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Reviewed for THC Reviews The Trouble with Angels is the second book in Debbie Macomber’s Angels Everywhere series that follows the exploits of Shirley,Reviewed for THC Reviews The Trouble with Angels is the second book in Debbie Macomber’s Angels Everywhere series that follows the exploits of Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy, a trio of prayer ambassador angel friends who have a penchant for getting into trouble. In this one, their boss, the archangel, Gabriel, is reluctant to send them to Earth to help humans because of all the mischief they caused the previous Christmas, but he’s overruled by a higher power. Each of the three angels are sent to help three different people for whom many prayers are being said, but they occasionally try to help each other with their respective assignments as well. This time around, they’re a little more grounded than before, trying their best to stay out of trouble, but they do still engineer a few events that they fear Gabriel might frown upon. In the end, though, all is well, and since there are more books in the series, I’m sure they’ll be back for more high-jinks and heartfelt assistance in the next volume.
Shirley, the oldest and most experienced angel, is sent to help Maureen, a woman who is so mired in hatred and resentment for her ex-husband, it’s causing stress in both hers and her daughter, Karen’s lives. Karen wants more than anything to get a horse for Christmas. Knowing that isn’t feasible, Maureen brushes off her daughter’s Christmas wish, until Shirley works a little angelic magic to gently drive Maureen toward the compromise of Karen getting riding lessons instead. It just so happens that Thom, the owner of the stable, is a widower whose daughter, Paula, is the same age as Karen. The two girls hit if off and become instant best friends. Thom is also instantly attracted to Maureen and begins pursuing her almost immediately. Of course, Maureen is slow to warm up because of what her ex put her through which has soured her on men in general. Thom is maybe just a teensy bit too pushy in the beginning, but I grew to like him as their part of the story progressed. He’s a great influence on Maureen, encouraging her to forgive her ex in order to relieve some of the bad feelings that are causing Karen to have terrible nightmares. He also has a gentle and supportive side that is very much unlike Maureen’s ex, and despite my slight misgiving early on, Thom ended up being my favorite of the male leads in the book.
Goodness is tasked with helping Paul, a minister whose faith has been wavering ever since his wife died two years earlier. Now he’s being drawn into the life of one of his congregants, who is facing losing his own wife to the same form of cancer that took Paul’s. This sends Paul into a downward spiral of depression as he tries to balance his ministerial responsibilities with taking care of his own emotional health. He’s also looking forward to spending Christmas with his son, Joe, but Joe comes home with a surprise fiancée in tow and the announcement that they’ll be spending the holiday with her family instead. Paul is a man at loose ends with whom I could relate. After going through something as traumatic as losing a spouse to cancer, he’s understandably feeling betrayed by God, and then having to watch yet another woman succumb to the same disease is devastating for him. This part of the story was by far the darkest one, and at times, came close to being a tearjerker of a read for me. The reader can palpably feel the heaviness on Paul’s heart. He eventually receives a message that gives him the closure he so desperately needs, but it doesn’t come until the very end. This is also the only one of the three story lines that doesn’t really contain a romance.
Last but not least, Mercy is sent to help Ted, whose grandmother, Catherine, has been praying that he’ll find the right woman for him. Everyone, including Mercy, seems to think that the perfect person is Joy, the resident service director at Catherine’s assisted living facility. The only problem is that Ted is already involved with Blythe, a co-worker who it seems he’s close to proposing to. However, one “arranged date” with Joy reminds Ted of all the things he doesn’t like about Blythe and proves to him that Joy is the better choice for him. But Joy is reluctant to get more deeply involved with Ted when he was so recently close to getting engaged to Blythe. She thinks it’s just Ted having cold feet about making a commitment. Ted is pretty sure that isn’t the case, but Blythe may still hold sway over him in an unexpected way. Although it wasn’t perfect, this was probably my favorite of the three sub-plots because it’s the closest to a traditional romance. However, the characters gave me cause to question their actions a couple of times. Like Thom, Ted is a tad pushy, saying he won’t take no for an answer once or twice, which isn’t really my cup of tea. Also Joy was crushing on Ted until he went out with her, and then she suddenly didn’t entirely trust him. The feelings that Ted and Joy develop for one another come about a little too quickly to be entirely believable, too. But the angelic intervention and their obvious rightness for each other helped to make it more credible.
Overall, The Trouble with Angels was a heartwarming book that was a nice conclusion to my holiday reading this year. I liked all three of the story lines and felt that each of the people the angels were sent to help experienced admirable growth throughout the book, especially Maureen and Paul. Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy are also a treat. They care so much for their charges and always try to do their best to help even though they sometimes feel like they might be messing up or occasionally get a little off track. Due to a small amount of mild bad language, I wouldn’t really categorize this book as an inspirational, but it does have a pretty overt faith message that might not be for everyone. However, I felt that it was handled with a pretty light touch that should resonate well with anyone who believes in God and angels. While it might not have reached the heights of perfection, The Trouble with Angels was still a very pleasant read that already has me looking forward to finding out what new mischief this angel trio might get into in the next book, Touched by Angels....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Marley In Chains is the final novella in the A Kinky Christmas Carol series. This holiday-themed trilogy was written by threeReviewed for THC Reviews Marley In Chains is the final novella in the A Kinky Christmas Carol series. This holiday-themed trilogy was written by three different authors, but the stories are connected by each being about a different member of the wealthy Knight family who all live in the same building, Dickens Towers, in Chicago. As with the other two novellas, the magical doorman, Frost, who looks suspiciously like Santa Claus plays a role as well, giving it a touch of whimsy. Overall, this was a pretty good wrap-up to the series with a few caveats which I’ll get to shortly.
The heroine of this novella is Marley, cousin and super-assistant to Holly from the first story, Getting Scrooged. She was born into wealth, but her mother lost two husbands (for some reason I can’t recall now whether it was to death or divorce) and remarried a man who was not of her social station. This left Marley suddenly adrift in a public school, when she’d been used to private school, and being teased by the other students. In stepped best friends, Michael and Carlos, who became her defenders. The three were inseparable for the next six years until Marley turned eighteen. They had shared some sexual intimacies and were close to making love when Marley lost her parents to a car accident just before Christmas and later left town. She was gone for several years, but returned to become her cousin’s assistant four years earlier. However, she never contacted the men she’d been in love with and had never forgotten, so she doesn’t reconnect with them until Michael comes looking for her and asking for her help to bring Carlos back to the land of the living. I mostly understood Marley and the issues that sent her running seventeen years ago, but it takes a while for those issues to fully surface. Once they did, I didn’t feel like they were really given the weight they deserved and were overcome a little too quickly. However, I did still like Marley and thought she was a pretty good heroine.
Marley’s heroes, Michael and Carlos, were devastated when she left town. Michael went on to become a champion boxer and now owns his own gym where he trains fighters and tries to keep at-risk youth out of trouble. Michael has always had strong family ties to fall back on, but Carlos didn’t. After Marley ran, Michael watched Carlos pull further and further away until he finally enlisted in the military and left town, too. At the end of his second tour, Carlos was badly injured by an IED blast, nearly losing his leg, but since returning he’s still been distant. Because of a letter Carlos wrote to Michael about Marley (unfortunately the reader is never let in on the details of its contents), Michael thinks the only thing that will revive Carlos is being reunited with the woman they both never stopped loving. This is what sends him to Marley’s doorstep, and he’s right about it being the only medicine Carlos really needed.
I liked Michael, but he’s maybe a little too rough around the edges for my taste. Over the years, he’d watched Carlos connect with Marley on a more tender and intellectual level that he doesn’t share with her, so when he sees that the same connection between the other two still burns brightly, he’s ready to bow out of the threesome gracefully. I generally understood where he was coming from and thought it was an interesting move on his part, but I would have liked to have felt a little more of what he was feeling that drove him to that decision. Others may disagree with me, but I thought that Carlos was the more intriguing of the two male characters, probably because as a writer, he seemed to have a softer, more poetic and intellectual side. I wish the author had dug a little deeper with his characterization, because I feel like he had a lot of layers that were only cursorily explored, if at all. I understood that he’d been hurt by Marley leaving, but his giving up a Harvard scholarship to drive a cab and work menial jobs, later entering the Marines, seemed at odds with the rest of the man being portrayed, who had typically been the beta to Michael's alpha. All that suddenly changes, though, when he surprises both Michael and Marley by taking the reins in their relationship after they reconnect. I also thought that his seeming depression after returning injured was told much more so than shown and was magically overcome simply by seeing Marley again. So while I liked both men, I thought they were similarly underdeveloped as Marley.
I think to some extent the underdevelopment of the characterizations played into the three characters’ relationship as a whole. We learn only enough to see that they had meant a lot to one another years ago and still do. I couldn’t help feeling that they have this rich backstory that’s barely explored. There’s a decent amount of steam fairly early in the story, but at first there isn’t much of an emotional connection given how close they’d all been before. It takes until the end of the story when they finally all come together to make love for this to right itself. Until then their interactions felt lusty but not particularly romantic or emotional. I also wasn’t fond of the author telling about certain events in hindsight, when, IMHO, they would have had a greater impact if shown in the moment. Otherwise, though, it was a good story. Despite my feeling it was lacking in some areas, it was still pretty enjoyable. I might be making some allowances for it being a novella, whereas if these types of issues had persisted in a full-length novel, I might not have been as forgiving. But there was just enough to keep me reading and generally satisfied with the outcome, so I couldn’t really justify marking it down any further. Marley In Chains was my first read by R. G. Alexander, but it has left me open to perhaps trying something else by her in the future.
Note: This book contains explicit language and sexual situations, including a spicy M/F/M menage, a touch of M/M action, use of sex toys, creative use of a cane, one scene of bondage with chains, a little spanking, exhibitionism, and anal sex, which some readers may find offensive....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" I’ve been looking forward to reading Gabriel’s Inferno for quite some time now. I can’t recall exactly how it cameReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" I’ve been looking forward to reading Gabriel’s Inferno for quite some time now. I can’t recall exactly how it came to my attention, but I was aware of it being compared to Fifty Shades of Grey and being included on lists of what to read after FSoG. That being the case, I was certainly expecting a super-sexy erotic romance, but that’s not what I got at all. I cannot stress enough that despite some online book sites having this book categorized as such, it is not erotic romance, just a sensual contemporary. However, it does contain so many similarities with FSoG it’s almost eerie, which I’ll get to in a moment. In fact, there were so many similarities, I thought perhaps it was conceived as FSoG fan fiction. However, after doing a bit of research, I discovered that both series supposedly got their start as Twilight fan fiction, but IMHO, the two stories generally bear more similarities to each other than to the series that inspired them except for the fact that Gabriel’s Inferno is on the sweeter side like Twilight. If anything, it almost seems that Gabriel’s Inferno was conceived more as Dante’s Inferno fan fiction, since that classic piece of literature plays a huge part in the story. In any case, however it got started, it seems to be better liked than FSoG, so as a huge fan of FSoG, I thought I was in for some great reading. Unfortunately, though, it just didn’t quite live up to the hype for me.
Back to the similarities between Gabriel’s Inferno and FSoG. I wanted to make note of these, because I’ve looked and thus far haven’t found any comparisons between the two even though to my way of thinking, they’re pretty glaring. So here’s what I found: Julia is a virgin who is pretty meek and submissive. She's a graduate student in literature. She has little money and her possessions are rather shabby, prompting Gabriel to want to replace them. She has a habit of biting her lip. She has a nice, but bland guy interested in her, and like one of the two similar guys in FSoG who was into Anastasia, his name is Paul. Gabriel is wealthy, and although he isn't as stalkerish as Christian, he does insinuates himself – or rather his money – into Julia’s life, giving her extravagant gifts that make her uncomfortable. The author uses the word mercurial to describe him, though not excessively. He has a fixation with making sure that Julia gets enough to eat. He has eclectic tastes in music and art. He uses, "Come" and other imperatives liberally. He had a crappy biological mother, didn’t really know his father, and was adopted as a young boy by his family. His adoptive mother's name is Grace (just like Christian’s), and she's the one who found him. He has one brother and one sister who is pretty outspoken. He has anger issues. He’s very sexually experienced and has engaged in some unusual sexual pursuits. Both Gabriel and Julia have a tendency to use more formal words of address, ie. Miss Mitchell and Professor Emerson, even in private. There's also some emphasis on them sharing several "firsts" together.
There were a few other almost carbon copy similarities between the two stories, but this is more than enough to demonstrate what I was talking about, so I got tired of jotting them down. What accounts for this I can’t say for sure. At first, I thought Sylvain Reynard liberally borrowed from E. L. James, but it isn’t entirely clear to me which story came first. A little more history on the books: Both fan fiction versions appear to have been posted online around the same time. Both received their initial small-press publications within one month of each other, and both received their large press releases about a year later, also within one month of each other. Additionally, I discovered that the two authors are supposedly friends. So, whether one borrowed a little too liberally from the other or they both borrowed from each other, or something else accounts for this, I couldn’t say. But for me, the near identical elements were enough to raise my eyebrows and make me start asking questions even though what I found didn’t entirely appease my curiosity. All I know is that, at first, I felt like I’d just picked up a FSoG knock-off from a street vendor, although I’ll admit that as the story progressed my opinion began to change somewhat.
So, now that I’ve satisfied my geeky fascination with comparative analysis of the two books, what did I think of Gabriel’s Inferno independently? Well, for starters, Gabriel himself did not initially draw me into the story. During the first half of the book, he comes off as too cold and distant and rather stuck-up, especially for someone who purportedly had a very poor early childhood. Whereas, to me, Christian always seemed to want to give Ana nice things as a means of protecting and cherishing her, it felt like Gabriel wanted to replace Julia's things because they flat-out offended his sensibilities. At first, he only seemed to be nice when he was drunk, which IMHO, didn’t speak well to his character. It takes until over a third of the way into the book before he even realizes what an ass he's been and starts groveling a little. Until then, I barely even liked the guy. Before that he showed a few glimmers of something deeper, but it just took way too long to get to any sort of meaningful reveal. However, that said, the Gabriel in the second half of the book got a personality transplant and practically became a dreamboat overnight. Once he remembers who Julia is, the transforming power of love takes over completely, changing him in an instant, which was maybe a little to much to be fully believable, but nevertheless very welcome. Second-half Gabriel thoroughly cherishes Julia and treats her like a precious jewel. He refuses to take her virginity for so long, it became a combination of sweetness and frustration for me. Then at the very end, when they finally do make love for the first time, he takes his time, focusing solely on her needs, which was very romantic. So overall, I’d say I had mixed feelings about our hero. First-half Gabriel I wanted to kick to the curb, while second-half Gabriel was worthy of inclusion on my favorite heroes list.
Like I mentioned before, Julia is very sweet, meek, and generally submissive, a little too much so at times. Gabriel was the older brother of her best friend and was away at college, so it was a long time before she met him and then only once. It seems that her attraction for him is based solely off that one meeting, during which she and Gabriel spent a magical, but chaste, night together in an apple orchard. Gabriel was kind to her but drunk the whole time, so when they meet up again, when she’s a student in his literature class, he doesn’t remember her at first. It was also that meeting that made Julia choose to study to become a Dante specialist, which is what Gabriel is, too. While that interaction was sweet, it just didn’t impact me enough to make me buy into the idea that she's pined after him all this time. But she had, and when they meet up again, he treats her abominably. At this point, I was kind of questioning her judgment, because it seemed like Gabriel had a penchant for getting drunk and then having blackout episodes, as well as a monster temper and possible violent tendencies. I felt like she should have been more concerned by this, especially since she had an alcoholic mother and an abusive boyfriend. I’ve seen some readers comparing Julia and Anastasia, saying that Ana had no self-respect, letting Christian walk all over her, while Julia stands up for herself. However, I have to disagree on both counts. Ana did often stand up to Christian in what I felt was a generally healthy way, often loosening him up and/or changing his mind. However, the main instance where Julia stands up to Gabriel, she did so in a passive-aggressive way, which IMHO, showed immaturity on her part, something Gabriel rightly pointed out after a blow-up argument. Then one other feisty episode came off as more petulant than genuinely spirited. Much like with Gabriel, though, I grew to like Julia more as the story progressed, mainly because she’s very accepting of his past transgressions, and we get to see more of her own past with her abusive jerk of an ex-boyfriend that drew my sympathy.
Not only do the characters change considerably from the first half of the book to the second half, it seemed like nothing really happened during the first half. I was getting so impatient for some meaty tidbit that I was about ready to chuck the book out the window in frustration. It felt like they did little more than attend classes, go out someplace in the evening, either alone together or in the company of others, shared some mostly banal conversation, and then Gabriel would have a temper tantrum that put distance between them again. Wash, rinse, repeat for about 300 pages. During that time, I desperately wanted to know more about why Gabriel felt unworthy as indicated in the cover blurb, even though his emotions surrounding that weren’t brought out very well. And I wanted to know who Paulina was and why she kept calling him. I was also dying to know what happened between Julia and her mystery guy back home that had freaked her out so much. Of course, all that doesn’t come out until the second half and even then it’s still a painfully slow process to get to all the reveals. I have to say, as well, that this is what mainly constituted the plot of the story. It was mostly about all these secrets that both of them have and are reluctant to share and them working their way up to trusting each other enough to do that. I also found something of a disconnect between all these past secrets and the characters’ present emotions and motivations that made it harder to connect with them. The only other thing of note story-wise is them working their way up to making love for the first time, because a lot was made of that. Overall, this is rather thin material for a plot, and IMHO, the first 300 pages or so probably could have been cut in half to speed things up.
The other thing that wasn’t quite up to par for me was the author’s writing style. For starters, I found the narrative during the first half of the book to be too pretentious for genre fiction. It felt more like literary fiction, but then magically, like everything else, that changes somewhat during the second half of the book, making the narrative more accessible. There was a lot of passive narration as well, with too much telling and not enough showing, which made it difficult to feel the deep connection that supposedly existed between the characters. The author also has a penchant for head-hopping, including secondary and even minor character POVs (I really didn’t need to know what the waiter or the bouncer were thinking). This nearly always drives a wedge between me and the main characters, because I’m not getting that deep POV that I crave to really understand what’s going on inside a character’s mind. Then there was the author intruding with his/her (I use both pronouns here, because the author is notoriously reclusive and the original fan fiction was published under the name Sebastien Robichaud, so no one really knows if the author is male or female) omniscient narration which also puts the reader at a distance from the characters. Some of the narration, especially during the first half, drones on, with lots of words and not much of import actually being said. There were way too many parenthetical asides, which are generally frowned upon in fiction. Pretty much every one made me roll my eyes, because they were either trying to be too cute or they were pointing out the obvious that was already implied in the previous text and would have been better if left subtle. The word "for" as a conjunction was way over-used. It only added to the pretentious feel of the narrative, and in nearly every case, was completely unnecessary. It could have been eliminated altogether or the sentences simply rearranged. I found occasional repetition that I think was intended to emphasize, but IMHO, would have been more powerful if said only once. Also there was occasional unnatural dialogue and awkward body movements that were hard to picture as written. In general, there was a lot of overwriting here that needed a good editor to really tighten it up and make it shine.
So, why you may ask, did I give the book 3.5 stars? Well, in short, the first half may have frustrated me, and I admit that there were parts of this section that were dropping the story into the 2-star range, but once things picked up, after that 300-page mark, they moved along at a reasonably steady pace, holding my attention much better. Even though the character changes for Gabriel were a little drastic, I loved the man he became during that latter half of the book. What woman wouldn’t want a man who takes his time and focuses all his passion and love on her alone? So despite the weaknesses in the writing, I could easily have rated this section at least 4 stars. That would average it out to 3 stars and having the book end on a high note made me to bump it up the extra half-star. Will I read the rest of the series? Gabriel’s Inferno wrapped everything up in such a way that it could be treated it as a stand-alone, so at first, I wasn’t too sure. But after realizing I already have the second book, Gabriel’s Rapture, on my TBR pile, I think I may give it a chance. I just won’t be in as much of a hurry to dive into book #2 as I was with Fifty Shades of Grey....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Devil’s Cut is the final book in J. R. Ward’s Bourbon Kings series. Even though they’re highly dysfunctional, I’ve loved readiReviewed for THC Reviews Devil’s Cut is the final book in J. R. Ward’s Bourbon Kings series. Even though they’re highly dysfunctional, I’ve loved reading about the Baldwine family and all of their trials and travails from the beginning. Where some readers saw nothing but a spoiled rich family, I saw four siblings who were emotionally wounded on a deep level and torn apart by their father’s terrible abuse. I also saw a family in shreds from everything he’d done and their fortunes in question as his death revealed the true extent of his greed and misdeeds. As this story opens, we see that none of the Baldwine siblings – neither Edward, Lane, Max, nor Gin – really care one whit that their father, William, is dead. Quite to the contrary, they’re glad that he’s gone, and I can’t blame them. But with his death, they’ve discovered just how bad of a businessman he was. He embezzled money from both private family trusts and the family owned Bradford Bourbon Company to invest in a string of fake or failed businesses, leaving the family legacy on the verge of bankruptcy, with creditors practically knocking down their doors to get repaid, when they don’t have the liquidity to do so. This leaves them in a very precarious financial position. On top of that, the four siblings have basically scattered to the four winds, each nursing their own wounds from William's mistreatment. By the end of the previous book, it was also revealed that William's death was indeed murder, one which Edward confessed to. Devil’s Cut didn’t end up being quite the mystery I was expecting, though. Instead, it’s about the family pulling together in the wake of their father’s destruction. And perhaps more importantly it’s also about them finding reconciliation in a number of different ways that left me with a warm, content feeling in the end.
As the youngest of the three brothers, Lane never thought he would ever find himself in charge of BBC if and when his father passed away. As the oldest, it was always expected that Edward would take up that mantle, but circumstances changed it all in a heartbeat. Lane is not the businessman that Edward is, so from the start, he’s been having a hard time of it, not only because his skills aren’t as good, but also because of the mess William left him to clean up. With the help of his best friend, Jeff, an investment banker, he’s been slowly making sense of the company books and trying to keep the BBC solvent. On top of that, he’s been doing his best to try to hold the family together, and that’s a big job indeed. Luckily he has the love of his life, Lizzie, to help him out. They reunited in the first book of the series, and she’s been his rock throughout all the problems that have come their way. Even though there have been a few bumps along the road, each book has taken them to the next step of their relationship, which I’ve very much enjoyed. Lane and Lizzie have been the core couple around which the rest of the characters and the plot revolve, and they’re very well-suited to that role.
Edward is the oldest and he has always looked out for his younger siblings. Even when they were just children, he often took the severe punishments meted out by his father to save one of the others. That’s why I never truly believed that he was guilty when he confessed to his father’s murder at the end of the previous book. I couldn’t have blamed him if he had been the perpetrator, though, because William treated Edward abominably, even trying to have him killed at one point. As a result, Edward spent weeks in a South American jungle being tortured, and he’s never been the same since. Broken in both body and spirit, he retreated to his horse breeding farm, The Red & Black, avoiding everyone and drowning his sorrows at the bottom of a bottle. However, he’s always been in love with Sutton, who is the daughter of BBC’s chief competitor and now that her father is disabled, she has become the CEO of their company. Luckily for Edward, his feelings are reciprocated, but before turning himself in to the police, he broke off the relationship of a sort that they’d begun. I’ve always loved Edward for his selflessness, and I also love Sutton for loving him in spite of everything. If anyone in the series deserved an HEA, it was these two.
Gin is the youngest Baldwine, who started the series more worried about where she was going to get the money to continue living in the manner in which she was accustomed, than about anything that was going on with the family or the company. She also has a teenage daughter, Amelia, to whom she gave birth when she was just a teenager herself and whom she’s largely ignored for most of the girl’s life. Gin has basically had a habit of making one bad decision after another, perhaps the worst of which was marrying a man for money who ended up abusing her. It was also pretty crappy of her to not tell the man who fathered her child that he had a daughter. However, William’s death and the subsequent problems that arose from that event have slowly been making an impact on Gin, causing her to turn her life around. The love of her life has always been Samuel T., who is also Amelia’s father. Samuel T. is a brilliant attorney and a playboy who tries to self-medicate with tons of booze and women even though Gin is the one who he’s never been able to get out of his system. Throughout the years, these two have shared a highly dysfunctional, tit-for-tat relationship, where they sometimes sleep together but always end up hurting each other. Underneath all the anger and bad feelings, though, it’s obvious that there’s no one else in the world who completes these two except each other. Out of anyone in the series, I think Gin and Samuel T. showed the most growth. In this book, they really impressed me by finally maturing into the responsible adults they always should have been.
Last but not least, middle brother, Max, was absent throughout the first book with no one really knowing where he was for the past few years. He returned to the family estate of Easterly but was still barely seen in the second book. Now in this final book, he gets a few of his own POV scenes, and what we find is a man who’s hurting just as much as his siblings, but who has tried to run away from his problems instead of facing them. Right before he left Easterly, Max overheard his parents arguing and discovered a dirty little family secret, and that’s why he left. He finally returned, feeling that now that his father is gone, he has a responsibility to tell the truth, but he doesn’t plan on staying. The one person who might change his mind, however, is Tanesha, the woman who got away. Tanesha is the daughter of Miss Aurora's (the woman who essentially raised all the Baldwine siblings) minister and is a resident doctor at the local hospital. She and Max shared some sexy times before Max left town, and both of them are obviously still very attracted to one another. Although I didn’t really get to truly meet Max until this book, I got just enough insights into his character to like what I saw and believe that he deserved an HEA too. Anyone who loves bad boys on Harleys should love Max. That coupled with his extraordinary singing ability and the fact that he dared to engage in an interracial relationship made him all the more appealing. I almost wish we could have gotten an even closer look at this couple, but I’m happy knowing that they’re in a good place by the end of the story.
All of the secondary players who were seen in the previous books return. Jeff is still the acting CEO of the BBC and continues to do his best to help Lane out of a very sticky situation. Mack, Lane’s friend and the company’s master distiller, finally reveals that he’s found a new strain of yeast that could be worth millions, but he might have to give it all up to save the company. Shelby, Edward’s friend and employee, never loses faith in his innocence and is instrumental in bringing the truth to light. Greta, Lizzie’s friend who used to help with the landscaping but is now working as the estate’s new controller, helps sort out the books. Gary, the head grounds keeper at the estate has a big secret. Little V. E., the Baldwine siblings mother, actually seems to be doing a little better now that her abusive husband is gone. Although she’s still suffering from dementia, she’s seen wandering around the estate a few times, which leads to a surprising reveal. The villains, Gin’s abusive husband, Richard, and Lane’s soon-to-be ex-wife, Chantal, also get their comeuppances, which made me quite happy. Finally was Miss Aurora, the family’s cook and the woman Lane calls his real momma. She’s been suffering from terminal cancer throughout the series and in this one is on her death bed, not even conscious most of the time. She’s always been a driving force in the Baldwine’s lives, loving them and being their conscience. I think she can now look down from heaven and say that the sacrifices she made paved the way for the family’s reconciliation.
While Devil’s Cut perhaps wasn’t quite what I was expecting it to be, I very much enjoyed it nonetheless. There are a couple of shocking revelations that very much took me by surprise. In fact, once William's killer is finally revealed for certain, I initially thought it wasn’t real and that the person had other motives for confessing. On the one hand it seemed a little out of character, but on the other, it made perfect sense. I know I’m not being very clear here, but I can’t say much more without giving away spoilers. In any case, it leads to a very satisfying ending. The main reason I read romance is for the HEAs. Nothing makes me happier than getting that wonderful happy ending for the main couple. Well, I got that and more here. After everything William put them through, no one deserved their HEAs more than this family, and nothing could have been sweeter than seeing each and every one of them, even a couple of supporting players, happy and on the road to a brighter future, not only in their personal lives but also as a family unit and in their business dealings. That made Devil’s Cut a lovely and very welcome wrap-up to this family saga that left me with warm fuzzies all over....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews I’ve very much enjoyed all of Jessica Bird’s (aka J. R. Ward’s) contemporary romances, but From the First is now my current faReviewed for THC Reviews I’ve very much enjoyed all of Jessica Bird’s (aka J. R. Ward’s) contemporary romances, but From the First is now my current favorite of the ones I’ve read so far. When it was first published by Harlequin, it was the last of the three-book Moorehouse Legacy series that follows the three Moorehouse siblings, two sisters and one brother, as they navigate life and find love. After the death of their parents, the three inherited the White Caps Bed & Breakfast on Saranac Lake in the Adirondack Mountains, the old Victorian home where they also grew up, but it’s mostly the two sisters, Frankie and Joy, who’ve been responsible for it’s running and upkeep. Their brother Alex had a taste for adventure and heard the call of the ocean long before their parents passed away, so he’s been sailing the world ever since. He captains his own boat, and he and his crew have won the America’s Cup several times. Then he experienced tragedy when his ship was caught in a hurricane that took the life of his friend, who was also one of his crew members, and left Alex too injured to continue sailing. He had no choice but to return home, where his sisters welcomed him with open arms while he recuperates, which is a lengthy process. In the previous book of the series, White Caps caught on fire, causing catastrophic damage that is being repaired in this book. There’s quite a bit going on in From the First to keep the reader engaged, but it’s the angst-filled, tender romance between the hero and heroine that really kept me glued to the pages.
Alex has had a rough time of it throughout the first two books of the series. He’s had to have multiple surgeries to repair the damage to his body from the sailing accident that killed his friend, Reese, and nearly took his leg. But it’s Reese’s death that really has him tied up in knots. Alex has a severe case of survivor’s guilt that was brought on by more than just his friend dying. Alex has been in love with Reese’s widow, Cassandra, since the day he met her and has spent the last several years trying to avoid her in order to avoid the temptation that she presents. He honestly believes that he somehow subconsciously allowed Reese to die because he wanted the other man’s wife so badly. Therefore, even though Cass is now free to be with whomever she chooses, Alex feels it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to pursue a relationship with her, but at the same time, he can hardly bear to be without her. His dilemma presents some very angsty moments, and he does spend a large part of the book fighting his feelings for her. This would normally irritate me, and I have to admit that Alex’s inability to give voice to his feelings did skate perilously close to making me drop a half-star from the rating. But every time I was getting to that point, something happened to appease me, just enough to keep the story moving instead of stagnating in a quagmire of repressed emotions like some other romances I’ve read. I also adored Alex for his utter devotion to Cassandra. He loves her so deeply that there was never a question in my mind that they were right for one another or that she was, without a doubt, his one and only for all time. He’s also very protective of her, in much the same way that the boys from Ms. Ward’s BDB series are toward their mates, which was a plus. Not to mention, I totally understood Alex’s introverted nature and dislike of social situations, and I also liked how much he cares for his family and realizes that he hasn’t been there for them in the way he should have. He was just an all-around great guy.
Little does Alex know that Cassandra never really loved her husband with an all-consuming, passionate sort of love and their marriage was far from the perfection he imagined. Cass came from nothing and married Reese more out of a sense of friendship and a need for financial security than true love. That’s why she turned a blind eye when she discovered her husband's infidelities. Although she’s sad that he’s now gone, she isn’t the grief-stricken widow. She also developed an attraction to Alex a long time ago, when she and Reese took a boat trip with him, but she never would have dreamed of cheating. Not to mention, Alex was spending so much time avoiding her that she believed he hated her, although she never understood why. Cass is a rather unique romance heroine, in that she’s an architect and general contractor, who’s been hired to restore White Caps. This, of course, places her in close proximity to Alex on almost a daily basis, making the temptation strong. Every time Alex opens the door just a crack, Cass finds herself eagerly stepping through it, but then he confuses her at every turn, leaving her thinking that he’s only biding his time with her while really being in love with someone else. Cass is a really sweet heroine who I liked a lot. She’s very patient with Alex, but doesn’t let him walk all over her when she thinks it’s not going to work out. She was also very understanding and had a lot of trust in him when he finally confessed what happened during the hurricane, never believing for a second that he could have allowed her husband to die.
As with the first two books of the series, there are a number of secondary characters who play key roles. It’s like Ms. Bird has turned all her contemporaries into a little world of their own, where all the books connect in one way or another. Not surprisingly, Nate and Frankie (Beauty and the Black Sheep aka The Rebel) and Gray and Joy (His Comfort and Joy aka The Player) are present, with Gray and Joy getting married. Then there’s Spike, Nate’s friend and business partner, who has also become a friend to Alex, working out with him and chauffeuring him around. I love Spike’s quirkiness and an unusual physical trait makes me seriously think he’s related to a couple of the Brothers of the BDB and probably doesn’t know it. Alex’s navigator, Madeline, comes for a visit, stirring up Spike’s interest. These two become the hero and heroine of A Man in a Million aka The Rogue, which became the honorary final book of the series. Sean O’Banyon, who was introduced in the previous book as Gray’s friend, also runs in the same social scene with Cassandra, so he’s friends with her as well. He wouldn’t mind making it more than friendship, but I have to give the guy credit for recognizing that she belonged with someone else and not interfering. Last but not least, Jack Walker (An Irresistible Bachelor) is mentioned as being in attendance at a party that takes place at Gray’s house.
Overall, Ms. Bird’s contemporary world has enthralled me almost as much as her BDB world. It’s populated with similar character types, alpha heroes with a heart of gold and relatable heroines I’d love to be friends with if they were real. As with her BDB books, her writing seems to keep getting better and better with each one, leaving me wondering if I’ll like the final two of her early contemporary stories even more than From the First, which is almost difficult to imagine, since I thoroughly enjoyed it. All I can say is that I’m going to have fun finding out. From the First was originally published as part of the Silhouette Special Edition line, but was recently republished as a stand-alone book that was retitled, The Renegade....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews K Is for Karin is the final book in my author friend, Jossilynn’s Book Convention Romance series. It was a satisfying denouemeReviewed for THC Reviews K Is for Karin is the final book in my author friend, Jossilynn’s Book Convention Romance series. It was a satisfying denouement in that it wrapped up all the loose ends from the previous books, but I felt that the romance itself in this one simply wasn’t as strong as the other couples’ stories were. Not to mention, I had very mixed feelings about the epilogue. In the time that I’ve been friends with Jossilynn and have read this series, I’ve discovered that she doesn’t really tell her stories in a traditional romance format. Past series’ characters get their own POV scenes, while she also occasionally does things that most romance authors wouldn’t dare to do. Depending on your perspective, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I like to give authors credit sometimes for creativity and writing outside the box, but at the same time, these things might not resonate with many seasoned romance readers like myself in the same way that more traditionally written romances do. Such was the case with this particular book. So while I enjoyed visiting with these characters who’ve become a close-knit family of friends, I found myself wishing that the romanticism of this book had been stronger to really make this series go out with a bang instead of what IMHO was more of a whimper.
The other thing I’ve discovered through my friendship with Jossilynn is that she and I have very different tastes in men. Despite that being the case, I’ve still liked all the heroes of the series and had no major issues with any of them – until now. Mine and the author’s disparate opinions on the opposite gender came to light when she read one of my books and my hero completely rubbed her the wrong way. Well, now I can say the same of one of her heroes, so we’re even. LOL!;-)
To call Mike the hero of this story would be overly generous, I think. He’s, without a doubt, one of the biggest jerk heroes I’ve ever read in a romance novel. He’s a total man whore, which under other circumstances I might have been able to live with, except that, when it comes to sex, he acts more like a college freshman than a mature thirty-something father who’s been married before and is dealing with the aftermath of his crazy ex-wife murdering his mother and trying to kill their daughter, too. Far from seeming to be grieving, the guy has a different woman in his bed every week, and even the heroine of the story doesn’t seem to be able to entirely tame him. I was having a very hard time believing that he was even capable of having a monogamous relationship, especially since the sex with his wife was apparently terrible the entire time they were married. This also called into question his ability to be with one woman (the heroine) at all in the future, even if their sex was off the charts. I also might not have been bothered by his behavior if he was only acting this way before Karin came along, but one thing I can’t abide in a romance is the hero sleeping with someone else after meeting – or at the very least after becoming more seriously involved with – the heroine. Right at the point where Mike appears to be ready to make some kind of commitment to Karin, he suddenly gets upset about her saying she doesn’t want kids, but instead of communicating and clarifying what she meant like a mature adult, he simply broke it off instantaneously. However, the real last straw for me with Mike is when he almost immediately brings a new woman home, sleeps with her in the next room (he and Karin live in the same house), and then without Karin knowing he’d done that, he tries to have sex with her without protection, mere minutes later. I’m like “Eww, please tell me he did not just do that!” I wasn’t convinced by his later explanation for why he did this, either. Not to mention, the “other woman” is someone that all of his friends can’t stand because she’s proven herself in the past to be a lying skank. This made me very dubious of Mike’s judgment, as well as his maturity level.
I thought that Mike’s one saving grace was him being a devoted father, and admittedly for the most part he was, but when he brought the “other woman” into the house around his daughter and seriously upset Heather by trying to force her to let the “other woman” take her to school when Karin was already scheduled to do it, I was just done with him. In the end, after a traumatic event, Mike finally realizes he’s been a jerk, but it was too little, too late for me. Regardless of whether Mike and Karin were supposedly soul mates brought together by the ghostly matchmaking Nurse K or not, Mike would have had to do a whole lot more groveling than what he did to get back in my good graces if he ever could’ve after being such an ass.
Although my personality is very different from Karin’s, making it a little difficult to relate to some of her choices, I did mostly like her. She’s the long-lost sister of Molly (K Is for Kismet). The two women are reunited in this book and fall into a sisters relationship fairly easily. After losing her adopted mom and later finding out her boyfriend was gay, Karin has been feeling pretty alone and like she doesn’t fit in well anywhere. So finally finding Molly after so many years of unsuccessfully searching is like a dream come true. Molly, her husband, Kade, and their large group of close-knit friends give Karin the place to belong that she’s always wanted. When she discovers that Mike, a guy she had a one-night stand with in Vegas, is a part of this group of friends, it’s a little awkward at first. The sex had been off-the-charts hot that night and she soon finds out it still is, but she barely even likes the guy and with good reason if you ask me.:-) (Having crazy hot sex with someone you don’t even like has always been pretty antithetical to me, but that’s just my opinion.) The one person Karin does like, once she gets to know her, is Mike’s daughter, Heather. Karin is somewhat uncomfortable being alone with Heather, because a child she was babysitting as a teenager drowned in the family pool on her watch. It was nothing more than a tragic accident that no one ever blamed her for, but Karin can’t stop blaming herself. However, that doesn’t stop her from treating Heather kindly, which is why I never understood Mike getting all bent out of shape and jumping to false conclusions over Karin’s comment about not wanting to have kids.
The romantic relationship (if you can even call it that, since there are no real romantic interludes) between Mike and Karin didn’t really do much for me. They start off with what was supposed to be nothing but a one-night stand, but Mike enjoyed it enough to leave Karin a note asking her to meet him again the next day. He got called home on the emergency involving his crazy ex, so Karin thought he’d stood her up, and that was that. Even after they find out that they have friends and relatives in common and they start things up again, it’s still just sex with no emotional connection and no commitment at all. In this instance, it’s not just me saying this subjectively, because the characters themselves admit as much. They argue all the time. Some of their banter could be mildly amusing, but even that wore thin after a while. They refuse to even say they like, much less love, one another, and it’s months before Mike kind of makes his quickly rescinded offer of a deeper commitment. During that time, they engaged in unprotected sex at least once or twice, which made me very uncomfortable, especially considering what a womanizer Mike is. He could have been carrying all kinds of diseases but miraculously isn’t, not to mention the pregnancy risk since Karin isn’t on the pill. Eventually, after STD tests and her getting birth control, they agree to a monogamous sexual relationship, only because Mike still wants to do it unprotected and she rightly won’t allow it otherwise. But then he has his lame-brained moment. The sex wasn’t even all that sexy to me this time, either. Sure they shared some fun, kinky times, and if that’s what floats your boat, then you’ll probably enjoy these scenes more than I did, but there’s little to no foreplay or post-coital bliss involved. They pretty much always just get down to business (even anal without lube – ouch!), and then when it’s over, that’s it, aside from sleeping next to one another. They don’t even kiss until about 2/3 of the way into the story, and even then I think I could count on one hand the number of times they kissed total. Normally having a paranormal element like the whole Nurse K/soul mates thing would have helped my disbelief a lot, but this time, even that couldn’t overcome the lack of romance and a strong emotional connection for me.
What I did like about the story and why I was able to give it three stars is the secondary characters. As has been the case with all the previous books, we get to revisit the hero and heroine of the last book. In this case, it was Molly and Kade getting several of their own POV scenes. They’re moving into a new house and awaiting the birth of their first child. They helped bring a little bit of romance into the story, because they exhibit the love connection that the main hero/heroine pairing lacked. We also get treated to Randy and Oscar’s wedding, which was nice, too. In fact, all the past heroes and heroines were present, supporting one another through the difficulties that life has handed them. Heather was a breath of fresh air as well. She breathes life into every scene she’s in, and I love that she acts like a pretty normal five-year-old, except for the fact that she can see dead people and animals. I was a little surprised, though, that she made it through the death of her mother and grandmother, as well as nearly being killed herself, relatively unscathed from an emotional standpoint. There is also one other supporting character who’s been there throughout the series and who was involved in that epilogue I mentioned that left me with mixed feelings. What Jossilynn did with him was kind of romantic in a way, but if she was going to write it that way, I wish she hadn’t previously paired him romantically with another secondary character. If not for that, I probably would have been OK with it, but because of that, the ending was very bittersweet for me.
I’ve liked all of the characters in this series, with the exception of Mike, so the opportunity to visit with them more in K Is for Karin definitely made it worth the read. The author tied up all the lose ends involving the past characters, so that I could easily see the whole group living their HEAs together. In the past books, Nurse K was a minor enough part of the story that I was still comfortable classifying them all as contemporary, but I felt the paranormal element in this one was much more prevalent. As I mentioned, Heather sees dead people and animals all the time and can communicate with them. Not to mention, we’ve now had several characters, both human and animal, who’ve been reincarnated, so I feel like I need to categorize this one as paranormal as well. Aside from some repetition (the characters do way too much smirking, shrugging, and eye rolling:-)), the writing itself is solid, so it was an easy read. If only Mike had been a more likable person and his relationship with Karin had been an actual romance instead of just sex, I know I would have liked this one just as much as the others in the series. As is, it’s still a decent wrap-up, just not one that I would likely revisit again.
Note: This book contains explicit language and sexual situations, including anal sex, light bondage, use of sex toys, and public sex acts, which some readers may find offensive....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Robyn Carr’s new Sullivan’s Crossing series got off to a slightly shaky start for me with the release of the first book, WhatReviewed for THC Reviews Robyn Carr’s new Sullivan’s Crossing series got off to a slightly shaky start for me with the release of the first book, What We Find, last year. I picked up Any Day Now with the hope that the author would shore up some of the weaknesses I’d detected in the first book and solidify this as a series that I would most definitely want to continue. While I did enjoy this book a bit more than the first one, I still saw some missed opportunities for deepening her character and relationship development that left me feeling slightly disappointed. I did enjoy the feel-good nature of the story and I admit that Sullivan’s Crossing and the surrounding Colorado communities of Timberlake and Leadville are slowly drawing me in. Ms. Carr has become the queen of small-town romances, and in that respect, this series isn’t much different than her Virgin River or Thunder Point series. However, the way it does differ from those books, particularly some of the earlier Virgin River books, is that I didn’t feel quite as connected to the characters. They’re very nice and likable people, but ultimately I didn’t think their backstories were given the weight they deserved. So overall, Any Day Now ended up being a rather light, fluffy read that’s the kind of story you might like to pick up on a cold, rainy day to enjoy in front of a warm, cozy fire.
I would say that the bulk of the story is about the heroine, Sierra, who is the sister of Cal, the hero of What We Find. I can’t recall if she was actually introduced in that book or just received a mention, but I believe she was in rehab at the time. After finishing the program and spending a few months in a halfway house, Sierra decided to get away from her dysfunctional parents but still wanted to be close to family, so she moved to Colorado for a new start. She acknowledges her alcoholism and is doing everything right, working the 12 steps, going to AA meetings, and getting a new sponsor right away. As the story progresses, we learn that she didn’t originally think she had a drinking problem, only that she occasionally partied a little too hard. But an encounter with an abusive man who turned stalker and eventually ended up drugging and sexually assaulting her, as well as causing a hit-and-run accident while driving her car, scared her straight. Now Sierra is putting the pieces of her life back together, while working on improving herself and being independent. Since she has a poor track record of picking the wrong guys who always turn out to be jerks, she’s reluctant to get involved with anyone new, but before long she can’t resist Connie’s romantic overtures. He’s sweet and supportive, something she’s never had before in a guy.
I like Sierra as the heroine and think she was probably the most well-drawn of all the characters, but there were still a few things about her that didn’t quite sit well with me. The strength of her character was in the focus on her alcoholism and how that affected her, but everything else kind of faded into the background. We don’t even learn about the stalker, the hit-and-run, and the sexual assault until quite a ways into the story, when she thinks she may have spotted the guy at a nearby shopping mall and decides it’s time to tell her brother so that if anything happens to her, he’ll at least know where to start looking. We also learn, toward the very end of the book, that she’s had all these fears of the stalker that she was dealing with, but there was never an inkling of that in earlier parts of the story. I was also rather skeptical of her being able to have sex with a new man (the first since the assault) and have absolutely no issues whatsoever, not even a flinch or a twinge or a single conflicted feeling. Nada! So while I did like Sierra, I felt that if her fears and other issues surrounding what happened to her had been brought up much sooner, she would have been a much more compelling and fuller character.
Sierra's hero is Conrad, who’s known as Connie to everyone around the little town of Timberlake, which is the one nearest to the Sullivan’s Crossing campground. He’s a firefighter/EMT who also does search-and-rescue in the surrounding mountainous areas, so he’s very fit and loves a physical challenge. He was first introduced in What We Find, where he was one of the first responders to Sully’s heart attack and also helped with a treacherous cliff-side rescue involving the heroine of that story. Connie has a rather troubled background of his own, with a mother who, much like Sierra, picked the wrong guys. Both his father and stepfather were emotionally abusive toward both him and his mom. Then Connie ended up picking the wrong girl. He fell hard and fast for the woman who is now his ex-fiancée, but then she ended up cheating on him with one of his married co-workers. I thought that both of these things would have left him with a few scars and might impede his relationship with Sierra, but other than a little bit of initial uncertainty, things pretty much go off without a hitch. Overall, he’s a confident, laid-back, easy-going kind of guy, who never really questions anything about Sierra and allows her to open up at her own pace. I liked that he was so sweet and gentle and supportive, almost more of a beta hero, which I love, but something about him ended up seeming a bit bland. I also felt like he didn’t get enough of his own POV scenes, which might have helped to build his character better. Much like with Sierra I liked him, but I just didn’t find him to be particularly compelling.
The first book of Sullivan’s Crossing was all about the hero and heroine, Cal and Maggie. With Any Day Now, the author diverges back to the familiar territory of bringing in secondary character POVs. Cal gets a few of his own scenes as he helps Sierra with her problems, while at the same time he and Maggie are expecting their first child and remodeling their old barn into a habitable living space. Tom Canaday, a jack of all trades and single father of four, who was introduced in the first book, helps Cal with the building project, while finally putting his first marriage to rest. After that, he’s free to pursue Lola, an old acquaintance who he’d previously overlooked, but not anymore. Lola is a singe mom, who has two part-time jobs at the local diner and Home Depot, so they bond over their shared love of remodeling work and the challenges of parenting. They make a cute couple but Lola is a little gun-shy. She’s been without a man for so long, she’s not certain she wants to give up her independent life for a relationship. Of course Sully is the familiar face, always there running the Sullivan’s Crossing campground year-round and welcoming tourists to the area, while also giving Sierra a place to stay and free advice. Cal and Sierra’s brother, Dakota, puts in a brief appearance near the end, but he’s a military man headed out on a deployment. Sierra’s sponsor, Moody, is a rather curmudgeonly but lovable older man, who doles out sage advice as well. Sierra’s one attempt at making a female friend and possibly switching to this woman, Neely, as her sponsor doesn’t quite go as planned. Although I don’t think we’ve heard the last of Neely, she wasn’t a very nice person, so I kind of hope she isn’t in the running to become a future heroine. Last but not least, was Sierra’s new dog, Molly. Sierra bravely saved the pup from a camper at the Crossing who was abusing her, and she became Sierra’s loyal best friend.
If you’re looking for one of those nice, easy, rainy-day reads, then Any Day Now might just have your name written all over it. It kind of reminded me of a Hallmark channel movie in its sweetness and predictability. I usually like these types of stories, so I did enjoy it for what it was. It lacked a certain sophistication in its characters, but I did very much like the setting. Everything was just a little too easy-peasy for our lovebirds, though. They never really had to face any major challenges as a couple that would have solidified their relationship more strongly in my mind, but they were still very likable together. A few of Robyn Carr’s writing quirks that I’ve complained about before came into play here again, namely the lack of blocking during dialogue and the skimming of certain events when I wanted a deeper perspective. Also, I noticed that many of her scenes and chapters ended somewhat abruptly, rather than flowing naturally into the next one. Overall, though, it was a nice story that left me with warm fuzzies at the end, so I can’t complain too much. This series may not have quite made keeper status for me yet, but I do still look forward to seeing what comes next, although once again, I feel like I’ve been left totally in the dark as to whom the next book might be about.
Note: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews In her Book Convention Romance series, my author friend, JossiLynn, has created a broad palette of characters with whom I coulReviewed for THC Reviews In her Book Convention Romance series, my author friend, JossiLynn, has created a broad palette of characters with whom I could see myself being friends. Being the misfit that I am, I can’t help thinking I would fit in quite well with this unusual bunch, and that if they were real, they’d wholeheartedly welcome me into their “family of friends.” All of the heroes and heroines have sympathetic backstories that never fail to tug at my heartstrings, and I’ve come to care about each one in turn. That said, however, the author doesn’t usually dig quite deep enough to suit me when it comes to the characters’ internal conflicts. Sometimes there isn’t much internal conflict to speak of, even though their backstories are ripe for that type of exploration. Instead, it’s more about the external conflicts. Four books into the series, I’ve come to the conclusion that JossiLynn is more of a plot-driven author, who focuses primarily on the things that happen to her characters, but despite being a reader who prefers more character-driven stories, I’ve still enjoyed reading her books thus far.
In K Is for Kismet, Kade and Molly are the “main” hero and heroine. Kade has been lurking in the background since the beginning of the series. He’s an FBI agent, who was also a reservist in the special forces. He was called up for duty and went to Afghanistan, where he was gravely wounded in battle, losing a leg. Upon returning home and finding out that his future with both the military and the FBI were basically over, he became suicidal, but he was stopped from killing himself by a nurse named Karin, who he later found out was a ghost who had appeared to several other characters in the series, always portending a soul mate match. Since then he’s been living and working on a ranch next-door to his long-time best friend, Blake (K Is for Kissed), and sharing a house with his new best friends, Randy and Oscar (K Is for Kindred). Blake hires Kade to provide security for his convention and there he meets Molly. Because of his knowledge of the near-legendary ghost of Karin Cross, he’s also quite open to the idea that Molly is indeed his soul mate.
Molly is a New York Times best-selling author and regular attendee of the convention, who first appeared in the previous book, K Is for Kindred. She was previously in an abusive relationship and was nearly beaten to death by her ex. As a result, she suffers from epilepsy and has a service dog named Maggie who can predict when Molly is about to have an episode so that she can get to a safe place to ride it out. Because of a self-consciousness associated with her disability, Molly hasn’t really dated in recent history, but during a couple of her episodes, she was also attended by the ghostly Karin. She only learns about the history of this apparition when she meets Kade, and at first, she isn’t quite sure what to think. But it’s not long before she becomes a believer too.
I liked both Molly and Kade, but I felt like things were a little too easy for them as a couple. It’s pretty much insta-love and everything falls into place for them with little fanfare. Their relationship also moves at light-speed with them meeting, falling in love, getting married, and being prepared to start a family, all within a week’s time. They perhaps took a little more time to get to know one another than some of the previous couples in the series did, but they were still falling into bed within a day or two of meeting. Nothing really happened that posed any kind of genuine threat to their relationship either. They even discover that they share the same “kink” of enjoying role-play. For the most part, their love scenes didn’t seem quite as hot as some of the previous couples. I also have to admit that their first love scene was a little jarring for me too, because they’re role-playing, but it’s all playing out in Molly’s mind. Even though they were using their real names, this made it seem like more of a story within a story, involving different characters. Another thing that annoyed me a bit about this scene is that even though Kade did the right thing by trying to put on a condom, Molly refuses to use protection even though she admits she isn’t on birth control. Kade then offered to pull out, but coitus interruptus is a notoriously unreliable form of birth control, not to mention wild assumptions were made about them being STD-free. I simply have a pet peeve about couples in contemporary romance engaging in unprotected sex when they aren’t in a committed relationship or haven’t had an adult conversation about it. However, given where things go later in the story it might not have been such a big deal for me except that Molly’s excuse was that condoms didn’t exist in the forties and it was ruining her role-play scenario. I assume she meant the 1940’s, and condoms most certainly did exist back then. In fact, the first rubber condoms were manufactured in the 1850’s and even long before that, there were other types of condoms available. So her argument didn’t hold water for me. OK, history lesson and mini-rant over.;-) Even though the stakes in Kade and Molly’s relationship weren’t high enough IMHO, I did like them as a couple, and I’m willing to accept that they’re soul mates like all the other couples in the series have been.
As with the other books in the series (except the first one, of course), the hero and heroine (or in this case two heroes) of the previous book, play a huge role in the present book. They probably get close to fifty percent of the POV scenes, which as usual is a double-edged sword for me. I always enjoy visiting with them again, but sometimes I can’t help feeling that they’re taking away valuable page time from the “main” hero and heroine. In K Is for Kismet, to be quite honest, Randy and Oscar really stole the show. They’re the ones who are having conflicts in their relationship, both internal and external. Internally, they’re both struggling with their past sexual relationships and what that means for their future. Randy has a BDSM fetish and used to go to sex clubs for his fix but doesn’t really engage in that sort of sex play with Oscar. For his part, Oscar is wondering if he can permanently give up having sex with women, since the only sex partners he had before Randy were female. While in Vegas, they both agree to feed each other’s sexual needs. Oscar will accompany Randy to a sex club where he can play the dominant with another man, while Randy will engage in a menage with Oscar and a woman of his choosing. Of course, both men experience some feelings of jealousy in the process. I ended up having very mixed feelings about all of this. It was great to see the characters have some internal conflicts, but at the same time, I felt like this was something they should have worked out before making a commitment to each other and getting their supposed HEA in the previous book. For me, it all called into question their true feelings for one another. Admittedly, though, that all kind of paled in light of the climactic events near the end of the book involving both of their crazy estranged family members that leads to a lot of heartache and that made me sad for this couple, but at the same time, very much solidified their relationship once and for all.
In addition to Randy and Oscar, there are lots of other supporting characters. We get to see a little more of Samantha and James (K Is for Kink), and Blake and Lily (K Is for Kissed), who are both happy and settled in their marriages with kids who are growing like weeds. Samantha’s dad, Dan, and Blake’s mom, Luciana, are also happy together and playing the doting grandparents. Oscar’s best friend, Pete, and his boyfriend, Mario, are still together as well. Oscar’s sister, Janel, is as bitchy as ever, but she takes things a step too far in this book and finally gets what’s coming to her. We’re introduced to Kade’s friend, Mike, who works security with him at the convention and also has FBI ties, as well as his young daughter, Heather. Mike, along with a mysterious woman who keeps turning up in Randy’s and Oscar’s lives but whose identity we don’t know until the final lines of the book, become the hero and heroine of the fifth and final book of the series, K Is for Karin. Then there is the ghostly apparition of Karin Cross who continues to work her magic. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful animal characters, particularly Molly’s dog, Maggie, who seems to have ties to Karin, and Lily’s horse, Bonnie. Both of these animals become major heroes of the book, but the ending for one of them left me very sad.
Overall, K Is for Kismet was a good read that I enjoyed. I may have had issues with a few things, but in the end, I didn’t feel like they warranted knocking off more than one star. Deeper character and relationship development for Kade and Molly would have been nice, but I guess, despite my mixed feelings on the matter, Randy and Oscar, pretty much made up for it. I hated the things that happened to them, but they did add a lot of excitement to the story. I’m sufficiently intrigued by Mike, Heather, and Mike’s mysterious lady love that I’m looking forward to reading their book soon.
Note: This book contains explicit language and sexual situations, including role-play, anal sex, some BDSM, and a menage a quatre that includes M/M, F/F, M/F/F, and M/M/F/F interactions, which some readers may find offensive....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Now that I’ve finished the Fifty Shades Trilogy I’m feeling both happy and sad. I’m so happy that I finally got around to readReviewed for THC Reviews Now that I’ve finished the Fifty Shades Trilogy I’m feeling both happy and sad. I’m so happy that I finally got around to reading the series, because it’s been one of the most amazing literary experiences of my life. I’ve loved each of the books in turn, as I followed Christian and Anastasia through their tumultuous, emotional, roller-coaster relationship that has seen them both grow and change in unexpected but welcome ways. I’ve come to love the characters so much, I almost feel like they’re real. I just can’t get enough of them. At the same time, I’m now sad, because I can’t go back and become a Fifty Shades virgin again.:-( Don’t you wish you could flip a switch in your brain and forget your favorite stories, so you can read them all over again like it’s the first time? But alas, their story is finished (more or less). I know that the author is rewriting it from Christian's perspective, and I welcome the chance to read it again from a different point of view, but I probably won’t until Ms. James has all of them completed. I could barely stand to wait between these books, and I don’t think I’ll want to wait between the new POV books either. We’ll see, though, if I can hold out that long.:-) At least I have the Fifty Shades Darker movie to console me in the immediate, but then I’ll probably have to wait another year for the movie version of this book. No matter what, though, these are books that I won’t soon forget and will definitely revisit in the years to come.
Christian is one of the most unforgettable romance heroes I’ve ever read. He’s a brilliant businessman, but his intelligence surpasses the business world and can be found in his personal life, too, in the form of his interests, hobbies, and general knowledge. He begins the series as a broken man, who doesn’t think he has much to offer from a genuine relationship standpoint. All he’s ever know is his Dominant lifestyle, but Anastasia becomes the one woman he can’t resist on an emotional level and who tempts him to want more. All of his love, affection, desire, and passion becomes solely focused on her alone, which makes for a heady romantic brew. Christian has grown from a Dom who wanted to tame Ana and bend her to his will, to a husband and lover who’s intrigued and challenged by her smart mouth and unwillingness to be cowed by him. He’s also grown to regret any pain or discomfort he brings her even if she found enjoyment in it, which I feel shows just how much he truly cares for her and is willing to change for her. Of course, he’s still eager to engage in sex play, so that hasn’t changed.;-) He just doesn’t want to mark or hurt her anymore. Christian’s vulnerabilities and how he still sometimes needs reassurance continue to melt my heart. As always, he can be a bit overbearing and overprotective, but most of the time, he's open to listening to Ana's concerns and taking her feelings into consideration. However, he isn’t perfect. When unexpected circumstances arise, putting his carefully ordered world into disarray, it can be difficult for him to cope. But he eventually comes around. In the end, I felt like he’d made great strides from an emotional perspective. Hence the “freed” in the title. In some ways, he’d changed, and in other ways, he didn’t. But in every way, he’d become a better version of himself.
I like that Ana is still the ordinary girl from day one, who's out of her element in Christian's world of wealth and splendor. She's totally content with the simple things in life even though he wants to place the world at her feet. On their honeymoon, when he bought her a bracelet that cost thousands, she later went out and brought herself a five dollar anklet at a low-end tourist shop, which I thought perfectly showcased the kind of girl she is. For her, it’s never been about the money; it’s only about her love for Christian. Although Ana has always been willing to take a stand when she needed to, she began as a shy girl who lacked confidence in her abilities. Being with Christian has helped her to grow into a more confident woman who doesn’t hesitate to speak out to both her beloved husband and others. I love how she stood up to their new architect who was being sexually predatory toward Christian, and let her know in no uncertain terms that she wasn’t going to put up with it. Ana is every bit as protective of Christian as he is of her, and she worries every bit as much about his safety as he worries about hers. Christian may have begun their love story with plans to tame Ana, but in fact, it was she who tamed him. She's incredibly deft at handling Christian's mercurial moods and keeping him from losing control most of the time. It’s like she’s become the Christian whisperer.:-) And just because she doesn’t like the hard-core BDSM stuff that he used to engage in doesn’t mean that she doesn’t like to play too. In fact, she’s begun to crave his kinks and is actually disappointed when they can’t have playtime.
Christian and Ana’s relationship is a thing of rare beauty. They’re both very giving and loving toward each other, showing a willingness to compromise until they find that happy medium that’s acceptable to both of them. It's really cute how they can't seem to get enough of each other. They love one another with their whole beings and from the moment they met, all others ceased to exist. They each believe in the other in ways they often don’t believe in themselves, but in doing so they help the other to gain confidence in their own capabilities. Their relationship is one of warm, sweet, emotional moments interspersed with lots and lots of blazing passion. By the time I reached the end of the book, I was more than convinced that Christian and Ana were going to have a long and happy future together, till death do they part.
The one and only thing about this book that I found ever so slightly disappointing is that I really wanted more of a comeuppance for Elena aka Mrs. Robinson. Like Ana, I never felt like what she did to Christian at such a young age was right, even if he did feel it helped him in some ways. I loved what happened in the last book with Ana and Christian’s mother taking the woman to task, but I was almost expecting more in this book. Without giving too much away, I’ll say that I was at least glad that Christian came to a place of accepting that his relationship with her hadn’t entirely been as a good thing as he’d originally thought and he permanently cut ties with her once and for all. It’s just that I always agreed with Ana that she wasn’t the true “friend” that Christian thought her to be and in fact, had behaved in a sexually predatory manner toward him. However, I guess this is one of those things where there unfortunately isn’t equality between the sexes. And it wasn’t in any way a deal-breaker for me, nor did it mar my reading of this otherwise exceptional love story. Christian and Ana’s extraordinary love more than made up for it.
I also enjoyed all the little side romances that have been brewing in the background over the course of the trilogy. Christian’s brother, Elliot, and Ana’s best friend, Kate, move forward in their relationship. Exactly what’s going on between Christian’s sister, Mia, and Kate’s brother, Ethan, remains somewhat ambiguous, but it seems like they may have something romantic in the works too. Then there’s a slightly unexpected pairing that we first learn of in this book, which leads to more for this couple. Of course, Christian’s parents who are still happily married after many years shine as a beacon of love and hope.
Even though I’ve tried, I don’t think I can begin to express exactly how much I love these books and how much of an impact they’ve had on me. Christian is the kind of hero I’d love to wrap up in my arms and give all the love he deserves, while Ana is someone I could definitely see myself being friends with, because we’re so much alike. I enjoyed the way Ms. James bookended this volume of the story with two little vignettes from Christian’s childhood. The opening one nearly had be in tears as this little boy struggles for life in the days following his birth mother’s death. The ending one was happier with little Christian celebrating his first Christmas as the Grey’s newly adopted son, but at the same time, we can still see the sadness and self-loathing present in that tiny head. The author finishes the book off with two scenes from Christian’s perspective, the first being where he meets Ana in his office, and the second being his visit to her at Clayton’s hardware store. I’m guessing that these scenes are giving a glimpse of the opening chapters of Grey, and I can’t wait to read more. But alas, I suppose I’ll have to be patient. In any case, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this ride and will definitely take any opportunity I can get to revisit Christian and Ana’s world in the future.
Note: This book contains explicit language and sexual situations, including bondage, spanking, use of sex toys, and anal play, which some readers may find offensive....more