The Serenity: Those Left Behind graphic novel is a nice companion piece to the Firefly television series and the Sereni...moreReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
The Serenity: Those Left Behind graphic novel is a nice companion piece to the Firefly television series and the Serenity feature film, both created by Joss Whedon. It presents an exciting missing chapter in the story that occurs chronologically between Firefly and Serenity. The story was engaging and very nicely done, giving the reader the feel of watching an episode of Firefly. The characterizations are true to the television series. In fact, the dialog was so well done, I could almost hear the actors voices in each role. The artwork was very well rendered. I particularly liked the portraits of each of the characters that are scattered throughout the book. I thought that they were very accurate depictions of their real-life actor counterparts. Since the book is part of a continuing story, it may not be of much interest to those who have not seen the series or the movie, as it would probably be hard to follow. In my opinion however, this book is a must-have for fans of Firefly or Serenity.(less)
Lover Eternal is only the second paranormal vampire romance I have read, and the second in J. R. Ward's Black Dagger Br...moreReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
Lover Eternal is only the second paranormal vampire romance I have read, and the second in J. R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series. It's predecessor, Dark Lover, tended to focus a lot on world-building and character development with the romance aspect being at least equal, but not necessarily the main focus. Lover Eternal differs in that it is much more focused on the romance and relationship of the hero and heroine. I really liked this, as I felt it gives the reader a much better feel for the main characters than in Dark Lover. During the early part of the book, there were some truly memorable and swoon-worthy romantic scenes such as Rhage taking Mary on a “normal” date; them “holding the moon in the palm of their hands”; or Rhage feeding Mary from his hand to honor her, because he was so honored by her cooking a meal for him. In addition, it's always a nice twist to have the hero fall in love at first sight while the heroine takes a little longer, and it was different to have a main character who is suffering from a terminal illness. I like the loving possessiveness that the vampire males have toward their mates, and Rhage was no exception. I also love the bond of oneness between the members of the Brotherhood, and how when one is honored or dishonored, they all are. Still, their love and devotion for one another, never supersedes their love and devotion to their mates. I have thus far found the overall story of Lover Eternal and the Black Dagger Brotherhood series in general to be a unique and intriguing one which at times can be difficult to put down.
While there was much to enjoy about Lover Eternal, there were also some things that bothered me about the story. My primary issue was that Ms. Ward seems to have a penchant for torturing both the hero and the heroine in these books. While I have no problem with deep emotional conflicts and in fact enjoy a good story that delves into these areas, I felt like the conflict in Lover Eternal was overdone to the point of being rather depressing at times and really lacking in lightness or humor. From the very beginning of the story, there were already multiple major conflicts for the protagonists to overcome to find their happy ending, such as the vampire/human relationship, the lessers, Rhage's beast, Mary's leukemia, and reduced self-esteem on both their parts. These conflicts alone would have been enough to fill several stories, but then the author introduced a multi-dimensional sexual conflict caused by the beast, which added more fuel to the fire. Ultimately, in my opinion, having so many sub-plots did a disservice to both the characters and the story. Also, I felt like some of the conflicts were simply glossed over and magically disappeared, because there just wasn't enough space left to cover them. In my opinion, the story would have been stronger and better if only a couple of major conflicts had been present and explored in more depth, as sometimes less is simply more. Still for as many plot points as there were in the story, most were at least wrapped up, with only a few minor questions that I felt were left open to speculation. One other thing that bothered me a bit were some allusions to BDSM. Rhage and Mary's first major love scene was initiated rather roughly, and I felt that it was inconsistent with their previously tender and deeply romantic relationship and wasn't really my cup of tea. Overall though, the couple of scenes involving the hero and heroine engaging in this type of behavior were relatively mild and handled well, so I probably wouldn't have given it much thought except that they were placed side-by-side in the same story with evil characters engaging in similar, though of course much more menacing and violent behavior, with unwilling characters. This all just left me with an unsettled feeling that a line was being blurred. I'm also not much of a fan of the Scribe Virgin, the vampire's goddess figure, as she is too overbearing for my taste. She also seems to have little more to do than further torment the brothers, even though she claims to love them, which is something I just didn't get.
I found the characterizations of the hero and heroine in the story to be quite good. Overall, I thought they were both generally likable and relateable. Most of the time Rhage is a rather dreamy but flawed sort of hero, which is usually my favorite kind. He reminds me of beauty and the beast all wrapped up in one package with his drop-dead gorgeous looks on the outside, and the hideous dragon beast that shares his body on the inside, coming out to wreak havoc whenever Rhage is really upset or in pain. I found Rhage's self-loathing over his numerous, casual, sexual conquests because of the beast to be very touching, as was his desire to find just one special woman with whom he could spend the rest of his life. Although he possessed tremendous physical strength, Rhage showed a beautiful emotional vulnerability, and he was a gentle, tender and passionate lover with a truly romantic side, Also, his completely selfless love for Mary which led him to make a desperate bargain for her life was at once both heart wrenching and heartwarming. At the beginning of the book, I related to Mary extremely well. She is a rather plain-looking woman who has experienced a great deal of hardships and loneliness in her life, and is somewhat lacking in self-esteem, so at first, she finds it difficult to believe that someone as physically beautiful as Rhage could possibly be interested in her. Rhage could be very persistent and persuasive though, and eventually was able to convince her. Mary was a very strong and independent woman, and while there is much to be said for those characteristics, about half-way through the book, she began to push Rhage away because of her desire for independence. At this point she started to frustrate me, because I have a hard time relating to a heroine who seems about to toss aside a lovely relationship with a hero who wants nothing more than to be by her side, pampering her and loving her unconditionally. Thankfully, her lapse didn't last too long, and she came to her senses fairly quickly. Occasionally Mary stood out, such as when she used her counseling skills to get into Zsadist's head or when she tamed the beast, but sometimes she was simply rather bland. In the end though, she showed her big heart by loving Rhage fully and without reservation, beast and all, and it was their overall romantic relationship that really worked for me.
The secondary characters in the story were very well-done too. The author continued to add details to the lives of the other members of the Brotherhood, building them into even more intriguing characters. I think the most details were added to Zsadist's character, all of which created a picture of a sympathetic and severely wounded individual who has been living life in an emotional dead-zone, but is beginning to be awakened by the possibilities of love. There were several scenes involving Zsadist which I found extremely touching. Readers are introduced to Bella, a female vampire, who is bold but kind and gentle and is best friends with Mary. Bella developed an almost immediate attraction to Zsadist in spite of his horribly scarred body. Her attraction was due in part to his bad-boy image and her desire to escape a rather mundane life, but after a private encounter with him, she realized very quickly that there was much more beneath the surface that she wanted to get to know. Unfortunately, Bella's part in the story had a cliff-hanger ending, but it is resolved in the next book, Lover Awakened, in which she and Zsadist become the heroine and hero. The author also introduces John Matthew, a young mute vampire who has not yet gone through the transition, and who is alone and unaware of his heritage until he is found and taken in by one of the members of the Brotherhood. He is also another highly sympathetic character, though unlike Zsadist is more outwardly gentle. I look forward to seeing more of him in future stories in the series. Though it would have been nice to see more of them, readers are also given a few brief glimpses of Wrath and Beth, the hero and heroine of the first book, Dark Lover.
While the plot of Lover Eternal could have been tighter by reducing conflicts and shoring up details, I found it to be generally interesting with lots of potential for future story. Ms. Ward has definitely drawn me into the world of the Black Dagger Brotherhood. When she gets scenes “right” for me they are spot on, and when she doesn't quite get them “right” for me, they can be disappointing, but not necessarily a deal breaker. If an author can interest me in a story to the point that I can overlook perceived weaknesses and still want to continue, they have passed at least one big hurdle. I liked the first two books of the series well enough that I intend to continue, and I was so thoroughly intrigued by Zsadist and Bella that I actually look forward to reading their story soon. While the violence level in Lover Eternal was somewhat less than was seen in Dark Lover, it was still present, and I should warn sensitive readers that there is also strong language. As mentioned earlier, Dark Lover precedes Lover Eternal in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. The remaining books are Lover Awakened, Lover Revealed, Lover Unbound, and Lover Enshrined. Also, The Black Dagger Brotherhood: An Insider's Guide, a companion book to the series was just released and book seven, Lover Avenged, is due out next spring. J. R. Ward also writes contemporary romance under the name Jessica Bird.(less)
Until now, I had only read a handful of paranormal romances, all of which involved time travel, and had never read a va...moreReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
Until now, I had only read a handful of paranormal romances, all of which involved time travel, and had never read a vampire romance at all. I really never thought I would be interested, but numerous enthusiastic recommendations by fellow romance readers finally convinced me to try J. R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood. I was pleasantly surprised to find the first book in the series, Dark Lover, to be a generally enjoyable read. Admittedly, the atmosphere of the book is a little darker than I tend to prefer, but Ms. Ward has managed to use humor, romance and a few other elements that are sure to make readers smile to lighten things up here and there. I certainly don't know much about vampire mythology, but what little I do know, coupled with things that I have heard from other readers, seems to indicate that the author has created a very unique vampire world that is for the most part, all her own. She has definitely made the vampires the “good guys”, by debunking all the usual and most frightening myths surrounding them. However, readers shouldn't expect warm, fuzzy vampires either, as all the members of the Brotherhood are extremely lethal, though typically only toward those who pose a threat to their species or anyone they love. Dark Lover was definitely a story unlike any other I had ever read before.
Though the general story behind Dark Lover was new and unique to me, I found the plot to be rather simplistic and fairly predictable. Unfortunately, I didn't find much in the way of surprises or plot twists, but in spite of this, I still found the story rather intriguing. I would have to credit this to some nail-biting action and some good old-fashioned romance, both of which help to keep the story moving and make things interesting. Ms. Ward also helps to make up for some of the plot deficiencies with great character development. Not only are the hero and heroine pretty well developed, but the secondary characters, including the bad guys, are as well. When creating a book series, most authors only introduce readers to one or perhaps two characters who play major roles in future stories, but in Dark Lover, Ms. Ward has introduced readers to all the members of the Brotherhood, as well as ex-cop, Butch, and female vampire, Marissa, all of whom will play major roles in other books in the series. In some ways the varied character palette was a positive thing, because it helped to add interest to the story. It will also probably help to peak readers interest in other books in the series, as it did mine. In other ways though, I felt that having so many characters on the canvas at once somewhat diluted the main love story between Wrath and Beth. While these two shared a very powerful love that was a pleasure to read, I felt that it could have been built a bit more slowly and with more attention to the details surrounding their emotions, especially regarding past hurts and conflicts. As it was written, I felt that the story just barely scratched the surface of these issues. I am hoping that these characters will continue to play secondary roles in future books in the series. Perhaps these issues will be further addressed later, though this may just be wishful thinking on my part.
In my opinion, Wrath and Beth are a very appealing and well-matched couple. Wrath is a generally dark, brooding hero, and is a rather dichotomous character. I enjoyed the contrast between his persona as a hardened and lethal warrior and that of a passionate, yet gentle and considerate lover. I love the idea of a tough guy being brought to his knees by his love for a woman and becoming completely and hopelessly devoted to her. In addition, having a guy be possessive and protective in a loving way can be very appealing. I also liked Wrath having no problems with expressing his affection for Beth in front of his fellow warriors. While many guys would fear that it might make him look weak, to the contrary, he became a positive role model to the brothers of what a loving relationship can be like, making some of them begin to consider their own futures. In this and other ways, he was not afraid to show his vulnerabilities, which I was thoroughly able to appreciate. His near blindness, a situation which thankfully was not magically fixed during the course of the story, made him even more mysterious and intriguing. Beth made a formidable mate for Wrath, because she was confident enough to stand up to him when he needed to be set straight, and she never let him boss her around like one of his warriors. In spite of not being raised in the best of circumstances, she had a tender, nurturing side which endeared her not only to Wrath, but to all of his brothers as well. She was also as fiercely protective of him as he was of her, and showed her strength and bravery in the face of danger, as well as through her utter devotion to him.
I found most of the secondary characters to be very likable as well. Each of the members of the Brotherhood seems to have a fascinating story that is just waiting to be told. Like their leader, all the members of the Brotherhood are pretty dark and brooding, with the possible exception of Tohrment, who is already happily mated. I enjoyed the sweet relationship between him and his shellan, Wellsie. It just helped to add to the romance of the story. Each of the other four brothers have some major burden to bear, while also possessing some magnificent gifts. Ex-homicide detective, Butch, is not unlike his vampire counterparts, but is surprised to feel a kinship with them and be welcomed as their only human ally. Butch's instant attraction to and budding relationship with female vampire, Marissa, give readers something of a two-for-one deal on the romance aspect of the story. These two characters will also later star in their own story, Lover Revealed. Even the lessers, who are thoroughly evil and possess no redeeming qualities whatsoever, are painted in such a light that the reader can at least feel that this drastic choice for their lives makes some sense, as they all seemed to be sociopaths to begin with.
While Dark Lover had some weaknesses and could have had tighter plotting, the overall uniqueness of the story was sufficient to stimulate my interest, while the wonderfully drawn characters engaged me. It did start out a bit slow, possibly owing to the large number of characters that were being introduced and the action flipping back and forth between different characters, but ultimately about halfway through I was hooked. J. R. Ward has impressed me with her (and my) first foray into the world of paranormal vampire romance. I enjoyed the story enough that I will definitely continue with the series, and will likely seek out her contemporary titles written under the name of Jessica Bird. I should, however, warn sensitive readers that there is a good deal of strong language in the book as well as violence, though thankfully most of it is not played out in particularly explicit detail. The remaining books in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series are Lover Eternal, Lover Awakened, Lover Revealed, and Lover Unbound, with book six, Lover Enshrined due out next year.
Update:Lover Enshrined was released in June 2008, and The Black Dagger Brotherhood: An Insider's Guide, a companion book to the series will be released Oct. 7, 2008. Book seven, Lover Avenged, is due out next spring. (10/6/08)(less)
The Wilder Wedding had an interesting and unique premise, but in my opinion it did not live up to it's potential. After...moreReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
The Wilder Wedding had an interesting and unique premise, but in my opinion it did not live up to it's potential. After reading the back cover synopsis, I thought this book was going to be about a woman who thought she was dying, but wanted to live out the time she had left to the fullest. Although it was clear from the start that the heroine's belief that she was dying was simply a misunderstanding, I was expecting the hero and heroine to marry quickly and embark on some romantic adventures before finding out the truth about her health near the end. Well, they did marry quickly, a little too quickly in my opinion. The events of the first few chapters are thrown at the reader at such a fast pace, I didn't feel like I had time to get to know or even care about the characters before they were married and sailing off to Paris for a supposed honeymoon adventure. I'm not opposed to love at first sight stories, but this one somehow did not ring true for me. Aside from Sean's one small act of kindness toward Laura on the day they first met, readers are given little reason for her choosing him to become her temporary husband, and save for his supposed underlying sense of compassion, readers are given little reason for Sean accepting Laura's proposal, since he very clearly didn't want her money. Unfortunately, my belief that the supposed health crisis would take center stage was not the case. It wound up being little more than a weak plot device to get the hero and heroine to marry very quickly and then was used in much the same way to keep them from being physically intimate for a while. This sub-plot was resolved only halfway through the book with the rest of the story being about a terrible misunderstanding on Sean's part about some things Laura has told him and the mystery of a death threat against him.
In my opinion, this story was overburdened with a large number of standard romance sub-plots which I felt were put together in a haphazard fashion. I think that it would have been a better story if the author had stuck with a couple of these plot devices and delved into them more deeply, rather than cramming it with so many that were, in some cases, only cursorily explored. The story simply did not flow very well, and the pacing made me feel like I was on a roller coaster. As I mentioned earlier, there are points where the story moves so quickly that the reader can't really get a good grasp on the situations and other points where it moves so slowly that I was impatiently waiting for something to happen. Most of the time the narrative and characterizations felt forced instead of just flowing naturally. I felt like I would have had to stretch far beyond the limits of my imagination for this story to be believable. The misunderstanding that led Sean to believe that Laura had betrayed him was overblown in my opinion and belabored far too long. The mystery was not even terribly compelling because the author set up too many potential suspects without really leaving a trail of bread crumbs for the reader to follow. In my opinion, a good mystery not only sets up several suspects, but also drops clues throughout the story to hook the reader, so that they want to find the solution. If there were any real clues in this story, I was hard pressed to find them, and eventually found myself not really caring much who was making the death threats.
I generally liked both the hero and heroine, but found Sean to be a rather frustrating and inconsistent character. He made me feel like I was watching a tennis match. During the early part of the book, Sean was a rather dreamy hero, who was kind, caring and compassionate. That all changed in a heartbeat when he found out Laura was pregnant and what was, in my opinion, a silly misunderstanding ensued. At that point, he verbally lashed out at her, then started caring again, then lashed out again, with this dance continuing for the better part of the remaining chapters. I understand that he had a dark tortured past and that his first wife had betrayed him in a terrible way, both of which caused him to be insecure and feel a need for control, but he became so stubborn about the whole thing that this part of the story simply frustrated me to no end. I think part of the problem with the character of Sean was that the author never really took his emotions beyond the surface. He would have been a much fuller character and his actions would have held more weight if his emotions over his very deep past hurts had been more fully explored. I also found him to be an inconsistent character, because we begin the story with the knowledge that Sean is a former soldier, former Scotland Yard detective, and now private investigator, and later discover that he is an art expert and passable artist as well. I can understand a character who has a side hobby, but Sean seemed to have two completely opposing personas. I can say, that if the reader is able to muddle through the maze of his over-broad characterization, at his core, Sean is a pretty decent person. Except for her refusal to communicate during the latter chapters which was darn near infuriating to me, Laura was pretty consistent throughout the entire story. She never really changed from the first page except for becoming even more vibrant during the time that she thought she was dying. Considering how contradictory Sean was, this was generally a good thing, but it also meant that Laura never grew or changed in any way throughout the story. I think her character would also have benefited from having been given more depth. As far as secondary characters, other than Sean's friend Dr. Campion, most are given only brief scenes that don't add a great deal to the story. The only other exception would be Sean's mother and her long-time friend, Byron, who though they were also seen only briefly, added more story value that any other supporting characters in the book.
Other than having a general liking for both of the main characters and a couple of secondary characters, the only other thing that I particularly enjoyed in the story was the time Sean and Laura spent in Paris. During that time they were happy and lighthearted in spite of her supposed illness, and they experienced some truly romantic moments there. The setting of the Parisian underground and the nightlife of Montmartre was also interesting. I haven't read this setting in other romance novels before, and thought it would have been nice if the author had expanded on it in a little more detail. The Wilder Wedding is one of Ms. Stone's earlier books, so perhaps she hadn't fully developed her writing skills yet. It was also the first book authored by her that I have read, and as such I will try to keep an open mind if I come across other works by her in the future. Readers who are looking for a simple, easy read and don't mind standard soap opera plotting may be able to enjoy this book, as could those with a preference for love at first sight stories. I, however, was never really able to fully immerse myself in the story and found it to be rather a bit of a chore to finish.(less)
I somehow got the mistaken impression that Must Love Mistletoe would be a lighthearted, witty romantic comedy, but it s...moreReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
I somehow got the mistaken impression that Must Love Mistletoe would be a lighthearted, witty romantic comedy, but it seemed that the author couldn't decide whether the story was supposed to be a comedy or a drama. While there were some humorous scenes that made me smile, there were others that I think were meant to be humorous, but to me, came off seeming rather silly and childish. The book also dealt with several heavier topics such as marital strife and death, but not in the deeply emotional yet heartwarming manner that I prefer. I also felt that there were weakness in the plot. I just never fully bought into the idea of Finn and Bailey being separated for ten years without contact in our electronic age. I realize that Bailey was purposely trying to run away and avoid Finn, but since his grandmother lived next door to her mother, it seems like it would have been an easy thing for him to simply inquire after her whereabouts. Since it was obvious that he loved her very deeply, it just never entirely made sense to me that Finn wouldn't at least try to find Bailey to get some answers, but I suppose that he may have simply been too broken-hearted to try. I also like a strong happily-ever-after ending that leaves me feeling like the protagonists will be together for a long time after the last page is turned, but unfortunately, I did not feel like I got this in Must Love Mistletoe. While Finn's Christmas gift to Bailey was beautiful and romantic, the ending was surrounded by sad events and a great deal of ambiguity that left me with no clear picture of where these two might end up down the road.
While I have had personal life experiences that bear some similarity to those of Bailey, I had a difficult time relating to her. She was a popular girl in high school, while I never was. She hates Christmas, while I tend to enjoy it. She doesn't believe in true love any more than she believes in Santa Claus, while I have always been a hopeless romantic. Still, if all these things had been played in the lighthearted manner in which I had expected, I think Bailey would have been a more relateable character, but as she was written, I felt that she took herself and life way too seriously. I think her character would also have been better if she had shown a bit more vulnerability instead of being an island unto herself. While Bailey had been very deeply affected by her parent's divorce and her father's abandonment, I just couldn't fully understand her teenage cynicism about relationships, since her mother had been remarried presumably happily for at least a decade at that point, to a man who Bailey herself admitted was a good man. However, I realize that children and teenagers can be very impressionable, so I could have perhaps bought into the idea that Bailey would run away from her relationship with Finn the first time, but when she was prepared to do it again as a supposedly intelligent adult, I started to loose respect for her and just wanted to shake some sense into her. I also thought it was rather cruel for Bailey to have thrown away her wonderful friendship with Trin when she left the first time. For her to continue to allow her parents divorce and her father's ill-conceived advice affect her relationships more than twenty years later, to me showed a distinct lack of growth and maturity. In my opinion, it even showed weakness, because Bailey seemed unwilling to take a chance on anyone or anything simply for fear of it turning out badly. I'm sorry to say that I was just never able to fully grasp why Finn fell in love with her.
I could also not bring myself to care much about the secondary romance between Bailey's mother, Tracy, and stepfather, Dan. After twenty years of marriage, I felt that they should have been able to weather empty-nest syndrome without resorting to what was in my opinion petty, childish bickering that could have been easily cleared up with a little more communication. It also didn't seem quite fair that a pair of secondary characters got the first major love scene in the book. In addition, Tracy's actions in taking a crowbar to her ex-husband's car, which I believe was meant to be empowering, I unfortunately found rather disturbing instead. As with Bailey, I felt that she should have grown more in the last twenty years than to be so affected by his presence as to take such drastic measures. Nearly every time there was a long scene or an entire chapter devoted to Tracy and/or Dan, I started zoning out and was eager to get back to Finn and Bailey's story. I was somewhat disappointed though with the love scenes between Finn and Bailey, because while they were full of hot, steamy sensuality, they generally seemed like little more than lust gone wild. I really like to feel that the characters are in love, and while I could sense this to some extent on Finn's part, Bailey was always so closed off, that it never truly seemed like her heart was in their lovemaking.
In spite of my negative comments up to this point, I actually did find several things to like about Must Love Mistletoe. First and foremost, I really liked the hero, Finn. Although the author didn't delve quite deep enough into his character to suit my taste, he was still very intriguing. The persona of a former bad boy who cared for Bailey enough to stay out of trouble and clean up his act in order to impress her was very appealing. In spite of his outer tough guy, there were several times that the author allowed a sensitive and vulnerable side to show through, creating an all-too-human and well-rounded character that was enjoyable to read. Also, any guy who loves and respects his grandmother as much as Finn did is a winner in my book. Finn's grandmother was a joy to read as well. Even though she didn't directly play a large part in the story, it was fun to imagine the kind of sweet little old lady she must have been to command Finn's respect. She seemed to be the only person besides Bailey who was able to keep him on the straight and narrow. I also liked Bailey's straight-talking, sassy best friend, Trin, who infused Bailey's life with a much needed dose of reality. I also thought she was a very forgiving person to so easily allow Bailey back into her life after Bailey had left without so much as a good-bye and hadn't even communicated with her in over a decade. The Perfect Christmas was a neat little store with a lovely ambiance, which if it really existed, would have had me agreeing with everyone else in town about it being a “landmark” and an “institution”. The store was really a character in it's own right and I found myself rather disappointed at the author's choice of an ending for it. In addition, I had never read a contemporary story set in suburban Southern California, so I was able to appreciate a uniqueness in the setting. Lastly, I really enjoyed Bailey Sullivan's Vintage Facts & Fun Calender, little trivial tidbits about Christmas that were at the beginning of each chapter. I found these to be pretty entertaining and educational.
Must Love Mistletoe started out fairly strong, hooking me in with the appealing idea of the story of two former sweethearts reunited after many years apart, but unfortunately it veered off in some strange and unexpected directions that I did not find entirely appealing. While it had a number of weaknesses and was not the best book I have ever read, neither did I find it to be a complete chore to finish as has been the case with some other stories. While I have not seen an official series designation, Must Love Mistletoe has another holiday-themed sequel titled, Not Another New Year's, in which secondary character and Finn's fellow ex-Secret Service agent, Tanner Hart becomes the hero. This was the first book I had read by Ms. Ridgway, and while she didn't completely wow me this time, she has a reasonably good writing style that leaves me open to the possibility of reading other books by her in the future.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" Just Once is a pleasant, light and easy read. It lacked some of the depth in both characterizations and story that...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" Just Once is a pleasant, light and easy read. It lacked some of the depth in both characterizations and story that I usually prefer in my romance novels, but I still found it to be pretty enjoyable. The first part of the book had a fair bit of action, but at the same time it seemed rather sluggish. I think this was because of the lack of depth to the hero and heroine during this part of the story. Usually an author will build characters by utilizing dialog or secondary characters, or letting the reader into a character's thoughts. Very little of any of these things were occurring during the early chapters, except for the first chapter giving some insight into Jemma's relationship with her father. Dialog was almost exclusively limited to only necessary exchanges due to the hero's self-proclaimed loner status, readers are given only minimal insight into Hunter or Jemma's thoughts, and the only secondary characters are a small band of Indians who didn't really help to deepen the characterizations very much. I didn't really feel like the author gave the reader sufficient reason for Jemma choosing Hunter to help her other than her sheer impulsive nature. Also, aside from being alone together on the trail for weeks, it was a little difficult to understand why Hunter and Jemma even starting falling in love considering how little they knew about each other.
About one third of the way into the book, it started to pick up a bit though, just as Hunter and Jemma reached his settlement of Sandy Shoals. At this point, I was able to forget some of the weaknesses of the first part of the story and just settle in and enjoy it. I think this was due to the addition of some fun and colorful secondary characters for the hero and heroine to play off of. They really helped to increase the reader's awareness of exactly who these two characters are and what makes them tick, as well as enliven the story itself. I really enjoyed the setting of Sandy Shoals. I've always liked stories about the frontier and settlements where everyone helps each other out like one happy extended family. This middle third of the book just seemed like a lazy summer afternoon, a leisurely treat for the senses. The final third of the book is where the story really picks up, as Hunter and Jemma begin to face the things that separate them and come to terms with what they think they want versus the reality of their heart's desire and circumstances.
As with Day Dreamer, it's predecessor in the Louisiana series, Just Once gets off to a rather uncertain start, but I must give Jill Marie Landis credit for knowing how to write a satisfying romantic ending. It wasn't quite as good as the ending to Day Dreamer, but it was still very nice. I also enjoy Ms. Landis' characters. Hunter and Jemma were both very likable, although Jemma was a bit too impulsive for my taste, and all of the secondary characters in Sandy Shoals were wonderfully written too. Hunter reminded me a lot of George Bailey from the movie, It's a Wonderful Life, always wanting to go somewhere and always being held back by circumstances, only to find out he has everything he needs right at home. Just Once introduces us to Noah LeCroix, the shy, half-breed recluse who becomes the hero of book #3 in the series, Blue Moon. It also tells of the riverboat accident that leaves Noah scarred for life. In spite of Just Once being part of a series with some cross-over characters, it does stand well on it's own. Jemma and her father, Thomas O'Hurley, who only played a minor role, were the only characters from Just Once to appear in Day Dreamer. The only character from Day Dreamer who even makes an appearance in Just Once is Celine and she isn't even named. Day Dreamer's cloak swapping scene in the church is replayed in Just Once from Jemma's point of view. I think both of these books could be read and enjoyed on their own without necessarily reading them in order. Just Once may be sweetly predictable and formulaic, but it was a gentle, breezy, heartwarming tale that makes the reader feel like they've curled up in a warm blanket on a rainy day.(less)
Day Dreamer is the first novel authored by Jill Marie Landis that I have read, and I must say that the story had so many twist...moreReviewed for THC Reviews
Day Dreamer is the first novel authored by Jill Marie Landis that I have read, and I must say that the story had so many twists and turns, I felt like I was on a wild roller coaster ride. On the one hand, this was a good thing as it made the story interesting, but on the other hand, the sheer volume of events at times was almost overwhelming. Considering the winding path that this story took, the main plot points were satisfactorily wrapped up, but some of the more minor points were not as tight as I would have liked to see. There were lots of descriptive details, but at times I felt like they slowed the story down rather than enhancing it. On a positive note though, there were occasionally some very witty lines of dialog that really made me laugh. I had an up and down relationship with the early part of the book, sometimes wanting to read it and sometimes not caring as much, but I was ultimately glad I kept going as the last third of the book was so engrossing I could barely put it down. The ending of the book was thoroughly satisfying, one of the best and most incredibly romantic final chapters I've read in a while.
The characters were generally well drawn. In my opinion, Cord was the best fleshed out character in the book. I really felt like the author gives the reader an excellent grasp on what drives this man. I could truly empathize with the character, his insecurities, and the losses he had experienced, although there were a couple of times I wanted to shake some sense into him. Thankfully, one of the secondary characters did exactly that for me.;-) I also liked the fact that Cord had scruples. Who couldn't like a man (a southerner at that) who abhors slavery and wishes to emancipate all his slaves as soon as possible? Celine was a likable character who was dignified, strong and courageous while still being kind, loving, and generous. The problem I had with her character was that she was being too many things to too many people and ultimately was a rather unfocused character in my opinion, basically an unrealistic superwoman. It seemed that her main purpose was supposed to be that of melting Cord's frozen heart and teaching him to love again, but she was so frequently in perilous situations that I ultimately felt like it was circumstances more than Celine herself that accomplished that goal. It was also rather torturous to have her constantly going through so many seemingly never ending trials before finally getting her happy ending. All of the supporting characters were also well done. In particular, Cord's two menservants, Foster and Edward, with all their scheming and matchmaking, as well as his slightly eccentric Aunt Ada added a bit of lightheartedness to the story. It was nice to see Bobo, a black man of that era in a position of authority rather than subjugation.
Day Dreamer is the first book in Jill Marie Landis's Louisiana series. It introduces us to Jemma O'Hurley who becomes the heroine of book #2, Just Once. The final book that rounds out the trilogy is Blue Moon. I thought that this book was a worthwhile and generally enjoyable read. Overall, I liked Day Dreamer and Ms. Landis's writing well enough that I definitely want to finish the series, and would be open to reading other books by her in the future.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" Blue Moon is a fairly good story with an interesting premise. My favorite character was Noah. He was an adorably i...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" Blue Moon is a fairly good story with an interesting premise. My favorite character was Noah. He was an adorably introverted beta hero, reminding me a lot of modern-day geeks, with his shy, reclusive nature and his lack of social skills particularly with women. His status as an older male virgin, a rarity in romance novels, only served to solidify this stereotype. His awkwardness in the early chapters of the book was sweetly endearing, but I was somewhat disappointed that it only carried over minimally in the later chapters. Overall though, Noah was a really well-rendered character who I greatly enjoyed reading. It was nice to watch him change and grow throughout the book. On the other hand, I sympathized with Olivia, but felt like she was a somewhat contradictory character. At times, her fear was nearly palpable, which was understandable considering the ordeal that she had suffered, yet with all that in mind, she seemed a little too quick to give herself over to a man's touch, even one as kind and gentle as Noah. I did like the fact that Olivia was such a strong character though, who had suffered much hardship and yet had still kept her wits about her and never gave up hope. While I am not a fan of embittered characters, I do like to read characters who harbor darker emotions which they have to work through. Olivia unfortunately, in my opinion, was not one of these types of characters as she was a bit too quick to forgive her family and even Darcy, the man who had used and abused her. I'm all for forgiveness, but I think Olivia could have benefited from more complex emotions. As she was written, she seemed rather one-dimensional with her main conflict being that of not feeling worthy of Noah's love, because she couldn't forgive herself for something for which she bore no fault.
A large part of the story itself was rather heavy and intense, at times feeling almost oppressive. I don't mind stories that deal with deep dark subjects, but I've found that the best ones usually have a good balance of dark and light. For at least the first two-thirds of the book, I felt like Olivia was playing Job. Bad things just kept happening to her constantly. I think the most difficult part of the book for me to read was concerning Livvie's stepmother, Susanna, a young, vibrant woman who was so despondent as to be nearly catatonic, and her little boy who could think of no other way to reach her besides harming himself. This was just absolutely heartbreaking. There were a couple of other things that bothered me about the story, one being the timing of the initial love scene which seemed lacking in credibility. As I mentioned earlier, I just can't quite swallow the fact that Olivia would want to make love to a virtual stranger so soon after such a harrowing experience. Also, there was not really enough pay-off to the scene considering that Noah had just lost his virginity. The other bothersome thing was that at various points throughout the story, the author seemed to be trying to portray the villain, Darcy, as somehow sympathetic. Unfortunately, I found him to be too sleazy for any of the sympathy points to actually score with me. I've read other books where the author tries to redeem the villain, but in this instance, it was poorly done in my opinion. It just never made much sense in the context of the story for the author to do this unless she was planning a sequel with Darcy as the hero, which quite frankly, I don't think would interest me.
Unlike Day Dreamer and Just Once, it's predecessors in Jill Marie Landis' Louisiana series, Blue Moon gets off to a brisk start, introducing us very quickly to the main characters' back story, but then peters out at the end. When I hit the climax of the story and realized that there were still three chapters plus an epilogue left, I couldn't figure out what would fill them. Unfortunately the events that did populate them were not all that compelling. The ending was satisfying, but not spectacular, and not really as good as the ending of the previous two books in the series, particularly Day Dreamer. I did have a hard time putting the book down, but ultimately I think that had less to do with a moving plot and more to due with me anxiously waiting for something good to happen to poor beleaguered Livvie. I think the overall story would have been improved and deepened considerably if it had focused more on Olivia's emotional recovery from her ordeal and less on torturing her, as well as perhaps on Noah's feelings of inadequacy due to his scars. I felt like the story skimmed over Livvie's issues in particular, to the point of almost minimizing what should have been an incredibly traumatic event, and in the end, the answers were just too simplistic and pat for my taste.
In spite of being the third book in a series, Blue Moon stands fairly well on it's own, but I think the reader's enjoyment of the book would be enhanced by reading Just Once first. Noah was introduced in that book, and the accident which caused his scars and the loss of his eye is depicted in it as well. Also, Hunter and Jemma from Just Once make an appearance in Blue Moon and readers get to see where they are three years later. While Blue Moon was not quite what I was expecting and could have been better, it was still a generally enjoyable and worthwhile read that didn't leave me feeling like I had wasted my time. I really like scarred, imperfect heroes and the character of Noah was really the driving force that increased my enjoyment of this book. Without him being so lovable, I don't think I would have liked the story half as well. Overall it was a decent wrap-up for this trilogy.(less)
I am a big fan of Lisa Kleypas's writing, and Suddenly You is yet another worthy effort from her but not my favorite of...moreReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
I am a big fan of Lisa Kleypas's writing, and Suddenly You is yet another worthy effort from her but not my favorite of her books. I have come to respect Ms. Kleypas as a writer who creates intelligent prose and unique sub-plots in her work. While Suddenly You begins with a very unique premise for the hero and heroine's first meeting, I found much of the rest of the book to be standard soap opera plotting with a lot of repressed feelings and misunderstandings. I have also become a fan of the deep, dark emotions found in many of Ms. Kleypas's other books and which I feel she is masterful at writing. While this book certainly was emotional, it did not quite touch me to the core like some of her other works. I think part of the reason for this is the more sarcastic, sharp-tongued banter between the hero and heroine which sometimes worked for me and sometimes didn't. I also don't tend to be a fan of romances that begin as casual affairs. I like to feel that the characters are “in” love before they “make” love, and while one could tell that they cared for one another, I didn't actually sense real love until later in the book. It was also a little sad to see Charles Hartley get dumped, as he was such a lovable guy for a secondary character, but of course we know that Amanda isn't in love with him, and Jack has to win out in the end.
While the book does have some weaknesses, in my opinion, it also has many strengths. Fans of progressive, independent heroines should really like Amanda. Sometimes, these types of heroines can become abrasive and annoying to me, but I found Amanda to be a good balance of nice and naughty, sensitive and independent. Underneath his hard exterior, Jack was a kind, loving hero. One scene from the book that I absolutely loved is when Jack tells Amanda all the things he “prefers” about her, with her intellect being at the top of his list. He eventually succeeds in convincing her that she is beautiful in spite of her imperfect body, a storyline to which I think most women can definitely relate. Being a very progressive thinker himself, Jack is ultimately very supportive of Amanda's ideas and treats her as his equal. There were also a couple of plot twists toward the end of the story that I enjoyed, one of which was rather humorous and the other, though sad and tragic, added much more depth to the characters' relationship. The pacing of the book was good, and as always, Ms. Kleypas does a wonderful job with descriptive details. The love scenes were positively scorching, so much so that I was surprised the book didn't catch fire while I was reading it.;-) Even though this book did not quite measure up to some of Ms. Kleypas's other works for me, it was still a very enjoyable read.(less)
Prince of Dreams started off with an excellent, engaging story that was hard to put down, but like it's predecessor in the Stokehurst series, Midnight...morePrince of Dreams started off with an excellent, engaging story that was hard to put down, but like it's predecessor in the Stokehurst series, Midnight Angel, it tends to loose steam during the second half. The book is arranged in four sections, and the first two sections are full of the deep, dark emotions that have become a Lisa Kleypas trademark. Prince Nikolas is quite possibly the darkest hero that Ms. Kleypas has written and that I have read, yet I found him to be thoroughly fascinating. He was not unlike Emma's wounded animals in his unpredictability, one moment being manipulative and cruel, the next tender and gentle. The reason I was able to like Nikki in spite of his dark nature is that I felt the author gives the reader sufficient insight into his psyche to understand what truly makes him tick, and he certainly had good reasons for behaving the way that he did. I was also able to give him some measure of respect, because unlike dark heroes in some other books, he never tried to force himself on Emma sexually nor did he ever physically abuse her in any way. Unlike some readers, I wasn't overly disturbed by Nikki's interest in Emma from the time she was only 13. If taken in historical context, one has to realize that girls were sometimes betrothed and/or married at a young age. Also, Nikki had minimal contact with Emma over her teen years, never outside the supervision of her parents, and he never acted on his interest until Emma was a grown woman old enough to make her own decisions.
I also thoroughly enjoyed Emma during the first half of the book, as she was still every bit the free-spirited young girl that we had met in Midnight Angel, only grown up now with a few new eccentricities that made her all the more delightful. She still harbors the same insecurities about her height and appearance which I found very relatable in the previous book. As an animal lover, I really enjoyed her menagerie and her involvement with stopping animal cruelty. I really enjoyed watching Nikolas and Emma find solace in their shared friendship and then trying to relate to each other in the context of marriage, when Nikki was so resistant to accepting or giving love. It was also nice to watch Emma mature and realize the meaning of true love.
I felt the problem with the story came about with the time travel aspect in section three, and then when Nikki returned to his own time in section four, the whole dynamic of the story changed. The time travel section was a nice little love story on it's own, but I never felt like Ms. Kleypas gave the reader any reason for Nikolas allowing himself to fall in love with the past Emma other than the legend fulfilling itself or perhaps him being alone in a different time and place with no familiar faces other than hers for comfort. It seemed like this whole section was simply a plot device for returning Nikolas to Russia, since he was in permanent exile and unable visit his home country any other way. Once Nikki returned to his own time, I felt the story fell rather flat. He was no longer the fascinating, complex character he had been during the first half, having been magically transformed into a “prince of dreams”, doting on Emma and openly declaring his love. There was also a complete role reversal as Emma became the cynical, jaded and distrusting one. Though understandable considering Nikki's past behavior, this side of her faded rather quickly, again with little explanation. The ending had a few interesting developments and some mild excitement, but it wasn't really enough to make up for the previous weaknesses I've mentioned. I simply have a preference for watching characters work through their dark pasts or any other difficulties they might face without the use of “magic” plot devices.
While Prince of Dreams was an improvement over its prequel, Midnight Angel, as with that book I still would not recommend it to first-time Lisa Kleypas readers. Try one of Ms. Kleypas's other books first and save this one until you've become a fan like me. It is also much better when the prequel is read first, since Nikolas and Emma played pivotal roles in that story, and while Luke and Tasia from Midnight Angel did not play a huge part in Prince of Dreams, they were still seen several times. For a book with a similar storyline including a dark, brooding hero who suffered childhood abuse, try Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels. The two books reminded me a great deal of each other, but Lord of Scoundrels was done much better in my opinion.(less)
Midnight Angel is not, in my opinion, Lisa Kleypas best novel by far, but it is a worthwhile read. As in most of Ms. Kl...moreReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
Midnight Angel is not, in my opinion, Lisa Kleypas best novel by far, but it is a worthwhile read. As in most of Ms. Kleypas's other novels, the characters are rather dark, but they just didn't evoke the depth of emotions that the characters in some of her other books did for me. I found Luke to be a fairly likable hero, though perhaps a bit too arrogant and heavy-handed at times. I've heard that some readers are bothered by Luke having a hook in place of a missing hand. I was not disturbed by this in the least. In fact, I think Luke was portrayed as so handsome and confident that I frequently found myself forgetting that he even had this physical flaw. I thought his most endearing qualities were his devotion to and hands-on involvement with his daughter, Emma, and his loving adoration of his first wife. I've never quite understood authors who seem to feel a need to make the first wife unbearable. I really like the idea of a past love that was very strong, yet the hero still has room in his heart for another equally deep love. In this respect, Ms. Kleypas is masterful in creating a picture of two very different, but no less loving relationships, something she also did extremely well in Lady Sophia's Lover.
Tasia was a little harder for me to relate to though. Her personality seemed pretty contradictory at times. Sometimes I really liked and admired her, such as when she was befriending and teaching Emma, or when she decided to defend a pregnant housemaid. Other times, she seemed overly stiff and her passive/aggressive tendencies with regards to Luke's love seemed a bit extreme for the circumstances. I realized that she had been through a lot of hardships on her own and as such had learned to be rather solitary and independent, but since there were a few people who had helped and supported her, the whole self-isolation thing just didn't make much sense to me. If someone had been wooing me the way that Luke did her, I would have melted away. Admittedly, it was a bit of a role-reversal from the norm of romance novels to have the heroine be the one who is resisting love and affection, and perhaps this is why I had a hard time with it. I also found the hero and heroine together to be a bit too aggressive and angsty, arguing a little too much and having too many anger-turned-to-passion moments for my taste.
The secondary characters were very well rendered. I thoroughly enjoyed Luke's daughter, Emma. She added a lot of spice to the book and had a great personality. At 12 years old, she was the perfect blend of a little girl still wanting to be a child and yet being on the cusp of young womanhood. Prince Nikolas is a darkly brooding young man who obviously has a very sordid past, but showed a few glimmers of a gentler side. I didn't really want to like him, but found him rather intriguing in spite of myself. Midnight Angel, is the first book in the two-book Stokehurst series, with the second book being Prince of Dreams, Emma and Nikolas's story. After getting a very good look at both characters in this book, I'm really interested to see what kind of young woman Emma becomes and how the rest of their story plays out.
The storyline of Midnight Angel was generally appealing. I began the book hardly being able to put it down and thinking I had another surefire Kleypas winner on my hands, but about halfway through, the story, I thought it started to loose some steam. It did pick up a bit, later on and had a nice but not extraordinary ending with part of the final chapter and the epilogue easing the reader into the next book, giving it a kind of “to-be-continued” feel. Part of where the story bogged down for me was when Tasia started fighting Luke's love, and the other part was their first love scene which seemed to come almost out of nowhere. I also felt like there was a hole in the sub-plot of Tasia's kidnapping. I just couldn't figure out why Luke would leave her unprotected. This is unusual for Ms. Kleypas, as her plots are usually pretty tight. In addition, the love scenes did not really contain the beautiful sensuality that has become one of Ms. Kleypas's hallmarks. I don't generally care if the love scenes in romance novels are subtle or scorching as long as they (and the book in general) are well written, and they fit well within the context of the story. Unfortunately, in my opinion, neither of these was really the case. These scenes just seemed to keep popping up out of nowhere and sometimes just didn't flow well, either within the scene itself or within the context of the story as a whole. The biggest flaw though is that it really lacked the exquisite depth of love and emotion that I have found in most of Ms. Kleypas's other books that I have read to date. I would not recommend this book for first-time readers of Lisa Kleypas, because it really isn't the best example of her wonderful writing talents, in my opinion. However, if you are a fan like I am or are just looking for something different to read, then by all means check it out.(less)
The Shadow and the Star is a very dark story that could have benefited from a few more lighter moments. Still, I was able to find a stark beauty in it...moreThe Shadow and the Star is a very dark story that could have benefited from a few more lighter moments. Still, I was able to find a stark beauty in it's raw emotional intensity. I have to give kudos to Laura Kinsale for her willingness to tackle a topic as difficult and painful as the abuse and prostitution of children with great compassion. Having the hero be the one who had suffered this abuse makes the story rather unique to the genre. The actual abuse scenes are little more than brief snippets, and in my opinion, are non-graphic and handled in a genteel way. Yet, sensitive readers should know that the psychological fallout of Samuel's past abuse is incredibly intense. I was also able to appreciate the uniqueness of the ninja training and Japanese cultural references, again something that is not often found in romance. I do enjoy a book that goes beyond the normal standards of it's genre and is written with enough intelligence to make me think. That said though, there were times that the cultural references went a bit too far beyond my understanding, yet did not fully engage my interest enough to drive me to do my own research about the topic. There were some scenes and details, not just in the cultural realm, but overall, which I think could have been pared down for the sake of picking up the pace a bit.
The Shadow and the Star contained many wonderfully written elements. Ms. Kinsale has a talent for writing intoxicatingly sensual scenes that are created by a mere look or the barest of touches. There were also some beautifully romantic moments which were created from the simplest of things, such as the first gift that Samuel gave to Leda. This scene fairly made me swoon. I also thought that the initial love scene between Samuel and Leda was very well done and quite awkwardly realistic considering that both characters were virgins, which in itself is another unique story element. Ms. Kinsale also has a very nuanced writing style in which there is much left unsaid that must be read between the lines. At times this was another unique and wonderful element in the story, but admittedly this is not the easiest style to follow, and there were times that I felt like perhaps I missed something, especially at the end. Samuel had spent the better part of the book in emotional turmoil, struggling to reconcile his passions and desires as normal human responses. I never quite understood how, when, or where this finally happened. I have the sense that the answer was to be found somewhere in the symbolism of the events surrounding him, but as much as I tried to conjecture about it, the point at which Samuel was able to reconcile his feelings was never fully clear to me. Because of this, I found the ending to be pleasant and happy, but not entirely fulfilling.
A couple of things about the story frustrated me a bit though, with one being the lack of communication between the hero and heroine. There were several times throughout the story when one of them would think of something they wanted to say to the other, yet for one reason or another, the words never passed their lips. I can't help but wonder if the story might have been richer and fuller if they had simply said what they were feeling. There was also never any discussion between these two characters about Samuel's past beyond a mere admission on Leda's part that she knew. I know that they were both rather shy characters, but I still thought that it might have added depth to their relationship if they had discussed their feelings surrounding this issue or just simply had discussed their feelings in general. Leda didn't seem to have any difficulty droning on about insignificant things such as home furnishings, but when it came to the truly important things, such as saying, “I love you.” or expressing a need for intimacy, it seemed like she felt that these were improper topics of conversation. I think it might have been even nicer if Samuel had gotten to a point that he trusted Leda enough to tell her of the past abuse himself, rather than the knowledge of it having come from Tess. Another thing that bothered me just a little was the mystical, magical aura surrounding certain parts of the story. There were times that Samuel reminded me more of a Jedi than a flesh and blood man which seemed a little out of place in a historical romance and better suited to the paranormal genre. I also have to admit to being a bit unnerved at the strangeness of Leda's “dear sir” formalities with Samuel even after they were married and in the midst of passionate moments. I'm afraid I just can't imagine calling my husband by such a title.;-)
The characterizations were extremely well done exhibiting a great deal of depth. I adored Samuel as the hero. I guess I have a certain preference for brooding, tormented heroes, and Samuel definitely fit this category. Underneath his seemingly cold, distant exterior beat a kind, gentle and loving heart. I liked the way that the author used Samuel's ninja training to empower his character. I found his avenging angel persona to be very sexy and appealing, and would have liked to have seen more of these types of exploits in the story. I loved the way that he was able to shut down the child prostitution rings so neatly and quietly, with no fanfare, and never resorted to any kind of violence. I think it would be impossible not to like a character such as Samuel who possessed such intelligence and ingenuity while being drop-dead gorgeous. His character's emotional intensity was heart wrenching, but gave him so much humanity. Considering the dark nature of Samuel's character, I thought that the overall story would have been more balanced if Leda had been a bit more vibrant and passionate rather than being so reserved, proper and somewhat intense in her own right. For all of her supposed French blood, Leda didn't really act very “French”. I have found that most of the very best romances featuring tormented heroes, have a lighter heroine. In this respect, I thought that Ms. Kinsale's “yin and yang” were a bit off. That said though, Leda was still a very likable character. She was every bit the lady in spite of her non-titled status, being very graceful and composed. She had scruples that she lived by almost religiously. I also like that she was described as rather plain-looking, but best of all, she was kind, gentle, trusting and understanding toward Samuel and never pitied him for his past, only saw a strong, remarkable man. She was also able to intuit his needs and never left him even when, in his fear, he tried his best to drive her away.
Many of the secondary characters were also well written. I really enjoyed all of the flashbacks to Samuel's post-abuse childhood with the Ashlands, and his times training with the family's old butler, Dojun. I found Dojun to be a rather confusing and ambiguous character though, because most of the time, he seemed to be a loving father-figure to Samuel, offering him a way to build confidence and empower himself, but by the end of the book, it seemed that Dojun had given Samuel the training for rather selfish reasons. Again, perhaps this was simply one of those read-between-the-lines nuances that I was missing. Kai was a lovely and lively but rather complex character, who at times seemed rather childish and shallow, though not annoyingly so, and at other times seemed very responsible for her age. Readers also get a good look at where Gryphon and Tess are about two decades after their own love story took place in The Hidden Heart, and it's nice to see that they are still passionately in love.
While I have not seen any official series designation for any of Ms. Kinsale's books, The Shadow and the Star is basically a sequel to The Hidden Heart. As I mentioned, The Hidden Heart is Gryphon and Tess's story, and they play fairly significant roles in The Shadow and the Star. Samuel first appeared briefly in The Hidden Heart as a child who, at the time, was still in the throes of horrible abuse. I rarely read series or interconnected books out of order, but I made an exception in this case, as I was unable to find a copy of The Hidden Heart at my local library. The Shadow and the Star was the first time I had read a book by Ms. Kinsale, but I liked it well enough that I would definitely like to acquire a copy of The Hidden Heart, so that I can go back and fill in the beginnings of this story, and would also be open to reading other titles written by her. As it was though, I believe the two books stand well on their own, as there was enough back story given that I didn't feel lost at any point. Enjoy might be a bit of a strong word for a book that is as hauntingly intense as The Shadow and the Star, but I can say that I appreciated the story a great deal. Though we may not wish to face the reality of such evil in the world, it does exist, and I found that the story really made me think about that on a very deep level long after turning the last page. If you are looking for a book to escape reality this one is definitely not it, but if you are looking to broaden your horizons with a story that expresses a beautiful uniqueness and incredible poignancy and depth then I would highly recommend The Shadow and the Star.(less)
Sandra Hill is a mischievous author who has a talent for blending comedic elements with some great romance and sensuali...moreReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
Sandra Hill is a mischievous author who has a talent for blending comedic elements with some great romance and sensuality. She is very good at creating play-on-words that lead to lots of hilarious misunderstandings, and she also has a penchant for funny t-shirt slogans that don't make much sense to a tenth century Viking. Truly, Madly Viking had many humorous moments that had me smiling and even laughing out loud, but it also had very tender moments that had me misting up. The story got off to a bit of a slow start for me, but about 1/3 of the way through, I was pretty well hooked. I think the slow start was because there wasn't quite as much of the “fish out of water” feel to this book as there was in the first book of the series, The Last Viking. I was also somewhat disappointed that Ms. Hill seemed to recycle some jokes and minor plot points and characterizations from the previous novel, as well as repeat some things throughout the book, but in the end there was enough new material to hold my attention.
The characterizations were very well drawn. Jorund at times seemed a bit too perfect for my taste (I have a personal preference for the more imperfect heroes) and a little too chauvinistic, but it wasn't overdone to the point of being annoying. Underneath it all he had a loving, tender heart of gold toward both Maggie and her daughters, and best of all, he really respected Maggie, so it was pretty easy to see why she would fall for him. I also enjoyed Jorund's attitude toward public service, and his realization of how much personal satisfaction he received from helping others. I loved Maggie with all her insecurities and inhibitions (What woman can't relate to that?), but Jorund had a way of making her feel truly beautiful. Maggie's daughters, Beth and Suzy, seemed a little beyond their years at times, and I found them to be most endearing when they were just being little girls. The mental hospital patients were a hoot, yet the reader could really sympathize with them in their individual situations.
Truly, Madly Viking is the second book in a series about a time-traveling trio of brothers. In this book, readers are treated to a reunion with Rolf and Meredith, as well as a few secondary characters from book #1, The Last Viking, and given a look at what their lives are like now. We are also introduced to the third brother, Magnus, who becomes the hero of book #3, The Very Virile Viking. Ms. Hill's Viking II series actually contains a total of six books basically written in two trilogies, with books #4-#6 being Wet & Wild, Hot & Heavy, and Rough & Ready. Truly, Madly Viking had some weaknesses and admittedly isn't the typical romance fare that I tend to like the most, but overall, there was enough originality, humor, and tender, heartfelt moments to make this an enjoyable read for me. If you're looking for a lighthearted romp with lots of laughs then look no further.
Update: Two more book have been added to this series, Down & Dirty and Viking Unchained. (7/13/08)(less)