Reviewed for THC Reviews A couple of years ago, I read and loved Loretta Chase's incomparable Lord of Scoundrels, but the next two of her books I read,...moreReviewed for THC Reviews A couple of years ago, I read and loved Loretta Chase's incomparable Lord of Scoundrels, but the next two of her books I read, definitely did not catch my fancy. Because of that, I went into reading The Mad Earl's Bride with a bit of trepidation, but this little novella has put Ms. Chase back on my watch list. I really enjoyed the uniqueness of the plot and characters.
Dorian, the hero believes that he is dying of the same incurable brain disease that apparently killed his mother, but not before making her go mad. He is tortured both by the knowledge of his impending madness and demise, as well as by ghosts of the past which haunt him. His grandfather tried to control the entire family, but I admired Dorian for standing his ground and not allowing the old earl to get the best of him even though it meant living in near poverty and performing menial labor for years. Dorian has a very acerbic wit that I enjoyed too. I loved Gwendolyn, the heroine. She has untamable red hair and isn't particularly attractive by the standards of the time. To make matters worse, Gwen is a woman aspiring to be a doctor in an era when that wasn't allowed, but she is a far more talented healer than most of the trained doctors they encounter. She is a total geek who absorbs medical knowledge like a sponge and can get really wrapped up in her studies, but she also has a lovely bedside manner, treating Dorian with the utmost care and concern. I thoroughly enjoyed Gwen's spunkiness and no-nonsense manner about everything, and how her passionate nature matched Dorian's measure for measure.
The interactions between these two are full of humor and refreshing honesty. Gwen admits right up front that she wants to marry Dorian to realize her dream of building a hospital, and he boils his acquiescence to marry her down to wanting sex after a year-long, self-imposed celibacy. I love how they both seem to intuitively understand each other, and a large part of their dialog was very snappy and witty. The geek in me can't resist citing this quote from Dorian to Gwen: “I spent hours yesterday talking of little but medical symptoms and insane asylums. And you listened as though it were poetry and all but swooned at my feet. It is too bad I don't have any medical treatises about. I'm sure I need read a paragraph or two, and you will become ravenous with lust and begin tearing my clothes off.” There was another similar passage, both of which showed an understanding of classic geekiness at it's best, and made me totally LOL. In spite of some great dialog, there were a few places that it was a bit sluggish, and there were some narration heavy areas of the story that I thought also slowed the pace. I did figure out what Dorian's malady was fairly early on, but his mother's mysterious death kept me guessing.
Overall, I really liked The Mad Earl's Bride, mainly for it's unusual storyline, but also for the exploration of medical and psychological conditions in a historical setting, which fed my own geeky fascinations. The Mad Earl's Bride is the fourth story in a group of books usually known as the Scoundrels series. It is preceded by The Lion's Daughter, Captives of the Night, and Lord of Scoundrels, and followed by The Last Hellion. Gwen is a cousin of Jessica and Bertie Trent, and another unconventional granddaughter of Genevieve, all of whom first appeared in Lord of Scoundrels. The amusing, dim-witted Bertie plays a big part in this novella, and Dain the scrumptious hero of that book makes a cameo as well. After reading The Mad Earl's Bride, I am now finally looking forward to finishing the series.(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 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)
Reviewed for THC Reviews A Touch of Darkness is an intriguing story that crosses several literary sub-genres. I would say that first and foremost it is...moreReviewed for THC Reviews A Touch of Darkness is an intriguing story that crosses several literary sub-genres. I would say that first and foremost it is a tale of supernatural mystery and suspense as Abbey, the heroine, uses her paranormal talents to try to find and stop a serial killer of children with otherworldly abilities of his own. I thought that Abbey's jaded cynical attitude gave the book a touch of tart noir as well. A decent romantic element develops when Abbey meets her hunky new neighbor, just enough so that I would also be comfortable classifying the story as romantic suspense. But no matter which category the reader prefers, I found it to be an enjoyable read overall.
Abbey is the first-person narrator of the story who frequently engages in snarky asides. She is a former cop who now works as a police consultant using her gift as a tactile clairvoyant (meaning every time she touches a person or object, she gets visions of other people's lives) to help them solve crimes. Abbey has had her gift since childhood, but didn't come into her full powers until a traumatic event in her life a few years before. At that point, the department sent her on a “vacation” to an institute in Mexico which specializes in helping psychic individuals deal with their gifts. Around that same time, she also lost her unborn baby and her marriage crumbled, two events that have had a profound impact on her life. Unable to bear touching or being touched by anyone, Abbey essentially lives the life of a hermit. When she's not working, she spends all her free time engaged in geeky pastimes, like gaming, surfing the web, watching movies, and consuming copious amounts of junk food.
Abbey's abilities are very interesting. She and the other gifted people she mentions or runs into have X-Men type qualities such as telekinesis, pyrokinesis, empaths, etc. For some reason, stories like this which explore the possibilities of the psychic realm have always fascinated me. In many ways, Abbey views her gift as more of a curse, because of how painful it is to touch another human being and the convolutions she has to go through to avoid that discomfort. Every time she leaves her house, she must wear multiple layers of clothing and gloves even in the summer, and her housekeeper must clean to a specific set of instructions that make Abbey seem OCD. Every time she helps the police on a case, it is traumatic for her, not only because touching dead bodies and objects at a crime scene can really throw her for an emotional loop, but also because she can't ever get though it without tossing her cookies too. It did make me wonder why she would keep torturing herself like that, but nothing ever came to light except a desire to catch the bad guys. That's certainly a valid reason, but I guess I was hoping for some deeper motivation, perhaps something in her past that drives her to get criminals off the streets.
Abbey's neighbor and love interest, Nikolas, is absolutely scrumptious. He has hot, dark good looks, can cook up a storm, and even owns his own restaurant. He also really knows how to treat a lady with gentleness and respect, all qualities which make him a keeper in my book. I love the way he pursues Abbey both in the beginning and later, when Abbey is trying to avoid him. I don't think any woman could resist the kind of overtures he was making. Nik is almost perfect in every way, which is why I was kind of disappointed in Abbey for thinking the worst of him when she discovers the secret he's harboring. How she could even imagine a sweet, wonderful guy like him capable of something so heinous I'm not sure. When he realizes what she's thinking, Nik is understandably hurt. I'm not certain I could have forgiven her quite so easily. Their reconciliation is very brief as well, so not entirely satisfying from a romantic angle. I'm hoping there will be more development to their relationship in the next book of the series.
A Touch of Darkness was a fast-paced story that held my interest quite well. While the storytelling was good, I thought that the technical aspects of the writing could have been a bit more polished. There are numerous typos and incorrect word choices, as well as some repetition that could have been pared down with better editing. Overall though, it was a good book that I could easily recommend to any reader who is interested in paranormal mystery/suspense or romantic suspense, and it has left me open to trying the next book in the Abigail St. Michael Mysteries series, A Touch of Madness.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Night is a gripping first-person narrative of the Holocaust. Elie Wiesel chronicles his life from the time the German soldiers...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Night is a gripping first-person narrative of the Holocaust. Elie Wiesel chronicles his life from the time the German soldiers invaded his hometown and started gathering the Jews together in ghettos through his experiences in several different concentration camps, including the notorious Auschwitz and Buchenwald, until he and his fellow prisoners were liberated. This relatively short volume packs a powerful emotional wallop that goes straight into the reader's soul. I didn't even realize how deeply it was affecting me until I spent a restless night, having bad dreams after finishing it, and yet, I think every person should pick this up at least once in their lifetime. I didn't feel that most of the story was rendered in a particularly graphic way. It's more the edge-of-your-seat tension and the fact that I have a pretty well-developed imagination that made this book so intense for me. My teenage son, however, seemed to have no trouble reading it for his literature class. Each reader's reaction will vary depending on their ability to distance themselves from the subject matter.
When the story opens, I was struck by how the Jews in Mr Wiesel's hometown didn't believe the reports of a man who had escaped from the Nazis. They either dismissed him as a madman or refused to believe that the Nazis would make it to their town. I guess perhaps it's human nature to not be able to fathom acts of such barbarism. I found it ironic that when the German soldiers did finally come to town, they temporarily lodged in the homes of some Jews and even treated them nicely, just before carting them off to the concentration camps. Once in the camps, it was strange how some of their fellow prisoners in supervisory positions could sometimes be nearly as cruel as the SS officers themselves. It was also very sad how family members could sometimes turn on one another. Even Mr. Wiesel confessed to occasionally having thoughts of survival possibly being easier for him if he didn't have the responsibility of his father to care for. Existence in the camps became nothing more than a desperate fight for individual survival in which family ties often were rendered meaningless.
Through Mr. Wiesel's simple, yet powerful words, I was able to gain a small sense of the sheer terror that he and the other thousands of prisoners in the concentration camps must have experienced. Stark fear emanates off the pages every time there was a selection or some other threat to their lives, as does the anger, especially at God for not putting a stop to such evil. Mr. Wiesel speaks very poignantly about loosing his faith in God after the atrocities he witnessed. He writes of how one of his first experiences in the camps was seeing babies and children burned alive and that it still haunts him, and I can certainly understand why. The mere image his words evoked in my mind deeply affected me as well and is something I would never want to witness first hand. It's no wonder he tried to trick himself into believing they were already dead, because the mind simply cannot cope with things like this that are too horrific to logically understand. The last days in the camps before liberation finally arrived and the death of Elie's father are very vividly rendered. I could feel the sense of hopelessness permeating the air, and how many simply gave up on life and couldn't go on, even though they could hear the sounds of the Russian army advancing on the German front.
Night is written essentially as a series of short vignettes of the author's experiences, which is more consistent with how one would expect a person's memory to be. There are some details he deliberately chose to leave out, such as his state of mind after his father died, which I can fully respect, but there were a couple of other omissions that were mildly disappointing, eg. it's clear that his father, mother, and little sister died, but he doesn't overtly tell what became of his other two sisters (I found out via the Internet that they also survived). However, this was a minor thing in another otherwise incredibly stirring and eloquent story of survival against all odds. I would characterize this book as a must read for everyone from mature teens on up. It is my fervent belief that in order to not repeat the horrific events of the past, we must never forget them, and one way to keep these memories alive is to explore the stories of those who prevailed against this oppressive evil.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews The Butter Battle Book is another of Dr. Seuss's titles which reflect his activist side. Through satirical humor, he explores...moreReviewed for THC Reviews The Butter Battle Book is another of Dr. Seuss's titles which reflect his activist side. Through satirical humor, he explores the ridiculousness and futility of war. The Yooks and the Zooks have an age-old disagreement over which way to eat their bread, butter side up or down, and as a result, they eventually start a war over it. They begin with sentries guarding the wall separating their borders which of course, could be taken as a metaphor for anything that separates us from our fellow man. One side fires upon the other with a slingshot and from there, the conflict continues to escalate with each side coming up with increasingly preposterous weapons until both possess a small bomb which could blow the other side to smithereens and in essence wipe out the world.
It's doubtful that younger children will understand the deeper meaning behind the story, but they're sure to be delighted with the classic Seuss rhyming text and whimsical illustrations of Seuss-ified characters and their silly machines. With parental or educator guidance older children can glean an important message about getting along with others who have different views in order to prevent conflict from happening and not feeling like you have to one up each other until you either reach an impossible situation or the worst occurs. I think this simple lesson could be applied to our daily lives, as well as the world at large for preventing warfare. Overall, The Butter Battle Book was another fabulous Dr. Seuss story that has earned a spot on my keeper shelf.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Cade's Thanksgiving is a simple, heartwarming short story about a mail-order bride and her would-be groom who find much to be...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Cade's Thanksgiving is a simple, heartwarming short story about a mail-order bride and her would-be groom who find much to be thankful for during the holiday season. There isn't really any conflict to speak of. Cade and Maggie hit it off from the moment they meet at the train station and pretty much dote on each other from there. Having grown up as the oldest girl in a large family, Maggie is perfectly equipped with the skills to care for Cade and his twin boys. Cade is a perfect gentleman, a caring father, and a loving husband who works as the town marshal.
There was very little in the way of getting to know you or falling in love moments. It seems all that was taken care of through their letters to one another before Maggie agreed to marry Cade. It might have been nice have a little longer story, so that the reader could see how they came to care for one other. I also found what appeared to be a continuity error. The author mentions that it took Cade two years to get over his first wife's death, but while his twins exact ages aren't given, they are never referred to as anything but babies and their behavior suggests infants under a year old. The writing itself could have been smoother as well. For such a short story, I found a number of awkwardly worded sentences, and more contractions were needed in dialog to give it a natural flow. Without them, there were several lines which were a contradiction between a proper aristocratic dialect and a western cowboy dialect. In spite of it's weaknesses though, Cade's Thanksgiving was a sweet story that tugs at the heartstrings and not a bad way to spend a little of my reading time this Thanksgiving.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Zombies for Breakfast was a light, entertaining read that was part paranormal romance and part romantic suspense with a libera...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Zombies for Breakfast was a light, entertaining read that was part paranormal romance and part romantic suspense with a liberal splash of comedy thrown in for fun. It even has some slight chick lit leanings as well, so it should appeal to a fairly broad audience. It took me a little while to get into it. I think this is mainly because it is written in first-person perspective in the present tense. I believe this marks the first time I've ever read a book written in this style, so it took some getting used to. I still don't think it will become a favorite style of mine, but once I got to the know the characters a little more and got into the meat of the story, I enjoyed it. It was also the first time I had read a paranormal romance centering around zombies, so I thought the premise was very unique and interesting. Much like the glut of vampires, werewolves, demons and other creatures of the night who inhabit paranormal romance, the zombies here are not the inherently evil, flesh-eating creatures of legend. Although their eating habits are a bit strange at times, their craving for human flesh is more of the sexual variety. They also don't appear grotesque, with rotting flesh falling from their bones, until they've reached a certain age or unless they don't get their “beauty sleep.” Then they can start to literally fall apart. There are also some older and less well cared for zombies who develop troublesome medical conditions which can make them rather hideous, but it's mostly played for laughs rather than being gross or disturbing. The zombies were created through the use of a special embalming fluid used only by one funeral home. Once resurrected, they are still similar to humans with a few caveats. Although they have a long life-span, it isn't infinite like with most paranormal creatures. Overall, Zombies for Breakfast was an intriguing and different kind of paranormal romance.
Payson is a pharmacist who got into her field of work to help people. Her job isn't all she thought it would be though, and she's tired of essentially being nothing but a pill pusher. She has a strong interest in natural remedies and tries to recommend them to her customers whenever she can. Payson has a zombie roommate and is one of the few humans who know of their existence. Despite this, she leads a rather bland, boring life, just trying to pay the bills, but everything changes for her when the pharmacy gets robbed twice in one night while she's closing, her roommate gets tasked with babysitting a hot newborn zombie who is having trouble adjusting to life after death, and one of Payson's co-workers turns up dead in a basement storage room of her apartment building. Suddenly, Payson finds herself as the focus of a murder investigation that's sure to make her look guilty and the target of a zombie drug cartel run by the oldest known zombie. She instantly goes from dulls-ville to more excitement than she ever wanted, but Sean helps to make all the trouble and life-threatening situations worthwhile.
Sean is a good man... err... zombie, who was a member of the military before dying way too young. Now that he's been reanimated, he has a serious case of claustrophobia, which is a big problem since zombies need to regenerate in a small, dark place for at least eight hours a day. I liked Sean's kind nature and that he didn't hesitate to step up and protect Payson from the dangers lurking in the shadows. In his human life, Sean was a very caring man and that nature carried over to his zombie life too. My only small complaint about Sean is that I don't feel like I got to know him very well. There isn't a whole lot of depth to his character until toward the end when he begins to tell Payson a little more about his human life and remember how he died. However, I recognize that this is sometimes a weakness inherent in stories written in first-person narrative, and otherwise Sean was a very likable hero.
The murder mystery was an intriguing element which kept me guessing as to exactly what was going on, and I was surprised by how it turned out. Payson's roommate, Eileen, is a hoot, as are some of the human pharmacy patrons and a few of the nicer zombies. I enjoyed the Arizona setting, although I have to admit that it felt a little more like small-town Arizona than Phoenix, so I had to imagine it being more on the outskirts of the city. With a familiar setting, likable characters, an unusual premise, a little suspense and lots of light-hearted fun, Zombies for Breakfast was an entertaining read that definitely left a memorable impression.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews A Very Vampy Christmas is a cute, holiday-themed addition to the Love at Stake series. I honestly didn't care much for Don Orl...moreReviewed for THC Reviews A Very Vampy Christmas is a cute, holiday-themed addition to the Love at Stake series. I honestly didn't care much for Don Orlando, the infamous Latin vampire lover and soap opera star. In the previous book of the series, he came off as a comically melodramatic playboy who sleeps with nearly every woman he meets, but this short story shows a whole new side to him that I didn't expect. Readers get to find out that he's not the man we thought he was, and in fact, he has a very sympathetic and mysterious past. He turns out to be a really stand-up guy who truly is worthy of Maggie's love.
I really liked Maggie when she was introduced as Darcy's friend in Vamps and the City. She struck me as a kind, caring woman whose story of being turned vampire tugs at the heartstrings. She had a mad crush on Don Orlando, and wanted nothing more than to become his leading lady. Well, she got her wish, but he didn't end up being all she thought he would be, which broke her heart. Once he starts opening up to her though about his past, she wants nothing more than to help him find his family in hopes of reconciling with them in time for Christmas.
A Very Vampy Christmas has a delightful cast of secondary characters. Ian, one of the Scottish guards, helps Maggie and Don Orlando with their investigation. Between his Scottish accent and kilt and him not being able to get people to believe he's not a kid but a centuries-old vampire, this guy is adorable. I can't wait for his book, All I Want for Christmas is a Vampire. We get to meet the New Orleans coven master, and two transvestite vampires who are a total hoot. Don Orlando's family ends up being a mixed bag of personalities who were a lot of fun too.
This novella had a few weaknesses. The romance was sweet, but it would have been nice to have a little more build up. The one brief love scene felt kind of rushed too. The Christmas theme only orbits the periphery of the story with very little actual celebration of the holiday present. The supposed family curse wasn't very well explained either, but overall, A Very Vampy Christmas was an entertaining diversion that I enjoyed reading. A Very Vampy Christmas can be purchased as a stand-alone novella in e-book format and can also be found in the print anthology, Sugarplums and Scandal.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" For years, I had no intention of reading The Flame and the Flower because of its infamous rape scene. The hero rap...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" For years, I had no intention of reading The Flame and the Flower because of its infamous rape scene. The hero raping the heroine simply isn't my cup of tea, and I really didn't think I could enjoy a romance in which this happens. After reading numerous reviews, I finally convinced myself to give it a shot for three reasons. The first, and probably most important reason, is that I'm a huge fan of romance and am pretty well-read in the genre, and recently, have taken up writing romance too. The Flame and the Flower is considered to be the book that birthed the modern romance novel, so I didn't feel that I could call myself a true fan without reading the book that started it all. Second, I've read other books by Kathleen Woodiwiss that I've enjoyed, including one that is still in my top 20 all-time favorites. And last, but not least, I hate to read series books out of order, and since I was interested in the other books in the Birmingham Family series, I wanted to start from the beginning. In the end, The Flame and the Flower left me with mixed feelings. I didn't hate it, but neither did I love it like so many other romance fans do. It was a very readable book, more so than many others I've tried, and aside from showing its age a bit in both style and content, it was a fairly entertaining read. However, the whole rape scene kind of left a bad taste in my mouth, and the memory of it haunted me throughout, essentially marring the better parts of the book. If this had not been a factor, I can honestly say that I would have really enjoyed it and probably could have placed it on my keeper list.
I'll start by getting the bad stuff out of the way up front with my analysis of the rape. It all started with a case of mistaken identity. Brandon believes that Heather is a common street walker. A part of me wanted Heather to speak up sooner and disabuse him of that notion, but I realized that the poor girl was probably in shock from the near rape she had just experienced at the hand's of her aunt's evil brother and thinking that she had accidentally killed him. Therefore, she most likely wasn't thinking too clearly. I'm not sure Brandon would have believed her anyway. She did fight back and say “no,” but he seemed to think she was playing a game with him. In my mind, no means no, and there is never any good excuse for a man to force himself on a woman. However, with all the complications and misunderstandings abounding, I might have been able to forgive Brandon for the initial rape, but when he realized Heather was a virgin and she finally did explain how she came to be on the street and that she wasn't a prostitute, he should have stopped, apologized profusely, and given her compensation beyond the added insult of offering to make her his mistress. Instead he proceeds to rape her two more times and undoubtedly, would have done more if she hadn't escaped. He all but said he was going to hold her captive and continue to rape her until she enjoyed it, which only served to make me want to throttle the guy. Also having this happen right after the aunt's brother tried to rape Heather makes it somehow seem that just because Brandon is attractive and the other guy wasn't it was OK. Rape is never sexy nor romantic in any way no matter who the perpetrator is. Even the characters themselves don't deny that it was rape, but once they start to fall in love, they tend to treat it in a rather blasé manner which I found to be somewhat insulting to women who have been through this kind of trauma. This is just my take on it though, but it is also the reason that this one scene, which occurred in Chapter 1, cast a pall over the rest of the novel.
As you can probably tell from the above paragraph, Brandon begins the story as an insufferably arrogant jerk who seems to think he's God's gift to women. In my opinion, he's anything but a gentleman and doesn't have a clue how to treat a lady with respect. He laments the fact that he doesn't feel loving or possessive toward his fiancée in the way that a man who is about to be married should, but when Heather stirs those feelings in him, he takes it way too far. Brandon is a complete hypocrite, who whines about being forced to marry Heather when she becomes pregnant with his child, but never once considers her feelings in the matter, nor the fact that he got himself into this mess by forcing her to have sex with him. He then proceeds to punish her for the whole situation and constantly mock her with his demeaning smiles and laughter, which made me want to smack the jerk upside the head. Once married, he occasionally does something kind toward Heather, but then turns right around and negates it by doing or saying something vicious. This man has a jealous streak a mile wide and a serious case of passive/aggressive behavior. He constantly blows hot and cold, or perhaps I should say warm and cold, since he rarely rises much beyond an icy demeanor during the first half of the book. He is also a chauvinist who seems to think women are the ones responsible for inflaming men's passions, rather than being accountable for his own actions. He can be cruel and selfish, rarely considering Heather's needs and feelings. Granted, there's something to be said for Brandon not forcing himself on Heather again once they're married, even though it was considered to be his right as a husband, but he certainly spends a lot of time considering the possibility. I can also give him credit for nursing Heather while she was sick (although his boorish behavior is what caused it in the first place), and I think this was the turning point in their relationship. Once they arrive in America, he also defends her against Louisa's attacks, both physically and verbally, never allowing the potentially embarrassing truth of her getting pregnant out of wedlock to come out. From that point on, Brandon gradually began to soften, although he still had some blustery moments that hurt Heather's feelings. When he realizes he's falling in love with her (about 3/4 of the way in), he finally settles down to become a much more ideal hero. I can't say that I truly understood why he fell in love with Heather and started treating her better, as he doesn't really have any major epiphanies, but I am very glad that he eventually became a nicer person. I'm also glad that he never cheated on her. However, just when I thought things were getting better, Brandon flew into a fit of jealousy over Heather dancing with other men at a ball they were hosting. Afterward he demands his husbandly rights and threatens to rape Heather again if she doesn't submit willingly, which isn't my idea of effective foreplay. Heather initially got a little ticked, and rightly so, by his dominance and unwillingness to show her any love or tenderness, but then almost immediately did an about face and decided it was turning her on. The ensuing love scene itself was fine (thankfully no more rape), but knowing how they got there, cast a pall over it too. The bottom line: If Brandon had been the hero he was during the latter half of the book (minus the alpha posturing for sex) right from the beginning, he could have easily made my favorite romance heroes list, but with him being a big, fat jerk for a large part of the story, he'll never be a favorite with me like he is with many other fans.
Heather was not as much of a shrinking violet as I expected her to be. In fact, she was a pretty strong young woman for her age, who had lost her parents early and was living with an aunt and uncle. The aunt treated her no better than a servant, so essentially she was a Cinderella-type heroine. In some ways, she was a product of her time, often meekly following others, but in reality, she had few other options for survival. Underneath it all though, she showed some spunk. I'm actually glad that Heather escaped from Brandon after the rape, even though I knew it wouldn't last. After they were married, I loved that she fought back against Brandon's callousness and him ordering her around and called him for what he was, a rapist. She even had a few other choice words for him, which were exactly what I'd been thinking. If I were Heather, I don't believe I'd have been worried when she thought Brandon had left her at the inn. To the contrary, I'd have been relieved. For her to think she couldn't go back to her father's friends for help seemed a little ridiculous to me, since they obviously cared for her like a daughter. At least some of the time, she stood up for herself, and spoke the truth, but of course, every time she did, Brandon complained about her waspish tongue and acted like she the one who was always wrong, then proceeded to punish her in some way. Much like Brandon, I'm not sure why Heather fell in love with him, except that he gradually begins to treat her better. Since there isn't much deep POV to speak of, it's more like a magical thing that just happened to her. The reader gradually sees her becoming more possessive and jealous toward Brandon, until she simply loves him and wants to be a wife to him in every way. The bottom line: Heather weathered through all the bad things that happened to her like a trooper, and in many ways, deserved better than the guy she ended up with, but if she's happy...[shrug]
As for secondary characters, the bad guys, William Court, Thomas Hint, and Brandon's ex-fiancée, Louisa, were all really bad and in the end, paid the price for their evil deeds. The good guys helped to off-set Brandon's temperamental nature. Early in the story there was a young man from Heather's village, Henry, who was vying for her affections. Of course, Heather conveniently didn't love him, but neither did she love Brandon at the time. Henry, however, was so sweet and so blinded by his love for Heather that I couldn't help wondering if he might not have understood about the rape and married her anyway if she'd had the courage to tell him. In the end, I wasn't quite sure what purpose Henry served, since he got left out in the cold. He did make an impression on me though, and in spite of the fact that he never would have been able to give Heather the material things that Brandon could, he certainly was a lot nicer. Brandon's housekeeper, Hattie, was essentially the stereotypical black servant in the old South, except that she nor any of his other servants were referred to as slaves. She was a kind, caring mother hen, always doting on Heather and the baby and not afraid to give Brandon a piece of her mind when he deserved it. Last, but not least, was Brandon's brother, Jeff, who was a real Southern gentleman. He's an easy-going guy who could teach his brother a thing or two about manners and sometimes tried. Jeff became an instant ally for Heather, occasionally goading Brandon into taking more responsibility for her and her well-being, as well as prodding him with a bit of jealousy to get him to realize what a wonderful woman he had. I liked Jeff a whole lot more than Brandon and think he'll make a great hero, so I'm really looking forward to reading his stories. He appears in two novellas, The Kiss, and Beyond the Kiss, as well as the full-length novel, A Season Beyond a Kiss.
As a study in the history of the romance novel, The Flame and the Flower was an interesting read. The author does underscore the lack of choices for women in that era. Heather was first at the mercy of her abusive aunt, then nearly raped by the aunt's brother, who lured her away by devious means, then actually raped by Brandon, who seemed to think he could have Heather just because she was a woman all alone in the world. To top it all off, she was forced to wed her rapist, because she became pregnant. It certainly sounds like a potentially realistic scenario for those times, but I'm sure that most women who found themselves in such an untenable position never experienced the happy ending that Heather did, which is, of course, what makes it romance rather than real-life. Brandon was a typical man's man of the era, and so also something of a product of the times, but still, I didn't feel he was justified in forcing himself on a woman just because he was lonely and found her beautiful. He would have had to do a whole lot of groveling to make up for what he did, but of course, he never truly shows any genuine remorse. Even if he had, it still might not have been enough to make me like him, but it certainly would have helped. The novel had some slow places, but overall, it held my attention pretty well. Although I thought the book showed some of the greenness in Ms. Woodiwiss' style (it was her first novel), The Flame and the Flower is classic Kathleen Woodiwiss and she is a good storyteller. Overall, it was worth the read. It just wasn't entirely my cup of tea.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Every return visit I've made to Virgin River so far has been a pleasant and enjoyable one, and Paradise Valley was...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Every return visit I've made to Virgin River so far has been a pleasant and enjoyable one, and Paradise Valley was no exception. I only had a few small complaints (hence the half star deduction). The first is that the back cover blurb made it sound like this book was going to be Rick and Liz's story, and after all this young couple has been through, I was really looking forward to them having a book that was virtually all their own. However, this wasn't quite the case. I suppose there was a bit more focus given to their romance, but really this book contained an ensemble of couples. In addition to Rick and Liz weathering through another trial, there is also major relationship progression for Cameron and Abby and Walt and Muriel, as well as a brand new romance for two secondary characters who have been a part of Virgin River since the first book of the series. I can't complain too much though, because I really liked all four couples. Another little issue I had is that there was very little romance for the first half of the book, so it takes a while for things to really get going. The three established couples spend most of this time in conflict, but about halfway through the reader is finally treated to some really deep emotion and more of the tender, heart-stopping romance I've come to expect from the Virgin River series. Lastly, I was a tad disappointed that Rick and Liz didn't get a reunion love scene after they finally worked everything out, especially since they were ostensibly the “main” couple. Overall though, all of my little criticisms were far outweighed by the sheer joy of revisiting these characters, so it was still a great story.
Rick has definitely grown up, but it hasn't been an easy road for him in the least. He's now a wounded warrior both in body and spirit and spends a little time indulging in some self-pity. He's been through so much in his short life that now he thinks he's bad luck for everyone and that they're better off without him. He ends up pushing away nearly everyone he's ever cared about, including Liz and Jack, even though all they want to do is love and support him. The back and forth struggle that Rick goes through, one minute longing to have any small connection he can to Liz, like listening to her phone messages over and over, and the next, ruthlessly tamping down his feelings for her, was very realistic and well-done. He never stopped loving her but believed he wasn't good for her and she could do better. Rick ends up treating Jack like dirt too, but eventually he comes to his senses in a dramatic, heart-wrenching moment.
For her part, Liz has been completely committed and faithful to Rick through his Marine training and tour of Iraq. She didn't hesitate to go to Germany the minute she got word of him being wounded and didn't even flinch at the sight of his severe injury. She's a strong young woman who has weathered through all the bad times with Rick and is determined to not give up on him even when he won't answer his phone or speak to her. She never stops trying until he breaks her heart face-to-face, but even then, deep down, she couldn't stop loving him. That kind of loyalty is very rare in one so young, which in my book makes her a great heroine. It was also why it was difficult to handle the way Rick treated her, but in spite of that, I still understood his pain too.
Cameron and Abby are a pair of sweethearts, who I instantly liked when they hooked up in the last book. Their story picks up exactly where it left off, with Abby still running scared. She's afraid of what her cheating, no-good ex might do if he finds out she's pregnant and violated their prenup just a week before their divorce was final. She's also having a little trouble trusting a man whom she barely knows. These issues, combined with pregnancy hormones, make Abby a little prickly in the beginning, but Cameron is nothing if not patient and persistent. At first, there seems to be a lot of distance between this couple, as Cameron works to try to find a way to just be parenting partners. He doesn't want to completely scare Abby off, but he is insistent, and rightfully so, on being a father to his children. Many men wouldn't do nearly that much, especially if the mother was fighting him on it the way Abby sometimes did. I love the way he was so focused on taking care of Abby throughout the remainder of her pregnancy. He's a very selfless man who always tries to put her needs first and was willing to go anywhere or do anything to stay close to her and the babies, and eventually his gentleness and patience paid off, giving him everything he's ever dreamed of.
Walt and Muriel are proof that love and romance isn't just for the young, but also the young at heart. They enjoy as healthy of a sex life as some of their younger counterparts, and surprisingly, they got the first love scene of the book and were the only one of the four couples to get a full love scene that didn't involve dreams, rough, angry sex, or convolutions to get around a pregnancy. Muriel is still off filming her movie that she hopes will finally win her the Oscar, while Walt pines away in loneliness back in Virgin River. He doesn't think that he can fit into her world full of glitz and glamor, but eventually, he decides to take a chance on this headstrong, independent woman who turns out to have a surprisingly vulnerable side. Whenever this couple gets together around Muriel's' work schedule, they act like a couple of teenagers falling in love for the first time.
Last but not least, we have Dan (aka Shady Brady) who has been there since the beginning. At first, I thought maybe he was an undercover cop or something, but apparently not. He returns to Virgin River after a short stint in prison for illegally growing pot. Understandably, Jack and the others are a little wary of him at first, but they haven't forgotten how he saved Paige's life and helped them in other ways too. Paul was a stand-up guy to take a chance on hiring Dan, and Jack comes around pretty fast as well. I thought Robyn Carr did a great job of redeeming this character into an appealing hero. It seems that deep down he's always had a conscience and good reasons for what he did. Now he's trying to turn over a new leaf. He has a lot in common with the other men of Virgin River and feels especially connected to Rick. Dan also connects with another long-time resident of Virgin River who has felt like just as much of an outcast, the former town drunk, Cheryl. Cheryl is doing really well, post-rehab, but is pretty wary of getting involved with any guy. These two are a couple of emotionally wounded souls on the road to recovery. They develop a deep friendship, taking things really slow while simply enjoying each other's company and getting to know one another.
Paradise Valley wouldn't be a Virgin River book without appearances by all the favorite characters readers have come to love. Jack and Mel, Preacher and Paige, Mike and Brie, Paul and Vanni are all here, supporting their friends and families. We get a lot of the story from Jack's POV as he struggles with figuring out how to help Rick and Liz. Luke and Shelby put in an appearance, announcing plans for a wedding and starting a family. Dotty, old Hope McCray buys the abandoned church to resell on eBay, which I'm sure is a set up for the next full-length novel in the series, Forbidden Falls, in which a new minister comes to town as the hero. As always, these characters have become like a second family in my mind, and I can't wait for my next visit with them when I continue the series.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" The Drowning of Stephan Jones is yet another thought-provoking book from Bette Greene. It focuses on the extreme b...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" The Drowning of Stephan Jones is yet another thought-provoking book from Bette Greene. It focuses on the extreme bullying and eventual murder of a gay young man by a group of homophobic, supposedly Christian teens. Considering that this book was first published in 1991 when the environment for gays was still pretty hostile, I think it was not only a groundbreaking story, but also a very brave move on the part of the author. Not too surprisingly, it became one of the top 100 banned/challenged books of the 1990's. I can easily predict that many Christians would be off-put, if not outright offended, by the fact that the main perpetrators of the violence in the story are professing Christians. However, not all of of us are bothered by the book. I myself am a Christian, and I don't think that the author's intent was to bash Christianity, so much as it was to shed light on the problem of how certain Christian beliefs (or just ultra-conservatism in general) can lead to tragic consequences. She also explores the idea of responsibility and when it is our duty as citizens to speak up for what's right, as well as the very simple concept of treating every person equally, as a human being, no matter if they're different from us. Lastly, Ms. Greene touches on the importance of educating ourselves and our children, so tragedies like this don't happen in our own communities.
The primary character in this story is Carla, a high-school junior who isn't exactly the most popular girl in school. Her mother is the librarian of their small Southern town and pretty much the only liberal in a sea of conservatives. Carla's mom has always encouraged her to be open-minded, and Carla has learned a lot from books, which is where the idea of education as a way to prevent and combat prejudice and intolerance comes into play. Because of the way her mother raised her, Carla hates to see anyone being picked on, but at the same time, she has grown tired of being “different” because of the way that her mom always seems to be drawing negative attention to them with her activism. There is a part of me that could understand Carla's need to distance herself from her mother's “causes,” but I'm not sure it would have been quite as easy for me to identify with the conservative Harris family as it seemed to be for her. She was attracted to their son, Andy, and thrilled when he finally asked her out. I was very conflicted about her choice to go out with Andy, and more importantly, to then stay with him even after she found out about his bullying behavior toward the young gay couple in the next town. Part of me couldn't understand why she would even like a boy like that much less want to be his girlfriend, but I started thinking back to my own youth and some of the stupid things I did. Then it started to make sense. First of all bad boys often have an indescribable allure, especially for young girls, so in this respect, Carla was probably thinking more with her hormones than her head. Then there was the difficult to combat peer pressure, which made her feel like she had to go along with the crowd in order to be liked and fit in. Lastly, Carla seemed like a fairly shy girl. Deep down, she didn't really agree with Andy's position, but found it very hard to speak up, because Andy and the others pretty much overwhelmed her and steamrolled her whenever she tried. I may not have always agreed with Carla's choices, but when the chips were down and her friends actually attacked Stephan, she finally did do the right thing even though it ultimately wasn't enough to save him and also cost her dearly.
The other main characters in this story are the victims and the perpetrators. Stephan and his partner Frank moved to Arkansas from Boston for a change of pace, and run a little antiques shop in a touristy type town. They love the area and just want to live peacefully, but their plans are disrupted by a bunch of bullies who hate them merely for loving one another. Stephan is a pretty reserved young man, while Frank is more outspoken, but other then them being a gay couple there is nothing that sets them apart from the crowd. Their attackers are led by Andy, another young man who seems to appoint himself as judge, jury and executioner to this couple. It was easy to see where Andy learned how to hate and bully. He was a teen who was himself bullied by his own father, although it certainly didn't make his actions right on any level. It is difficult to imagine or understand how anyone can twist the Bible to justify the kind of hatred and violence that Andy commits, but I know it does happen. We want to believe that we live in a more civilized society nowadays, but there are those among the population who still behave like animals. Andy and his friends just happened to be some of those people.
As a parent I think that this book contains a strong message for teens, not only about the importance of being tolerant of those who are different, but also about standing up for what's right by speaking out when you know someone is being bullied. Even though the entire responsibility for Stephan's death lies squarely on the perpetrators, it is possible that if Carla had told someone about what Andy was doing sooner, it might not have escalated as far as it did. As to content that might concern parents, the book does have a fair bit of strong language, including several uses of the “f-word” and a lot of hate speech. I didn't find it to be gratuitous though, as it fit the characters and situations. I also don't think the story would have had quite the same impact without these “bad” words. There is no sexual content per se, but Carla mentions Andy pressuring her for sex. She thought long and hard about her answer before it even came up between them, and her response was a very mature one which sends another positive message to teens, especially girls. Any teen who is being bullied or fears bullying might be upset by the scenes in which Stephan is bullied. The final scene right before his death is particularly intense, as three good size guys, as well as two girls, are beating up on, molesting, and otherwise menacing a much smaller, innocent man who is begging for his life. In spite of this, I still believe that most older teens could handle the mature subject matter. In my opinion, it is no worse than some PG-13 movies.
Overall, The Drowning of Stephan Jones is a book that leaves the reader with a lot of food for thought. There was a twist to the ending that some may find fitting, but which may not be satisfying to others. I'm kind of undecided myself, because I can see it both ways. After reading several of Bette Greene's books, I've come to realize that she has a tendency to leave her endings somewhat open, and I will say that it was realistic for the time period in which it was written. While we now have hate crimes laws which would help prevent endings like this in real life today, there were no such laws at the time this story was written. Not only the ending, but the entire story was pretty realistic. As I was reading it, I was eerily reminded of the real-life murder of Matthew Shepard which had some really bizarre similarities. Since this book was published seven years before Matt's murder, there couldn't possibly be a correlation, but it does make one wonder how many other gay individuals have experienced this kind of abuse that we never even hear about. All in all, I thought that The Drowning of Stephan Jones was a very good book that I would recommend to anyone, mature teens and up, who want to read more about LGBT motivated hate crimes or who might want to challenge themselves to see those in the LGBT community from a different point of view.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Love's Long Journey was another wonderful story in the Love Comes Softly series that is so reminiscent of the Little House on...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Love's Long Journey was another wonderful story in the Love Comes Softly series that is so reminiscent of the Little House on the Prairie books. The author really brought to life the stark reality of the hardships on a wagon train and how sometimes people died along the way. There was also the sheer boredom and monotony of doing the same things and eating the same things day after day. Even once Missie and Willie get settled in a temporary home on the frontier, dangers and boredom still factor in, especially during the winter months. In between the wagon trip and getting settled, Missie and Willie experienced a long, difficult separation as she stayed in the closest town, which was several days ride from their ranch, awaiting the birth of their baby, while Willie went on to get things set up for them. And of course, there was the homesickness of being separated from their families who were so far away with very little means of communication. It all makes me really thankful to live in modern times, and also thankful for those courageous souls throughout history who braved the hardships of the frontier to expand our nation.
Much the same as with her mother, Marty's book, this one is told entirely from Missie's POV. She was a brave young woman who obviously loved Willie a lot to want to help him pursue his dream of cattle ranching. Although the journey itself and living in such an isolated area was often difficult and brought disappointments, Missie rarely complained. She just set her mind to doing what needed to be done and eventually she adjusted quite well. Her attitude was admirable, but that's not to say that I always agreed with her decisions to keep certain things from her husband. I understood that she was trying to avoid adding stress on Willie by not telling him at first about being pregnant or about her severe homesickness, but as someone who shares nearly everything with my husband, I felt like she should have trusted that he could handle it. Once she finally fesses up, Missie comes to that same conclusion herself, but later in the story she still keeps a couple of things from him, including an incident where one of the ranch hands menaces her. I really felt like she should have told Willie about that and allowed him to share her burdens a little more. Even though I sometimes didn't agree with Missie, overall, she was still a very relatable heroine with all of her emotional ups and downs. Missie is a keen observer of people and seems to have an intuitive sense about how they might be feeling or what they might need, and was always ready to lend a hand, which is something that I can really identify with.
I do kind of miss having the male perspective in these books, but the reader can get a pretty good feel for Willie through Missie's eyes. He is a kindhearted man toward others, a good husband to Missie, and a loving father to Nathan. He is a hard worker, a great provider for Missie and his child, and very protective of them both, always doing what was in their best interests even if it was difficult. Willie is a bit of a dreamer with his aspirations of starting a cattle ranch, but still pretty practical, and doesn't really take chances. I think what I liked most about him is the way he comforts Missie in times of sorrow and truly wants to share her burdens, and also his quiet faith and optimism.
There are many things to love about this book. The young love that Willie and Missie share and the way they can hardly stand to be apart from one another is so sweet and tender. The faith message is not at all preachy, but instead is a gentle one of relying on God to sustain you through difficult times. There is a full compliment of secondary characters, other pioneers, ranch hands, townspeople in Tettsford Junction, and more, who all give the story the flavor of the Old West and the sense of oneness as a community. Everything just came together to make Love's Long Journey a very enjoyable read, or perhaps I should say re-read, since I'm pretty sure I first read it years ago as a teenager. In any case, it was every bit as good today as it was back then, and I'm really looking forward to continuing the series. I can tell that there is more story for Missie and Willie, and I'm eager to find out what happens next for them.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews A Special Blessing for Sara is a gentle inspirational romance that in some ways is more reminiscent of women's fiction with a...moreReviewed for THC Reviews A Special Blessing for Sara is a gentle inspirational romance that in some ways is more reminiscent of women's fiction with a strong romantic element. The entire story is told from the third-person POV of the heroine with no male perspective at all (this is pretty rare in romance, but oddly enough, the third one like this I've read in a month). There is also equal, if not more, attention given to Sara's career as a counselor, her volunteer work with her church, and her family life as there is to her love life. With the focus of the novel split there was already limited space for relationship development, but then the author has not one but three men vying for Sara's affections at the same time. I've never been much of a fan of love triangles, much less love quadrangles. They usually take too much space away from the main hero and heroine, and don't allow for enough time to really develop their love. Ultimately, I think Sara chose the right man, but that decision came relatively easily without much depth of thought. Because of this, the romantic content was sweet and tender but only partially satisfying. I think the story holds up better when classified as women's fiction, because it's more about Sara's journey through a short period of her life, in a variety of different aspects, spiritual, emotional, family revelations and romantic choices, more so than a single romantic relationship. Overall, when I think of it in this capacity, I can honestly say I enjoyed it.
Sara is a caring, compassionate young woman who is very good at her job as a counselor but is struggling a bit in her personal life. Jeremy, her long-time boyfriend, who she thought was going to marry her, walked out of her life four months earlier after she refused to become intimate with him, and she's having a hard time getting over him. Sara is attracted to her co-worker, Ken, and he seems to be interested in her as well, but there is also Darrel, the handsome new youth pastor at her church. Then out of the blue, Jeremy comes back, wanting to rekindle their relationship. Decisions... decisions! Sara is pretty much the epitome of a sweet heroine who is simply nice to everyone, perhaps a little too nice at times, but her clients seem to love her, as do the youth at her church and basically everyone else too. I can't say that I really understood Sara's attachment to Jeremy and her willingness to start dating him again when he returned. In my opinion, he was very disrespectful of Sara and her feelings, and without making some serious changes in his life, he was clearly the wrong choice. That said, Sara's decision to go out with Ken if he asked her (before Jeremy returned) seemed a bit abrupt, considering it was Darrel who appeared to be showing the most interest in her at that point. It was also a little odd that she welcomed Ken into her home to visit but didn't really want Darrel there. Additionally, even though Sara and Ken had known each other through work for quite a while, I still thought that some of the information they shared about themselves on their first two dates was a little too personal for a couple who was just getting to know one another. Overall though, I liked Sara and two out of three of her men, as well as where the romance ultimately led.
There were a couple of things in the story that lacked credibility for me. First was Sara giving out her personal cell phone number to her clients and allowing them to call her anytime they needed assistance, as well as acting in a friendship capacity to a client while actively counseling her. I've known a lot of counselors in my life and this type of behavior would definitely be crossing the counselor/client relationship line and could possibly even get the counselor in trouble with the licensing board. However, I realize that some of this was done to set up a plot twist (which I actually figured out really early in the story), so I suppose I can forgive the use of artistic license. The other thing was that for young 20-somethings, the main characters have interests that, in my opinion, are too “old” for their age group. They listen to oldies or easy-listening type music, only seem to watch old black and white movies, and don't watch anything on TV except the news. Not to say that there might not be a few amongst the younger generation who enjoy these things, but I certainly don't know any who do, at least not on a regular basis. Even a middle-aged, 40-something like myself rarely does these things, so I would have preferred to see the characters act a little closer to their age. Lastly, and this isn't really a credibility issue so much as a critique, I felt the author's word choices were sometimes a bit too formal and stilted, and especially stood out when used in dialog.
In spite of a few small criticisms, I did enjoy A Special Blessing for Sara. Sara's close-knit family is very heartwarming, just the kind of family almost anyone would love to have. The multiple romantic connections that occur for the other single characters in the book was cute, and at least left me with a good feeling about no one really getting left out in the cold. I especially loved the way the people of the church reached out to help those in the community who were without power during the storm, particularly ones who were the most vulnerable, like the elderly. Readers who are averse to religious themes may not care for this one, because the faith message is ever-present throughout the narrative. I found it to be a gentle, organic part of the story and therefore, not off-putting in any way, but others may feel differently. Overall, this was one of those really sweet, super-easy reads that makes you feel like you've wrapped up in a warm blanket with a hot cup of cocoa on a cold winter's day. I would recommend it for anyone looking for a simple, uncomplicated story to relax and unwind from the stresses of life.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Pleasure Unbound was a very good start to what is shaping up to be an exciting and intriguing, new-to-me, dark par...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Pleasure Unbound was a very good start to what is shaping up to be an exciting and intriguing, new-to-me, dark paranormal series. It has a similar style and tone as J. R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood, but the premise is unique, centering primarily around demons and other creatures of the night who work at Underworld General, the demon hospital. Much like the bumper crop of vampires that now permeate the romance world, the idea here is that not all demons are evil either, and some of them have very respectable jobs and lives. There is also a light mystery sub-plot surrounding the identity of the person or persons responsible for the cruel harvesting of organs from live demons to feed the black market for such things. This is a very unusual story-line to say the least, and one that already has me quite eager for more.
I really liked the idea of Eidolon being a doctor. It's certainly not the kind of profession one might expect for a demon. Although he admits that demons can't be trusted, he does live by a moral code which makes him care for almost any patient who comes through their doors no matter what kind of creature it is, much like a human doctor would do. In spite of his care and concern for others as a doctor, by his very nature as a demon, Eidolon isn't particularly warm and tender, at least not at first. It took until more than halfway into the story before I really started to warm up to him. Two events became the turning point in my opinion of him. One was finding out what Eidolon had been doing for his brother, Wraith, which made me admire and sympathize with him. The other was how kind and loving he was toward Tayla when she finally told him all about her past and how he patiently helped her work through her inability to orgasm. He would also rather die than hurt Tayla, or anyone else, or make her feel obligated to mate him, so he definitely turned out to be a hero I could root for.
Tayla begins the story a bit prickly for my taste, but I suppose it's understandable given her background and her status as an Aegis Guardian. It doesn't really help things when she finds out that she's half-demon on top of it, and that the only way for her to survive is to integrate her human and demon DNA. That and meeting Eidolon challenges everything she's ever been taught to believe about demons and makes her have to rethink her position on whether they are innately evil. Tayla's inability to orgasm was an intriguing element, and while sometimes frustrating to me as a reader, I had a feeling there was a lot more to the story. Once the details of her backstory began to emerge, I was finally able to relate to her a lot better. Tayla is definitely a deeply emotionally damaged character, and while the author does focus on this for a while, Tayla overcomes most of that hurt relatively quickly. I think perhaps I would have liked to see a little more attention given to this part of her life, but overall, she was a good heroine.
Never having been a fan of love/hate relationships, I initially had a little trouble getting into whatever it was that Eidolon and Tayla shared during the first half or so of the book. I hesitated at that point to even call it a romance, because they were mortal enemies who could barely stand each other. I felt that their almost constant bickering, if not outright displays of hatred, put a lot of distance between them and didn't really lend itself to warmer, loving feelings. They did share a couple of passionate interludes, but it felt more like lust than anything else. It wasn't until well over the halfway point that the distance finally began to close, and I really felt like these two had a chance and were truly good for each other. Only having that deep emotional connection for less than half of the book is the main reason why I couldn't quite give it the full five stars.
Pleasure Unbound boasts some intriguing secondary characters. It introduces Eidolon's two brothers, Shade and Wraith, who become the heroes of the next two books, Desire Unchained and Passion Unleashed respectively. As incubi they are both intensely sexual beings. Shade has a devil-may-care personality and a curse upon him which dooms him to a fate worse than death if he ever falls in love. This sounds like it has the potential to become an excellent story, perhaps only slightly surpassed by Wraith's. He was tortured for years when he was younger, and even now, is battling addiction and teetering on the edge of insanity. I've always loved a good tortured hero, and Wraith is certainly shaping up to be a great one. I was also very drawn by Gem, a half-demon doctor and Kynan, the leader of the Aegis Guardian cell. These two definitely have the potential to become a very interesting couple, but since they don't have their own book in the series, I'm guessing that their relationship may play out as a secondary romance throughout the other books. There is also some excitement and mystery surrounding the kidnapping of Gem's parents. Last but not least was Luc, the werewolf paramedic. Once again, he doesn't have his own book, but based on something I saw on Larissa Ione's website, I think he may have a secondary romance as well.
Overall, Pleasure Unbound was a great start to the Demonica series. It ended with a bit of a cliffhanger. Ms. Ione left just enough unsolved mystery to have me clamoring for more, and the two sexy, tormented brothers as upcoming heroes certainly don't hurt either. I'm definitely looking forward to continuing with this series soon.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews The Meaning of Matthew is the story of the life and heart-breaking, violent death of Matthew Shepard in October of 1998 as tol...moreReviewed for THC Reviews The Meaning of Matthew is the story of the life and heart-breaking, violent death of Matthew Shepard in October of 1998 as told by his mother Judy Shepard. Matthew's story caused a firestorm of media attention because he was gay and his murder was deemed a hate crime against his sexual orientation. In large part, it was Matthew's death that began to bring greater attention to the LGBT community and the prejudices they face.
As I read this book, I was struck by how incredibly normal the Shepard family were. They were, and in many ways still are, a typical American family. They worked and raised children, celebrated special occasions and took family vacations. There was nothing about them which would have predicted what happened to them. But then, it usually is the most ordinary of people who find themselves in the midst of extraordinary circumstances that not only change their lives, but also the lives of others by shedding light into darkness.
Matthew sounds like he was a really lovely young man, a kind, caring, empathetic person who was always willing to lend a hand or befriend someone in need. He is remembered as being friendly, and someone who his peers were comfortable talking to, especially when they had problems. Matthew wasn't perfect though. He had his share of teen angst and troubles. I think that things really started to go downhill for him when he was attacked and gang raped in the streets of Morocco during a trip there with some classmates. He never really fully recovered from that incident, and afterwards, had a lot of emotional issues including PTSD and severe depression. He also started drinking heavily and wasn't taking his medications as prescribed. I can only imagine the terror he must have felt when his murderers abducted him. It would be incredibly frightening under any circumstances, but must have been doubly so because of what he'd been through before.
As a mom, I really sensed and understood Judy's frustration at not being able to help Matt get out of the destructive behavior he was in. I think there's a very fine line between helping a person help themselves and doing everything for them which is unhealthy. It appears that she and her husband did their best to help Matt, but he just wasn't ready, or able, to do what needed to be done to get better at that time. I felt very deeply for Matt. I get the feeling that he was probably trying to mask the pain of the rape and a certain degree of confusion about his sexual orientation by abusing alcohol and prescription drugs. It's so very sad that some people are never quite able to get out of that kind of destructive cycle. It's sadder still to know that at the time of his death, Matthew seemed to be trying to turn over a new leaf, but his efforts were snuffed out prematurely.
I can't even imagine how difficult it must have been for Judy and Dennis when Matthew passed away. It's hard enough to loose a child, but to have to go through that kind of pain under the intense glare of a media frenzy must have been excruciating. On top of that, they had to deal with Fred Phelp's "church" coming to protest at the memorial service, which caused the need for bomb sniffing dogs, a SWAT team, and Dennis having to wear a bullet-proof vest to a press conference. It all must have felt extremely surreal, like they'd just walked into the middle of complete chaos, when all they really wanted to do was just say goodbye to their son. Thankfully, Matt's murderers were arrested pretty quickly, but then the Shepard family had to deal with their trials. During one of the proceedings, the defense attorney essentially tried to paint Matt as the guilty party merely because of his sexual orientation or because he may have possibly hit on one of the men. If I were Judy, I probably would have been a basket case, but she somehow managed to handle everything with grace and dignity.
I really admire Judy's ability to write a book that was very fair and balanced. She never tried to paint her son as a perfect angel, and in doing so, she presented a portrait of a young man who was very real and human for all his faults and foibles. She also could have easily used this book as a platform to rail against the unfairness of it all. I have no doubt that she asked, “Why my son?” many times, but here she simply presented the story as it unfolded. She also could have ripped into a number of different people for various reasons, but she always chose to take the high road and look at things in a more positive light instead. Even though Judy stuck to the facts and tried to keep her emotions in check, I still couldn't help tearing up several times while reading this book.
I would highly recommend The Meaning of Matthew to anyone who is interested in learning more about LGBT issues and hate crimes. I also think it would be a good book for teaching teens to be more understanding to their LGBT peers. Other than the sensitive nature of the story itself, there is nothing in the book which would be objectionable for a mature YA audience. It can often be difficult to see the good in bad things, but this is one case where I think a lot of good has come from tragic circumstances. I think that Matthew's death, as unfair and horrible as it was, helped to open the lines of communication and opened doors for many in the LGBT community. I wholeheartedly believe that Matthew would be proud to know that his life, and death, have had such a positive impact in the world, because that's just the kind of person he was.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Indian Maidens Bust Loose is a chick-lit story told Indian style. It is a hilarious romp through Indian culture as a young, tw...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Indian Maidens Bust Loose is a chick-lit story told Indian style. It is a hilarious romp through Indian culture as a young, twenty-something woman gradually finds the courage to break free from her parents' old-school ways and live her own life. I learned a great deal about India and the culture there, and many of the things I discovered made me extremely grateful to live in America. This book is riotously funny, but woven throughout the humorous moments, the author managed to showcase the stark reality of the inequality which Indian women face on a daily basis. I can scarce imagine what it must be like to be pressured or even forced into an arranged marriage with someone you don't like much less love. Not to mention, not being allowed to take the job you want in spite of being highly educated and well qualified for it. And it's not just the women who face inequality, but the lower classes and orphans on the street. It was very inspiring to see the female characters in the story banding together to build a better life for themselves, but it's all done in a fun, light-hearted way.
Nisha is the first-person narrator of the story. She's a college graduate who wants to become a journalist. Her father won't allow it though, because the job might entail her working late hours, and a woman being out after a certain time of night is considered a big no-no. She and her sister, Vinita, also have to endure an endless parade of suitors, and their father seems to keep picking all the worst ones he can find. Nisha is a romantic at heart. She loves to read, mostly romance novels. There is a part of her that desperately wants to experience the kind of love and romance she reads about, but the other part of her is a realist, knowing the best she can probably hope for is finding a man who isn't from the bottom of the barrel where her father seems to be looking. Mostly, Nisha is the normal one in a family of wacky people, and is just trying to navigate through all the waves they've set in motion to find a place for herself in the world where she can feel comfortable and have a sense of belonging.
Indian Maidens Bust Loose had tons of uproarious moments. It could have been subtitled “Misadventures in Arranged Marriages” or “How Many Ways Can My American Cousins Ruin My Reputation.” The suitor meeting with the two brothers that ended in a family feud was hysterical. The things that happen to their poor little car were utterly zany. Nisha's father is a penny-pinching miser, so much so that he tried to haggle with the police like he would a street vendor over the cost of his daughters' bail. But I think the most priceless thing of all was the “magical” cow that her fathered turned into a money-making operation when he became convinced that it was the reincarnation of an Indian deity. This story would certainly make a riotous romantic comedy movie that I'd eagerly pay to see. I spent the majority of the time reading this book with a grin on my face, if not outright laughing, sometimes hard enough to produce tears of mirth.
Vidya Samson is a talented author who drew me in right from the start and kept me coming back with moments like those I mentioned above, as well as plenty of family drama. She masterfully combines heart-warming moments with hilarity and deftly weaves multiple plot points and characters together, bringing all of them full-circle by the end, with a few unexpected twists thrown in for good measure. Not a single event in the book is mere filler or wasted space. Everything has a purpose that is eventually revealed. I have no idea if Ms. Samson intends to write any more for Nisha or not. It seems like there could be the potential for more story, and if she did write it, I'd gladly read it. In the meantime, I'm really looking forward to checking out her other works.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Vamps and the City was another great installment in the Love at Stake series. It was a really fun read that was es...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Vamps and the City was another great installment in the Love at Stake series. It was a really fun read that was essentially a paranormal spoof of The Bachelorette, except in this case, rather than having only one bachelorette, there are five, the cast-off harem of Roman Dragenesti from the first book. I'm normally not a big fan of reality TV and have never actually watched The Bachelor/Bachelorette. I wasn't quite sure how I would like the premise when I started the book, but it didn't take long for me to really get into it. The story was pretty amusing and light-hearted with several LOL moments, and yet, Kerrelyn Sparks still managed to infuse the narrative with plenty of emotion and even some angst. Overall, it was a very enjoyable read.
I couldn't help but feel for Darcy in her situation. She has been living among the vampires for four years, but is having trouble being accepted as an intelligent and capable person in the chauvinistic, male-dominated vampire world. Her nervousness about applying for the job at the TV station made her sympathetic. It can be hard for an author to make a drop-dead gorgeous woman who doesn't seem to have any outer flaws vulnerable, but I think Ms. Sparks did a beautiful job of it with Darcy's character. I really liked that her first inclination when asked about her dream man was to describe his personality. Since I tend to pay more attention to a man's personality too, I could relate. It was really cute that she fell as head over heels at first sight for Austin as he did for her. She thinks that Austin's handsome co-worker is just OK, but is super attracted to Austin, even though her friends thought he was just meh. I've often had a tendency to go for guys that other women don't, so this was another way in which Darcy was relatable to me. I also think it showed that Darcy wasn't a shallow woman. Then there is her angst and turmoil over how she came to be a part of the vampire world, and how she can ever make a life with Austin with all that baggage. Everything came together to make Darcy a very likable and admirable heroine.
Austin was an equally likable hero. He does, of course, lie to Darcy about his identity at first, because he was working undercover for the Stake-Out team. He has also been taught to believe that all vampires are evil and must be killed, but underneath he has a pretty open mind. Once he starts to see the truth of things, he comes around pretty quickly and even becomes protective of the good vampires. It was really cool that Austin had psychic and telekinetic powers. This is a little different for paranormal romance, but it fit the story quite well. I loved that Austin is seriously attracted to the whole package that is Darcy and not just her beauty. It was really sweet that Austin doggedly pursued Darcy while she was a bit more reluctant because of her situation. Overall, Austin was an incredibly nice guy with a sensitive side who usually always said just the right thing in romantic situations.
Vamps and the City has a strong supporting cast. Roman and Shanna (How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire) put in a couple of brief appearances. The women of the harem were a hoot, although the only one who wasn't exceptionally shallow was Darcy's friend, Vanda. She gets to become the heroine of book #8, Forbidden Nights with a Vampire. We are also introduced to Emma, a new co-worker of Austin's on loan from MI6. She will be the heroine of the next full-length novel in the series, Be Still My Vampire Heart. The vampire men, Connor (Vampire Mine), Ian (All I Want for Christmas Is a Vampire), and Gregori (Sexiest Vampire Alive) also have roles in the story. I thought that Darcy's other friend, Maggie would make a good heroine too, but it doesn't look like she has her own book yet.
I enjoyed the initial mystery of whether Darcy was a vampire. There is a constant is she or isn't she vibe throughout the first third or so of the story. The reveal of both character's true identities came a little sooner than I expected, which led to a temporary separation in the middle of the book. Although Austin and Darcy's break-up made perfect sense for the story, this part lagged a little for me, because I really missed their sparkling chemistry. The ending had a great twist to it that I wasn't expecting, and I have to say that I'm really liking the development of the series story arc. Some things happened in this book that advanced the overall plot, and I'll be looking forward to seeing where things go next. Overall, Vamps and the City was a great read that has me eager to continue the series as soon as possible, and with two winners in a row, Kerrelyn Sparks has earned a spot on my favorite authors list.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" The Green Rose is a short novel of romance and high fantasy. This story of an intrepid hero and heroine going on a...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" The Green Rose is a short novel of romance and high fantasy. This story of an intrepid hero and heroine going on a quest to find the fabled green rose which will save their people from an evil mage and an invasion of monstrous creatures was a generally enjoyable one, but not particularly unique to the genre. I liked the premise of the plot, but felt it had some weaknesses. Many things happened far too easily. For example, when the story opens, Sonia has no idea that she can wield magic, but once she figures this out, she develops a strong command of it almost instantaneously. Also, the green rose is a powerful tool of magic that is carefully guarded by three witches, yet Ivanstan solved their riddle, which allowed him to take the rose, with relative ease. I would have liked to see a little more suspense building up to these things with perhaps a few missteps along the way. I think it would have made a fuller, richer and more interesting story. There were a couple of major plot points that weren't really explained very well either, one being why the mage, Bathyser, chose to betray his own people, and the other being why the green rose's magic wasn't used to heal a dying character. The first made the villain pretty one-dimensional, and the latter, while somewhat important to the overall plot, I thought could have been better clarified.
Sonia and Ivanstan were likable characters. They are both honorable people who are heirs to the thrones of their respective countries. They are also both skilled and courageous warriors who led their soldiers into battle. Underneath it all though, they have no real flaws that I could detect. They seem to be virtually perfect. I thought that perhaps giving them some sort of vulnerability would have made them more interesting and given them more depth. I've also never been much of a fan of instant attraction in romances, but that was exactly what happened here. This couple falling in love was another thing that happened a bit too easily. For quite a while I didn't really feel much of a connection between Sonia and Ivanstan, because the early parts of their relationship seemed more lustful than romantic to me. There were a number of instances where one or the other of them, or someone else, interrupted a moment of passion between them, as well as a couple of aborted attempts at love-making. I think all of this was meant to build sexual tension, but as a reader, it simply left me frustrated. I would have preferred more romantic interludes woven throughout the story and then waited until the end for a bigger love scene. It did get better as the story went along, but I don't think I finally started feeling the love and romance between this couple until their love scene which is pretty far along in the book. In my opinion, the main problem was too much telling and not enough showing when it came to the hero and heroine's feelings for one another. I think more gestures, body language and introspection would have really helped with this.
In spite of any perceived weaknesses, The Green Rose, as with all of Stephanie Burkhart's stories I've read to date, was a light, entertaining read populated with likable characters. I was particularly taken with the animal characters and the way in which the human characters bond with them to share their thoughts and life force. I was especially fond of Ivanstan's dragon, Draco. The dragons in this book are a little smaller than I'm used to seeing in fantasy stories, but there's just something about them that always intrigues me. Overall, The Green Rose was a sweet story. The only other small complaint I have is that I felt the author overused the word, “Aye.” While reading, I thought of a dozen other words and phrases that could have been used instead to cut down on the repetitiveness, and also some instances where the word probably wasn't necessary at all, but this was a relatively minor thing in a book that was otherwise a very pleasant diversion.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Angle of Attack was not really like any book I've read before, so I was very surprised by how well it held my attention. It is...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Angle of Attack was not really like any book I've read before, so I was very surprised by how well it held my attention. It is a mystery/suspense novel that is primarily a story in which the hero has been set up to take the fall for some serious crimes and must figure out who is trying to frame him and why. He has also been working with his brother to repair an essentially stolen WWII Mustang P-51 fighter and make it sufficiently air-worthy to fly to New Mexico where it is being purchased by some mysterious buyers. With the airplane side plot and the hero being a pilot (although primarily of gliders), there is a strong aviation element. This is also the first book I've ever read in the male first-person POV. I thought that this perspective, added to the rapid fire pace and writing style, gave the book something of a hard-boiled feel even though Clay isn't a detective. For me anyway, the book had a unique and different aspect to it that was an enjoyable departure from my usual reading material.
Clay was an interesting character in that he isn't entirely a good guy. In fact, I thought he had a touch of the anti-hero in him. He spent three years in prison for something he technically didn't do. He was involved in some shady dealings throughout his youth and at the time of his arrest, but what the police ended up charging him with was a complete set-up. Even now, he is indirectly involved in growing pot and is helping his brother with the “stolen” vintage airplane. In spite of all this, I found Clay to be a surprisingly likable character, although his taste in women is highly questionable, and I was initially a little off-put by him taking a bit too much notice of women who were half his age. Still, I admired his open-mindedness, and he did the right thing by cooperating with the police when he realized he was being set-up yet again. He also unselfishly abandoned his plans to disappear and take on a new identity to escape the stigma of being a con when life threw a curveball at him, which I felt showed he had a caring side.
The story has a number of secondary characters, but most we don't get to know it depth because of it being completely told in Clay's POV. When he unexpectedly reconnected with Montana, his high-school girlfriend who turns out to be his new parole officer, I really had to wonder about her. She definitely seemed to be one of those crazy women whose mood can change on a dime and who doesn't quite know what she wants. She pretty much epitomized the saying, "Crazy in the head; crazy in bed," and although there is nothing particularly explicit in the narrative, it's easy to tell that the sexual chemistry still burns fairly hot between her and Clay. In fact, this may be the only reason that Clay put up with her during their teen years and continues to once they meet up again, because otherwise, they were almost like oil and water. I was not in the least surprised by where Montana ended up. The other prominent secondary character is Montana's daughter, Tharcia. She becomes a driving force in Clay's life, someone he wants to protect and care for. Again, I was not at all surprised by certain revelations about their relationship. To the contrary, I would have been shocked if it hadn't turned out that way.
The only small problem I had was that I never quite figured out why Clay's glider student jumped out of the aircraft and in doing so, allegedly tried to kill Clay. However, I'm willing to admit that I may have missed this plot point due to being very tired while reading. Otherwise, it was an enjoyable story. The parts about the airplanes and flying deftly showcase the author's personal experience in these areas. It did get a little tedious for me as this simply isn't a primary area of interest, but I have no doubt that aviation enthusiasts would enjoy it immensely. Overall, Angle of Attack was a fast-paced mystery/suspense story that nicely weaves together multiple plot points. I would recommend it for anyone who likes this type of story or is interested in flying.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" After thoroughly enjoying the first two stories in the Wild Wulfs of London series, especially The Dark One, I fou...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" After thoroughly enjoying the first two stories in the Wild Wulfs of London series, especially The Dark One, I found The Untamed One to be something of a let-down. It just didn't capture my imagination and emotions in the same way that the other two did. I felt that the characters were somewhat underdeveloped and their motivations were sometimes questionable. The plot itself was rather weak, and some of the situations in which the characters find themselves seemed a little forced, like they were there just for the sake of propelling the plot along. At right around 300 pages, The Untamed One is on the short side for a single-title romance, and I thought a few more pages could have really helped to tell a meatier story.
Jackson was a reasonably likable hero, but there were times, especially early in the story, when I had trouble understanding him. He has a history of drinking too much and being a notorious womanizer. Normally, when a romance hero is like that, he has some emotional turmoil in his past which drives him to this place. Of course, there was the curse, but it wasn't really discussed in any detail. The reader isn't exactly made privy to his thought processes, so that we can understand what it was like for him to live with that imprecation or what precisely might be bothering him otherwise. Jackson also begins the story by haring off to kill a witch in hopes of breaking the family curse which didn't end up making a great deal of sense to me. If Lucinda were a descendant of the witch who cursed the Wulf males, that at least might seem like a decent reason for him wanting to kill her, but just killing some random witch to break the curse is kind of grasping as straws, in my opinion. Granted he didn't go through with it. He ultimately had mercy on Lucinda and helped her to deliver her baby instead, but one has to wonder if the villagers hadn't been upon him and he wasn't about to transition into the wolf if he would have let her go so easily. When Lucinda turns up in London at the family's townhouse, I thought Jackson acquiesced a little too quickly. Him offering to buy her new clothes and more importantly, agreeing to marry her almost instantaneously, even if it was in name only, just lacked credibility for me. However, Jackson did treat Lucinda and her baby with kindness and was thoroughly protective of them both, which is why I can say that I mostly liked him in spite of him having questionable motives at times.
Lucinda did a few debatable things of her own. When she thought Jackson was dead, she tried to pass herself off as his wife. I honestly can't blame her for not wanting to attempt raising a baby on the streets, and admittedly, if she hadn't done what she did, the baby might have died. Still, it seemed a little underhanded to me. Once again, if the reader had been made privy to her thoughts, I probably would have sympathized more with her actions. The other main issue I had with Lucinda was that to me, she didn't really behave like a woman who had been raped. Granted she was knocked out with a sleeping potion when it happened and doesn't consciously remember the incident, but oftentimes the body will remember things that the mind does not. I felt that her sexual attraction for Jackson developed a little too quickly and her actions lacked the caution of someone who has been through a traumatic experience. Lucinda does reject Jackson's advances at first, but because there is little internal rumination on her part, I could only speculate that it was due to the rape. Without fully knowing her thoughts on the matter, it just as easily could have been for some other reason. Much like with Jackson though, she was a caring person who tried to help him with the curse, and was a good mother to her son which made her a likable character even if she was somewhat underdeveloped.
Much of the sexual tension between Jackson and Lucinda came off as more lusty than romantic to me which was quite surprising, considering that I found the first two stories of the series to be very romantic. It did improve somewhat as the story went along, but I think two of the main reasons for this were the need for more introspection and character development. I also caught the author doing the dreaded telling rather than showing several times. Additionally, I think more gestures and body language would have helped a lot in conveying the characters' feelings for one another.
There weren't a lot of secondary characters in The Untamed One, and I really missed the presence of the other Wulf brothers. I realize now that it would have been impossible for Sterling or Armond to be a part of the story, because having already broken their own curses, they would have told Jackson how to go about it, leaving him with no purpose. Still, having few supporting players made the narrative and dialog a little bland. It was nice to see the traveling circus troupe from A Wulf's Curse (from Midnight Pleasures) again, but they played a very small role. While the villain in the The Dark One was a constant, menacing presence, here he was pretty one-dimensional. For the most part he is a vague, distant threat who only shows up in a couple of scenes. Obviously, he wouldn't hesitate to do Lucinda and her baby harm, but his reasons seemed a little extreme to me. He was fairly far down the line of succession to the throne and had two legitimate heirs already, so I couldn't quite imagine why he would feel the need to murder an illegitimate offspring. Even royalty in those days often had bastard children, and as far as I know, due to their illegitimacy, they generally had no rights in the line of succession anyway.
Overall, The Untamed One may have had a lot of weak points, but it was still a reasonably entertaining read with a likable, if not always relatable, hero and heroine. It is one that fans of the Wild Wulfs of London probably would not want to miss. Even with a slight misstep here, I am still looking forward to continuing the series. This book does give the reader another glimpse of Amelia Sinclair, the heroine of the last book of the series, The Cursed One. I've liked her all along, as well as her hero, Gabriel Wulf, so hopefully, their story will be a little stronger than this one and finish the series off with a bang.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I absolutely love Barbara Samuel's stories of forbidden love, and now that I've read The Sleeping Night, I have ye...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I absolutely love Barbara Samuel's stories of forbidden love, and now that I've read The Sleeping Night, I have yet another one to add to my keeper shelf. Ms. Samuel is one of the most talented authors I know at writing interracial tales of seemingly impossible love. She is also one of the best at conveying a deep sense of yearning between her characters that makes me as the reader want to weep with joy when they finally come together and get their HEA. I like how she expresses the connection between the hero and heroine through longing looks, the barest of touches and shared words. The words are particularly important to this book because a large part of it is told in an epistolary format. It was Angel's letters that gave Isaiah the strength to keep going in the midst of the horrors of WWII, and he in turn had someone with an open and listening heart to whom he could write about both the good and the bad things he'd witnessed. Their letters begin in a friendly way and gradually build into something deeper, even if they can't come right out and say, “I love you.” They also share their appreciation of words through the books they both love so much. All the book references were wonderful, as well as how the pair still maintain their individuality by enjoying different types of books.
Angel is a rather plain young woman with the heart of a lion. She married one of her childhood friends just two weeks before he shipped out to fight in the war and was widowed mere months later. Deep down, it wasn't her husband that she truly loved though, but Isaiah, who had been her best friend and constant companion throughout most of her life. Angel is a kind, caring person with a strong and loving faith in God. She was extremely well brought up by a daddy who had an epiphany during his own wartime experience where he believed that Jesus came to him and told him that He loved everyone equally no matter the color of their skin. When Angel's father returned from the war, he opened a store where he primarily serves the black people on the “wrong side” of his small Texas hometown, and Angel has been helping him since she was a little girl. Angel is a free-spirited young woman with a vivid imagination. She loves to go barefoot and be outside in nature and has an affinity with animals. The little injured bird she tamed is really cute. She is also a talented cook and adores children, longing for some of her own, but for now, settles on teaching her Sunday School class. Angel is a generous soul, always doing for others, but she suffers prejudice of her own, both for her decision to live alone and keep running the store after he father passes away and for her sympathy toward the African Americans in the community.
Isaiah has loved Angel since he was a little boy. He even told his father that he was going to marry her someday, which earned him a stern reprimand, because in that era, even a little boy who was black saying something like that about a white girl could get himself killed. I could really sense Isaiah's pain and frustration over the racism that was rampant in Texas and the entire South at that time. It was the prejudice that had taken his father's life, and even after returning home from fighting in the war, Isaiah was still treated like a second-class citizen, as though his sacrifice was meaningless. It had been a refreshing change for him to be treated decently by the British and Europeans who weren't bothered by the color of his skin and didn't care much for America's segregation debate. Isaiah had all but vowed never to return home, but an errand for an old acquaintance and the call of his heart for Angel brought him back to the same hateful, bigoted Texas he'd wanted to leave far behind. Isaiah obviously cares very deeply for Angel and is frustrated by not being able to express his feelings because of the danger it could put them both in, but underneath his anger over not being able to claim the woman he loves, Isaiah is a gentleman with a scholarly side. He treats his mother with great respect, and loves children every bit as much as Angel does. He is also a very talented builder.
It's obvious that Isaiah and Angel are prefect for each other, which is why as a reader it was a little bit frustrating that they couldn't be together sooner. I understood that Isaiah and Angel couldn't touch or even interact very much because of the danger they faced from racists, but it does make the early part of the story move a little slow. I was absolutely dying for them to just brush in passing or maybe think of one another in more overtly romantic terms, which would have built a little more sexual tension. Even now though, I can't decide if this was a weakness of the story or pure genius on the author's part, because it appeared that Isaiah and Angel were trying to avoid even thinking of each other in that way, knowing how impossible their love would be. When they finally do touch, it's a very emotional moment, but it still takes a while for things to build between them. When the first love scene finally happens, it was utterly beautiful.
While I wouldn't categorize The Sleeping Night as an inspirational romance per se, it does contain a very gentle spiritual message. Angel maintains a strong but quiet faith in God and His ability to work good even in the midst of the most trying circumstances. Isaiah, on the other hand, understandably lost his faith after witnessing the horrors of WWII. Angel never tries to change his mind though, but instead treats his views with respect and offers him understanding and patience, believing that she can have faith for both of them. Ultimately, it is her gentleness and love that helps to restore Isaiah's faith. I really loved and related to how this part of the story played out, and think that many authors of inspirational romances could learn a lesson from it about not having one character browbeat the other when it comes to spiritual issues.
Overall, The Sleeping Night was yet another beautiful story from Barbara Samuel's fertile imagination. It was one of the earliest books she wrote, but at the time, there was no market for it. I'm so glad that her significant other encouraged her to dust it off, give it an overhaul, and get it published. It's definitely a refreshing and welcome addition to the romance genre that I highly recommend.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews In the Company of Darkness is a romantic suspense novel that is heavy on the mystery/suspense element and light on the romance...moreReviewed for THC Reviews In the Company of Darkness is a romantic suspense novel that is heavy on the mystery/suspense element and light on the romance. Cole, the hero, is a police detective, and Sidney, the heroine, is an attorney working in the county prosecutor's office. When the prime suspect in a murder case that Sidney is trying escapes from custody and she begins receiving creepy messages, Cole is assigned to protect her. Together, the two work to uncover the truth about the murder of a pharmaceuticals heiress and in the process discover some grisly finds that make them realize there is more to this case than meets the eye. The mystery/suspense part of the plot was interesting and pretty well done, although there were times I had a little trouble following what was going on. There also wasn't quite enough set-up for the secondary characters as potential red herrings for me to have a chance to speculate on who the real killer might be. Since that's half the fun of reading a mystery story, this was a little disappointing.
As for the romance, Cole and Sidney develop an attraction for one another from the moment they meet which gradually builds until there is one brief, mild love scene near the end. To me, the romantic element contained very little emotion and remained primarily on the physical plane. Both Cole and Sidney seemed like very cerebral people and as a consequence, lacked the sentimentality to convey the romantic connection as effectively as I would have liked. Neither, to the best of my recollection, made any declarations of love. The story takes place over perhaps a week, if even that. I freely admit that most of the time, it's hard to believe that two people can fall in love that quickly, so for that reason, not having them say, “I love you,” was probably the more believable route to take. However, it did leave something to be desired. Also, the ending was more HFN than HEA with Cole and Sidney implicitly agreeing to continue their relationship. Because the romance was so light, I almost feel like the book might be better categorized as a straight suspense/thriller.
Cole and Sidney are both likable characters for as well as I got to know them. The decisions they make and the way they react to certain events throughout the book, seem to be fueled by traumatic incidences from each of their pasts. The reader learns about these sordid occurrences through frequent flashbacks that only reveal bits and pieces at a time. Sometimes these could be a little confusing, especially since there were essentially three mysteries to follow at once, the main plot and both characters' backstories. In my opinion, it was just a little too much for one relatively short book, and the backstory mysteries occasionally distracted from the main story. I think it would have been more effective to just let the reader in on what makes the characters tick right from the get-go, or perhaps leave only one shrouded in mystery while the other was more open. I also felt that Cole and Sidney's combined pasts were filled with a little too much tragedy, almost to the point that they became depressing to read about.
The author definitely has a talent for the art of metaphor and imagery, almost to the point that the book had a more literary feel to it. I'm not entirely sure that this is the best approach for a popular fiction genre though, as it can be easy to loose your target audience. Such was the case for me, as the long passages using this device, at times, made me temporarily loose the direction of the story and forget what the characters were doing. In my opinion, the author overused rhetorical questions as a literary device too. Additionally, every once in a while there seemed to be a little hiccup in the flow of the dialog or narrative where I felt like I'd missed something, like some little detail was left out. I found several continuity errors as well, and a few times names were thrown out, leaving me with no idea who the characters were talking about. Lastly, I wasn't overly fond of the POV flip-flopping back and forth between the hero and heroine with no warning. It was just a little jarring to be in one character's perspective and then abruptly dumped into the other's POV.
Overall, In the Company of Darkness was a decent read in spite of any perceived weaknesses. For the most part, it held my attention. It was rather fun reading a book that takes place in the city I call home, where I know the streets and places that the characters visit. The hero and heroine were agreeable, the mystery was intriguing, and the nail-biting ending kept me on the edge of my seat. Readers who like rich imagery and a nuanced touch that has more the feel of classic noir will probably enjoy this one more than I did. I think I just tend to be the type of person who prefers more straightforward narrative with a little less bleakness in tone and characters. A bit more in the romance department definitely would have been welcome too, but all in all, not a bad little story.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" This was a very difficult review to write. It can be challenging to critique any book, but it's especially hard wh...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" This was a very difficult review to write. It can be challenging to critique any book, but it's especially hard when that book is the author's own narrative. Still, I couldn't help coming away from reading Jew in Jail with rather mixed feelings, and I hope that I can explain those feelings without sounding overly judgmental. For starters, when I received the book for review, I somehow mistakenly got the impression that the author had suffered from prejudicial treatment while in prison due to his ethnicity and religion which wasn't really the case. He did fight an ongoing battle to be placed in another facility which had a larger Jewish population, but at first, he, by his own admission, was doing it mostly to be closer to his family. When first arrested, Mr. Goldstein acknowledged that he hadn't even been an observant Jew of late, and ended up being one of those prisoners who reconnected with his faith while serving his time. I do believe that as time passed he became more faithful to his religion and genuinely did want to move to another prison in order to be even more observant by being in a larger group of his fellow Jews. Although the author does contend that he believed his Constitutional Rights were being violated by the powers-that-be in the prison system not granting his repeated requests for transfer due to religious reasons, he does not at any point claim that they were singling him out for such treatment. However inadequate they might have been, the prison system did have rabbis who came fairly regularly to every facility where the author spent time, so with this potential prejudice set aside, Jew in Jail simply becomes one man's narrative of his experiences with the judicial and penal systems.
All that said though, my mixed feelings had little to do with any disappointment over my own preconceived notions. The story was admittedly interesting right from the start, but the further I read, the more self-centered it seemed to become. I realize that this is always true to some degree with any memoir, but there were times when I felt like Mr. Goldstein rarely was able to look outside of himself at the people around him without criticizing them for one thing or another. The book often felt like a series of complaints about instances in which he felt he was treated unfairly and how he chose to respond to those things. I understand that there is a political hierarchy within the prison system and one must learn how to play the game and fight for their own rights or risk being branded a weakling and constantly suffer abuse. Still, I think that one must choose their battles wisely, and I wasn't always convinced that the author had done that.
Firstly, at no point did Mr. Goldstein deny that he had committed the crimes of which he was accused, only that he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol at the time. While I understand that he may have gotten a raw deal in his court proceedings, some of that was his own doing, not only by committing the crimes in the first place, but also through a series of errors in judgment. These mistakes included but were not limited to confessing to the police (not once but three times) without counsel present, not pressing harder on the issue of being under the influence, and most importantly, not requesting new counsel when his assigned public defender was obviously either an incompetent boob or “in bed” with the prosecutor, all of which ultimately led to him pleading guilty instead of standing trial. However, everyone makes mistakes, and the author does often admit his own flaws, but it doesn't usually stop him from seeming to turn the blame back on someone else eventually.
As to his time in prison, I have no doubt that Mr. Goldstein was harassed at times by both his fellow inmates, as well as some guards. As to the other prisoners, the author seems to have been able to handle himself pretty well. As for the guards, it's a sad fact of prison life that many of the people in these jobs are narcissists who, when placed in such a position of power choose to misuse it. There were some cases, such as when his personal journal was confiscated as contraband, where I felt that the author was well within his rights to fight it, but there were other times when, by his own admission, he simply let his temper get the best of him and had he kept his mouth shut, he might have avoided getting into trouble. There were even a few times that he confessed to, in essence, “gaming” the system, and while I can appreciate his candidness, these little episodes of dishonesty made it more difficult to sympathize when the real trouble came about. The author is also very direct in his opinions of nearly everyone he meets, and at times, I wasn't quite sure how to take that. Occasionally, he seems to be joking, but more often than not, he appears serious. Oftentimes, his comments seemed to come off with an air of superiority. While I'm sure some of these people who were the targets of the name-calling and biting commentary deserved it, I wasn't so certain that others did. Having been made fun of a great deal in my life, I'm pretty sensitive about such things, even when directed at someone else, and prefer to see a bit more diplomacy employed.
Ultimately, it's not my place to judge this man's experiences, and that's not what I'm trying to do. On some level, I understand his reasons for doing the things he did, but I think I could have been even more sympathetic if he'd included more personal narrative. The author states that he had addiction problems long before this incident, and I often found myself wondering what caused this kind of a downward spiral until he finally hit rock bottom. He also admits to having committed a previous robbery for which he only received probation, but he only really mentions it in conjunction with why he got such a stiff sentence the second time around. Periodically, throughout the book Mr. Goldstein says that he realizes he wouldn't be in whatever situation he finds himself if he hadn't broken the law and often expresses his regrets. I have no doubt that he's sorry for what he did, but more often than not his remorse centers on the grief he caused his family rather than his victims. It's certainly admirable for him to be apologetic to, and infinitely appreciative of, his loving family, and understandable that he would focus on them since his father passed away seven months after his arrest. However, it might have been nice for him to express more contrition toward his victims as well and perhaps even a desire to offer them some sort of restitution upon his release. If he did, it's not something that was mentioned in this book. The last thing I would have liked to see was more self-reflection. Aside from mentioning his attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and other support and vocational programs, the author discusses very little about his actual recovery. I couldn't help wondering why he didn't seem to suffer any side effects from withdrawal, and his transformation appeared to be almost instantaneous. I just think it would have been helpful to understand his state of mind and what kind of mental and emotional adjustments he had to make to succeed.
If Mr. Goldstein meant Jew in Jail to be an angry rant against the judicial and penal system, it rings rather hollow to me. He would have had to take the high road himself every single time and cite more cases than his own to convince me of widespread abuses. The harsh reality is that prison is not a nice place to be under any circumstances, and sometimes it may seem unfair or even unjust, so in that respect, his story does not seem to be all that different than what I imagine most guys face behind bars. However, the author does raise some valid issues regarding the prison system and the possible need for reforms, especially when guards or others in charge appear to be misusing their power.
Jew in Jail works much better as one man's journal of day-to-day prison life and his own personal journey, and in that capacity, it is an intriguing story worth reading. I learned quite a lot about the inner workings of prison life that I didn't know, and was rather surprised by how well the book held my interest. The author is a good writer with an engaging style that made this lengthy tome an easy read. However, I think he could have used a good editor as he has a tendency to write in run-on sentences and be a bit repetitive. Overall though, it was pretty well put together. I admire Mr. Goldstein for his tenacity. He's like a dog with a bone and just doesn't give up even when it might be prudent to do so. I sincerely wish him all the best and hope he's been able to put that dogged persistence to good use on the outside staying clean and sober and starting a new life, which seems to be the case.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Rainshadow Road is a light, easy read that picks up where Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor left off, and Lisa Kleypas continues...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Rainshadow Road is a light, easy read that picks up where Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor left off, and Lisa Kleypas continues her experiment with writing in a slightly different style than she has in the past. I thought that the early part of the story had something of a chick-lit feel to it. I definitely wouldn't categorize the book in that genre though, because it doesn't really have the typical breezy, humorous quality that is common to chick-lit. However, it does move along at a fairly brisk pace, the dialog is snappy and more modern with plenty of interactions between Lucy and her two best girlfriends, and it has a little less sentimentality than most romance I read. During the first ½ or so of the book, the author doesn't go into as much depth with feelings and expressions that can often help set the tone for a romance. Much like it's predecessor in the series, Rainshadow Road has only one moderately descriptive love scene. Ms. Kleypas also introduces an element of magical realism with our hero and heroine each possessing a little magic. Lucy is very connected to her glass art to the point that she can literally bring it to life, and Sam has a special connection to plants. This bit of light fantasy takes the book slightly outside the realm of traditional contemporary romance, but it is woven seamlessly into the story so that it doesn't permeate the entire thing or seem all that strange. I admit I haven't read Sarah Addison Allen's books, but based on what I know of them, I think fans of her work would probably enjoy this series. Rainshadow Road may be a little outside the ordinary for longtime fans of Lisa Kleypas, but I think it showcases her versatility as an author.
When the story opens, Lucy is being dumped by her longtime, live-in boyfriend who is now demanding that she move out so his new girlfriend who happens to be Lucy's younger sister can move in. He also reveals that he has been cheating on Lucy for months, trying to have his cake and eat it too. At this point, I felt really bad for Lucy, because it seems that, due to a childhood illness, her sister has always gotten whatever she wanted. She was spoiled and pampered while Lucy kind of faded into the background. Right now, what her spoiled sister wants is Lucy's boyfriend. Of course, she gets him, but Lucy is far better off without him. She finds a great catch in Sam, and after being hit by a car, she ends up recuperating at his house where they get to know each other intimately.
Sam is still the charming nice guy. I admired him for his commitment to fixing up his old, broken-down Victorian house, his love of the land and making wine, and his love for and commitment to his niece, Holly. I was a little worried when I read in the cover blurb that Lucy's ex asks him to romance her, thinking that it might end in the dreaded big misunderstanding, but I couldn't have been more wrong. I ended up loving Sam's honesty. He has no sympathy for guys who cheat and is completely up front with Lucy about her ex's request. I adored Sam's geeky side. The way he's always wearing fun, nerdy t-shirts and throwing out little scientific tidbits is delightful. I don't think anyone has ever made the periodic table so sexy. I like that Sam has a conscience and tries to warn Lucy off from getting involved with a commitment-phobe like him. I thought it was very sweet that he not only nursed Lucy after she was injured but wanted to protect her heart as well.
I did wonder how a girl who was insecure and still getting over a breakup with a boyfriend who cheated on her and a guy with commitment issues were going to create a forever bond and get their HEA. The romance moved a little slowly at first because there wasn't a great deal of interaction between Lucy and Sam until she's injured and he agrees to take care of her. Once she moves in, things get going between them fairly quickly, at least from a physical standpoint. Initially, I wasn't thrilled with the casual, sex-only nature of their relationship and the way that Sam refused to ever sleep in the same bed with Lucy. I thought it left a lot of distance between them, like they were together, but not really together. A more genuine emotional connection doesn't happen until the last ¼ of the book, but as their relationship progressed, I began to feel it more and more. The moment when they share their magic with each other was a particularly lovely one. Sam and Lucy's habit of saying, "I don't love you; I don't love you too," at first felt kind of cold while at the same time being rather amusing. Each time they say it again though, it seems to take on more meaning until it essentially becomes a safe way of saying the exact opposite. The ending was sweet and heartwarming, and I enjoyed how the "magic" of Lucy's love for Sam was what ultimately changed everything for him, and them as a couple.
The secondary characters were great too. I loved seeing Mark and Maggie (Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor) get married and ride off into the sunset, so to speak, with little Holly and Renfield, the dog, in tow. We also get to meet Lucy's two best friends, Justine and Zoe who run their own bed and breakfast. Justine appears to be the more solid, practical one while Zoe seems a little more on the whimsical side. Since there isn't a synopsis posted yet for Cystal Cove, the third book of the series due for release in Feb. 2013, it took a little research, but I finally found an interview with Lisa Kleypas where she says that Justine will be the heroine of that book. Zoe will be paired with Sam's brother, Alex, in the next book, Dream Lake, which will be released next month (Aug. 2012). In the one short scene Alex and Zoe shared in Rainshadow Road, they really drew me in and had me feeling a connection between them that I hadn't even felt between Sam and Lucy at that point. Alex is an incredibly talented craftsman, but he's not dealing well with his divorce and appears to be heading down the road to alcoholism like his parents. Zoe is a divorcée who was hurt by a husband who cheated on her with another man. She is a very sweet, gentle person who loves cooking, and her food seems to be nourishing to Alex's soul as much as his body.
Although I would have liked to see a stronger emotional bond between Sam and Lucy and a little more romance earlier in the book, Rainshadow Road was still a solid, satisfying story. It can be fun to see favorite authors branch out and and try something new. I think it can help to keep the creative juices flowing, and in this case, I'd say that, so far, Lisa Kleypas' experiment with the Friday Harbor series is a success. I'm very much looking forward to continuing the series and reading about Alex and Zoe when their story comes out.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via GoodReads FirstReads in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "2.5 stars" I'm not entirely sure where to start with expressing my feelings about this book. Only the Strongest Survive was b...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "2.5 stars" I'm not entirely sure where to start with expressing my feelings about this book. Only the Strongest Survive was by far one of the most unusual books I've ever read, but I'm not entirely sure that's a good thing. First, I've never read a book where I didn't really like any of the characters. Since I primarily read for pleasure, I much prefer having at least one or two characters that I feel compelled to root for, because without that, it's all but impossible for me to truly enjoy it. The supporting players are all rather one-dimensional and unrelatable, never moving me in any way except perhaps to feel like smacking a few of them for their selfish, opportunistic attitudes. When Emely disappears, most of them spend the remainder of the story thinking about how they can use this to their advantage, rather than actually being concerned for her safety and trying to find her, which doesn't speak much to her character either. The only one who isn't really like this is Blake, Emely's right-hand man and the one who takes over the management of her company in her absence. He was the only semi-likable character in the whole story which is ironic, considering that he's a lawyer, but he was still too dull to really stand out. Everyone else is quite simply self-absorbed and/or obsessed with money, lust, power, prestige and how they can get more of these things, rather than anyone truly caring about their fellow human beings in any capacity.
I sympathized with Emely to the extent that I don't think anyone deserves to be kidnapped, raped, buried alive, and then held captive for four months. We gradually learn about her past in flashbacks as a reporter interviews various people while trying to piece together a story following her disappearance. Emely spent her entire childhood in an orphanage and during her early adult life seemed to be a fairly admirable person. She knew what it was like to be poor, but pulled herself up by her bootstraps to follow her dream of becoming a stockbroker and eventually, started her own company. However, somewhere along the way (and to be honest I'm not sure where), she seemed to loose sight of her humble roots and became a greedy, conniving, workaholic businesswoman who formed few attachments and literally would do anything to make her next million. She didn't seem to care how her actions affected the people who owned or worked for the companies she took over through underhanded means as long as she was making a profit from it. Her experience with John made her think a little more deeply about her work, at least from the standpoint of never taking a break from it, but even after she finally returns, I was not in any way led to believe that she actually changed the way in which she does business. After Emely was abducted by the Langdon brothers, the tough, take-no-prisoners businesswoman seemed to fly out the window. She goes on some fairly long crying jags, and although I can't blame her under the circumstances, it seemed somewhat inconsistent with her character. She makes some attempts to find a way of escape, but as she grows more and more sympathetic toward John, she simply stops all together until the very end. At that point, the strong fighter returns as she battles Ronald tooth and nail like a madwoman whose life depends on it (and it did), but it just left me feeling confused as to why she never unleashed her fury with the same fervor on John. Since she could obviously do it when she wanted to, it seemed like a weak excuse for creating a “romance” between Emely and John.
When the story begins, John is not a nice person at all. He conspired with his brother to kidnap and murder Emely for taking their company from them which seemed a bit extreme to me. There are lots of people in the world who loose everything, and yet don't set out to torture and kill the person they feel was responsible. This leads me to believe that they were simply mentally unstable to begin with. In an inebriated state, John also rapes Emely before he and his brother bury her alive. If this hadn't happened, or if John had shown more compassion earlier in the story, I might have been able to buy into the “romance” angle a little more. As is, I think he “rescued” Emely only because he had developed an obsession with her and the money she offered him, rather than feeling guilty or for any altruistic reasons. During the early weeks as John holds Emely captive, his behavior is just weird and creepy. He has severe passive/aggressive tendencies, sometimes acting nice and at others being a real brute. As John grows more and more fond of Emely, he begins to lighten up, and if it were in any other context, I could honestly say he began to exhibit the characteristics of an ideal lover: he was gentle with her, he cooked Emely fabulous meals, he took her on relaxing walks in the woods, and even bought her a puppy. However, all of that still wasn't enough to make me forget that this man participated in kidnapping, rape, attempted murder, and had been holding Emely captive for four months, forcing her to make investments for him, not to mention the harsh manner in which he treated several prostitutes during the first half of the book. I'm all for a good redemption story, and this appears to be what the author was aiming for, the idea that John's love for Emely changed him. Still, I just couldn't quite bring myself to fully buy it. I do believe that John's actions on Emely's behalf at the end of the book were from the heart, but the notion that he had changed so drastically in such a short time was not entirely credible to me.
Under any other circumstances, I might have actually liked John and Emely as a couple, but as written, I felt their supposed “romance” reeked of Stockholm Syndrome. Initially, I think Emely started being nice to John in order to gain his trust in hopes that he might let his guard down, but it didn't take long for her to become physically attracted to him and feel sympathetic toward him. In fact, their first friendly talks seem to come from out of nowhere. She does go through a period of confusion and disgust over her feelings for him, but again, in fairly short order, she seems to come to terms with it and things progress even further between them. Oddly, at this point, Emely seems to suffer few, if any, ill effects from nearly being murdered by burying alive, not to mention the earlier rape. Stockholm Syndrome is certainly a valid psychological condition, and if the author had played it that way, I might have been more accepting of this part of the story as well. However, as there is no indication of this phenomena in the narrative, it appears that the reader is simply expected to accept John and Emely's relationship as a true love match.
In addition to my issues with the characters, there were a number of poorly explained plot points. I mentioned earlier Emely's resistance of Ronald, but not John. During that fight, she had a couple of what we in the romance world call TSTL (too stupid to live) moments. Not once, but twice, she managed to get a gun away from him, and yet rather than using it to shoot him or at least try to fend him off, she instead carelessly throws it away. It seemed like a weak attempt to draw out the climax longer than necessary. Also Emely supposedly has a boyfriend, but he never turns up as a character in the story. This didn't make sense to me, because it seems to me that if he cared for her, he would be even more concerned about her whereabouts than her employees or a random reporter. Lastly, I don't think there was a single male character in this story, from the doorman at Emely's office building on up to John himself, who didn't lust after her in some capacity. I'm not quite sure what to make of that. Emely didn't seem that magnetically attractive to me, but it certainly plays right into the stereotype of men never thinking about anything but sex.
The final issue I had with this book is the writing. I began it completely baffled by the perspective. It flips around from one character to another (including minor bit players) so rapidly I was about to get whiplash, and then there are parts that are more from the narrator's (author's) viewpoint. After doing a little research, I believe this is what is known as third person omniscient point of view. I have very little experience with this writing style, but can say unequivocally that it isn't a favorite of mine. Without the deep POV that I crave in my reading, there is just too much distance between the characters and the reader, leaving me not really caring a great deal what happens to any of them. Even still, this perspective might have been OK except that a large part of the narrative is also written in a passive voice which only served to make me feel further distanced from the story. The stockbroking details are a little dry and not woven into the narrative as seamlessly as they could be, and the dialog doesn't always have the natural flow of normal conversation either. My overall sense of the writing style is of a story that is being told to me in a news reporting style rather than one that I could really sink my teeth into and experience on a deep emotional level.
And yet, in spite of all my criticisms and the story itself not really being my cup of tea, I still kept reading, but this is one of those unusual cases where I'm not entirely sure why. There were times when it was so dull I felt like I was slogging through a swamp and other times when it was more interesting and suspenseful. I kept getting the nagging feeling that there might be some deeper hidden meaning here like one often finds in literary fiction, but as anything of that nature managed to elude me, perhaps it was merely my analytical brain trying to make sense out of an otherwise bizarre story. For me, this book was like the car wreck by the side of the road that draws your gaze despite your best efforts to look away. Even when I was bored with it or despising the characters, I still had a morbid fascination with wanting to know how it ended. Even as I sit here writing the final words of this review, I am still rather undecided as to how to rate it, so I think I am going to settle on the exact middle of the road rating of 2.5 stars. Mr. Fox made me want to like John and Emely in spite of mostly not liking them. The story itself also still haunts me like a specter that must be exorcised. Even if I can't say that I truly enjoyed it, and even if the writing could have been better, I have a feeling this puzzlingly peculiar tale will linger in my memory for a while. I figure it must take some storytelling skill to make me feel that way, so it seems, in that capacity, the author has done his job well.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)