Reviewed for THC Reviews The first two books of Karen Kelley's Southern series were OK reads for me, so I went into reading Hell on Wheels with fairlyReviewed for THC Reviews The first two books of Karen Kelley's Southern series were OK reads for me, so I went into reading Hell on Wheels with fairly low expectations. In fact, if it weren't for me using this series for a reading challenge I'm working on, I would have been tempted to skip ahead to the final novella and possibly call it quits, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed this book better than her others. I find this rather odd too, because Hell on Wheels is the lowest rated book of the series on GoodReads, yet I liked it the best so far. This one has less suspense than the first two, which might partly account for why most readers didn't like it as much, but for me it worked well. I had felt like the suspense plot and the sexy scenes were unbalanced in the first two books with one or the other making some sections of those stories top-heavy. That wasn't really the case here, since Hell on Wheels was pretty much a straight-up contemporary. There's a little action but no suspense to speak of. It may have been a bit less exciting, but I felt like the narrative flowed a lot better and more evenly.
At least in this series, Karen Kelley seems to have certain go-to character archetypes. Much like the heroines of the previous two books, Cody is an alpha female who works as a bounty hunter and she's damn good at her job. She had a rough life growing up. Her father left her mother before Cody was born, so she knows nothing about him and her mother isn't exactly being forthcoming. Her mother also spent much of Cody's childhood at the bottom of a bottle. She did have a long-term boyfriend to whom Cody became attached as a father-figure. He taught her to fight and do many of the things she does today, but he also left without warning. As a result, Cody has trust issues and believes that to care about anyone means that they'll leave her. Also like the previous two heroines, she's not a relationship kind of gal, but instead prefers one-night stands, but at least her reasons seemed more sound to me. She's also a little softer and slightly less edgy than the previous heroines, so I liked her better. As the book opens, she's very obviously attracted to Josh, but she's fighting the idea of sleeping with him. She knows he's a playboy and has no desire to become just another notch in his bedpost. In the end though, it doesn't take long for her resistance to wear down, and once they've done the deed, it's so good, she just can't get enough of him. But that doesn't stop her from being afraid he'll break her heart eventually. She tries to guard her heart against his inevitable leaving, but ultimately she can't resist taking the chance over and over. As a little aside here, the name Cody for a woman was a little jarring for me. I know it can be used interchangeably as a male or female name, but it's much more commonly used as a male name. Therefore, I kept getting her name mixed up with the hero's when the POVs switched.
Again, like the first two heroes in the series, Josh is a sexy charmer. He used to be an undercover police detective, but he gave up that life to become a bounty hunter. It pays better, and he's been saving up, hoping to open his own private detective business. He's as good a bounty hunter as Cody, so they respect each other as equals on the job. They also prove to work well together. Much like the first two heroes in the series, I felt like Josh was lacking a certain depth to his character. A couple of times, he experiences nightmares that I thought might go somewhere, but they didn't. He says very little about them, just that it was an undercover operation gone bad, in which a young woman was killed and he somehow felt rather responsible. I think if the author had explored this part of his life a little more, he would have been a more interesting character, but I still liked him. He didn't seem to be nearly as much of a dog as Cody initially thought. In fact, he appeared to be very kind and considerate of female sensitivities, even though Cody isn't a particularly sensitive woman. Cody's temperamental nature is a point he uses often to tell himself it would never work between them, but he's still mostly amused by that side of her rather than off-put. He's also very vocal about how beautiful and sexy he finds Cody even though she doesn't entirely believe him. And he's as completely into her as she is into him.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that the emotional connection between Josh and Cody was a lot more palpable too. I could tell from the opening pages that they were totally hot for one another. That and them knowing each other for a while before the story opens made their quick hook-up much more believable for me. Even though they both fight their feelings pretty much all the way to the end, I still felt the connection because it was obvious from their body language and the way they were behaving that they were falling in love and just couldn't see it for themselves. Luckily fate intervened to bring them together in a way they might not have connected on their own. Also the love scenes in the first two books just didn't quite do it for me, but in this one, I thought they were much better written. They're longer, more descriptive, and contain lots of the steam I expect from a Brava romance. I very much enjoyed their sexy bantering too. All of these things came together to make me believe in their burgeoning love and rightness for one another.
While Hell on Wheels was better for me than the other books of the series so far, it still wasn't perfect. Like I mentioned earlier, I felt like the author could have deepened her characterizations more, particularly Josh's, and the plot could have been a little tighter. I'd also like to see her branch out a bit more and try writing some different types of characters besides the alpha female loner and the charming Southern playboy. Ms. Kelley also has a tendency to overuse certain words and character actions. In this book, she repeatedly uses the word 'skip' to refer to the bail jumpers Josh and Cody go after. I'm all for using lingo to set the atmosphere but the amount of times she uses that one word, especially in the opening chapters, was complete overkill. As with the last book of the series her characters are constantly opening their mouths and snapping them shut. Not only was it repetitive, but wording it this way reminds me of an alligator or some other wild animal. I kept thinking these poor people were going to need a dentist pretty soon.:-) Otherwise though, I generally enjoyed Hell on Wheels. It's kind of on the lighter side, more so than I typically like to read, but at least the heroine was more relatable and IMHO the book was better written. Now I just have the final novella, Southern Star (previously titled It's a Wonderful Life from the anthology I'm Your Santa), to read, so we'll see how that goes before I make a determination on whether Karen Kelley stays on my TBR list.
Hell on Wheels is the third book in the Southern series, but it can easily be read as a stand-alone. It's only connection to the other books is that Josh used to work with and is still good friends with Wade, the hero of book #1, Southern Comfort. Wade's name pops up several times, but no carry-over characters are actually seen in the story. I think Josh may have been introduced in book #1 too, but my memory is a bit foggy on that, and since I don't own a copy, I can't confirm it for sure. ...more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" While Philip Hall Likes Me, I Reckon Maybe, the first book of the Philip Hall series was a LOL funny book, Get onReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" While Philip Hall Likes Me, I Reckon Maybe, the first book of the Philip Hall series was a LOL funny book, Get on out of Here, Philip Hall takes a somewhat more serious turn. It's not nearly as serious as Bette Greene's YA novels, but there are still some important messages to be gleaned from it's pages. Beth Lambert, the protagonist and first person narrator of the story is a born leader, who in this volume allows the successes she enjoyed in the previous book to go to her head a little too much. She experiences first-hand the saying, “Pride goeth before a fall,” when she becomes so puffed up with pride that she doesn't know how to handle it when she's no longer winning at everything. At this point, she moves to her grandmother's house in a different town for a little while to escape the humiliation she feels at everyone in her tiny town witnessing her failures. There she finds renewed purpose and is able to get her mojo back.
Readers may find the prideful Beth a tad annoying, but I think that's the point of the story. She had to be taken down a peg so that she could learn how to be more humble in order to find her place in the world again. It's very difficult to truly serve others when you think too much of yourself and this is something she figures out as the story progresses. Not only does she learn a lesson about overblown pride, but she also learns that you need to embrace your God-given gifts. Beth has a gift for leadership, but she first let her own vanity get in the way of being a good leader, then she basically ran away from it when faced with harsh criticism. She decides she's going to be the best follower ever, but soon learns that this is not her strong-suit in the least. People need her to step up to the plate and lead, because without her they're lost. All throughout the story Beth is supported by her loving family who gently guide her in the right direction while allowing her the space she needs to learn and grow on her own. And of course in the background, we have Beth's friendship and sweet childish romance with Philip Hall, who also happens to be one of her chief rivals.
Overall, Get on out of Here, Philip Hall is another enjoyable read from one of my favorite authors. The only reason I dropped a half-star is because the early parts of the book weren't quite as engaging to me as some of the author's others, but it definitely picked up as Beth starts to figure things out for herself. I found it be wholly appropriate for the late elementary/middle-grade audience at which it's aimed, and I would very much recommend it for those age groups. It certainly presents some important truths that kids would do well to heed, and I think they could learn a lot from reading it....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Wildest Dreams is the ninth and latest installment in Robyn Carr's Thunder Point series. As with the previous book of the seriReviewed for THC Reviews Wildest Dreams is the ninth and latest installment in Robyn Carr's Thunder Point series. As with the previous book of the series, I thought it had some weaknesses, so I didn't find it to be one of Ms. Carr's best. The heroine irritated me at times and the romance, IMHO, was somewhat weak, but as I said in my last review, the strength of these books lie in their atmosphere and sense of place. I've become rather enamored of this little beach-front community, and I've been caught up in the lives of the residents of the town in much the same way I would a favorite soap opera. It's always nice to visit and catch up on all the gossip, so to speak. I enjoyed finding out what was going on around town and in many of the other characters' lives. I also liked the sense of family, even when some of the family members aren't related by blood, so in the end, I couldn't mark it down more than one star despite my misgivings about certain parts of the story.
Blake is a champion triathlete, who competes for the Iron Man title during the course of the story. I've never been a huge fan of sports romance, but anyone who is, is certain to be a fan of Blake if only for his rippling muscles and trim gorgeous physique.:-) Even though the Iron Man competition is pretty crazy, I have a certain degree of respect for anyone who is disciplined enough to be a serious triathlete. I admired Blake for that reason alone, but even more so because he pulled himself up out of an impoverished childhood to become what he is today. He couldn't have done it without the help of coaches and mentors along the way, something that he fully acknowledges, so now he's using his celebrity to give back to the community, starting programs to help other kids like himself. He offers his knowledge and expertise, free of charge, to help Charlie build up his body and overcome his asthma and health problems. He also becomes a great friend to his new neighbors in Thunder Point, quickly earning their trust and admiration. I liked how Blake went after the thugs to get back Lin Su's box of treasures, even though to anyone but her it would seem like a bunch of junk. It proved him to be a gallant protector, who cared about her feelings. I also liked that Blake was more of a relationship kind of guy and that when he was with his trainer, Gretchen, he wasn't playing it fast and loose like she was. He actually wanted them to be something more than casual friends with benefits, but she didn't until now. It was great that he immediately put her in her place when she said she was ready to be exclusive and let her know in no uncertain terms that she'd missed that boat, because he was now interested in Lin Su. Blake had a lot of patience in dealing with Lin Su. He not only waited a long time for her to warm up to the idea a romantic relationship with him, but he also showed a lot of tolerance for her difficult, stubborn personality.
Because of her being so difficult and stubborn, I had a hard time warming up to Lin Su. I fully understood how hard her life had been as a single mother. After being adopted as a toddler, she had a pretty privileged upbringing with a well-to-do family, who then turned their backs on her when she got pregnant out of wedlock and the father deserted her. For a long time, she lived hand to mouth just trying to make enough money to feed Charlie and keep a roof over their heads, however meager that roof might have been. When the story opens, they're still living in a dumpy trailer park in a dangerous area of town. Despite my sympathy for Lin Su's situation and understanding that it's not easy to accept handouts, there are times when I felt like she was proud almost to the point of being foolhardy. Even though Blake was offering her a safe place to stay, she initially refuses to leave their trailer even after it was broken into and Charlie was chased through the neighborhood by thugs trying to rob him, which led to an overnight stay in the hospital for a severe asthma attack. If the same thing had happened to me, I think I'd have graciously accepted Blake's offer. I also understood how worried she was about Charlie's medical problems, but she's controlling to the point of almost smothering the poor kid. She eventually lets go enough to allow him to work out under Blake's careful monitoring, but then we see her telling her son lies about his background, which I didn't fully understand. Lin Su was such a closed-off character, it was difficult for me to get where she was coming from. I understood that she was deeply hurt by Charlie's father, but he was just a kid at the time too and that was fourteen years ago. It seemed like it was way past time for her to let go of the past and move on. I also understood that she'd been focused on taking care of her ailing son and providing for him, but Blake was right there, available and extremely interested, yet she wouldn't even entertain the idea of dating him for a very long time. Then she goes and breaks up with him just because he didn't tell her that Charlie was secretly searching for their family, which seemed like a complete overreaction. Overall, Lin Su was an admirable mother for providing for Charlie like she has and she's a great nurse to Winnie, but she has major issues with control and keeps herself at arms length from nearly everyone in the story, including Blake.
I really felt like the romance between Blake and Lin Su was pretty weak. Other than them sharing a mutual physical attraction, which isn't even that strong, and Blake coming to Lin Su's rescue following the break-in, not much of a romantic nature occurs for a very long time. They feel more like just friends and not necessarily close friends either. Therefore, his brotherly kiss on the forehead and gentle touch of her arm, which is the only physical contact they share until 2/3 of the way into the book, kind of felt like it came from out of nowhere. They don't kiss or hug or even share much anything of a personal nature about themselves with one another, which would have made me believe in their budding romance, until over 240 pages into the book. Part of the problem for me is that despite being told that they're attracted to one another, there's precious little description of the other's attributes that they find attractive. Lin Su considers Blake's sexy physique once or twice, but I don't recall him thinking much of anything about her except that she kind of irritated him a little and that she was overprotective of Charlie. By contrast, when his trainer, Gretchen, comes to town, he immediately describes her sexy body in his introspections, even though it later becomes clear that he's no longer interested in her as a lover anymore. This really bothered me, because up to that point I don't recall him ever thinking about Lin Su in that way, so at least for a brief time, it felt like he was more attracted to Gretchen than Lin Su. Another part of the problem was that on the rare occasions Blake and Lin Su actually do think about each other, it's only when the other one isn't around rather than in the moment, when it would've had greater impact on building the romantic connection. They don't really long for each other much when the other one isn't around either. I really hate to say it about a seasoned author like Robyn Carr, but Blake and Lin Su's attraction was definitely a case of telling not showing. For most of the story, they simply felt like friends who kind of liked each other. When they started getting a little closer, it was better, but when Lin Su broke up with Blake over something that was such an overreaction, I couldn't help feeling like they didn't have much to start with. Then she does a one-eighty a few days later. All of this took place in the last few pages of the book and none of it contained the depth of insight needed for me to understand it. So ultimately, I'm glad Blake and Lin Su got their happy ending, but I just wasn't really feeling the connection between them for most of the story.
Where I felt Wildest Dreams excelled was in it's secondary character relationships. I loved Charlie. He's very smart and mature for his age, and I think he handled his mom's freak-outs quite well. He's obviously the type of kid for whom a little encouragement goes a long way. He just needed a little more freedom to explore his own interests and the things that were meaningful to him outside of his mom's influence. We get some more of Winnie and her family. She's a character who has slowly grown on me. In this book, her disease progresses a little more and she has to come to terms with additional limitations, but not before she insists on making a trip to Hawaii with Mikhail, Lin Su, and Charlie to see first-hand Blake's performance in the Iron Man triathlon. The three pregnant friends, Grace, Iris, and Payton, all give birth. Seth's parents, Norm and Gwen, finally reach a breaking point in their forty+ year marriage that stirs up a bit of trouble for Iris and Seth. Troy is there in the background, looking out for Grace and Winnie and helping with Charlie's training. And Grace hires a new assistant for her flower shop. As is typical for Robyn Carr's books, there's a lot going on in between the main couple's scenes that helps to build the town as a whole.
Even though Wildest Dreams didn't make it to my Robyn Carr favorites list, it was a generally enjoyable comfort read. I don't know if this is it for Thunder Point or not. In some ways, it felt like this was a wrap-up book. The author tied up a lot of loose ends and didn't really leave anything this time that made me think, Oh, I can't wait to find out more of what happens with this character or situation. In fact, there were no new characters introduced who seemed to be viable candidates for hero or heroine in future books of the series, so I'm not sure where things will go from here. I also saw in Ms. Carr's last email letter that she has an upcoming new series. If this is the end of Thunder Point, then I suppose I can live with that. The way things wrapped up, I can see the residents of this little beach-side town continuing on with their lives there indefinitely, and like I said before, there wasn't really anything left hanging. However, if Ms. Carr chooses to write more, I'll certainly be there to read them.
Note: I received an ARC copy of this book from the author's publicist in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Vignette is a really short three-page story that is exactly what the title implies, a brief vignette in Harry's liReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Vignette is a really short three-page story that is exactly what the title implies, a brief vignette in Harry's life, in which he and Bob discuss possibly making changes to Harry's ad in the phone book. Their interplay is crisp and funny as the two argue over what the new ad should say. Of course, Harry wants to keep it simple, while Bob wants to spice things up a bit. Overall this was a fun, little slice of life story from the Dresden Files series. Vignette falls between Death Masks and Blood Rites in the series chronology. It can be read for free on Jim Butcher's website and is also available in print as part of the Dresden Files novella and short story anthology, Side Jobs....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews When reading anthologies, I usually pick up one novella here and there to fill in gaps between longer books and rarely read thReviewed for THC Reviews When reading anthologies, I usually pick up one novella here and there to fill in gaps between longer books and rarely read them straight through. With that being the case, I've decided to post reviews of each story as I finish it. Reviews on the remaining novellas and the overall book rating will be forthcoming.:-) *newest review for this anthology
A Restoration of Faith - Restoration of Faith is a short prequel novella in the Dresden Files series. It's only about the length of a chapter and tells the story of a case Harry worked before becoming a full-fledged private investigator. At the time he and his partner, Nick, ran Ragged Angel Investigations, an agency that searched for missing children. This was an aspect of the story that I really enjoyed, and I thought Harry was very good with the girl he rescued. He seemed to have a kind, gentle side that I hope to see more of in the full-length novels of the series. There wasn't much in the way of magic in this novella, so I'm not sure precisely how Harry's powers work. The battle with the troll was fun, but Harry defeated him using his wits more than anything else. I'm not certain whether he hadn't come into his full powers yet or if his powers simply have limits, but I'm definitely interested in finding out more about this intriguing character. I also don't know if any of the secondary characters in this short story show up again in future books, but I wouldn't mind seeing more of them if they did. Restoration of Faith was my first read by Jim Butcher. It may have been brief, but it gave me enough of a taste of his writing style to know that I like it and look forward to reading more. Restoration of Faith can be read for free on Jim Butcher's website and is also available in print as part of this anthology. Star Rating: ****
*Vignette – Vignette is a really short three-page story that is exactly what the title implies, a brief vignette in Harry's life, in which he and Bob discuss possibly making changes to Harry's ad in the phone book. Their interplay is crisp and funny as the two argue over what the new ad should say. Of course, Harry wants to keep it simple, while Bob wants to spice things up a bit. Overall this was a fun, little slice of life story from the Dresden Files series. Vignette falls between Death Masks and Blood Rites in the series chronology. It can be read for free on Jim Butcher's website and is also available in print as part of this anthology. Star Rating: ****1/2
Reviewed for THC Reviews The uber-talented J. R. Ward has done it again. With The Bourbon Kings, the inaugural book in her new series of the same name,Reviewed for THC Reviews The uber-talented J. R. Ward has done it again. With The Bourbon Kings, the inaugural book in her new series of the same name, she has once more created a world that I'm eager to inhabit. This is the beginning of a family saga that isn't unlike the old '80s nighttime soaps such as Dallas and Falcon Crest that I consumed like candy, except this one is set in the world of high class liquor. We're introduced to the Baldwine family who take the word dysfunctional to a whole new level, and yet somehow I find myself rooting for all of them – or at least the kids anyway – to find their happy endings. And speaking of happy endings, Ms. Ward really freaked me out a little as I neared the end of this book. I actually started to worry, when about fifty pages from the end, she threw in a curveball for our hero and heroine. After the not so happy ending of her latest BDB book and accidentally picking up whispers of fans not liking this one as much as some of her others, I thought maybe she'd gone the unconventional route again, but I'm thrilled to report that everything righted itself before the final page. There is a happy ending, but still lots of room for more storytelling, not only for our “main” hero and heroine, but for all the other characters as well. I'm thoroughly intrigued by all of them and the overall story, so I'll be eagerly awaiting the release of the next book, which I'm sure won't happen until around this same time next year.
Lane is the next to the youngest of the Baldwine siblings and the youngest of the three boys. For most of his adult life, he'd been playing the consummate billionaire playboy, until he fell for Lizzie, the head horticulturist at his family's sprawling estate. They were a match made in heaven, but marrying the hired help is just not something that's done in his social circles. Through a series of mistakes and bad luck, Lane ended up married to a conniving socialite, destroying his relationship with Lizzie. After that debacle, he took himself off to New York, where he's been sleeping on his best friend's couch for the last two years. He never wanted to come home, but circumstances bring him back at a time when his family needs him the most. Lane finds himself in the unenviable position of trying to make sense of what's going on in his crazy family and needing to step up to the plate and lead during a time of utter turmoil. At this point, he's probably the closest thing to a normal, sane Baldwine there is, and that's not saying much since he's a pretty tortured individual himself. Of course, once he's back at home, he almost immediately reconnects with Lizzie and knows he wants her back in his life more than anything he's ever wanted before. I think it's super sweet that Lane never stopped loving Lizzie and that he remained faithful to her despite being separated from her for two years and marrying someone else. With the help of Lizzie and Miss Aurora, the family cook whom he considers to be his mother, he's slowly learning to become the strong man his family needs right now, even though the frightened little boy he once was is still inside him and would prefer to run away.
While this book has something of a Cinderella story vibe to it, I hesitate to actually call it that, mainly because Lizzie is no princess in need of saving. She's a stubborn, independent woman who has worked hard for everything she has. She's proud of the life she's carved out for herself and the little farm she bought that's all hers and that fulfilled a lifelong dream. Lizzie continued working for the Baldwines even after her relationship with Lane broke up. He was gone and she saw no reason to quit since he wouldn't be around to tempt her anymore. While she hates the sense of entitlement most of the Baldwines project, she finds her work there fulfilling and she has some good friends among the other staff members. When Lane returns unexpectedly, Lizzie is thrown for a loop. Seeing him again stirs up all those feelings for him that she thought she'd put to rest. Knowing she can't go through the heartbreak of losing him again, she tries to keep their relationship friends only, but he's like an addiction she can't resist. Soon the passion is flaring up between them again, but after everything that happened, she still has a hard time trusting him, which is nearly her undoing.
I really enjoyed Lane and Lizzie's romance. Nothing gets my heart going more so than a reunion romance. The longing between Lane and Lizzie when they come back together is very palpable. You can tell that Lane has never stopped loving her despite all that's happened. It's equally apparent that Lizzie still cares for him and wants to let him back in, but simply doesn't want to risk another broken heart. I think Lizzie is really good for Lane. She helps to ground him in a reality that his wealth and privilege doesn't. Even though Lizzie's mistrust nearly tears them apart again, I loved her selfless act of contrition at the end. I think it really showed just how much she truly loved Lane. The only thing that maybe could have been slightly better is if they'd had a few more detailed love scenes. This book just isn't quite as hot as most of J. R. Ward's BDB books, but I have a feeling that perhaps she was either constrained by word count or trying to appeal to a broader audience since this is a different kind of story.
Much like with her BDB books, the author juggles many other character perspectives. We get to meet Lane's oldest brother, Edward, who used to be the golden boy in business, sports, and basically everything he laid his hand to. He was also his father's whipping boy, and after being kidnapped during a trip to South America and tortured, he's merely a shell of his former self. Broken in both body and spirit, he's been hiding himself away from the world. The only woman he's ever loved is Sutton, the daughter of their family's chief rival in the bourbon business. Sutton is a beautiful, savvy businesswoman in her own right, and far more kind than most of the people who run in their circles. She's also loved Edward from afar most of her life. Things heat up for them in this book, but they end up hurting each other. I hope that these two find some peace and happiness together in a future book.
Then there's Gin, the youngest of the Baldwine siblings. She's something of a spoiled princess, who can't bear the thought of doing without. She's in a position where she'd rather marry an abusive man she doesn't love rather than give up her lifestyle, because trying to make her way in the world on her own scares her more. She also has a teenage daughter born out of wedlock when she herself was only a teenager, but she isn't particularly involved in the girl's life. Gin is one of those characters it would be easy to dislike, but I actually felt rather sorry for her. She's basically a product of her upbringing and suffered from her father's actions almost as much as her brothers. The only man she's ever loved is Samuel T., Lane's friend and attorney. For his part, Samuel T. loves her just as much, but he doesn't really trust her. These two have an incredibly dysfunctional romance in which they sleep with each other from time to time, but won't allow themselves to actually admit or embrace their love. Instead, they've spent most of their adult lives childishly trying to hurt and one-up the other with various affairs. Despite how bad they seem for each other, I'd still like to see them get together once and for all. If they could have an epiphany, stop the game playing, and begin to trust and forgive one another, I think they could turn things around to actually be good for each other.
Other characters whose influence is sure to be felt in the coming books include William Baldwine, the family patriarch, who is a horrible person. I absolutely hated him for all the terrible things he's done to nearly everyone around him, not the least of whom are his kids. I doubt we've even come close to finding out the full extent of his evil deeds. Lane's soon-to-be ex-wife, Chantal, is about as conniving as they come. She's nearly as evil as William, but while I harbor absolutely no sympathy for her, I think she may have been a victim of his villainy as well. Then there's Miss Aurora, who is the complete opposite. She's an angel on earth, nothing but goodness and light in the dark world of the Baldwines. She's a God-fearing woman who's worked for the family for many years and who basically raised all the kids like they were her own. She showed them there was a different path they could take besides the one their evil father was walking down. The middle Baldwine brother, Max, is seen in some of Lane's flashbacks to childhood, but at present, he's missing in action. Mack, the master distiller and Lane's childhood friend, has a strong reverence for the bourbon-making process. He really knows his business and is among the first to start shedding some light on William's misdeeds. Lane's best friend, Jeff, is a banker who comes to Easterly at his request to help make sense of the Bradford Bourbon account books. Last but certainly not least is Shelby, the daughter of the man who put Edward back on track after his kidnapping ordeal. Her father died, so she's come to Edward looking for a job. He hires her, and she ends up picking up where her father left off, trying to save Edward from his own self-destructive behavior. I'm not sure what her future role might be, because she's starting to get pretty close to Edward. She a sweet girl and I really like her, just not as a romantic interest for him.
Overall, The Bourbon Kings was a great start to this new series. There was enough romance to keep me satisfied, while wanting to know what new treachery of the elder Baldwine would be uncovered next. There's lots of mystery and intrigue as well, surrounding missing money and dead bodies that isn't resolved in this book, so I have plenty to look forward to in future books of the series with regards to that, as well as my hopes for future romantic parings. I'm not sure why I've seen indicators that this book isn't as good as some of Ms. Ward's others. I always try to avoid reviews before reading a book like this, but now that I'm finished, I can read them and finally find out. All I know is that it certainly has me hooked. For readers who enjoys soap-opera-style family sagas, I can't imagine this book not hitting a home run....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "2.5 stars" I've been looking forward to reading Call of the Highland Moon for quite some time. Werewolves. Highlanders. HeroiReviewed for THC Reviews "2.5 stars" I've been looking forward to reading Call of the Highland Moon for quite some time. Werewolves. Highlanders. Heroine who owns a bookshop dedicated to romance. She also loves animals and finds the hero on her doorstep in his wolf form, mistaking him for a large wounded dog. Stranded in a snowstorm. All of these things I would typically love in a romance, and it sounds awesome on paper. I mean, what's not to love about those things? Well, as it turns out, a whole lot. All throughout reading it, I kept thinking things like Where's the plot? Where's the world-building? Where's the character development? All three of these things were seriously lacking, IMHO, and that combined with an overabundance of introspection and passive narration made for a slow, plodding read that never really captured my imagination or engaged my attention well at all.
One of the few reasons I didn't give the book an even lower rating is because I didn't dislike the characters like I have in some other books. But then again, I didn't really get to know them well either. Both Gideon and Carly seemed like decent people, but I just didn't feel connected to them at all. Their characterizations simply didn't have much meat on their bones. We know that Carly owns a cute little bookstore that's dedicated to romance in a touristy-type town in New York and that she has a rather overbearing but well-meaning family. She also loves animals, which is why, when she finds Gideon injured in his wolf form on her doorstep, she takes him home. Gideon, for his part, is apparently running away from his destiny as the alpha male of his pack, but I never really understood why. His mother, a human, died while trying to make the change into a werewolf, and he has a father and brother back home in Scotland, where he supposedly helps run a Bed & Breakfast in his family's castle. Other than that, I couldn't tell you much about either character. Unfortunately, these things are all external factors in their lives and don't really speak to who they are inside and what makes them tick. Also I found it a bit hard to swallow that Carly was so quickly accepting of Gideon being a werewolf. She also has a tendency to get upset with him at the drop of a hat and oftentimes over things I thought were rather silly misunderstandings that could have been cleared up with better communication. Quite simply, both characters were distinctly lacking in motivation, which made it hard to fully understand or become invested in either of them.
Probably in part, because I didn't connect well with Gideon and Carly on an individual level, I also didn't feel the connection between them as a couple either. There just wasn't much to grasp onto, such as expressions of feelings, body language, or other things like longing looks and lingering touches that would stir my emotions. Apparently they're fated mates, which makes them really hot for one another, but I couldn't feel much of anything passing between them, much less this all-consuming attraction. I've read plenty of paranormal romances where the hero and heroine are mates and their attraction to each other is immediate, powerful, and palpable, which can also help me to buy into them making a lifetime commitment within a few days time (like in this story), but with Gideon and Carly I felt nary a spark. What passes for a relationship between them is told much more so than shown, which is a major problem throughout the book.
Normally I'm a fan of rich introspection, but IMO, it's way overdone here. It can drag on for paragraphs or even pages, leaving my mind wandering and making me forget what's happening, because there's so much space between the character's actions or dialogue where they're not doing anything except simply thinking. Eg. The hero says or asks something and then we get paragraph upon paragraph of the heroine thinking about stuff before she finally responds or vice versa. If someone took that long to think things over in real life before responding verbally or doing something action-wise, it would be stupendously boring and awkward, and I can't say it's all that much different in a book. This book is so overwritten, it, quite frankly, was difficult for me to read. It was like constantly reading stream of consciousness narration from the characters, leaving very little room for actual storytelling. Introspection can be an extremely useful tool for building characters and plot, but here there are lots and lots of words that just didn't say much of a meaningful nature.
This also makes for extremely passive narration. Very little happened from an action standpoint until the last few chapters of the book. There were several instances where the author told about something after the fact when showing it in the moment would have made for richer and more interesting storytelling. Eg. She jumps from Carly finding Gideon in his wolf form, injured on the doorstep of her shop and deciding to take him home, to her waking up in bed with him in his human form in the morning. I wanted to know how she got him home since he was probably far too big for her carry and whether she did anything to tend his wounds. Instead we get barely a mention that she had to somehow coax him into and out of her car. Another example is that Carly apparently had a conversation with Gideon, asking questions about werewolves, but rather than showing that discussion, the author throws in a few minor parenthetical comments about the mythology in Carly's introspections. Yet another skimmed over scene that I think would have been much more fun and interesting written out was when Gideon helped Carly out in her shop one day and practically got mauled by her customers. Again, disappointingly, it was only told about, not shown. There were also lots of other instances where some intriguing tidbit would pop up in their introspections, making me say things like What does that look like? or Show me that; don't tell me! It all made for a pretty frustrating reading experience.
As a writer, I've learned that writing effectively and making that all-important connection with your readers isn't just about the words that you choose, but also how you put them together. It's like taking building blocks and figuring out the best way to construct them into something solid. In this book, some of the sentences are constructed in a confusing way, so that I had to re-read them several times to figure out what was being said. Other times, it wasn't just confusing, but that they weren't constructed in such a way as to engage the reader's attention. Many, many sentences could have been broken up or easily reworded to say the exact same thing, but in a much more succinct way that also would have been significantly more vibrant and dynamic. Instead the prose really drags most of the time, because the author insists on over-explaining things. Eg. There was a huge overabundance of phrases such as "she saw," "she thought", she asked herself," etc. that to my way of thinking, were totally unnecessary. Of course, she saw, thought, or asked herself those things because it was written in her POV. And it wasn't just this but other things as well. IMHO, the author should dispense with the hand-holding and trust her readers to be intelligent enough to grasp the nuances of her writing without telling them every little thing. When I first started reading the book, I wasn't certain if there were any hard and fast rules about using parentheses in fiction, but I knew that I rarely saw them. Later, I looked it up and most sources tended to concur that parentheses are generally too jarring for fiction and should probably be used sparingly, if at all. Yet in this book, they're used to excess. This is yet another example of the hand-holding I was talking about where the author seemed to feel the need to insert sub-level introspection into a character's main introspections. IMHO, 99% of what was inside the parentheses didn't add anything to the story, but instead slowed it down. I'm really surprised the editor let her get away with this.
Last but certainly not least, I thought that for a paranormal series, the world-building was pretty weak. I didn't really understand what was going on in this regard throughout most of the story, mainly because until the very end, we only get tiny tidbits of the werewolf mythology that are muddled in with the overabundant introspection. All I understood is that the werewolves are the guardians of a mythic stone, which Gideon's cousin, Malachi, is trying to get his hands on. Also Malachi is trying to kill Gideon to prevent him from taking his place as alpha. I thought the villain was rather weak too, because for the most part, he's a distant threat, far across the ocean. He sent some henchmen to do his dirty work for him, and these wolves, known as Drakkyn, are different and more powerful because of an amulet they wear and perhaps some other reasons that aren't entirely clear yet. Unfortunately, none of this made much sense to me until the climactic scenes at the end, but by then, I couldn't really be bothered to care much. And as an aside, (this doesn't really have anything to do with world-building but it did bother me greatly), I absolutely couldn't buy into a guy carrying an unconscious woman through an airport and onto a plane. TSA would never allow something like that to fly (pun intended :-)).
Anyway, despite having a number of themes and story elements that I typically would love in a romance novel, I'm sorry to say that Call of the Highland Moon was largely a disappointment. Aside from generally liking the hero and heroine, the only other thing that kept the book from getting an even lower rating from me is the three or four scenes that were written more actively and with a better balance between the dialogue or actions and introspection. It appears that Gideon's brother, Gabriel, will become the hero of the next book, Dark Highland Fire. Although he seemed like yet another nice and perhaps even fun character, I have no real desire to repeat this reading experience, so I'll likely not be continuing with the series. Readers who are more forgiving of passive narration and sub-par character and plot development may enjoy this book (and the series) much more than I did, but I have a plethora of new authors to try, as well as the backlists of far too many favorite authors to read to spend any more time on a book series I'm not enjoying....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Miracles from Heaven is the inspiring story of a chronically ill little girl whose condition was life-threatening but who founReviewed for THC Reviews Miracles from Heaven is the inspiring story of a chronically ill little girl whose condition was life-threatening but who found miraculous healing. I'm so grateful to have two relatively healthy kids. I honestly can't imagine the anxiety and heartbreak of having a child with chronic health problems. My husband's little cousin has a rare disease that isn't unlike Annabel's, and my heart breaks every time I see her mom posting on Facebook about another hospitalization or surgery. I can imagine the stress takes a toll on the entire family, and it requires some really strong parents and a strong child to endure for so long. I have so much respect for people in this situation, including the Beams. They did their utmost to make life as normal as possible, not only for Annabel, but also for their two healthy daughters, yet the reality is that their life was anything but normal. I greatly admire them all for their emotional strength and for holding up through a devastating situation with grace and dignity. Even during the parts of the book that really tug at the heartstrings, I felt calm, comforted by the presence of God, and wondered if this is how the author felt or how Annabel felt. Based on certain parts of the story, I would say probably not all the time (after all they're only human), yet somehow Ms. Beam managed to convey that sense of calm throughout.
Then of course, came Annabel's miraculous recovery, which came about in a way that's truly stranger than fiction. As a writer of fiction, I can certainly attest to this, because the scenario is not something that I could have ever come up with in my wildest imaginings. After a particularly difficult bout with her illness that had left her emotionally wrung out, Annabel, who rarely felt up to playing outdoors with her sisters, went out to climb trees. They shinnied up an enormous Cottonwood tree they'd climbed many times before, but this time, the large branch where they liked to sit, started to crack. In an effort to get off the branch quickly, Annabel's sister told her to step inside a hole in the tree which they thought was some kind of depression. Never in a million years would anyone have imagined that the tree was completely hollowed out inside. Little Annabel ended up plummeting thirty feet, head-first to the base of the tree. She was stuck inside for several hours while rescue workers tried to figure out how to get her out. During part of that time, she appeared to be unconscious, and she says that she went to heaven where she talked to Jesus and sat on his lap. Jesus told her it wasn't her time, that he had plans for her and she must go back, but she would be totally fine. Not only did Annabel come out of her experience inside the tree almost entirely unscathed, but after that, the symptoms of her illness began to abate as well until she was completely healed. This of course, if the beauty of God's mysterious ways. We can't always make sense of them, but I can't help wondering if he sometimes does seemingly crazy things like this just to get our attention.
One thing I really admired was how pragmatic the author and her husband, Kevin, were in their approach to Annabel's story of what happened inside the tree. They never pressured her for more details, simply letting her share what she felt like sharing when she felt like sharing it. They never tried to either dissuade or encourage her belief in what occurred. In fact, they themselves weren't entirely sure what to think initially. Soon they started to believe it, but still they were cautious in their optimism that Annabel was getting better. It took more than a year before they were ready to actually start using the word healed to describe what had happened. There are certainly those who expressed some degree of skepticism about what Annabel experienced inside the tree, but as Kevin told an atheist who questioned him about it, the one indisputable fact is that she not only survived a fall that should have left her with severe injuries if not killed her, but she's also now healed of a rare disease that has no cure. Readers can make of that what they choose, but I for one, believe something unexplainable and miraculous happened inside that tree and God had a hand in it. As a little afterthought here, I really like that Christy and Kevin have allowed that tree to stand, despite others encouraging Kevin to cut it down. It would have been a shame to destroy the place where such a beautiful spiritual experience like this occurred.
Every time I pick up a faith-based book, I have a tendency to approach it with a certain degree of trepidation. Even though I am a woman of faith myself, I've read far too many of these types of books, whether fiction or non-fiction, that are preachy or seem to be pushing an agenda that the reader is expected to agree with. I'm thrilled to report that Miracles from Heaven is neither of those things. It's a truly inspiring and spiritually uplifting story that is very gentle in its approach. The writing style is highly engaging, keeping me riveted throughout. But IMHO, the true beauty of the book is that the author doesn't try to force-feed her daughter's story to the reader. She simply presents it as it happened and allows the reader the latitude to draw their own conclusions. Obviously, some will believe it (which I do), while others may not, but she doesn't seem overly concerned or perturbed by that knowledge. That, IMO, is true faith, which in turn is what makes this book so incredibly good and what makes it work. I think people from many different faith traditions could glean encouragement from its gentle message of hope and love. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and thought that it was a stellar debut book. Ms. Beam certainly has a talent for writing, so I hope that she will consider writing more.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via GoodReads FirstReads in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" Like it's predecessor in the Effington Family & Friends series, The Husband List is a light-hearted Regency roReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" Like it's predecessor in the Effington Family & Friends series, The Husband List is a light-hearted Regency romance. It didn't tickle my funny bone quite as well, but it did have it's moments. It basically takes place concurrently with the first book of the series, with the same family gathering for the Roxborough Ride coming into play. In this one, we have Gillian, cousin to Pandora from the previous book, who is a widow. She loved her husband dearly and hasn't been with any man since his death. She finds herself named heiress to a large fortune, but it comes with the condition that she must marry before her thirtieth birthday. In order to claim it, she enlists the help of her two best guy friends to make a list of potential husbands. The only one who appeals and seems suitable is Richard, Earl of Shelbrooke. His father frittered away all their money at the gaming tables, so ever since the man died, Richard has been struggling to get by. His family estate is in disrepair and he has four younger sisters to clothe, feed, and come up with dowries for. Gillian wants a marriage in name only, planning to split the inheritance with her groom to be, but when Gillian proposes to Richard, he surprises her by saying that he'll only go along with it if she agrees to share his bed. From there much back and forth ensues as she tries to figure out whether she can comply with his terms. Also unbeknownst to her, he's living a double life as a reclusive French artist to pay the bills and fears what she might think if she discovers the truth.
I would say that for the most part I liked Richard, although he did a couple of things that kind of irritated me. I admired him for wanting more from Gillian than a marriage in name only. Even though he was pretty desperate for money, I felt like that showed from the start that he was genuinely interested in her and not just the inheritance. I also like that he was willing to seduce Gillian to convince her it would work between them. However, using his French artist alter ego in an attempt to accomplish that seemed like a poorly thought out plan right from the beginning. It simply didn't make much sense from a logical standpoint and my assessment was born out in spades as the ruse continued. The other thing that I greatly admired about Richard is that he could have taken the easy road by selling his sisters out, when his father died. After all, he already had a reputation close to matching his father's and his father had already arranged a betrothal of the oldest sister to a man old enough to be her grandfather. Instead though, Richard was willing to do whatever it took, including manual labor, to take care of his sisters and keep the manor house from falling down around their ears, as well as to see them married to suitable matches. However, on the downside, I didn't really care much for Richard's high-handed, chauvinistic manner toward female artists. In this way, he did follow in his father's footsteps by refusing to even entertain the notion of his oldest sister becoming a serious artist, simply because she was a woman. Now granted that may have been how things were back then and he could simply be said to be a product of the times, but as someone who also wouldn't have been taken seriously if his true identity was known, I felt like he should have had more empathy. So, overall, I'd say that Richard definitely had his good points, but he also had a few not so good points too.
IMHO, Gillian's characterization was somewhat underdeveloped. We know that she's a widow who loved her husband and hasn't really been interested in any other men since is death. We also know that her two best friends are male, but they're only friends, childhood acquaintances of both Gillian and her husband. She's a lover of the arts, who enjoys throwing salon parties to promote art and artists. The one thing I really liked about Gillian is that she prefers deep conversation to inane chit-chat, and for that reason, she engineers her salons to encourage this type of discussion. However, it's little more than a mention, and we don't really get to see this side of her in action much. I can't recall any particularly deep discussions she had with anyone, except maybe one with Richard's sister, Emma, about how the work of a certain painter really called out to her when she was in the depths of despair, following the death of her husband. Other than that, her conversation pretty much seemed the opposite of what she purportedly preferred, just light-hearted banalities. Gillian was also a creature who didn't seem to know her own mind to a near frustrating degree, although I suppose the same could be said of Richard. I did like her innovative idea of helping female artists by giving them a place to practice their craft and helping them make a name for themselves. I also liked that she was smart enough to figure out Richard's secret identity and the way she got back at him was pretty cute, although I felt maybe she took the ruse a bit too far. In general, Gillian was sweet and likable, but I felt like there were opportunities to build her character a little more fully that weren't realized.
One of the main reasons I marked this book down one and a half stars is that I felt the connection between Richard and Gillian was rather shaky most of the time. His masquerade as the French painter muddied the waters quite a bit, because it only served to confuse Gillian when she experienced feelings for both men. What really bothered me though, is that neither character even knows their own mind. Them constantly questioning their own feelings or how the other person feels or what their actions might mean diluted their connection. It made me feel like their emotions weren't strong enough to know anything for certain until very late in the story. Not to mention, the roundabout reasoning which passes for most of the conflict in the story seemed rather forced and overblown. It was just flat-out confusing to me most of the time and made my head hurt. The secrets, game playing, uncertainties, and inability to face or admit their feelings for one another drug on a little too long, also dampening that all-important emotional connection.
From a technical standpoint, I found a few additional issues. First of all, Gillian's proposed inheritance of 600,000 pounds, plus land in America, plus a fleet of eight ships (more or less – ugh! I could have played a drinking game with that phrase.;-)) seemed like overkill for the Regency era. The money alone would be worth more than 20 million dollars in today's economy, and while it's not outside the realm of possibility for someone to be that wealthy back then, it did seem a bit unbelievable, especially for a male relative to leave that much to a woman, particularly one he barely knew. The author does give a brief explanation for this, but I felt like it was a rather weak one. If the author had left out the land and ships and made the amount more reasonable, perhaps $50,000 pounds, which still would have been a veritable fortune and more than enough for them to live on comfortably and still have plenty left over for charitable causes, especially if invested wisely, then this part of the story would have been more palatable for me. Outside of that, the story seemed a little dialogue heavy at times. As I demonstrated above, the author uses some repetition and some rather meandering discussions that I think were meant to be funny and/or cute, but mostly just annoyed me. However, nothing grated more than the plethora of questions these two constantly ask themselves in their introspections regarding their doubts, fears, insecurities, and simply what's going on in the other person's head. For the most part, it boiled down to passive narration (telling), when it would have been much more effective to “show” their emotions in a more active way.
Overall, The Husband List was a readable enough book that wasn't a chore to finish. I mostly liked the characters, and it had some cute and sweet moments. However, I felt the narrative and the emotional connection were both sufficiently bogged down by all the questioning of feelings, as to take something away from the story, while also making me do a lot of eye-rolling. Therefore, it didn't quite make it over the hump to reach that four-star mark for me. I still plan to continue on with the series though. Richard's sisters were pretty adorable, and two of them, Marianne and Jocelyn, become the heroines of the next two books in the series. Marianne is a bookish sort and Jocelyn dreams of a Cinderella-style romance, both things that I can relate to, so that appeals. Also Gillian's brother and Richard's best friend, Thomas, who was a fairly likable guy as well, is paired with Marianne in the next book, The Marriage Lesson. I think these two could make an interesting pairing, so I look forward to giving their book a try....more