey and Winter) were so incredible, I have a hard time playing favorites, but Godric is certainly giving them a run for their money. Not only is he one of Elizabeth Hoyt's best heroes, he's also near the top of my all-time favorites. I instinctively knew when he was only a secondary character in Wicked Intentions that he would make a great hero, and I definitely wasn't disappointed. Godric is a deeply lonely man who began his self-isolation long before his beloved first wife died following a lengthy illness. When the story opens, his sole reason for living is protecting the helpless as the Ghost of St. Giles, but even that has turned into something of a death wish as he recklessly pursues the human filth of the slum. When Margaret arrives unexpectedly, he wants her visit to be over quickly so that he can focus on his mission, but at the same time, she stirs emotions in him that he hasn't felt in a very long time. Still, Godric is so completely broken-hearted, he doesn't think he can or even wants to love again. He's been living half a life since Clara died, perhaps even before that, but Megs brings a spark back into his darkened corner of the world. (I love how the apple tree in his garden was a metaphor for his reawakening.) It's sweet how Godric is jealous of the mere idea of Megs possibly getting the baby she wants from an affair with another man, and how those feelings confuse him. He's intent on protecting Megs no matter what. To this ends, he denies her nothing and would literally do anything and everything to make her happy. I love the way he notices every little thing about Megs and each one makes him fall more deeply in love with her. Aside from his committed sense of justice to the down-trodden, the thing I love most about Godric is that he is a tender, considerate and passionate lover who is fiercely loyal. I'm incredibly curious as to how a long-celibate man like him who doesn't seem like the type to sleep around learned to be such an amazing lover. Perhaps it was natural instinct born out of his sensitive, sensual side, or perhaps it was something he learned from the books he is so fond of. Either way, he's off the charts with his bedroom prowess. And speaking of books, I also loved his scholarly air. Call me crazy, but in my opinion, those half-moon spectacles of his made him even more sexy if that's possible.
Sweet Megs is one of the best heroines I've read in quite a while. I initially couldn't help worrying that she had some scheme up her sleeve what with wanting a baby so urgently, but I shouldn't have been concerned. As it turned out, she simply missed the child she lost and desperately wanted a little one to love and hold and call her own. I loved that Megs was so understanding of Godric's grief and took a gentle approach to getting him to make love to her. She can relate, because she too is feeling rather adrift, still missing her beloved fiancé, while also harboring an insatiable desire for revenge against the man she believes is responsible for his death, namely the Ghost. In spite of that though, when she discovers her husband's secret identity, she instinctively knows that she can trust him, and that he couldn't possibly have done something so heinous. I thoroughly enjoyed Megs's letters that she wrote to Godric over the two years they were married but living apart. They showed that she was rather lonely herself and trying to reach out and connect with her stranger husband, albeit perhaps subconsciously. When Godric finally agrees to make love to her, she tries to make it an impersonal act but can't resist the feelings and sensations he arouses in her body. This gives her moments of confusion and doubt over desiring another man who isn't her dead fiancé, but it doesn't take long before she's giving herself freely to him. I think the best thing about Megs is how intuitive she is to see the lonely man inside Godric who sets himself apart from everyone. It's a beautiful thing that she not only sees that, but wants to do something about it. She made a deal with Godric to leave London when she gets pregnant, but she desperately doesn't want to leave, not for any selfish reasons, but because she simply can't bear the thought of this wonderful man being alone again. Megs was truly a ray of sunshine in Godric's life, bringing him back to life and making him happier than he'd been in a very long time.
Together, Godric and Megs set the pages on fire. Starting with their first real kiss and the small intimacy in the carriage that followed, their relationship was explosively passionate while also being deeply romantic. Their first two love scenes are rather impersonal, as both of them try to hold onto the memory of their dead loves, while also feeling things for one another during the act that they cannot deny. Elizabeth Hoyt is so masterful at writing love scenes that even when they're impersonal, they're still unspeakably beautiful, but nothing compared to when this couple finally did it the right way. That scene was so incredible it took my breath away, so much so, that words fail me to explain how achingly romantic and sensual it was. I didn't think a love scene could possibly get any better than that, but each one that followed was equally as beautiful as the last. Even with Godric and Megs not saying the words until the very end, I could still tell just how much they truly loved one another. This pair was one of the most perfect, made-for-each-other couples I've ever read in a romance.
Lord of Darkness boasts a huge cast of secondary characters, but despite their sheer number, each one stood out in his or her own way. All of the past heroes and heroines except Mickey and Silence put in an appearance. As Godric's best friend, Lazarus has some insights for Meg, and Temperance was there for the Foundling Home. Megs's brother, Griffin, finally tells her the truth about why he married her off to Godric, while Hero lends her support. As a former Ghost of St. Giles and manager of the Foundling Home, Winter offers his support for Godric's efforts, and Isabel is there too. I loved seeing all these characters and their growing families. Several supporting characters from previous books put in appearances and some new ones are introduced too. There are many of them I would love to see get their own book, particularly Hero's nearly blind, younger sister, Phoebe, and perhaps, Godric's sister, Sarah, who was a good friend to Megs. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Her Grace, Megs's great-aunt Elvina's funny little dog and her cute litter of puppies. We also get a little more insight into Maximus, the hero of the next book of the series, Duke of Midnight. He is Hero's brother and when I first met him in her book, he seemed pretty straight-laced and an ardent opposer of the gin trade. My initial impression didn't change here, but there were a few hints of a possible softer side as well as a big secret that's he's hiding. I've always thought that he could make a good hero with the right woman to loosen him up, and it looks like that lady is going to be Artemis, the poor relation and companion of the spoiled, aristocratic Penelope. I've liked her since the first time she appeared as well. Artemis had a few scenes of her own, including a cliffhanger epilogue, that have already begun to build her into an engaging character and have me dying for her book. We also briefly get to meet another new character, someone who is very special to Artemis. I don't want to give anything away, so I'll just say that he already has me thoroughly intrigued and wanting to know more. Unfortunately, at present, Maximus thinks Artemis is completely boring and forgettable, so it will be interesting to see how she changes his mind.
I may have already liked Godric and Megs going into Lord of Darkness, but their story still completely blew me away. It exceeded my wildest expectations, and I hated to see it end. Long-time Elizabeth Hoyt fans will be happy to know that she continues her tradition of a fairy tale that runs parallel to the main story. “The Legend of the Hellequin” was the perfect mirror for Godric and Megs's story and one of the best this author has written so far. Everything was superb: the hero, the heroine, the supporting players, the story and the fairy tale. It was absolute perfection, and I wouldn't change a thing about it. Now I'll be on the edge of my seat, eagerly anticipating the release of Duke of Midnight which is due out in October 2013. Can't wait!(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" A Christmas Home is another heartwarming holiday read from Greg Kincaid in his untitled series about the McCray fa...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" A Christmas Home is another heartwarming holiday read from Greg Kincaid in his untitled series about the McCray family. This one takes place several years after the end of A Dog Named Christmas. Todd McCray is now a young man in his early twenties. He lives on his own in a cabin on his parent's property, far enough away to be mostly independent, but still close enough for his parents to keep watch on their developmentally disabled son. Todd loves his job as Assistant Manager at the local animal shelter, but reduced revenues and governmental budgetary cutbacks have led to the shelter being shut down by the end of the year. Todd finds himself in the precarious position of not only dealing with the loss of his job, but also once again, needing to help find homes for all the dogs and cats in the shelter before the holidays.
Todd is a wonderful young man who is kind and caring toward everyone, both humans and animals alike. He may be a little mentally slow in some ways, but he has an amazing natural talent for working with the animals at the shelter, especially the dogs. He's incredibly patient with training the dogs and positively loves his work. Todd also has an idealistic streak, so when the news comes down that the shelter is closing, he's determined to find homes for all the animals and does a pretty impressive job of it. At the same time, he grows beyond his position as Assistant Shelter Manager and proves himself in other ways by taking control of his life and moving forward, showing he has the ability for independent decision-making when life hands him a lemon.
Todd also gets a light romance with Laura, a young woman with rheumatoid arthritis with whom he has been friends for quite a while. He was at the shelter when she brought in a stray dog she had accidentally hit with her car. Todd cared for the dog until she recovered from her injuries and then trained her to be a service dog to help Laura both at home and in her job as a nurse. These two share a sweet, slowly blossoming love that I enjoyed reading. Laura is very gentle and kindhearted to see past Todd's disability to the wonderful man he is. She appreciates his talents not just because he helped her and her dog, Gracie, but because she truly believes in him and his abilities.
Todd's parents, George and Mary Ann, are still a strong influence in his life, but they must come to terms with their “baby,” whom they've always given special attention to, finally becoming a man with a mind and a life of his own. Of course, their faithful and now aged dog, Christmas, is still a part of the story too. Both George and Todd have come to rely on Christmas for comfort and solace. They share “custody,” with Christmas going back and forth between their houses at will.
I love both holiday stories and animal stories, so having the two combined into one, made A Christmas Home a very enjoyable read for me. The only reason I knocked off a half star was because it was a tad slow paced early on, but it definitely picked up as the story progressed. Otherwise, A Christmas Home was a sweet, holiday story that warmed me through and through, like curling up with a hot cup of cocoa on a cold winter's day. Since it has no objectionable content, it is a book that could even be enjoyed by the whole family as a Christmas tradition. It will definitely be going on my keeper shelf to be read again and again during holiday seasons to come. I have no idea if Greg Kincaid has any more stories planned for the McCray family. It certainly seemed like there could be more to tell, and if he does, I'll be eagerly picking up any future books he writes.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Angel Tears is an intriguing story of paranormal romance and suspense. It appears to be marketed toward a young adult audience...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Angel Tears is an intriguing story of paranormal romance and suspense. It appears to be marketed toward a young adult audience, and in my opinion would be completely suitable for teens. There is no profanity or sexual content and the violence isn't overly graphic. However, the protagonists are a bit older, ostensibly in their early to mid-twenties, so it could be versatile, perhaps falling into the new adult genre or simply “clean” romance for adults. Angel Tears is stated to be a work of fiction, but it is written as though the characters are real, and this is the hero's memoir. It certainly does come off feeling like it could be real. The author also does a great job with the suspense. When I got to the last couple of chapters, I couldn't stop reading. The romance is very sweet and lovely too. As a whole, reading this book was like having a movie playing out in my mind. The story admittedly leaves a lot of unanswered questions in the end, but perhaps that's the beauty of it. The loose threads can be taken up by the reader's imagination, so that each individual can fill in the blanks for themselves. In any case, Angel Tears was an undeniably enjoyable read.
I loved the relationship between Ezra and Ana. They are essentially from opposite sides of the track. She is a doctor, specifically an obstetrician specializing in difficult pregnancies, while he is a homeless drifter, working at day labor and living in a shelter or on the street. Despite their obvious differences, Ezra and Ana immediately connect from the moment they first meet, forming an almost instant bond of friendship, when he lands in the hospital where she works after an accident. Their first kiss is imbued with incredible chemistry too. It's like they were simply made for one other and are meant to be together. Both characters can be a little emotionally intense at times, as they have a tendency to take offense easily. It's in these moments that I was reminded of the classic teen angst to which I think young adult readers could relate. Given Ezra's background, his moments of emotional volatility are completely understandable. Ana, on the other hand, is more of a mystery. We don't really know much about her, such as where she comes from or whether she has a family and so forth, just that she's something of a drifter herself, never staying in one place or one job for too long. Normally, this lack of information on the characters would be a detractor for me, but for some reason, it didn't really bother me so much here. Maybe it's because it simply added to the mysteriousness of the story. Suffice it to say that despite there being a lot of holes in their backgrounds, I felt very connected to both Ezra and Ana, and was very engaged by their tale.
The technical aspects of the writing could have been a little better. Some of the descriptive details and connecting transitions are a bit rough around the edges, making the narrative a tad confusing at times. There were also lots of mistakes: typos, missing/incorrect words and such, which could be rather distracting. However, in spite of these small weaknesses, I was captivated by Ezra and Ana's story. It was by turns sweetly romantic and edge-of-your-seat suspenseful, while overall, being intriguing and engaging. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would, and would recommend Angel Tears to fans of young adult suspense, featuring star-crossed lovers and a supernatural twist.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author's publicist in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Zayed's Gift is an erotic romance novella with just a touch of the paranormal in the form of a ghost who is looking out for th...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Zayed's Gift is an erotic romance novella with just a touch of the paranormal in the form of a ghost who is looking out for the hero and helping him find his soul mate. The ghost is that of Zayed, the old Marsh Arab, who died helping Brian and another prisoner escape from an Iraqi POW camp in the novella, Entrapped. As he lay dying, Zayed gave Brian a necklace with special powers that will help the wearer discern when he has found his soul mate.
Brian is a broken, tortured soul. After his fighter jet was shot down over Iraq during the first Gulf War, he spent eleven years as a POW there. Memories of his wife were all that kept him going, until he finally escaped. He was looking forward to getting back to his old life, only to find out his old life no longer existed. Brian was declared dead and his wife moved on with another man and now has a family. Brian is contemplating suicide when Zayed's ghost appears to him, giving him hope that there is someone else out there for him. He heads back to the Middle East to work in the oilfields of Kuwait, where he meets Alina, and begins a passionate affair. For an ex-military guy, Brian is a very sweet hero who kind of leans toward the beta side, in my opinion. Due to his extremely conservative Christian upbringing, he has some hang-ups about sex and is also rather inexperienced. He never slept with anyone but his wife, and she was even more prudish than he was. This resulted in their marriage not being nearly as fulfilling as he would have liked from a sexual perspective. Alina is the one who pretty much takes charge in their relationship, and Brian places himself under her tutelage much like a virgin hero would. He does have fantasies though, and Alina fulfills every one of them plus some he didn't even know he had.
For a Middle Eastern princess, Alina is very independent and progressive-thinking. She's a doctor who earned her degree in the States, where she got away from her own conservative roots. While she was in college she had an American lover who refused to marry her and go back to Kuwait with her. Since then, she hasn't been able to find anyone who stirs her passion in the same way, and after having a taste of freedom, she has no desire to put herself under the thumb of a sheikh who believes in the old-school ways. When Brian arrives, she thinks she's found the perfect man for her and is determined to seduce the straight-laced guy, no matter what it takes.
Overall, I liked these two characters. Brian is definitely my kind of guy, and while Alina was perhaps a tad too forward for my taste, I'll admit that with Brian's shyness, her seductive skills were what was needed to get the job done, so to speak. These two share lots of steamy sexual encounters, hence the erotic designation, but aside from the mention of some sex toys and slightly more explicit language, the love scenes were on par with most steamy mainstream romances, nothing I'd call kinky. I perhaps would have wished for a little longer story to provide more insights into these two great characters before they burned up the sheets and made their declarations of love, but the author created just enough of an emotional connection between them to believe in their HEA.
Zayed's Gift brought together all of the previous heroes and heroines I've read about so far in the Black Gold series. Jake and Kate (Firestorm) had brief roles, with Jake and his company being Brian's employer. They also attended Brian and Alina's wedding, during which Kate gives birth to their first child. Jamil and Leila (Entrapped) are present in the background but don't have any actual scenes. Alina is the sister of Dahoud aka “Bear.” I'm now convinced that he and Shana (Love Slave, Forever Enslaved) must be Ann Jacobs' favorite couple (I can't blame her; I love them too), because they've gotten their own love scene in every story of the series so far. It was great to see them still so madly in love and passionate for each other thirteen years after their first story and about to have their fourth child.
Overall, Zayed's Gift was an enjoyable read, and a nice way to finish the Black Gold series. I ended up reading this series completely out of order, because at the time I started it, there wasn't any good information on the correct order. Ellora's Cave now has them ordered, and it appears this is the last book of the series, not the fifth as I had originally assumed. At least, I can say there were no spoilers in this one for the two books I haven't read yet. For the most part, I've liked this series so far, and I look forward to reading the two books I missed soon. Zayed's Gift can be purchased as a separate e-book and can also be found in the print anthology Mystic Visions.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" As always, it was a pleasure to be back in Virgin River, visiting with all my favorite characters in my favorite l...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" As always, it was a pleasure to be back in Virgin River, visiting with all my favorite characters in my favorite little town. Since Robyn Carr wrapped up most of the loose ends in the last book, Forbidden Falls was almost like starting over. All the main characters from past books were here in the background, but she brought some new characters to town and beefed up the roles of a couple of existing characters, while leaving more focus on the main hero and heroine than she usually does. The story was a tad less compelling than some of the previous books of the series, but no less enjoyable.
Noah is a Presbyterian minister who decided to buy the old Virgin River church when Hope McCrea put it up for sale on eBay. He definitely has his work cut out for him and immediately gets busy refurbishing it. Noah is the first main hero of this series who hasn't been a current or former member of the military, but he's still a lot like the other guys in Virgin River and fits right in. In my opinion, he leans toward being a beta hero, sweet, kind-hearted and gentle with just a dash of alpha protectiveness when it comes to Ellie and her kids. He totally had me the instant he picked up Lucy, an injured, half-dead dog from the side of the road and paid the outrageous vet bills to help her recover. Noah is a man who truly knows what it means to be a minister and not just a preacher. He may carry his Bible around, but he never beats anyone over the head with it. He's not afraid to go into the trenches and get dirty, so to speak. I love the way he truly wants to help people and show them God's love through his actions, not just giving them a sermon and saying good luck. The work he did with the transients in the area, visiting a lonely man in the nursing home and other people in the hospital, and generally helping out all around was wonderful, just the kind of guy I'd love to have as a minister. Noah is a really laid back kind of guy who isn't prone to being judgmental. He may have briefly hesitated in hiring Ellie as his assistant, but once he made the decision he never looked back. He wasn't overly worried what the townspeople would think if they found out she was a former stripper, and he never admonished Ellie for anything she did, past or present, even when she says bad words in church. I also love how he's always looking out for Ellie and her kids in a sweetly protective way, and the man definitely has a way with words when it comes to expressing his love and passion for her.
Ellie has been through a lot in her short twenty-five years, but somehow, she's still managed to keep a positive attitude and always look on the bright side of things. Initially, she comes off as something of a bimbo, especially when we learn that she used to work as an exotic dancer, but it quickly becomes apparent that there's more to her than meets the eye. She's a devoted mother, who only lost her kids due to the machinations and ill-will of others, and is prepared to do anything to get them back. Even though her own life is something of a mess, Ellie is great at counseling others, because her grandmother gave her a solid upbringing along with imparting all her words of wisdom. Ellie is a huge bundle of energy, and isn't afraid of hard work. I can only wish that I were as fast at housework as she is.:-) She breezed through cleaning and painting the church, and was always ready to lend a helping hand anywhere it was needed. I love how she helped Vanni in her hour of need and made a huge difference in her and Paul's lives. In my opinion, she had all the qualities a good pastor's wife should have.
I love how Noah and Ellie built a deep friendship before anything else happened between them, but I didn't feel like the transition from their friends relationship to becoming lovers was quite as smooth and seamless as it could have been. I think that some of the moments that were intended to build romance felt more like friendship, so when they suddenly became lovers, expressing all these strong feelings for one another, it seemed like things sped up a tad too quickly. Still, by the end, I was definitely sensing the romantic connection between them and was convinced that they were perfect for each other.
As I mentioned before, pretty much all the previous main characters put in an appearance. Paul and Vanni were the ones who had the meatiest secondary roles, as they deal with having a bombshell dropped on them when Paul's ex-girlfriend, Terri, unexpectedly passes away. I like how they were able to weather through this crisis and come out on top, keeping their marriage intact, even though it was primarily Vanni who had the most adjusting to do. Ms. Carr also brings back long-time, Virgin River residents, Jo and Nick Fitch, who I don't believe we've seen since the first book of the series when Nick made a pass at Mel and got his butt kicked. We get to learn why Nick behaves the way he does, and what happened to cause the rift in their marriage. They end up becoming surrogate parents/grandparents for Ellie and her kids, while Ellie helps them rebuild their marriage and reconnect in their love for one another. We also get to meet Noah's friend, George, an older, retired minister who I really liked. I hope he'll be visiting Virgin River often. Last, but certainly not least, we finally get to witness the wedding of Luke and Shelby, attended by the entire Riordan and McIntyre clans.
Overall, Forbidden Falls was an enjoyable read. It would be darn near impossible not to like one of these books. However, for some reason, I didn't find it to be un-put-down-able. I simply didn't have that, “Aww, do I really have to stop” feeling when it was time to put it down, nor that burning need to pick it back up again. I also felt like it was a bit less polished than some of the other books in the series. I detected some mild repetition that could have been tightened up. These two things almost made me give the book four stars, although it would have been a very solid four stars. There wasn't anything wrong with it per se. I loved the characters, and the story was good. It just didn't quite move me as much as some of the other books in the series have, but then Robyn Carr managed to make me teary-eyed, not once, but twice, during the final pages, which I thought warranted the extra half-star after all. Bravo, Ms. Carr for grabbing me in the end, and for writing another lovely story in the Virgin River series.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Since I hadn't heard much about Susan Squire's Companion series, I started out by reading The Gift, one of the short stories f...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Since I hadn't heard much about Susan Squire's Companion series, I started out by reading The Gift, one of the short stories from an anthology, out of order. I enjoyed it very much, so I decided to start from the beginning. Between The Gift and now The Companion, I am very impressed with this new-to-me series. Not only is this my first historical vampire series, it also has some unique mythology and other elements. I loved the exotic North African settings, primarily the Sahara Desert and Atlas Mountain range in Algeria. I've never read any other romances set in this area, so it was a nice change of pace. The mythology was also a bit different than most vampire stories I've read, and it was fun to go back and learn how this race of vampires came to be. While the vampires in this series do exhibit many of the stereotypical characteristics of vampires (eg. super-strength, rapid healing, sensitivity to sunlight, compulsion, etc.), the way in which they are made and their origins are a little more unusual. A human cannot be changed when bitten. Instead, they must ingest the blood of a vampire to become one. Even then, they are essentially still human, but “infected” with the companion, a parasite-like creature, which lives symbiotically in their blood and upon which they can call to increase their powers. The companion came from an ancient race of beings who resemble aliens. All in all a very intriguing backstory.
I also enjoyed the fact that the vampire hero doesn't really know what he is. Ian spent two years as a slave to Asharti, an evil vampire queen. Ian knew that she drank human blood, compelled victims and such, but he never put a name to what kind of creature she was. Therefore, when he was accidentally turned by Asharti, he thought that perhaps he had been given a disease for which he could find a cure. Asharti abandoned him in the middle of the desert, and if it hadn't been for her servant, Fedeyah's kindness, Ian would have died. With Asharti being the only example of a vampire Ian knew, he despised what he had become and whole-heartedly did not want to be whatever that was. He spends a large part of the story looking for that elusive cure, while learning how to use his powers through trial and error, until he meets another vampire toward the end of the story who mentors him.
Ian is one of the most deeply tortured romance heroes I've ever read (we're talking shades of the Black Dagger Brotherhood here). On his way to North Africa to serve in the diplomatic corps, his ship was set upon by pirates. He and the other survivors were sold into slavery. During his two years as Asharti's slave, he was beaten, tortured, and repeatedly raped via compulsion in ways that were particularly cruel and sadistic, and he bears numerous scars because of it. His flashbacks to this time are heartbreaking and definitely not for the faint of heart. Between what this evil woman put him through and most of the women he knew back in England being shallow and manipulative, he doesn't really trust women at all anymore, but in Beth, he sees someone different. He is attracted to her genuineness, but it still takes a long time for him to learn to trust her. I thought his confusion over this was very beautifully rendered. Ian is also incredibly sympathetic, because he hates being a vampire. He tried to commit suicide multiple times and feels extreme guilt and shame every time he has to feed from a human to survive. I thought it was very sweet that he always compelled them to forget what he'd done and gave them happy memories afterward. I also loved the way he took tender care of Beth after accidentally feeding from her. Ian is a true gentleman in every sense of the word, even though he believes himself to be a monster. I thought this just served to highlight his humanity, which is something that Asharti wasn't able to take from him despite her cruelty. When Ian tells Beth of his ordeal, I could feel how agonizing it was for him to relive it and how ashamed he felt to tell another person about the things that happened to him. Of course, he only goes so far, sparing Beth some of the more gory details, but it was still an intense moment. Ian is now one of my all-time favorite heroes. I just wanted to wrap him up in my arms and give him lots of love like Beth did.
Elizabeth is a wonderful heroine. She is a very unusual woman for her time, something of a bluestocking I'd say. She's described as being a tiny slip of a woman, who is very short, plain of face, and has her Egyptian mother's coloring. North Africa is where she feels most at home, but the people there consider her too white, and the people in England consider her too brown. As a result, she doesn't fit well in either world. On top of that, she is essentially a scientist who spent most of her life on archaeological expeditions with her eccentric father. Beth has an adventurous spirit and a practical, organized nature. She is also incredibly intelligent and not afraid to show it. She doesn't want to marry anyone without love and most definitely desires a partner who will respect her brilliant mind and treat her as his equal. When Beth witnesses Ian's rapid healing she experienced a moment of fear of the unknown, but quickly recovered and started thinking about it logically and scientifically. He scared her more deeply when he drank her blood, but she was open-minded enough to listen to his side of the story and forgiving and kind-hearted enough to want to comfort him even though she knew he wouldn't take kindly to it at that point in their relationship. Overall, she was very intuitive of his needs throughout the story, and after she'd heard him out and knew what he was facing, she wanted nothing more than to help him in any way that she could. Beth turned out to be a brave and wonderful match for Ian.
Ian and Beth are like two peas in a pod. They're both very unusual people who don't quite feel like they have a place to belong in the world. They begin their relationship by bonding over a shared love of books (Gotta love a man who reads Jane Austen.:-)) and chess. When Ian unintentionally feeds off Beth, it's an exquisitely sensual experience for both of them. Between this and the sexual tension created by each of them seeing the other in a state of undress when trying to be of assistance after injuries, they start to develop a deeper attraction, but it still takes time for them to realize the extent of those feelings. In the meantime, the author builds a beautiful friendship between them which believably blossoms into love. When Ian finally proposes, he offers a marriage in name only, not wanting to “force” his “monstrous” self on her. I thought it was really cute the way Beth went about letting him know she'd like more on their wedding night, and the ensuing love scene was sweetly sensual, even though Ian had difficulties due to his experience with Asharti. As a result, there isn't a full consummation until the final pages, but all the character and relationship development in between and the tender, loving nature of the scene made it worth the wait.
I liked very much that the focus remained on Ian and Beth throughout the story, but there are a few key secondary players introduced. Beatrix Lisse is a centuries old vampire who becomes Ian's mentor late in the story. Aside from Beth, she is the primary person who helps him believe that being a vampire doesn't mean he's evil. She becomes the heroine of the next book of the series, The Hunger. Major Vernon Davis “Davie” Ware found Ian half-dead after he escaped his enslavement to Asharti and kept him at the military outpost where he was stationed. He knows to some extent what Ian is, and although he's rather wary, he does give Ian a chance. We find out later in the story that Davie also had an encounter with Asharti when he brings Ian a message from her and tries to get him to go back to Africa and fight her. The only person to really befriend Beth when she returns to England is Emma Fairfield who also stands up for Beth at her wedding. Davie and Emma become the hero and heroine of The Gift, the novella I previously read and enjoyed.
I have to admit to being a bit baffled by the so-so, GoodReads ratings for this book and some of the others in the Companion series. I totally fell in love with Ian and think he rivaled some of the best tortured heroes the romance genre has to offer. I adored Beth. She reminded me a lot of myself, and I would love to be her. The story offered a lot of intriguing, unique elements for the paranormal sub-genre that entranced and enticed me as a reader. The only possible detractor I came up with is that Susan Squires' writing style is rather narrative-heavy at times with lots of descriptive prose and introspection, which might not be for everyone. However, it didn't really bother me, as I like to get inside the heads of the characters and know what's going on around them. She also writes with some authentic period vernacular which might confuse some readers, but again, I thought it added to the sense of time and place and gave it flavor. For me, The Companion was a thoroughly engaging story that I was sad to see come to an end. Susan Squires has acquired a new fan, and I'm greatly looking forward to continuing with this enthralling new series.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews I've been saying for a while now that I need a Dark-Hunter encyclopedia to keep track of all the characters and mythology of t...moreReviewed for THC Reviews I've been saying for a while now that I need a Dark-Hunter encyclopedia to keep track of all the characters and mythology of the series, and here it is. The Dark-Hunter Companion is written in an entertaining way with the narrator assuming that the reader has just been turned into a Dark-Hunter, and this is the handbook to their job. Each section begins with a full-page black and white illustration done in the manga style. I'm not sure which characters some of them represented, but they were still very nice additions to the book. I've always thought this series was a little too complex, and the sheer number of characters who are listed in the directory portions and the fact that I don't even remember some of them only solidified my opinion. In some ways, the mythology is a little clearer for having read this book. However, the "rules" that are laid out for each species make the world seem a bit more static than it actually is. In the novels, it seems like “rules” are meant to be broken, so the mythology is an ever-changing, constantly evolving thing that often frustrates me. In that respect, this book did little to help me make sense of it all, but overall I did enjoy it.
The first section of the book, 'So You're a Dark-Hunter...', is a primer of sorts on the Dark-Hunters: how they are made, what is expected of them in their job, what they can and cannot do, etc. There are also two glossaries of terms, one for powers and one for weapons, but much like with the laundry lists of characters, I honestly can't remember even half of these things being mentioned in the books. The second section, 'Dark-Hunter Directory,' is exactly what it sounds like, a directory of all the Dark-Hunters, both primary and secondary characters, who have ever been in any books up to the point that this one was written. Me barely remembering some of the lesser characters, if at all, in my opinion, just goes to show what a broad brush Sherrilyn Kenyon uses to paint these stories. For those characters who do turn up again from time to time, I think it will help me to recall them better.
The next six sections cover all the other “species” or sub-groups within the Dark-Hunter world, including Were-Hunters, Dream-Hunters, Squires, Daimons and Appolites, Gods, Goddesses and Demons, and last, but certainly not least, Humans. Each section begins with a detailed discussion of the mythology surrounding each group, followed by a directory of characters and terms specific to each group. I particularly enjoyed the menus for each of the Were-Hunter safe houses: Peletier House, Dante's Inferno, and The Seregenti Club. I'm not sure I'd ever read the entire Squire's Oath, so that was a nice addition too. Admittedly though, the directories could be slightly dry when reading them straight through word for word like I was doing, as it really is much like reading an encyclopedia. These sections are probably better suited for reference when you want to know more about a particular character or some unfamiliar word.
Next up is a short history of Atlantis and the legends surrounding it, as well as a brief dictionary of Atlantean words and phrases that are commonly used in the series. Then there is a section on Greek culture. The sub-sections on Greek superstitions and sayings were particularly interesting. It also contains a dictionary of the Greek alphabet, numbers, and common words, and then wraps up with some tasty-sounding Greek recipes. Sandwiched in between these two sections is the 'Hidden Chapter.' You won't find it in the table of contents, and it's all about Acheron. Since Ash is my very favorite Dark-Hunter character, this section gave me a little sigh of satisfaction and left me even more eager to get to his book. Only one more left to go.:-) I just hope it lives up to the hype for me.
There is also a section on New Orleans which details several points of interest and fun facts about the city. This would definitely come in handy if I ever get a chance to visit. Much like the Greek section, this one wraps up with a Cajun dictionary and a few Cajun recipes. Next is an interview with Sherrilyn Kenyon which I found to be insightful, followed by two fun interviews with Acheron and Simi. After that is a short Dark-Hunter parody called 'Widget Bone's Diary' which was pretty funny. It is followed by the Dark-Hunter short story, Second Chances which I had already previously read and have reviewed separately below. The final section contains a synopsis for Saving Grace, which was later retitled Fantasy Lover, and four deleted scenes from Night Embrace and Seize the Night. Reading the synopsis, it was interesting to see how the book changed from the original concept to publication. The excerpts were all quite good. In some ways, I wish they had been left in their respective books, because they provided more information about, and development of, certain characters. The book wraps up with a handy reading order for the series and a list of all the official series websites, although it looks like most of them simply redirect to various sections of Sherrilyn Kenyon's official website.
The Dark-Hunter Companion is a pretty comprehensive guide to the series, at least up to the point it was written. The only things I thought might have been nice to include would have been family trees for some of the extensive families who have several members, and perhaps a time-line of births, deaths and important events in the Dark-Hunter world. Readers should be warned that if they haven't read all the novels and short stories that were published prior to this book, there are many spoilers contained within its pages. So, unfortunately, it will be of little help to anyone who is just starting the series, unless they don't mind having major plot points revealed. Overall, The Dark-Hunter Companion is a nice reference that will probably come in quite handy in the future if I'm having trouble remembering who a particular character is or what a certain word means.
Second Chances - Second Chances is a very brief little story about Dark-Hunter leader, Acheron, and his "brother," Styxx, which gave even more fascinating insights into this intriguing and complex character. Once again, Ash shows his deep capacity for caring about others even when they've wronged him. All throughout my reading of this novella, I couldn't help wanting to know more about Ash's past and all that has happened in the long centuries of his life. He is certainly a character who draws me in every time I read about him, a feat very few have accomplished, which leaves me absolutely dying to get to his book, but alas, I still have a long way to go (at the time I originally wrote this ;-)) in the Dark-Hunter series to get there. Second Chances was originally published as an exclusive collector's booklet that was given away with Unleash the Night. It can also be found in it's entirety within the pages of The Dark-Hunter Companion and Acheron, as well as be read for free on Sherrilyn Kenyon's website. Star Rating: 4.5(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Wild and Willing begins with the entertaining fantasy scenario of the helpless maiden being “kidnapped” by a dashing pirate an...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Wild and Willing begins with the entertaining fantasy scenario of the helpless maiden being “kidnapped” by a dashing pirate and carried off to his lair. Of course, it's all played for fun as part of a local pirate festival in Tampa (the festival as it turns out is real, but it looks like the “kidnapping” was all in the author's imagination) and the maiden was more than willing. Unfortunately, this was about as exciting as the book got. The insta-lust between the hero and heroine which later turned to love and marriage just didn't really grab me, so Wild and Willing ended up being a rather lackluster read.
Overall, Seth was a pretty likable hero. Because of his dad's infidelity and playboy ways, he considers himself to be more of a relationship kind of guy who doesn't really sleep around, but he has had five live-in loves, all of whom left him, citing a laundry list of his faults. He's a successful businessman and a bit of a workaholic. Seth agreed to play a pirate in the festival, because the bank he owns is a sponsor and he thinks it will be great PR. However, he had no intention of “kidnapping” an attractive woman who might tempt him until one literally throws herself into his arms, leaving him little choice in the matter. I liked that he was an honorable guy who refused to have sex with Mia when they'd barely met, in spite of her doing everything in her power to try to seduce him, although he did give in within a few days time. I also enjoyed the fact that he was the one doing the dogged pursuing of her, but there were times when she was being so stubborn, I really wasn't sure why he was being so persistent. She seemed to be giving him so little in return, it didn't feel like it was worth the hassle, but ultimately Seth wanted more than a one night stand or a brief fling. He wanted to take care of Mia and help her, which is something I could totally get behind.
When the story opened, I liked Mia. She seemed to be a responsible young woman who takes care of her grandparents and has helped out with the Beachcomber, their tourist gift shop, for most of her life. She also fears turning into her wild, rebellious mother, so for the most part, she doesn't take chances. Desiring a little adventure, she takes a rare weekend for herself to go attend the festival and places herself right in the path of an unsuspecting, handsome “pirate,” hoping to be carried off and “ravished” before having to settle in and figure out how to save the family business from foreclosure. I understood Mia wanting to have a little fun before dealing with something so serious, but I had mixed feelings about how forward she was with Seth, a man she'd barely met. I thought it kind of made her seem like a woman with loose morals even though that obviously wasn't supposed to be the case. I also feel like Mia's reasons for not wanting a relationship were kind of weak. She did have a lot on her plate, but she was connecting with Seth. He cared enough about her to be willing to work with her on the relationship stuff and also wanted to help her out to lighten the load, so I didn't see why she wouldn't want to give it a chance. I'm all for a strong, independent woman, but some of Mia's decisions regarding the Beachcomber seemed to be based on knee-jerk, emotional reactions rather than sound business judgment. The shop was about to be foreclosed on and sold out from underneath them, but she flatly refused her mom's money, because the woman hadn't been there for her most of her life. Then she gets royally ticked off when Seth rearranges the loan with the bank to take the pressure off. Her excuse was that Seth should have asked her first, and perhaps he should have, but it's not like she had many other options. She was also being so stubborn about the whole thing, I'm not sure she would have listened anyway. I did like the bits about Mia's artistic side and her trying to realize her dream of becoming a profitable artist, and I didn't exactly dislike her as a character, but some of her choices just didn't make a lot of sense to me.
Normally, even if the story isn't quite grabbing me, I can count on a Blaze novel to deliver some scorching heat, but even that fizzled for me. The author throws Seth and Mia together without building any emotional connection between them first. During the “kidnapping,” she had Mia orgasming from a mere kiss, which I thought was a bit over the top. It was supposedly due to the passionate nature of the kiss combined with the rocking motion of the boat, but I still had a hard time buying that one. Then later, she created some great scenarios that were ripe for deeply sensual encounters but then, in my opinion, dropped the ball. The love scene with the paint could have been so much better if it had been drawn out longer like I thought it was going to be. As is though, there wasn't nearly as many steamy details as I typically expect from a Blaze novel, and without that all-important emotion connection, they, for the most part, fell rather flat.
The secondary romance between Mia's mom, Noelle, and Seth's uncle, Brock was pretty much on par with Seth and Mia's romance. It begins with nothing but a serious case of lust, and then progresses rather quickly to the love stage. Normally, I'm all for supporting players getting some romance too, but in this case, I felt like it didn't add a whole lot to the story and instead, took up valuable page time, during which the author could have been building more character development and romance for Seth and Mia. There were some intriguing aspects to their characters, such as each of their respective fears of becoming like their wild parents, which I thought would have made them fuller and richer, if they'd only been fleshed out a little more. I believe dispensing with the secondary romance could have accomplished that. Noelle and Brock were interesting enough that they could have even been given their own book.
There were some good ingredients here that could have made Wild and Willing a very enjoyable read, but the main thing it was missing was the emotional connection, both between the hero and heroine and between the characters and the reader. There were occasional tidbits of feelings and body language, but not nearly as much as there should have been. If Joanne Rock had cut down on the lust and taken the time to build more romance between the characters, I think I would have really like the book, but as is, I often felt like any emotion was being told to me rather than shown.
Wild and Willing is the first in the Chandler Brothers duet. Seth's brother, Jesse puts in an appearance, during which he tells Seth about how his best friend posed as a female pirate during the festival to “kidnap” him. This becomes the basis for his book, Wild and Wicked. Friends to lovers stories are some of my favorites, so even though Wild and Willing was a so-so read for me, I might have to give Jesse's book a try to see if the author can do a better job with the emotional connection when the characters begin the story with an established relationship. (less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" Hmmm... where to begin? I guess I'll start my review of Hot Coco by saying that I'm not really sure what genre it'...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" Hmmm... where to begin? I guess I'll start my review of Hot Coco by saying that I'm not really sure what genre it's supposed to be. Some readers and book websites seem to have it categorized as Contemporary Romance, but it really isn't. While there's lots of lusting and relationship turmoils, the story doesn't focus on one main couple, following them through to their HEA. In fact, none of the characters who are pursuing relationships even get an HEA. By the end, the few couples who do end up together have more of an HFN vibe. Even though this book is definitely targeted more to a female audience, there's too much comedy for it to be a true women's fiction book, and yet it also isn't really chick lit either because of the lack of a single female character's perspective. So, what is Hot Coco? Well, to me it contained enough lust and drama to rival any soap opera, but at the same time, it has enough over-the-top slapstick moments to rival any romantic comedy. In the end, I decided it reminded me of Desperate Housewives in book form, except that instead of being set in American suburbia, it all takes place in the wonderful world of horse racing.
Based on the cover blurb, I got the mistaken impression that the story was going to be primarily about horse trainer, Mike West, and horse owner, Coco Beardmore, but these two characters ended up being just two players in a huge ensemble cast. To start, there is the West family: dad, Eric, sons, Mike and Shane, and daughter, Kate, who are owners of Westwood Farms, a horse training operation. Eric is a widower. He and Mike, who was the oldest and already grown when his mom died, raised the two younger sibling alone. Eric is thinking about getting back into the dating pool and is interested in Jen Fleming, the pretty nurse who runs medical services at the racetrack, Keystone Downs. Jen is equally interested in him if not more so. Eric was one of my favorite characters. I viewed him as an attractive middle-aged man who was very much a gentleman with a caring side. I loved how he patiently taught Margie how to read and write. Oldest son, Mike, divorced his ex-wife after she cheated on him, but he hasn't entirely gotten her out of his system. Still, that doesn't stop him from going after the sexy Coco when she brings her horses to his stable. Shane, the youngest, is a bit of a youthful player, while middle child and vet assistant, Kate, appears to be a good girl with a crush on local police detective, Carl Lugowski. I believe these two met in the first book of the series, Deadly.com (I don't know much about that though, since I haven't read it yet.), and will become more involved in the next book of the series, Dangerous Deception.
On the opposite side of the tracks, there are the O'Conners, who are essentially classic caricatures of hillbillies. Dad, Doug, is a crusty old codger, who views Eric as something of an enemy, although why that is, I'm not entirely sure. Doug's wife left him years ago, so he raised his daughter, Margie, alone. In a subconscious effort to keep Margie with him, he keeps a pretty tight reign on her life. As a result, she's illiterate and still unattached at 33. She spends her days taking care of their rundown shack of a house, and mucking out stalls at the stables. She's an excellent cook though, and a bit of a dreamer, who loves looking at her mom's old romance novels even if she can't read them. Margie was my other favorite character, probably because she's the underdog and because she grows and changes the most throughout the story. The only thing I didn't really like much was the way many of the other characters treated her because of her looks. I fully understood the first time the author described Margie that she wasn't particularly attractive, but to have several other characters, including Mike, Shane, Mike's ex, Ava, and others continually going on about how ugly Margie was seemed a little mean-spirited and over the top. The one person who truly seems to appreciate Margie is the O'Conner's stable hand, Scott, but then he went and did something outrageously stupid in an attempt to keep her. For a guy who was supposedly quite intelligent and simply stuck in his job due to generational poverty, his actions made no sense whatsoever and turned a nice, sweet character into a bit of a jerk, which was somewhat disappointing.
Last, but certainly not least, is Coco Beardmore, who epitomizes the phrase, “ditzy blonde.” She's rather short on brains and her father is a wealthy tycoon, which makes her something of a Paris Hilton wannabe. Coco appears to have a thing for older men, having already been married to one who was old enough to be her father. She's also accident prone in the extreme. She should have a hazard sign tied around her neck, because everywhere she goes and everything she does, she leaves complete disaster in her wake. However, we do eventually find out that perhaps some of her klutziness is tied to self-esteem issues, because when she finds the right man, who adores her crazy antics, she seems to calm down. Coco's horses are every bit as wacky as she is. One is a peppermint addict and mischievous escape artist who unlatches his stall every night and releases his buddies too. Then they proceed to “party” by trashing the barn and grounds. Another one sits down in the starting gate and refuses to race. All these guys were definitely good for some laughs.
There are several other characters too, but in general, we don't get to know any of the characters, main or otherwise, particularly well due to there not being any deep POV. The book is written in rapid-fire POV changes that were sometime difficult to follow. Occasionally, I couldn't figure out who was thinking or saying certain things, even after re-reading the passage. Every single character gets their own perspective, so it typically shifts every few paragraphs. I was also somewhat disappointed with the lust-crazed nature of several characters. Even when they were dating one person, they usually couldn't get another one out of their mind, so during the brief moments of introspection, it often seemed like the only thing they thought about was sex. Although I should point out that it was all thinking and no doing, as there were no explicit love scenes to speak of. The technical aspects of the writing could have been a bit better too. I found several typos and incorrect or awkward word choices, just enough to be a bit distracting.
On the upside, the author definitely knows the horse world, and really brought this aspect of the story to life. While I don't know much about horse racing, it has always seemed to me that there are some rather eccentric people in that world, so the bizarre, quirky characters of Hot Coco seemed tailor made for the setting. I also can't deny that this was a fast-paced, entertaining story, which aside from the POV issues, was an easy read. Anyone who has a taste for outlandish soap operas in book form should enjoy this one.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author's publicist in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Tears for Nanertak is a wonderful picture book that teaches kids about the effects of global warming on the polar ice caps. Th...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Tears for Nanertak is a wonderful picture book that teaches kids about the effects of global warming on the polar ice caps. The main character, Nanertak, is a polar bear cub. She and her mother Nanuck are loosing their home due to the melting ice. I really liked the author's repetition of the words, “drip..., drip..., drip...” throughout the story. They are always used in reference to the tears of the animals, land and people, but they also created a word picture which ingeniously invoked the feeling of melting ice. The author also empowers children with the knowledge that they are our future, and they too can do things to help slow the effects of global warming.
The illustrations are lovely. The author is also a professional water color artist who painted each of the pictures. Some of them can be purchased as art prints from his global warming series. Mr. Hofstrand adds an extra dimension to his work known as “numenistic integration” in which the water used in the paintings is collected from the area that is being painted. In this case, the water was collected from the runoff of the melting Greenland Ice Cap. Perhaps it was this method, or this combined with the author's style and color choices, but I felt the illustrations perfectly evoked the chilly landscape of the Arctic.
Overall, Tears for Nanertak was a beautiful book that I would highly recommend to anyone wanting to teach younger children about global warming and inspire them to get involved in conservation efforts. Part of the proceeds from the sale of each book are being donated to an educational organization which does just that, so to my way of thinking it's a win-win for everyone.
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 Restoration of Faith is a short prequel novella in the Dresden Files series. It's only about the length of a chapter and tells...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Restoration of Faith is a short prequel novella in the Dresden Files series. It's only about the length of a chapter and tells the story of a case Harry worked before becoming a full-fledged private investigator. At the time he and his partner, Nick, ran Ragged Angel Investigations, an agency that searched for missing children. This was an aspect of the story that I really enjoyed, and I thought Harry was very good with the girl he rescued. He seemed to have a kind, gentle side that I hope to see more of in the full-length novels of the series. There wasn't much in the way of magic in this novella, so I'm not sure precisely how Harry's powers work. The battle with the troll was fun, but Harry defeated him using his wits more than anything else. I'm not certain whether he hadn't come into his full powers yet or if his powers simply have limits, but I'm definitely interested in finding out more about this intriguing character. I also don't know if any of the secondary characters in this short story show up again in future books, but I wouldn't mind seeing more of them if they did. Restoration of Faith was my first read by Jim Butcher. It may have been brief, but it gave me enough of a taste of his writing style to know that I like it and look forward to reading more. Restoration of Faith can be read for free on Jim Butcher's website and is also available in print as part of the anthology Side Jobs.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Straight Cowboy is a M/M romance novella and the first story in Jan Irving's Uncommon Cowboys series which appears to be an un...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Straight Cowboy is a M/M romance novella and the first story in Jan Irving's Uncommon Cowboys series which appears to be an unusual mix of contemporary and paranormal romances. Straight Cowboy is a contemporary about two young men who are on a trail ride in search of a band of wild horses. City boy Matt is hoping to do a little first hand research and photograph the horses for a book he's writing. Josh is a cowboy, working for the trail riding outfit Matt hired to lead him into the wilderness. Josh is also on a personal journey to accepting who he truly is. He's always considered himself straight, but in need of some quick cash, had participated in the production of a gay porn film the previous year. When he starts having lustful feelings toward his guest, Josh is confused, so him finally accepting that he's gay is a gradual process throughout the entire story.
I admired Josh for his commitment to his family. He seemed to be the sole provider for an elderly grandmother and a half-brother who he had only recently found out about, because the boy had been in foster care. I would have loved to have seen some actual interactions with his family, but I got enough hints from the narrative to know that he was an upstanding young man who cared about them very much. Matt is a well-adjusted gay man from an affluent and accepting family, and as such, we don't learn as much about him as an individual. I did like that he had an awestruck appreciation for the wild horses and that he didn't seem to mind being out in the wilderness. Having seen the porn film Josh was in, Matt doesn't understand at first why he's fighting their attraction, but once he figures it out, Matt becomes more patient with Josh. Overall, I thought they were a well matched couple whose love scenes are frequent and ultra-steamy. However, even though they didn't overtly declare their love, they were both thinking that they were falling in love and entertaining the idea of a longer-term commitment once the trail ride was over, which was perhaps a tad too quick to be entirely believable.
Straight Cowboy had a few other minor issues. First, I thought it stretched the bounds of credibility a little to have Matt recognize Josh from the porn movie since he'd only been filmed from behind. I realize that Matt had watched the movie numerous times and had been lusting after the “straight cowboy” for quite a while, but despite that, I honestly don't know how he could have known the two men were one and the same when he had only seen Josh's back. I think this would have been a lot more believable if Josh had some sort of distinctive mark like a birthmark or tattoo or at the very least something unique about his physiology. The editing also could have been a bit better as the author occasionally uses some awkward wording that doesn't always flow well. Lastly, the majority of the story is told in relatively small snippets with the scenes changing pretty frequently, leaving me feeling like there were gaps in the narrative. I would have loved to read a longer story about these two men with more of those breaks filled in and more getting-to-know-you and romantic moments to make their growing love more plausible. However, despite it's weaknesses, I can't deny that it was an appealing story. I liked both heroes, especially Josh, because he embodies a sweet honesty in his struggles. Straight Cowboy was my first read by Jan Irving, but it has definitely left me open to trying more of her work and continuing with this series. Straight Cowboy can be purchased as a stand-alone e-book novella and in print as part of the multi-author anthology, Saddle Up 'N Ride or the single author anthology, Uncommon Cowboys: Vol 1.
Note: This book contains scenes of explicit sensuality between two men which may offend some readers.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews I met author, Kristine Cheney at an event earlier this year, and based on her description of her books alone, I ended up buyin...moreReviewed for THC Reviews I met author, Kristine Cheney at an event earlier this year, and based on her description of her books alone, I ended up buying two of them. Secret Santa is the first one I've read, and I'm sorry to say that I wasn't overly impressed. The story is a very sweet one, and the premise is something I would typically enjoy. It also contained several of my favorite romance themes. Ms. Cheney, herself, seemed like a very nice lady too, so I really wanted to like her book and thought I would. Unfortunately, none of these things could fully rescue this story from the author's extensive over-writing that was badly in need of an editor. Her overuse of adjectives and adverbs, her tendency to spend paragraphs describing each and every setting and each and every character, even the bit players, as well as her use of some truly eye-roll inducing purple prose bogged down what could have been a fabulous read.
The main saving grace of the novella is that the hero and heroine are both likable and relatable characters. Holly is a sweet, young woman who loves participating in the town's Secret Santa program every year. It brings her great joy to give gifts to those in need. Being estranged from her own family, she really has no one on whom to depend except her best friend, Jilly. Only a few close acquaintances even know that Holly is very ill and desperately in need of a Christmas miracle herself, but that doesn't stop her from her holiday mission of delivering twelve gifts to a handsome stranger whose disposition resembles Ebeneezer Scrooge. During the previous year, Marcus suffered a devastating loss which caused him to withdraw from everyone. He also has no family, which is part of why he's on the Secret Santa list, but he's none too happy when Holly begins stalking him with gifts. Still, he's attracted to her and deep down is obviously a caring man. Once he finds out about Holly's plight, he's prepared to do anything to help. Marcus and Holly made a cute couple and the way things played out was undeniably heartwarming, but I still couldn't help feeling like their love for one another was a bit forced, like it was only there for the sake of the plot rather than developing as an organic part of the story. For a sweet romance, the sexual tension was pretty high, with a couple of almost love scenes, but in spite of that, I just didn't feel the romance on the deep level I would have preferred.
Overall, the premise of Secret Santa was extremely appealing and had a lot of promise, but lacked in the execution. I appear to be in the minority on this one though. Based on the high ratings at Amazon, GoodReads and elsewhere, apparently, most readers were able to overlook the excessively wordy writing style which was, in my opinion, better suited to poetry than prose. Between the short length and the mediocre writing, it wasn't really worth the full paperback price of $6.99 which I paid, so for anyone who wants to give this novella a try, I would definitely recommend the $0.99 e-book option. Secret Santa had it's good points and wasn't really a bad story per se, but the weak romance and having to wade through a flood of words to find the plot, made for a somewhat frustrating experience for me and a so-so wrap up to my holiday reading this year.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews The Hunger Games was another great young adult book that definitely lived up to the hype for me. It was a gripping, suspensefu...moreReviewed for THC Reviews The Hunger Games was another great young adult book that definitely lived up to the hype for me. It was a gripping, suspenseful science fiction story of a dystopian society in which kids between the ages of twelve and eighteen are forced by the government each year to compete in a gladiator type of fight to the death as a way to keep the citizens in line and prevent them from rebelling. There is also the beginnings of a sweet, tender romance between the two main characters, Katniss and Peeta. I wouldn't classify the book as a romance though, because this is definitely not the main focus of the story, but it is an inextricable part of it that is deftly woven throughout the plot. The first section of the book, leading up to The Hunger Games is a tad slow, but once the Games begin, it quickly becomes a taut, suspense/thriller as the characters engage in the ultimate fight for survival. From that point on, I could barely put it down, and more than once found myself reading much longer than I had intended to.
Katniss is a very intelligent girl and the first-person narrator of the story. She is a scrappy survivor who was forced into the role of caretaker for her family at the tender age of eleven, when her father was killed in the mines and her mother became deeply depressed and emotionally checked out on life. Even though her mother finally came back to them, Katniss is still understandably angry with her for not being there for them during that time, but deep down she loves her too. Katniss adores her delicate, little sister Prim and would do anything for her, including taking her place in The Hunger Games. Even though she doesn't think she has much of a chance of winning, she feels more capable of handling the Games than Prim would be. Katniss has spent so much time taking care of her family that I think she's forgotten how to just be a girl. She's had to be tough in order to keep them all alive. As a consequence, she's buried most of her emotions, but some of them begin to stir back to the surface during the Games. She doesn't even realize how alluring she is to others, instead crediting people's interest in her as nothing more than them having known her father or loving her little sister, so when Peeta admits he cares for her, she doesn't believe it. There was a part of me that wished Katniss would have a little more faith in Peeta, especially after all he'd done for her, but another part of me understood where she was coming from. She truly believed it was somehow his strategy for winning the Games, and she was also trying to distance herself from him in the event it came down to her having to kill him. When it comes to romance though, Katniss thought more like a guy. It was actually kind of amusing that she believed Peeta was just acting like he loved her, when it was obvious to pretty much everyone but her that he was completely sincere.
Peeta is a very sweet hero, who is really more of a lover than a fighter. He is the humble son of a baker and has a kind and gentle heart. Just like Katniss, he doesn't think he has a prayer of winning the Games, so any strategy he has primarily relies on playing sympathetically to the masses and also like Katniss, surviving by his wits. Peeta is an intuitive young man who sees things in Katniss that no one else does, including herself. I love the selfless way he always tries to protect her and make her look good, even though she thinks it's nothing more than his strategy for winning the Games. I also liked that he is looking for a way to use the Games to send a message to the Capitol, and how he doesn't want to allow the Games to change him into someone he's not. If he can't survive, he wants more than anything to just die with some dignity. We only get to see Peeta through Katniss's eyes, so there were a couple of times I would have liked to know a little more of what was going through his mind, but for the most part, his feeling came through loud and clear in his actions.
For the last couple years, The Hunger Games has made the top five on the ALA's most banned/challenged books list, but as a parent, I have no trouble with kids middle grades and up reading it, as long as they aren't overly sensitive to violence. In fact, my thirteen year old daughter read it before I did and had no trouble with it at all. Granted, the violence of kids killing other kids can be brutal and perhaps even disturbing, but as with many dystopian novels, the practice serves to underscore the unfairness of a governmental system that needs to be changed, which makes for a great discussion starter. As violent as the story was though, I felt it could have been much worse. It was not nearly as explicit as some violent scenes I've read in adult novels, and I believe the author held back somewhat on the details in deference to her target audience. In my opinion, it was no worse than some of the PG-13 movies that many kids in this age range are watching regularly, and definitely no worse than some of the real-life violence, such as school shootings, that kids must deal with. The big difference here is that they can process it through the safe lens of a fictional story and perhaps find some degree of empowerment. Aside from the violence, there was little else I found that could potentially be objectionable. There is no bad language, and Katniss and Peeta share nothing more than tender kisses. She does help him undress at one point, but only in the context of helping someone who is sick and injured. They also share a sleeping bag at night for warmth, but in my opinion, there was nothing sexual about either of these things at all. There is a lot of food for thought in this book as well, such as what we value as a society, and what it means when a society has devolved to the point that they view killing as sport and entertainment. There are also questions raised about what should be done when a governmental regime sanctions such brutality, as well as the importance of thinking for oneself. Overall, I would say the book is appropriate for its intended age group, especially when guided by a parent or educator.
The Hunger Games was an extremely well-written book. Normally, I'm not a fan of present tense narration, but I honestly didn't even realize until I was several chapters into the book that it was written in present tense. It was very well done, and I thought it gave the story a greater sense of urgency and immediacy which only heightened the suspense. I really felt like I was there with Katniss as she embarks on this fight for survival. I loved the characters, and I really liked how the author explored the concepts of mercy, and doing the right thing by being as moral and ethical as possible when faced with a situation that is so very wrong but from which there seems to be no means of escape. Suzanne Collins really left an impression on me with this first book of the The Hunger Games trilogy, and I can't wait to continue.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Pansy at the Palace is a delightful children's picture book about the adventures of a little, brown poodle named Pansy. Pansy...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Pansy at the Palace is a delightful children's picture book about the adventures of a little, brown poodle named Pansy. Pansy is the first person narrator, and she begins her story with her adoption at the animal shelter by a little girl named Avery who takes her to live at the Palace Hotel in Beverly Hills. With so many unwanted pets in the world, I really appreciated the author's advocation of pet adoption, even for wealthy folks who can afford to buy one instead. Pansy is very happy in her new life at the hotel with Avery, but one day, the hotel guests' jewelry starts disappearing. Pansy literally smells something fishy and swoops in to save the day by catching the thief.
The illustrations are positively adorable. The pictures are very emotive. You can really see how much Avery loves her new friend, and how happy and excited Pansy is. The illustrations are done in a style with soft colors that make them very pretty and pleasing to look at. They bring the characters to life and instill a lot of warmth in the story.
The $17.95 cover price (at the website) may seems a tad pricey, but the book is beautifully put together in a hardcover format with thick, sturdy pages reminiscent of card stock. It should stand up well to the wear and tear of little hands turning the pages.
This was Cynthia Bardes first book, and she did a wonderful job with it. I really enjoyed both the story and the illustrations. Together, they left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling, and I'm sure children would have fun with this cute book too. I hope Ms. Bardes might have more adventures in store for Pansy, and if she does, I would be very interested in reading them.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author's PR director via the publicist, Bostick Communications, in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews When reading anthologies, I usually pick up one novella here and there to fill in gaps between longer books and rarely read th...moreReviewed for THC Reviews When reading anthologies, I usually pick up one novella here and there to fill in gaps between longer books and rarely read them straight through. With that being the case, I've decided to post reviews of each story as I finish it. Reviews on the remaining novella and the overall book rating will be forthcoming.:-)
Silver Bells by Debbie Macomber -
The Perfect Holiday by Sherryl Woods - The Perfect Holiday was a sweet, heartwarming Christmas tale and my first read by Sherryl Woods. The author really managed to set the Christmas mood at a snowy bed & breakfast in Vermont with all the trappings of the holiday season. The way the heroine's aunt was still playing matchmaker from beyond the grave added a fun, whimsical touch to the story. Mae was obviously a very wise woman who knew that her niece and the young man who'd become a dear friend to her would make a perfect couple.
Savannah was a wonderful single mother who was struggling a bit with loneliness and a sense of belonging after an unpleasant divorce from her workaholic husband. Aunt Mae had bequeathed her bed & breakfast, Holiday Retreat, to Savannah when she passed away. The place is badly in need of repairs and refurbishing though. The inn has been in Savannah's family for generations, so in spite of having very little money, she is determined to do what needs to be done to get the place running again. Savannah had obviously raised her daughter well, because Hannah was simply excited by the holiday season and didn't even complain about not getting gifts for Christmas when Savannah told her they couldn't afford it. Savannah also was a great cook and a hard worker, who I was convinced could set the inn to rights and would be a success running it.
Trace was a workaholic himself which initially scares Savannah away from him even though she's very attracted to him. Trace proves himself far different from her ex-husband though, when he lays aside his work to help her with repairs on the inn and holiday preparations. He never had happy Christmases growing up and is surprised to find spending the holiday season with Savannah and Hannah is fun. Trace had been a great friend to Mae and learned many valuable lessons from her. At first, he only goes to Holiday Retreat to honor Mae's memory, but soon it becomes far more than that to him as he finds himself falling in love with Savannah.
The Perfect Holiday takes place over just a few days time, so it requires some suspension of disbelief to accept that Trace and Savannah could fall in love and be ready for a lifetime commitment so quickly. Between the magic of the holiday season and Mae's matchmaking from beyond the grave, it wasn't too difficult for me to believe in this couple's HEA. Overall, this was a perfect little story to get me in the holiday spirit, and it has definitely left me open to trying Sherryl Woods other works. This novella was also previously published in the anthology, So This Is Christmas. Star Rating: ****
Under the Christmas Tree by Robyn Carr – A hot veterinarian, a kind-hearted, Christmas and animal loving beautician, and a litter of eight abandoned newborn puppies combine to make Under the Christmas Tree another heartwarming holiday story in Robyn Carr's Virgin River series. Not that I'm complaining or anything, but most of the books in this series have some fairly heavy themes, so it was a nice change of pace to relax and unwind with a fun, lighthearted story that didn't contain any real angst. It also marked the first time in the series that one of the main characters wasn't a former service member.
Annie is an occasional visitor to Virgin River. She stopped by to see their famous Christmas tree and was just in time to witness the discovery of a box of abandoned puppies underneath it. Annie is a caring animal lover and couldn't bear to see the puppies taken to a shelter, so she generously offered to come back every evening after work to help take care of them. Most people wouldn't be nearly so committed, but Annie worked tirelessly to ensure the puppies well-being until she could find homes for them. She's also a big family person, who loves spending the holidays with her parents and siblings, and loves Christmas in general. The way she's always helping her mom bake or decorating for the holidays is something I admire and wish I had the time and patience for. Throughout all this mayhem, Annie gets reacquainted with Nathaniel, someone she knew as a kid, but she recently had her heart broken by a philandering ex and isn't quite sure if she can trust Nate.
Nathaniel lives in the area and is a large-animal vet. When Jack calls him about the puppies, he comes to the bar as a favor but doesn't intend to get too involved until he sees Annie. Nate remembers her as a gangly, freckled-faced girl with a mop of curly, orange-red hair and braces. Needless to say, they've both changed a lot, and Nate quickly finds himself wanting to get to know her again. Nate is a consummate charmer, who is slightly cocky and self-assured, but in an endearing way. He had intended to spend Christmas in the Bahamas with his vet school friends, but finding Annie makes him start to rethink his plan.
There was much to enjoy about this novella, not the least of which are the puppies and the wonderful sense of Christmas cheer. I also liked that instead of falling right into bed with one another, Nate and Annie have some leisurely make-out sessions while taking their time getting to know one another. It was fun to see Jack, Preacher, their sons, Christopher and David, and some of the other Virgin River residents rounding out the cast. Overall, Under the Christmas Tree was another short story from this anthology which left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling and really put me in the mood for Christmas. Star Rating: ****1/2(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews The Christmas Promise was another great Christmas story from Donna VanLiere. The first three books in the Christmas Hope serie...moreReviewed for THC Reviews The Christmas Promise was another great Christmas story from Donna VanLiere. The first three books in the Christmas Hope series embodied a sense of sadness with death taking center stage in each of them. While I loved all those books, it was nice to have one with a more whimsical tone where no one dies or is struggling mightily with someone else's death. There are some heavy themes, such as loneliness, alcoholism, domestic abuse and a missing child, but there was enough humor and lighter moments to keep those things from becoming depressing. This book also had more of an ensemble cast than the first three with several characters playing significant roles. Overall, The Christmas Promise was a heartwarming Christmas story that I would recommend to anyone needing to lift their spirits this holiday season.
As with the other books in this series, The Christmas Promise is written in alternating first and third person POV. The first person narrator this time is Gloria aka Miss Glory. She is a retired widow whose adult son has been missing for seven years. He left home just before Gloria's husband, his father, died, and she hasn't seen or heard from him since. She somewhat recently moved to the unnamed small town that has been the setting for all the Christmas Hope books. In an effort to keep busy and to help others in lieu of helping her son, she collects and sorts donations of food, clothing, household items, and even the occasional car, which she them redistributes to the needy in the community. I have to say that Gloria has my dream job. Being a philanthropist is something I've always longed to do. Gloria is a very kind-hearted and loving woman who cares about everyone she meets and helps, maybe a little too much, as it takes her a while to figure out that she can't always help everyone in the way she would like to. Still she is generous to a fault with the only possible exception being her next-door neighbor Miriam. The woman is something of a snob, who always threatens to call the city on Gloria each time someone leaves donations in her driveway. Even Miriam has her own story though. Gloria just hasn't heard it yet. They've spent so long as rivals, she hasn't really taken the time to get to know the other woman, but that all changes when an unfortunate incident leaves the two of them living together temporarily. It was really fun to see these two develop an appreciation for one another and a deep friendship after feuding for so long.
Then there is Chaz who just moved to town and got a job as a security guard at Wilson's Department Store. At first, he's very much a loner and a drifter, who only intends to stay long enough to earn a little money. He obviously harbors some secrets he doesn't want anyone else to know and on top of it all, is a functioning alcoholic who spends all his free time at the bottom of a bottle. He isn't exactly the most likable character initially, but things begin to slowly change for him as he discovers a caring side to himself he didn't realize existed. He works the night shift, and the turnaround starts with him caring for the little boy of a cleaning lady, who had nowhere else to take him and so brought him with her to work. Chaz develops a strong friendship with the little boy, Donovan, and to the extent she will let him into her life, the boy's mother, Carla, who is being abused by her boyfriend. Chaz also begins to feel a connection to Mike, the homeless man who sometimes stands outside Wilson's, and worries when Mike is hit by a car. Last but not least, Chaz falls in love at first sight with Erin, a pretty but very pregnant young woman who Gloria is helping.
What impressed me most about The Christmas Promise is how the author manged to seamlessly weave together all the lives of these characters until it was like they became one family unit. She even brought back a few favorites from past books like Robert Layton (The Christmas Shoes) and Jack and Nathan Andrews (The Christmas Hope). The Christmas Promise was very much a story of new beginnings. Each one of the characters in the book received some sort of second chance after life had thrown them a curveball. This time they chose the right path, but it wasn't without the help of strangers. The one thing I loved most about this book is the serendipitous nature of the characters' meetings which underscores the It's a Wonderful Life principle that each person's life touches so many others in ways that we often don't even know. The Christmas Promise is simply a warm, feel-good story that was a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Toy Soldiers is a cute, holiday-themed short story about a Marine, just returned from the Middle East who falls in love at fir...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Toy Soldiers is a cute, holiday-themed short story about a Marine, just returned from the Middle East who falls in love at first sight with a single mother and her young son. He then sets about to give them both a Christmas they'll never forget. Caine is a dreamy romantic hero. He's tender and loving toward both Danika and Joshua and not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve where they're concerned. He's a true gentleman, never pressing Danika for sex, and in fact, holding back, so that she wouldn't feel obligated just because of his kindness. Yet, once things do heat up between them, he's the consummate lover, always attentive to her needs. Caine is also strong and protective, doing everything in his power to keep Danika and Joshua safe from the neighborhood gang-bangers who are trying to shake her down for protection money. All that, and he's a cowboy in his life away from the Marines too. What more could a girl ask for?;-)
Danika was a likable and admirable heroine. When Joshua's biological father found out she was pregnant he wanted her to get an abortion, but Danika refused, even though it also meant being ostracized by her family. She has worked hard to make a decent life for herself and her son and would love nothing more than to move to a safer neighborhood, but she can't afford it. When Caine comes along, treating her son like his own flesh and blood and offering her a better life, she understandably can't resist the handsome Marine, and neither can her son. Joshua is as cute as a button too.
Toy Soldiers is a fast-paced story that takes place over just a few days time, so some readers might have trouble buying into Caine and Danika making a lifetime commitment to each other in such a short time. I admit the love at first sight trope often doesn't work for me either, and I did have to suspend disbelief to some extent with this one. However, maybe it was the magic of the Christmas season or something else, but ultimately, I couldn't help but think these three characters would make a great family unit. That's not to say the story didn't have a few weaknesses though. The technical aspects of the writing could have been stronger. I found lots of typos and sentences that could have been worded to flow a bit better. I was also a little bothered by Caine and Danika not using protection or even discussing it. Since Danika had already been through one unplanned pregnancy, she should have known better. Lastly, the author used Marine and soldier interchangeably, and I'm pretty sure that most Marines would get quite offended by being called a soldier. Overall though, these were relatively minor things in an otherwise enjoyable story. It was just the right mix of sweet and sexy. The love scenes are pretty hot, and the author does use some frank language, but I wouldn't quite classify it as erotic. All in all, Toy Soldiers was a fun little novella that I would recommend to anyone looking for a quick, heartwarming holiday read with a little spice on the side.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" Upon the Midnight Clear was another offering in the Dark-Hunter series that felt like it was hurriedly rushed to p...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" Upon the Midnight Clear was another offering in the Dark-Hunter series that felt like it was hurriedly rushed to publication. I've heard some fans say that the Dream-Hunter stories are the weakest in the series, and I'm beginning to see why. Upon the Midnight Clear was a reasonably pleasant diversion, but it didn't really offer anything new or unique to the paranormal romance genre or even the Dark-Hunter series. Neither the characters, nor the plot had a great deal of depth, and the Christmas theme was something of an afterthought, with the holiday only coming into play during the last chapter of the book. The cover blurb also suggested that the hero and heroine were stranded in a snowstorm, which is a trope I enjoy. However, even that was downplayed by Leta being in complete control of the storm, so technically they weren't really stranded. Overall, Upon the Midnight Clear was a decent read for what it was, but not a particularly memorable one.
Aidan and Leta were pretty typical Dark-Hunter characters, both having extreme issues in their pasts which made them rather tortured souls. After being betrayed by everyone close to him, Aidan trusts no one and is essentially hiding away in a remote cabin, avoiding all human contact. I thought that Aidan's backstory as to how he arrived at this place in his life after enjoying a successful career as a movie star would be interesting, but when some of the details started to emerge, they were initially muddled and confusing. It seemed like everyone close to him hated him and was trying to ruin his life for no good reason. As the story goes along, it becomes clearer that Aidan's brother, Donnie, and his nephew were the main instigators. They were quite simply jealous of his success and trying to take advantage of a nice guy. Still for Donnie to be obsessed enough to want to torture and kill Aidan, as well as willingly sacrifice his loved ones, seemed a bit extreme for the motivations given, and I don't remember it being mentioned as to why Donnie was in prison either. Donnie ended up being a pretty one-dimensional villain who was merely a bad seed.
Leta had lost her husband and child to Dolor, the god of Pain, centuries ago. She managed to defeat him and place him in stasis using a curse that only made it possible for him to awaken if a human summoned him with a blood sacrifice. At that time, Leta herself went into a sleep state and was only awakened when Dolor was. This was about as much of Leta's backstory as I understood. I never did figure out exactly why she was the only one who could fight Dolor. She does a pretty good job of it, but not without some help from Deimos who gives his assistance for no other reason I could discern except that he felt like it. Leta and Aidan shared a couple of tender moments that I enjoyed. As is typical with this series, they got together a little too fast for my taste, but they did have decent chemistry, fueled by their emotional responses to one another.
Upon the Midnight Clear shared a couple of common characters with other books of the series. The Dream-Hunter leader, M'Adoc, is Leta's brother, and as I mentioned before, Deimos helps Leta in her battle with Dolor. M'Ordant and Wink are also briefly mentioned. Despite these connections, Upon the Midnight Clear has little or no bearing on the overall series story arc. Considering that part of the story takes place in the real world with one human antagonist, everything just happened too easily to be entirely credible. The characters make choices with little depth of thought, including Aidan who comes to trust Leta too quickly for someone who has basically checked out on life due to extreme betrayals in his past. Still, for a short novel it was a decent read, and one I'm sure Dark-Hunter fans will probably appreciate.
Holiday Gatherings - Holiday Gatherings is a bonus 30-page novella that is found at the end of Upon the Midnight Clear, and from what I can tell, this is the only place it's available. It is a series of short vignettes showing nearly all the main Dark-Hunter characters, both past and future, celebrating Christmas. My favorites were the ones centering on Aimee and Fang, Nick, and Acheron. The whole novella was heartwarming, but the parts about these four characters were particularly tender and emotional. Holiday Gatherings was a fun way to catch up with some of my old favorite characters and get a few teasers for upcoming ones, and was enjoyable enough to make me bump up the overall book rating by a half star. Rating: ****(less)