Monday, February 28, 2011

A Paranormal Smorgasbord: "Shifter" by Angela Knight et al

What a fun book!! I have to admit I hadn't really read much shape-shifter fiction until just a few years ago but I have really come to enjoy it, as long as it isn't too far out. One novel had people shifting into snakes, and even though they may have pulled that off OK, it made me feel creepy--creepier than usual with these kinds of paranormal bits--but all in all, I think the stories are lots of fun.

In this anthology you have selkies, jungle cats, wolves, and so on. All the authors are easily recognized for their long publishing history and storytelling prowess. Each story is long enough to be interesting, to develop plot and characters, yet none go on forever. Obviously each reader will like the parts of the book that fit in with their own reading preferences, but I have to admit that I enjoyed all of them. They all just seemed to fit together well.

This book was released a couple of years ago so it is not new on the romance fiction scene. But as I have stated already a time or two, I think in our frenzy to get to the "just released" stories we often overlook books that have been around for a while. This is just such a book. I also have to admit that I have not read as much from Alyssa Day and Virginia Kantra as I have from the other two authors, and while I used to pass over anthologies as being kind of a hodge podge rather than one story with a purpose and goal, I have re-examined that attitude and found that perhaps that was a hasty judgment on my part.

So I hope if you have not read this book you will pick it up at your library or book store. I think it is worth the time to read--just some really fun stories. I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Meet The Author -- She's a Good One -- Kat Martin

Currently living in Missoula, Montana, Kat is the highly acclaimed, best-selling New York Times author of over fifty (50) historical and contemporary romance suspense novels. Before she started writing in 1985, she was a real estate broker. It was suring this time that she met her husband, Larry Jay Martin, author of more than twenty books, both Westerns and mysteries. She is a graduate of Univ. of California at Santa Barbara where she majored in anthropology as well as studying history. "I've always loved books. I was an avid reader, with any number of my own stories rolling around in my head. Writing them down seemedlogical ."

"I love anything old," Kat says. "I love to travel especially to places where my stories are set. My husband and I often stay at out-of-the-way inns and houses built in the past. It's fun and it gives a wonderful sense of a by-gone era."

Kat began with historical novels and is currently writing romantic suspense. She is published in twenty foreign countries.

This is the first in a trilogy involving three brothers who were raised in poverty in Wind Canyon, Wyoming. They were known at the "no account Raines boys" but they've grown in to successful, honorable men and everything they have they've fought for tooth and nail. Now each of the three brothers has one last obstacle to overcome to claim what's eluding them: love.

The oldest of the brothers has now returned to Wind Canyon and has used wealth he has gained through oil investments to purchase a beautiful ranch. He loves ranching. Along comes Sarah, a girl he knew in high school and one who ridiculed and humiliated him repeatedly. Now she is a widow who is running away from friends of her dead husband, a man who lived on the wrong side of the law unbeknownst to her. She has unknowingly rented a cottage that just happens to be on Jackson's ranch and wants to live quietly with her daughter in order to begin a new life. Needless to say, the sparks fly--the old wounds are still just as painful--and the appearance of those "friends" who believe she has something from her dead husband, something these "friends" are willing to kill for. They do indeed end up taking something very precious to her: her daughter, and it would appear that Jackson is just about the only one with the moxie and resources to get Holly back.

This novel was released by Mira Books in January, 2011, and it is a delightful and suspense-filled novel. The characters are colorful and unique, the descriptions of the Wyoming territory are wonderful word pictures, and the love story between Sarah and Jackson is not without its down times. Both of them have loads of old baggage they have to lay aside but we all know that is never easy. Yet Jackson is an honorable man, a man who is stubborn but still can be reached by the delight of a child and the love of a good woman. This is a very readable novel and Ms Martin has such a compelling writing style. I read this book in one sitting and was sorry when it ended. I was really delighted to know there were two additional books coming along behind it. I give this novel a rating of 4.25 out of 5.

Released in February, 2011, this second novel in the series featured Gabriel Raines, a successful builder/developer. He can't be sure whose setting the fires in his new real estate development. When two fires hit back-to-back, he knows it's personal, but any number of competitors or ex-employees could be the culprit. A local teen is suspected but Mattie Baker, a worker at the local Family Abuse Center does not believe that this youngster with whom she has been working is at fault. She also works very hard to get close to Gabriel in order to convince him that someone else is responsible. Their close association begins to turn into a fiery attraction. Solving the mystery of the arson is one thing; finding out where this attraction will lead is entirely another matter.

This is a riveting novel--the continuing string of fires, all aimed at damaging Gabriel and his business, cause the tension in the book to increase throughout. It is a wonderful romance with some very hot loving and some scary, suspense-filled moments. I was really delighted with the book. I give it a 4.25 out of 5.

The third novel in this trilogy is due to be released in March 2011 and features the third of the Raines brothers. At age 32, Dev Raines is "mostly retired" from Raines Investigations, content to run operations from his sprawling Arizona home. But Dev has never been able to say "no" to a beautiful woman, and when Lark Delaney comes to him for help, the former U. S. Army Ranger from Wind Canyon gets back in the game. Finding a missing child, especially her sister's child, is not easy, and as they uncover fact after fact, Dev and Lark uncover a shady adoption ring and find her niece's adoptive parents murdered. The more dangerous things become the more Lark needs Dev, but he can't ignore his growing attraction for her. He's been hurt in the past so doesn't trust his judgment where women are concerned. Lark also threatens to uncover emotions that Dev has worked long and hard to keep buried. But there's a chance, if Dev gets all this right, that he'll not only save Lark's niece but he might just end up saving himself as well.

This third novel seemed to be even more action and tension filled than the first two. Certainly there were some pretty shady characters, some who were willing to even kill a child to save themselves and protect their greed business. Dev, of all the brothers, seemed the most fragile. His past included hurts that he can't even talk about and so he keeps them buried along with the feelings that go with them. He's really wanting Lark, but at the same time he's unhappy that she keeps getting under the shields he has always been good at keeping between himself and the women in his life.

This is a very readable and compelling story, one that I just couldn't put down. I think this is a really wonderful book and felt that it capped off the trilogy so well. Dev was one of those guys that really knows how to treat a woman but he makes sure that none of his female companions get close to him--well in bed, yes, but close to his heart, no way! I think romantic suspense fans will like these three novels. I am so glad I had a chance to read them. This third book is also published by Mira Books. I give this novel a rating of 4.25 out of 5.

Blood Is Thicker Than Water and That Aint Necessarily Good: "A Silken Thread" by Brenda Jackson

My mother's family is from the South--Kentucky, to be exact. Actually her ancestors came to Florida in the 1600's and were refugees from France when Catherine de Medici was persecuting Protestants after the Reformation. Decades later they moved into the Carolinas and then to Tennessee and eventually to Kentucky--Union County. So I know all about the prejudices that remain embedded in families and communities, and we were always aware that there was an entire society on "the other side of the tracks", no matter which side one lived on. That being said, it is amazing how decades of family history continue to tell of old wounds and old hurts. It was just this way in Brenda Jackson's new novel.

The setting is Hattersville, Ohio, a small community just like hundreds throughout the United States that is having its problems. Some want to keep preserving the "old" while the newer generations want to bring in new policies, new growth, new stuff in general. The families in this story harbor some of the same emotional scars as most families and this novel is about love, sex, revenge, old hurts and angers. And the two main characters are best friends, two African American young women who live on opposite sides of "the tracks." One--Erica-- is from one of Hattersville's most wealthy and prominent families. April was raised by a single mother and she really doesn't know the identity of her father. Yet she is beautiful and she has used her physical assets to rise high in the modeling world. In spite of Erica's family prejudice against April, her family deficiencies, and her lower soci0-economical class, their friendship stays true, no matter what. Erica's mother has tried to get her to marry the son of another prominent family and it just hasn't worked. They are also best friends but they knew long ago that they didn't love each other. Instead, Erica is engaged to be married to a very handsome and successful attorney and their wedding is only weeks away when the novel begins. April has someone she has always loved, but he doesn't know about her feelings. She has kept them safely tucked away most of her life.

This is an involved novel that has some historical mysteries that don't want to be revealed, families that manipulate and pull some fairly evil stunts to accomplish their social goals, and some surprising twists and turns that will keep readers guessing. Erica's relationship with her fiance is seriously put in jeopardy by her own mother for some really convoluted reasons, most of which are rooted in some old beliefs that have assumed the shape of a family curse in the mom's thinking.

Yet, this novel is, in the final analysis, about the tensile strength of a love that "beareth all things, endureth all things." It is about the strength of friendship--a friendship that will not cave in to prejudice or snobbery. And it is novel that warms the heart as the reader is brought into the inner circle of relationships that are loving, sexy, enduring, and whose participants think highly of one another and of the authenticity of their love that they are willing to fight for their future together.

Ms Jackson has a list of published works that is quite impressive, and she continues to give readers stories of African-American individuals and families that help all of us appreciate the richness they bring to our culture and society. Some of her novels are better than others, and I happen to think this is one of her really good ones. I was fascinated with the family "curse" and the mystery that surrounded it. I think I read the book in one sitting. There are many layers to the story and some very colorful characters. The reader has to exercise some brain power to keep the story in mind as the various scenes shift--what good fiction should be.

So I recommend this to Brenda Jackson fans, romance fans, or those who have never read one of her stories. I think most of you will find it to be a worthwhile use of your time. I give it a 4.25 out of 5 rating.
This novel was released on 22 February 2011 by Harlequin/Kimani Press.

Monday, February 21, 2011

It's President's Day -- Hail To The Chief . . .

Today is a holiday for schools, governmental agencies, banks, and who knows who else. It is a very nice three-day weekend that is sort of the norm here in the U. S. But that isn't the way I remember celebrating the birthdays of these two patriots.

When I was growing up we always had the 12th of February off from school because it was Abraham Lincoln's birthday. On the days before that holiday we got a solid education on his life, his education (three books in the log cabin to start with), his mother's death and the close relationship he had with his step-mother, his birth in Kentucky and then the family's move to Indiana, and so forth. Year after year we got the work on Mr. Lincoln, and year after year we were taught to refer to him as the Great Emancipator. He took office during the awful days just prior to the Civil War, and was assassinated just after being re-elected to his second term. He was a man of deep personal faith and often said that the War had made him pray far more than he ever planned to and had given him far more gray hair than he liked. It was during those years that he lost his son Tad, and the emotional instability of First Lady Mary Lincoln began to become apparent. What we would call chronic depression today was not so recognized then and after Mr. Lincoln's death, their son Robert really didn't treat her very well, and even had her "committed" a couple of times. Not a happy ending for her life, it would appear.

It was just the norm for February. With Groundhog Day on the 2nd, Valentine's Day on the 14th, and then the two presidential birthdays, February was a star-studded month. (We didn't have Martin Luther King Day then--he hadn't made his appearance on history's stage nor had he been assassinated yet. He was definitely around--learning to endure the frights of prejudice, going to school, learning to preach and being ordained as a Baptist pastor.)

And then, on the 22nd of February, we had another school holiday--George Washington's birthday--"the Father of our Country" as he was always referred to. In fact, when we were really new at school, in first or second grade, we thought that was his whole name: George Washington the Father of our Country. Took us a few years to realize one part was his name and the other a honorific title. He was our first president, a farmer who reluctantly agreed to be the Commander of the First Continental Army during the Revolutionary War--the War of Independence--and a man who truly believed in The Great Experiment--the forming of a country that was truly democratic. No one in the history of the planet had ever seen such a nation. Mr. Washington wanted in on the "ground floor". His home in Virginia was called Mt. Vernon, and he was anxious to return there after the War. He didn't live there for quite a few years as he was talked into becoming the first president of the Republic. Under the newly written Articles of Confederation, a document that preceeded our present Constitution, Mr. Washington took office and immediately ran into trouble with the Congress. Of course, it was a small, new, nation, with no money and no power among the international community, laughed at by Britain and France, and whose men were kidnapped and placed on British ships to serve as slaves for a period of two or three years. (This was the main reason for the War of 1812.)

We know that he was a fair man, with a deep faith in God, a practicing Episcopalian and one who believed that faith was null and void if one didn't live by its principles. He often struggled to know what was the wise thing to do, and during the War he often used his own resources to buy what little food he could when his troupes were starving. In fact, almost every member of the First Continental Congress ended up bankrupt because they all used their own personal wealth to finance the War. No one can ever say that they didn't put " their money where their mouth was."

So to Mr. Washington and Mr. Lincoln: Happy Birthday!! And thank you again for your service, for your dedication to the principles of liberty and justice for all, and for believing that The Great Experiment was worthy of your time and sacrifice. You have set an example for all our civil leaders and we bless you for your willingness to give not only your service, but your life for our benefit. We are still reaping the harvest of your goodness.

And to all of you, have a wonderful President's Day--stay warm and well, and may all of us aspire to bring the principles these men believed into our own lives. Blessings . . .

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Tail is Cold While The Tale is Told: "Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo" by Heather Wardell

When her in-laws died in an auto accident eight months ago, Candice "lost" her husband Ian, also. After only two years of marriage, their guilt and pain have left them living together but apart. During Ian's month-long absence overseas, Candice plans to determine if her marriage can be saved. But when the first man she ever loved becomes a client at her work, she wonders what she really wants from life and from love.

Candice and Ian are struggling to find a way back together after the terrible accidental death of Ian's parents a few days before Christmas when they were on their way to buy a present for her. Ian's pain and grief motivated him to exclaim: "If we had never gotten married they would still be alive!" Candice's guilt over the reality of their death and Ian's guilt over his hurtful words spoken in grief have now opened an emotional and physical chasm between these two people whose marriage began with love, commitment, joy, and passion. Now each wonders if they can save their relationship or if they even want to. Their "goodbye" at the airport would cause anyone who witnessed it to wonder if these two had ever loved each other.

Enter Kegan, a wealthy, handsome, well-spoken, beautifully dressed, successful attorney who now has amassed sufficient wealth to fulfill his personal dream of owning his own restaurant. Candice's firm specializes in designing restaurant interiors and Candice is assigned as a liason with this important client as he works to open his new restaurant Steel. What Candice's boss doesn't know is that Kegan and Candice have history--they dated for three years in college and he was her first lover. His charm is as attractive as ever and Candice is immediately aware of his personal charisma that ensnares her just effectively now as it did ten years earlier.

This novel is the prequel of Wardell's newly released novel Stir Until Thoroughly Confused what was recently reviewed on The Book Binge. As in that novel, Kegan is goal oriented, focused, fully primed to get what he wants. It's the way he lives and the way he works. The novel is written as a life journal spanning the four weeks that Ian is away. It is the time of Candice's greatest vulnerability and unbeknownst to her, her personal emotional upheavals are putting her job on the line as well. As the journal progresses, the reader can almost visualize Candice's sinking under Kegan's spell, that each decision she makes to spend time with him away from their professional involvement is drawing her deeper and deeper into the black hole of indecision and toward that point where she will have to choose between Kegan and Ian. It doesn't help that there are only a few emails each week from Ian, many of which are bare-bones, sketchy as to what he is doing, and could have been written by a stranger. There is only one overseas phone conversation each week and that is also strained--between two people who never had any trouble talking together for hours when they were first together. It just doesn't look very good for this marriage.

This is a compelling piece of fiction that I found I really enjoyed reading and having read Wardell's just released novel, was delighted to find out a little more about Kegan. I was troubled all the way through with Candice's attraction to this man, simply because it was Kegan who had hurt her so deeply that she broke up with him, throwing her into deep depression. Her best friend wafts in and out of the story as a person who doesn't like Kegan, doesn't trust him, and doesn't want Candice to even give him the time of day. It was this very friend that held Candice together at the time of the break-up. Little wonder she wanted nothing to do with him! This was one of the aspects I liked a lot about this novel--it was filled with characters who held their own, people who I would have loved to know in real life. Even those who played a very minor role in the story itself were still very good. No literary clones here. Ms Wardell is a very good writer and even though she doesn't have as thick a literary portfolio as some, it appears that all her work is well crafted and well written, filled with stories contemporary readers can enjoy to which they can relate.

I think those who like stories about people who take risks, even very fearful people who take risks, will like this book. The episode with the polar bear tattoo was symbolic of Candice's fear of the unknown, of wondering if she could endure the pain, and the freedom one experiences when they take their future into their own hands and don't allow someone else to make that decision.

This is a free read so there is no excuse for a reader not to take advantage of such a good book. I give it a rating of 4.25 out of 5.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Oh Me, Oh My (Groan), Where Has All The Time Gone? I'm Meeting Myself Coming And Going!!

It has been the Week From Hell around here . . . every day I think I have my time planned out and my hubby (who is retired, therefore he is ALWAYS around) says: "What do you have planned for today?" My immediate response is: "Why?" I just know he doesn't ask that question unless he has some cockamammy something or other he wants me to do. I'm usually right. Most of the time he wants to change babysitting days with me -- we babysit two of our granddaughters, i.e. pick them up after school, supervise their homework, get them to their after-school activities, etc. He goes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I go on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Most of the time he wants to change the days I go because he wants to run around the Los Angeles area with my son who travels alot locally in his job. That hubby of mine has never really been happy unless he is traveling somewhere!

Anyway . . . each day I think about this blog and realize that another day has gone by with no posting. This morning I realized that it was nearly a week since I had posted and I was MORTIFIED. Not the way I operate! And what should I post? I look at other blogs and realize that some of them are so incredibly creative and what do I have? Books. Well . . . then I tell myself: "That's what you started this for, isn't it?" And I have to acknowledge that most of the time I just get excited about books and want to share them, whether or not they are the latest publications. Some, like the SEP books I have highlighted, are just so good that I don't care how long since they were released.

So to any followers/visitors who have been lurking or checking in on this site, I offer my sincere apologies for being so delinquent in posting anything at all, least of all even getting enough time to say "Hey." I do have to admit that even though I am frazzled and profoundly glad it is Friday, I did get lots done that has been waiting for my attention, so even though it was nerve-wracking in many respects, there is a sense that some things have been attended to that have been sitting around for a long time. And I DID get books read . . . no matter how busy with other things, I read. Drives my family crazy.

So here's wishes that all of you have a great week and are looking forward to a great weekend. Blessings . . .

Saturday, February 12, 2011

You Gave Away How Much???? "This Heart of Mine" by Susan Elizaberth Phillips

Molly Somerville knows she has a reputation for trouble. She did give away her inheritance, but hey, nobody is perfect. Still, if anyone has an almost perfect life, it's Molly. While her Daphne the Bunny children's books could be selling better, she loves her cramped loft, her French poodle, and her career creating the animals who live in the fictional Nightingale Woods. She even loves her older sister, Phoebe, even though it was tough at first growing up in her shadow. Phoebe is beautiful, blissfully married, and owner of the most successful professional football team in America. But who other than your sister knows you are about to do something drastic everytime you change your hair? Yes, Molly is happy about almost everything except her crush on Stars' daredevil quarterback, that awful, gorgeous Kevin Tucker--a man who can't even remember her name.

Kevin's hidden depths and iron will propel Molly out of her comfortable existence into an unforgetable summer at a place called Wind Lake. Surrounded by paintbox cottages and an old bed-and-breakfast, Molly and Kevin battle their attraction while dealing with an aging sexpot actress, a cranky, world-famous artist, and a pair of teenage newlyweds. Their lives and careers are in crisis, but sometimes falling in love hurts, sometimes it makes you mad as hell, and sometimes it can heal in the most special and unexpected ways.

This fifth novel in the "Chicago Stars series" is set about 12 years after the first novel and finds the younger daughter of Bert Somerville at an interesting time of her life. She is approaching 30 years of age, has finished college and purchased her own small and cramped condo in an old, rennovated warehouse on Chicago's North side. Just a few years previously, in an effort to finally rid her life of her uncaring, mean, and controlling father (now dead), Molly had put her $15 million inheritance in a charitable foundation and was now having to earn her own living. But she felt like her own person for the first time in her life. If only she could find a way to get Kevin to even know she was alive. She had nurtured a crush on him since she was 16 years old for all the good it had done her, and she had almost come to the conclusion that her life was just fine the way it was. Let Kevin have his fashion models and his arm candy blondes; she was OK by herself.

Kevin, on the other hand, was in trouble. After nearly a decade of almost legendary performance with the Chicago Stars, he had sustained a shoulder injury that required surgery, and now he was having to face up to the possibility that he was indeed mortal, and the end of his pro career was just a few years away. Now he finds himself on suspension after some daredevil stunts that put his safety and physical wellbeing at risk. His past was beginning to intrude on his fast and furious life as well--his last remaining relative had died and left him an aging old Methodist church campground--built by his grandfather on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan--and now all his. Due to some very bazaare, hurtful, and angering circumstances, Molly and Kevin find their lives entwined, if for only a few months, and Kevin drags her to the old campground, thinking it was uninhabited. He plans to close it and sell the property and rid himself of that part of his history. Surprise!! It is now a thriving and popular summer resort and fully booked through September.

This is such an interesting novel and will take the reader from humor to tears and back again. Molly & Kevin's story is strange and convoluted, to say the least, but the background characters are strong and interesting, bringing an unexpected flavor and some surprising aspects to their story. The characters from several of the preceeding novels in this series again make an appearance, and the description of the family/friends impromptu softball game--the Jocks vs the Last Kids Chosen in Gym Class--is an absolute hoot. SEP has this marvelous sense of humor and it breaks through in all her writing.

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of all SEP's novels is the way she brings in personal issues that are often not the subject of romance fiction. Kevin's struggle with his past is never far below the surface and it keeps popping up at the most inopportune times. Molly's fears about being loved for herself, her fierce independence and insistence on taking care of herself testify to the fact that her past still rules her inner life more than she realizes. Family and friends are important and they form a colorful background to the main story. The "side" stories are a delight in themselves as they impinge on Molly & Kevin's journey. All the characters have glaring flaws--they are all completely human. All of them have to deal with the pressures of a world that isn't very very kind or forgiving. Each deals with hidden hurts, old secrets, fears that have been shoved and buried for decades, and relationships that suffer as a result. SEP simply doesn't back away from those and thus, the reader gets a dose of humanity that is captivating and compelling.

There are gazillions of good books "out there" and serious romance readers know that to be the fact. But there are just some books that keep drawing us back, keep making us deal with the realities of human experience, even though they may not exactly match the reader's personal journey. This is one of those books. It is one that contains so much that a reader cannot possibly catch all the nuances of the story in a single time through. And I happen to be one of those readers who feel like I want to know these people better and for that reason alone, I keep on going back and re-reading these novels. This one is so full of good stuff and so well written that it is just as interesting the second or third time through.

If you have not read any of the Chicago Stars series, you can start anywhere in the series, but I would recommend that you read them all. By the time you have completed book seven, you will indeed feel as if you know some of these characters like good friends and neighbors. I give this novel a 4.5 out of 5.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Gone But Not Forgotten: The Super Bowl Is Over But The Books Keep Coming! "Dream A Little Dream" by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

A Desperate young mother . . . Rachel Stone's bad luck has taken a turn for the worse. With an empty wallet, a car that's spilling smoke, and a five-year-old son to support, she's come home to a town that hates her. But this determined young widow with a scandalous past has learned how to be a fighter and a survivor. Ande she'll do anything to keep her child safe--even take on . . . A man with no heart . . .

Gabe Bonner wants to be left alone, e specially by the beautiful outcast who's invaded his property. She has a tone of attitude, a talent for trouble, and a child who brings back bad memories. Yet Rachel's feisty spirit might just be heaven-sent to save a tough, stubborn man.

Dare to Dream . . . Welcome to Salvation, North Carolina--where a man who's fogtotten what tenderness means meets a woman with nothing to lose. Here two endearing lovers will set off on a funny, touching journey of the heart . . . to a place where dreams just might come true.

Well, Super Bowl #45 is over and the Green Bay Packers are champs. Still think it should have been my Chicago Bears!! But that's life, and it was a very good game--not a "yawner" like some have been. I have debated on whether I should continue with the football-related reviews and have decided it is only fair to a writer like Ms Phillips to put out these books before my followers and whoever else might be "lurking" around the blogging world. This series is just too good to miss and I think, down deep, I just want to share them and write about my responses to them.

Dream A Little Dream is book 4 in this "Chicago Stars series" and is really a bit of a sidetrack and a take-off from book 3. Legendary Chicago Stars' quarterback, Cal Bonner (who was featured in book 3) has now retired and is in his first year of medical school at the University of North Carolina. His youngest brother, Ethan, is still pastoring at a church in Salvation, the little town where they were all raised and to which Cal returned when he and his wife were first married. Brother Gabe Bonner was only briefly mentioned in book 3 as having lost his family in a tragic auto accident and who was "hiding out" in Mexico, trying to find a way through his overwhelming grief. In fact, the deaths of Charity and Jamie Bonner deeply affected each member of the family.

Gabe Bonner has now returned to Salvation, all at the behest of his brothers who went after him and got him into rehab after his year-long descent into alcohol and drugs in Mexico. A veterinarian by profession, he has now purchased the defunct drive-in theater in Salvation with the goal of restoring it and once again opening it for the town's enjoyment. His spirt is battered, his emotions are safely tucked away under the veneer of a man who has no kindness or tenderness any longer. He is living in Cal's house--the house once owned by DeWayne Snopes, a televangelist who conned millions out of his followers and who died trying to escape the law.

Lo and behold, who should show up on his property--the "Pride of the Carolinas" drive-in--but the Widow Snopes who had her name legally changed by to her maiden name, but who is instantly recognized in Salvation, in spite of her ragged clothing, her dead car, and her thin and hungry eyes, face, and body. She is Rachel Stone, and she is on a mission to try and find some assets that were overlooked by her dead husband in the hopes of some sort of resource to keep her child fed and safe. She knows somehow that all that money her husband absconded with can't possibly be at the bottom of the Atlantic. And for her child's sake, she is willing to endure anything to perhaps find something that may have been left behind.

Now she finds herself pinned by Gabe Bonner's dislike, his unkindness, his growling, his mean spirit. Yet she responds by refusing to go away, by insisting on working for Gabe Bonner as he repairs and restores the drive-in, somehow realizing that this is her very last chance to preserve her's and her son's lives. She knew the Bonners from her former years in Salvation, but they really didn't know her at all. All they could remember was the televised shots of her that were interpreted by her conniving husband. They never knew that she hated him, knew of his corruption, was forced to allow him to use her and her son for his own criminal purposes because he had threatened to take away her son. Gabe didn't want to like her and he didn't. But her sass and her absolute determination to work and provide for her son, even to the point that she didn't eat (she gave every scrap of food she could find to the little boy) began to slither under Gabe's carefully constructed defenses. He found her a place to live and secretly paid for the boy's time at the local daycare center. All the while having to deal with the fact that Rachel was the first woman who had attracted him since his wife's death.

This is NOT an easy novel to read. Lots of pain and disappointment, with a deep and pervasive sense of loss. Loss on Rachel's part, because she had lost her home and any assets that could sustain her and her son, loss of friends and the goodwill of the community, and loss of any semblance of faith she may have every possessed. Certainly Gabe's loss was obvious as he still couldn't seem to move on from the death of his family. But he also suffered the loss of his motivation for living, the loss of his love for people and animals, loss of any emotional response to those around him, and loss of the ability to see beyond his own pain. Just a novel filled with hurt. But it is also a novel that displays the magnificence of the human spirit to survive just about the worst that life can bring, the wonder of a mother's love that is willing to endure anything in order to care for and preserve her son and his future, the deep caring of a family that is willing to do whatever it takes to bring one of their own back to sanity, safety, and full participation in living. It is also a novel that chronicles a journey of discovery for Rachel and Gabe, but also for Ethan Bonner who has sort of lost himself in his ministry, who needs to find the rationale for his future, who is still trying to find his way in spite of his "calling." And of course, the truth that comes through loud and clear on so many levels, just as the Good Book says: "Love endures all things . . ." There is redemption here and the reclaiming of faith, of the will to live, of the need to feel and experience. I think we all forget sometimes that even when we have been "laid low" by tragedy our inner wills and spirits insist that we only dwell in limbo just so long.

I have absolutely come to prize this entire series for lots of reasons. Having lived in Chicago throughout my life--off and on--I was immediately taken with the entire premise of a ficitonal professional football team and some of the individual stories connected to it. Now, having read all of them, I am a fan for many other reasons, not the least of which is the realization that SEP has taken the time and trouble to investigate and explore the regions of the human spirit and the capacity people possess to both feel and think, to despise and to love, to resist and embrace the power of love in their lives. Somehow this particular novel, of all seven in this series, goes deeper and is almost brutal in looking at the wounds people can inflict upon one another.

I hope, if you have not read this novel, that you will do so. First released in 1998, it has been around for a long time. But its message is timeless and, as always, SEP's writing is so very good. If you have already read this book, it well may be time to go back and read it again. It will exercise your emotions and pull at the heart strings, but so what? Is that not often what makes a romance novel live in our hearts? I give this book 4.5 out of 5.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Genius & The Jock: "Nobody's Baby But Mine" by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Genius physics professor Dr. Jane Darlington desperately wants a baby but doesn't want her child growing up, as she did, feeling like a super intelligent freak. So Jane needs someone . . . well . . . stupid to father her child, someone like legendary Chicago Stars' quarterback, Cal Bonner. But this good looking good ole boy is a lot smarter than he lets on--and Cal is not about to be used and abandoned by a brainy, baby-mad schemer.

This novel continues the "Chicago Stars series" and is the third in the series. The main characters are as different as night and day--one a brilliant, genius IQ professor who is unmarried but who wants a baby--her very own baby--but who truly has been marked and emotionally stunted by her family's response to her own brilliant intelligence. All her life she was lonely, out of sync with schoolmates--she was in college when most teens were in high school--and her only way of dealing with this was to immerse herself in her science research. She had relationships but her lack of confidence in her own femininity and social skills had left her hurting and worried that life was passing her by. So she concocted the idea that she needed to find a man who was really not very bright--a sperm bank usually took donors who were professional and with fairly hefty IQ's--someone she needed to convince to impregnate her the "old fashioned way." Through a series of rather bazarre events, Jane met up with Cal Bonner and because she was very good at timing her cycle, managed to get pregnant.

Cal Bonner actually found out about Jane's pregnancy and because of his Southern upbringing, insisted that he and Jane marry. No child of his was going to be born illegitimate!! He dragged her to Salvation, North Carolina, his home town and the community where his family lived, setting her up in an estate previously owned by a televangelist without a car or means of transportation, effectively shutting her off from his family and friends. She was expected to be content doing her research and essentially spending the days by herself. But Jane was more than what she appeared--not just a geeky scientist, but a woman with creativity and some ability to engage in original thinking. Somehow she made friends with Cal's hillbillie grandmother and together they spent the summer gardening together. She bought her own car--a beat-up, ten-year-old Escort which she did not hesitate to drive all over town, and causing Cal's friends to wonder why his wife was reduced to driving such a wreck.

Slowly but surely these two individuals learned some surprising depths to one another, surprises that moved them toward friendship and respect for each other. A side story was a fascinating look at the marriage of Cal's parents--nearly 40 years living together with love, but with some serious fissures of long standing. There are some wonderful moments in this novel and lots of humor. The dialogue is such fun--smart people can really be very funny--but there is deep hurt and pain here as well. Human relationships are messy and there are some really messy aspects to these relationships. That's why I found these characters to be so authentic. Just so very human, so flawed but interesting, so unique in their personal demeanor and expression. I think SEP has proven that she crafts characters that are real and it is this quality that makes it possible for readers to relate to characters.

This is also a novel about personal growth, about the struggle of moving out of one's comfort zone, of finding a way to manage one's response to life situations that are unexpected and which challenge all the responses and values that have guided a person in the past. It is also about charting the future in spite of one's fears, of being able to have sufficient faith in one's self to move forward rather than marching "in place." Jane had to consider what a future without Cal might look like, how their child could be happy with a mother and father who were not together, and deal with the fact that her feelings toward Cal are probably not returned. Cal had to face a future without football even though he was probably going to end up in the Hall of Fame. The coming season could well be his last year. What could he do or how could he fill his days when he retired? What really lay in store for him? Both had some very hard thinking to do.

This was a fascinating read and one I enjoyed immensely. I have found this series such fun and have read all but one of the six novels in the series. On this Super Bowl Sunday it has been interesting to me to consider the behind-the-scenes life circumstances the public often does not see with pro football players. Like all pro athletes the fans hear what the media can unearth about their lives, much of which is conjecture taken as fact. This novel is pure fiction, of course, but it resonated with me as a football wife and one who found the players of this fictional Chicago team so engaging. I give this novel a rating of 4.25 out of 5.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

I May Look Great and Act Dumb, But Don't You Believe It: "Heaven, Texas" by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Bobby Tom Denton was a wide receiver for the Chicago Stars, and was probably one of the greatest wide receivers in the NFL. He was Texas born and bred and held out for a very sizeable contract with the Stars each time his contract came up for renewal because he said they owed him extra money to play football somewhere else besides Texas. He was a good ole boy, with fast cars and fast women, all of whom were looking to be Mrs Bobby Tim Denton. But none of them could pass his football quiz. Now he was retired--a great big Neanderthal from the Chicago Bears had tackled him and blown out his knee. Goodbye career.

Gracie Snow was employed by Windmill Films to make sure that Bobby Tom Denton got to Telarosa, Texas, the site of the filming of his first movie and a gig he didn't necessarily want to play, even though he had signed the contract. Gracie was anything but graceful, but she wanted to badly to break out of her humdrum life and to finally manage to do something besides manage the home for the elderly which her family had run for years. In Gracie, Bobby Tom may have met an adversary that was going to take him down for count more effectively than any gridiron opponent he had ever met.

Telarosa, Texas was a little town that had seen better days. Its original name was Heaven, not because of its scenic beauty, but because it had the best whorehouses in that part of Texas. Eventually the people decided to change its name for obvious reasons. Bobby Tom Denton was their favorite son, one who had grown up there and made it to the big leagues. Now Windmill Films was going to use Telarosa to film and the town was also using Bobby Tom's time there to develop some civic activities and landmarks in order to bring more tourists into the area. It looked like the man who owned the only factory in those parts was thinking seriously of moving out of Telarose, effectively killing the town unless some other means of income was developed. It seemed that Bobby Tom was it.

Gracie Snow was NOT Bobby Tom's "type" of woman. In fact, even though she had a very good figure and was pretty enough, she had the fashion sense of a grocery bag and a very irritating way of figuring out that all his good ole boy jargon hid a very smart man who knew exactly what he was doing, in spite of the show he put on. She wasn't even aware that she had piqued his interest because she was smart, seemed to find ways of getting him to do things he didn't seem to want to do, and managed to get him to Telerosa--10 days late, but she got him there.

This is a very insightful book about a world class athlete whose brilliant career was cut short by an injury. He continued to be a chick magnet and to shoot the bull just about everywhere he went. His popularity didn't seem to be dimmed at all. But underneath was a very sad and troubled young man who didn't seem to know a direction for his future. Gracie Snow was a woman who really didn't know her own strengths, who really didn't appreciate her extraordinary ability with people, or recognize the need to do good for people that drove her. She also saw all the women who flocked around Bobby Tom and just "knew" that she had all the chances of an iceberg in Hell of ever catching his eye romantically. These two people became a part of each other's lives in curious ways, and their romance seemed to grow almost without their even being aware of it--except Gracie was very aware that she had fallen in love with him. She simply decided to appreciate the time she had as his "personal assistant" during the film shoot, and let that be her memory book when Bobby Tom moved on. Both these characters were forced, in one circumstance or another, to discover things about themselves that they weren't necessarily prepared to acknowledge--some really good things and some not so goo.

I found this book to be a fascinating look at small town life, at the struggles of a pro athlete to shape his life after playing days were over, at how individuals can really change the course of an entire community, and how caring and giving can effectively trump glitz and glamour. This novel is chock full of fun and there were times a just had to put the book down and spend some time laughing. SEP has such a wonderful way with words, and all these characters were so full of life. The citizens of Telerosa were amazing characters--many of whom are probably icons of people who inhabit small towns all over America. The background stories were fascinating, and the side story with Bobby Tom's mother and some of the other citizens of the town added flavor and spice to the novel. I have re-read it once already because I enjoyed to dialogue and repartee so much. It is just such a grand read!

This book was originally published in 1995, but I found it very appropriate for our times now, and hope that if you haven't had a chance to read it, you will get at your library or buy the book. It really is worth your time. And if you have not read any of SEP's work before, this is such a fun series to begin with. I give this book a rating of 4.25 out of 5.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Bimbo & The Jock Make War & Peace: "It Had To Be You" by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

The Windy City isn't quite ready for Phoebe Somerville--the trendy, outrageous and curvaceous New York knockout who has just inherited the Chicago Stars professional football team. And Phoebe is definitely not prepared for the Stars' head coach Dan Calebo--an Alabama-born former gridiron legend and blond barbarian.

Calebo is everything Phoebe abhors--a sexist, jock taskmaster with a one-track mind. The beautiful new boss is everything Dan despises--a meddling bimbo who doesn't know pigskin from a pitcher's mound. So why is he drawn to the shameless sexpot like a heat-seeking missile? And why does Dan's good ol' boy charm leave cosmopolitan Phoebe feeling awkward, tongue-tied and frightened to death?

Suddenly there's more than just a championship at stake. Because passion's the name of this game--and two stubborn people are playing for keeps!

Phoebe Somerville really did set everyone in the Chicago Stars organization on edge--especially with all the problems the team and its management were facing. Bert Somerville, Phoebe's now deceased father was a selfish, power-seeking, I'll-do-it-my-way kind of guy. He had two wives, both of whom were Vegas showgirls who were blonde, tall, leggy, busty, and--according to him--dumb. He said he liked it that way. Phoebe and her sister Molly were both infected by his derision and neglect that his lack of caring. Their world was totally lacking any kind of loving kindness, especially after each of the wives departed, both were now dead.

Now Phoebe had to take over the team ownership and had to prove her worth as a sharp and insightful business woman, but there was a catch. If the Stars didn't win the AFC championship, the ownership would revert to her cousin who was just like her dad. And the way the Stars were playing, with attendance dropping and the front office full of arguing and conflict, a championship was the least likely thing to happen.

Enter Dan Calebo, a man who absolutely despised Phoebe and everything he thought she cared about. Forget that he had a penchant for Chicago's most glamorous "eye candy" to hang on his arm, and thought every woman had an IQ of 50. He hated the way she dressed, he hated her seeming lack of interest in the future of the team, he even hated her frou frou poodle. Yet there was something about Phoebe that kept drawing him in--mostly to argue with her and to get upset with her--at least at first.

This book was a real joy for me. I grew up around Chicago--from the time I was 6 years old until I was a senior in high school, I either lived in the city proper or in a community within 150 miles. Our family were life-long Chicago Bear fans, and my hubby and I and our kids lived in a suburb of Chicago that was only a few miles from Naperville, the headquarters of this fictional pro team. Back in the 50's and 60's there were indeed two professional football teams in Chicago--the Bears and the Chicago Cardinals. (The Cardinals now play in Arizona.) So imagining another pro team in Chicago wasn't all that difficult. I found this book to be extremely interesting in that it was a very accurate look-see into the inner workings of a pro team and some of the pressures that can cause some fairly overwhelming conflict between the players, coaches, and management.

This book is also about the issue of deciding who someone really is based on externals. Phoebe made some judgment calls about Dan that were very much in error. She was unaware that he was tired to the bone of all the glitz and glamour that had been a part of his life during his playing days and now as a head coach. Phoebe didn't know that he was looking for a wife--a woman who wanted a home and family, who loved him for himself and not for his image, fame, or money. In fact, he was courting an elementary school teacher who was quiet, loved kids, and pretty, but even though he was drawn to her, he couldn't get Phoebe out of his brain or stop responding to an attraction that just didn't seem to lessen. Dan was also challenged to discover that a blonde bimbo-type woman could actually teach him something about people, lessons that could help him build the team he so desperately wanted and a winning one at that.

Dan saw Phoebe's history as a jet-setting, New York loving, art-loving twit, a woman who had been in relationships with world-class artists and whose portraits (nude) were hanging in museums all over the world. He didn't know she was a scared little girl who had hungered for stability and love all her life, who wanted someone to see her and love her when she wasn't made up to the last eyelash or wearing her gold lame dresses. She wanted a man who recognized that she had a brain (and a very good one, at that) and who could hold her own among the powerful men who thought she was just a useless piece of feminine fluff.

There is a lot of humor in this story, a lot of deep thinking to be done by all the characters, a sense that there are a number of characters in this story besides Phoebe and Dan who need to discover their own place in the scheme of life and to celebrate who they really are. And as we are approaching Super Bowl Sunday, it seemed appropriate to consider that often the difference between a winning team and one that just doesn't quite make it, or one that skids all the way to the bottom of the standings--all of whom have really good players--can be the attitudes of their coaches, their ability to relax and use their talents, and the confidence the management has in their skills.

This book has been around for 17 years, yet it's remarkably contemporary and one that I found to be so much fun to read. I even read some portions to my football fan[atic] hubby. Lots of fun, some sad times and some not-so-nice people, renewed family ties, and the discovery that love can come wrapped in some surprising packages. If you haven't read this series, you owe it to yourself to do so. I give this novel a rating of 4.25 out of 5.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Run-ins With The Paparazzi and the Ole Girlfriend: Quarterback Blitz by Frances Stockton

All Anna wants for her 40th birthday is a ladies' night out. Her plans are stalled when she ends up stuck in her griffin costume. The mascot for the Alexandria Griffins, Anna never expects to be rescued by the star of her midnight fantasies, quarterback Kyran Black. Called "The Rebel" by the press because of his long hair, tattoos and playboy stats off the field, he's everything Anna should avoid. Kyran is gorgeous and irresistible and he suggests they celebrate her birthday together. Certain she's too old for him, she agrees to one night.

Kyran's charm and dominance in bed blitz Anna's defenses, teaching her things about sex she never thought she'd experience. But when their one-night stand turns into a relationship, his bad-boy past comes back to threaten their future.

There is a reason that the news media hangs around locker rooms and haunts restaurants and other public places looking for a juicy story about professional athletes. In many cases their reputation is well-deserved. (There are just as many cases where the players are regular guys--faithful and loving husbands and fathers or in a committed relationship to which they are absolutely faithful.) No one has to make up some of the stories that appear on TV or in the newspapers or magazines. So it is not out of the ordinary for a fictional author to write a story about a fictional professional football team with a hotshot quarterback that not only wows the fans on the field, but keeps everything redhot off the field as well. Every team has their chick-magnets, and in this well-written novel, Kyran Black was at the top of his game in every respect.

This is really an "older woman/younger man" story, but perhaps the most interesting aspect of Kyran's story is that at this point in his professional career, he was tired of all the glitz and the publicity. He had met Anna during try outs for the Griffins' cheerleading squad at which time the tryouts for mascot were also held. Kyran noticed her then, not being aware that she was already about seven years older than he was, but he was taken with her demeanor, and actually got her to have coffee with him. By then he was hooked. As luck would have it, Anna's cell phone got stolen or lost, and the number he had never got him connected to her after that. Several weeks later he found her in the cheerleading locker room, trying unsuccessfully to get herself out of her mascot uniform--stuck zipper--and their connection was once again on.

Anna was a high school athletic coach and PE teacher, one who needed the extra bucks she made as Griffins' mascot and who was very good at her job. But from nearly day one, her budding relationship with Kyran put her in the media spotlight and unbeknownst to either of them, under the gun to some people who were unhappy with Kyran (the old girfriend) and Anna's "ex" who never really got over her after their break-up.

This is a very erotic love story, but there are themes in this story that involve the unethical use of the media, stalking, vengeful acts, and lost of cross-communication. Anna & Kyran's relationship was surrounded with pressure from the paparazzi as well as some on her school board who had been influenced by the lies of her ex-fiance. I liked this novel a great deal because I come from a football family and found the background story quite interesting. I also was impressed with Kyran--his loyalty to Anna, his awareness that she brought qualities to their relationship for which he had been searching for a long time, and her loyalty to her students and to him. She was a solid citizen--not a groupie--and her life values drew him into a love affair that spoke of permanence, stability, loyalty, and mutual respect. It was also interesting to watch the school officials struggle with their awareness that Anna was a very good coach and teacher, that she had proven her worth to the educational system and to her students, even while they were cringing at the excessive publicity of her affair with Kyran and her right to live her own personal life. Just lots going on in this book.

I have not read any of Frances Stockton's previous work, but was impressed at the cohesive nature of the plot and storyline, the characters that were strong, human, flawed but balanced, and the way they stood up against those characters who were unbalanced by their anger and revenge. I also think there were lots of bits and pieces of this story that could easily be true for real NFL players and the way their lives are often hounded by outside influences.

I recommend this as very good romance reading with a professional football context and lots of sizzle. Happy Super Bowl Week!! I give this novel a rating of 4 out of 5.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It's Coming, It's Coming . . . The High Holy Day of the National Religion . . . The Super Bowl!

Well, that's what I call the Super Bowl. As one who has heard people gripe about going to church all my life, and saying: "I can't stand the way they do the same thing every Sunday when I go to that church", I have often laughed when I think about all the sports "traditions" connected with football (the coin toss ritual), baseball (the 7th inning stretch and "Take Me Out To the Ballgame" singing), and so on and so forth. I bet if the game programs looked like church bulletins/order of service, they would contain the same things every game just like church services do. Or so it seems to me.

In my family, I learned all about sports because I am married to a sports fan[atic] rather than just a fan. I learned all about the rules and what was OK and what wasn't more out of "self-defense" than because I was interested. Watching grown men grappling and sweating over a piece of sports equipment called a "ball" when it wasn't even round. Didn't seem very sensible to me. But what do I know?

This coming Sunday the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers will "fight" it out for the championship and those beautiful Super Bowl rings. Didn't know how nice those rings were up close until one Sunday years ago when we were attending church at Hollywood Presbyterian Church and Terry Bradshaw, then the quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was sitting in the row ahead of us and had his arm on the back of the pew around his wife. I don't think my son heard a word of the sermon he was so mesmerized by that ring. I guess getting your body wracked up for the rest of your life might be OK if you get a $2,000 ring. I also get a bit upset that there are grown men getting paid millions to play a child's game and griping because they don't make enough.

And then we have the commercials . . . millions of dollars spent for just 30 seconds during the Super Bowl. I sometimes wonder how big a dent we could make in America's hunger problem--even for the children, if we spent all those millions on feeding kids. Just my "social justice" soul crying out, I guess. Don't get me wrong . . . I enjoy the good commercials as much as the next person. In fact, I really appreciate some of the creativity that goes into some of the good ones. But I still get nervous when I think of all that money . . .

This Sunday we'll probably go over to my son's house or he'll come to ours--we live about 20 minutes away from each other--and he'll bring the usual cooler full of sodas and beer, some veggies and dip, and probably some chips as well. I'll have to root around in
my cupboard and unearth the little slow cooker kind of appliance that looks like
a football field and put the nacho cheese dip in there or maybe this year I'll do the barbecue sauce with smokie links. I like to slow cook a beef brisket with potatoes in the oven for 12 hours--I put that in about 10:00 PM the night before--and the house really smells yummy. I put all the food out on the counter with the plates and stuff, then retreat to my books in the back of the house. I try to come out occasionally so that it looks like I care who's winning because it keeps peace and convinces my men that the "little woman" knows what's really important in the world.

But I have to own up to the fact that I am a Chicago Bear fan, and am disappointed that the Packers, of all people, beat my Bears. As the two oldest NFL franchises, no Bear fan ever--and I do mean ever--wants to lose to Green Bay. It just isn't right. I don't mind Pittsb
urgh, though. They are nearly as old as the Bears and Packers--one of
the older franchises in the NFL along with the San Francisco 49er's and the Cleveland Browns. And as a Bear
fan, I just can't bring myself to root for Green Bay. There just isn't that much charity in my soul. It will be especially hard if Green Bay goes ahead in the score--then I really won't watch because it just get's too upsetting. My son and husband both switch to other channels in the hope that when they switch back to the game the score will reflect the fact that their favorite has gone ahead. Some kind of psychic thing, I guess . . . "I know they'll lose if I keep watching." My husband always does this when his LA Dodgers are losing.

In the next few days, I hope to be reviewing some of the books I have read that involve football. Hope you all will continue to drop by. Why not share some of your Super Bowl Sunday activities or thoughts. Until next time . . .