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)
Reviewed for THC Reviews *************Spoiler Alert*************** Review contains spoilers for the Maiden Lane series.
Wow! I'm beginning to think that...moreReviewed for THC Reviews *************Spoiler Alert*************** Review contains spoilers for the Maiden Lane series.
Wow! I'm beginning to think that Elizabeth Hoyt simply isn't capable of writing a bad book, and that's a very good thing.:-) I had really been looking forward to Thief of Shadows for a long time, and it certainly didn't disappoint. It ended up being another fabulous read in the Maiden Lane series and in a virtual tie with Scandalous Desires for my favorite book in the series so far. I just couldn't get enough of the scrumptious Winter and think he was the perfect match for Lady Isabel. The only thing that could possibly make this book better is if I could erase my memory of it, so that I could read and enjoy it all over again as though I'd never read it before.:-)
I've been crazy about Winter since the series first began and am so glad that he finally got his own book. When Winter is himself, he's a simple, shy, unassuming schoolmaster whose commitment and devotion to the children of the Foundling Home is touching beyond measure. When he takes up his avenging angel alter-ego of the Ghost of St. Giles, he becomes a more confident man who dares to banter with and even kiss the woman he has come to admire. He also harbors a depth of emotion that drives him to keep playing the Ghost, because he simply cannot leave the children and other helpless souls of St. Giles unprotected. Winter is definitely a man in whom still waters run deep, and it was an absolute joy to watch as he gradually integrates the two personas. Winter thinks of the Ghost part of himself as an animal, but in reality, he's far more self-aware than most men, which in my book, makes him quite civilized. He's always very controlled in his actions and knows exactly what he's getting into before he does it. This made him falling for Isabel all the more heartfelt, because it was a deliberate action which he had no intention of ever recanting. Winter has been so focused on caring for the children all of his adult life that it is an unfamiliar feeling when Isabel cares for him and shows him some small kindnesses. He is a very intuitive man who recognizes that Isabel is hiding some secrets of her own, and against all reason wants to unmask her in the same way she is doing with him. He is quite masterful at reading between the lines and understanding all the things that Isabel doesn't say and occasionally shocks her with his astuteness. Winter is a very intelligent man who recognizes that same attribute in Isabel and respects her as his intellectual equal. Winter has the heart of a poet and utters a number of incredibly romantic and swoon-worthy lines that I'll not soon forget. I love the way he often says, "As you wish," and can't help wondering if the author was paying homage to The Princess Bride. I think the thing I adored most about Winter though is his view that making love is an intimate expression of love and commitment and not merely lust or sex. He knows from the moment he first makes love to Isabel that he is laying claim to her for now and always. When Isabel initially rejects his suit, he patiently bides his time until she comes to terms with the idea of marrying him. Even when it seems like everyone else has gotten the upper hand on him, we discover that Winter is an incredibly clever man who really had control of the situation all along and when it came to Isabel, he used that ingenuity to stay close to her and continue to carefully press his suit. Winter was a sweet, gentle man who leans toward the beta side, but when he takes up the mask of the Ghost has a streak of alpha protectiveness. Everything came together to make him an all-around delectable hero who has definitely earned a spot on my all-time favorite heroes list.
Isabel is a woman who wears her own mask quite well. To society she presents the perfect picture of a poised, confident lady, but underneath she's broken and grieving for dreams that have been shattered. When Winter comes into her life, he slowly begins peeling away the layers, leaving her painfully exposed, but then soothes her with the balm of his love. During their first encounter in this story, Isabel bravely rescues the Ghost of St. Giles. At this point, I think she is somewhat taken with the danger and romanticism of Winter's alter-ego, but once she starts falling for Winter and realizes they are one and the same, she becomes sick with worry over his safety while in the guise of the Ghost. I thought Isabel was a very intelligent woman to put the pieces together and realize that Winter was the Ghost. As Isabel and Winter begin to get to know one another, Isabel seems to enjoy needling Winter in a good-natured sort of way in an attempt to loosen him up a little whenever he's being particularly reticent. I love that Isabel sees the whole man behind Winter's stoic exterior, and that she sincerely wants to get to know him better. She recognizes the intense passion that hides just beneath the surface and is intoxicated by the thought of him turning that passion on her. Isabel may get angry with Winter for not telling her the truth about being the Ghost, but she still can't resist him even when he's not really trying to seduce her. She's quite simply drawn to him like a moth to a flame. Isabel is obviously rather uncomfortable with the little boy, Christoper, and I correctly discerned her reasons for that. However, it's equally obvious that deep down she cares for him too, and through Winter's calming influence, she gradually becomes more relaxed around children in general. I like the way that Isabel supports Winter too. She seems to understand his devotion to the Foundling Home and when one of her cohorts in the Ladies Syndicate tries to get him dismissed from his job as the manager, she sincerely wants to help him keep his position. Isabel definitely gave Winter a challenge when she attempted to fight her feelings for him, but deep down, she's been hurt and was simply afraid to love him for fear that he might someday betray her, or worse yet, look at her as less than a woman and eventually despise her. Lucky for her, Winter was a patient and determined man who wouldn't take no for an answer.
As a couple Winter and Isabel are a superb match. These two see and appreciate the parts of each other that no one else ever has. I love the way they flirt and banter but it's in a more reserved way than one would typically see in a historical romance. Winter is just too honest and direct for it to be any other way. Instead their dialog is like an exquisite dance, intricately choreographed to build sexual tension. Every look, every touch is more of the same, propelling them on toward the ultimate goal of falling in love and sharing passion. All this made their first kiss and their first intimate encounters explosively passionate, yet when Winter comes back to Isabel later, their love-making is deliciously slow and sensuous. He puts himself completely under Isabel's tutelage while unselfishly giving himself to her. His curiosity is adorable, and his attention to her needs bone-meltingly decadent. Virgin heroes like Winter are definitely an under-rated commodity in romance, and in my opinion, there should be a lot more of them.
Thief of Shadows has a number of memorable secondary characters. It nearly broke my heart when the selfish Lady Penelope teamed up with Lord d'Arque to stir up trouble for Winter. It was hard to believe that she couldn't see what an amazing man Winter was and how devoted he was to the children, but complacent people like her rarely do have an understanding of such things. Her quiet companion, Miss Greaves seems like a decent person though, and I wouldn't mind seeing a little more of her in the future. Joseph Tinbox is so sweet the way he looks out for Peach, a little orphan girl Winter rescues after she escapes from the “lassie snatchers.” Even though Winter tries not to have favorites, he simply can't help having a special place in his heart for Joseph, and I think it's wonderful that Joseph recognizes on some level what Winter is doing and wants to emulate him. Joseph would make a great hero when he grows up, and this book left me with the feeling Ms. Hoyt may be heading that direction with his character. Griffin's sister, Lady Margaret finally found the love-match she'd been craving. However, I knew after taking a writer's workshop with Elizabeth Hoyt that Margaret's secret love affair was doomed, because she is set to become the heroine of the next book in the series, Lord of Darkness. Her hero will be Godric St. John, Caire's best friend from Wicked Intentions. Godric only appears in a couple of scenes in this book, and he seems to be very sad and depressed over the death of his beloved wife. I've loved both of these characters since I first met them, and think that they have the potential to make a fabulous match. After the teasers Ms. Hoyt gave us in her workshop, I can't wait to read their book.
Thief of Shadows was a perfect book that had a little of everything. There was action, adventure and a little bit of mystery as Winter searches St. Giles for the missing little girls and tries to figure out which high-ranking aristocrat is responsible for their disappearances. There is decadent romance as Isabel tutors Winter in the social graces and a whole lot more. I also loved Winter's intelligent response to those who called for his resignation and the way he cleverly turned the tables on them. Then there was the surprising epilogue which revealed an intriguing secret that explains something I'd been wondering about since the beginning of the series. It also leaves the reader with a mini-cliffhanger, and with that to explore and an unsolved murder that I hope will be resolved, there's a lot to look forward to in Lord of Darkness. It's going to be difficult to wait eight months for it to be released.(less)