Reviewed for THC Reviews A Plague of Zombies falls about one year after The Scottish Prisoner in the Lord John Grey series chronology. In this one, JohReviewed for THC Reviews A Plague of Zombies falls about one year after The Scottish Prisoner in the Lord John Grey series chronology. In this one, John has now been promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and is finally the one in charge of the troops. He’s been sent, along with a number of other soldiers, to Jamaica to put down a slave revolt. As with most things in life, this isn’t as simple and straight-forward as it seems. As John starts looking into matters upon his arrival on the island, he starts to uncover government corruption and other criminal deeds, some of which have led to the slaves rebelling. Add in tales of the supernatural and John being attacked by what appears to be a zombie, and you have the makings of a fun and engaging read.
As always John shows that he’s an honorable man who always tries to do the right thing, standing out in contrast to the corrupt officials who think nothing of using and abusing slaves, as well as engaging in other misdeeds. He also proves himself, once again, to be highly intelligent, methodically investigating the root cause of the slave uprising and later a murder, and of course, figuring everything out in due time. John gets to show his diplomatic side as well, when he must negotiate with the maroons (those who are essentially at the head of the rebellion) for the release of his men. In this, he also proves his bravery again, too. According to Diana Gabaldon’s author note, all of this is apparently in preparation for John eventually becoming governor of Jamaica, which is where he is when Jamie and Claire find themselves there in Voyager. Last but not least, I love that for a man from his time period, he’s almost surprisingly colorblind. In Custom of the Army, he had a very brief affair with a Native American, and although nothing comes of it this time, he, nonetheless, finds himself extremely attracted to one of the governor’s black servants in this story. So all in all, John is still the amazing hero I’ve come to love over the course of reading the Outlander series and now his own books.
Overall, I really enjoyed A Plague of Zombies. Out of the shorter novellas of the series, this is now my favorite one. It may have partly been because the military theme was fairly minimal this time. But I think it may also have to do with it being a little more closely related to events in the Outlander books than some of the other Lord John stories are. Not only do we get to see John taking actions in Jamaica where he will eventually be in charge, but he also interviews Geillis Duncan who, of course, is now Mrs. Abernathy of Rose Hill plantation, right after her husband dies. Being the sharp investigator that he is, John almost immediately realizes that she’s probably guilty of murdering the man herself, although he has no proof, merely a hunch. John also briefly meets up with a couple of members of the Twelvetrees family who’ve been a thorn in his side, while trying to keep his duel with Edward Twelvetrees back in London a secret. The last thing that really made this novella pop for me was the zombie theme, which is really interwoven with the black African culture of the island. I don’t know if it’s actually possible to make a zombie as presented in the book, but I know Ms. Gabaldon is a master at research and if she included it, there must be at least some anecdotal evidence for such a thing. I think I’m an armchair anthropologist at heart, so I loved learning about the cultural aspects of voodoo and other mystical practices that the Africans brought with them, as well as how the former slaves escaped into the hills of the island. It all made for a fascinating story that kept me riveted throughout. A Plague of Zombies was originally published in the multi-author anthology, Down These Strange Streets, and was later republished as a stand-alone novella in eBook format. It’s most recent publication is in the single-author anthology, Seven Stones to Stand or Fall, along with several other Outlander related novellas....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews I just started this new-to-me YA series this year, and I have to say that so far, I’m pretty impressed. I’m not loving it quitReviewed for THC Reviews I just started this new-to-me YA series this year, and I have to say that so far, I’m pretty impressed. I’m not loving it quite as much as The Hunger Games, but it’s still been an exciting, action-packed thrill-ride that’s kept me on the edge of my seat and my brain engaged, wondering exactly what’s going on and why these kids are being put through all of these Trials. Whereas the first book, The Maze Runner, was more about them figuring out how to escape the maze, The Scorch Trials is pretty much a survival story. The Gladers escaped The Maze, thinking that it was all finally over and they were safe. But they’re not. It’s just the beginning of yet another challenge. They’re now tasked with crossing The Scorch, a stretch of land that’s broiling hot and dead as far as the eye can see. They only have a limited amount of time to reach the Safe Haven on the other side of a mountain range beyond a decimated city that’s now only populated with Cranks, people who are infected with a disease known as the Flare. Along the way, they’ll lose comrades to various diabolical challenges, not unlike the Grievers in the Maze. But perhaps most surprising of all is that the Gladers discover they weren’t the only ones who had to go through the Trials, and now Thomas, our intrepid hero, is essentially being hunted by the other group for an unknown reason. It all made for some great reading that really held my attention and kept me coming back for more.
As with the first book of the series, the entire story is told from the third-person perspective of Thomas, the main character. He was the last of the boys to enter the Glade and proved himself to be a strong leader even though he didn’t entirely take up that mantle. When he awoke in the Box, headed to the Glade, he could no longer remember anything about himself or his life up to that point. After being stung by a Griever and going through the Change, he started to remember bits and pieces of his life before the Glade, but everything was still pretty murky. He begins to remember more in this volume, giving the reader a few more glimpses into his past, but his memories are still disjointed enough to not present a full picture of who he was and why he was sent into these Trials. We do know, though, that Thomas was aware of the experiment and consented to it beforehand. In fact, he may have somehow been in on the planning of it. We also learn that Thomas is an important player in the experiment, so much so that WICKED is willing to intervene on his behalf when things don’t go as planned. However, most of Thomas’ life and the reasons behind the Trials are still in shadow.
Thomas has an ensemble cast of secondary characters to back him up, but he interacts with different ones at different times throughout the book. As the story opens, he is still with his friends and fellow Gladers who survived the escape from the Maze. After learning of their new mission, this small band, including Minho, Newt, Frypan, and others from the Glade, as well as newcomer, Aris, but minus Teresa who’s been taken elsewhere, must cross The Scorch. Aris is an intriguing character, because like Thomas and Teresa, he can communicate telepathically. On their way to the Safe Haven, the Gladers must pass through a destroyed city, where they meet two Cranks, Jorge and Brenda, who unlike many other Cranks there, are still in control of their faculties. These two help the Gladers and join them on their journey, while Brenda becomes a second possible love interest for Thomas. Along the way, they’re also reunited with Teresa and a group of girls who they learn were their counterparts in a parallel experiment. But Thomas is no longer certain he can trust Teresa after she orchestrates some unexpected events.
Since this is a YA book, this is where I’ll diverge for a moment to give my take, as a parent, on the book’s appropriateness for a younger audience. There’s very little in the way of sensuality. Thomas shares a couple of fairly chaste kisses with one of the girls and there’s a small amount of very mild sexual tension between Thomas and each of the female leads. Thomas and Brenda end up at a Crank party, where they’re forced to drink something presumably alcoholic that’s also been laced with a drug, and we briefly see the aftereffects on the partygoers the next morning. Language is a little murkier. There are only maybe three instances of a mild profanity being used. However, there are additional instances of some British profanities, and the characters frequently use Glader slang such as shuck and klunk that stand in for actual bad words. These euphemisms may go over the heads of younger readers, but savvy teens are sure to understand the meaning behind them. What would probably be of most concern, though, is the violence. Much like in other YA post-apocalyptic science-fiction stories, these kids are put through the ringer and many of them die along the way, sometimes rather hideously. They frequently find themselves fighting for their lives against various monsters and nature itself, never quite sure who might be taken from them next, and there’s a certain degree of fallout to Thomas’ psyche each time one of his friends dies. He also sometimes struggles psychologically with the Trials themselves but always manages to find the strength to keep fighting. The long-gone Cranks, who’ve succumbed to the Flare, are basically grotesque, zombie-like creatures who apparently feed on human flesh. All of these parts of the story could be a little too scary for younger kids, so I would only recommend the book for around age thirteen and up, who aren’t overly sensitive or prone to nightmares and with a recommendation of parental or educator guidance.
Overall, The Scorch Trials was another entertaining read for me in this series. In addition to the virtually non-stop action and adventure, the thing that really kept me reading was the mystery. There’s the big question of who Thomas and the others were before being put through the Trials and exactly why they’re being put through it. I believe the general answer lies in these experiments somehow being humanity’s last hope for survival, but all the details are still yet to be revealed. Then there’s also the mystery of exactly who Thomas can trust, because people he thought were friends start betraying him along the way, leaving a lot more questions in their wake as to why they’re doing the things they’re doing. There was at least one major event that occurred, which left me wondering what its purpose was, but since everything else is still a big question mark, I’ll give the author the benefit of the doubt and trust that he’s going to have it all making sense by the end. And speaking of the end, I have very high hopes that the ending is going to be great. There’s certainly plenty yet to reveal, and I’m very much looking forward to The Death Cure to find out exactly what’s going on and who makes it to the end of this crazy test alive while hoping that it’s all worth the journey....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Prince Charming was an excellent conclusion to Gaelen Foley’s Ascension Trilogy. There were a few moments when I wondered if iReviewed for THC Reviews Prince Charming was an excellent conclusion to Gaelen Foley’s Ascension Trilogy. There were a few moments when I wondered if it was going to get tops marks from me, and I have to admit that it was ever so slightly my least favorite of the series, but in the end, it definitely won me over. I loved it almost as much as the other two, giving the series a perfect 5.0 record for me. In this one, Rafael, Lazar and Allegra’s (The Pirate Prince) son and heir to the throne of Ascension is left in charge of the fictional island nation as Prince Regent while his parents travel abroad to visit his sister, brother-in-law, and their family. Lazar has been suffering from a mysterious stomach ailment, which the doctors believe is some form of cancer, but only the Prime Minister and Rafe know about it. Rafe wonders if someone might be trying to poison his father, but if so, no evidence of it has been found yet. His heroine, Daniela, lives a double-life as both the daughter of a duke and the Masked Rider, a hero of the people who robs from the rich to give to the poor. When she tries to rob the Prince, she finds she’s met her match when she ends up in jail. But knowing he needs to find a bride in order to fulfill his parents’ wishes and carry on the regal line and also knowing that Dani is respected by the people of Ascension, Rafe bargains with her, offering her and her cohorts their freedom in exchange for her hand in marriage. He just didn’t expect to fall in love with his new bride or for her to prove to be such a worthy match. The two must then stand up to a villainous kinsman, who is trying to usurp the throne.
Rafael is known throughout Ascension as Rafe the Rake. Despite being the heir to the throne, no one takes him seriously because of his reputation as a ladies man and his seeming disinterest in anything other than the pleasures of the flesh. But underneath his devil-may-care facade beats a loyal and tender heart. He loves his country and longs to be a good leader, but he fears he can never live up to his beloved father’s legacy. He also feels that his father has been too hard on him throughout the years and that the King doesn’t believe in him any more than his advisers or the people of Ascension do. When Lazar leaves Rafe in charge of Ascension during his absence, it’s a responsibility that he’s been itching to be given, but at the same time, he’s uncertain if he can pull it off. Years ago, as a callow youth, in his sister’s book Princess, Rafe was taken in by a devious woman who played upon his sympathies to get him to rescue her and become her lover, then she cruelly betrayed both him and the entire country. Needless to say, it left him with a bad taste in his mouth where women are concerned and he doesn’t trust easily. When he’s robbed by the Masked Rider and tracks the miscreant to Dani’s estate, he’s instantly smitten with her, but when he later discovers her hidden identity, he isn’t sure he can trust her. However, he sees marrying her as no hardship and believes it will raise his worth in the eyes of the people if not the royal advisers.
Rafe may be a rakish playboy who can charm the stockings off most women, but he’s a young man whose emotions run deep and who can be hurt easily. That’s why I think he’s at least partly a beta hero. He wears his heart on his sleeve when it comes to Dani, even though he doesn’t realize at first that he’s in love with her. But once he does, he wants no other woman. Despite seeming a tad immature, he does take his responsibilities as Prince Regent seriously, which I found admirable, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to save the country, as well as both her life and the lives of his family members. The only two things that gave me pause were his inability to make up his mind regarding whether to keep his mistress after marrying Dani and his charm skating a little too close to forced seduction for me. In regards to the mistress, at first, he’s a bit too easily swayed by her manipulations and doesn’t immediately give her the boot like I felt he should have. This was another reason for me saying he’s part beta, because he can’t stand her tears and doesn’t want to rock the boat. But in his defense, he does come to his senses before things go too far and doesn’t technically cheat on Dani (although other readers may disagree on this point). In regards to the second issue, in one scene, he brings Dani to his room while he’s drunk, fully intending to seduce her despite her protestations and probably would have if he hadn’t discovered her secret. His saving grace here was that he gave her an opportunity to leave, but she didn’t take it. Then on their wedding night, something similar happened, where she was fighting him and telling him no, but he continues trying to make love to her for a while anyway because he thinks it’s just maidenly fears that he can overcome. Again, this incident made me a teensy bit uncomfortable, but he does eventually stop. Otherwise, Rafe was a great hero, and his later gallantry pretty much erased these early slight missteps for me.
Daniela may be a noblewoman, but she’s been living in genteel poverty, trying her best to provide for an ailing grandfather, the only family she has left, and her tenants. She’s always been a tomboy and knows about things that most women don’t, such as how to shoot and make bombs, so when finances became too tight, she took up the persona of the Masked Rider. She may occasionally humiliate a rich man, but she never harms anyone when stealing from them. Unfortunately she picks the wrong man to tangle with when she and her cohorts, who’ve been her friends since childhood, accidentally try to rob the Crown Prince. It doesn’t happen right away, but eventually she and her friends are arrested for their misdeeds and threatened with hanging, until Rafe makes his offer of marriage in exchange for their lives. She’s had a fairytale crush on the prince since she was a girl and finds it hard to resist him, but she’s been an independent woman for so long, she can’t imagine being under a man’s thumb. However, the prince can be very persuasive.
Dani loves Ascension and her people every bit as much as Rafe does, so when Rafe’s cousin comes to her saying that Rafe could be in danger of being disinherited for marrying her if she doesn’t resist consummating the marriage so that it can be annulled when the King and Queen return, she’s willing to go along with it at first. She’s also afraid of getting pregnant, because her own mother died in childbirth, which also played into her decision. I liked that she was smart enough to not entirely trust Rafe’s cousin, though, and asked one of her friends to investigate him. When she begins to put the pieces of the puzzle together with regards to what’s happening politically and when she realizes how much she loves Rafe, she doesn’t hesitate to give him all of herself and her love. I loved that Dani is loyal to a fault and would never betray Rafe or Ascension. She’s the perfect mix of sweetness and spice, a gentle, giving woman by nature but a strong, feisty one when she has to be and the perfect match for Rafe.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Prince Charming. Rafe and Dani complemented each other in every way. Their love for each other gave them strength to stand up to the villain when he tried to tear them and their country apart, and it gave them faith and trust in one another. They share some very romantic moments, as well as some super-sexy ones. The villain was very compelling with strong characterization and motives, and his manipulations made perfect sense. Rafe’s friends helped him out a lot and were generally loyal to him if a bit too outspoken at times. Since Darius and Serafina (Princess) live in Spain and Lazar and Allegra are off visiting them for most of the story, Rafe’s family don’t play much of a part, but we do get to see Lazar at the very beginning, as well as him and Allegra at the end. Darius and Serafina come back to Ascension to make a brief appearance at the end as well. The story is well-plotted with plenty of suspense, and although we know who the villain is from very early on, his motives are much more of a surprise. I didn’t guess those until it was revealed. Everything came together to make this a wonderful story and a clean sweep for the series....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews White Night was another thrilling adventure for our intrepid private detective wizard, Harry Dresden. This case was pretty mucReviewed for THC Reviews White Night was another thrilling adventure for our intrepid private detective wizard, Harry Dresden. This case was pretty much tailor-made for a chivalrous guy like Harry, because women in the magical community, mid-level practitioners who mostly fly under the radar, are being attacked. They’re either going missing or turning up dead of apparent suicides, but it only takes Harry a few minutes investigating the scene where one of these ladies died to know something supernatural is afoot. Then all signs start leading him back to his own brother, Thomas, as the prime suspect, even though Harry is certain Thomas would never do such a thing. It’s a mystery that takes him right into the heart of vampire politics, where he discovers that someone may be trying to sabotage peace talks between the White Council and the Red Court. And it all culminates in an epic battle with supercharged ghouls that appear to be controlled by the entity Harry calls Cowl, who may be a traitor within the ranks of the White Council. Like I said, it was another exciting installment of the Dresden Files that really kept me on the edge of my seat.
Harry has been a wonderful character for me from the start. He’s pretty much everything I look for in a male lead of any novel, and it didn’t take me long to understand why my romance-reading friends kept recommending this series to me. I’m so glad they convinced me to give the Dresden Files a try, because they were all right, and he just keeps getting better and better as the series goes on. He’s daring and courageous, never afraid to try something that sounds crazy in an attempt to save the day, even though doing so in the past always seems to lead to a death-defying moment, which of course, is half the fun of the stories. And while he may be a little rough around the edges, he’s a kind soul who really cares about people and is loyal to a fault when it comes to his friends. He’s also strong, always putting himself in harm’s way to save others. He’s simply awesome, and with each new book, he seems to discover something new about himself. In this one, he encounters some unexpected anger issues that appear to be related to his uneasy alliance with Lasciel. I love how he handled that situation, which showed that he hadn’t allowed himself to become corrupted by her presence. Then how things ended between them leaves me wondering how he might be different in future books of the series. But before that all happened, Lash (as he nicknamed her) let him in on a secret about himself that he didn’t know and that I suspect will also lead to some additional changes for him. In any case, I can’t wait to find out what those changes might be.
As always, Harry has an incredible cast of supporting characters to back him up, some of whom appear in most of the books and others we may only see occasionally, but I love them all. At the top of the list in White Night is Thomas. Like Harry, I knew he couldn’t possibly be guilty of killing the magical women, but he has been pretty secretive, not only in this book, but the previous one as well. All I can say is that I loved Thomas before, and when his secrets came out, I loved him even more. He’s another character who could easily be a romance novel lead. Right alongside him would be Warden Carlos Ramirez, another strong, courageous young wizard. When this guy’s big secret came out, I was laughing right along with Harry, but in a delighted way. I can’t help wondering if he might become a possible love interest for Harry’s apprentice, Molly, who is still youthfully stubborn but learns some valuable lessons in this story. Murphy is right there by Harry’s side, too. This petite woman packs a huge punch when she has to, and I love how she’s become completely accepting of Harry’s crazy world. She’s also there to call him on the mat when his rage goes a little too far. I still don’t know if anything romantic is going to happen between these two, but I’ll be eagerly waiting to find out. Another possible contender is Harry’s ex, Elaine, who shows up again. I admit it’s been so long since I last saw her, I don’t recall much about her previous appearance, except that they were on opposing sides. But this time, they’re fighting on the same side with her trying to protect the women as well. It’s obvious that she and Harry still have chemistry, although she lives in LA where she also works as a PI, so I don’t know how likely it is for a romantic reunion between them. If something did happen, I wouldn’t be averse to the idea, because I liked her here. She has enough power to be a Warden, but chooses to avoid that life, although she does want to make a difference and cares deeply about her clients. Then there’s Mouse, who shows some new powers of his own in this book. These are the most important of the good guys.
On the side of Harry’s frenemies, those people with whom Harry has a tentative working relationship in the interest of fighting a common enemy, we have Marcone, the Chicago crime boss who’s been there from the start. Even though he’s a criminal who’s generally only looking our for his own interests and can’t entirely be trusted, I’ve always kind of liked him. He has his own sense of honor. It seems that he can be taken at his word, and he’s gotten Harry out of a few tight spots even though there’s usually a price attached. It’s looking like Marcone is going to be taking on an even greater role on the supernatural side of Chicago. Helen Beckitt, one of the secondary baddies from the very first book, Storm Front, resurfaces, but isn’t entirely all that she seems. Then there’s Thomas’ older sister, Lara, and with her having control over their father, Lord Raith, the leader of the White Court, she is now really their de facto leader. This means that when other vampires try to sabotage the peace talks, she and Harry find themselves mostly on the same side, although she proves craftier in the whole process than it seems at first glance. The real baddies are a total mystery at first, but they turn out to be a combination of new characters and one old character we’ve met before. As a whole, they cause a boatload of trouble for Harry to clean up.
Overall, White Night was another great installment in the Dresden Files. There were maybe a few places where I thought perhaps the descriptive prose could have been pared down just a bit, because my mind wandered a little. Also, the vampire politics got just a tad confusing, but by the end, I think I’d gotten a pretty good handle on everything. Because of these two things, the book was running around a 4.5 on my star meter until I got to the nail-biting conclusion. That kept my attention fully engaged wondering exactly how Harry and company were going to get out of yet another extremely dangerous situation and it didn’t disappoint. Not to mention, there were a few things revealed in the final pages that made it more than worth the wait to get there. So, I decided that White Night was worth the full five stars. I can’t wait to keep reading about our intrepid hero and all his friends to find out what happens next in their lives....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Wow! Becoming Death was an awesome wrap-up to my author friend, D. T. Dyllin’s Death Trilogy. In my review of theReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Wow! Becoming Death was an awesome wrap-up to my author friend, D. T. Dyllin’s Death Trilogy. In my review of the second book, Embracing Death, I’d expressed concern over whether the story could ever have a happy ending, but I shouldn’t have worried. That’s not to say that this conclusion isn’t still dark, because it is. The author takes the reader on a twisting, turning, action-packed, emotional roller-coaster ride that left me wondering more than once how on earth this was all going to end well. But that ended up being part of the beauty of the story. It kept me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end, always guessing and never really knowing what might happen next. The story was certainly anything but predictable, and that, in my estimation, is a very good thing.
This volume opens with our heroine, Samantha, being taken captive by the powers-that-be who she used to work for, or at least, that’s who she thinks is holding her. Throughout her imprisonment, things happen, but she’s never quite sure if they’re real or if someone is messing with her mind again, implanting memories of things she didn’t actually experience. Then when Austin, the love of her life, finally comes for her, they go on the run. But eventually, they realize that the only way they’re ever going to have any chance at something resembling a normal life is to go after the people they used to work for and take them down – as in kill them all – so there’s no one left who knows anything about the government program that made them into what they are today. However, they quickly discover that someone is one step ahead of them, which might make it impossible to reach their goal. Not to mention, Sam is having strange dreams about people dying and just before they do, they always say, “Fifteen.” It’s all a huge mystery that I really enjoyed unraveling, along with the nail-biting suspense that accompanies it.
Killing everyone associated with the project that completely altered their minds and memories isn’t much of a hardship for Austin and Sam. Their story is so dark and they’re so dark as characters as to pretty much be anti-heroes. Throughout the previous book, Sam was addicted to the high brought on by experiencing death emotions using her empath skills, and she unintentionally dragged Austin into her addiction as well. In some ways, he’s even further gone than Sam is by the time this book opens, and many other empaths who were part of the same program ended up turning into serial killers. As a warning here to sensitive readers, Austin and Sam left a number of bodies in their wake, some of whom arguably deserved it, but a few others who were basically innocent of any wrongdoing. If this would be bothersome, I’d say this book may not be for you. But the saving grace of these characters all throughout is that they can’t really help who they’ve become, and they became who they are as a result of extreme mind control that was inflicted from a very young age on them and others like them who also possessed psychic powers. In addition, even though their kills sometimes seem cold-blooded and they bask in the afterglow of the death emotions they experience by having wild sex, the author still manages to keep their humanity intact. At the core of everything they do and of their very souls is their unshakable love for each other that transcends everything. That’s what made me able to read this dark story, containing elements which in the hands of a less-talented writer would have been a total turn-off, and still feel empathy for the characters and want to root for them despite them sometimes doing bad things.
Throughout this book, Nixon is still there as a strong supporting character and the third point in this ongoing love triangle. It’s been obvious since the end of the first book that Austin and Sam are unbreakable soul mates, and Nixon is the only one who thinks he still has a chance with Sam. I’ve had a roller-coaster relationship with Nixon throughout the series. In book one, I mostly liked him. Even though he stole part of Sam’s life by taking her memories of Austin and making her think she was married to him, it seemed that he did it for a good reason, and I could tell that he genuinely cared about her. Then in book two, it appeared that Nixon had a much stronger connection to the powers-that-be than we first knew about, but at the same time, he was hiding some of his own psychic abilities, while in reality being much more powerful than anyone realized. By the end of that book, it appeared he had devious plans of his own to get Sam away from Austin and take her for himself. To some extent, those plans continue in this book and he does play the antagonist for part of the story. But what made me come back around to liking him again is that we learn the full impact of what was done to him as a child as well and exactly why he’s so obsessed with Sam, something he can’t really control any more than Austin and Sam can control their obsession with death. I couldn’t help feeling sympathetic toward him and his actions in the end were very heroic, so he was also a great character for me.
Overall, Becoming Death and the entire Death Trilogy in general was a phenomenal read. I’d highly recommend it for fans of more plot-driven, action-oriented stories, but at the same time, the author doesn’t skimp on the romance and emotional connection, especially in the first book. It’s absolutely clear that Austin and Sam are made for each other and there is no one else on the planet for either of them, even though many people and forces beyond their control have tried over and over to keep them apart. What was done to them was appalling and the people who took them and other children like them from their families at such a young age were reprehensible. I was very happy with the conclusion and how the author wrapped everything up and resolved their death addiction. I may have gone into the story doubtful of a happy ending, but I definitely got what I was hoping for. It was just a really dark and dangerous road to getting there.
Note: The love scenes are what I would deem steamy (typically a four on my sensuality scale), but most of them occur as a result of the characters experiencing the euphoria associated with them still being alive after someone else dies. Also, one scene contains asphyxiation, giving it a more erotic feel....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews I’ve been eager to try a Rob Bell book for quite a while, so when his newest one, What Is the Bible? was chosen as our latestReviewed for THC Reviews I’ve been eager to try a Rob Bell book for quite a while, so when his newest one, What Is the Bible? was chosen as our latest church book club read, I dove right in. I can easily say that I was not disappointed. I may have mentioned in some of my previous reviews of Christian books that I’ve been on a spiritual journey for the last sixteen years, and throughout that time, my thinking has evolved beyond the general beliefs of the traditional evangelical church in which I was raised. I no longer think that a literal interpretation of the Bible is the only way to read it. Not to mention, as one of our other book club members pointed out, whose interpretation is truly literal? Depending on who you talk to, what church denomination they come from, and what translation of the Bible they’re reading, a single verse could have multiple interpretations. That’s why I’ve come to believe that it’s not just up to ministers and other authority figures in the church to interpret Biblical meaning. We each have to look at it on an individual basis and figure out for ourselves what it means to us.
In What Is the Bible?, that’s largely what Rob Bell encourages us to do. Our pastor who leads our books club, as a parallel, told us how the children’s ministry of our church works with regards to teaching the little ones. She explained that rather than telling them a story and what the takeaway message is from that story, the lessons are designed to get the kids asking questions. So why shouldn’t we, as adults, do the same? Yes, I know some faith leaders of a more authoritarian mindset feel that questioning God’s Word is subversive, but as Rob Bell points out, many stories in the Bible are subversive. Personally, I feel that when we ask questions, we show that we’re open and seeking answers, and it’s in those teachable moments that we can grow spiritually. Can asking questions lead us away from our faith as some believe? Possibly, but I think that it can also strengthen faith if we let it. After all, faith is all about believing in a power greater than ourselves, and as long as you have that foundation, then learning more about where the Bible comes from and what it has to say shouldn’t cause that faith to waver even if you find something that seems to disprove what you previously knew.
Rob Bell has a fresh and interesting way of looking at the Bible. While I was reading the main chapters, the heavens opened up, light shone down, and angels sang.;-) Yeah, I know I’m being pretty hyperbolic there, but that is how I felt through most of the first three sections of the book. I learned so much and saw both old favorite Bible stories and passages with which I was less familiar illuminated in a whole different light. Occasionally I might feel just a tad uncomfortable, and I realized it was because my old way of thinking was being challenged. Yet at the same time, everything Rev. Bell said somehow made perfect sense in a way it never had before. For the first time in years, I felt excited about the Bible, because I was seeing something new that was worth exploring.
I know in recent years Rob Bell has become a controversial figure in the Christian church, but I also know that he has a lot of followers, many of whom are like myself. We’ve seen contradictions in our reading of the Bible, or can’t reconcile it with our knowledge of known history, science, or other facts, or we simply struggle with some of the things it seems to be saying, which is one of the dangers associated with trying to adhere to a literal interpretation. Critical thinkers like myself eventually hit the proverbial wall where things just don’t make sense anymore. What I appreciate about Rev. Bell is that he seems to understand all these doubts. I love his use of “turning the gem” as a metaphor for needing to look at the Bible from many different angles to see all of its facets. In using this imagery he also illuminates the idea that the Bible is the living Word of God that is still speaking to us and revealing things to us centuries or even millennia after it was first recorded. Part of my issue has been that I didn’t know the right questions to ask to find some of the answers I’m seeking, but What Is the Bible? gave me some great questions with which to begin. Although where to find the answers, since I’m not a biblical scholar, is perhaps a little murkier, there is also a recommended reading list at the end of the book, at which I’m planning to take a closer look. At the very least, this book has given me a jumping off point on where to start, and after reading this book, I’m definitely leaning toward becoming a Rob Bell fan. At the very least, I’m very much looking forward to checking out his other books, and if they’re half as illuminating at this one was, I’m sure I’ll enjoy them as well....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 "4.5 stars" More Than Enough was recommended by Erin Wathen, the former pastor of the church I attend, when we Skyped with herReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" More Than Enough was recommended by Erin Wathen, the former pastor of the church I attend, when we Skyped with her during our regular book club meeting after reading her new book. As a result More Than Enough was chosen as our latest book club read. I’m not quite sure why I had this impression, but when I picked it up, I thought it was going to be more of a book with tips and suggestions for simpler living. So, if this is an impression that you’ve gotten, too, know that it isn’t that type of book at all. It’s more of a compilation of essays on taking a deeper look at how we’re living and making intentional choices on ways we could do better. That’s not to say that I was disappointed in the book. I wasn’t, because the author had a lot of good and thoughtful things to say. So overall, I enjoyed it even if it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.
The author explains in her introduction exactly how the book is set up: “For the most part, the odd-numbered chapters are a little more practical. That is they examine hands-on topics like money, possessions, community service, and advocacy work. The even-numbered chapters are more theoretical; they explore ideas and practices that Christians have used for centuries to make sense of their lives and their relationship with God. All the chapters ultimately ask the question: How should we live?” The even-numbered chapters have one-word titles: Enough, Lament, Confession, Sabbath, Hope, Delight. They take a more philosophical approach to examining our lives on a deeper level, while as the author says, the odd-numbered ones are a little more practical. Rev. Moses doesn’t necessarily give specifics on how to live, but she does seek to inspire the reader to take more practical steps to live out the concepts found in the other chapters. No matter which it is, I love that all-important question regarding how we should live. Ultimately that’s a question that we can only answer individually, which is perhaps why the author didn’t give more specifics.
One of the previous books our book club read pointed out just how wasteful America is as a country, and that compliments the discussion in this book of how we do live in a culture of excess that’s not merely borne out in wastefulness. The reality is that here in America, we seem to think that bigger is better: bigger portions of food when we go to the restaurant, bigger stores so we have more selection, bigger packages like what we find at warehouse stores like Costco, just everything is bigger. And at the same time, so much of all that stuff is going to waste. I looked up the statistics and found that Americans buy 80 billion new items of clothing each year, and approximately 11 million tons (about the same amount) end up in landfills during that same time frame. Awareness campaigns to keep textiles out of landfills are great, but I’ve also heard that even thrift stores are becoming overwhelmed with the sheer amount of clothes that are donated. The problem that Rev. Moses presents is that we, as a group of people, generally have the mindset of needing more even when, if we took a closer look at our lives, most of us would find that we already have enough. Perhaps, when we go shopping, we should ask ourselves if we really need that new blouse or another pair of shoes. My favorite quote from the book is at the end of Chapter 2: “More asks: What else can I get? Enough asks: Do I really need more?” I think these are questions that we need to ask ourselves more frequently.
I like how the author takes a look at the concept of simple living and admits that it isn’t necessarily so simple. We can look at others who may be growing their own food in a garden or on a farm, raising their own livestock, making their own clothes, etc., but the reality is that those things take a lot of time and effort, and ultimately aren’t really simple after all. Rev. Moses leaves a lot of room for grace in this area and admits that she herself if sometimes guilty of not doing the “simpler” thing. In this respect she gives the reader the space to do what they can, while not beating themselves up for their failings, but at the same time, she encourages and perhaps challenges us to try a little harder, such as committing to not driving one day a week or to not purchasing any new items for a month.
Another thing I particularly appreciated was the author taking a look at our charitable giving, and this is something that we discussed in our book club as well. We came to the conclusion that many times, our giving is more to make us feel better than to really help those it’s supposed to. While it’s great to give money and/or goods to charitable causes, we need to be sure that it’s something the person receiving it actually needs. In many third-world countries, some missionary efforts are actually detrimental in more ways than one. I’ve now heard of a couple of instances of the people receiving things they don’t really need and/or it can be damaging in some way to the local economy. So when giving to organizations that help the needy in other countries, we need to be sure it truly is helpful. Also we need to take a closer look at systemic causes of poverty and other social issues and perhaps search for ways to make changes in those areas rather than just throwing money at the problem and hoping it will go away. After all, one of the things the author points out is that we actually have the capability to grow and produce enough food for everyone, yet 50% of children will experience food insecurity at some point in their lives. It’s for this and many other reasons that we need to commit ourselves to advocating for deeper, more meaningful changes, or at the very least, making sure we’re supporting organizations who do. After all, as the old adage goes, “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.”
Overall, More Than Enough was a good book that is written in an easy-to-read writing style. Rev. Moses uses a lot of stories and anecdotes from her own family and the lives of those around her to illustrate her points. She also interweaves those narratives with Scripture and Bible stories to illustrate how they pertain to our Christian faith. The only reason I knocked off a half star is that there were times as I read it that I felt it wasn’t quite cohesive enough, although upon further reflection, it may have just been my perception at the time. But I can’t deny that Lee Hull Moses had a lot of interesting and thought-provoking things to say that will inspire me (and hopefully anyone else who reads her book) to take a deeper look at my life and to making changes that will benefit, not only me, but others as well....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews The Scottish Prisoner is now my favorite of the Lord John Grey books I’ve read to date. I’ve enjoyed the other books and novelReviewed for THC Reviews The Scottish Prisoner is now my favorite of the Lord John Grey books I’ve read to date. I’ve enjoyed the other books and novellas, too, but there are a couple of big reasons why this one is a step above the others. First is that, while there is a military element in the story, it doesn’t permeate it. There’s no wartime action or battles being fought. It’s all about Lord John trying to find and collect, Gerald Siverly, a corrupt British army officer, from Ireland and bring him to justice by returning him to England for a court-martial. This will also fulfill the vow he made to his friend, Charlie Carruthers, before he passed away. Charlie provided John with the necessary documents and testimony to indict Siverly in the previous novella of the series, The Custom of the Army. This doesn’t turn out to be quite as straightforward of a matter as it seems, which leads to some mystery, intrigue, and adventure along the way. Another thing that made this book more enjoyable is that Jamie plays a huge part in it. I’d say that about half the book is about him and/or written from his POV. I love how well Jamie and John play off each other. The relationship between then in this story is initially awkward and strained because of things both said in the heat of the moment at the end of Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade, but as they spend time working together on the case, they slowly start getting back to that place of friendship and camaraderie they’ve always shared. The two men are very well-matched in many ways including wit, intelligence, loyalty, and honor. They’re two characters who mesh well on the page and who I very much enjoy seeing together. So, less military descriptions helped to prevent the story from being a little too dry, like some of the others of the series have been, while Jamie and John together brought a certain warmth to the character interactions that wasn’t as prevalent in past stories.
I’ve loved John since he was introduced in the Outlander series. He’s an honorable man who takes his military service very seriously as well as the vows he makes to his friends. That’s why he feels he must undertake the mission to bring Siverly to justice by whatever means necessary. And he does a very admirable job of it, I might say. However, before he goes on that mission, John’s old friend, Stephan von Namtzen, shows up in London. The author has been toying with the possibility of a potential romantic relationship between these two since they met at the beginning of the series, so I very much enjoyed seeing them finally get together in this book. It was a pretty brief interlude, though, because of Stephan’s need to get back to Prussia and John’s need to get on with finding Siverly, but it was a very romantic and sexy moment nonetheless, even though there isn’t a great deal of detail. Despite having feelings for Stephan, John also still has feelings for Jamie, too, which is part of why things are still awkward between them at first. I’ve always felt that John genuinely loves Jamie, but he’s realistic enough to understand that there can never be anything between them besides friendship. However, we see him getting one step closer to that permanent bond he shares with Jamie in the later Outlander books, though Jamie’s son and his step-son, William. John started having suspicions about William's true parentage in Brotherhood of the Blade and he finally brings that full-circle by fully realizing the truth.
Any book or story I get to see Jamie in is a real treat. He has a couple of different plotlines going in this story. One, of course, is being called upon by John’s brother, Hal, to help translate a poem connected to the Siverly case that was written in Irish Gaelic and then Hal further twisting his arm to get Jamie to go with John to Ireland as “backup.” But at the same time, Jamie is approached by an Irish Jacobite he knew from the Rising. The man wants Jamie to help lead a new Rising, but to do so, he has to go to Ireland to collect an artifact that the Jacobites believe will help them win this time. Of course, Jamie, knowing there is no hope of the Jacobites ever winning, wants nothing to do with this scheme, but the man is persistent, following him and John all the way to Ireland, only to have his plotline converge unexpectedly with Siverly’s. Throughout his part of the story, Jamie is… well… Jamie.:-) He’s smart, cunning, and always up for an adventure, although going on that adventure with John isn’t too appealing at first. I like that he doesn’t hold a grudge, though, and that he gradually comes around to rekindling his friendship with the other man. The thing that really tore at my heart is how much Jamie still loves and misses Claire. At this point, she’s been gone for a number of years, and even knowing that they’re eventually reunited, it still greatly affected me. There was one small moment that John bore witness to that tugged at his heart, too. We also get to see more of Jamie with Willy. I’m so glad that he got to be a part of the boy’s life for at least a while, but it breaks my heart that he didn’t get to be a more hands-on father with either of his kids growing up, because he’s a great one.
There were a few common secondary characters that show up again in The Scottish Prisoner. John’s brother, Hal, and his wife, Minnie, whose love story is now told in the new novella, A Fugitive Green (from Seven Stones to Stand or Fall), played a part. As John’s commanding officer, Hal is in charge of the investigation into Siverly’s misconduct, while Minnie, a former spy who actually knows Jamie, provides them with helpful information. Hal and John’s friend, Harry Quarry, shows up, too, kind of freaking Jamie out a bit at first, since he acted as warden at Ardsmuir prison before John did. Dr. John Hunter, the real-life physician known as the “body-snatcher,” plays a brief role as the surgeon called to the site of a duel in which John is involved. Of course, I very much enjoyed seeing little Willy and the Dunsanys. Isobel gets herself into a bit of hot water, while her aging parents are starting to think toward the future for both their daughter and grandchild. However, probably the most important secondary player was Jamie’s old acquaintance, Tobias Quinn, who I believe was first introduced in this book. I had to admire his persistence on some level, but at the same time, he’s a rather tragic figure who can’t seem to let go of the past and a doomed cause.
Overall, The Scottish Prisoner was a great read. John and Jamie went through a lot in this story that tested their mettle as individuals, but at the same time, I think they make a wonderful team. When things aren’t strained between them, they work and play off each other in such a way that’s fun to read. I’ve always loved them together, and it was nice to see more of the building of the friendship that led to that permanent bond I spoke of and some other events surrounding them in the Outlander series. If I’m not mistaken, Jamie has a few more years of service at Helwater before going back to Scotland, so I’d definitely be open to more stories that fill in the blanks of his time there, and if Ms. Gabaldon pairs him up with John again, all the better.:-)...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 Some long-running book series tend to lose momentum after a while or start to feel repetitive. Eight books into the Dresden FiReviewed for THC Reviews Some long-running book series tend to lose momentum after a while or start to feel repetitive. Eight books into the Dresden Files series, I can confidently say that the series hasn’t slowed down one bit and each story is packed with new and exciting plots and relatable characters. Although I’ve given a couple of the previous books in the series five stars as well, I think Proven Guilty now has an edge as the best book in the series thus far, and I have every expectation that they’ll keep getting better and better as they go along. The story was maybe just a teensy bit slow to get moving, which I’ve noticed throughout my reading of the series as being Jim Butcher's style. But once things start to heat up, they don’t really let up until the final pages. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but if I have, I’ll say it again. The author is amazing at creating mini-cliffhangers at the end of each chapter that make the reader beg for more. I don’t know how he does it, but it’s pure genius. I’ve also noticed growth in Mr. Butcher as an author. Even though the series has been good from book one, he didn’t settle for just good and has been stepping up his game ever since. That, IMHO, is the mark of a true artist and a talented writer, and something that will definitely keep me coming back for more great reading.
Much in the same way Jim Butcher has been growing as a writer, Harry Dresden has been growing as a character and as a wizard. In the beginning, Harry was something of a lone wolf, but over the course of the series thus far, he’s picked up a few sidekicks here and there, usually one or two people who help him out during each story. In this one, I felt like he’d picked up a genuine Scooby Gang, who followed him into the heart of the Nevernever to complete his mission. That he has people now who care about him and would risk so much for him is telling. No one would do that for someone who isn’t a good man. That said, though, Harry is a complex character, one who can, on occasion, be tempted by the dark side. He’s been living with the specter of the Denarian, Lasciel, for a while now. She gives some added oomph to his powers and is always trying to seduce him into going full-on baddie, but so far, he’s holding strong against her trickery, while using the powers that he safely can without losing his soul. Harry has also gone from being a wizard on probation with the White Council to a full-fledged member himself. As a Warden now, he’s experiencing things he didn’t before, but as they say, “with great power, comes great responsibility.” I’ve always loved his chivalry and that is still in evidence here, a part of his personality that I don’t think will ever change. As he’s picked up friends along the way, it’s allowed Harry to show the caring side of himself, in that he would do anything (including die) for those he cares about. Just because he’s kind and gentle, though, doesn’t mean he’s a pushover. Harry can be pretty ballsy when the situation calls for it. Sometimes, he kind of reminds me a little of Han Solo, because he often finds himself running headlong into danger while figuring out how to get out of it along the way. Harry’s just an all-around awesome character that I love to pieces.
There are lots of great secondary characters in this one. Harry’s half-brother, Thomas, always has his back. Thomas reveals a couple of things about himself in this story, but for the most part, he’s being pretty tight-lipped about his life. I look forward to seeing more of him and learning more about what he’s doing. There are some changes afoot for Karrin Murphy, head of the CPD-SI unit. She’s back as Harry’s number one ally. They actually do a little flirting and finally address the big elephant in the room, namely their attraction to one another and whether anything can come of it. Mouse proves himself to be the most loyal companion a wizard could have. We haven’t seen Harry’s Knight of the Cross friend, Michael, his wife, Charity, and their large brood of kids in a while, but they played a huge part in this story, especially Charity and their oldest daughter, Molly. In fact, some surprising twists were revealed with these characters. Lily, the Summer Lady, and Fix, the Summer Knight, who I don’t think have appeared since Summer Knight, became instrumental to Harry’s success in several different ways, while some of the other fae put in appearances as well. Several of the members of the White Council show up, as Harry must deal with a tough and unexpected problem. In doing so, some things are revealed with regards to the overall story arc.
Overall, Proven Guilty was another excellent installment in the series. I had a great deal of fun reading it, and trying to figure out everything that’s going on. The characters were amazing. I loved all of them, particularly those who help Harry in some way. I developed a new appreciation for Charity in this one. She makes a lot more sense to me now that I know more about her history. I was also glad to see Harry and Murphy address a possible future even though things didn’t go quite the way I’d hoped on that front, but I’m not giving up on them yet. I’m especially eager to follow the breadcrumb trail that was left open at the end of this book in regards to the greater story arc to see where things go next, not only for Harry, but also for the entire magical world as a whole....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I’ve been friends with author D. T. Dyllin for a few years, but until now, I haven’t gotten around to reading anyReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I’ve been friends with author D. T. Dyllin for a few years, but until now, I haven’t gotten around to reading any of her books. It might be because she told me that she prefers darker stories, so she was reluctant to read my books since they’re on the sweeter side. I guess I figured that even though I love her as a person, our writing styles might be too different for me to appreciate her books. Not to mention, it can be a little dicey to read a friend’s book and then not like it. Well, I’m so glad I finally put all my concerns aside to give one a try, because she totally wowed me with Feeling Death. I want to say, though, that the author didn’t give me a free copy, nor did she ask me to review the book. I chose this particular one to begin with, because I usually enjoy stories in which psychic powers play a part and this one has that in spades. All the characters have some type of psychic gifts, whether it be empathic, telepathic, clairvoyant, psychic healer, or something else. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I just can’t get enough of pondering the inner workings of the human mind, so these types of stories feed that little obsession of mine. That said, though, I definitely won’t deny that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill romance novel. It’s part paranormal romance, part romantic suspense, and part psychological thriller. It’s full of dark twists and turns that you won’t see coming. The reader certainly has to keep their thinking cap on for this one. But I didn’t mind, because I also love stories that make me think. So while Feeling Death was anything but ordinary and not necessarily the type of book I would usually read, I loved it anyway.
The heroine and first-person narrator of the story is Samantha, who is an empath. The story opens with her happily married – or so she believes – and working with her husband, Nixon, and others like them on an elite task force that is currently investigating a string of serial killings. Sam is able to use her empathic talents to read the crime scene and sense the emotions of the victim just before they died, which is a handy tool when trying to solve murders. Despite generally being content with her husband, she’s been having some very strong erotic dreams about another man, someone who she thinks is named Austin. She isn’t sure if they are merely dreams, or actual memories of some kind, or if she’s just plain going crazy. Then she sees Austin in the memories of their serial killer’s latest victim. But before she has time to figure it out, Sam is sent to work on another case where strippers are being targeted. She goes undercover as a stripper at the club where she used to work as a bartender before becoming a part of her psychic team. While working there, more of the visions of Austin keep coming to her, while Nixon starts acting strangely, like he’s trying to keep her away from something or someone, rather than merely protecting her from the serial killer.
I really like Sam. She’s a strong, kick-butt heroine who’s pretty independent and can mostly take care of herself, but she’s not an island. She has vulnerabilities that make her easy to relate to, such as low self-esteem. I was particularly intrigued by the fact that until she met one of the two men in this story (the one she’s destined to be with), she hadn’t had a sexual experience that was all her own. By that I mean that since she didn’t have good control over her powers, she was always unintentionally feeding off the lust and desires of the person she was with, which made her feel dirty and used. I also liked that she isn’t the type of girl who’s comfortable with casual sex, although sometimes her powers betray her into doing it anyway. Sam is loyal to those she cares about and would do anything to protect them. She grows and changes a lot throughout the story, in some ways for good and in other ways not. In fact, by the end, she’s a pretty different person who’s discovered that she has a dark side. But the one thing that remains constant is her deep and abiding love for her man, which nothing and no one can break.
Now for the two main men in Sam’s life. First, there’s Austin, another empath, who is pretty much the ultimate alpha male. He’s confident, arrogant, and basically has women falling at his feet to get into his bed. He’s pretty much your typical, unapologetic, garden-variety man-whore, who refuses to offer Sam anything more than just sex. I have no problem saying that all of these qualities, especially in one package, would usually completely turn me off, but with Austin, I totally fell for him. Why you ask? Well, somehow his arrogance managed to come off as sexy and lovable. I also suppose it’s because he, too, has a lot of vulnerabilities that make him easy to like and relate to. I fully understood why he is the way he is, so all of his bad traits didn’t seem so bad anymore. Not to mention he’s pretty much a dream lover, and when he does finally open himself up, he becomes this passionate force of nature that’s impossible to resist. And then there’s Nixon, who happens to be Austin’s best friend. Nixon is a void, which means that he can neutralize the powers of other psychics when he’s close to them. He’s basically the ultimate good guy, the beta, who gets friend-zoned more often than winning the girl. He’s kind, gentle, protective, and surprisingly understanding when some very awkward circumstances arise, but at the same time, he can be a little clueless both about relationships and about the emotional turmoil an empath goes through since he isn’t one. However, I did believe that he genuinely cared about Sam. There really wasn’t anything not to like about Nixon except that toward the very end, a decision he made concerning Sam is revealed that placed his motives into question in my mind. This wasn’t fully resolved, though, or at least it didn’t seem to be, so I’m hoping that we’ll learn more about why he did this in the next book.
All of the characters in Feeling Death are layered and complex (the best kind :-)) as are their relationships to one another. Just when you think you have them figured out, some new piece of the puzzle is added to twist things around. Even Malcolm, the serial killer and main villain of the story, has compelling reasons for why he does things, as does Jessica, a healer who is part of their team and also sleeping with Austin. She seems nice in the beginning, but even though the resolution to her part of the story is only told at the very end, it made perfect sense that she would do something like that. There are some other peripheral characters that I would love to see more of like Austin’s Native American friend, Teryn, and Natalie, the leader of their team. I’d love to see their powers explored in more detail and learn more about them as individuals, but I guess I’ll have to wait until the next book to see if I get my wish.
As I said before, this isn't your typical romance novel and not just because of the darker aspects. The main reason you have to stay on your toes is that the story isn’t really told in chronological order. It starts in the present with Sam getting bits and piece of visions with little context as to when they might have happened, if they did. Then about halfway into the story, we’re catapulted back six years in time to fill in a lot of the blanks. The next few years are fast-forwarded through at intervals of months or even years, stopping for a little while at certain points to explain specific events in more detail, before finally coming full-circle back to the present. It’s not the easiest style to follow and may confuse some readers, but for the most part I think I kept up pretty well with all the main points. It felt much like watching a movie, where they show you a compelling scene at the beginning then go back in time to show you what happened to lead up to that moment. In fact, I think this book would make a great movie. Another thing that makes this book atypical is the ending. Is it a positive HEA? Weeellll… yes. But it’s complicated. Sorry I’m not saying more, but I’ve purposely been trying not to give too much away in my review, because it’s a lot of fun just figuring it all out for yourself. However, while I was fine with how things turned out romantically speaking, there are other things at the end that made me drop the half-star. It’s mainly that I was left with a lot of questions, although I’m making some allowances since I know there’s more story coming. It’s just there were a couple of points that I think could have been explained a bit more clearly.
There’s so much about Feeling Death that shouldn’t have worked for me: an arrogant man-whore hero, a love triangle, the main couple sleeping with other people when they should be with each other, one of the persons in that pairing fighting their feelings. These are all things that I try to avoid in my romance reading, and in other authors’ hands, I’ve strongly disliked. But somehow, D. T. Dyllin managed to write the story in such a way that all these things made sense in context, so that I was OK with them. Another thing that helped immensely is that when I sit down to read a book, the thing I most want to come away from that story with is having felt something. I can definitely, without hesitation, say this happened. There’s a great deal of angst, drama, tension, emotion, and passion packed into this story that gave me all kinds of feels, and I loved that. Another thing that was awesome for me were the love scenes. They’re intense, steamy, and sensual, without ever being tawdry. It’s so hard to find an author who writes these scenes just right for me, and when I do find one, you’d better believe I’ll be back for more. And that’s not the only thing I’ll be back for more of. Like I said, there are so many questions I still have, one of which is finding out who’s really behind all the things that happened in this story, so I’ll definitely be picking up Embracing Death soon....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Some old-school romances from decades ago don’t really do much for me, because of cruel heroes or other elements that I don’tReviewed for THC Reviews Some old-school romances from decades ago don’t really do much for me, because of cruel heroes or other elements that I don’t care for. But others, like Prairie Embrace, make me long for the romances of yesteryear, when it was a somewhat simpler time and these stories were written in a different style. First, most publishers wouldn’t touch a romance of this length (475 pages) these days, but often having more space to write a story like this can really help to develop it much better. Another thing is that this is an epic romance that spans two and a half years from the time the hero and heroine meet to the time they finally get their HEA ending. No one I can think of really writes like this anymore, which is a shame in this age of romance insta-love. IMHO, taking more time to allow the romance and passion to simmer made the ending of this story all the more sweet. Everything they had to go through to be together, even though one of the things that entailed was a lengthy separation, really helped to solidify their love for one another in my mind. They just never gave up, and that’s one of the big things I feel love is all about. So while the older vibe of the story might not work well for some readers, I personally thoroughly enjoyed it and would dearly love to read more romances just like it.
I would say that the heroine’s journey is one of the primary focuses of Prairie Embrace. In her short nineteen years, Katie has been through hell. Her mother died when she was young, and her father and brothers taunted and abused her, treating her like nothing more than a slave. Then her father got tired of providing for her and forced her to marry his friend who was just like him, including being more than twice her age. Her husband beats and verbally abuses her, and she finds no joy or pleasure in their marriage bed, likening it to essentially being raped repeatedly. Her husband's dream is to own a farm in Nebraska, so they make the hard journey west, where Katie’s existence on their land, which is two days ride from the nearest fort, becomes a bleak and lonely one, living in a dugout home with no one for company except a man who treats her abominably. Into that life comes Tohave, a Native American brave, who likes to tease the settlers. At first Katie, who has never known an Indian before, is a little afraid of him, but she quickly warms up to him, when she realizes he means them no harm. Tohave starts to visit Katie when her husband leaves her all alone to go to the fort or to chop wood in a forest that’s a good distance away, and she often senses his presence even when she can’t see him. Soon their friendship grows into love and passion, with Katie experiencing the first true love of her young life.
I love that Katie comes to trust and love Tohave despite them being so different and it being a forbidden love in more ways than one. Given her background and how poorly her husband and father treated her, she easily could have shut him out and refused to trust any man at all, but her heart was open when he came into her life. Through his love she learned that not all men are monsters and his love gave her strength to sustain her through the hard times and even to eventually stand up to her husband. Some readers may not like the fact that Katie stays with her abusive husband for so long and even sometimes feels like she’s the one who’s failed in their relationship, but I understood that she was a classic abuse victim and was also simply a product of her upbringing and the era in which she lived, where it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to leave her husband. I also loved that she never quite fully gave up on Tohave even after she was told he was dead. It was like she still sensed his spirit and couldn’t let go until she had some kind of proof. And it was in part, because she hung on that they were able to eventually reunite. While Katie might not be the kick-butt heroine that is often seen in more modern romances, she has a quiet, understated strength of spirit that can be easy to miss if one isn’t looking deeply enough, and I very much liked that about her. Overall, she’s a sweet girl who I related to quite well and think that she definitely found the perfect mate in Tohave.
Tohave is an amazing hero, and I loved him to pieces. He’s one of the young warriors who’s half Sioux and half Cheyenne. He’s old enough to remember the Battle of Wounded Knee and the heyday of the Indians, but he’s still young enough to be restless and discontent with staying on the reservation. With their buffalo herds depleted and them being expected to live off government supplies, there’s little for the young men to do, so Tohave and his friends often play pranks on the white settlers. He met Katie when they rode down on their wagon as she and her husband were approaching their new homestead, making them think they were going to attack, but only showing a little intimidation. From the moment Tohave caught sight of Katie, he was smitten and couldn’t help following them at a distance, then keeping watch over her once they arrived and started setting up their new home. When Tohave realizes her husband beats and mistreats her, he sorely wants to kill him and steal her away, but he’s wise enough to know that it would only bring trouble upon himself and his tribe, so he bides his time. Once he and Katie become more deeply involved, though, he begins to make plans to spirit her away to Canada, where they can hide in the wilderness, but the unexpected happens and he’s unable to do what he wants.
Much like with Katie, it would have been easy for Tohave to distrust Katie. His mother was raped and murdered by white men, so he doesn’t trust them easily, but he’s smart enough to recognize that not all whites are bad. He and his friends mainly only tease the settlers who are already afraid of them, while they tend to be friendly with those who are friendly back. He senses from the moment they meet that Katie isn’t with her husband by choice, and his heart aches for her when he finds out just how badly her husband treats her. He may be a strong warrior, but when he’s with Katie, he’s kind and gentle, treating her with the utmost respect and tenderness. He knows she’s been through hell already and he doesn’t want to add to that. Instead he wants to heal her wounds, both physically and emotionally. He saves her life on more than one occasion when her husband wouldn’t have cared if she died. Tohave is still a man who has his pride, though, so when fate deals him a cruel blow, he stays away from her, not wanting her to see him as less than a man. But he never, ever stops thinking about her and wishing that things could be different. She’s the inspiration that keeps him alive through all the hardships.
Tohave and Katie share a relationship that is sweet and tender, everything that she doesn’t have with her husband. I will mention for readers who can’t abide cheating of any kind in romance, that they do technically cheat on Katie’s husband, but there are so many extenuating circumstances, not the least of which is Katie being forced into the marriage and the way her husband treats her, that I couldn’t muster one iota of outrage over that. It’s mainly only the white man’s unjust laws that keep Katie in her loveless marriage. What Tohave and Katie share is beauty personified, a love that persists despite the most difficult hardships. Their emotional connection is deep and heartfelt, even across time and distance. The fact that they are separated a little over halfway through the story and aren’t reunited until the very end would normally be a detractor for me, but in this case it wasn’t. Somehow the author kept their connection alive despite the time and distance that passes between them. I never for a minute doubted that they still loved one another. It helps, too, that it was outside forces keeping them apart, rather than their own stubbornness or stupidity, which is often the case in romances. These two were clearly made for each other and their love for one another never would have died no matter what the outcome was.
There are several key secondary players who keep the story moving along. First, Katie’s husband, Ezra, is a detestable man, who doesn’t have an ounce of compassion in him. I thoroughly hated him every time he hurt Katie, but I still have to appreciate that the author gave him just enough of a backstory to make him seem slightly human and make me understand why he is the way he is. McBain, the original commander at the nearest fort, as well as his lieutenant, Will Rogers, are genuinely good men, who see that relations between the whites and Indians are a two-way street. They both always encourage the white settlers to simply be friendly with the Indians, even though their words often fall on deaf ears. They also both see what Katie’s husband is doing to her and are sympathetic to her plight even though there’s little they can do to help her from a legal standpoint. Late in the story, Will also courts Katie and could have kept her from Tohave but didn’t. This made him a wonderful man as far as I’m concerned, and it might have been nice if he’d gotten a story of his own, although that’s unlikely this long after the fact. Katie makes friends with two other settler couples, although she rarely gets to see them. Tohave has his Indian friends as well who ride with him and give him advice. There is also an Indian woman named Rosebud who is older than Tohave, widowed and barren. In white man speak, she’s basically his mistress. He provides her with food and protection, while she acts as his female companion, providing for his sexual needs, and later she nurses him back to health, which is a long journey. Somehow the author managed to write her in a way that made me like her rather than be jealous of her for Katie’s sake. Rosebud is a good person who cares for Tohave and bears genuine affection for him, even though theirs isn’t a love-match, and Tohave is never with her when he’s with Katie, which was a plus. She also looks out for and greatly helps Katie on one occasion.
As if you couldn’t tell, I really loved Prairie Embrace. It’s everything I look for in a romance: sweetness, tenderness, a deep emotional connection between the hero and heroine as well as between them and me as the reader, awesome characters who are easy for me to relate to, and a beautiful, romantic story. It was a little torturous having Tohave and Katie separated for so long, but like I said, Roseanne Bittner really knows how to keep me turning the pages. I just had to find out how they would finally get together when the odds seemed to be stacked against them. I also have to commend her on her historical research. I learned a few things about Native American history as she intertwined Tohave and Katie’s love story with events that were actually occurring on the American frontier in the late 1800s. The racism and xenophobia that the Native Americans faced within the story seemed all to real as well. So kudos for her attention to real-life history. Overall, Prairie Embrace was a near-perfect read for me that will be a favorite of mine for a long time to come. It was my first read by Roseanne Bittner, but it definitely won’t be my last. I look forward to checking out some of the other titles on her backlist soon....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Green Like God is another of our church book club picks that highlight the reasons why Christians should be more iReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Green Like God is another of our church book club picks that highlight the reasons why Christians should be more involved in creation care. I felt that author Jonathan Merritt had an excellent persuasive argument for this that was biblically rooted. In fact, many of his points are things that I’d already thought of a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think this book is good. After all, I didn’t choose to write a book about it, so someone had to.:-)
In the first half of the book, Mr. Merritt outlines the hidden truths in the Bible that support creation care. First and foremost, he points out that if we believe that God created the Earth and everything in it, then we must believe that it is holy and good. It’s like God handiwork as a master artist. We wouldn’t go and destroy the Mona Lisa or any other famous artwork, so why should we destroy God’s. We should respect his artistry above all others. The author also discussed how in God’s giving mankind dominion over his creation, he was really setting up more of a benevolent monarchy where we are expected to care for and tend it rather than subdue it and strip it of all its natural resources for our own selfish gain. If we engage in the latter, then we are abusing our dominion. The author further demonstrates that God values all life, and therefore we must as well by protecting and preserving it. He further explores the idea that the whole of God’s creation is our sanctuary and that through his creation God can reveal himself to us, so we should strive to preserve nature for future generations so that they too can connect with God through natural revelation. Finally he wraps up this section by showing that green living and conservation isn’t just a liberal or “far left” issue, while trying to dispel some of the common arguments and misperceptions that often keep more conservative Christians from engaging in this important work.
In the second half of the book, the author discusses how we should respond to the information he imparted in the first half. First he talks about the facts regarding exactly what is occurring in the natural world today, including many statistics that should alarm people, and how we can’t just stick our heads in the sand and pretend that they don’t exist or try to twist the facts to absolve ourselves of any responsibility. He also points out that we can be our own worst enemy and how our wasteful lifestyles, particularly here in the U. S., the most extravagant and profligate country in the world, are affecting not just our own country but everyone else on our planet. He posits that because of this we need to reinvent the “American way.” Finally he shows us how and why we should adopt a J-O-Y lifestyle: Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last. If we do this, then care for God and everything he has made should come first, while caring about how our actions affect others comes second, with our own selfish agenda last. Unfortunately most corporate and political policies are the exact opposite, but things are slowly changing and the church should be leading the way on these issues. There are also a couple of appendices at the end, one of which gives a few practical ideas for living a greener life, while the other addresses the big elephant in the room known as climate change.
I’ve tried to live a greener life for many years now, and have spent all this time wondering why many Christians are so resistant to the idea. The author himself ran into many of these people after first publishing a treatise on the topic. I suppose it has a lot to do with conservation, ecology, and “going green” being equated with liberal ideology, but nothing could be further form the truth, IMHO. This shouldn’t be a conservative or a liberal issue. We should all care about our planet, because it’s the only one we have. If we ruin it beyond repair, there’s nowhere else to go. That’s why I appreciate that there is a book like Green Like God. Although it may not be apparent from what I’ve described of this book, the author is a self-described conservative who has even gotten the attention of the Southern Baptist Conference, and IMHO, we need more voices from that side of the aisle speaking up about creation care in order to fully affect change in this area.
While I agreed with all of the arguments for why Christians should be more involved in greener living and creation care, the one thing that I didn’t really agree with the author about and why I chose to knock off a half-star is that in Chapter 2, I felt like he was setting up a false dichotomy between those who are "going green" as an act of obedience to God and those who are doing it for other reasons. He talks a lot in this chapter about how trendy it's become to buy organic foods, hybrid cars, etc. and seems to imply that this is the only reason non-believers are “going green.” While I agree that many companies are probably taking advantage of increased sales of "green" items, and there have been many celebrity endorsements of such products and lifestyles, I hardly think that every person who doesn't believe in God is doing it merely because of a trend. It makes non-believers or believers in other faiths look shallow when they might be doing it for perfectly legitimate reasons, such as wanting to eat healthier, reduce carbon emissions, or simply because they appreciate our planet and want to look after it. I also think that scientists, many of whom are atheists and agnostics, are doing it because they fully understand the implications of not engaging in caring for our would, so they would probably take umbrage to this as well. Otherwise, though, I thought this was a great book, particularly for encouraging Christians to take a closer look at how they’re living, as well as how and why they can and should be more engaged in caring for God’s masterpiece....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews The Maze Runner is a YA, post-apocalyptic, dystopian story in much the same vein as The Hunger Games or Divergent. The main diReviewed for THC Reviews The Maze Runner is a YA, post-apocalyptic, dystopian story in much the same vein as The Hunger Games or Divergent. The main difference, though, is that with those stories, particularly The Hunger Games, the reader knows what the characters’ main objective is right from the start and it’s just a matter of them reaching their goals. In The Maze Runner, Thomas, the main character, has no idea who he really is or why he was sent to the Glade. Also, no one who lives there has any idea what the Maze is all about, how to solve it, or if there even is a solution. This gave the book an air of mystery and suspense throughout that kept me reading and coming back for more. A couple of times, I figured things out before the kids did, which made those parts ever so slightly predictable. I also remember coming up with questions on occasion, some of which were answered and others that I don’t think were. For this reason, if a reader really wanted to deeply scrutinize this story, they could probably come up with some things to complain about. However, I found myself quickly forgetting my ruminations not long after they occurred to me, simply because the book was so darn entertaining. I couldn’t help wanting to know what was going on, since the reader is every bit as much in the dark as Thomas is, and I couldn’t wait for him to uncover the next piece of the puzzle. Not everything is revealed by the end, so even if I wasn’t a latecomer to the series, I’d know that a sequel was in the works. And that little bit of mystery that’s left at the end makes me eager to read the next book soon.
Thomas is the main character and third-person narrator of the story. It begins with him waking up in a metal box which he quickly realizes is an elevator. Aside from his name and basic knowledge of the world around him, he has no memory of who he is, where he came from, or how he ended up in this predicament. When the Box finally stops, he has arrived in a place called the Glade, where about fifty other boys work and live. None of them remember their lives before the Glade either. They just keep going through the same motions every single day, with one of those daily activities being that some of the boys go out into the Maze surrounding the Glade, searching for a way out. Unfortunately a few of them have been there for two years and still haven’t had any success in solving the maze. Plus the stakes are raised by the horrific monsters known as Grievers who live in the Maze that have either killed or “stung” several boys who came before Thomas. Although he has no idea why, Thomas longs to become a Runner, one of the boys who run the maze every day, from the moment he arrives in the Glade.
I really liked Thomas. He’s a smart kid who helps the Gladers figure out some things they might not have without him. He has a curious nature that serves him well in many ways, although it can be frustrating for him (and me too :-)) when the Keepers, the boys who are in charge of each area of the Glade, refuse to answer his questions. Thomas is also very intuitive about a number of things, which when added to his intelligence and curiosity, makes him a mentally well-rounded character. On top of that, he’s quite brave, daring to do things that the others are afraid to attempt. He’s also a natural born leader, stepping up to the plate on more than one occasion to kind of take charge – I say “kind of” only because he’s not an official Keeper – but ultimately, he’s the person who finally helps them solve the puzzle that’s been plaguing them for so long. I also like that Thomas is an emotionally balanced character. He’s tough and strong when he needs to be, but he shows emotion when it’s appropriate to do so rather than trying to hide his feelings. I also like how protective he is of Teresa when she becomes the first girl to enter the Glade. Overall, Thomas is a great friend and an all-around stand-up guy.
Thomas may be the main hero of the story, but there are plenty of supporting characters he meets along the way who play important roles, too. There’s Alby and Newt, who are both Keepers, but who are also the de facto co-leaders of the Gladers. Alby can be a bit abrasive at times, which doesn’t endear him to Thomas, but unlike some of the others, he can be reasonable. Newt is a little more of a peace-keeper who Thomas looks to for guidance and who sees the potential in Thomas. Chuck becomes Thomas’ younger shadow and their easy friendship makes them seem more like brothers. Gally, one of the Keepers, is confrontational from the start. He was “stung” by a Griever, which changed him, but most seem to agree that he wasn’t particularly easy to get along with even before that. There’s Minho, the Keeper of the Runners, who has no trouble believing in Thomas after Thomas saves his life. And then there’s Teresa, who not only shakes things up by being the first girl in the Glade, but after she arrives, everything about the Glade starts to change, leaving several Gladers thinking that she had something to do with it.
From a parental perspective, I feel that the book is fine for its intended audience. Although a few of the boys make some slightly objectifying comments about Teresa after she arrives, nothing untoward happens. Although Thomas has feelings for her that seem to be reciprocated, there’s no sensuality of any kind, not even kissing. The language issue is somewhat murky. While there are no genuine bad words from American English, the author does use a couple of moderate British profanities (bloody and bugger) as well as a few slang and euphemistic words (eg. shuck and klunk) that stand in for real bad words. These are peppered throughout and the Gladers sometimes use them as insults toward each other, but since they aren’t actual profanities, I’m inclined to mostly give them a pass. Savvy young people will probably figure out the meanings anyway, but they might go over the heads of younger readers. That leaves only the violence, which I would say is on par with The Hunger Games or Divergent, as a possible detractor. The kids engage in a couple of bloody battles with the Grievers, and what the Griever venom does to a person when they get “stung,” can be pretty grotesque. Thomas learns of the boys who previously died in the Glade, one of whom was sliced in half. Along the way, some characters we meet also die, including ones that readers will likely come to care about. Overall, though, it’s not too bad, definitely no worse than a PG-13 movie, so I’d say that it’s perfectly acceptable for a teenage audience, and I might possibly even say it’s OK for middle-school aged kids with some mild reservations and a recommendation of parental or educator guidance.
IMHO, The Maze Runner was an excellent story that’s bound to get kids reading with its fast-paced action and adventure, as well as keep them reading with its mystery and suspense. With its male-centric perspective, I think it would especially appeal to boys, but I’m sure many girls will like it, too, since I did. I was particularly impressed with the diversity of the characters, who come from different races and backgrounds (what little we know of them anyway). I think there are also some lessons to be gleaned from the way the Gladers must pull together and work as a team, as well as a couple of characters’ selfless sacrifices. They also exhibited persistence in not giving up on solving the Maze, even though no one had been able to figure it out in two long years, and in spite of the frustrations of not knowing exactly who they were or why they were there. So, overall, The Maze Runner was a great story that’s left me eager to dive into The Scorch Trials to see just how deep this rabbit hole goes....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews More Than Words was chosen as our latest church book club pick, in part because the author, Erin Wathen, used to be the pastorReviewed for THC Reviews More Than Words was chosen as our latest church book club pick, in part because the author, Erin Wathen, used to be the pastor of our church. Her tenure there pre-dated my attendance, so I never knew her personally. However, I discovered quite by accident that I actually am somewhat familiar with her, because I’ve, on occasion, read her blog, Irreverin, on Patheos. What a small world! After reading her book and her blog, all I can say is that if I had known her I’m sure I would have liked her very much, and I’m looking forward to “meeting” her when our book club holds a conference with her over Skype during our monthly get-together in a few days.
Reverend Wathen wrote this book to offer a different perspective on what the phrase “family values” means. Unfortunately, in our current divisive political climate, family values has become synonymous with only a certain brand of Christianity and with only a couple of hot button topics. In this book, the author endeavors to show that actual family values should encompass much more than that. The values she covers are: compassion, abundance, Sabbath, nonviolence, joy, justice, community, forgiveness, equality, and authenticity. She contends that these are values that we should teach and model for our children and that we should practice them on a daily basis in all our relationships. And this book is a blueprint for how to accomplish that.
Each chapter is devoted to one of the values I mentioned above. The chapters begin with anecdotes from the author’s life that illustrate the need for that particular value. She then continues with practical suggestions for ways in which you can practice that value, first at home with your own family, and second within your church or the wider community of your neighborhood or city. Finally she explores ways in which that value is illustrated within Scripture. Then at the very end of each chapter you’ll find a four-question discussion guide that could be used with your family or in any small group setting to explore the topic further.
I really enjoyed More Than Words and agreed with virtually everything the author said. I wholeheartedly believe that genuine family values need to begin at home and focus outward toward others rather than inward toward insulating ourselves from others. Erin Wathen has a very engaging writing style that immediately drew me in. I loved reading all the little stories from her family life and could relate to them in a deep and meaningful way. While my own children are now grown and my responsibility for instilling in them the values espoused in this book has mostly passed, I still gleaned a lot from its pages and look forward to the day I might be instrumental in helping my grandchildren to learn these values as well. Not to mention, practicing these values in community is still very important even as an adult without young children. So whether you’re a parent or grandparent looking to guide your own children or grandchildren in a positive way, or you’re someone looking for ways to engage within your community in meaningful ways, or if you’re simply someone who is searching for a deeper meaning for the term “family values,” I highly recommend More Than Words. This well-written and highly readable book reclaims the meaning of these two little words from those who have used them as a divisive weapon and turns them back into a truly beautiful expression of their intended purpose, showing that real family values truly are more than just words....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" The Traitor was a nice wrap-up to the Four anthology and to the group of novellas that have now become widely viewReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" The Traitor was a nice wrap-up to the Four anthology and to the group of novellas that have now become widely viewed as prequels to the Divergent series. Despite that, I personally still think it’s better to at least read Divergent first. Otherwise, the reader will get major spoilers for that book and some things might not make a lot of sense. That’s especially true with this novella, which takes place pretty much simultaneously with events in Divergent. In this story, we learn how Four became aware of the unholy alliance between Dauntless and Erudite and their plans to attack Abnegation. He goes through some soul-searching as he tries to decide whether to warn his birth faction or not, as well as whether he can trust anyone enough to tell them these things. As he struggles with figuring those things out, he meets Tris and becomes her trainer, and we get to see some of the early parts of their relationship from his POV.
I think I’ve said it with each new novella I read in this series, but it might bear repeating that IMHO, the Divergent series as a whole would have been much better if it had been written in dual perspective. Getting Four’s POV on many of the events of the series has been great and has really helped to deepen my understanding of him as a character and some of the things that happened. It’s been so long since I read Divergent that I can’t recall precisely how the specific scenes in this novella compare to those same scenes in the main book from Tris’s POV, but I do recall complaining in my review of that book that the parts where Four takes Tris into his fear landscape along with their subsequent discussion and first kiss at the chasm afterward didn’t hold the emotional weight I felt they should have. Well, in this novella, that’s completely different, and I believe it’s all owed to the fact that we’re seeing what all this meant to Four. We learn why he chose to take Tris into his fear landscape and what it felt like for him going through that with her. We also get a richer conversation afterward and get to see his burgeoning feelings for her, too. It all made their relationship much more cohesive for me. The only reason I chose to knock off a half-star is because a few of the scenes seemed a bit repetitive with us only getting a slightly different perspective, but overall, I liked this novella a lot and really think that these scenes should have been included in the main Divergent book....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" The Witness of Religion in an Age of Fear is another one of our church book club picks, and one that is very timelReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" The Witness of Religion in an Age of Fear is another one of our church book club picks, and one that is very timely in its subject matter. Fear in our society has been on the rise for quite a while now, and it only seems to have been exacerbated by the recent presidential election. While some fears are legitimate, others, when looked at critically, are not. Eg. A recent study found that nearly half of Americans are very or somewhat fearful that they or someone they love will become the victim of a terrorist attack, when in reality, this risk is fairly minuscule. One is exponentially more likely to drown in a bathtub, die in a car accident, or get struck by lightening, statistics that are detailed in the book. One thing that the book points out that I wasn’t too surprised by is that studies have shown this high level of fear seems to primarily be a US phenomenon. While people in other countries have fears, too, they tend to exhibit less fear than Americans despite sometimes being at higher risk for certain situations. Another example is the recent Ebola outbreak, which had Americans freaking out, when it was the people in the affected countries or the surrounding areas who should have been the most fearful.
The author breaks his book into five chapters, the first of which takes a look at the rising culture of fear in America, which helps to put things in perspective. In many cases, it’s politicians who are fear-mongering, making constituents afraid of what might happen if they don’t elect a certain person to office. The media is also largely to blame, because, let’s face it, reporting of bad news – a form of fear-mongering – draws viewers and/or readers, which means more money for the various news outlets. The instant availability of news via social media doesn’t help matters either. So, what is to be done about this rise in fear? That’s what this book tries to answer, at least with regards to people of faith. The author examines the role religion can play in easing fears and how the faith community can help spread this into the wider world. One chapter is devoted to Judeo-Christian teachings since these two religions are so closely intertwined. Then the next chapter explores other religions, primarily Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. The author endeavors to explain each religion’s teachings on the subject of fear. I found it quite interesting that all of them have a similar focus on not fearing people or things that are happening in the world, but only to fear God (in the sense of awe or reverence). This served to show me that we actually share beliefs in common with our brothers and sisters of other faiths if we take the time to look for those things. The author then discusses the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a real-world example of the ways in which fear can take root and affect adversaries on both sides. Finally he wraps up with ten practical recommendations for ways faith communities “can model a world without fear by refusing to live in fearful isolation from one another.”
This is a very short book with less than 100 pages of actual text. The remaining 25 or so pages cover a study guide for small groups and end notes. In spite of its brief length, this is a rather dense book that took me longer than average to read. This is because I had to focus my attention more fully as I was reading it. Some places seemed a bit more philosophical and harder to follow, which is why I knocked off the half star, but I fully acknowledge that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing and that it might have just been me being overtired while reading those parts rather than a weakness of the book. Overall, this was a great read that can really challenge faith communities and people of faith to live out their religion’s teachings on overcoming fear if they can open their hearts and minds enough to accept this challenge. I fully agreed with all of Rev. Kinnamon’s suggestions for faith communities, and the idea that we, as people of faith, need to be leading the way in dispelling fear rather than encouraging it by marginalizing others for any reason. However, I can say that it’s probably going to be an uphill battle to convince my fellow persons of faith who harbor a certain mindset to get on board with these recommendations. Despite that, it won’t stop me from trying to make a difference in my little corner of the world and beyond when the opportunity arises, and I hope that other persons of faith will follow suit in promoting peace, understanding, and freedom from fear, so that we can live more emotionally healthy and productive lives....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews It’s hard to believe that the first Black Dagger Brotherhood book was released more than a decade ago and that we’re now fifteReviewed for THC Reviews It’s hard to believe that the first Black Dagger Brotherhood book was released more than a decade ago and that we’re now fifteen books into the series. With many long-running series like this, the stories can sometimes become old and stale, oftentimes feeling repetitive, or they may simply lose their momentum, which in turn, loses my attention. Not so with this series. If anything, I think the books have been getting better and better. Out of the most recent five books of the series, all have rated keeper status for me, compared with only two of the first five. But hey, really they’re all keepers, because I love the series so much, I just can’t get enough of it. Unlike some readers, I’m not even remotely tired of the Brothers yet. They still enthrall me, thrill me, and make me fall in love with them all over again with each subsequent book. And as usual, I’m left begging for more and can’t wait for the next one.
The Chosen took a slightly different track than previous books of the series and than what I was expecting. By that, I mean that Xcor and Layla, despite being the main hero/heroine pairing in this story, didn’t have quite as much page time as the couples from previous books. Maybe about a third of the way into reading it, I realized that this is most likely because their story has been developing as a sub-plot in the last several volumes, since they first met in book #10, Lover Reborn. That meant that there was less to tell. Since they were already in love and had been for some time, it was just a matter of them consummating the relationship and overcoming the hurdles to reach their HEA. These weren’t small things by any means, but since they already had the getting-to-know-you stuff out of the way, their part simply didn’t take up as much page time as it might have otherwise. I did thoroughly enjoy it, though. These two captured my attention and imagination from their first meeting and I’d been rooting for them to get together ever since. Although their journey to the HEA has been fraught with many pitfalls and Xcor needing to overcome his own selfishness and hardened warrior instincts, I was happy with how everything turned out. The ending was absolutely perfect and I look forward to seeing more of this couple as the series story-arc progresses.
Xcor is a badass, plain and simple. He entered the series with his Band of Bastards fully intending to dethrone Wrath and take that seat for himself and even went so far as to attempt an assassination. Then he met the Chosen, Layla, and his entire focus began to change. Like so many of the males in this series, he was brought to his knees by his love for one special female. He never felt like he was good enough for someone like her, which eventually led him to push her away. Then he was captured by the Brotherhood and spent the entire previous book in a coma, only being kept alive so they could torture him for information and then execute him for treason. Well, of course, none of that could happen or he wouldn’t get that happy ending with Layla that he’d been dreaming of, but never expecting to get. I was really happy with how things went in the book for Xcor. We learn his heartbreaking backstory, beginning with being rejected at birth by his father for having a cleft lip, and things didn’t get any better from there. He suffered through a pretty wretched childhood, learning to be independent from a very young age. Then after his transition, he chanced to meet the Bloodletter and was tricked into joining his war camp, and we all know from Vishous’ story just how horrifying that experience was. But it also turned him into a hard, unforgiving warrior, who had never known genuine love and had no softness or emotion left in him until Layla came along. He doesn’t fully understand why she loves him unconditionally and half expects her to leave him at some point if she learns too much of his past. But at the same time, he soaks up her affection like a starving man, and in reality he has been emotionally starved. I like that upon meeting Layla he started to gradually soften toward Wrath and the Brotherhood, and by the time we get to his first scenes in this book, he no longer holds any animosity for them. However, it’s still a long road to him gaining the Brotherhood’s trust and respect, and I really liked how this part of the story played out. I also love how an intense, stalwart warrior like Xcor who’s never been given to displays of affection turns into a gentle pussycat and an incredibly tender lover in Layla’s arms. It all made me totally fall for him.
Layla has been a part of the series for a very long time. I can’t even recall when she first appeared on the scene, but she has always been one of the main Chosen who were freed by Phury from service to the Scribe Virgin but who still provide for the blood needs of the Brotherhood and their allies. Somewhere along the line, she became best friends with Qhuinn, so when she went into her needing in Lover Reborn, she asked him to service her. The young were finally born in the previous book, The Beast, which was a joyous occasion for all. However, the joy quickly turns to sorrow when Layla finally reveals to Qhuinn that she’d been meeting with Xcor off and on for the entire time she was pregnant. Needless to say, things do not go well for her after that, and even her reunion with Xcor is marked with anxiety over either his impending demise or exile. But she tries to make the best of the time they have left. I’ve loved Layla from the beginning. She’s grown and changed in unexpected ways throughout the series. She’s a wonderful mother, always trying to put her young first, and we get another little taste from her of why the female of the species can be more dangerous than the males.;-) I adored her for the way she loves Xcor unconditionally and for the way she stood up for him to those who would do him harm. She’s an all-around awesome female and I’m so glad that she finally gets the happy ending she deserves.
Since Xcor’s and Layla’s scenes don’t take up as much page time, we get lots of other POVs. This is pretty much par for the course in these books, but I think there were more than usual, as I counted no less than ten other characters’ perspectives. Since Qhuinn’s and Blay’s lives are inextricably linked with Layla’s due to them sharing parenting duties, I’ll start with them. Qhuinn kind of disappointed me with his off-the-rails behavior, but then again, he disappointed nearly everyone else in the story, too, and it’s not without consequences. The toughest one to read about, though, is the rift in his relationship with Blay that’s caused by his angry, irrational outburst. Blay, unsurprisingly, tries to be the calm voice of reason throughout, but even a peacemaker like him can have a breaking point. I felt like he was completely justified in his reaction to Qhuinn’s words and actions. I would have been upset too. Even though Qhuinn’s anger persists throughout a large part of the story, I have to give him credit for things that he does later on and was happy with how it all turned out in the end.
Trez and iAm are also a part of this story, though their sub-plot runs parallel to the things happening within the Brotherhood and doesn’t intersect this time. Trez is still deeply in mourning for Selena, which made me a little sad. iAm is there helping to support his brother in his hour of grief, while each of them continue running their respective businesses. I thought maybe I had an idea of where things were going for Trez, but I was wrong. Instead, I was surprised by the addition of a new female character named Therese, who applies for a job at iAm’s restaurant. It appears that a major revelation in her life either made her run away from her family or she doesn’t have a family anymore. I can’t say much more about her without giving away a major spoiler. All I can say is that a deep, instant attraction sparks between her and Trez, and I look forward to learning more about her.
In addition, three of the Brothers get their own POVs. First is Wrath (yeah, I know he’s technically the king, but I still think of him as a Brother :-)), who continues to prove himself as the benevolent ruler of the vampire race. I was very impressed with his ability to forgive and his wisdom (with a little “encouragement” from Beth) in mediating some difficult circumstances. Then there’s Tohr, who opens the story depressed, because it’s Wellsie’s birthday. That, the household recently losing Selena, and Tohr witnessing Trez’s grief over his mate’s death have stirred up old memories of his own devastating loss. All of this causes him to make some unwise choices that put a little tarnish on his previously pristine veneer for me, but eventually he comes to see reason. Last, but certainly not least, was Vishous. He’s been getting several of his own scenes throughout the past couple of books. In this one, he’s protecting his king and continuing his role as all-around geek extraordinaire. However, his contemplations over his mating with Jane from the previous book continue, with him now feeling rather neglected by his shellan, who is always busy playing chief medic to the Brotherhood and their families. This makes him begin to consider the unthinkable. Based on the Warden’s answers at her recent in-person Q & A, it looks like things may get worse for this couple before they get better. They certainly wouldn’t be the first couple in this series to have to work through difficulties, and with a long-running series like this, I know I can’t expect all the previous couples to get along perfectly without any problems (after all real life couples certainly don’t), so as long as Vishous doesn’t do something stupid, I think I’ll be OK with that.
Former Bastard, Throe, has now gone full-on evil and is poised to become the newest arch-enemy of the Brotherhood, as he’s now the one seeking the throne. He gets into some really freaky stuff in this story that I’m sure will have repercussions throughout the next few books. Then the final character who has a couple of his own POV scenes is Zypher, who has kind of become the defacto leader of the Band of Bastards in Xcor’s absence. They go searching in a last-ditch effort to find their real leader, while making plans to return to the Old Country if they can’t locate him.
While they didn’t get their own POVs, there are a few supporting characters with key roles, chief among them Lassiter. After bringing Tohr back to the land of the living many moons ago, the fallen angel was mostly just mooching off the Brothers, annoying the crap out of them, and being the comic relief, but now he's finally getting some great material. I’ve loved all the wonderful little things he’s done throughout the last couple of books and that continues here. He shows that under all the flamboyancy and flippancy there beats a vulnerable heart. There are some surprising developments with regards to Lassiter as he takes on a fuller role in the series. Jo Early, the human woman who is trying to prove the existence of vampires is barely seen, but she’s still out there doing her thing and causing trouble for Vishous to clean up. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of her. And finally, while not actually seen, Assail is heard in the background as he continues his detoxing process and it isn’t pretty. But it looks like he’s finally going to get his HEA with Sola in the next book of the series, The Thief, most likely releasing next spring (2018).
Overall, The Chosen was an excellent story and I loved every minute I spent reading it. Each time a new Black Dagger Brotherhood book comes out, I feel privileged to spend a little more time in their world. It feels so real, and I can’t get enough of these guys and their gals. There have been a few things happening in the series that have given me the feeling that things are moving toward the ultimate goal of eliminating the Omega once and for all, which makes me question whether the Warden is slowly wrapping up the series. However, in her Q & A, she gave me hope that I’ll still get to spend plenty more time with the Brothers, when she said that as long as they keep talking to her and as long as we, the fans, keep reading, she’ll keep writing them. You better believe I will do exactly that, and with the Black Dagger Legacy, we now get two books in the Brotherhood’s world each year. I can’t wait for Blood Fury coming at the very beginning of next year (2018), and for The Thief to follow shortly thereafter....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Thus far, I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Lorraine Heath, and Never Marry a Cowboy is no exception. It was a wonderful wrapReviewed for THC Reviews Thus far, I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Lorraine Heath, and Never Marry a Cowboy is no exception. It was a wonderful wrap-up to the Rogues in Texas, and my favorite of the series. This final book features, Kit Montgomery, the last of the three English nobleman friends who were sent to Texas to earn their way. Grayson and Harrison each lost their hearts in turn to Texas ladies in the first two books of the series, but Kit has vowed never to love again. The one time he allowed himself to love, it turned out disastrously and broke his heart into a million pieces. But he didn’t count on a frail woman who has been told she’s dying to capture his heart once more. Ashton’s brother, David, caught her trying on her mother’s wedding dress and read in her journals that she had a crush on Kit, who had visited her family only once, but had captured her imagination and her heart during his short time there. Thinking it will provide Ashton with her dying wish, David asks Kit to give his sister a marriage in name only. This leads to a great deal of complications for this tortured hero with a heart of gold. I absolutely loved Never Marry a Cowboy. It’s a sweet, emotional, and sensual read that gave me all kinds of warm fuzzies and left me with a smile on my face.
When I first saw hints in the previous book, Never Love a Cowboy, of just how tortured and vulnerable Kit was, I knew he was going to be a great hero, and he definitely didn’t disappoint. Kit is the second-born of identical twins, who never felt like he could live up to his father’s expectations. He was a weak and sickly child, so he worked twice as hard to earn his father’s respect but never really had it. Then he and his identical twin brother Christopher fell in love with the same woman, but since Christopher was the oldest and the heir, he is the one who ended up marrying her. Then Clarisse became seriously ill. Unable to deal with Clarisse being in unbearable pain during her final hours and knowing that Kit would want to say goodbye, Christopher sent for Kit, who secretly overdosed Clarisse on pain medication and then held her in his arms as she died. What he did has tormented him ever since, yet he knows he would do it all over again. It broke his heart so badly he vowed never to love again. Now he lives in Texas where he was sent by his father, and after trying his hand at picking cotton and driving cattle, he’s finally settled in as the new marshal of the little town of Fortune, where he and his friends live. Kit is more or less walking through life in a blur, unable to get over his lost love, when David comes calling asking Kit to marry his sister. Getting involved, even in a pretend marriage, with a dying woman is the last thing Kit wants to do, but when he sees Ashton again, he’s drawn to her ethereal beauty. After spending a day with her and seeing the childlike joy she takes in such simple things, despite her illness, he knows he can’t deny her this final wish. But the more time he spends with Ashton, the more he wants to give her and make all her wishes come true, yet the guilt over what he did to Clarisse still haunts him, making him hold back a part of himself from her.
I loved Kit to pieces for not only wanting to make Ashton’s wish come true, but for insisting on going above and beyond. He’s a very detail-oriented person who doesn’t forget a single thing and treats her like a princess. Kit is so giving and loving toward Ashton even though he knows that the further he falls in love with her the worse his heart is going to break if she dies in six months as the doctor predicted. This motivates him to do everything he can to help her get better, and I loved how he coaxes her to eat more and encourages her to take long walks with him on the beach where they’re honeymooning. His efforts pay off as she slowly gains weight and becomes stronger. I adore the way he pampers her and wants to give her everything he can to make as many beautiful memories as possible in the time they have left, so they will both have something to sustain them in her final days and beyond. Kit is a wonderful man who wears his heart on his sleeve, but at the same time, he’s incredibly strong and brave in ways it would be easy for others to miss.
Ashton is a sweet, unassuming young woman, who has been sickly all her life. She nearly died the previous winter, which is why the doctor, who diagnosed her with consumption, doesn’t expect her to live more than another six months. Because of her illness, she’s been doted upon and protected by her family, rarely doing much outside the house. When Kit came to visit her brother in the previous book, she was very attracted to him and started daydreaming about a life with him, which she detailed in her journals. When she travels to Fortune with David, she has no idea of his plans to ask Kit to marry her. When she finds out, she doesn’t want his pity, but after spending some time with him, she finds herself falling more in love with him, so that when he proposes, she can’t resist accepting, even though she knows it’s a pretend marriage in name only. But that all changes when Kit insists upon taking her on a proper wedding trip to Galveston, where they spend a month at the beach, thoroughly enjoying each other’s company. Ashton may have been pampered and brought up in privilege, but she’s no spoiled miss. In fact, she craves her independence and wants to experience a few firsts before her time comes. Despite supposedly dying, she has an unquenchable zest for life and wants to seize every moment of the time she has left. Because of Kit’s first love dying, she doesn’t want to cause him any more pain and fully intends to go back to her brother’s in Dallas when their time at the shore is up but finds herself falling more and more in love with him. She basks in Kit’s love until she discovers his darkest secret. Then she isn’t sure how she feels about what he did. The part of the story surrounding her uncertainties and shying away from Kit was hard to read after the beautiful romance they’d shared, but every part of the story was important to them finding peace, redemption, and an HEA.
There are several notable supporting characters in Never Marry a Cowboy. Kit’s brother, Christopher, shows up, unintentionally confusing the townspeople into thinking he is Kit, which was amusing. I really liked that he became a part of the story, because the two brother have such a close connection. They share that twins thing, where they can feel each other’s emotions even with an ocean separating them, and they’ve always been close, never begrudging each other anything, even when they fell in love with the same woman. Christopher suffered, too, when Clarisse died, so it was nice to see him get a new happy ending as well. Gray (A Rogue in Texas) and Harry (Never Love a Cowboy) prove to be Kit’s loyal friends to the end. I love the bond that these men share. We also get to see Gray’s and Harry’s wives, Abby and Jessye, as well as their ever-expanding families. It was also nice to see Kit reconcile with his father. Then there are the villainous outlaws who cause no end of trouble for Kit.
Overall, Never Marry a Cowboy was a splendid read that was full of the sweetness, emotion, and swoon-worthy romance that I crave in my reading. I truly felt Kit and Ashton falling in love from the very beginning and throughout the first two-thirds or so of the book. I just loved all the time they spent together, getting to know one another and coming to realize they couldn’t live without each other. During this part of the story they’re so loving and giving. Even though the distance that develops after Ashton learns the truth of Clarisse’s demise is heartbreaking, it brings each of them to a deeper understanding of each other and their feelings, so it served a valuable purpose. For me, Never Marry a Cowboy was a perfect read and an equally perfect wrap-up to the series. Now I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing the next generation of these men’s families in the Daughters of Fortune, which also includes Kit and Ashton’s son, Devon, as the hero of the second book, To Marry an Heiress....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews I first read Lisa Kleypas’ Bow Street Runners series about ten years ago when I’d just been coming off a book drought that hadReviewed for THC Reviews I first read Lisa Kleypas’ Bow Street Runners series about ten years ago when I’d just been coming off a book drought that had lasted at least that long. I still marvel at how I, a self-confessed bookaholic, could have gone so long without reading much at all, but I guess becoming a mom can completely rearrange your life and priorities that way. In 2007, I promised myself that I would get back to reading regularly and I haven’t looked back in the decade since. If memory serves, Someone to Watch Over Me was the very first book I randomly chose from my overstuffed bookshelves and it was also the first one I ever read by Lisa Kleypas. I didn’t even realize it was part of a series at the time, but lucky for me, it was the first in the series. I remember that it made me fall in love with the author’s work and immediately run out to the library to get the others in the series that I didn’t yet own. When I joined GoodReads in early 2008, I added all the books I read in 2007, rating them as best I could with my faulty memory. I recalled really enjoying Someone to Watch Over Me and the entire series, but I wasn’t sure if I had loved it (and them) enough to warrant 5 stars, so I gave all of them 4 stars (thinking they were really more like 4.5’s). Now that I’ve re-read this book, I can unequivocally say that it is indeed a 5-star read for me. Even though I remembered the big plot twist, I still loved reading it again for all the romance, sweetness, and all the little details that had since been purged from my memory. And since I read it before I started writing reviews in mid-2007, I never wrote one for it, so now I get the pleasure of doing that with double the impressions of the story.:-)
One of the things I got to rediscover is all the reasons why I loved Grant so much. First his backstory is very sympathetic, and while it doesn’t play a huge part in the story, he has experienced a lot of loss in his life. Lisa Kleypas is known for her self-made men and for her everyday historical heroes who aren’t part of the aristocracy. Grant is both. As a teen, he met a Bow Street Runner and idolized the work he did, vowing to become one some day. And that’s exactly what he’s done. He worked his way up through the ranks quickly to become the top Runner at Bow Street. His fame precedes him, and after having many ha’penny novels written about him, he’s become a sought-after guest at many aristocratic functions. It also brings him some of the most lucrative private cases, which has helped him to amass a fortune larger than some aristocrats. But he still moves quite easily in the streets of London where he grew up. He first met Vivian at a society party and was thinking about making an offer to become her protector, but he immediately changed his mind after figuring out how shallow and manipulative she was. This is one of the things I loved about him, because it showed that he's a man of depth and character who wants more than someone with a pretty face to warm his bed. His spurning of Vivien led to her spreading untrue rumors about him. However, in spite of wanting revenge on her for that slight, he can't seem to stop himself from feeling a sense of protectiveness toward her and caring for her tenderly when he finds her near-dead, the victim of an attempted murder. He also senses an innocence about her all along, even though he believes that's impossible given her position as a famous courtesan. While he does have a few moments of hardness when he's determined to make Vivien pay and does lie about their prior relationship, those lies do come back to bite him. He also can't seem to help but soften when he's with her. And his library? I'd marry him for that alone.;-) For a giant of a man, Grant is an incredibly gentle lover, and I loved him to pieces for declaring his love for Vivien before bedding her the first time.
The reader knows nothing about Vivien prior to her being dragged out of the Thames, half-dead and with no memory of who she is. I like how the author keeps the reader just a little off-balance with regards to what's going on with her. I seem to recall when reading it the first time that much like Grant, I was never quite sure whether she is the infamous courtesan Grant believes her to be or not. He knows that she looks exactly like the Vivien he knew, and his eyes can't lie. But she acts so differently, it’s almost like she’s another person. Could the blow to the head have somehow altered her personality as well as caused the memory loss? Half the fun of the story is in finding out the answer to that question. Having previously read it and already knowing the answer, I could look at it from a different perspective, and I think that it was a very well-written and well-plotted story. The Vivien we see recovering at Grant's house has an air of sweetness and innocence about her. She's absolutely mortified to learn that she was a courtesan. Somehow deep inside, she doesn't feel like that's her at all, but Grant says it’s true and she trusts him. I love the way she melts when Grant is around and how she sees the man within and seems to truly understand and appreciate him in a way other women perhaps haven’t. Vivien may be sweet but she certainly has a back bone, too. She bravely puts herself at risk to help Grant find her would-be murderer, and when she discovers Grant's lies, she doesn't let him off easily. I also found her to be very calm and collected, never a woman given to histrionics like many women in her situation might be. When shocking revelations occur, she generally takes them in stride, so I admired her for that. Overall, Vivien (or is she?:-)) was a very well-rounded heroine who I related to quite well.
Someone to Watch Over Me also had a couple of very notable secondary characters who go on to become amazing heroes in their own stories, and I got to start falling for them all over again by re-reading this book. Sir Ross Cannon is the head magistrate and leader of the Bow Street Runners. I love how protective he is toward women and children and how seriously he takes his job. He even has a cat that doesn’t seem to like anyone else but him, which is cute. Ross is definitely an honorable man and it shows even in his supporting scenes. I remember loving him just as much as I loved Grant, maybe even a little more, so I can’t wait to re-read his book, Lady Sophia's Lover, which is the next in the series. Then there’s Dr. Jacob Linley, who’s also a total dreamboat. I seem to recall him playing a supporting role in all the Bow Street Runners books. He’s a young doctor, who is more progressive-thinking than some of his older colleagues. He’s also absolutely wonderful with his female patients, which means that women often seek him out for treatment. Jacob becomes the hero of the novella Against the Odds, which is considered the final story in the Gambler’s of Cravens series. I was so sad when I realized that I hadn’t read his story yet, which is probably the result of it being connected to another series that I also haven’t read, but I’m definitely going to have to rectify that soon.
Overall, Someone to Watch Over Me was a thoroughly enjoyable re-read. It’s a deeply emotional and romantic story. I love how Grant and Vivien bond over a shared love of books, something that surprises Grant, as he didn't think Vivien cared one whit about reading, much less had an intelligent and philosophical mind. The sexual tension between them is exquisite as our hero and heroine navigate the treacherous mystery of who tried to kill Vivien and why, while falling in love. The love scenes are beautiful, tender, and steamy, too, exactly what I expect from Lisa Kleypas. The mystery was well-done, keeping me guessing (the first time I read it :-)) as to whether Vivien is really Vivien and who had it in for her (something I didn’t recall until the story began to progress). It was just an all-around great read that I’d be happy to revisit in about another decade, once I’ve forgotten much of the story again.:-)...more
Reviewed for THC Reviews I was just reading an article last week about how one of the most effective tools for fostering peace, understanding, and empaReviewed for THC Reviews I was just reading an article last week about how one of the most effective tools for fostering peace, understanding, and empathy for those different than ourselves is through the medium of storytelling. As someone who has been a life-long voracious reader, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve learned so much about other people, their cultures, and traditions through reading. Especially when it comes to non-fiction, I often have a tendency to gravitate toward books that are about people or things that are outside my own wheelhouse, because I have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge about things I don’t know much about. I’ve had a few books written by Muslim women on my TBR list for a while now, but I hadn’t gotten around to reading any yet. Then a member of a local Islamic group that shares our church’s fellowship hall to break their daily fasts during Ramadan came to a service one Sunday morning and briefly spoke. Until then, I had no idea that our Christian Bible and the Qur’an share some of the same “characters” and stories. Finding this out piqued my curiosity even further, so when Threading My Prayer Rug was one of the suggested reads for this month’s church book club, I eagerly voted for it. Others in our group were obviously as curious as I was, since it became our latest read. I’m glad it was, because it ended up being a very well-written book that taught me a great deal about the Muslim faith and Pakistani culture that I would highly recommend to anyone who might want to learn about either.
I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Sabeeha Rehman has a very engaging and conversational writing style that’s easy to read and made me feel like I was sitting down to have tea with her while she regaled me with her life story. Born and raised in Pakistan, she entered into an arranged marriage with a doctor who was performing his residency at a hospital in New York, which of course, meant that she had to uproot her life and move halfway around the world within a month of getting engaged and a mere day or two of officially getting married. The first few chapters of the book cover the engagement and marriage, which was quite fascinating. I previously knew only a little about arranged marriages. With our western sensibilities, I think many Americans would find this practice, at best weird, and at worst atrocious. But at least in the author’s experience it was neither, so seeing it through her eyes helped to make me see it in a whole new light. For her, this was simply an accepted and normal part of her culture. At each step of the process, she had to give her consent, so it wasn’t like she was forced into it either. While it isn’t necessarily something that I would have wanted to go through, it wasn’t nearly the oddity I was expecting. In fact, there was a certain charm and romanticism to it all that I hadn’t expected. As it turns out, the author made a soul mate match that is still going strong forty-five years later. Fast-forwarding a bit, I also liked that the author and her husband, recognizing that their sons had been raised in the US with a different culture, didn’t insist on arranged marriages for them as well. She did engage in a bit of matchmaking to help her oldest son, while her youngest ended up completely doing things his own way, but in both cases, they seemed to have also made excellent matches.
Beyond the issue of arranged marriage, I really enjoyed reading about Ms. Rehman’s assimilation into American culture. There were many things that shocked her upon her initial arrival in New York, but that over time, became much less of an issue. She came here with the intent of only staying for the two years it would take for her husband to complete his residency, but when that time came, she’d fallen in love with America and was starting to make a place for herself and her family in this country. They moved here way back in 1971, so the climate for Muslims was much different back then. They were able to go back and forth freely to their home country to visit relatives and her relatives were able to come to New York to visit them. How times have changed! Even though they are US citizens, born and raised here, both her son and young autistic grandson are both on the “no-fly” list, simply because they have the misfortune of sharing the same names as suspected terrorists, which the author says are as ubiquitous in the Muslim world as John Smith is to Caucasians. Anyway, back when they moved here, there were no mosques in New York, so it was fascinating to see how she managed to connect with other Muslims and start building a community, not only around their shared faith, but also around some shared culture as well. And eventually, they were able to raise the funds to build a mosque, but until then, they met in smaller spaces for their own version of Sunday School.
I also enjoyed how the author weaves the metaphor of threading her prayer rug throughout the narrative. There are so many things about her that changed over time, and part of what I could appreciate the most are her evolving beliefs. She came to this country with a pretty conservative mindset, which has ebbed and flowed over time. Some things which scandalized her in the beginning have become non-issues now, while she herself has become a much-more observant Muslim in her personal life. In those early years, she thought she had been a devout Muslim in Pakistan, only to discover later in life that she really hadn’t been. Wanting her children to know about both their Pakistani culture and the Muslim faith, she set out to learn more about it herself. This led her to begin observing Ramadan and eventually participating in the five daily prayers, and I have to admit that the discipline required to do these things pretty much puts me to shame in my own spiritual life. She became a leader in the Muslim community, which brought her up against some traditionalists with regards to a woman’s place and which isn’t all that different from some Christian churches I’ve attended. Later on, when she wanted a better understanding of what the Qur’an said about women’s roles, she delved into an in-depth study of their holy book, which included an attempt to learn Arabic so she could read it in its original language. Again, this puts me to shame, because that would be like me trying to learn Greek and Hebrew to read the original texts of the Holy Bible. At each step of her journey she would use the metaphor of the patterns in her prayer rug changing to indicate the ways in which she was changing.
Throughout reading Threading My Prayer Rug, I was struck most by just how many similarities that I shared with the author, which seem to transcend culture and faith. During his presidency, Barack Obama often invoked the idea that that which unites us is far greater than that which divides us. I don’t think he was the originator the quote, but it’s a good one in any case. And that is exactly what I felt while reading this book. The author and I may come from very different backgrounds and practice different faiths, but at our core, we want the same things and have the same hopes and dreams for our families and loved ones. I also strongly believe that the only way we are ever going to stop classifying Muslims as “other” is to learn about them and their faith, and this book went a long way toward demystifying those things for me. Sabeeha Rehman is just an ordinary woman dealing with some of the same challenges in life that all of us face. Yet at the same time, because of her name and her faith, she isn’t always made to feel welcome. I was impressed by how she remains upbeat and optimistic in spite of her circumstances, while also being a tireless advocate for interfaith dialogue, peace, and understanding. I can’t begin to express how much I admire her doggedness and the energy with which she approaches life. Being a low-energy, deeply introverted person, I could never do even half of what she’s done in her life, but it’s inspiring nonetheless. I think we all need to take a page from Ms. Rehman’s book and put ourselves out there in the fray of life and fight for what’s important with the same vigor she does....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Freedom is a fascinating post-apocalyptic/dystopian story that takes place in an unspecified future time frame aftReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Freedom is a fascinating post-apocalyptic/dystopian story that takes place in an unspecified future time frame after something called The Burst, which while not explained, I assume to probably have been an EMP or something similar. The bulk of the story takes place in New Las Vegas, where only a chosen few live and work within the city. The rest are pretty much relegated to the Outside, which appears to be the outskirts of the city and in between the two is the NeverNever. In this future society, there are Talents and Non-Talents. The Non-Talents are exactly what you might expect, just normal humans. The Talents are special humans who’ve developed various psi talents. They might exhibit as empaths, telepaths, telekinetics, or other psychic phenomena, some of which are only known to the Talent Management Center, an organization that seems to oversee the various operations around the country that were put in place to identify Talents. The TMC basically ignores Non-Talents, using them in menial type jobs, while those who exhibit a moderate amount of talent will be trained for more specialized jobs within the cities. However, those who exhibit talents that go above and beyond, essentially become lab rats, who are tested over and over to figure out their limits until they are mentally broken. Although most don’t realize it, the TMC rules with an iron fist and are a pretty evil organization. I would have liked to know a little more about them. Are they the new government in this futuristic society? The fact that they have the Marines at their command seems to suggest that they either are or have some sort of government backing, but overall, the author doesn’t go into that too much. They are, however, a very scary organization with equally scary people working for them.
While the dystopian aspect of the book is very intriguing, at its heart, Freedom is very much an emotional human story. Within this landscape, we’re introduced to Patrick, who is a mid-level empath, working in the psychiatric wing of a medical facility. He and his two best friends were tested years before. His friend, Charlie, didn’t have enough talent to qualify to move into the city, but Patrick and Charlie’s girlfriend, Evie, did. Patrick was trained for the job he now holds, while Evie was taken elsewhere and later released back into the Outside. After being tested, she was said to be too psychologically damaged to work and hasn’t been the same since. However, no one really suspects that it was the TMC who did the damage to her. Patrick is pretty content in his job and has just been given his first solo case working with a John Doe who was found nearly dead by the Escapeway. The man is practically wild and doesn’t appear to speak or write except in gibberish. Using his empathic talents, Patrick soon realizes that his John Doe is much more than he seems on the surface and the longer he works with the man, the more he comes to care for him in a non-professional way. He also starts to realize some things about himself and about what’s going on in a wider sense, not only within the facility but the world outside as well. Patrick eventually comes to understand that his patient is in grave danger and he knows he cannot betray him, but he must make a difficult decision about whether he can give up the comfortable life he has in the city for the unknown world beyond.
John Doe 439 is really a young man named Jac, who has partial amnesia. Due to severe injuries, as well as emotional trauma, he sustained when attacked by the Purples, humans who’ve gone feral, he’s forgotten who he is or how he came to be at the medical center. All he knows is that his older brother always taught him to fear the All-Whites, and now he’s locked up in a place that’s completely white and only tended by people dressed in white. Into this frightening landscape comes Patrick, who treats Jac with gentleness, dignity, and respect. Gradually Jac begins to trust Patrick, especially after they connect psychically. To say that Jac is a sweet and gentle soul is almost an understatement. To many around him, he’s viewed as weak and easy prey, because he possesses an almost childlike quality. Even after he remembers how to speak, he does so in the way a small child might, dropping syllables and sometimes mispronouncing words, something his friend, Rob, calls a form of baby talk. Jac has an interesting backstory as to why this is that I won’t spoil for readers, but one of the reasons is that it’s much easier for him to simply communicate telepathically. There aren’t a lot of scenes from Jac’s POV, but on the rare occasions we get a look inside his mind, particularly after he starts to calm for Patrick, we see an intelligent man with a tremendous gift. He has psi talents above and beyond anyone who works with him has ever seen before. Patrick isn’t even certain what to call some of his talents. Again, I won’t spoil anyone by saying what they are, but he truly is a wonder. He’s also a deeply affectionate human being who loves to give and receive touch from the right people and in the right way, which as a touchy-feely person myself, I loved. When he finds out that Rob also survived the attack and they’re reunited, Jac is like a clinging vine who must be physically connected to him at all times, which made me question at times which of the men he was meant to be with, Rob or Patrick. The answer is kind of both but in different ways.
Initially the bulk of the POV scenes belong to Patrick with a few glimpses inside Jac’s troubled mind, but as the story progresses and moves outside the medical center, we get more and more scenes from other characters’ perspectives. There’s Patrick’s top-level empath supervisor, Sam, who recognizes Jac’s talents early on and starts covering up some of the things he can do. Sam ends up being a whole lot more than he seems at first. Patrick also has a co-worker, Dana, who works with Jac, too, and ends up helping in a lot of ways. We get to see things from Rob’s POV as well, as he supports Jac and gives so much of himself to the man he thinks of as a brother of sorts. Then there’s the evil Julia from TMC, who’s a bully determined to get her man and break him, but she didn’t count on him having help and being so powerful himself. If memory serves I think these were the only characters who got their own POV scenes but there are plenty more supporting players such as Charlie and Evie, and several other Talents, as well as at least one Non-Talent who we meet as they make their escape and who played integral roles.
Overall, Freedom was a story that very much drew me in and kept me reading. I thoroughly enjoyed it, so that being the case you might be asking yourself why I knocked off the half-star. Well, the main reason is that as wonderful as it was, I still felt it had a few weaknesses. First, I was a little reluctant to even classify this book as romance, because that part of the story is rather subdued and kind of secondary to other events in the story. The plot simply doesn’t follow the two men on the same track that most romances do with them meeting, forging a relationship, and falling in love. These things do happen, but in a much different way than what I’m used to. There’s no explicit sex and I don’t even recall them saying, “I love you,” although it’s fairly apparent by their actions. So for me, this was more of a sci-fi story with a light romance on the side. Then there were the questions I mentioned earlier about the greater world outside New Las Vegas and exactly what was motivating the TMC. Lastly, the author wrote the book in a number of different styles. Patrick alone was written in first person present tense when he’s interacting with Jac, first person past tense when he’s taking case notes, and third person past tense when he’s interacting with other characters. Once we start getting into the other characters’ POVs, they could be either first or third person, and I can’t say I understood the differentiation on those. I did get used to it and was never confused as to whose perspective I was reading because each POV change is clearly labeled with the character’s name and setting, but for some readers this may be jarring. Despite these perceived weaknesses, I still couldn’t help giving the book keeper status. I’m fascinated by all thing to do with the inner workings of the human mind and psychic phenomena, so that alone kept me glued to the pages. I also loved all the characters and felt like I was very much a part of their world. This was such a good read, I was quite surprised and a little disappointed to discover that this is, so far, the only book Jay Kirkpatrick has written, but if she (yes, despite the male-sounding name, this is a female writer) ever writes another, I’ll definitely pick it up....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews In The Son, the third novella that explores Four’s life before meeting Tris in Divergent, he has completed the Dauntless initiReviewed for THC Reviews In The Son, the third novella that explores Four’s life before meeting Tris in Divergent, he has completed the Dauntless initiation at the top of his class. As such, he’s eligible to choose pretty much any job he wants within the faction. He thinks he might want to be a trainer, but Max, one of the faction leaders, thinks he’s qualified for much more and wants him to go through the process of trying to become a Dauntless leader. This leads to a lot of contemplations on Four’s part as he tries to decide if this is what he wants to do with his life, while also continuing his rivalry with Eric for the same position. At the same time, Four accidentally discovers that there may be something foul afoot between Dauntless and Erudite, which makes him realize that hiding his “differences” are all the more important. Also for the first time, he hears the term Divergent applied to his awareness during simulations, and he also deals with a shocking revelation from his past.
The more of these novellas I read about Four, the more I’m convinced the Divergent series as a whole would have been better, IMHO, if either he had narrated it or if it had been done in dual narration. I’ve been enjoying these stories more than the main part of the series, and one of the reasons why is because they’re written in Four’s perspective. I feel like his character is really developing and coming alive in my mind’s eye far better than he ever did before. And for some reason, this particular story seemed to have an even deeper POV than the previous two or the series in general. Four is still the loner, preferring to take up residence in his own apartment after initiation, rather than with others within the faction, but he does still have a few friends. He also struggles between his two identities as someone who supposedly tested with an aptitude for Abnegation, but fearing his father’s abuse, chose to leave and become Dauntless. Four really starts figuring things out, both in his own life and in the events that are going on around him, which leads to more introspection. Overall, it was a really good read that I very much enjoyed. In addition to feeling more engaged in Four’s POV, I liked seeing more of the secondary characters who become a part of the main series: Eric, Zeke, Uriah, Shauna, Lynn, and Marlene. I also liked learning about the history of various plot points within the Divergent series and how those things came about. It was enlightening as well as entertaining, and very much makes me look forward to reading the final novella in this group of stories about Four....more
"4.5 stars" The Initiate is the second novella in the Four collection that follows the character of Four during his early days in Dauntless a couple o"4.5 stars" The Initiate is the second novella in the Four collection that follows the character of Four during his early days in Dauntless a couple of years before meeting Tris in the main Divergent story. In this novella, we get to see some of his training as a Dauntless initiate. We discover the origins of his rivalry with Eric, and it makes a lot more sense now why these two were always at odds. The initiates engage in a game of Dare, which leads to Four getting his first tattoo and getting drunk for the first time. He also begins to build some tentative friendships with Shauna and Zeke, which is a big step for this loner, and we can start to see how he ended up as a Dauntless trainer. I think the most interesting part of the story, though, is when Four starts to realize there’s something different about him because of his ability to be conscious while in fear simulations. This leads him to recall his father’s insistent warning that he not do anything strange during his aptitude test. It’s also the first time we get an inkling of his understanding of being Divergent although it still hasn’t been called that, and he also realizes that he’ll need to cover his tracks and not do anything that might “out” himself.
Overall, there’s quite a bit going on in The Initiate for such a short novella, so things don’t get explored in as much detail as I might have liked. I think the reason it seemed this way is that I still can’t help feeling that Four either should have been the narrator of the Divergent series, or better yet, it should have been done in dual narration. I believe I would have felt much more connected to him in the main part of the series if it had been. So far, I’ve enjoyed getting these little glimpses into his perspective. In this story, I was particularly intrigued by his aversion to the violence that’s an everyday part of Dauntless life, which is understandable given his background of abuse. The main reason I knocked off the half-star, though, is that I couldn’t help feeling like his character still could have been fleshed out even more. He has such an interesting backstory that, from an emotional perspective, only seems to come into play in bits and pieces, when I really wanted the author to dig deep. It was nice, though, to see some of the supporting characters from the series: Amar, Zeke, Uriah, Shauna, Jeanine, Eric, and how their stories evolved and intertwined with Four’s as well. Overall, this was a good read that I still liked a bit more than the Divergent series as a whole, and I look forward to reading more of these stories from Four’s POV....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews As I believe I’ve mentioned in previous reviews of books that were chosen as our church book club reads, I feel like I’ve beenReviewed for THC Reviews As I believe I’ve mentioned in previous reviews of books that were chosen as our church book club reads, I feel like I’ve been on a spiritual journey for the last fifteen or so years. Part of that journey has included wrestling with the role of my Christian faith in government and politics. If only I’d known of the existence of The Myth of a Christian Nation ten years ago, I might have come to some of the same conclusions much faster than I did without reading it … until now. Author Gregory Boyd is obviously a very intelligent and scholarly man who, based on the topic of this book and the descriptions of others he’s written, has struggled with some of the same issues I have. This is one reason I very much appreciated the topic of this book and the author's handling of it. I also liked it because I felt that Rev. Boyd took a balanced approach to the subject matter, using language that will be familiar to most Christians, particularly those of the conservative persuasion, while presenting a viewpoint that challenges much of conservative Christianity’s way of thinking on the subject. He also, IMHO, strongly backed up that viewpoint with numerous scripture citations (If I hadn’t been in a hurry to finish the book in time for my book club meeting, I might have read it with my Bible open, referring to each of the passages as he cited them.), as well as the works of many other learned men throughout history (I hope to check out many of these other books at some point, too.), so in my estimation, he did an excellent job of defending his position, even though I know many still won’t agree.
The basic thesis of this book is rooted in Rev. Boyd’s belief that “a significant segment of American evangelicalism is guilty of nationalistic and political idolatry,” a position I agree with wholeheartedly, but one that I couldn’t necessarily defend with my meager knowledge of the scriptures and church history. It’s just something that I’ve felt in my gut and an opinion I’ve formed based on what I’ve seen over the past forty+ years of my life. Now I have a much better understanding of where that gut feeling came from. Rev. Boyd scripturally points out that the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world are two separate entities and that no matter how “good” any kingdom of the world may seem, it’s still deeply flawed by comparison to the kingdom of God. Also, the Bible clearly states that the kingdom of the world is Satan’s domain, which is why it’s so flawed. Therefore there is no such thing as a Christian nation, America or otherwise. To try to comingle the two only taints the church and hinders the advancement of God’s kingdom, which is what I’ve seen playing out in the church for these past years that I’ve been on this journey. Also in looking much further back at history, I can see this as well, in such things as the Crusades, the widespread corruption in the Catholic church of the Middle Ages and beyond that led to the Protestant Reformation, and other key points of church history. In fact, the author takes a historical look all the way back to the early church immediately following Christ’s resurrection, how it was growing by leaps and bounds and how the apostles counted it a privilege to die as martyrs for their faith. But when the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, he began this melding of church and state (or church and the power of the sword) that has lasted into modern times and that has slowly deteriorated the loving and peaceful message of Christ.
Another thing that I very much appreciated about this book is how the author contrasted “power over” with “power under.” He argues that “power over” is the way of the kingdom of the world, in which power must be exerted over people in order to retain some semblance of law and order. It’s more or less a necessary “evil” to maintain civility in a fallen world. However, Jesus never exercised “power over” authority with people. Instead he always practiced “power under,” placing himself under others in loving service to them, eventually paying the ultimate price of his life for all mankind, even though he could have called upon the power of heaven to save himself. It’s this example that we should follow and emulate, sacrificially giving of ourselves to others and always interacting with them with their best interests at heart. Therefore, we shouldn’t view those on the opposite end of the political spectrum or those who hold different social values than we do as the “enemy.” Instead we should refrain from judgment and let go of our anger, finding ways to “come under” one another in loving service.
Rev. Boyd goes on to expound upon many other important points such as how even among Jesus’ disciples there were those from opposing political viewpoints and yet they ministered alongside Jesus for three years with no recorded episodes of extreme discord. He also discusses the history of America and whether it was founded as an explicitly “Christian nation,” as well as whether the church and any militaristic pursuits can ever genuinely live side by side. In addition, he also explores the idea that since we’re all sinners, Christian or not, we can’t possibly set ourselves up as the moral guardians of the world, so rather than passing judgment on others or trying to impose our beliefs on them via political means, we should instead find ways to show them their unsurpassed worth in the eyes of God. I could go on with all the many things the author discusses, but these are some of the standouts.
I admire and respect Rev. Boyd for standing up for what he believes and for taking the time to write about it, even though his views may not be popular. He is the pastor of a mega-church in Minnesota, who lost about twenty percent of his congregation when he preached the sermon series that became this book. He said that he has been variously described as “liberal, a compromiser, wishy-washy, unpatriotic, afraid to take a stand, or on the side of Satan,” even though he doesn’t feel any of those labels accurately describe him. From my point of view, however, he’s a much-need prophetic voice in a church that has in many ways, lost its way by becoming too caught up in politics and the quest for political power to see where they are failing to spread the good news, both at home and abroad. I know many people, Christians especially, will turn away in disgust simply at the title of this book, but I urge those people to take a closer look. What Rev. Boyd posits isn’t anything outrageous or radical, except in the sense that Jesus himself expressed an outrageous and radical love for all humankind. From my perspective, The Myth of a Christian Nation is a book that every Christian should take the time to read, even though I know most won’t. It is one of those books that contains a great deal of food for thought for anyone who is willing to go into reading it with an open mind and heart. For me, even though I’d already come to the same conclusions as the author before reading it, I still found it to be an eye-opener in the sense that I learned several new things about church history, as well as a stronger Biblical basis for my beliefs. Therefore, I highly recommend it, especially for those who might be struggling with the role Christianity should play in government....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
Reviewed for THC Reviews *newest review for this anthology "4.5 stars" Since all but one of the short stories contained in Four pre-date the rest of theReviewed for THC Reviews *newest review for this anthology "4.5 stars" Since all but one of the short stories contained in Four pre-date the rest of the Divergent series chronology, this book is now largely considered a prequel to the series. However, the stories contained in it were written and published after the rest of the series. IMHO, it’s better to read the series first and then read these stories as an addition. Otherwise, readers will get some significant spoilers for the main part of the series. Also, if read in this order, readers will already have an understanding of who Four is as a character as well as some knowledge of the common characters who are introduced in the series and the faction system as a whole.
The Transfer – The Transfer begins with Tobias taking his aptitude test, which like Tris’s test, was administered by Tori. My one and only slight complaint and the reason I knocked off a half star is because I seem to recall Tori telling Tris (albeit reluctantly) that she was Divergent, whereas, she didn’t seem particularly phased by Tobias’s test and didn’t tell him anything about being Divergent. This seemed a little inconsistent with the rest of the series, so I’ll be interested to find out exactly how he learns this about himself.
Otherwise, I very much enjoyed The Transfer, in all honesty, even more so than the series as a whole. Even though I already knew about most of the information that’s revealed in this story, I found Tobias to be a compelling character. We get a glimpse of his life with his abusive father before he transfers factions on Choosing Day, as well as how he came to make the decision to leave Abnegation even though his aptitude test supposedly pegged him in the faction of his birth. I thought this showed him to be a courageous character to make that kind of stand. In addition, we get to see his first day in Dauntless initiation, how he fared compared to Tris, and how he came by the nickname Four.
I felt much more connected to Four as a character then I did when reading the rest of the Divergent series. I also, in many ways, found him to be a more interesting character than Tris, which is why I was rather surprised to read in Veronica Roth’s introduction to the book that she originally began writing the series in Tobias’s perspective, but then stalled out thirty pages into it because she didn’t feel like he was the right narrator for the story. She didn’t pick it back up again until four years later, when she came up with the character of Tris. I try not to second-guess authors, because as one myself, I know you can’t always please everyone and sometimes, you have to do what you think is right for your story. However, in this case, it’s my humble opinion that Tobias could have made a great narrator and perhaps I might have liked the Divergent series as a whole better if he had been. In any case, I look forward to reading the remaining stories in this anthology to learn more about him and his history. Star Rating: ****1/2
The Initiate – The Initiate is the second novella in the Four collection that follows the character of Four during his early days in Dauntless a couple of years before meeting Tris in the main Divergent story. In this novella, we get to see some of his training as a Dauntless initiate. We discover the origins of his rivalry with Eric, and it makes a lot more sense now why these two were always at odds. The initiates engage in a game of Dare, which leads to Four getting his first tattoo and getting drunk for the first time. He also begins to build some tentative friendships with Shauna and Zeke, which is a big step for this loner, and we can start to see how he ended up as a Dauntless trainer. I think the most interesting part of the story, though, is when Four starts to realize there’s something different about him because of his ability to be conscious while in fear simulations. This leads him to recall his father’s insistent warning that he not do anything strange during his aptitude test. It’s also the first time we get an inkling of his understanding of being Divergent although it still hasn’t been called that, and he also realizes that he’ll need to cover his tracks and not do anything that might “out” himself.
Overall, there’s quite a bit going on in The Initiate for such a short novella, so things don’t get explored in as much detail as I might have liked. I think the reason it seemed this way is that I still can’t help feeling that Four either should have been the narrator of the Divergent series, or better yet, it should have been done in dual narration. I believe I would have felt much more connected to him in the main part of the series if it had been. So far, I’ve enjoyed getting these little glimpses into his perspective. In this story, I was particularly intrigued by his aversion to the violence that’s an everyday part of Dauntless life, which is understandable given his background of abuse. The main reason I knocked off the half-star, though, is that I couldn’t help feeling like his character still could have been fleshed out even more. He has such an interesting backstory that, from an emotional perspective, only seems to come into play in bits and pieces, when I really wanted the author to dig deep. It was nice, though, to see some of the supporting characters from the series: Amar, Zeke, Uriah, Shauna, Jeanine, Eric, and how their stories evolved and intertwined with Four’s as well. Overall, this was a good read that I still liked a bit more than the Divergent series as a whole, and I look forward to reading more of these stories from Four’s POV. Star Rating: ****1/2
The Son – In The Son, the third novella that explores Four’s life before meeting Tris in Divergent, he has completed the Dauntless initiation at the top of his class. As such, he’s eligible to choose pretty much any job he wants within the faction. He thinks he might want to be a trainer, but Max, one of the faction leaders, thinks he’s qualified for much more and wants him to go through the process of trying to become a Dauntless leader. This leads to a lot of contemplations on Four’s part as he tries to decide if this is what he wants to do with his life, while also continuing his rivalry with Eric for the same position. At the same time, Four accidentally discovers that there may be something foul afoot between Dauntless and Erudite, which makes him realize that hiding his “differences” are all the more important. Also for the first time, he hears the term Divergent applied to his awareness during simulations, and he also deals with a shocking revelation from his past.
The more of these novellas I read about Four, the more I’m convinced the Divergent series as a whole would have been better, IMHO, if either he had narrated it or if it had been done in dual narration. I’ve been enjoying these stories more than the main part of the series, and one of the reasons why is because they’re written in Four’s perspective. I feel like his character is really developing and coming alive in my mind’s eye far better than he ever did before. And for some reason, this particular story seemed to have an even deeper POV than the previous two or the series in general. Four is still the loner, preferring to take up residence in his own apartment after initiation, rather than with others within the faction, but he does still have a few friends. He also struggles between his two identities as someone who supposedly tested with an aptitude for Abnegation, but fearing his father’s abuse, chose to leave and become Dauntless. Four really starts figuring things out, both in his own life and in the events that are going on around him, which leads to more introspection. Overall, it was a really good read that I very much enjoyed. In addition to feeling more engaged in Four’s POV, I liked seeing more of the secondary characters who become a part of the main series: Eric, Zeke, Uriah, Shauna, Lynn, and Marlene. I also liked learning about the history of various plot points within the Divergent series and how those things came about. It was enlightening as well as entertaining, and very much makes me look forward to reading the final novella in this anthology. Star Rating: *****
*The Traitor – The Traitor was a nice wrap-up to the Four anthology and to the group of novellas that have now become widely viewed as prequels to the Divergent series. Despite that, I personally still think it’s better to at least read Divergent first. Otherwise, the reader will get major spoilers for that book and some things might not make a lot of sense. That’s especially true with this novella, which takes place pretty much simultaneously with events in Divergent. In this story, we learn how Four became aware of the unholy alliance between Dauntless and Erudite and their plans to attack Abnegation. He goes through some soul-searching as he tries to decide whether to warn his birth faction or not, as well as whether he can trust anyone enough to tell them these things. As he struggles with figuring those things out, he meets Tris and becomes her trainer, and we get to see some of the early parts of their relationship from his POV.
I think I’ve said it with each new novella I read in this series, but it might bear repeating that IMHO, the Divergent series as a whole would have been much better if it had been written in dual perspective. Getting Four’s POV on many of the events of the series has been great and has really helped to deepen my understanding of him as a character and some of the things that happened. It’s been so long since I read Divergent that I can’t recall precisely how the specific scenes in this novella compare to those same scenes in the main book from Tris’s POV, but I do recall complaining in my review of that book that the parts where Four takes Tris into his fear landscape along with their subsequent discussion and first kiss at the chasm afterward didn’t hold the emotional weight I felt they should have. Well, in this novella, that’s completely different, and I believe it’s all owed to the fact that we’re seeing what all this meant to Four. We learn why he chose to take Tris into his fear landscape and what it felt like for him going through that with her. We also get a richer conversation afterward and get to see his burgeoning feelings for her, too. It all made their relationship much more cohesive for me. The only reason I chose to knock off a half-star is because a few of the scenes seemed a bit repetitive with us only getting a slightly different perspective, but overall, I liked this novella a lot and really think that these scenes should have been included in the main Divergent book. Star Rating: ****1/2
Bonus Content – At the end of the book, we get three additional scenes from Divergent written from Four’s POV. First, is his reaction to Tris being the first jumper on choosing day. The second one continues with the events of choosing day in Dauntless, as Four gives the new transfers a tour of the facility and shares their first meal as new Dauntless initiates. The final one, I can’t recall the exact timing of, but I believe it’s later in the story, when a party is taking place in the Pit. Four has a little too much to drink and the alcohol loosens his tongue around Tris. Again, I felt like all of these scenes gave me valuable insights into Four’s mind and emotions and would have been helpful if included in the main story....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews For the last fifteen years or so, I feel like I’ve been on a spiritual journey. It’s been a long road marked with doubts, unceReviewed for THC Reviews For the last fifteen years or so, I feel like I’ve been on a spiritual journey. It’s been a long road marked with doubts, uncertainties, and struggles surrounding what I believe or perhaps more accurately, what is the “right” way to believe. Through much soul-searching, I’ve come to the conclusion that there isn’t necessarily any such thing as “right” beliefs, not even within my own Christian faith. After all, there are over 40,000 Christian church denominations, and in many cases, some of the denominations branched off of others due to conflicting beliefs. That means that no one denomination has all the answers, and perhaps even my own faith itself doesn’t have all the answers either. That’s why when The Sin of Certainty was chosen as our latest church book club read, I was eager to check it out. I have to say I wasn’t disappointed with its message.
The author of the book, Peter Enns, has been on a spiritual journey not unlike mine and also for a number of years. He’s a biblical scholar and a professor of biblical studies who thought he had it all together and knew all the “correct” beliefs until he had what he calls an “uh-oh moment.” Then things started to unravel for him. In much the same way as it was for me, suddenly things that used to be clear weren’t so clear anymore, which caused him to start looking more deeply at his own beliefs and what some of the authors of the Bible had to say about periods of doubting. All of that, of course, led him to write this book.
Mr. Enns begins by exploring some of the scientific and historical findings that have occurred over the past century or two that have led some people to start doubting the veracity of the Bible as a literal historical document. From there, he delves into portions of the Bible, particularly Ecclesiastes, Job, and many of the Psalms that express heavy doses of doubt in God’s love and presence in the authors’ lives, but also how these authors still trusted God anyway. Trust is a big part of Mr. Enns’ narrative in this book, and he uses the etymology of the words faith, believe, and trust, as well as the context of how they’re used in the Bible to explain why trusting God is far more important than beliefs, especially a preoccupation with “correct” beliefs as seems to be the case with many Christians. It’s this kind of trust that can help mitigate our uncertainties when we’re caught off guard by those “uh-oh moments.”
One of the things that I appreciated the most about this book is Mr. Enns’ sharing of the results of a survey he took on his blog in which he asked the questions: What are your one or two biggest obstacles to staying Christian? What are those roadblocks you keep running into? What are those issues that won’t go away and make you wonder why you keep on believing at all? In the end, most of the answers fell into one of five categories, each of which the author explored in more depth: 1. The Bible portrays God as violent. 2. The Bible and science collide. 3. God seems disinterested. 4. Christianity is the only path to God. And 5. Christians treat each other badly. I can say without a doubt, I’ve struggled with all of these things myself to some degree, especially 2 & 5, so I could relate to everything he had to say in this chapter very well.
What I loved so much about this book is that I came away with an understanding that doubt is a normal, natural part of the faith experience that should be embraced rather than shunned. It isn’t a product of a lack of faith, or not praying enough, or not reading/studying the Bible enough as many ministers and fellow Christians have told me in the past. If anything, there’s much to be learned from these periods in our lives, however long they may last. There’s nothing wrong with seeking to understand the things of God, but don’t make it your sole preoccupation in life. God can’t be put into a box, and things don’t always have to line up in a neat little row. There’s meant to be some mystery to faith. After all, without it, how can we cultivate trust? These are the primary messages I took away from reading The Sin of Certainty, and I also take much comfort in knowing that I’m not alone on this spiritual pilgrimage. I think anyone else who might be feeling the same things I and the author are could find solace in his words too....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Another Chance to Dream kicked off my 2017 reading with a bang. I’d never read anything by Lynn Kurland before, but I’d heardReviewed for THC Reviews Another Chance to Dream kicked off my 2017 reading with a bang. I’d never read anything by Lynn Kurland before, but I’d heard good things about her. Still, recommendations aren’t always a sure-fire indicator that I’ll like the author’s work, but in this case, everything I’d heard was definitely true. Without a doubt, this author knows how to write a truly romantic story that made my heart do flip-flops. Even though she keeps her narrative pretty PG-rated and I typically prefer my romances steamy, it wasn’t a detractor for me. Ms. Kurland is now one of only a handful of authors who write in this less-explicit style that I can genuinely say I thoroughly enjoy. I also haven’t been reading many medieval romances lately, so this was a very welcome reintroduction to the time period. I’m very excited to have found a new-to-me author who’s a skillful enough writer to keep me on the edge of my seat with some action and adventure, while also keeping me guessing as to how the hero and heroine will overcome the obstacles in their path to finally get together, and at the same time, gives me the strong emotional connection that I crave in romance.
Rhys is a prince among men, exactly the kind of hero who can make me swoon. He’s definitely more a beta where his lady and her children are concerned – sweet, gentle, kind, and basically wears his heart on his sleeve. But he’s no pushover. He’s a skillful swordsman, who won his knighthood at the tender age of fourteen and is known far and wide for his victories in battles and tournaments. He’s also earned the respect of the men under his command with his fierceness and fairness. Rhys takes his duty as a knight very seriously, deeply prizing the knightly virtues of honesty, gallantry, and most of all chivalry. Even though societal norms won’t allow a mere knight with no land or title to wed a titled lady, he’s determined to have Gwen no matter what he has to do or how long it takes. It was so sweet that he even saved himself for her, not wanting any other woman in his bed. Despite years apart and her forced marriage to another man, Rhys never stops loving her and won’t stop trying everything he can to win her hand for himself. Beyond loving Gwen, he also loves and accepts her children as his own, treating them the way a father should. How could a romance reader not fall in love with a hero like that?
Gwennelyn was a headstrong lass from a very young age. When she meets Rhys at the mere age of nine, she demands that the vaunted knight champion her against her enemy, another young man who locked her in the pigsty. When he did as she asked, she fell in love with him on the spot, giving him her favor like any good lady would. When she finally met up with him again five years later, she pursued him all over her father’s keep, trying to get him alone so she could declare her love, while he, of course, was trying to avoid her because he knew he couldn’t have her. But Gwen giving voice to her tender regard for him is what set Rhys on his determined path to earn enough gold to bribe the right people into giving him land and perhaps a title so he could marry her like they both wanted. Gwen’s courage never faltered through all the things she had to deal with during the years they were apart, nor did her love for Rhys either. She was a fierce protector of her children as well. Gwen was more than a worthy match for Rhys, strong without being annoying and loving and kind without being overly sentimental.
There are a number of strong and beautifully drawn secondary characters as well. Montgomery and the Viking twins, Connor and Jared, were instrumental in Rhys training as a young knight. They’re loyal to a fault and look out for Gwen while Rhys is away. They’re also good for some laughs. Gwen’s children, Robin and Amanda, as well as Nicholas, another little boy the same age as Robin, whom Gwen insists they take in, are cute as buttons. Their speech is perhaps a bit advanced for their ages, but undeniably adorable. The little boys are well on their way to becoming gallant knights themselves, while Amanda is a charmer who has no trouble wrapping Rhys around her little finger. The next three books in the De Piaget series are about these three all grown up. Rhys’s family, his grandfather and his mother, an Englishwoman who ended up in a convent in France, are full of surprises. Gwen’s mother is always the calm voice of reason. Geoffrey, Gwen’s childhood tormentor who’s now sweet on her, is also good for some laughs. Gwen’s brother-in-law, John, pledges his loyalty to her and Rhys, becoming Rhys’s squire. Last but certainly not least are the dastardly villains, Gwen’s husband, Alain, and his brother, Rollan. Alain can be deliberately cruel but isn’t very smart, relying on Rollan to be the brains for both of them in their sordid schemes, which thankfully don’t entirely succeed.
Another Chance to Dream is a skillfully written story that never lets up on the conflict, keeping the reader wondering how an HEA will ever be possible. There’s the long-standing question of how the gallant knight will win the hand of his lady fair without land or title, but all throughout there are smaller conflicts that arise as well. Unlike a similar story I read recently, which also had a lot of conflict, this one was done better IMHO, because the conflicts are not of the hero’s and heroine’s own making (eg. stubborn misunderstandings). It always comes from an outside source, with each one being resolved within a reasonable time frame before the next one arises. Rhys and Gwen also never stop having faith in one another and their love endures despite the odds. Theirs is an epic love story that begins with them as children and finally culminates with their HEA some sixteen years later and what an HEA it is. In the end, Rhys’s determination pays off in ways he never could have imagined, giving him everything he’s always dreamed of and more. And that’s how I felt as a reader too. Another Chance to Dream was everything I could have wished for in a romance, and then some, and I can’t wait to continue with the De Piaget series to see what’s in store for Rhys and Gwen’s children....more