Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" “..... romance readers want a good story more than they want a safe one.” This is a portion of the dedication in tReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" “..... romance readers want a good story more than they want a safe one.” This is a portion of the dedication in this book, and I can honestly say that while this story is anything but safe, it is indeed exceptionally good. I've read so many romances over the years that it is extremely difficult to find one that I can truly call unique, but Fallen From Grace turns traditional romance on it's proverbial ear, with nary a cliché to be found. It has an older heroine (by nine years) with a younger hero, a multi-cultural relationship between a heroine who is Jewish and a hero who was raised Catholic, a heroine who essentially rescues the hero, and most surprising of all a hero who is a prostitute (yes, you read that right;-)). While all these elements might make this sound like the oddest of stories, in fact, everything worked together to create a very fascinating and compelling novel that was a pleasure to read. Ryan and Sara developed a very strong bond of friendship long before becoming lovers, which I found to be incredibly beautiful. They exhibited a depth of trust in one another that is a rare treasure. Ryan initially hid his real profession from Sara, but I was shocked at how quickly even that was revealed. Aside from that one thing, they always communicated with stark, naked honesty, never really holding anything back from each other which I found utterly refreshing. They share many scenes together that are laced with emotion and sexual tension, and when they finally do make love, those scenes were so incredibly sweet and sensuous, they made my heart do flip-flops. All in all, I thought they were a perfectly matched couple.
I never would have thought that a prostitute would make a good hero, and while Ryan was certainly not the typical romance hero, he was a very appealing one in spite of his profession. He was an extremely complex character especially in an emotional sense, but it was easy to see why Sara fell in love with him. Outwardly he had to project a certain toughness to survive and he definitely had a strong, courageous spirit that was his saving grace through all the horrible things that happened to him over the years. Inwardly though, he is a deeply wounded individual who sees himself as not good for or at anything but sex. There were a few times that Ryan was relating things to Sara from his past or things that he had to do for survival, where he seemed almost dispassionate, and he exhibited the same attitude towards sex with his clients as well. This bothered me at first until I realized that for him, these things had become “normal.” It was Sara who shook up his life and showed him the kind, compassionate, intelligent man he truly was. When Ryan finally took his life in hand and confronted his pimp, it was a very poignant moment and I was cheering him on all the way. I also loved that Ryan took in homeless, abused and neglected animals, and demonstrated the patience of Job with all of them, especially his psychotic bird. He later also befriended a homeless teen who had lifted his wallet. No one may have rescued Ryan (until Sara), but it didn't stop him from spreading kindness in the world by rescuing others. The amount of growth that Ryan went through from the beginning of the story to the end was phenomenal. He was probably the most atypical hero I've ever read, but one that has definitely made a lasting impression on me.
With Ryan being a little “softer” than most romance heroes, one might think that he would need a spitfire heroine to balance him out, but that was not the case at all. Sara had plenty of spunk, but at the same time was one of the most gentle, nurturing and understanding heroines I've ever read. Every time I thought that Ryan had disclosed one sordid thing too many, Sara always responded with grace and dignity. At times, it took her a while to process some of the bombs that Ryan dropped, but she always came back still loving him unconditionally. She also sometimes had angry reactions which I thought were very realistically rendered and understandable, especially when Ryan seemed unable to give up “the life.” I also really appreciated that she stuck to her guns, telling Ryan that they couldn't have a “real” relationship until he got out of the business. Sara was a highly intelligent woman who was also very intuitive of Ryan's needs and feelings, and in the end it was her pluckiness and determination that won the day. Even though Sara was the “rescuer” in this story, theirs was not a one-sided relationship. Sara had some difficulties of her own to face with a writing career on the skids and some unexpected family issues to deal with, and Ryan was always there offering his advice and a shoulder to cry on. He was a loving, supportive, understanding friend who was every bit as intuitive of her needs as she was of his. Even though Ryan struggled mightily with his past, he recognized the precious gem that he had in Sara, and that she was his for the taking whenever he was ready to meet her one and only demand.
Although this book belongs to Ryan and Sara, primarily Ryan in fact, there were a few notable supporting characters. Sara's father added some humor in his scenes, while Sara's sister challenged her notion of traditional romance in yet another way and gave Sara an additional opportunity to show her big heart and unconditional love. I thought both presented the picture of a loving, close-knit family. Adam, the homeless teenager, added a lot of depth to Ryan's character by allowing him to show how loving and caring he really is and how much he was willing to do to save someone else from the same fate he experienced. Ryan's pimp, Catherine, is not someone I trusted even from the beginning, but I thought that the author's portrayal of her was excellent. I understood exactly why Ryan felt indebted to her, and initially wondered if she possibly had a good side. I couldn't have been more mistaken though, as her true nature becomes abundantly clear in the end, at which point I felt nothing but loathing for her just like Ryan.
While I absolutely loved the plot of Fallen From Grace, I thought that the writing could have been a little smoother and more even in places. There were some fairly significant time jumps between chapters which at times made the narrative a little choppy. Also, while there were plenty of chapters that had a great balance between descriptive prose and dialog, there were also large blocks or even whole chapters of wall-to-wall dialog that were a little exhausting for an introvert like me to read. In my opinion, they could have been pared down a bit in favor of more character introspection especially from Sara. Sensitive readers should know that this book contains a fair bit of strong language and some very frank discussion of various forms of child abuse, the sex trade, and homosexuality as well as one scene of physical and sexual abuse that plays out in real time. Overall though, this was a wonderful novel that told a powerful story of redemption and the depths of unconditional love at its finest. For the last hundred pages or so, I could barely put it down. Readers who prefer “safe” romances should probably think twice before reading Fallen From Grace, but for readers who are looking for something really unique and don't mind challenging the notions of conventional romance, I highly recommend it. I only wish that more authors would write stories like this and more publishers would take a chance on them. In my opinion, Fallen From Grace is a little known gem of a book by an apparently not very well-known author which deserves more attention from romance readers than it seems to have gotten. It took me quite a while to track down a library copy of it borrow, but I will definitely be looking for a copy for my keeper shelf and will also be open to checking out other works by Laura Leone. It appears that she is a multi-talented writer who has not only penned several romances, but has also authored or contributed to a number of traditional fantasy, urban fantasy and non-fiction books under her real name of Laura Resnick....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Dara Joy's Tonight or Never is a delightful romp that is equal parts humor, tender emotion, and red hot lovin'. AlReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Dara Joy's Tonight or Never is a delightful romp that is equal parts humor, tender emotion, and red hot lovin'. All the characters are pretty lighthearted, and the whole story embodies a hilarity that frequently had me smiling and laughing. One example is a scene in which Chloe coshes John over the head with a vase (on purpose), followed by the couple running through the halls of the manor house stark naked. It nearly had me rolling on the floor. Many a time I found myself thinking that this book would make a great romantic comedy movie. It isn't just about the ruckus of fun and games though. There is a very sweetly emotional element to the plot as well, in the form of a long-held love between two best friends slowly being realized by one and then admitted by the other. The love scenes are frequent, thoroughly hot, and exquisitely sensual without crossing the line into the erotic. With the exception of Lisa Kleypas, I don't believe I have yet read any other author who can write multiple love scenes in one book so creatively, with each one being as luscious as the last, but still completely different from all the ones before. Anyone who is enchanted by the idea of love-making involving bathtubs, balconies, flower gardens and sensual massage should definitely read this book. Each scene was masterfully crafted and had me sighing with satisfaction. Tonight or Never doesn't have any suspense, danger or real villains. It's just good old-fashioned romance that is all about the relationship. There is a light mystery sub-plot surrounding French nobles, who had supposedly gone to the guillotine, but later show up on John and Chloe's doorstep, and the identity of their savior, The Black Rose. This made for a fun little side plot that I actually didn't figure out until nearly the moment it was revealed, but there was never anything to weigh down the overall lightness of the story.
I absolutely loved John and Chloe, and thought they were just made for each other. John is a dissolute rake, nicknamed “The Lord of Sex” by the ton, but he is actually hiding a sensitive soul behind his shameless womanizing ways. After seeing the pain of his mother's broken heart over his father's destructive gambling and early death, John subconsciously decided that he would never risk putting himself through the same thing and locked his heart up tight. John is mostly a beta hero with just a dash of alpha protectiveness and possessiveness. He tries a few times to play the dominating husband card with endearing results, because he's just too nice of a guy to make it stick. He's also the consummate lover who is more interested in sharing pleasure than conquering his lovely wife. He isn't a swashbuckling hero and isn't even particularly good at business. He's just simply the paramour who flits from one lady's bedroom to the next until Chloe puts a stop to that once and for all, giving him everything he's always wanted and more. Chloe is John's best friend in the whole world, and she is the only person he has ever felt like he could truly be himself with. They met when she was only six and he was sixteen, and for years he has played the big brother-type protector. By the time she was a teenager, Chloe knew exactly who she wanted to marry, and that was John. She bided her time until she was grown up, hoping that John would take notice of her as a woman. When he still didn't seem to, she put into action a cunning scheme to bring this notorious rake to heel. I love Chloe's determination to go after what she wanted, and that even from a young age, she seemed to always understand John better than he understood himself. She knew exactly the right “carrots” to dangle in front of him to gain his cooperation, and all it took was luring him into her web to get him to realize what he had always known, but couldn't acknowledge: Chloe was his soulmate. I thought that John's journey to that realization was rendered in a very natural and gradual way, making it seem more realistic. I also thoroughly enjoyed their witty bantering, and some of their interactions were reminiscent of my own relationship with my husband, making them completely relatable to me.
Tonight or Never had a riotous cast of supporting characters, starting with Chloe's grandmother, Simone and John's uncle, Maurice, who have a sweet long-term romance of their own that mirrors John and Chloe's. Again, I loved the sneakiness that Maurice used to get what he wanted as well. Then there is John's self-declared best friend, Percy, a hilarious fop who seems to think that fashion and what color to wear is cause for a personal emergency. The French guests who keep showing up at the door were equally funny, from the self-involved Zu-zu who thinks the world revolves around her, to Baronne Dufond who decides to wear John's prized model ship in her hair, to the seven Cyns, the Cyndreac brothers, who all look alike, chase every female in sight and cause general mayhem everywhere they go. In spite of their foibles, all were strangely likable. In fact, thinking of all their exploits is still making me laugh as I'm writing this.
After my last read which was quite dark, I was looking for something to lighten my mood, and I couldn't have made a better choice than Tonight or Never. It was a near perfect read for me in every way. The only thing that I thought could have improved it, would have been more explanation of John and Chloe's connection. As written, it was a rather magical thing that simply was. Their relationship was so sweet, tender and passionate, it wasn't at all difficult to see that their unbreakable bond was very real. It just would have been nice if the author had demonstrated it a little more, perhaps by adding more scenes from their youth. This was a fairly small thing though, that didn't really detract much from my overall enjoyment of the novel. Ms. Joy certainly has a talent with words, describing the character's expressions, actions and interactions in a way that drew me into the book and made me feel like I was right there with them. Any romance lover looking for a rollicking good read to lighten the day and lift their spirits, but that still has plenty of touching emotional depth, should look no further. Tonight or Never was a wonderful feel-good story that was a pure pleasure for me to read. It has earned a place on my keeper shelf for those times when I just need a little boost. This was my first read by Dara Joy, but it most definitely will not be my last. Tonight or Never is part of Lovespell's multi-author series, Legendary Lovers, but to my knowledge the books are all stand-alones with no connection to each other besides a running theme of them being based on the stories and legends of famous lovers. This one parodies Don Juan mixed with a sub-plot of The Scarlet Pimpernel....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "1.5 stars" I'm going to preface this review by saying that I believe every book I pick up has the potential to be a great orReviewed for THC Reviews "1.5 stars" I'm going to preface this review by saying that I believe every book I pick up has the potential to be a great or at least good and worthwhile read. I also go into reading every book with an open mind and a desire to love it. I'm pretty good at discerning ahead of time whether I will like a book, based on the synopsis, or other readers' recommendations and reviews. The Indiscretion happened to be one of those books that I really thought I would like, mostly because a large part of the premise is based on the main characters being stranded alone together which is a theme that I usually enjoy. I also was rather taken with the idea of an American cowboy (I typically love those) in England. Anyone who reads my reviews with any amount of regularity will know that I'm not overly prone to handing out ratings that are less than 3-stars. In fact, it is an extremely rare occasion that I do, because I can usually find something positive in nearly every book I read. Every once in a while though, in spite of my very best efforts to like it, a books just simply doesn't grab me the way it does other readers. In the case of The Indiscretion, not only did it not draw me into the story, but it was so difficult to read, I would have to characterize the experience as utterly painful. I had three major problems with the story: 1. The characters were one-dimensional and so completely frustrating and confusing to me that I never gained a liking for either one. 2. The plot was tissue paper thin. 3. The author's writing style was so aggravating, I lost count of the number of times I was feeling like screaming, ripping the book to shreds, or flinging it against a wall (thankfully I realized it was only a book and none of those things actually occurred ;-)). There is a part of me that dislikes heavily criticizing someone else's work, but there is another, more primal part of me that is going relish every moment of writing this review as a way to purge the offense from my brain. So, fasten your seat belts and hang on, because it's going to be a bumpy ride.
To start with, I found Sam and Lydia, the two main characters (I call them this because I didn't find either one to be particularly good hero or heroine material) to be petty, selfish, boorish, stubborn, indecisive, immature and downright ridiculous most of the time, and they were so lacking in character development, I couldn't relate to hardly anything about them nor decipher their motivations. I honestly never figured out what each of them saw in the other one, or how they could possibly live happily ever after for the rest of their lives, without driving one another crazy, because they darn near drove me insane with their back-and-forth, I-love-you, I-hate-you, I-don't-know-why-I-want-you attitudes. In fact, I'm really not certain if they ever would have even wound up together in the end if circumstances hadn't given them an extra push. I also had trouble seeing what led to Sam and Lydia's passionate encounter in the first place. They develop an instant disliking for one another right from the start with her thinking that he is a drunk and too provincial, and he thinking that she's an uppity Englishwoman. I guess they did start to get along a little better the more time they spent together, but there still wasn't enough of a connection between them for me to believe that they could have the hots for one another in a matter of two days. Granted the author did attempt to create some sexual tension by having Sam and Lydia snuggle together at night for warmth, but it still didn't convince me. Instead it only felt like lust gone wild or Lydia using Sam to break out of her pampered, overly controlled life. One would think that with them being alone for such a long stretch of time, Sam and Lydia would have gotten to know each other pretty well, but even when they were engaging in dialog, it rarely went beyond the trivial and mundane. I never felt like I knew Sam or Lydia well at all, and as a couple they just never worked for me.
As individuals, there was precious little information that would make me see Sam or Lydia in a favorable light. Sam seemed like he was muddling through life and any success he'd had could be owed more to sheer dumb luck than his own skill. He had left two brides at the altar on three different occasions which is certainly not an endearing trait at all. Sam had a rough life growing up with a father who never appreciated or encouraged him in any way, and in fact, treated him pretty poorly. Normally, this would make him sympathetic to me, but this part of his life was never explored in enough depth. I felt like he was stuck in the circumstances of the past and not actively doing anything to grow or change. In the beginning, I thought I might like Lydia, because she seemed to have a very forthright manner, a bit of an adventurous spirit and a healthy dose of curiosity. Alas, my hopes for her were dashed when she started telling Sam tales about herself to the point that when she did reveal the truth, Sam didn't believe her, although he initially wasn't being any more honest with her. Lydia really got on my nerves though when they were rescued from the moor, and she coldly turned her back on Sam, informing him that he shouldn't try to call on her which basically affirmed his belief that he wasn't good enough for her. It seemed like he was fine for a fling when they were alone together, but once she was back in civilization, she was just throwing him away like a piece of refuse. Then when he went against her wishes and visited her anyway, she constantly either gave him the cold shoulder or sent out mixed messages. I just never understood why Sam was so taken with her and kept pursuing her when she was treating him so shabbily.
To say that The Indiscretion is a character-driven story would be an understatement. I have read and thoroughly enjoyed a number of character-driven novels, but there still has to be a plot to hold everything together and give the characters something interesting to do. I could literally sum up the plot of The Indiscretion in just two sentences: Sam and Lydia meet in a stagecoach which ends up crashing into a bog far off the main road, leaving them stranded on the desolate moor for several days where they end up sharing some passionate interludes. When help finally arrives and Lydia is taken home, Sam uses his position to gain entry to a house party at her family's country estate where he continues to attempt to woo her, but they fight incessantly. In spite of how thin this plot is, Ms. Ivory somehow managed to drag it out for 369 pages, when in my opinion, it could have been half that length or less and still effectively told the same story. The pace was so slow I think a snail could have kept up. The author accomplished this by using far too many words to say what needed to be said, making the general wording of some passages rather clunky. I had to re-read some parts multiple times to figure out her meaning. The author also uses way too much repetitive description. There were times when I thought that if Sam described Liddy's hair, breasts, bottom, etc. or if Lydia described Sam's face (especially the bruises at the beginning), physique, clothes, etc. one more time, I just might scream. With no secondary characters to play off of during the first half of the book, Sam and Lydia frequently indulge in paragraph after paragraph of stream-of-consciousness introspection. I normally like being able to get inside the character's heads, but it was just way overdone in this book and still didn't give me any genuine insights into their psyches. Finally, there was an overabundance of expository narration. Normally, I would be interested in something like archery (Lydia is a champion archer), but the way the author goes about describing the sport never drew me into the action of the moment and instead left me bored. Overall, The Indiscretion was like reading 369 pages of paint drying interspersed with an occasional tidbit of meaningful dialog or character development that only lasted for a moment.
The final thing that literally drove me to distraction was Ms. Ivory's writing style. She uses a plethora of qualifying phrases and doesn't even have a standard method of formatting them. Some come after commas, some after colons, some come within parentheses, and still others in between two dashes, but however they were written, a huge number of them were simply unnecessary. Her sentences that weren't overly long were instead too brief and simplistic, with some not even really being sentences at all, but mere phrases of one, two or maybe three words. I thought this made the narrative very choppy. I found myself constantly rewriting passages in my head to make them flow better, and wondering where the editor was. The author rambles so much, the whole thing was rather like reading really bad poetry masquerading as prose. Oftentimes, if nothing else, I can at least say that I enjoyed some steamy love scenes, but this book only had two. The first was semi-hot, but still had too much extraneous descriptions (not really of the act itself), and I had to re-read the entire scene just to be sure that Lydia had had an orgasm. The second was very brief and not particularly descriptive at all. In my opinion, Ms. Ivory spends all her time telling almost everything and showing virtually nothing. She even tells what the characters are talking about instead of giving them richer dialog. In short, her writing style simply left me bereft of any connection to her as an author or to her characters and the story she was trying to tell.
It is quite unfortunate that The Indiscretion ended up with the dubious distinction of being the first book I've rated below 2-stars. I probably would have only given it 1-star, but I bumped it up the extra half for the two or three scenes that didn't completely bore me to tears (the scene in which Sam and Lydia engage in an archery match with his potential prize being her knickers was mildly amusing). Most of the time, upon completion of a book, I feel satisfaction in having read something that was at least reasonably entertaining and sometimes have a bit of regret that it is over if it was a particularly good one. With The Indiscretion, I felt satisfaction at finally being done with it, and a small measure of pride in actually having been able to complete it. The only regret I felt was in having read it in the first place and wasting precious hours on something that was so agonizing to read. Oh, and I also regret that I don't have the talent to write a truly snarky review like the ones produced by my GoodReads friend Eastofoz (if I had a cootie shelf like her, this one would be on it ;-)) or the ladies at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. At least then I could have had some fun by making my own entertainment out of it. I know that there are readers who really like Ms. Ivory as an author and she did win a Rita award for a different book, but I'm afraid I just don't see the appeal. I really wanted to like The Indiscretion, but sadly I had to force myself to finish it in very small doses in between other better books. Normally, I try to remain open-minded about giving an author a second chance, even if they don't wow me the first time, but in this case, the pain is just too deep for me to probably ever consider reading a Judith Ivory book again....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Dragonfly in Amber is no ordinary romance novel. In fact, in spite of its romance and paranormal elements, it is far more of aReviewed for THC Reviews Dragonfly in Amber is no ordinary romance novel. In fact, in spite of its romance and paranormal elements, it is far more of a historical novel than anything else in my opinion. This book basks the reader in lush descriptions of 18th century European history, from the political intrigue in the courts of King Louis XV of France, to the everyday life of a merchant, to the inner workings of hospitals of that time. Then it sweeps the reader along, back to the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and eventually into the Jacobite Uprising of 1745 in which Bonnie Prince Charlie tried unsuccessfully to retake the throne of both Scotland and England. The author made liberal use of real historical personages from King Louis and Prince Charles to their courtiers, advisers and Scottish clan chieftains. Diana Gabaldon constantly amazes me with how she can realistically weave fictional characters into real historical settings and bring it all to life in such a way that it is a joy to read and never a bore. Even everyday things become special in her world. I was especially fascinated with the insights into medical treatment in that era, including the use of plants and herbs for healing. Claire works for a time, at an indigent hospital in Paris where all manner of “healers” volunteer their time and “medical services” to the patients. In many ways, it is amazing to see just how far we've come since then, but I was also intrigued by the use of what appeared to be acupuncture in one scene and the use of a small dog to sniff out infections in another. Of course, both of these are still quite useful in medicine today. There is also a tangled web of ancestral ties that will certainly keep readers on their toes. All in all, Diana Gabaldon simply has a wonderful way with painting word pictures that just swept me up in the story and made me feel like I had indeed been transported back in time.
Just because I think that Dragonfly in Amber is stronger as a historical novel, does not mean that the other elements were in any way lacking. It still has the beautiful romance of Jamie and Claire at its core. These two characters have simply enthralled me in a way that many characters in traditional romance fail to do. Jamie and Claire are absolutely perfect for each other, and in this story have settled into a very comfortable marriage in which it seems like they have been together much longer than they have. To me, this has always been part of the beauty of their relationship, in that they are the best of friends while still being passionate lovers. Even when they talk about the mundane things of life or engage in fun lighthearted bantering it expresses a deep intimacy. Jamie and Claire trust each other implicitly and even when that trust seems to have been compromised, they still find their way back to each other. This is a couple who epitomize the word, soulmate, and who would literally live and die for one another, and theirs is a love that spans both space and time and will never end. In my opinion, this is what true romance is all about, but for anyone seeking hot steamy love scenes, they won't really be found in this book. Most of these parts are fairly non-explicit and don't contain a lot of detail, but that certainly didn't matter to me, as the relationship is always the most important thing for me in any romance. There are even a couple of side romances in the form a heartbreakingly tragic relationship between a couple of Frank Randall's ancestors and a sweet budding connection between Brianna Randall Fraser and Roger Wakefield, who are very important characters in later books.
The other element that was incredibly well-done is the time travel. Diana Gabaldon has written a scholarly article outlining her own theories of time travel, and it certainly is borne out in this book. I found Jamie and Claire's attempts to alter history to be very intellectually engaging. It presents a didactical argument as to whether it would be possible to change history if time travel were a reality, something which I love to ponder. It also asks the question of whether a person could cease to exist if that history was revised. There was also a great little rabbit trail where Claire mulls over the effects of time travel on germs and disease which I found to be a fun thing to speculate about too. The one thing I would not have wanted to do, is hold the fate of so many people in my hands the way Jamie and Claire did, due to their knowledge of the future. Many times over the course of the story they had to make really difficult choices, and even did some things that might be considered somewhat immoral or unethical, and contemplated doing far worse for the sake of the greater good. Of course, they never came to these conclusions lightly, and I love how Ms. Gabaldon brought out all the gut-wrenching emotions that were associated with that decision-making process.
Jamie and Claire are two characters I won't soon forget, and I greatly look forward to reading their further adventures. Jamie is the ultimate hero who is both brave and vulnerable, and a fierce warrior but a gentle lover, a man who Claire calls “the sun.” He is selfless and chivalrous, willing to sacrifice himself for those he loves including the men under his command, and his word is his honor, something he would never dream of breaking no matter what. I love that Jamie has a sensitive heart underneath his tough exterior and isn't afraid to cry or show his true feelings. Sometimes he says some of the sweetest, most beautiful things that make me swoon. With his wry, teasing humor, he is also one of the funniest characters I have ever read. Even in the midst of the most dire circumstances, he can often make me laugh. It was absolutely hilarious (although extremely fortuitous) the amount of mileage he got out of his La Dame Blanche story about Claire, as was his confrontational “conversation” with the little dog at the hospital where Claire worked. At the same time, Jamie is still a very tortured hero who is frequently tormented by demons, both real and emotional, as a result of the abuse he suffered at the hands of Jack Randall in the first book, which led to some very intense moments in the narrative. Claire, for her part, is probably the strongest heroine I have ever read. She is an incredibly intelligent woman who always uses her wits to survive and who isn't afraid to stand up to anyone including clan leaders and even royalty. Because of her modern sensibilities, she sometimes bucks the convention of the time, but by maintaining a strong backbone, she also manages to garner the respect of nearly everyone who meets her. Still, since the book is told primarily in first person from Claire's point of view, her vulnerabilities are readily apparent to the reader. There are moments when she is truly afraid and when her emotions even get the best of her, and of course, she wears her undeniable love for Jamie on her sleeve. Claire and Jamie are just so well-matched that I could hardly bear the times that they were apart in the story, and when they came back together it was like electricity shooting off the page. Their final scenes together in Dragonfly in Amber were some of the most beautiful and poignant, but also the most heartbreaking ever to be penned. They literally left me in tears, which is a somewhat rare effect for a book to have on me.
There are just so many things to love about Dragonfly in Amber, I don't think I could possibly name them all, and there are even a few things that were a bit bothersome. On the up side, there was a widely varied and diverse cast of supporting characters from the real-life players who were mentioned earlier to plenty of fictional ones as well. Jamie's sister and brother-in-law, Jenny and Ian, who I love, appeared again along with their family. Even though he rarely has much to say, the dour Murtaugh is always a welcome addition. Jamie also takes in Fergus, a young pickpocket with the heart of a lion, although I have to admit that the historical realities for a child like him left me feeling extremely heartbroken. Jack Randall's younger brother, Alex, and Mary Hawkins, a teenage girl who Claire meets in Paris, also play important roles, as does Master Raymond, a mysterious little man who runs an apothecary shop. In addition to the strong character palette, there is plenty of intrigue that should keep readers guessing, as well as lots of adventure and excitement. On the down side, there is a quite a bit of sometimes rather gruesome violence, including sexual assault, and some vivid depictions of various war injuries which some readers may find cringe-worthy, though certainly nothing that was out of place for the time period. Most of these things did not bother me, but there was one graphic description of hanging, drawing, and quartering which left me with a queasy stomach, so sensitive readers may want to skip that part. The early parts of the book move at a rather languid pace, but there were always little side stories that made it interesting and held my attention. Overall, though there was nothing I could say I truly disliked about the book, and in fact, it was even better the second time around as this was a re-read for me.
Unlike Outlander which can be a satisfying read by itself, there is a cliffhanger ending to Dragonfly in Amber, so new readers of the series will probably want to have a copy of the next book, Voyager, on hand before starting. When I first read books 1-3 over a decade ago, I don't think I could have waited for the sequel to come, so I'm glad I didn't discover the series until the first three books had already been published. Dragonfly in Amber has forever earned a place on my keeper shelf next to its predecessor, Outlander. I can't wait to read the remaining books in the series, Voyager, Drums of Autumn, The Fiery Cross, and A Breath of Snow and Ashes, as well as An Echo in the Bone, the newest Outlander book which is due to hit store shelves this September. With her amazing talent and enthralling writing style, Diana Gabaldon has also earned a place among my favorite authors....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews The Pregnancy Test was a generally entertaining and enjoyable read that was mostly light, sexy fun. The hero does carry a pretReviewed for THC Reviews The Pregnancy Test was a generally entertaining and enjoyable read that was mostly light, sexy fun. The hero does carry a pretty big secret that is revealed in bits and pieces throughout the story and toward the end, it becomes a little weightier as he deals with issues from his past. Otherwise it is a fairly breezy tale that has a hint of a Sex and the City vibe with an underlying plot about four girlfriends who share an apartment in New York, as well as all the details of their lives. In fact, based on reviews, it seems that a number of readers mistakenly thought this book was chick-lit, only to be disappointed and/or scandalized by the racy content. While it does have a certain chick-lit quality to it, in my opinion, The Pregnancy Test is still solidly grounded in the romance genre, and I can't say that I've ever heard of Erin McCarthy's books being categorized as anything else but romance. As an aside, the cover blurb for this book makes it sound like it is written in first-person point-of-view, so I was somewhat surprised to discover that it's not.
At less than 250 pages, The Pregnancy Test was a pretty quick read that I thought could have benefited from being a little longer. I liked that the hero and heroine had know each other for two months before their tryst in the Caribbean, but during that time they rarely saw each other in person with most of their communications taking place via text messaging and e-mail. I thought it was a rather neat way to build a relationship, because it was virtually all based on them being attracted to each other's personalities and intellect rather than just looks, which is something I really appreciate. However, the whole two-months worth of interactions took place during a scant single chapter, that didn't really create enough of an emotional connection between the characters to suit me. The book is very fast-paced, but the first two-thirds or so seemed almost rushed to me. I just found myself wishing that things would slow down a bit, so that I could savor the moment. When Damien and Mandy begin to realize that they have feelings for one another is the point when I thought the story developed a little more depth.
Damien is a very appealing hero, who we are led to believe at the beginning, is an ogre of a boss who scares away all of his executive assistants. It becomes quickly apparent though that he is mostly just a workaholic who uses his job to hide from the pain of the past. I thought that the circumstances of his first marriage and especially what happened to end it were rather unique and not something I've come across yet in my romance reading, but the experience quite understandably left Damien very cold and lonely. I really liked that he had been celibate for three years and hadn't been with anyone since his wife. In my opinion, it showed that he was more of a relationship kind of guy and not just one who was into casual flings, and to me, it made his time with Mandy more special because she was the one with whom he wanted to end both his emotional and sexual drought. I also loved that Damien barely batted an eyelash when Mandy told him she was pregnant, and if anything, it made her all the more attractive to him, even though the baby wasn't biologically his. I really like when romance heroes still find their pregnant wives or girlfriends sexy, because that's a time when many women tend to feel unattractive. I thought it was cute that after reading Mandy's pregnancy book, Damien was trying to be so gentle with her, practically treating her like she was a china doll and thinking he might hurt her. Even though it practically drove Mandy to distraction, his attentiveness to her pregnancy was very sweet too. In my opinion, it showed that he was ready to step up to the plate and be a father to her baby in every way that counts. I also enjoyed that Damien wanted to take their lovemaking slow and savor every bit of Mandy for as long as he could. What woman wouldn't want a guy like that?
I really liked Mandy too. She had grit and determination to throw her ex-boyfriend's offer of money to never bother him with the baby again, back in his face, sell her dream business, and then apply for a job with a guy who had been dubbed “Demon” by everyone in the office, while in the throes of morning sickness. She is also a very intuitive heroine, anticipating Damien's every need as his assistant and recognizing the pain in his eyes almost from the moment she meets him. I loved that when Damien's secret comes out, she stands by him completely, sympathizing and never doubting him even for a moment. Mandy starts out the story with her own secret, trying to hide her pregnancy from Damien, at first so he'll hire her and later so that he won't fire her. Yet the moment Damien started pursuing her on their trip to the Caribbean, she told him the truth immediately, leaving no room for silly misunderstandings which was a big relief. I thought it was also rather amusing and different to have Mandy be the one who was being more sexually aggressive, while Damien was trying to take things slow. Mandy is also a somewhat unique heroine in that she was born and raised in Britain but now living in New York. I'm sure it's probably more common than I think, but I can't say that I've run across a main character yet in my reading of contemporary romances who was a native of another country, residing in the US. I was also really impressed with the author's use of a number of British colloquialisms in both Mandy's dialog and thoughts.
While the author may have added some unusual elements to this story and thankfully avoided any “big misunderstandings,” she did unfortunately still fall into the romance cliche of the hero and heroine fighting their feelings for one another. Mandy doesn't think that she should get seriously involved with anyone because of the baby, and Damien thinks that he can't have a real relationship because of his past. Although each of them had some decent reasons, I still thought they protested a little too much, and this kind of push-and-pull can be a little irritating to me. I think I just have a preference for characters who simply lay their hearts on the line. I'm also not a big fan of relationships that begin with sex-only agreements. It's a plotline that's just too predictable, and I always know where it's going to end up. Not to mention, as I've said many times before in other reviews, I simply prefer for the hero and heroine to be in love or well on their way before making love. That said though, Damien's aforementioned celibacy and their more-than-skin-deep attraction did make it more palatable for me, and I can't deny that the love scenes were very steamy and well-written. The Pregnancy Test may not have been a perfect read for me, but the characters were certainly enjoyable. Overall, it was a pleasant distraction with many things to like about it. The Pregnancy Test is the first book in the NY Girlfriends series. The second book in the series is You Don't Know Jack which features Jamie, one of Mandy's roommates, as the heroine. So far these are the only two books in the series, and Ms. McCarthy's website indicates that the series has been suspended for now. I had previously read one short novella by Erin McCarthy that I greatly enjoyed, but this was the first of her full-length novels I've tried. Since I had an agreeable reading experience with both, I am definitely open to continuing the series and trying more of her works in the future. ...more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" For the second time in a row, I have finished a book and been left waffling over how to rate it, which is very unuReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" For the second time in a row, I have finished a book and been left waffling over how to rate it, which is very unusual for me. There were things that I liked about Dangerous Lover, but quite frankly, there were also things that I thought could have been greatly improved too. Lisa Marie Rice has a very languid writing style characterized by extended passages of descriptive or introspective prose punctuated by brief snippets of dialog. In my opinion, this gave the story a rather slow and uneven pace, but I wouldn't really characterize it as dull or boring or say that I entirely disliked it. Since this is my first read by Ms. Rice, I can't say if this is her usual writing style or a peculiarity of this book, but my personal preference would have been that there be more dialog especially between the hero and heroine. In spite of being inside their heads almost constantly, I still felt like I was lacking a full and complete understanding of their feelings and motivations. Often I felt like the author was telling me things instead of showing me, and I think that at times it was a bit too wordy and simply didn't get to the point quickly enough for me to grasp it.
To say that Jack was the strong, silent type would probably be an understatement. Although I've already mentioned the general lack of dialog throughout the story, it seemed to me that Jack had the least of anyone. I suppose in some ways this added to the aura of mystery and danger surrounding him, but I still like my heroes to be a tad more talkative. Jack was a tortured hero and a hardened ex-military guy who was an ultra-protective alpha male. What I really liked about him though was that when it came to Caroline, he definitely discovered his softer side and always treated her very gently. However, what impressed me the most was his gentlemanly behavior towards her such as opening doors, pulling out chairs, etc. I may be in the minority, but I love it when a man does these sorts of things for a lady. Jack may have engaged in combat in some of the world's worst hellholes but around Caroline he was never uncouth, right down to watching his language, which I found to be a really neat dichotomy. I also found his frequent kissing of her hand to be a swoon-worthy gesture.
Caroline was an interesting heroine who is extremely kindhearted and trusting of others, but perhaps too much so. She was certainly a tortured heroine and an emotionally strong one to have lived through the deaths of her entire family, but I thought that having all her friends and neighbors basically ignore her because they were uncomfortable with the tragedy was a little overkill. I guess it added to her sense of isolation and vulnerability, but one would think that there would be a few people who would offer up some kind words or support during that difficult time. While I like a heroine who isn't afraid to let the hero take care of her, I also think that ideally she should have a little spunk as well. I thought that her previous on-again, off-again relationship with Sanders, especially when she didn't enjoy the sex and didn't really even seem to like him all that much, made her seem weak and indecisive. I also would have liked to see her defend herself a little better against his unwanted advances. Overall, Caroline was a nice, sweet heroine, but I would have preferred that she exhibit a bit more backbone.
While Dangerous Lover had quite a few romantic moments between Jack and Caroline that I enjoyed, there were also some things about the story that bothered me. I am not usually a fan of the instant “meeting and mating,” but I was able to overlook it to some degree in this book since I understood Caroline's loneliness, and she and Jack had a previous connection, even though she wasn't initially aware of it. Nevertheless, I do tend to be a proponent of safe sex especially in contemporary romance, and the lack of it in this book did bug me. Even though Jack was certainly a prepared, plan-ahead kind of guy, I maybe could have lived with neither of them having any condoms available in the middle of a snowstorm, and I probably could have accepted the flimsy reasons for Caroline fortuitously being on birth control. However, when she said, “You look healthy” I couldn't help but roll my eyes and have a WTH moment, since careless assumptions like that in real life would likely end in an STD. Sometimes I can live with the condoms being left behind if there seems to be a decent reason for it, but in this case, I didn't really see any compelling rationale for the author to write it that way. The safe sex argument aside, I also found some of the violence a little off-putting. I'm generally not overly squeamish, but I found the descriptions of the atrocities being committed against the women and children in Sierra Leone to be somewhat disturbing. I think this was probably due to the realism of it and the fact that these things are actually happening on a daily basis rather than just being committed by some fictional, warped, psycho villain. Lastly, there were also quite a number of continuity errors as well as incorrect or incomplete word choices. While these errors weren't totally egregious, they were sometimes distracting and should have been caught by a good editor.
Out of all the reader complaints I've heard about Dangerous Lover so far, the most common one seems to be that many hated the ending. While I'll admit that it was pretty abrupt, I didn't find it to be absolutely terrible. This may have been due to my expectations being lower because of the complaints, so I can definitely see how those who didn't have prior knowledge of a potentially unsatisfying ending might be very disappointed or even upset by the way things wrapped up. It was happy, but certainly left a lot to the reader's imagination. For those who aren't aware, there is something of an epilogue to the story exclusively available online at Just Erotic Romance Reviews, but it doesn't really add anything to the plot of the main novel. The epilogue also isn't written in a story format, but instead, has more of the feel of a timeline documenting all the major events in Jack and Caroline's lives from the end of Dangerous Lover until they both take their final breath on this mortal plane.
Dangerous Lover was marketed as an erotic romance, but the sexual content of the book did not include anything unusual or kinky. In my opinion, the love scenes were pretty vanilla and comparable to hot, steamy mainstream romances, but sensitive readers show know that they are more frequent and do contain explicit language. In a different vein, Dangerous Lover was not marketed as a Christmas romance, but the entire story takes place in four days over the Christmas holiday which might make it an appealing read for that time of the year. In spite of that, I would not necessarily call it a Christmas-themed romance, since none of the traditional trappings or celebrations of the holiday are present in the narrative. Dangerous Lover is the first book in the Dangerous series, followed by Dangerous Secrets and Dangerous Passion which is due to be released this summer. Lisa Marie Rice does not have a website and information on her books elsewhere is spotty, so I am not certain at this time what the character or plot connections between books might be. Even though there were a number of things about Dangerous Lover that I thought could have been better, I still found it to be a worthwhile read that also had a number of appealing elements too. I liked it well enough and have heard enough good things about Lisa Marie Rice that I will undoubtedly read the next book in the series and also try some of her other books, since I already have a few on my TBR pile....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" Violation is one of those books that I randomly decided to put on my TBR list, because the synopsis sounded very iReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" Violation is one of those books that I randomly decided to put on my TBR list, because the synopsis sounded very interesting to me. At the time, I wasn't entirely sure what category the book fell into, but at some point between putting it on my list and actually reading it, I'm certain that I ran across a review which stated that the author was a woman and the book was a romantic suspense. Being a huge fan of romance this made the book all the more appealing to me. After reading the book though, I am still not certain if the first claim is true, but I can say unequivocally that the second is not. Internet information on Darian North is quite sparse, and I have found some sites that indicate this is a male author, while several Amazon reviewers insist this is a female author. In my opinion, the book seemed to have a slightly more masculine tone, but it wouldn't be the first time I've seen a woman write this way. Regardless of the author's gender though, this is, without a doubt, not a true romantic suspense novel. I am intimately acquainted with the world of romances, and this story is really a suspense/thriller with a very small amount of romance in it. While the hero and heroine do begin to develop feelings for one another, they never even so much as kiss. By the end of the book, I could discern the believable, though tentative, start of a relationship, but that is something I would have liked to see develop all throughout the narrative. All this said though, I still generally liked the story, in spite of feeling a bit misled by that, at least partially, erroneous review.
I thought the characterizations were very good, and I really liked all the main characters. Jack is not at all unlike the romance heroes I enjoy so much. He is an ex-cop who is haunted by things from the past and has basically shut himself off from the world, until a kid in need of a father figure gently pushes his way into Jack's life. When the boy, who he has come to think of as more than his odd tenant's son, is in danger, Jack knows he has to do something and in the course of saving the boy finds himself again. Althea is also a wounded soul who has shut herself away but for different reasons. She was brutally raped fourteen years earlier, beaten, and left for dead in a burning house. The rape resulted in a pregnancy which produced her son, David. Even though Thea still has psychological problems from the trauma she suffered, I thought it was understandable given that she never received sufficient counseling over the years. Thea may have seemed rather crazy to those around her, but in reality she was a strong woman not only to have survived the vicious attack, but also to have been able to find a way to provide for her son and most of all to love him unconditionally and not resent him or only see him as a product of her rape. I liked how her strength and confidence grew as the story progressed, which in my opinion made her the best and most well-developed character. If the author is a man, I thought he did a respectable job of capturing the female perspective especially given her history. David was very likable too. It was obvious that he was a good kid who was simply frustrated by the lies he knew his mother was telling him about his father and desperately in need of a good male role-model in his life. Even though Jack had begun to fill that role, David couldn't help but wonder about his real parentage which led him on a very dangerous quest. When David meets his internet “friend,” Orion, in person, I found him to be a pretty creepy guy, who even gave me a few chills down the spine, a sure sign of a well-written character.
There were only a couple of things that I disliked about the characterizations. One was that the events which led Jack to isolate himself, while hinted at, were not really revealed until the very end of the story and they were told to Thea by his brother, Edmond. I've never been a fan of a secondary cast member being the revealer of significant events in the life of a primary character, because in my opinion, it greatly diminishes the emotional impact. The other thing was that Jack and Thea are both extremely distrusting of the opposite sex throughout a large part of the story. While that was certainly understandable given their past histories, in my opinion, some of their thoughts came off as a little too cynical, and embodied pretty extreme stereotyping. Otherwise, I enjoyed Jack, Thea and David very much and would have liked to know more about what happened to them after the story ended.
In its cover blurb, Violation is described as combining “psychological suspense with terror on the most primal human level.” While to some extent I suppose this is true, I never felt any actual terror while reading it, nor did I find it to be as intense as I would have imagined given its subject matter and categorization as a thriller. The first 2/3 of the book move at a pretty slow pace, consisting primarily of character development and procedural investigation of David's disappearance as Jack and Thea independently look for clues as to his whereabout. When Jack and Thea are reunited and begin working together, then the pace picks up somewhat as long-held secrets are slowly revealed. Given these story characteristics, I think that Violation might be more aptly described as a drama thriller. In fact, as I was reading, it reminded me of a Lifetime movie. The pieces just fell into place a little too neatly: a computer password that was carelessly left lying around, nurses who are a little to willing to talk, etc. Also, in spite of not usually being very good at figuring out mysteries, I correctly foresaw everything that happened with the exception of the final little plot twist, and if I'd been paying closer attention, I probably could have seen that one coming too. Having the plot be so predictable, was a little disappointing, but not a complete downer for me, as I tend to be a fan of made-for-TV movies and didn't mind just going along with the characters for the ride.
There were a few other things about the book that I thought could have been better. I think the slow pace was due in part to too much rumination on the part of the main characters. Jack and Thea spent quite a bit of time inside their own heads trying to answer what-if, how-could-he/she, what-was-he-thinking, and similar types of questions. Also having Jack and Thea investigating separately for a third of the book led to some repetition. Thea would discover some piece of the puzzle, and then Jack would come trailing behind to find out the same thing. I was disappointed that it was never made clear whether Thea's mother was in some way complicit in covering up certain details of the assault. In many ways it seemed like she might have been, but Thea always asserted that she didn't think her mother could do something like that. At one point the mother (in a flashback) tells Thea that one reason for them hiding is that David's biological father might sue for custody from prison, but that statement didn't make any sense to me. What judge would be idiotic enough to grant custody of a child to a convicted rapist who is in prison? Lastly, given the intense subject matter, I thought that the emotional connection to the characters should have been stronger, yet as written, I felt like the author was merely telling me about their feelings rather than demonstrating them. I believe that if more emotional demonstration had been incorporated, the story would have packed the powerful punch needed to make it the real gut-wrenching psychological thriller that it could have been. In conclusion, true aficionados of the mystery and suspense genres may not care for its somewhat low-key and predictable nature, but in spite of my criticisms, I did not feel that I wasted my time reading Violation. Anyone who likes the TV-movie style of crime writing and wants to spent some time with characters who are very easy to like and care about will probably find it to be a worthwhile read like I did. This was my first book by Darian North, and although it appears that he or she only wrote a total of four books more than a decade ago, I liked it well enough to perhaps try another at some point in the future....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews The Bride Thief was a delightful read in so many ways. It was utterly romantic, as sweet as the honey Samantha used in her hanReviewed for THC Reviews The Bride Thief was a delightful read in so many ways. It was utterly romantic, as sweet as the honey Samantha used in her hand creams, and frequently made me laugh out loud. This story was a fun, fairy-tale fantasy with an eccentric, plain-Jane spinster heroine who finds her hero in the form of a man who carries off would-be brides from unwanted arranged marriages. The Bride Thief was a charming tale that had a refreshing lightness and certain aura of innocence about it, with even the darker, more dangerous parts managing to carry some weight without being too heavy. With only one actual love scene, there isn't a lot of heat in this one, but I found that one scene to be just a little bit daring while also being sweetly sensuous. Jacquie D'Alessandro is masterful at creating a strong emotional connection and sexual tension with mere looks and gentle touches, and I've yet to find another author who does this quite as well. In addition, I absolutely love Ms. D'Alessandro's sense of humor. I found myself laughing every few scenes for the entire first half of the book. Eric being jealous of himself every time Sammie waxed romantic about the Bride Thief was hilarious, and Sammie's creative way of getting out of her arranged marriage, as well as a conversation with her three married sisters about birth control nearly had me rolling on the floor. Ms. D'Alessandro definitely has a knack for spinning tales that find a great balance between entertainment and emotion.
Eric and Samantha were two of the most wonderful characters I've read in a while. Eric perhaps carries a bit too much guilt over not being able to stop his beloved sister's miserable arranged marriage, but it's also what drives him to be the Bride Thief and makes him a compassionate and progressive-thinking hero. He has a heart of gold and treats all the women in the story with kindness and respect, even the ones who aren't as deserving of it. He is also a very understanding man who sees beyond the outward eccentricities (read: geekiness) of both Samantha and her brother, Hubert, and in fact, finds both them and their scientific pursuits to be genuinely fascinating. Overall, Eric was very kind, caring, loving and a whole host of other adjectives. I don't think there was really anything not to like about him. To say that Samantha is an unconventional heroine would probably be an understatement. She is physically plain, right down to dressing in a very ordinary way and having poor eyesight that requires spectacles. She'd much rather be observing nature, inventing things with her brother in their lab, or studying the stars through their telescope than attending balls and soirées, not to mention, she's a firmly on-the-shelf spinster. While she's OK with the idea of not marrying and doesn't believe anyone would ever want an oddball like her anyway, Sammie does keep a diary in which she writes romantic stories about the true love of her fantasies. She is also very honest and plain-spoken, and I admired her boldness in just telling Eric that she wanted to be lovers and continuing to pursue him even after he'd turned her down once out of a sense of honor. All in all, I related to Sammie very well, and can't think of anything that I didn't like about her.
The secondary characters were very entertaining and likable as well. I found Sammie's close family connections with her parents and siblings to be very endearing. Sammie is always patient with everyone including her melodramatic mother with her amusing planned fainting spells. It also went the other way with Sammie's three sisters adoring and protecting her in spite of the fact that she is their complete opposite. I also loved Sammie's interactions with her teenage brother, Hubert. They were certainly two peas in a pod, who probably understood each other better than anyone else ever could. At first it seems that Sammie is a protective, motherly figure to Hubert, but eventually the reader discovers that Hubert is equally protective of Sammie, which I thought made for a beautiful reciprocal relationship. Eric's connection with his own sister, Margaret, runs just as deep, and when she returns home after the death of her evil husband, their scenes are laden with emotion. There is also Eric's loyal stable master who is more like a father to him and is initially the only person who knows about his masquerade as the Bride Thief, as well as the magistrate, Adam Straton, who is determined to apprehend the Bride Thief but is also an honorable man who has harbored a deep love for Margaret for years. Overall, it was a very well-rounded supporting cast with personalities ranging from outrageously funny to deeply touching.
I have to admit that after finishing The Bride Thief, I had a rare moment of indecision on how to rate it. I really loved the story and wanted to rate it a bit higher, but there were a few things that I thought could have been improved. The pacing was a little slow and uneven in places, and I found a small continuity error in which Hubert's age changed from fourteen to sixteen and then back to fourteen again. There was also some repetition in details, some of which could be cute and fun like the running thread of Eric and Samantha coming up with words to describe each other that all began with the same letter, but another of which had the characters almost constantly sighing over one thing or another. Although this was a pretty minor thing and it did always fit with the scene, I just thought that perhaps a little more creativity was in order. In the end, I think the thing that bothered me the most was that Eric and Samantha began the story with a very stark honesty to their characters which I found extremely refreshing, but then the major conflict devolved into the cliched misunderstanding which was a bit disappointing. In spite of the minor detractors that kept it from just missing keeper status, The Bride Thief was definitely a solid 4-star book that was an absolute joy to read. Anyone looking for a lighthearted, escapist fantasy that is a breath of fresh air should look no further, and after two lovely reading experiences in a row from Jacquie D'Alessandro, I'm certainly looking forward to continuing my exploration of her work....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "2.5 stars" I can't recall where I first heard about Father, Unknown, but based on the synopsis, I thought this would be anothReviewed for THC Reviews "2.5 stars" I can't recall where I first heard about Father, Unknown, but based on the synopsis, I thought this would be another book that I would really enjoy. It has three of my favorite themes, amnesia, pregnancy, and a reunion romance, but in spite of that, the story still fell flat for me. The book got off to a promising start with several different mysteries brewing. No one knew where Anna, the heroine, had been or what she had been doing for the past two months before she turned up with amnesia. Consequently, no one knew who the father of her baby was either, since the doctors were estimating that she was two months pregnant, and she hadn't seen Jason, the hero, for three months. There was also the question of exactly what had transpired between Jason and Anna's sister, Abby, which had caused Anna and Jason to break up, and the mysterious murder of Anna's other identical triplet sister, Audrey, as well as which one of these things might be the trauma that was causing Anna's amnesia. With all these questions to answer, I thought there would be lots of interesting things going on, but unfortunately that was not to be. Jason and Anna uncovered very few clues along the way, and most added more questions instead of answering them, and others, in my opinion, were not properly vetted. For example, a private investigator that Jason hired found the name of a prominent man Anna had been spending time with and Anna receives a phone message from the same man, but no one ever tried to locate or contact him. They used the excuse that he was on an extended business trip in Europe, but in this modern age, it still seems like it would have been a fairly simple matter to track him down. It would have saved everyone a lot of heartache if they had, but then again, the story would have ended about halfway through if someone had been smart enough to try. The mysteries in this book unfolded so slowly, I became frustrated on more than one occasion at the agony of waiting for something to happen, and for the first time ever, I was actually tempted to peek at the ending just to end my misery. Self-control won out, and I didn't though, but sadly, I can't really say that the ending was worth the wait either.
I wouldn't say that I disliked Anna and Jason, but neither did I really warm up to either one of them. Both they and the main secondary characters of Abby and Sunny all seemed to have insecure, dysfunctional and/or co-dependent personalities with very little positive growth occurring during the course of the story, which didn't really endear them to me. Anna and Abby, along with their now-deceased sister, Audrey, were identical triplets. I know that identicals tend to have very close bonds with one another, but the relationship these sisters shared seemed emotionally unhealthy to me. It's no wonder that Anna finally decided to go away to see if she could make it on her own, and I applauded that decision. What I didn't understand was her reasoning in not contacting Jason once she got to New York. When all these things were revealed it ended up being nothing more than a disappointing series of stubborn misunderstandings. I think the author was trying to paint Jason as having a sympathetic childhood of being shuttled back and forth between divorced parents and always feeling like he was playing second fiddle to someone or something else, but his problems didn't seem to be all that unusual to me and probably could have been easily handled through some counseling. I also found myself frustrated with Jason on two counts. First, he continued going out with his co-worker, Sunny, even after he was starting to rebuild a relationship with Anna. Thankfully, he and Sunny had never slept together, and Jason only wanted to be friends with her, but to my way of thinking, he was playing with fire. It was abundantly obvious that Sunny wanted a whole lot more, and Jason knew it. The other thing that aggravated me was that in most pregnancy themed romances where the baby was conceived with a man other than the hero, the hero usually steps up to the plate, doting on both mother and baby. This is a large part of what makes these stories so appealing and romantic to me, but with Jason, it took until the last third of the book for him to finally come to terms with the idea of playing father to Anna's baby and actually become an active part of their lives. Granted it was fairly realistic for the circumstances, but his jealously of “the other man” when he was seeing another woman became rather tiresome. I just didn't feel like the author explored Anna and Jason' s backstories concisely enough, and she made their current circumstances a little too complicated, which made it very difficult for me to get to know them or relate to them.
In my opinion, there wasn't enough interaction between Anna and Jason until over halfway through the book and what had existed up to that point was rather tepid. There were just too many scenes and conversations involving only one of them and a secondary character and not enough scenes with just the two of them. Even after Anna and Jason actively started to rekindle their love, there was a lot of push-and-pull, and holding each other at arms length while fearing the things that Anna might remember. I don't pretend to be an expert on amnesia, so maybe it's normal procedure, but the doctor instructing Jason not to tell Anna about their past together and let her hopefully remember on her own didn't help matters either. Instead, all of these things worked in a counterproductive way to create a lack of any deep romance or emotional development. In fact, I felt so little chemistry between Anna and Jason that I had a hard time believing these two had supposedly been hopelessly in love and near marriage just three months before Anna's accident. The overall pace of the book was pretty slow, and I thought the voice was rather passive. I felt like the author was telling me about what was happening to the characters rather than the characters being active participants in their own story. There seemed to be a lot of repetitive introspection, especially on Anna's part, and I found the dialog to be rather stilted. Overall, I was never able to fully immerse myself in the story or truly care about the characters. Father, Unknown was my first read by Tara Taylor Quinn, and it is the first in an untitled duet about the Hayden sisters with Abby becoming the heroine of the sequel, The Heart of Christmas. I may consider reading it at some point in the future, but with a less-than-stellar first experience with Ms. Quinn and never really gaining a liking for Abby in this book, I'll hardly be in a hurry to do so....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews I've been a long-time fan of Julie Garwood, but have been so distracted lately by exciting new books and authors that I have nReviewed for THC Reviews I've been a long-time fan of Julie Garwood, but have been so distracted lately by exciting new books and authors that I have not picked up one of her books in nearly two years. Thanks to a new reading challenge in which I am participating, I was finally spurred to re-read Honor's Splendour, and was immediately reminded of all the things that made me start glomming Ms. Garwood's backlist in the first place. She has a talent for combining a good romance with a strong plot, action, humor and characters that I can truly care about, to create a really good story. The composition, to some degree, is done in the typical style of 1980's romance writing, which isn't too surprising since it was first published in 1987. Still, it is a romantic classic that consistently makes many reader's favorite lists over twenty years later. While I can't say that Honor's Splendour is my personal favorite Garwood book, it is a good read that I would certainly recommend. For me, Julie Garwood is just one of those comfort authors whose good (or even just OK) work still surpasses that of some other authors even on their best days.
There are several things that kept Honor's Splendour from the very top of my favorites list. It is one of Ms. Garwood's earliest romance novels (her third), and in my opinion, it still shows a bit of the novice that she was at that time. There are some very long passages of prose and, while they do progress both the time-line and the plot without taking up a lot of space, it made me feel like the story was being told to me instead of the characters acting it out. There were also some parts where I was having a difficult time imagining the setting and felt that more environmental descriptions would have been helpful. I thought I had recalled Ms. Garwood's books being on the steamy side, but either my memory has deceived me or this one just wasn't quite as hot as some of her others. I found that the love scenes became progressively more sensuous with each one (I really enjoyed the late night “swim” in the lake), but still by more modern standards, they were fairly short and only moderately descriptive. While I didn't necessarily need more tawdriness, some of the scenes just seemed to lack that extra bit of spice that really shows the reader a deep emotional connection. In a couple of instances, I think this could have been rectified with a little more “whispered sweet nothings” dialog, and more sexual tension leading up to their initial consummation would have been nice too. Additionally, I am not a huge fan of the love/hate relationship. Thankfully there was enough tenderness to keep it from being overdone in this book, but Duncan and Madelyn still emotionally held back from each other a little too long for my taste, and their confusion over their feelings for one another seemed a bit forced to me. Finally, although Madelyne's fevered hallucinations and loss of inhibitions in that state made for some exceptionally funny and amusing moments, I would have preferred for her to relate the traumatic events of her past to Duncan when she was in a more coherent state. I think it would have packed a greater emotional punch and built even more trust in their relationship, which to me, is extremely romantic.
Duncan and Madelyne are a classic Garwood hero and heroine. Duncan is what I like to refer to as the “tender alpha” or the “alpha with a heart.” He definitely has some dominating tendencies early in the story, but he is always patient and has a tender spot in his heart for Madelyne. Duncan's sweet side was solidified for me when he watched over Madelyne while she was ravaged with fever, and I loved how he snuck into bed with her every night without her knowing. He is also very much a man of few words and has very little dialog in the beginning of the story. In fact, Duncan often seemed to be overshadowed in this regard by his two brothers which is never a good thing. As the plot moves along though, he learns to lighten up a bit, talks more readily, and really comes into the fullness of his character. Madelyne is gentle, klutzy, and has just enough sass to stand up to her arrogant husband. I really liked her journey from the shy virgin to embracing her passionate nature, and found it to be very believable and well-crafted. There are so many romance novel heroines who make the unrealistic jump from timid virgin to instant sex-kitten, so this element of the story was greatly appreciated. I also thought it was sweet that Madelyne was able to charm everyone in Duncan's castle, man, woman, child and beast. The only problem I had with Madelyne is that for about the first 2/3 of the story, everything about her is just too extreme. She is extremely clumsy, extremely talkative, extremely bossy, extremely stubborn, extremely self-conscious, and extremely insecure. I'm used to a heroine embodying one or two of these characteristics, but having Madelyne imbued with all of them at once and in such an extravagant way, made her seem more like a caricature to me. At least she exhibited enough humor and sweetness to prevent her from becoming completely annoying, and for the final third of the book, she is much more even-tempered and finally comes into her own as well, finding her confidence. It was at this point that I really warmed up to both characters a lot more and ended up liking them both quite well.
There are other things that I really enjoyed about Honor's Splendour, one of which is it's strong cast of supporting characters. If this book had been written in the current glut of series romances, I'm absolutely certain that Duncan's two very eligible and honorable brothers, Edmond and Gilard, as well as his loyal vassal, Anthony, all would have made great heroes for future books, but it was written so long ago, it is incredibly doubtful that would ever happen. I also enjoyed Duncan's sister, Adela, and her beau, Gerald. Because of what Adela had been through, I found both characters to be very sympathetic, and the humor of their relationship mirrored that of Duncan and Madelyn. Madelyne's uncle, Father Berton, though heard about a lot, doesn't actually appear until near the end of the book, but I liked him a lot too, and Madelyne's evil brother, Baron Louddon, makes a great villain. Julie Garwood has a great sense of humor, and I often found myself smiling or chuckling during my reading of this book. I especially got a kick out of the parts where Duncan teases Madelyne by purposely pushing her buttons. I also loved the creative sweetness of their first meeting and how Madelyne captured Duncan's heart through the simple but unselfish act of warming his feet. As I mentioned earlier though, the last third of the story was my favorite part. I felt that the romance built gradually and became even stronger the further it progressed. I also liked the bit of royal intrigue which lent a mild air of suspense to the ending. The denouement itself was perhaps a tad bit rushed as the comeuppance of the main villain doesn't occur until the final pages, but overall it was pretty good. All in all, Honor's Splendour was a good read which turned out to be a nice way to reintroduce myself to a favorite author....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" For the second time in as many months, I have been gifted with a little gem of a read that I don't often see mentiReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" For the second time in as many months, I have been gifted with a little gem of a read that I don't often see mentioned in romance discussion circles, yet I found it to be so unique in both content and presentation that I can't imagine it not satisfying any romance reader who is looking for something different from the norm. A Bed of Spices is an inter-ethnic story of forbidden love between a Jewish man and a Catholic woman who literally risk their lives just to be in each other's company much less realize the fulfillment of that love by marrying. They are also from opposite sides of the tracks, for Solomon is the son of a merchant, while Rica is the daughter of a nobleman. In addition, both characters struggle frequently between their passionate natures and the puritanical ideology of the time, and whether their feelings and desires for one another are right or wrong. If the main characters aren't unusual enough, the story has an out-of-the-ordinary setting as well. While most medieval romances take place in England, A Bed of Spices is set in and around the bustling city of Strassburg, Germany against the backdrop of the Black Death no less. This made the story quite fascinating, but until reading it, this was certainly not an environment which I would have thought to be conducive to a good romance novel.
While this book is anything but politically correct, it is very historically accurate, actually teaching me things I didn't know, particularly about Jewish history. I had known that there were other historical persecutions of Jews besides the World War II Holocaust, but I didn't realize that there were other instances of widespread genocide of Jews. In fact, nothing short of another holocaust took place in the mid-14th century when Jews were ignorantly accused of causing the Plague (although greed and religion also played a part) and were executed by being burned alive (a literal meaning of the word holocaust). The Jews of that time also had to wear a yellow patch on their clothes to denote their ethnicity. All of these elements in the story both fascinated and horrified me to the point that I had to do a bit of study on the subject myself. In my mind it is the mark of a good author for them to be able to draw me into the history of a novel so much that I not only learn something from reading it, but want to know more. The other thing in this book that is very un-PC is the inequality of women. Women, even nobles, were typically uneducated and unable to read. Young ladies were pledged in marriage at a very young age, which is illustrated by a vassal of Rica's father asking for the hand of a 12-year-old girl, though he was one of the kind secondary characters and said that he would wait a while to actually take her as his wife. I thought it was rather ingenious that the author doesn't specifically state Solomon and Rica's ages, leaving it up to the reader to imagine whatever age they felt appropriate, but I got the sense that Rica herself was probably no more than a teenager. There is a secondary character who was raped at the tender age of six, and because of her non-virginal status, is thought of as a whore by some of the men in the story, and women in general are ingrained with the idea that they alone are responsible for inflaming the passions of the men around them. I was fully able to reconcile all these things in the historical perspective in which they are presented, but any reader who considers themselves a true feminist should definitely be prepared for some brutal reality in this book. In addition to the actual history, I was impressed with the author's use of a more realistic grammar and syntax for that era. While I know that it wasn't entirely accurate (it would be very difficult for the average person to understand real Middle English in modern times), I thought that it did lend another air of authenticity to the story.
Aside from all the uniqueness in the plot, I absolutely fell in love with the two main characters, Solomon and Rica. Solomon is a sweet beta hero who is very tender and loving and isn't afraid to show his true feelings to Rica. Instead of the typical knight hero of medieval romances, Solomon is a physician in training, and quite well-suited to that profession, in my opinion. He is a very gentle soul which is evidenced by the grief he feels at the the loss of life due to the various medical conditions and diseases of the time. He also possesses an unquenchable thirst for knowledge of the human body as well as why and how certain individuals are able to survive the Plague. He is one of the few men in the story who doesn't try to exert his dominance over the women, instead appreciating Rica as his intellectual equal which is a large part of what attracts him to her in the first place. In addition he does not think himself too good to learn medical knowledge from Helga, a renowned herbalist/midwife in the area, and he is in constant appreciation and awe of the general beauty of all the women around him. Rica is a very strong, capable and intelligent young woman who was fortuitous enough to have been educated by the castle priest who couldn't contain his enthusiasm for teaching, and since there was no male child in the family, Rica became the beneficiary of his knowledge. She too has a hunger to read and learn and wishes that it were possible for her to attend university like the men. Rica is an all-around admirable heroine who is kind and gentle, but also independent and filled with fiery passion.
Since the history of the story isn't romanticized at all, it can sometimes feel rather intense and heavy. Even Solomon and Rica's relationship is constantly tinged with danger and bittersweet moments, yet their love and the joy they share in each other's company stands out as a beacon of light against the dark backdrop of pain and sorrow around them. I loved that Solomon could always tell the difference between Rica and her twin sister, Etta, and near the end when I thought one of those cliched misunderstandings was going to get in the way, low and behold, he actually figured things out for himself which was utterly refreshing. Both characters have very deeply complex family relationships, mainly with fathers and siblings, but I always felt like I understood everyone involved even if I didn't agree with them. Helga, who was like a second mother to Rica and Etta after their own mother died, was a wonderful character, as was the kind vassal, Lewis. Rica's twin, Etta, was a very heartbreakingly tragic character, but I liked that the author kept an air of mystery surrounding her so that the reader is never quite sure if she is sane or not. Rica's suitor and Etta's love, Rudolf, is also mysterious in that one moment he would seem like a good, pious man and the next he would exhibit hints of evil. Although Rica and Etta played a game of who's who with the other characters in the story, I appreciated that the author made sure the reader was always in the know, otherwise it would have gotten very complicated.
Even though I really enjoyed A Bed of Spices, there were a few small things that kept it from quite being sheer perfection for me. Some passages were rather simplistically rendered, and I thought that a bit more details in those areas would have added more vibrancy to the narrative. There were also some repetitive word choices in a few places. I thought the author did a very good job with conveying the sexual tension between Solomon and Rica when they were together and their unrequited longing for each other when they were apart, so I found myself wishing that there had been just a little more steam when they finally consummated their relationship. Normally sweet, non-explicit love scenes are perfectly fine with me, but in my opinion, the mildness of this one didn't quite fully communicate the intense passion and deep emotional connection they seemed to feel for one another. Also, the author was very clear that Solomon and Rica's mutual attraction had an intellectual as well as physical basis. This was an element that I really appreciated and found to be very believable, but there wasn't quite as much demonstration of that cerebral connection as I would have liked to see. These are relatively minor complaints though, which didn't significantly detract from my enjoyment of the story, and I can't help but give it a few extra points for its historical significance and depth of characterizations. Overall, A Bed of Spices was a wonderful book which I would highly recommend to any romance reader looking for something out of the ordinary which breaks the typical romance novel mold. This is another one of those out-of-print books which I sought out through library channels, but will now be looking for a copy to own for my keeper shelf. This was my first read by Barbara Samuel, but it has definitely left me open to trying out other books by her. Barbara Samuel's most recent release was written as Barbara O'Neal, and she has also authored a number of category romances for the Silhouette imprint as Ruth Wind....more
I went into reading Nerd In Shining Armor knowing that it was a romantic comedy. Even if I didn't, it wouldn't have been difficult to figure that outI went into reading Nerd In Shining Armor knowing that it was a romantic comedy. Even if I didn't, it wouldn't have been difficult to figure that out with the cartoon cover. Still, I guess I was expecting it to have at least a little bit of depth. Instead, what I got was a frothy concoction that reminded me of a B-movie. Admittedly, I have a tendency to constantly analyze both the content of a book, as well as my emotions and reactions to it as I'm reading, which in this case, was leading to a laundry list of problems as long as my arm. Once I came to the realization that I was supposed to check my brain at the door and just go along for the ride, I enjoyed the rest of the story better. In some ways, I think the humor might be well-suited for readers with an appreciation for a much wider variety of comedy styles than I have. It should also most definitely appeal to anyone who prefers, or occasionally likes to take a break with, a goofy story that doesn't make you think about anything heavy at all. I suppose I don't really fall neatly into either category, and while I consider myself to have a fairly good sense of humor, this story contained a plethora of absurdities and extreme cliches, which didn't quite tickle my funny bone in the way I think it was intended.
Even though I figured out the angle on the comedy and to not take things too seriously, I still couldn't quite get past the lack of what I consider to be real romance. I freely admit that I'm perhaps a bit old-fashioned in my preference that the characters in my romance novels be in love or well on their way before they make love, but I can, on occasion, overlook that if the author really makes me believe in the relationship. Unfortunately, what Jackson and Genevieve shared just felt so shallow, I couldn't really bring myself to even imagine basing love on it, much less a marriage. Even though they had been co-workers before being stranded on the island together, there was no indication of any close friendship between them, only that Jack had lusted after Gen from afar. Gen had no particular attraction to Jack until he took his shirt off on the island. Then she noticed he had a pretty hot body, and started lusting after him too. Of course, one thing led to another and before you know it, they're having sex like rabbits. Jack, being the loyal puppy dog that he is, started thinking immediately about continuing their relationship after being rescued, but Gen fought the idea right up until the end. There just wasn't enough of an emotional connection for me to become fully invested in the outcome, and they didn't even mention love until the last few pages. I also found myself doing a lot of eye-rolling over how these two, as well as the two secondary characters, Matt and Annabelle, had a totally one-track mind about sex, thinking about it even in the midst of dire and distressing circumstances, not to mention the ease with which they discussed the topic with one another as virtual strangers. One would think with all the frank sex talk, the love scenes would be smokin' hot, and while I'll allow that there was a variety of steamy forms of sexual stimulation and plenty of creativity in the foreplay (loved when Jack pretended to be a pirate to fulfill Gen's fantasy), it always ended in a cut scene before the “big event.” I don't mind less explicit love scenes, but in this case, I felt like candy was being dangled in front my nose and then cruelly snatched away. I was also left wondering what happened to that last condom that was supposedly being saved for something really special which never materialized.:-(
I will give Vicki Lewis Thompson kudos for writing a hero who is about as close to a genuine nerd as I've read in a romance novel. I enjoy my alpha heroes, but they're a dime a dozen, whereas geeks are pretty rare. I love these kind of guys which isn't too surprising since I'm married to one, but the few genius heroes I've read in romance usually still tend to be super-hot, rich or have something else going for them that gives them a natural sex appeal. Jackson, on the other hand, was pretty much what most people would expect a nerd to be right down to his horrible fashion sense (although it was mostly caused by color blindness) and extreme focus which made him very forgetful. He did have a buff body due to the use of his home gym whenever he was working on particularly perplexing problems in his head, as well as a fairly impressive male attribute. Since he was single and always working, Jack had been able to save up quite a bit of money, but I still didn't get the impression that he was remotely wealthy. He also had some sexual prowess, but it was treated as a product of him being a smart, sensitive individual and not full of himself like a more good-looking guy might be, which I really appreciated. Overall, Jackson was a pretty cool hero, who reminded me in many ways of the geeks I know.
I think Genevieve was supposed to be a little smarter than she seemed, but at times, she came off as a bit of an airhead. She really reminded me of the beauties on the television show, Beauty & the Geek, just as much as Jack reminded me of the geeks. I think a large part of that impression of her was formed when she agreed to go on the overnight business trip with her boss (and eventual bad guy) Nick. She knew full well that he had seduced nearly every secretary in the office the same way, yet naively thought that she would be the one to “fix” him and marry him. The rest of it came about when she revealed the extremely young age at which she had lost her virginity, all for the promise of going to the movies. I also don't think she and her family back home could have been packed with any more cliches if you tried. After she gave up her “proper” facade, all sorts of folksy colloquialisms came streaming from her along with numerous backwoods tales that embodied every hillbilly stereotype known to man. I have an uncle who was raised backwoods hillbilly who is less cliched than Gen. She was just so much of a caricature, I generally didn't have any strong feelings toward her one way or the other. I did get fairly annoyed with her though when she, in my opinion, became patronizing toward Jack, first about his lack of outdoors skills, and then later about his presumed lack of sexual experience. This was all after he had crash landed a plane in the ocean and gotten them both to shore safely, which made her seem a little ungrateful to me. Luckily Jack briefly stood up for himself verbally and later showed just how good he was in bed. After than she wasn't quite as condescending, and they worked together as more of a team.
Readers get something of a two-for-one deal in the romance department with Gen and Jack's boss, Matt and Gen's mom, Annnabelle, who have a little secondary relationship going, although I can't say that it had much more depth than Jack and Gen's. Matt seemed like a pretty nice guy who deserved far better than what he'd had with his ex-wife. All things considered, Annabelle had done a good job of raising Genevieve and her little brother, Lincoln, as a single mom, and she had a lot of guts to leave her entire family behind in Tennessee to try to better herself in Hawaii. Aside from embodying a touch of the paranormal in his psychic ability, Lincoln was a fairly normal teenage boy. I liked him because he showed respect for his mom and sister, but at the same time was going through a typical rebellious stage that included multi-colored hair. The bad guy, Nick, was something of a contradiction, because he was supposedly smart enough to embezzle millions of dollars and skilled enough to be an expert pilot, yet in the end was nothing but a bumbling idiot. I also never quite figured out why he took Gen and Jack with him and wanted to kill them, but this was one of the things I decided to quit thinking about and just go with it.
Overall, I found Nerd in Shining Armor to be a bit 'o' fluff that somehow kept me reading in spite of itself. Maybe it's because I love the stranded on a deserted island theme or maybe I was waiting to see what crazy thing would happen next, but the book certainly had some entertainment value even though I didn't entirely “get it.” As I mentioned earlier, readers who have a wide-ranging sense of humor, those who love the wacky and absurd, or anyone looking for some really light reading might like this story. Just be sure to disengage your brain before opening the cover. Nerd in Shining Armor is the first book in Vicki Lewis Thompson's Nerd series, although from everything I've heard, there don't seem to be any inter-connecting characters or plot from one book to the next, only the nerd theme. This was also my first read by Ms. Thompson, but I have several more on my TBR pile. Even though it wasn't quite what I was expecting, I'm sure I'll be giving her books another try soon. I'll hopefully just be more prepared the next time around....more
Reviewed for thcreviews.com I had noticed that Lover Enshrined, like Lover Unbound, its predecessor in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, seemed to hReviewed for thcreviews.com I had noticed that Lover Enshrined, like Lover Unbound, its predecessor in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, seemed to have quite a few low ratings, but unlike with Lover Unbound, this time I did not let the discontent of others influence my reading of the book. I am so glad that I didn't, because even though I cannot say that Lover Enshrined is one of my favorites in the series, it was still a very good story. It was also a very busy story with so much happening within its pages that I am still trying to process it all. After reading the last two books, I had predicted that big changes were afoot in the entire vampire world, and it looks like all of those changes came down in this one volume. In fact, so many things were altered, it is, in some ways, like J. R. Ward is reinventing the entire series, and at the very least, is moving it forward to the next generation, so to speak. Since so much is dumped on the reader at one time, I think it is going to take me a while to get used to it all, but overall, I feel that everything that happened made sense and has moved in a positive direction. I'm not sure how many more books Ms. Ward has planned for the series, but I am sensing a slow building of the story arc towards an epic culmination. While perhaps not quite as compelling as some of the other volumes in the series, Lover Enshrined is still a solid piece of storytelling that is packed cover-to-cover with a little bit of everything from creepy horror movie moments, to intense action-packed sequences, to emotion-laden scenes that brought tears to my eyes.
While I did enjoy the book as a whole, as well as lots of the little individual moments within it, the one thing I would have liked to see more of would have been Phury and Cormia together as a couple. Considering that theirs was supposed to be the core romantic relationship in the story, they just didn't have quite enough time on the canvas to suit me. In fact, they only have a major scene together about once every 100 pages or so. In addition, all of their interactions except for one scene where Cormia helps Phury though detox, were of a sexual nature, with no real getting-to-know you moments. Granted their relationship began in Lover Unbound, but didn't really progress very far. There was also about five months in between books during which the reader could perhaps surmise that they spent some time together, but there is no real indication of that in Lover Enshrined. They seem to still be virtual strangers to each other, yet they end up falling in love very easily, which didn't really work for me. I just didn't feel that all-consuming bond of passion between them that was present in all the other brothers' romances. I also had mixed feelings about Phury and Cormia's first real love scene which was rather rough compared to their previously gentle and utterly beautiful scenes together, and I felt like there wasn't enough pay-off to the scene considering that both characters had essentially lost their virginity. While I found Phury's uncertainties due to his near virginal state to be very endearing, I was also a little frustrated with him for letting his desires build up to the boiling point until his male bonding instinct took over, but looking at it objectively, having things happen the way they did set off a firestorm of other events which propelled the plot forward. Also in looking back to previous books in the series, it seems that none of the couples have had what I would term “ideal” first matings, so at least Ms. Ward is being consistent. However, in those other stories, she would always back-track to a more tender, romantic place, and while that did happen for Phury and Cormia to some extent, I didn't feel that it was rendered nearly as strongly as it could have been.
While I may not have been fully satisfied with Phury and Cormia's relationship development, I did like both of them as individuals. Based on her appearance in Lover Unbound, Cormia was pretty much everything I expected her to be. She is gentle and meek, but not a doormat, as she tends to question her faith and heritage, as well as stand up to the Primale. Being one of the Chosen and having been raised in a very traditional sense, she is much like the women of historical romances who may long for more, but have few options open to them. I really liked her child-like innocence in the beginning and how she takes such joy and pleasure in the feast for the senses that she finds on the Far Side. I also enjoyed her guilty fantasies of having Phury all to herself and not having to share him with her Sisters, and her gradually finding herself as an individual instead of just a part of the collective Chosen. Even though Cormia was rather reserved and may not have had the most sparkling personality I've ever read, I still thought that she was just the type of gentle soul Phury needed to help him heal his past wounds, and I liked her pretty well. I guess I never would have expected that a drug addict would make a compelling hero, but Phury did in a very unique and non-traditional way. Like Cormia he also has a tender heart, and has taken the weight of responsibility for everyone around him onto his own shoulders, always being the selfless one, while loosing his own identity in the process. Except for when his warrior instincts or male bonding instincts kick in, he is far more of a beta hero than any of the other members of the Brotherhood, which in my opinion made his position as Primale an apt place for him to be. Phury's drug addiction could be both frustrating and heartbreaking to read, but in spite of that, it was, in my opinion, a rather ingenious way to write it. I imagined that what I was feeling while reading these parts is not unlike what the loved ones of addicts feel while watching that person destroy their lives. I found Phury's wake-up call and two subsequent major revelations to be very poignant. I suppose that Ms. Ward could have given Phury some kind of miraculous happy ending, but the way she chose to write his battle with the addiction and recovery process, though not always easy to read, was very realistic.
With Phury and Cormia's romance taking up less space than usual, I thought this book really had more of an ensemble cast rather than primary and secondary characters. Quite a bit of new information is revealed about Rehvenge, and his character is interwoven in several plot lines, probably in preparation for him becoming the hero of the next book, Lover Avenged. Readers also learn a few new things about Xhex, while the sexual tension between her and John Matthew ratchets up a notch. Based on her appearance in previous books, I wasn't sure that I was going to like Xhex, but I started to warm up to her a little more in this story. I continued to enjoy the deep friendship between John Matthew, Qhuinn, and Blaylock, but the surprising confession of one of the friends nearly causes a huge rift in the trio while the rash actions of another, unwittingly leads to an escalation in the war between the vampires and the lessers. The full measure of Lash's evil nature is revealed when he does the unthinkable to John, and his actions also contribute in a big way to the expansion of the war. All the brothers and their shellans with the exception of Mary and Marissa, make appearances (though some are no more than cameos) in Lover Enshrined, but not surprisingly, Zsadist and Bella play the biggest roles. There is some contention in Zsadist and Phury's relationship that was difficult to read, but a joyous event at the end helps to heal the rift between the twins. The Chosen, Layla and Amalya, put in another appearance as well. I like them both, especially Layla, and hope that they find happy endings in future installments. I'm thinking perhaps one or both would make good mates for Rehv and/or Qhuinn, but I'll just be patient and see what happens. There are several new Chosen introduced as well, and a brief scene with them near the end had me laughing, which is something of a rarity for this dark series. Readers are also introduced to a new character, Lassiter, a fallen angel and apparent frenemy of the Brotherhood, who arrives bearing an unexpected “gift” for them. There is also a brief appearance by the Scribe Virgin, and plenty of action from the Omega's side with a new fore-lesser, Mr. D, a good ol' country boy (but still a royal psycho), which I couldn't help but find rather funny. With the canvass jam-packed with so many characters, most of which played fairly major roles, I'm sure it's easy to see why this book was so busy.
Lover Enshrined is book #6 in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, and is preceded by Dark Lover, Lover Eternal, Lover Awakened, Lover Revealed, and Lover Unbound. Book #7, Lover Avenged is due to be released this spring, and there is also a new companion book to the series, The Black Dagger Brotherhood: An Insider's Guide. There were some things about Lover Enshrined that I thought could have been better, in particular the romance aspect and the fact that Phury was not really the main focus of what should have been his own story. I also thought that there was a little too much plot crammed into one book that perhaps, if spread out, could have created a couple of even richer stories, but I still enjoyed reading it. I do hope that Ms. Ward returns to the strong core relationship stories in future volumes, but no matter what, the overall story arc is one that has become so addictive and engaging, I can't imagine myself not eagerly awaiting each new book as it is released.
Note: Sensitive readers should be forewarned that this book contains very strong language, as well as explicit violence and sexual content including one brief M/M kiss which may offend some readers....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Gallant Waif ended up being one of those books that I had a somewhat difficult time rating. The writing itself is excellent anReviewed for THC Reviews Gallant Waif ended up being one of those books that I had a somewhat difficult time rating. The writing itself is excellent and well-deserving of having been a finalist for the Rita Award, but the push-and-pull relationship wasn't entirely to my liking. The hero and heroine of Gallant Waif have a love/hate romancethat is about as tempestuous as I've read to date. This is something that I usually don't care for, but somehow it didn't annoy me in quite the way that most stories of this type would. I think this had a lot to do with both characters still being very sympathetic underneath the armor of their obstinacy. The author gives a lot of insights into why they think the things they do about each other, which in context, made a lot of sense to me. I still felt like shaking both of them on occasion though, because most their problems boiled down to a lack of communication and sheer stubbornness on both their parts. The softer moments are rather few and far between and didn't last long enough for me, but are very romantic when they happen. The vast majority of Jack and Kate's interactions are spent arguing. Sometimes their quarrels are laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes they are merely heated disagreements, and still other times they actually say things that are emotionally hurtful, occasionally deliberately although usually not. Whatever they happened to be wrangling over though, it all seemed to be a carefully choreographed dance to keep each other close while still holding each other at arms length and stubbornly denying their feelings. Although there were times that I wished that one or the other would lighten up a little, I strangely still understood them for the most part which is how I know that this novel was so well-written.
Jack isn't quite as intensely tortured as some heroes I've read, but he does have a tendency to brood a lot and drink too much. He was severely wounded during the Peninsular Wars and came home with his once handsome face now seriously scarred and a bum leg that prevents him from dancing or riding. Jack's father died just before his return having disinherited him for his choice of fiance, leaving Jack with only a run-down country estate and 500 pounds to his name. Then his shallow fiance broke off their engagement because of his scars and near-penniless state. All of this has left him understandably cynical, so when Jack's grandmother brings Kate to his home, he is trying to hide away from the world and drink himself into oblivion.
Kate is orphaned and penniless herself, with her father having been a poor vicar. He and her brothers were all killed in the war. Kate is considered by society to be a gently bred lady, but having traveled with the army on the Peninsula, she has seen and experienced the darker side of life. In fact, some unfortunate things happened to her during that time which make her believe that she is un-marriageable and have made her prefer a reclusive life away from society as well. I liked the dichotomy of her struggling to face what she believed was the reality of her future and still dreaming of getting a Cinderella-style HEA. Her father had also resented her, because of her mother dying while giving birth to her, so Kate never had her father's love, nor was she as well-educated as most ladies would have been. Her education was more one of experience, but she was a strong young woman who didn't shy away from hard or difficult work. When Jack's grandmother, who was godmother to Kate's mother, hears of her plight and comes to whisk her away, Kate resists, only to find herself thoroughly tricked and kidnapped by the old lady. Once she is safely ensconced in Jack's country home, she energetically throws herself into righting not only Jack's household but Jack himself. Of course, she initially doesn't realize that she's having a desirable effect of a different sort on Jack.
In all honesty, I'm not really used to both the hero and heroine being so emotionally damaged. Usually, when one character is severely battered in body and/or spirit, the other one is a little lighter. While it often takes a wounded person to understand a wounded person, I think I tend to prefer that one character be strong and understanding while also being less angsty. Jack and Kate carry about equal baggage, so they are both very emotionally intense while also both being incredibly stubborn. I will admit that it made them perfect for one another in some ways, because they were both willing to say what needed to be said when the other one needed a kick in the pants. On the other hand it was that angst and stubbornness which made them butt heads so often. It also kept them apart until the very end of the story, and diminished some of the emotional connection for me.
The one good thing about Jack and Kate's obstinate natures was that it created a situation that was ripe for sharp, witty bantering. I loved how sometimes Kate would verbally bait Jack, and then he, the military man who was used to ordering people around, would suddenly become flustered and not know what to say. These exchanges had me in stitches, and I have to say that I haven't had a book make me laugh like that in quite a while. I also liked Jack's grandmother, Lady Cahill. She was one of those really feisty old ladies who could definitely go toe-to-toe with both Jack and Kate, and without the support and behind-the-scenes manipulation of her and Jack's friend, Francis, I'm not sure they ever would have given in to their feelings for one another. In my opinion, the book could have used a little more dialog, especially of the non-combative type. I think that having three, prominent, hardheaded, alpha-type characters in one story was perhaps a bit too much, but fortunately, I still liked them all anyway. Also, as a side note, this story has no love scenes at all or any other particularly objectionable elements which should make it suitable for a wide range of romance readers. It was obvious that Jack and Kate both had very passionate natures, so I was slightly disappointed by this, but not overly so. Readers who like a good love/hate romance between two willful but likable characters that lead to both funny and emotional moments, should really enjoy this one. Even though I tend to like my romances a little more on the softer side, I actually enjoyed it too, which I think is mainly owing to Anne Gracie's superb writing skill. This was my first book by Ms. Gracie, but I will definitely be checking out some of her others as soon as I can....more
The Cosmic Verses: A Rhyming History of the Universe is a cleverly written (in rhyming poetry) book detailing the history of the universe and all theThe Cosmic Verses: A Rhyming History of the Universe is a cleverly written (in rhyming poetry) book detailing the history of the universe and all the theories surrounding it from ancient times to the present, covering all the great minds in the field from Plato to Professor Stephen Hawking. It should prove to be a fun and educational read for teens and adults who are interested in cosmology, astronomy and the history surrounding these scientific fields....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" The Raven Prince was an enjoyable read which I thought had some rather unusual elements. As I read the first chaptReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" The Raven Prince was an enjoyable read which I thought had some rather unusual elements. As I read the first chapter or so of the book, I was reminded of one of my all-time favorite romances, Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels. While The Raven Prince does bear some resemblance to Lord of Scoundrels, it is still very much it's own distinctive story. Much like their counterparts in Lord of Scoundrels, Edward can be rather temperamental and boorish, while Anna is very plucky and unconventional. They share a few moments of sharp, witty bantering, but I wouldn't have minded seeing them go toe-to-toe a few more times than they did. I can certainly appreciate attractive people, but the ratio of impossibly beautiful characters in romance novels to those found in the real world, is so disproportionately inflated, I can't help getting bored with them sometimes. I actually found it refreshing that Anna's very first impression of Edward was “ugly,” and Edward's first impression of Anna was “frumpy.” I think this allowed the author to send a subtle message that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and “love truly is blind,” because once these two started falling for one another, they were each thoroughly beautiful to the other, something to which I can really relate. I have only come across a couple of authors I can think of who have a tendency to write more mature characters, so having Edward and Anna be a little older was a very pleasant change as well. She was 31, and I initially had the impression that he was nearer 40 until it was revealed late in the story that he was 34, although I had to do the math to figure out his age.
Elizabeth Hoyt has a slightly different writing style in that she doesn't seem to reveal all of her character's insecurities, vulnerabilities and motivations right away. Most authors have a tendency to let the reader in on these things up front, and then the story centers around them making peace with those things and finding healing if the pain is deep. With Edward and Anna, Ms. Hoyt leaves the reader with the sense that there are mysterious things lurking beneath the surface that can't be seen, but she takes her time, revealing them one-by-one when the situation seems ripe for it. This does give the story a more languid feel which may not work well for readers who prefer a faster pace, but I thought that it was an interesting approach. The story also has a very angsty quality to it, I think, in large part, because of Edward's intensity. I found a certain beauty to it though, an emotional depth that was somehow different from other stories I've read. Edward and Anna have both suffered emotional pain in their lives, yet both seem to be fairly comfortable in their own skin and not harboring major neuroses. Once again, I thought this was a unique blend which made the characters very complex and multi-dimensional.
Edward had his moments of intensity, but I don't think that I would quite classify him as tortured. He had times of what I would characterize as personal reflection that would sometimes reach an emotional high, but he always came back down rather quickly. Edward was quite temperamental though, having scared away several male secretaries, before hiring Anna. He could occasionally be prone to throwing things in a fit of anger, but was probably equally likely to express himself with sarcasm. Some people don't want to be around him, not just because of his temper, but also because he is badly scarred from the smallpox, so he always respects anyone who doesn't mind his scars and can hold their own against his boorish behavior. It becomes readily apparent as the story progresses that Edward's bark is really worse that his bite. I really liked Edward's complexity of thinking, how he fell hard for Anna, but was conflicted both in his feelings for her, especially after he discovered her deception, and his sense of duty to his family line. Watching him try to figure things out and understanding what he was feeling and thinking made him a very interesting character to read. Another thing that made him quite appealing to me was his combination of erudition and earthiness. He was obviously a very intelligent man, but one who wasn't afraid to go out in his fields and come back covered in muck. Edward also made my geek list because he seemed more comfortable alone or out on the land with his tenants than in social settings, and he was extremely knowledgeable about agriculture, having written a number of scholarly papers on the topic, as well as lecturing at the Agrarian Society. In fact, he could sometimes get so wrapped up in his work that he would become oblivious to the time and what was happening around him. I've always loved smart men, but that, in addition to all of his other qualities made him positively irresistible.
Anna was a very spirited heroine that I liked very much too. I loved how she was never afraid of Edward's temper, and always handled him quite deftly. She was strong and fairly confident, but the few times she allowed her insecurities to get the best of her, she realized her mistake pretty quickly and came back fighting. She is also very kind and caring, doing what she must to make sure her elderly mother-in-law and their orphan maid are provided for, and she even takes in an injured prostitute when no one else would have, even though her actions set tongues to wagging. What I think I liked most about Anna and the whole story though, is how she discovers her attraction for Edward, and boldly decides to be naughty just once in her life to get what she think she wants. She seduces him in disguise at the brothel he frequents, because she simply can't bear the thought of him bedding anyone else. Yet even though she thoroughly enjoys the experience, she is terribly conflicted afterward. She feels a bit of guilt for having deceived Edward, but most of all she realizes that the physical pleasure wasn't all that she truly desired. I loved that the author brought out these feelings in Anna. It was exactly what I was thinking and feeling at that moment in the story, and I would have been quite disappointed if Anna hadn't felt that way too. Everything worked together to make her a very relatable character for me.
There were a number of great secondary characters in The Raven Prince as well. Edward's estate manager, Felix Hopple, was a hoot with his flamboyant clothes, but we find out later that he is also a rather shy, sweet man. Edward's valet, Davis, is another fun character. He's a feisty old man who rarely works and constantly goads Edward into threatening to fire him. Their interactions were quite amusing. I also enjoyed Edward's initially nameless dog, and the little rabbit trail of Anna trying to help him think of a suitable name. Anna's mother-in-law is a sweet old lady who is always very supportive of her. I also liked Pearl, the prostitute Anna rescued, and her sister Coral. They became the catalyst for and the confidantes of her naughty exploits. There are a couple of ne'er-do-well characters who try to stir up a bit of trouble for Edward and Anna after they discover what Anna did. Last but not least there were Edward's two friends, Harry and Simon, who become the heroes of the next two books in the series, The Leopard Prince and The Serpent Prince respectively.
There were a couple of other elements of The Raven Prince that I particularly savored. Each chapter begins with a snippet of a fairy tale with the same title, which Anna had found in Edward's library. I'm sorry to say that I'm not up on my Greek mythology, but I discovered through other reviewers that this is apparently a re-telling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche. I liked it every bit as much as the main novel and found myself eagerly waiting to get to the next chapter to discover what would happen next in that story too. Ms. Hoyt also has a talent for writing deeply sensuous love scenes that are like a sweet treat for the imagination. I thought that everything was very tastefully done, but sensitive readers should know that these scenes do get rather spicy and the use of a handful of explicit words that I've rarely seen outside the erotic sub-genre (and which some may find offensive) do push the traditional historical envelope a bit. Ultimately, my only complaint about the book which kept it from a perfect five stars was that the first ¼ or so of the book moved a little too slow and I felt that the initial attraction between Edward and Anna in those pages was a bit too subtle and not quite palpable enough to suit me. Once I got past that section though, it became a very engrossing read. Overall, The Raven Prince was an excellent debut novel from Elizabeth Hoyt, and one I very much enjoyed reading. It was my first book by Ms. Hoyt, but it has earned a spot on my keeper shelf and has left me quite eager to continue The Princes Trilogy. ...more
Some readers seem to think that a good storyline and good erotic content are mutually exclusive, and while, unfortunately, this is often the case, I,Some readers seem to think that a good storyline and good erotic content are mutually exclusive, and while, unfortunately, this is often the case, I, for one, do not automatically think that my brain needs to be checked at the door when I'm in the mood for a really hot, steamy romance. But alas, perhaps I'm expecting too much. The plot of Elizabeth's Wolf felt like it was built up around the scorching love scenes, and when all was said and done, I was left with more questions than answers both about the Breeds and about the individual story contained within this book. Ms. Leigh's explanations for some of the things that happen are at best, weak plot devices, and at worst confusing and convoluted. One example of a weak and convoluted plot device, in my opinion, was the Breed registration process for minors. When looked at logically, it made little sense in and of itself, much less as a protection measure for Breed minors. In reality, it was simply a way for the author to “legally” make Dash, Cassie's daddy. Also, as hard as I tried, I couldn't quite figure out how Grange, a drug-dealing pervert, became involved in Breed experimentation except that he coincidentally had connections with a Breed scientist and it was some sort of power play. Another thing that didn't make much sense to me was Elizabeth's need to fight Grange herself. Initially, she was practically begging to stay with Cassie, but Dash wouldn't allow it, giving her all sorts of confusing reasons why she couldn't. Then Dash later gives her an out because of his concern for her safety (though why he wasn't worried about that from the start, I don't know), but she refused to take it. I realize that she felt some desire to be a part of taking down a bad guy who had ruined her life and threatened her little girl, and Dash wanted to know that she could handle the danger and stress of being his mate, but it all just seemed like thinly veiled excuses for putting Elizabeth in the thick of things. Don't even get me started on the realism of Elizabeth being able to train for such a mission in just a few weeks. No matter how tough she was or how intensive the training, Elizabeth likely still would have been more of a liability than an asset. Another thing that bugged me was all the new characters coming out of the woodwork to help Dash and Elizabeth go after Grange. I understood that the author was trying to demonstrate that Dash, a solitary man who flatly refused to acknowledge he had any friends, really did, but I thought that it could have been done better and the characters given more backstory and connections. Overall, for plot and execution, I give Ms. Leigh a C.
Now that all my criticisms are out of the way, I have to say that in spite of the plot weaknesses, I still actually enjoyed this story. Why you ask? Well, a couple of reasons. For one, this lady sure knows how to write blistering hot love scenes that had me drooling, panting, sweating and begging for more, which I suppose is a main point of a good erotic story. In fact, sometimes they would turn my brain to mush until I was thinking, “Ummm, what was it I was having issues with again?” For the most part all these scenes, beginning with the sexual tension in the early chapters, were extremely sexy and well-written. Admittedly, there were a couple of times that Dash could have toned down his need to exert his masculinity, in particular, the final scene where he “punishes” Elizabeth for disobeying orders, but overall, in spite of their intensity, the love scenes exhibited enough tenderness and feeling to satisfy me. The other thing that worked really well for me was the concept driving the story. From the start, I've been very engaged by the idea of the Breeds and can't seem to get enough of them. I also enjoyed the notion of Dash and Elizabeth falling in love through the letters he exchanged with her daughter, Cassie, and how those letters gave him a reason to live. There is just something very romantic about two people falling for each other through the written word alone. Of course, I know that Dash's wolf DNA played a part too, but it was still a great way to start a story in my opinion. So, for imagination, creativity, and her ability to sear my brain with mental pictures of extreme hotness, I give Ms. Leigh an A.
I think that the one last thing that really cinched my liking of the book were Dash and Elizabeth. It seems that Lora Leigh has a tendency to write cookie cutter heroes and heroines. Her men tend to be extreme dominating alphas, and her women are usually spitfires who give 'em hell. The only thing that seems to vary is the intensity of the characters. Dash and Elizabeth were no exception to this rule, but they were toned down enough for me to like them both pretty well. Although he wasn't quite as vulnerable as I like my heroes to be, Dash did exhibit some classic tortured hero characteristics. He was a solitary man who had basically been on his own since he was ten, and rarely allows himself to get close to anyone. Experience had taught him some hard lessons in loss and betrayal, until the letters of a little girl brighten his existence. After that, I loved how he became singularly focused on rescuing this child and her mother, both of whom his wolf senses told him, were in grave danger. I also liked that in spite of his intense instinct to dominate, Dash did manage to tamp down that need sometimes, and behave in a more gentle, civilized way, and his softer side always showed where Cassie was concerned. Elizabeth was a very smart and strong woman to have kept herself and Cassie alive while constantly on the run from the villain for two years. I liked her complexity in the early parts of the book, her wariness over allowing a man she doesn't really know and isn't quite sure she can trust to take over the job of protector, but her weariness in having fought for so long and the vulnerabilities associated with that. I liked that she was willing to let Dash take the reins, but that she wanted to know what was going on too. She also had a lot of mettle to stand up to Dash when his harsher side came out, and I couldn't help but like the way she sometimes teased, taunted and tried to get the upper hand. There were times that I felt like I was being jerked back and forth between this couple's fierce moments and their more tender ones, but overall it wasn't too bad. In spite of their occasional arguments, I still felt like they were a good match.
The secondary characters were a mixed bag. Cassie was really the only supporting player who had much influence on the story. She was a cute kid, and while I usually enjoy precocious children in my romances, I thought that her words didn't always reflect her mere eight years. I know that she was supposed to be very intelligent for her age, but even super-smart kids should still act and speak in an age-appropriate way. Her blatant manipulations sort of rubbed me the wrong way too, so I never completely warmed up to her. Mostly though, she was just a good kid in a extraordinarily bad situation. In my opinion, the villain, Grange, was underdeveloped and didn't have enough bite. He was really little more than a vague, far-off threat until the very end of the book, and even then was pretty benign. There were also plenty of Breed sightings. The five main feline Breeds, Callan, Taber, Tanner, Dawn and Sherra, as well as Mercury, all put in appearances, though Taber and Tanner had no dialog. Callan is the hero of book #1, Tempting the Beast; Taber is the hero of book #2, The Man Within; and Sherra is the heroine of book #4, Kiss of Heat. Her hero, Kane Tyler, also put in his third appearance in Elizabeth's Wolf. Tanner, Dawn and Mercury all helm books later in the series. Additionally there was a mention of Aiden, Faith and Jacob, all wolf Breeds who eventually get their own books. Elizabeth's Wolf also has a wide variety of Dash's “friends” who pop up here and there, at least one of whom is quite colorful, but for the most part, they didn't play particularly big roles.
In the end, the plot holes in Elizabeth's Wolf may have had the logical part of my brain screaming in frustration, but the mindless sex scenes definitely satisfied some baser instinct, “brain candy” as I've seen other readers call it. There was also just a dash (no pun intended) of a few elements that I really like to give it some flavor, and keep me reading and eagerly coming back each time I had to put it down. As with the first two books in the Breeds series, the editing could have used more spit and polish. There were quite a few repetitive words and phrases (lots of sighing, shrugging and head shaking going on), poor word choices, typos and minor inconsistencies, but I was entertained enough to overlook most of these too and just enjoy the story. Three books into the series, I'm not entirely certain that all my questions and curiosities about the Breeds are ever going to be answered to my satisfaction, but I'll certainly have fun trying to find out. Elizabeth's Wolf is book #3 in the Breeds series. There are currently a total of 18 novels and short stories in the series. The recommended reading order can be found on Lora Leigh's website.
Note: This book contains a couple of acts of violence, as well as extremely explicit language and sexual situations including some BDSM (biting, spanking, mild restraint, domination/submission) and anal sex, all of which some readers may find offensive....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews With Lady of Desire, Gaelen Foley has racked up another solid story in the Knight Miscellany series. From what I can tell so fReviewed for THC Reviews With Lady of Desire, Gaelen Foley has racked up another solid story in the Knight Miscellany series. From what I can tell so far, Ms. Foley seems to be an author who is consistently good. Her attention to history and details really help to bring her stories vividly to life. I really enjoy her exploration of topics outside the social aspects of the ton, which deftly bring to life the more realistic side of life in that era. Her descriptions of life in the rookery and some of the social and political issues of the time give voice to a different segment of the population, as well as a stark reminder that unfortunately some things never really change. However, in spite of my appreciation for the author's strong writing style, I found the storytelling in Lady of Desire was not quite as much to my liking as its predecessors in the series. The story got off to an explosive start, but then seemed to loose some steam especially through the middle, and while the ending satisfactorily wrapped everything up, I felt that it was a little too simplistic. I realize that when a person believes that death is imminent, they can do some rather unusual and extraordinary things, but ultimately, Billy's ready forgiveness of his father for a lifetime of hurt and abuse, just didn't quite ring true to me. Billy had felt thoroughly unloved and unlovable all his life, and to have just a few words be able erase all that, was a bit too easy in my opinion. I did like Billy's realization that even the bad things in life can bring about good if we let them, but again, I felt like his revelation came about a bit too quickly with no real introspection to show how he came to that conclusion. I was also a little disappointed that Lady of Desire, like it's predecessor, Lord of Ice, was somewhat light on the actual romance. There were just so many things going on in the story that I thought the plot itself in many ways overshadowed the relationship development. At times it felt like a historical novel with romance in it rather than just a romance, but readers who have a preference for that sort of thing should really enjoy this book.
I had been extremely intrigued by Billy when he made his first appearance in Lord of Ice. For a thief lord, he was very charming with an air of danger about him that was very appealing. I was immediately certain that he would play a significant role in a future book(s), and was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that he would be the hero of this story. I loved Billy's early scenes with Jacinda in the rookery. I was instantly mesmerized by his scrumptious bad boy looks and persona as well as his Robin Hood style of robbing the rich to give to the poor, but when he took up his rightful title as Lord Rackford, I felt like he changed a little too much, loosing that aura of mystery and danger. At one point, Jacinda muses about how she has truly made a gentleman out of Billy, but it was a pity because she “rather liked him as a heathen,” which is exactly how I felt. I did enjoy the scenes where he sneaks back to the rookery though. His sly, cunning scheme to exact revenge on his former gang rivals had me grinning from ear to ear. Typically I would feel a great deal of sympathy for a hero with a past as tortured as Billy's, and although I did to some degree, it wasn't as strong as with some other characters of this type that I've read. I think this was because Billy was an extremely intense alpha who rarely allowed himself to be vulnerable. Even in those infrequent moments when he let his guard down a little, I couldn't help but feel that he was still holding something back. I suppose this was understandable given his past abuse and harsh life in the rookery, but in the end, not wholly satisfying to me. All in all, Billy was a very interesting hero, just not my favorite kind, but again readers who enjoy this type of character should really like Billy.
Jacinda was a strong heroine who was a cross between a sweetheart and a spitfire, but many times I felt like her character was rather uneven. I really liked the gentleness and intuitiveness that she exhibited with Billy in various ways throughout the book, and I was also impressed that, unlike her brothers, she never seemed to be overly bothered by her mother's scandalous exploits in life. In fact, although Jacinda was determined not to cheat on her future husband, she otherwise embraced her mother's legacy, but often her own desire for love and passion made her afraid of becoming like her mother. Being the youngest and only daughter in the Knight clan, with all of society including her brothers watching her every move and expecting her to make the same mistakes that her mother did, I could understand Jacinda feeling trapped and wanting her freedom. What bothered me though, was the way she tried to go about getting it. She had blown off a potential marriage to Ian Prescott, a very nice family friend, because she knew there would be no real affection between them besides brotherly love. Yet she was eager to gain a marriage proposal from another man she didn't love and who was more than three times her age. This was all in the hopes that he would die quickly, giving her the freedom she craved, which all seemed a little callous and a bit contradictory to other parts of her personality, especially when she continued this reckless pursuit even after her feelings for Billy had become readily apparent. Luckily she came to her senses before it was too late, but all the pulling away that was going on from both character's perspectives made it a little difficult for me to get a good grasp on their relationship and feelings for one another.
One thing that I have really enjoyed about Gaelen Foley's writing so far is that she pulls together a full complement of secondary characters with heroes and heroines from both previous and future books in the series appearing in nearly every one, and oftentimes their role is more significant than a simple cameo. Robert and Bel, Lucien and Alice, and Damien and Miranda from the first three books all played a part in Lady of Desire, with Lucien in particular being fairly important since Billy had been one of his underworld contacts. Also Lizzie and Alec had pretty substantial roles, and although I was a bit saddened to see their affections for one another dashed, I already knew they were not going to be a couple since each has their own future story. In fact, the bookish Lizzie becomes the heroine of the next book in the series, Devil Takes a Bride. The only Knight sibling who doesn't show up is Jack, who is still “missing in action.” Lady of Desire is preceded in the Knight Miscellany series by The Duke, Lord of Fire, and Lord of Ice and is followed by Devil Takes a Bride, One Night of Sin and His Wicked Kiss. Even though I had a few issues with Lady of Desire, it will not stop me from continuing the series. Gaelen Foley just seems to be one of those authors that even when her work isn't quite spot-on for me, it is still infinitely readable and better than some other authors on their very best days....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews This was my second read of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and I have to say that even after having read it before anReviewed for THC Reviews This was my second read of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and I have to say that even after having read it before and seeing the movie four times, it is still just as good as it was the first time I read it. I'm simply a little more familiar with the story now. I started this series a few years ago by reading it to my kids, but when our busy schedules just seemed to keep getting in the way of finishing it, I decided to go back on my own to re-read the earlier books and hopefully finally wrap up the series this time around.
Even as an adult reading it alone, this is still a delightful book with a magical (no pun intended) plot and a host of colorful and diverse characters. I absolutely love the interactions between Harry, Ron and Hermione. They make an ideal trio of friends whose strengths and weaknesses compliment each other perfectly. I really admire the Weasley family. They may not have much in the way of material possessions, but they have lots of warmth and love and are a family I wouldn't mind being a part of. Professor Dumbledore is the perfect, gentle father-figure who is also a genius with just a touch of humorous eccentricity. Professor McGonagall is wonderful as a very stern, but kind, motherly figure. Professor Snape is a total enigma who constantly keeps me guessing about his motivations. Hagrid is one of the most marvelous characters in the book and also one that keeps me guessing but in much different ways. His affection for and attachment to magical creatures is both funny and endearing all rolled into one, and he definitely has a gift for their care. Of course, these are just a few of my favorites, but the story is teeming with more characters from teachers to students, and from the ghosts and spirits who haunt the castle to Harry's Muggle family, the Dursleys, all of whom are brought vividly to life. It would be nearly impossible not to love, or at least love to hate, each and every one.
Sometimes, it's hard to believe that this was J. K. Rowling's debut novel, but with her enchanting story-telling skills, it is very easy to see why the Harry Potter series enticed so many kids and teens back to reading and is still a world-wide favorite, quite possibly even destined for classic status. I know that when I read a children's/young adult book as an adult and enjoy it this much, it is one I too would have enjoyed in my youth. I very much look forward to continuing this captivating series soon....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Being a lover of history and historical fiction, I've been very excited about trying out the Dear America series for quite somReviewed for THC Reviews Being a lover of history and historical fiction, I've been very excited about trying out the Dear America series for quite some time. Since all the books are written by different authors, I'm not sure how they compare to this one, but I was very pleased with my first foray into the series. I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly chronicles the life of a freed slave girl a few months after emancipation was voted into law. I was pretty sure the book was a work of fiction, but the author did such a good job with making the story believable that I had a few moments of doubt until reading the historical notes at the end which confirmed that it was. Patsy was a sweet, lovely, and very relatable character to read about. She is only about twelve or thirteen when the story open, and to the outside world she isn't much to look at. In addition to being an orphan, Patsy is painfully shy because of a severe stuttering problem, and she also walks with a pronounced limp. Inside though, she is a very brave and strong girl who secretly taught herself how to read and write during a time when the punishment for doing so could have been extremely severe. I really like how Patsy grew a lot throughout the story and became braver and more readily able to speak as time went on. She also takes so much joy and comfort from her reading that when she reads aloud, her stutter all but disappears. I really liked how the author put emphasis on the importance of literacy by showing how much it means to Patsy.
Through reading I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly, I was able to learn some things about what life was like for freed slaves. I found it interesting that their day to day lives weren't all that different after emancipation than they were before it, with the exception that they were now getting paid, albeit very low wages, for the work they were doing. Many of the former slaves from the plantation where Patsy lived left immediately, hoping to buy land of their own or find better work in the cities. Many stayed behind to become sharecroppers or to continue working as servants. There were conflicted feelings among them, and even in Patsy's mind, as to whether it was better to go or stay, and there were certainly positives and negatives to both sides of the coin. It was very interesting to learn about all of this, and the author's historical notes at the end of the book also helped to put things in perspective.
I don't believe I have ever read a book in diary format before, so I don't know if this is a typical example of a book written in that style or not. The one downside I found about this style, at least in the case of this book, is that it could be rather repetitive at times. For example: Every Monday is wash day; nearly every Tuesday the freed slaves have a Union League meeting where they discuss their rights and read the newspapers; nearly every Sunday they meet in the arbor for worship services. There is some variation in each of these entries, so it didn't bother me overmuch, but I could see how this could become tedious to kids who might be reading it. There were also a lot of characters to keep track of, and I found myself forgetting who various people were on occasion, which would probably mean that kids might have trouble with this too. I think the author's purpose was to show how lonely Patsy felt as more and more of the people she knew and had grown up with left the plantation, but it was a little hard to keep them all straight. Otherwise, I really enjoyed the book, and I am definitely looking forward to reading more books in the Dear America series. I think that this series and its companion series, My America, My Name Is America, and The Royal Diaries all have a great deal to offer both child and adult readers....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Night Moves has one of my favorite romance themes, best friends who become lovers. Shane and Ella have been friends since 2ndReviewed for THC Reviews Night Moves has one of my favorite romance themes, best friends who become lovers. Shane and Ella have been friends since 2nd grade, so their relationship has a very sweet quality to it. For a short book, I thought the author did a good job with the character development by showing bits and pieces of their past together through introspective flashbacks. Both of them had rather sordid and difficult childhoods in which they relied on each other a lot for support. They've done nearly everything together including moving from their home state of Texas to New York to attend college. They also have no secrets from each other and share everything right down to their deepest desires and fondest fantasies, so it's not too surprising that Shane came to the realization that he's in love with Ella and wants to convince her that they should be more than just friends.
For the most part, I liked both Shane and Ella. In spite of their less-than-stellar upbringings, they are both strong career-oriented individuals (he is an attorney and she is hoping to become a museum curator) who have, in many ways, helped each other to become successful in life when their families failed them. Their long-term friendship laced their overall relationship with incredible chemistry and gave their sexual intimacies a beautiful level of trust that neither of them had experienced with previous partners and which was a joy to read. Shane is a yummy hero who went to great lengths to woo Ella including planning a romantic dinner by candlelight with food from her favorite restaurant, and secretly writing his own erotic stories to get her blood boiling. I loved how intuitive he was, always seeming to know exactly what his sweet El needed even when she didn't realize it herself. The only thing about Shane that gave me pause was his willingness to seduce El while she was in a serious relationship with another man, which I'll address momentarily. I liked Ella's passionate, adventurous spirit, and the only man who seems to be able to match her zest for life is Shane. The problem is she's rather blind to that fact, and instead has given in to thinking that the only thing in her life that matters is finding a man who can give her a stable close-knit family that she can be a part of, which is something she's always wanted but never had. Unfortunately, that's the one thing Shane can't give her, and so in that respect, I thought she was a little too stubborn and protested too much. Otherwise, she was a fairly likable heroine except for her willingness to have sex with Shane while she was involved with another man.
That brings me to my chief complaint with this story, which was that Shane and Ella technically cheated on Ella's boyfriend, Tony. I'm not a fan of love triangles and especially ones that involve cheating, so this somewhat diminished my enjoyment of the book. I was waiting for some kind of twist in which Tony was secretly an ogre, had been cheating on El first, realized he was gay, or something else to make their actions more palatable, but nothing ever materialized except that Tony was merely a boring vanilla kind of guy both in personality and bedroom skills. It was also rather annoying to have Tony's name frequently coming up in both discussion and introspection, which made him seem like a ghostly third wheel. Readers who have a strong aversion to any cheating whatsoever may not care for this book, but there were a couple of things that somewhat saved this part of the story for me. One was that Tony and Ella weren't married, though admittedly they were serious enough to make Ella think that they would be soon. The other thing was simply that Shane and El had such an amazing connection, it was sometimes hard for me to remember that Tony was even in the picture. It was pretty obvious that El had latched onto a boyfriend who was a poor fit for her personality merely for his close-knit and entertaining family. It was equally obvious to just about everyone except El that she and Shane belonged together, and if she had realized this a little sooner, she might not have even gotten involved with Tony in the first place. So ultimately, a couple of extenuating circumstances kept this part from being thoroughly distasteful, but it still bothered me enough to knock off a few points for it.
On the other hand, I had to give Night Moves a few extra points for Julie Kenner's creativity particularly in the love play. I thought it was very unique to have the heroine taking a graduate class on Victorian erotic literature. The author actually included citations of and at least one excerpt from real historical erotica, as well as having the hero and heroine read some passages together. While the denouement of the the love scenes was a little rushed and less descriptive than I would have expected from a Blaze novel, all the stuff that led up to them were smokin' hot. Readers who are turned on by the idea of a steamy boudoir-style photo shoot, and a scorching game of Truth or Dare that leads to a sexy striptease by the hero and culminates with a bit of exhibitionist love-making will probably enjoy this book. Those scenes certainly gave me need of a fan and an ice-cold drink. Not to mention, having the blackout as the background provided the perfect ambiance for all of this to happen.
Even though I would have preferred that the conflict not involve a third person, Night Moves had a high enough likability factor for me to mostly enjoy it. After a string of low or no heat reads, I had been looking for something steamier and this book definitely did not disappoint me there. Anyone looking for a quick, hot, sexy read may want to check this one out. Night Moves was my first read by Julie Kenner, but I really liked her writing style and will be looking to read more book by her in the future. This is also the first book in the multi-author Blaze series 24 Hours: Blackout, but from what I can tell there are no carry-over characters between the books in the series, just the common thread of the blackout. There is however, one secondary character in Night Moves, Veronica Archer, El's friend and the professor teaching the erotic literature class, who was the heroine in a previous stand-alone novel by Julie Kenner titled Silent Confessions. This is a pretty minimal connection though, and they can easily be read separately. I'm normally a stickler for reading books in order, and even though I had not read Silent Confessions, I did not feel like I was missing anything.
Note:Night Moves reads very much like an extra-steamy, traditional, contemporary romance, but the inclusion of some light bondage and a couple of instances of exhibitionism give it a borderline erotic feel....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I found The City of Ember to be a very entertaining read that is somewhat difficult to categorize. It is essentialReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I found The City of Ember to be a very entertaining read that is somewhat difficult to categorize. It is essentially part science fiction, part fantasy with healthy doses of adventure, suspense, and mystery thrown in for good measure. It has a rather post-apocalyptic feel to it with a little government conspiracy on the side, although since this is a children's book, it wasn't nearly as dark as most stories of that type. My sense of this theme was confirmed when I read on the author's website that part of her inspiration for the novel was her experiences growing up in the 1950's when many people were concerned about a possible nuclear war and were building bomb shelters just in case. Having grown up in an older house that had a bomb shelter, I could definitely relate. I also thought I detected a bit of an environmental message in the story, mainly fueled by Lina and Doon's fascination with the things of nature, which was also something that Jeanne DuPrau said she hoped would be conveyed in her narrative. Trying to figure out the mystery of what and where Ember is and why it was created was a lot of fun. Some of these details were disclosed by the end of the book and others were not, but Ms. DuPrau stated that the remaining mysteries would be revealed in the next book of the series, The People of Sparks. I also think there was a morality tale embedded in The City of Ember that explored the idea that there is both light and dark inside each one of us, and which we choose to follow can affect not only ourselves but those around us too. There is a bit of a spiritual aspect to the story as well in the form of The Believers who are essentially the religious pulse of Ember. I would have liked to learn a little more about them, and perhaps they will play a bigger role in future books in the series. Ultimately though, I thought that The City of Ember was a tale about hope, courage, determination and selflessness in the face of a crisis.
I really liked the two protagonists, Lina and Doon. They are only twelve years old when the book begins, but not unlike their counterparts in similar stories, they take on semi-adult roles. Lina is a very energetic, determined and strong girl who is a survivor and very responsible for her age, having taken on a lot of the care-giving duties for her baby sister after the deaths of the adults in her life. I think I was particularly taken by Doon, a very curious boy who is fascinated by all thing, both natural and mechanical. He loves to study the few living creatures he can find in Ember, mostly insects, and is equally eager and adept at taking things apart to figure out how they work and putting them back together again. Doon has a bit of a temper problem, but underneath it all he has a good and kind heart. I loved the advice his father gave him, “The trouble with anger is, it gets hold of you. And then you aren't the master of yourself anymore. Anger is..... And when anger is the boss, you get....unintended consequences." I thought it was a great adage for kids and adults alike who might struggle with anger issues. I also think that Doon has an underlying desire to "be somebody" or “do something important,” because he always seems to be waiting for that "big moment" to reveal the things he learns about Ember and admits later that it was probably the wrong thing to do. Maybe he even has a little bit of a hero complex. Overall though, Doon and Lina both were very likable characters. I was impressed with how the author shows them sometimes being tempted to do something that would be unethical, but in the end, they make the right decisions for the good of everyone in Ember and not just themselves.
This book is highly character driven, and Jeanne DuPrau has a talent for vividly describing the sights, sounds and environment of Ember as well as the way certain things make Doon and Lina feel. In fact, I found it interesting (and difficult) to imagine what absolute darkness feels like, since Ember has no light whatsoever during the blackouts and nighttime hours. While the plot of The City of Ember moves steadily forward, the lush portraits the author paints sometimes gives it a rather languid pace. It also starts out a little slow, taking a while to build the action and suspense. I personally like the rich descriptions and am well aware of the challenges in establishing the characters and setting for a fantasy world, so these things didn't really bother me. However, I could see how kids with shorter attention spans might get bored at times. If given a chance though, the story can definitely grab both the adult and child imagination. My daughter was not entirely pleased when I announced The City of Ember as my choice for our next book to read together, but about halfway in she was enjoying it, and by the end, she was begging for the sequel. I too am very eager to read the next book of the series, since The City of Ember did have what I would characterize as a cliffhanger ending. It is followed by The People of Sparks, The Prophet of Yonwood, and The Diamond of Darkhold. For a children's book that is aimed at tweens in the 9-12 year age range, The City of Ember certainly caught my adult attention and in doing so, has earned a spot on my keeper shelf....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I think I must have read a few too many Twilight fan magazines in recent history, because I had somehow gotten theReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I think I must have read a few too many Twilight fan magazines in recent history, because I had somehow gotten the idea that this book was going to be like those periodicals with just a little more depth. What I got definitely had plenty of depth, and certainly was not quite what I was expecting, but in a good way. Twilight: The Complete Illustrated Movie Companion takes the reader on the movie-making journey from start to finish. It begins with the origins of Stephenie Meyer's book of the same name which started it all, as well as the early attempts at writing a script, and continues right on though post-production taking a comprehensive look at each phase of film-making. It was essentially the written version of a “making-of” documentary.
Some of the things in the book were covered either in the behind-the-scenes DVD extras or I had read about them elsewhere, but there was still a lot of new information about all the detail and hard work that went into making the movie, which I thought was very interesting to learn about. For example, I discovered how the set designers decorated each interior set in such a way as to reflect the personality of the characters. The book mentions many little items that were placed in certain rooms which I hadn't noticed when watching the movie and will have to look for the next time I do. I had already known that the weather was a challenge while making the film, but I didn't understand just how much of a challenge it was until I read this book. After learning about some of the things that the actors and crew endured while filming, I think they should be commended for their perseverance. I also got a deeper appreciation for the way the Twilight movie was made. I've gotten the feeling that some people who disliked it may have felt that way (and perhaps unknowingly), because it wasn't heavily laden with CG effects like most blockbuster movies these days are. If I am correct, even on some level, I think that is a shame, because the organic feel of the film is one of the things I really appreciated about it.
Overall, this was a lovely book that I enjoyed reading. I have been a fan of the movie since the first time I saw it, but by reading this book I was still able to cultivate a richer understanding of the challenges the cast and crew faced during the making of Twilight. From the uncooperative weather that was sometimes freezing cold and rainy, to a tight shooting schedule because of an extremely limited budget and work restrictions on Kristen Stuart who was still a minor, I think the movie was far more difficult to produce than it might seem at first glance. In fact, I would challenge those who didn't like the movie to read this book and not come away with at least some appreciation for it, especially after learning the shocking details of the original Twilight movie script that had clumsy Bella as a star athlete and a cheesy action finale involving the FBI. If nothing else, Twilight: The Complete Illustrated Movie Companion is well worth it just for the gorgeous full-color movie stills some of which take up a whole page or even two and the great behind-the scenes photos. I must admit that I'm not a big collector of movie memorabilia, but this book is a keeper that I would definitely call a must-have for all collectors and fans of the Twilight movie....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews As a woman, I know that I am not exactly the target audience for this book, but I decided to read it along with my husband. IReviewed for THC Reviews As a woman, I know that I am not exactly the target audience for this book, but I decided to read it along with my husband. I thought this would be much better than guessing what the book was teaching men, and also open an effective line of communication on the subject. Even though I had read several positive reviews for the book prior to buying it, I was still very surprised by just how good it actually is. She Comes First is without question, the best non-fiction sex guide that I have read to date. It really hits the nail on the head when it comes to helping men understand a woman's body and what makes her tick, and the most amazing thing about that is it was written by a man.
In my opinion, one of the things that make this book work so well is the author's holistic approach to the female mind and body. Mr. Kerner has such a good grasp, not only on a woman's anatomy, but also on how a woman thinks, that I almost felt like he was inside my head while reading the book. The author's genuine care and concern for women resonates loud and clear throughout the book, and he makes a great case for why the woman's pleasure should come first. Any man who can read Mr. Kerner's words and truly take them heart will, in my opinion, have no trouble creating a healthy and fulfilling sexual relationship for both partners. The other thing that sets She Comes First above some other books is that it is a well-thought-out work, which never seems like a cheesy sex manual. I've seen a number of sex books which seem more like porn than realistically helpful instruction books. She Comes First keeps everything very simple and real. Mr. Kerner writes in a very down-to-earth style that is easy to relate to and understand. He does use a lot of literary analogies, which may not be everyone's cup of tea, but the information contained in them is still quite comprehensible even if the reader is not an English major. Also, while many sex books incorporate full-color photos (which is fine sometimes), She Comes First sticks with ordinary line drawings which keep the reader's focus on the substance of the text while enhancing the words with helpful illustrations. In addition, the chapters are very brief (generally only a few pages long), and several of the ones on technique include repetition in the form of quick reviews at the end of the chapter, making it perfect for the ofttimes shorter male attention span.
My husband was certainly willing to read She Comes First, but since he already reads quite a bit about sex and relationships on the internet, I think that he was perhaps a little skeptical that he would learn anything new and more importantly, that it would actually work. Well, I can honestly say that both of us were pleasantly surprised by just how effective the techniques can be. If this book could teach my husband, a normally attentive lover, a few new tricks, I can only imagine what it might do for other men who aren't quite as skilled or considerate. Of course, that's with the caveat that they are open-minded enough to not think they already know it all. In fact, I even learned a few things about my own body of which I wasn't previously aware: Who knew that the clitoris wasn't just the “love button,” but an entire network of eighteen different parts, all of which contribute to experiencing sexual pleasure? I sure didn't.
She Comes First is first and foremost an instruction manual for cunnilingus, as well as an argument for why this is the most effective way to pleasure a woman. Still, there are also chapters on incorporating manual stimulation (a very important complement to cunnilingus), transitioning to intercourse and practical information on safe sex, in addition to parts that touch very briefly on things such as toys, light bondage, and sexual concerns such as premature ejaculation. The first half of the book is primarily about female anatomy, while the second covers step-by-step techniques. I would warn any man who might be tempted to skip the first section to get to the “good stuff”, thinking that they already know these things, to think again. A woman's body is much more complex than it may seem at first glance, as I demonstrated with my earlier comment about the clitoris. If there are things that I didn't even know before reading this book, then it's pretty unlikely that men would either, and truly understanding the female body and all of its inner workings is key to being able to effectively pleasure it.
Overall, She Comes First is a book that I would highly recommend to both men and women. Any man who wants to have a happy, healthy sex life and truly know what a woman wants should definitely be reading this book. Women should also do themselves a favor by encouraging their lover to read it, or at the very least, leave it lying around where it can be easily found. She Comes First has definitely earned a permanent spot on my bedroom shelf, and I am eagerly looking forward to reading the companion book, Passionista (the retitled release of He Comes Next). Ian Kerner is also a regular contributor to several magazines and newspapers as well as making appearances on various television programs such as The Today Show. Now that I know his philosophies definitely match my own, I'll certainly be looking up his articles and interviews as well. All I can say it that if Mr. Kerner makes a habit of practicing what he preaches at home, his wife is one lucky lady.;-)...more
Reviewed for THC Reviews In Santa Paws, Nicholas Edwards (which is actually a pseudonym for Ellen Emerson White) has created an absolutely charming talReviewed for THC Reviews In Santa Paws, Nicholas Edwards (which is actually a pseudonym for Ellen Emerson White) has created an absolutely charming tale of a small homeless puppy who goes around town, saving lives, helping people in need, and spreading Christmas cheer during the holiday season. I loved how the puppy is still able to give love and help the townspeople to feel better, even though he is so very lonely himself after getting lost from his canine family. I found this to be a great object lesson for humans in that if we can rise above our own hurts and find the love in our hearts to help others, it might just make us feel better too, not to mention it was a great example of the real meaning of Christmas.
I would say that at least half of the book is written from the dog's point of view, which I thought was very unique and clever. In my opinion, Ms. White did an excellent job of describing how a dog might think and feel. Rather than simply anthropomorphizing the dog as many author would, she managed to created some realistic actions and thought processes, with him relying on instincts a lot. Sometimes he would have a one track mind about something and others he would entirely forget what his original objective was when something fun and distracting came along. Overall, I was just really impressed with how the author managed to get into the mind of a dog, and make me, on some level, feel what a dog might feel. As I read Santa Paws, I was reminded a great deal of the old Lassie movies and TV shows of which I was a huge fan when I was a kid. Of course, in my experience, dogs who are that smart are few and far between, but they do certainly exist.
Santa Paws was just a very sweet and enjoyable tale that is sure to warm the heart during the holiday season or any time of the year. I highly recommend it for all animal lovers, and for family reading time. Even though the book is geared towards kids, my adult mind was engaged as well. It is the first book in the Santa Paws series. Nicholas Edwards created the series and authored the first six books, but there are others that were written later by Kris Edwards, who is no relation. I'm not sure of the entire story behind the change in authors, but it is my understanding that Ellen Emerson White did not approve of or officially sanction these later Santa Paws books. In any case, I loved this one so much, I am greatly looking forward to reading the other book in the series, at least those authored by Ms. White as Nicholas Edwards....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" Making Waves by Donna Kauffman – I can't say that I'm terribly enthusiastic about boats and/or sailing, so for thReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" Making Waves by Donna Kauffman – I can't say that I'm terribly enthusiastic about boats and/or sailing, so for that reason alone Making Waves didn't fully resonate with me. I've never seen a yacht up close, so I have no idea what one looks like, especially inside. Unfortunately the author's descriptions left something to be desired on that count, making it difficult for me to imagine the setting. I also thought that her balance between dialog and prose was off kilter, and sometimes both were a bit too verbose. There were some long passages of introspective narration that made the story drag for me, and there were equally long sections of dialog, most of which didn't add much to the plot or characterizations. Some also took place during moments of passion, and I've never really cared much for chatty love scenes. As for the love scenes themselves, they could have been smokin' hot if they had just flowed better. Even setting aside Burke and Kamala's talkativeness, the way they were written was a little too choppy and metaphorical, causing me to have to re-read certain parts just to figure out where they were in the love-making process. I also didn't find their bluntness about their desire for one another to be a particular turn-on. I just favor having a little mystery surrounding the protagonists feelings while still keeping it honest. I was rather ambivalent about Burke and Kam as the hero and heroine. I like alphas, but Burke seemed to be more the cocky playboy type who thinks he can have any woman he wants, which wasn't really to my taste. Even though I was a little skeptical of Burke's “cure” for motion sickness, I did think it was rather sweet that he made the effort to help Kam overcome it. If nothing else, I thought I might like the inter-ethnic aspect of their romance, since Kam is Hawaiian, but she wasn't really a stand-out heroine for me. I admired that she was a woman who had worked hard to become a great chef and wasn't allowing her overbearing family to run her life, but seemingly contrary to her personality, she had quit a job where she was being sexually harassed by her boss and never tried to do anything about it legally. I thought her reasoning for that was weak, and what was even more confusing to me is that since she had no sailing experience, she wore skimpy clothes to meet Burke just in case she needed to use her looks to get the job. Also, the moment she set foot on Burke's boat, she almost immediately allowed him to start groping her, but I guess maybe that's supposed to be OK if you're attracted to the guy. Regrettably this turned out to be another one of the instant lust tales that I'm rapidly tiring of these days, with Burke and Kamala literally tearing each other's clothes off within less than an hour of meeting, and I can't say that I ever felt much of an emotional connection between them. Also, as with some of the other novellas in this anthology, the Christmas theme is something of an afterthought. Making Waves is the fourth story in the Men of Rogues Hollow series. While I rarely ever read series books out of order, I made an exception with this one, because I was eager to wrap-up the anthology. Burke had been mentioned in passing in the first novella, Baby It's Cold Outside (from the Jingle Bell Rock anthology), but since I haven't read the second and third stories, Exposed (from the Bad Boys Next Exit anthology) and Catch Me if You Can respectively, I don't know if he was a part of either one. Burke's three brothers and their heroines from those stories are briefly mentioned in Making Waves with little where-are-they-now updates. In my opinion, Making Waves stood pretty well on it's own, but I had too many issues with it to truly enjoy it. After two so-so reads in a row from Donna Kauffman, I probably won't be in any hurry to complete the series. Rating: **1/2
Let It Snow by Nancy Warren – I've never really been much of a fan of the love/hate relationship in romances, but if the story is long enough to develop the characters and their connection to one another, I can usually buy into their burgeoning love. Let It Snow relies heavily on the love/hate scenario, with weather girl Marisa thinking that her camera man, Rob hates her because he barely ever looks at her or even speaks to her. Of course, Rob is just hiding a case of the hots for a woman he doesn't want to like, because she's his exact opposite. Unfortunately, I found Let It Snow to be too short to develop the characters and plot sufficiently to make their rapid turn-around believable. Another large part of the story had to do with Rob and Marisa getting stranded for hours on the roof of their high-rise office building in a snowstorm, which I thought lacked credibility as well. They were supposedly doing a live video feed for the evening news, so one would think that someone who had been working on that broadcast would have noticed them being missing much sooner. Also, in this technological day and age, it seems likely that one of them would have been carrying a cell phone. While I guess neither scenario is impossible, they were improbable enough to give me pause. In addition, the love scenes lacked the heat of some of the other novellas in this anthology. In my opinion, there just wasn't enough build-up of sexual tension to create the necessary steam. The Christmas theme was really just a token as well, with the events merely occurring on Christmas Eve. Overall, Let It Snow wasn't a terrible story, but it wasn't a great one either. This was my first read by Nancy Warren, but since it seems this may not be the best example of her work, I'll reserve my full opinion on her writing style until I've had the chance to check out more of her books. Rating: ***
You, Actually by Erin McCarthy – The stories in this anthology are so short that I went into reading it with the attitude that they would probably be OK reads, but I wasn't really expecting anything spectacular. Well, Erin McCarthy quickly disabused me of that notion with her novella, You, Actually, that has become the first short story to which I have ever awarded 5-star keeper status. I absolutely loved this little gem about two best friends who are finally able to reveal their long-held feelings for one another and share the best Christmas present of all. Ms. McCarthy definitely has a knack for creating a beautiful love scene. A fur throw “under” the Christmas tree, jingle-bell panties (cute), and a sexy game of Twister all made for a story that was incredibly steamy and sensual, but was infused with just the right amount of tender emotion and light humor to also make it sweet. I loved Josh and Cassidy's Christmas Eve tradition of watching It's a Wonderful Life, which is one of my own traditions. There was just enough back-story given on Josh and Cassidy for me to feel a connection to them, and although I liked the characters so well, I could have read a full-length novel about them, I didn't come away from the story feeling like it was too short. All in all, You, Actually was a perfect first read for me by Erin McCarthy, and if she writes like this all the time, I can't wait to dive into her back-list. Rating: *****
Undercover Claus by MaryJanice Davidson – I am sorry to say that I did not find Undercover Claus to be particularly romantic at all. The two protagonists fall into bed within just a couple of days of meeting and are proposing to each other a couple of days after that without any real build-up of sexual tension or emotional connection of any kind. So far, the other novellas in this anthology have been sizzling hot, and at least had that going for them even if the plot was so-so, but the one and only love scene in Undercover Claus completely fizzled. The details are pretty sparse and what little the author does describe, was not sexy to me at all. The heroine, Corinne, was not really to my liking either. She is a tough, no-nonsense, straight-taking, foul-mouthed cop with no vulnerability that I could identify. I don't mind a strong, kick-butt heroine as long as she has a softer side, but Corrine was just too abrasive for my taste. I honestly couldn't figure out what the hero, Grant, even liked about her, unless he is a masochist who enjoys being spoken to rudely and insultingly on a regular basis. The purse-snatcher mystery plot was a bust for me too, and ended up being pretty silly, and the character's cliched back-stories were equally ridiculous. The only thing I can really say I liked about the entire novella was Grant, a sweet, sexy, rich Brit who seemed to genuinely want to help people. I wouldn't mind having a guy like him around, but since he seems to be attracted to uber-alpha women like Corinne, I don't think I'd qualify.;-) There is a major continuity error between the cover blurb which gives the hero's name as Tony Danielson and the actual story in which he is named Grant Daniels, and I can't say that Corinne ever mistook him for the purse-snatcher at any point in the plot like the blurb says either. The writing was decent and more readable that some stories I've tried, but I just don't think that Ms. Davidson's style is for me, especially if she writes like this all the time. The bottom line: readers who enjoy smart-mouthed, snappy dialog, alpha heroines, and don't mind the lack of an emotional connection may find some enjoyment in this one, but Undercover Claus just didn't pass muster for me. Rating: **1/2
Silver Bella by Lucy Monroe – This 52-page story was readable enough, but unfortunately was far too short to be satisfying for me. The hero and heroine were not nearly as developed as I would have liked to see. Their connection both to each other and to me, as the reader, was minimal at best, so I couldn't really say whether I liked or disliked either one. I can say that the hero, Jake, seemed a little too cocky for my taste, although if I'd had more to go off of, I might have felt differently. I thought the heroine, Bella, had potential, and I was initially intrigued by her virginal status that was at odds with her bad-girl public image. The main problem I had though was that Bella said she had been waiting for a serious commitment from a man who liked her for more than just her body, then she gave it up to Jake who initially offered no commitment nor seemed to have any attraction to her other than a physical one. By the end, it becomes clear that the relationship is being played as love-at-first-sight, which isn't my favorite plot device anyway, but I never really felt a deep connection between Jake and Bella that went beyond lust. Also the Christmas theme was a relatively minor part of the story. Overall, Silver Bella was an OK read, but not up to par with my first Lucy Monroe novel that I recently read. Silver Bella is the first story in the Mercenary series (a prequel of sorts), and I believe that Jake and Bella appear in Ready, the first full-length novel of that series. Although they did not have any actual part in Silver Bella, there is mention of Bella's brother, Joshua and Jake's sister, Lise, who are the hero and heroine of Ready. Also, there was a brief mention of Daisy, Bella's sister, who becomes the heroine of Carter's story in the 3 Brides for 3 Bad Boys anthology. Even though this novella didn't knock my socks off, I still look forward to continuing the Mercenary series soon. Rating: ***
Snow Day by Susanna Carr – This was another sweet, sexy tale about two friends becoming lovers, but in my opinion, it wasn't as good as the Erin McCarthy story in this anthology with the same theme. I felt that the author left a lot of questions about Tyler and Karen's backgrounds. There was an implication that Karen's family were not very nice people, who had left her with a bad reputation to overcome in their small community, as well as a feeling of being an outsider, but these things are never really explained. I also would have liked to have known about how Tyler and Karen became friends. There was never any explanation of this at all, nor whether they had shared any deeper bond than that of casual friends in a small town where everyone knows everyone else. In addition, I didn't really get a particularly favorable impression of their other friends, most of whom didn't seem to like Karen at all or have anything better to do than be nosy and gossip about her. It was pretty much a case of “everybody hates Karen” with no reasons given as to why. In spite of the plot weaknesses though, I would have to say that Snow Day was a pretty enjoyable read for me, since it embodied one of my favorite themes. It was my first read by Susanna Carr, but it was good enough to leave me open to possibly reading more of her works in the future. Rating: ****...more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Oh my goodness! Devil Takes a Bride is one of the best books I've read in quite some time. Gaelen Foley has done it again, witReviewed for THC Reviews Oh my goodness! Devil Takes a Bride is one of the best books I've read in quite some time. Gaelen Foley has done it again, with yet another engrossing installment in the Knight Miscellany series. Devil Takes a Bride has now become my favorite book in the series to date, and that's no easy task since all of them have rated 4-5 stars for me. Ms. Foley is masterful at painting word pictures that make me feel like I'm right there and part of the story. It was much like watching a movie playing out in my head, complete with slow-motion action scenes. I think she is able to make me see all of these things so vividly in my mind's eye, because of the richness in her characterizations and the detailed descriptions of the settings and actions, and I definitely consider her to be an incredibly talented author to do this. Devil Takes a Bride is a near-perfect novel with thoroughly likable main characters, dastardly villains, suspense, sweet and sensuous romance, and an action-packed ending, and to top it all off, everything flowed together with the smoothness of an ocean current. I didn't find a single plot hole, and if there were any to be found, I was simply too absorbed in this amazing story to notice. The best thing about it was that there was nary a misunderstanding or TSTL moment to be found. Devlin and Lizzie are both described as having above average intelligence, and they both actually put their brains to good use. There were a number of times that danger, problems or mysteries arose in which a weaker author probably would have taken the easy way out by allowing the characters to be clueless and act stupidly in spite of their intelligence, but every time, Dev and Lizzie always put two and two together to figure things out and make good solid choices. I cannot tell you how utterly refreshing this is, and it made me respect both the characters and the author a whole lot more.
For me, Devlin was the epitome of the romantic hero. He is described as having long dark hair, a tanned and well-muscled body, and he even sports a piratical gold earring. Dev is the perfect blend of proper English gentleman and exotic savage gained from his years of adventuring around the globe. Outwardly, he is charming and intelligent, but within his gorgeous body, he harbors a dark tormented soul and an unquenchable thirst for revenge borne from the tragic murder of his family twelve years earlier. He has vowed never to love again, because all he knows of love is the pain of loss. Still, Devlin can't help but care, if somewhat reluctantly, for his aged Aunt Augusta who was his lifeline after his parents deaths, for his valet and best friend, Ben, and most of all for Lizzie. He sees in Lizzie a kindred spirit who understands him in a way no one else does except Aunt Augusta and Ben. Devlin is, without a doubt, a thoroughly masculine alpha male, but he isn't afraid to exhibit just enough vulnerability to also make him thoroughly human, which is a combination I can never resist.
I relate to Lizzie so much, because she is a lot like me, with a just little less fear and a little more spunk. I adored her all throughout the first four books when she was just a shy, bookish companion to Jacinda Knight, but in Devil Takes a Bride, Lizzie definitely comes into her own. She has always been rather invisible, caught between two classes and never really belonging to either, but in this book she earns all the love and attention she so richly deserves. What's even better is that Dev (and Alec) realized how much she merited her moment in the spotlight every bit as much as I did. I have to say that in those earlier books in the series, I had really liked Lizzie with Alec. In my opinion, they made a great couple, and I thought that for sure they would end up together eventually. I was rather sad when Alec hurt Lizzie so badly at the end of book #4, but Dev turned out to be far more than just a consolation prize. Until reading her book, I don't think I would have guessed the kind of passionate spirit Lizzie had within her. Alec's thoughtlessness had nearly jaded her completely toward men, and the determined bluestocking had decided to make it on her own for the rest of her life, until Dev came along to stir up her emotions again. Lizzie is simply a wonderful combination of gentility and tenderness toward anyone who needs it, intuitiveness and intense passion toward the man she loves, and ardent fortitude toward the world at large, making her one of the most perfect heroines I have ever read.
The secondary cast was equally as well-developed as Dev and Lizzie. Since Alec and Lizzie had unfinished business, so to speak, I was not at all surprised to see him resurface in Devil Takes a Bride, being his usual charming self, except now with a jealous streak added, after he realized what a huge mistake he'd made. I adored Aunt Augusta, a bit of a bluestocking in her own right, who was tough-minded enough to have made her way in life quite nicely after the death of her husband, and yet still thought the sun rose and shone with her much-favored nephew, Devlin. Even though she thought she had failed in guiding him through his grief, she actually did far more for him that she may have known. I only wish she could have had more scenes. Ben was also a wonderful characters, and I was very impressed with the author's choice to place a freed American slave not only in the position of Dev's trusted valet, but his most treasured friend as well. She even gave a hint of a blossoming interracial romance for him by the end of the book. Mary Harris was another strong female character whose courageous actions saved lives on more than one occasion. She was much like Lizzie in that she was tender-hearted enough to raise a child who wasn't biologically hers for twelve years, yet spunky enough to take on the bad guys almost single-handedly. The young girls, Sorscha and Daisy brought innocence and light to the story, and Aunt Augusta's spoiled cat, Pascha, was a hoot. Even the trio of dastardly villains, while certainly not likable, were rather intriguing in their own way. Each had very different personalities which blended seamlessly into the motives for their evil deeds.
Devil Takes a Bride is quite simply one of the best romance novels I have ever read, with all the elements there to make it great. There are many marvelous scenes in the book such as Dev and Lizzie's first sensual interaction which was filled with tenderness and a deep trusting intimacy that was a joy to read, or Dev finally coming to terms with his parent's deaths which was heartbreakingly cathartic. I can't really say that Gaelen Foley is known for her humor, but there was even a pretty good dose of that in this book. I'm not usually a fan of love triangles, but Ms. Foley managed to make one that was so endearing, I couldn't help but like it. Devlin and Alec's antics in vying for Lizzie's affections brought tears of mirth to my eyes. There was also a scene in which Devlin kidnaps Lizzie that was equal parts wry humor and dark sensuality, a heady combination. The only small issue I had with the book is a long passage of dialog that comes right before the consummation of Dev and Lizzie relationship, where Dev confesses his true involvement with the villains and the whole story of his family's deaths to Lizzie. I thought that the passage was equally as well-written as the rest of the book and the placement made sense, as the couple's long drive to the countryside was a perfect opportunity for conversation, yet it still seemed to interrupt the sexual tension of the moment. Overall though, this was a very minor thing in an otherwise wonderful story. Devil Takes a Bride is the fifth book in the Knight Miscellany series, and all the Knight siblings, their spouses and families put in an appearance, with the exception of the still errant Jack. Jacinda and Billy (Lady of Desire) and of course, Alec (One Night of Sin) actually have secondary roles, but none of the others have any dialog except for a very brief conversation between Lucien and Alec in the epilogue. Devil Takes a Bride was a well-rounded, engaging read that I cannot recommend highly enough, and one which I had an extremely difficult time putting down. Gaelen Foley is one of the most consistently good romance authors that I have found to date, and I'm eagerly looking forward to continuing this series, and reading about Alec's HEA very soon....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" It is always such a joy to me when a random book buy turns out to be a fabulous read. I picked up Two Suns in theReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" It is always such a joy to me when a random book buy turns out to be a fabulous read. I picked up Two Suns in the Sky at the library book sale for only fifty cents, but had I known how good it was going to be, I would have been happy to pay full-price. This young adult novel is a combination of historical fiction and historical romance. It is written in such a way that I believe teenagers could easily understand and relate to it, but it is full of the mysteries and complexities of life which I, as an adult, can appreciate as well. The narrative is written in first person point of view, alternating back and forth between the two protagonists, which I found to be very unique. I wasn't sure that I was going to like that at first, and it did take me a little while to get used to it. Ultimately though, I thought the author did a great job with not only the first person perspective itself, but also with differentiating between the two characters and giving them each their own distinctive voice. It took a little while for the character development to build. However, once I came into a full understanding of the two main characters, the story really hit its stride for me, and I had a hard time putting it down.
The historical aspect centers around the one and only refugee camp that operated on American soil during World War II. Located at Fort Ontario, Oswego, New York, it housed 1,000 European refugees, primarily Jews, for about 1½ years. I thought that the author really brought to life this overlooked snippet of American history by showing what it was like living on both sides of the fence. For those living inside the camp there were some, usually the older residents, who had difficulty adapting and felt like virtual prisoners, while the young people (children and teens) loved this new country and embraced the ability to attend school and just be normal kids without the worries of war hanging over their heads. There was a dichotomous state of mind for those living outside the camp as well, with many Oswego residents welcoming the new-comers with open arms, while others, of which Chris's father was one, exhibited a bigoted attitude of fear and suspicion,. It was very difficult for me to read these parts of the story, as I don't think I will ever fully understand the mindset of a prejudiced person. Still I thought it rather ingenious the way the author rendered Chris's father as a rather conflicted man who was not an inherently bad person, just one who made bad choices but was still loved by his family in spite of his flaws. I also liked how the independent-minded Chris pointed out (though silently to herself) in one passage, just how ridiculous and un-Christian-like her father's views were. In addition to capturing the differing opinions of the characters, Miriam Bat-Ami also presented a historically accurate picture of these events. In her notes at the end of the book, she seems to indicate that information on the Emergency Refugee Shelter is not easy to come by, but through extensive research and interviews with actual residents of both the ERS and Oswego during that time period, she has been able to recreate this moment in history. In fact, the two main characters are based in part on real-life people that she met. Each chapter begins with a quote which in most cases came directly from one of the interviewees, making the story all the more authentic.
The romance aspect of the book is all about the forbidden love shared by two teens, Chris, an American Irish Catholic girl and Adam, a Yugoslavian Jewish boy. I related to both characters quite well. Chris is a girl with an adventurous spirit, dreaming of joining the WACs to help in the war effort. She also has an incredible curiosity about and compassion for other people. Chris seems to want nothing more than to travel the globe and learn about other cultures, so when the refugees arrive in her home-town, she, not surprisingly, is right there in the thick of things, making new friends and fitting right in with these new kids. Adam is a boy who has experienced far more pain, hardship and horror than anyone his age should ever have to. Coming to America gives him a sense of freedom, and he wants nothing more than to start a new life in a country that he hopes will soon adopt him as a citizen. There is an instant attraction between Adam and Chris when Chris generously loans her bicycle to Adam's little sister on their first day in the refugee camp. Their relationship is slow building though, with them first becoming friends through school and the occasions that Chris sneaks into the camp to visit, not only Adam, but other friends she has made there. In spite of initially just being friends, they both often dream of kissing each other, and once they do become boyfriend and girlfriend, theirs is a romance filled with all the tenderness and sweet innocence of first love. As the relationship progresses though, it becomes rather bittersweet as Chris must constantly battle against her father's bigotry and the feeling that she is doing something wrong just by seeing Adam, and both must deal with the reality that at some point Adam is going to leave the camp, whether it be to become an American citizen living elsewhere or to go back to his home country. In the meantime they try to enjoy their stolen moments together to the fullest. At times they would make what in my opinion, was a very mature decision to stay away from each other, either in deference to Chris's father's edicts or to minimize the pain of the separation that seemed inevitable, but no matter how long they were apart, they never stopped loving one another. In some ways, I felt that it just made their feelings for one another grow stronger.
As a parent, I am always on the look-out for quality books that are not just entertaining, but also teach something while being age-appropriate, and I think that Two Suns in the Sky fits that bill nicely. If I, as an adult, learned something about history from this book, then teens most certainly will as well. I also thought that it had some good lessons in compassion for others and standing up for what you believe in. Content-wise, I thought the book is quite appropriate for the teens at which it is aimed. I only recall one or two mild profanities. Chris's dad and uncles drink beer on Thanksgiving, and Adam mentions being allowed to have a sip of brandy on the Sabbath. As I mentioned earlier, Chris and Adam's relationship is very innocent. Except for one scene they share nothing more than kisses, some sweet and others a bit more heated. On that one occasion, they engage in a small amount of moderate petting, but in my opinion, it is handled very well. At that point, both characters were feeling extremely vulnerable, which certainly could have led to things getting out of hand, but they both made a conscious and responsible decision to stop. Although the story contains some mature thematic elements such as body development and image, the death of loved ones, and the various horrors that are associated with war, I thought that everything was treated in a pretty matter-of-fact way and nothing was described in explicit details. Chris does disobey her father on several occasions by visiting the camp against his wishes, but I was not bothered by that because it is abundantly clear that her father is being unreasonable. If he had not been prejudiced and had invited Adam into their home, there would have been no need for Chris to sneak around. Chris's father does say some rather harsh things at times and meets out a very severe punishment to Chris on one occasion, all of which was difficult to read but can also teach lessons on the stark realities of life. Young or not, readers who are averse to overt depictions of religion may not care for this book, as both of the protagonist's religious backgrounds play a strong role, particularly Chris's Catholic faith. I personally was impressed with the care the Jewish author took in describing Catholicism, and anyone who is open-minded and interested in a love-overcomes-all, inter-ethnic romance which is blind to religion, should really enjoy it.
As a romance, Two Suns in the Sky has a rather ambiguous ending, not bad or sad, just no concrete answers about what the future holds for Chris and Adam. They were still young though, and their love for each other was so strong and passionate, it is easy for me to imagine them eventually riding off into the sunset of the fictional happily-ever-after. As a connoisseur of romances, I normally need a strong HEA to be fully satisfied when finishing a book with romance in it, but in this case, I was able to overlook it because of the strong historical element, which I believe was meant to be the main focus. The author makes a comment in her notes at the end about Two Suns in the Sky being her contribution to preserving the memory of the ERS camp, and in that capacity, I think she excelled beautifully. Not only did I learn things that I previously did not know, but I turned the final page only to discover a hunger to learn more. I was compelled to look up the works Ms. Bat-Ami cited in her notes, and have already put one of the books on my TBR list for just that purpose. In my opinion, one of the characteristics of a truly good author is the ability to both teach and stir up the innate desire for learning. I also had never read any books set in WWII before, but now I plan to look for more. I highly recommend this book for anyone who likes a good romantic story, both young and old alike. For me, discovering Two Suns in the Sky was like finding a bit of buried treasure that now forever has a home on my keeper shelf to hopefully be shared with my children and re-read many times over the years to come....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews & LibraryThing "4.5 stars" I received an ARC copy of this book for review from LibraryThing. Even though I am very familiaReviewed for THC Reviews & LibraryThing "4.5 stars" I received an ARC copy of this book for review from LibraryThing. Even though I am very familiar with many children's books, before seeing it there, I had never heard of the Rip Squeak book series. After doing a bit of research, I discovered that the series has been around for over a decade. It began as a series of paintings created by Leonard Filgate, and then morphed into a franchise of children's books, artwork and even a chain of five galleries in California and Hawaii.
This book, Find the Magic, takes the core characters of the series, Rip Squeak, Jesse, Abbey, and Euripides on a little boredom-busting outing to a local book store, where they discover all the adventures awaiting them inside the pages of the books. The illustrations in this book are stunningly beautiful. I was immediately enchanted by them, and could hardly draw my eyes away from them to read the text, so I can't imagine that any child would not be captivated by them as well. In some ways, the story itself almost seemed too simplistic for the pictures, but I can't really complain about a tale that encourages children to read. Although the story is certainly fine as a stand-alone, I couldn't help feeling that I was missing something by not having read the other books in the series, but that may just be my perception since I'm very particular about reading series in order. I'm sure kids probably wouldn't mind or even notice the difference. Otherwise, this is a lovely book that I would recommend to parents and educators alike. It is great for read-aloud or independent reading, but would probably be of most interest to children in the 5-8 years age range. The books in the series that precede this one are Rip Squeak and His Friends, The Treasure, and The Adventure, all of which were written and illustrated by the original creators, Leonard Filgate and Susan Yost-Filgate. Since I haven't read these earlier books, I cannot say how they compare to Find the Magic, but the new books are officially sanctioned by the creators. Book #5 in the picture book series, Surprise Party, is due to be released this Spring, and there is also a series of Rip Squeak board books for younger children. I just may have to seek out the remaining books in the series, if for no other reason than to gawk at the beautiful artwork....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I love fairly tales, and Touched by Fire was a novel with a sweet fairy tale quality to it. The hero, Colin, has dReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I love fairly tales, and Touched by Fire was a novel with a sweet fairy tale quality to it. The hero, Colin, has dreamed of being a DragonSlayer since he was a mere boy, and the heroine, Sarah, has been dreaming of a “gallant knight” with sherry-colored eyes who would come whisk her away from her loneliness and love her for who she is. Colin and Sarah had a magical first meeting and an instant attraction, which is something I usually don't care for much, but it really worked for me here. I think my liking of it was partially due to the enchanted atmosphere, but mainly because although they may have been instantly in lust with one another, they took the time to build a relationship instead of heading straight for the bedroom. I love the way that Colin and Sarah were always looking deeply into each other's eyes. I thought it was very romantic and helped to build that magical attraction even more. It also became a primary mode of communication between them. Sometimes it was difficult for them to communicate verbally, especially Colin, but their eyes always spoke volumes to each other. Both Colin and Sarah tend to hold back quite a bit, especially early on, because neither one really feels worthy of the other. I usually prefer for one character to be a bit more overt and persistent, and Sarah finally started actively pursuing Colin about a third of the way into the book but still doubted herself at times. It was definitely a difficult, uphill battle for her, but one that was well worth the fight.
Colin's biological father was a notorious and violent highwayman who had raped his mother. The old earl had claimed Colin as his son to preserve some dignity for his wife and spare her further disgrace, but he despised Colin and made sure that he knew his real parentage by constantly telling him that he carried the same evil that was in his father. Having had these lies drilled into him from the time he was just a boy and seeing the fear and grief that his mother suffered, left Colin fearful of himself and determined that he should never marry or have children. In fact, he had spent the better part of the last ten years as a soldier and spy in the Peninsular War, in hopes that he might die a hero's death and end his bloodlines. Now he is back in England and being forced to marry to save the beloved orphanage of which he is the patron, and that he felt was the only way to redeem himself. I really liked Colin's hobby of studying dragon lore, and how the dragons became a metaphor not only for the physical dangers in his life, but also for his emotional demons. Initially, I thought that Colin was a beta, because he is such a sensitive and wounded individual who truly believes that he will hurt the woman that he marries. As I read further though, I could definitely see alpha tendencies as well in his extreme protectiveness of Sarah and others. He was willing to sacrifice himself to save the orphanage, and didn't hesitate to rescue a young girl who had been sold into prostitution. He also has the heart of a lion and the courage of a warrior to have put himself on the line as a soldier. It takes Colin a long time to realize the truth and understand that his fears of propagating evil are unfounded, but when he finally does it's a beautiful thing.
Sarah is the daughter of a gambling hell owner who has her own share of demons to battle. She is a wealthy woman, but has lived with the censure of society all her life because of who she is. All she has ever wanted is be a part of the glittering social set, but girls like her don't get invited to balls and parties. After her father died, Sarah became very lonely, but the only men who come to call on her are nothing but fortune hunters. She dreams of a man who will simply love her for herself. When Sarah meets Colin she is convinced that she has found that man, but when Colin seemingly rejects her at every turn or sends her mixed messages, Sarah doesn't know what to think. She spends quite a bit of time going back and forth between thinking she isn't good enough for him but not being able to stop dreaming about him. Sarah sees something in Colin's eyes and actions that tell her there is more to him than he lets others see and that he truly does care for her. The one thing that Sarah's father, the consummate gambler, had taught her was that a Banks never looses, so she finally sets out on a determined quest to win his heart.
I loved that Colin and Sarah were both virginal characters, a rarity in romance. Their first love scene was far from idealistic, but it was realistic considering that both of them were very inexperienced. Colin also allowed his fear of himself to get in the way, causing him to make a highly unusual and unromantic request of Sarah which made the scene all the more uncommon. However, the experience changed Colin's whole outlook on life, and made him absolutely determined to pleasure Sarah the next time, and him taking the time to learn what he needed to know was quite romantic as were their remaining love scenes together. Another thing I thoroughly enjoyed about the story was Colin's butler, Giles, who was more of a father to him than a mere servant. It was hilarious how he was trying to covertly play matchmaker, and then coerced Sarah's funny little maid, Iris, to get into the act as well. Giles was probably the most well-rendered secondary servant character I've read since George Kemball from Liz Carlyle's books.
I honestly didn't realize until about halfway through the book that Touched by Fire was essentially Kathleen O'Reilly's debut novel (she had previously authored only one short story in a Harlequin Duet that was released one month earlier), and in my opinion, it was a very worthy early effort. There were a few minor things here and there such as wording and transitions that showed a bit of greenness but nothing that really detracted from my overall enjoyment. Ms O'Reilly has a very subtly emotional writing style that seems to speak volumes. It moves a little slowly in places, and I can see how it might not be for everyone, but her writing really pulled me into the story and wouldn't let go. It was rather like watching a richly drawn dramatic indie movie, punctuated with moments of humor and levity. Touched by Fire was my first read by Kathleen O'Reilly, but I enjoyed it so much, it earned a spot on my keeper shelf. I'm a little disappointed to say that it is her only historical romance to date, but in spite of that, I'm eagerly looking forward to diving into her contemporary backlist soon....more