Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Oh, Happy Day, You're . . . Still The One by Lena Matthews

Creigh and Dean De Luca have perfected the art of living Happily Even After. With a new baby and two rambunctious preteens, life in the De Luca household is never dull...or quiet, which doesn't leave the two lovebirds much time to be alone.

Their love for one another is stronger than ever. Their love life on the other hand has seen better days. Sex has become routine and predictable, and more often than not is nothing more than a quickie between late night feedings.

Unwilling to let the spark go out of their relationship a second time, Dean goes all out for Valentine's Day. He's booked the best room the city has to offer, he's ordered Creigh's favorite wine and he's made one rule. For the next twenty-two hours her body belongs solely to him.

Oh, the joy of parenthood. Oh, the drudge of night feedings! Oh, the feelings that you are living in a house of madness with all these kids, diapers, and the bone-deep weariness that just never seems to go away! I can recall similar experiences when hubby and I were birthing our brood--he would roll over in bed, look at me for a moment and say, "You look familiar . . . I guess I have the right wife." We both knew that we just hadn't had much time or energy to be anything other than mommy & daddy for a long time.

Such was the situation in the De Luca household. Dean and Creigh had reconciled and remarried, much to the delight of their perspective families and their children. Shortly afterward Creigh's daughter Halla (meaning "unexpected gift") had arrived and their the days of hot romance and hotter bedroom games was over. Dean has a new job--a partnership with his two brothers in their bar which has been expanded and which takes lots of Dean's time and energy, far more than his previous 9 to 5 job ever did. Add in the craziness of a newborn, breast-feeding, a pre-teen who is beginning to light up over boys, etc., and you can almost feel the frustration Creigh and Dean are experiencing in their relationship. In fact, Dean tells Creigh that he is almost "quickied" out.

This novella is a delightful sequel to Happily Even After and part of its charm is that the reader can continue to experience this wonderful, realistic, and contemporary family. Creigh is a business owner in her own right, but she is a new mother who now takes her baby with her to work because she is breast-feeding. She and Dean are working hard to make this new experience work, both being determined that this second time around will be truly " . . . 'til death do us part." Yet she also is beginning to wonder if she and Dean will ever have a chance to "reconnect" romantically any time soon.

One of the qualities about Lena Matthews' writing is the relentless presence of reality in her stories. And this novella is a case in point. It never backs away from the truth within which so many couples must exist--that parenthood is great on so many levels, but it can make cause a lot of stresses that are often difficult to overcome. In this novella Dean's deep love and never-failing sense of wonder over being Creigh's husband triumphs. He knows that they must have their own "together" time and he chooses Valentine's Day to make that happen. It is a very romantic, erotic interlude in the reality of their lives, but out of it comes the mutual determination that they don't dare cheat themselves out of regular time to nurture their relationship.

Dean is a man who has figured out that living in his present circumstances isn't easy, but living apart from Creigh just isn't an option. Putting up with the limited time they have for each other may be difficult, but he has no doubt that their circumstances will change as the "new baby" stresses slowly become a thing of the past. In the midst of his patient resolve to somehow get through the next couple of years, he discovers the depth of support from his family that he had failed to utilize in the past. He is just a really neat guy in so many ways. Creigh, too, is a woman of depth and resilience, a person whose heart is full to overflowing with love for her man and her kids, even in the midst of her distress over the present situation. These are two really special people, yet on the other hand, they are like so many people who live this kind of life every day. That's probably why I like this novella so well. And I appreciate Matthews' effort in bringing us this kind of "epilogue" to Creigh and Dean's story.

I think you'll appreciate this little work. Be sure to read the preceding novel and you'll enjoy it even more. I give it a rating of 4.25 out of 5.

So We're Divorced: Did We Make A Big Mistake??? Happily Even After by Lena Matthews

Two kids and a divorce later, Creigh De Luca figures she's pretty much done with diapers and late night feedings. That is until a little blue stripe turns her world upside down. Never in a billion years would Creigh have thought she'd become pregnant from a one-night stand, nor could she have ever guessed the unforeseen pregnancy would warrant unexpected help...from her ex-husband, Dean.

Divorce papers haven't changed a thing for Dean. He's still as in love with his ex-wife as he'd always been. Despite the fact he's not the father of her unborn child, Dean is determined to help Creigh during her pregnancy--whether she wants him to or not.

Creigh has never stopped loving Dean, but she's not going to let him back in to her life just because she's expecting a child, especially since she is determined to keep the father's identity from Dean. But Dean refuses to be dismissed so easily. He knows that with a little patience, forgiveness, and love they can still live happily even after.

Divorce is a fact of life in America. In fact, current statistics point out that a higher percentage of marriages end in divorce now than ever before--well over 50%. Most of us know people who have endured the hurtful ending of a marriage, some being "amicable" with others looking just like "The War of the Roses." The marriage in this novel was a hurtful one, coming as a result of two people marrying when they were very young, bringing two children into the world, not really being ready for the pressures and challenges of nurturing a relationship while raising children, and not really knowing what to do to bridge the emotional gaps that have opened up between them.

Now both have come to the conclusion that the divorce was a mistake, and after living apart for a year, they are still struggling to move on and not knowing how to do that either. Add in the small but urgent matter of an unplanned pregnancy from an ill-thought-out one night stand and a broken condom, a baby that isn't her ex-husband's, and these two very nice, really loving people find themselves in a real "pickle" emotionally. Their kids are barely managing to adjust to being shuttled back and forth between their parents, and their daughter is now beginning to also have her own growing-up problems as a pre-teen. Messy, messy, messy!!

But at the heart of this story the reader will find two people who are solid in their love for their children, who have continued to love one another in spite of the hurt, misunderstandings, raw edges to their emotions, hurtful words spouted in stressful times, or that ever-present growing mound in Creigh's abdomen. These two people have been pals since they were in elementary school, lovers and spouses shortly after high school, and still believing they will always love each other. Somehow they have to find their way back to each other.

This novel is full of deep caring, authentic loving, family loyalty, and the push-pull that all relationships embody because that is what it means to be human. It is a story that showcases the ability of good people to overcome the worst that can happen and to allow that illusive "second chance" to become a reality.

I really like Lena Matthews' writing anyway. She is such a gifted writer who brings the African-American perspective into most of her stories and who never backs away from the stresses often found in interracial relationships. I have reviewed one of her other books for The Book Binge --Something Worth Fighting For -- and I find the same kind of sensitivity mixed with gutsy reality in this novel. It is one of those stories that was deeply satisfying and is one I will be re-visiting often in the years to come. I was sorry to see it end and was delighted to know there was a sequel. Please read it . . . I don't think you will be disappointed. I give it a rating of 5 out of 5.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Eternal Truth -- For Everyone

This is a special week in the calendar of events for Christians around the world -- it is Holy Week, and for both the Eastern Church as well as the Western Church, this coming Sunday is the celebration of Christ's Resurrection. That being said, it is also important to recognize that there are millions around the world who are a part of other faith systems, and yet there are some eternal truths that transcend all faith beliefs.

One of Jesus' most important teachings that is important whether or not one is "religious" is simply: "You should love your neighbor as yourself." Those who claim both Judaism as well as Christianity as their faith base recognize that that teaching is rooted in the law of Moses, yet it has eternal truth that no one does well to ignore. Similar thoughts are encapsulated in the writings of other faiths as well.

Actually, in spite of the obvious, this thought is mostly about self-care, not about the other person. And self-care is a life habit that many of us in today's world have ignored or at best, given little credence to. We are all taken up with our busyness--home, work, families, friends, social obligations, trying to make a living that will stretch far enough to put gas in our cars and food on our tables and a roof over our head, keeping all the aspects of our lives somehow in balance. Who has time for self-care. Yet that is the important issue that can either make or break ourselves--can either keep us active and effective human beings or slowly erode our ability to be the people we hope to be.

The truth is: we cannot take care of others--including spouses, significant others, life partners, children, important friends--unless we take care of ourselves first. And along with that awareness is the fact that I--me, myself, I--am responsible for caring for myself, no one else. No one can fix me but me. No one can insure that I am healthy in mind, body, or spirit except me. And if I don't take that responsibility seriously, then I have nothing within myself to give to others.

I think we all admire people who have spent their lives giving to others. I have some of those dynamite people in my own family. Yet as I consider their open and giving ways, I realize that each one took time to care for themselves. They had boundaries. No matter how many demands were made of them, they knew how to use that simple little word "No." They knew their own limits and used their time and energy wisely and well. Because they kept their own inner wellsprings healthy and cared for, they had goodness and caring to share with others.

Honestly, my books are my haven. They always have been. Even when my kids were little, I am sure they will remember mom's "reading day." I would retreat to my bedroom with a stack of books--usually Harlequin romances--and that would be the lasts the family saw of me for hours. It restored me, gave me a mental vacation of sorts, and made it possible to face a household full of kids and the stresses of family and job.

So on this Holy Week, my prayer for us all is that we will back up just a bit, review our lives and the demands made upon us, especially those that are necessary and legitimate, and be open to the possibility that each of us needs to be more caring of ourselves. We all need to take time, a couple times a year, to review our priorities rather than feel like we are held hostage by work or family obligations. Vacations days are there to be used. Days off are for "R & R", not for other people to schedule our time or use it for their needs. Women are especially bad about that. So let's work on that -- it is a time of resurrection and the best life in the world to renew is our own. And doing so is the most unselfish, loving and giving thing we can do!!

Until next time . . .

Friday, April 15, 2011

About This BDSM Stuff . . . Reflections and Thoughts

OK . . . didn't think I would EVER read a BDSM novel just like I didn't think I would ever read a M/M novel. (Josh Lanyon changed that!!) Just goes to show that we all get an education if we are willing to have our literary comfort zones expanded.

Now I have to admit that it wasn't a journey that I started intentionally. But I read a few of the Ellora's Cave novellas that I was reviewing for The Book Binge and Second Chances by Lauren Dane, and I found that it was surprisingly tolerable. Now that's not to say that I am really into the whips and chains exclusively in any way. It's not for me. But there are a few authors that I have encountered that have changed my understanding of why this is a way some people relate to themselves and others that these folks seem to really need. There is no doubt that society in general thinks BDSM kinds of people are slutty, dirty, going straight to hell. But then, society thinks that about lots of ways of relating and thinking.

Light Switch by Lauren Gallagher was a surprising read for me as I had been exposed to the writing of Cooper McKenzie, Cherise Sinclair, Desiree Holt, Tymber Dalton, Sophie Oak, Jennifer Cole et al and had learned a great deal about the BDSM lifestyle as it was practiced by different individuals, both in their private lives as well as in a club setting. I guess I was not prepared when I began reading about BDSM to acknowledge that such a way of relating met some needs in people that often needed to be kept "in the dark" because of society's bias. That it met those needs in ways that nothing else could was part of my own surprise and learning curve. I found the following quote in Light Switch that seemed to sum up the BDSM perspective, no matter at what level or within any relational configuration:

". . . I was left alone in this world that was slowly becoming familiar. We'd been here a handful of times, and I didn't see the bizarre clothing as much anymore. My attention was drawn now to the way the Doms and subs interacted. There was a time in my life when I thought there was a degree of cruelty to dominance and submission. What kind of person willingly surrendered to someone who hit them, punished them, even humiliated them?

But I saw this world through different eyes now. There was gentleness among the whips and collars. Tender caresses and fond looks, protective Doms and protected subs. More trust, communication, and affection existed between these people than there ever was in my socially accepted vanilla relationship with Alec."

I have also been impressed with the author's note at the beginning of all of Cherise Sinclair's novels--a plea for those who either have participated in or are thinking of participating in the BDSM lifestyle to exercise thoughtful care in choosing who will be a part of that experience with them. Her desire to see people cared for, given what they need without harm or injury--physically or emotionally--was of great value to me. And in her "Masters of the Shadowlands" series it is evident that all the characters, especially the Shadowlands Masters are caring and respectful of their own humanity as well as those with whom they share their Dom/sub relationships, whether on a temporary or permanent basis. As she puts it: " . . . safe, sane, and consensual at all times." Each of these heroines has deeply held fears and emotional injuries, some of long standing. Seeing them cared for and given the freedom to change as they gave themselves into the care of their Doms was quite revealing.

The Reluctant Dom by Tymber Dalton was a book that I got and read almost slack jawed the entire time. It was the first book that I found myself reading while weeping openly, not just a few tears running down my face, but sobbing as I read this very emotional story of a ma

n who knew he was dying, who had recognized his wife's deep emotional hurts, and who was prepared to do whatever he needed to do to protect her after his death by enlisting the aid of his b

est friend to become her Dom after he died. It is a very different story in many ways, but one that helped me to more fully understand that there are people for whom physical pain is the only was for them to process deep emotional pain. Doesn't sound like something I would do in my own personal experience, but as a helping professional I can understand the psychology behind this and have grown to appreciate it. This is one of the most heart-rending books I have read, but one that gave me such insight into how this lifestyle can be necessary for many.

This lifestyle is not for me and is not one that my hubby and I have made a part of our relationship in any way. But the encounter with these fictional characters has opened my eyes to the fact that for many it is a deep need that cannot be met any other way, often allowing old scars and deep wells of injury to be explored and made right. I have learned that for some the physical pain makes it possible for them to acknowledge and let go of emotional pain that is so deep and so awful that they are being chewed apart internally.

Just some thoughts about my own journey. For many, there will be a big "don't want to go there" about this and other aspects of human sexuality. For me, I don't want to ever stop learning and growing in my awareness of what is needed legitimately by other people whether that is for me or not.

Until next time . . .

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Perhaps one of the Ultimate Pressures on Friendship: The Question by Zena Wynn

Friendship is a connection between human beings that many take very much for granted without realizing that there are levels of friendship that may not be able to sustain some of the pressures individuals place on that relationship. What most people consider to be the most intimate connection--the marriage relationship--is often not based on a true friendship at all, and when the issues surrounding some circumstances begin to become overwhelming, that relationship caves.

Such was the configuration that is at the heart of the story Zena Wynn has written that is loosely based on the ancient Biblical story of Abraham and Sarah's desire for a child, and Abraham's finding a way to provide that child for his wife by bringing her handmaiden, Hagar, into the mix. As mother of Abraham's oldest son, Ishmael, she was certainly prized for having given Abraham a son, but the old green-eyed monster was alive and well in Sarah's heart, and when still a child, Ishmael and his mother were turned out of their home and sent into the desert to try to survive under very difficult circumstances. In this novel the author brings the main characters into the scenario where one best friend, Crystal, asks her friend Gail, a widow whose husband and son were killed in an auto accident, to be the surrogate mother for her and her husband. Crystal has suffered through five miscarriages, and now her burning desire was to give her husband a child of his own sperm. In spite of her misgivings and her sense that this was going to emotionally backfire somehow, Gail agrees, and after the legalities are finalized, she is artificially inseminated.

Rashid, Crystal's husband was a wealthy Arab-American, a man who valued his wife's life and was unwilling to put her health at risk any further. Thus he agreed to Crystal's insistence on the surrogacy as he had known Gail and her husband Jason. He was delighted to find out that Gail was carrying twins--a son and daughter--and gave his attention and time to overseeing her health and progress in the pregnancy, especially when she encountered some serious problems due to extended morning sickness. Slowly but surely, the green-eyed monster took up residence in Crystal's heart, slowly withdrawing from the circle of support for Gail, becoming caustic and sarcastic at what was being done for her friend, until she eventually disappeared just a few weeks before the birth of the twins. Instead of Crystal's presence as Gail's coach during the long hours of labor and delivery, it was Rashid who stood by, encouraging, supporting and pouring strength into Gail when her own strength was just about gone.

Also present in this messy mix is an attorney, Greg, a co-worker of Gail's who has long desired to be in a relationship with her, but had stepped way back while she was mourning the death of her husband and son. At about the mid-point in her pregnancy, Gail and Greg began to date but refrained from sleeping together--Gail really has issues with sleeping with one man while carrying the babies of another. Yet their attachment grew into a serious love relationship and they planned to marry when Gail was released by her obstetrician following the babies' birth.

This book is about real life--messy and brimming with surprises and disappointments, challenges and difficulties mixed in with the joys of welcoming two beautiful new human beings into the world. But as I have often commented: life is messy. All this time Crystal is missing and while Rashid has expended serious money to find her, she remains hidden. Gail's determination to remain emotional aloof from the babies--after all, they are Crystal & Rashid's--somehow falls by the wayside when she is required to nurse her daughter since the little girl has an allergy to all other forms of nourishment. Greg and Gail must postpone their wedding for an additional six months.

This novel has the sense about it from the very beginning that somehow all this just wasn't going to be all grand and glorious as Crystal portrayed it. Too many feelings, too many ways for people to make some serious errors in judgment, too many opportunities for envy and hard feelings to come to the surface. It is a story that is filled with the realities of individuals working for the best of these two kids but finding themselves bound into relationships that are uncomfortable and in the case of Greg and Gail, just never seemed to be free of the stresses caused by the demands of the circumstances. Love just didn't seem to be able to conquer all in some instances. And as is so often the case, the push-pull of all this stress put Crystal's marriage and her long-standing friendship with Gail in serious danger.

I like novels that put the reader smack dab in the middle of reality. I know we read often to escape from the harsh realities of our own lives, but in novels such as this one, the reader is given a chance to experience the choices and consequences in these circumstances and relationships, and perhaps that is what gives them a sense of value--teaching readers what can and often does happen in real life. There have been very successful surrogate relationships but there have been some consummate disasters as well. The author as crafted a story that exposes the possibilities in the scenarios as well as explored the inner struggles of the characters as they try, for the most part, to have mature responses to the challenges before them.

I have read a number of Zena Wynn's books and found them to be interesting and lots of fun. I don't think this is a fun novel per se, but it certainly was one that forced me to think outside my own comfort zone, and because of that I found it to be a book that had great value for me. Ms Wynn has a very readable writing style, tells the story in a way to moves the reader along beautifully, without overpopulating the story and keeping sufficient internal monologues in the narrative without overwhelming the action of the story. (Interminable internal monologues are one of my pet peeves!!). I highly recommend this novel to lovers of contemporary romance and who like a story that is based on a relational configuration of great significance and one that is replicated in modern life. I give this book a 4.75 out of 5 rating.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

O Where, O Where Have I Been All Week? Reflections . . .

Yes, it has been a bit of time since the last post, and I sincerely apologize for being absent for this period of days. Not that there are that many who follow the blog yet, but I do try to keep faith with those who stop by.

Just lots going on this week . . . Just got back from Missouri about nine days ago and have been trying to adjust to some changes in my life. 1) My faithful companion, our English Shepherd Mickey, died while we were away. He was playing with the folks that were caring for him and our two cats, Sophie and Vashti, and he laid down to take his recuperative snooze right after, just like he always did. Only this time, he didn't wake up, and about 20 minutes later, when our friend called him to go outside with him, Mickey didn't respond and they realized he was dead. Now he is resting right at the base of the big fir tree in our side yard, a place he loved to lay in the shade when it was close to 100 degrees in our part of the world. It's way too quiet now when we come home from even short errands, and we don't have anyone to stumble over in the dark when we get up in the middle of the night. The cats are wondering around the house mewing at regular intervals, just as if they were calling him to come out of hiding. Sophie, especially, seems really thrown by his absence. It's very unsettling at how deeply we allow these wonderful animals to worm their way into our affections. He will be greatly missed for a very long time.

It is also Spring here in Southern California and the Spring flowers and trees are a riot of color--as in this wonderful shot of the Huntington Hotel grand plaza lawn, a beautiful and historic location in Pasadena, CA where my granddaughters and I go about once a year for "high tea" and glory in the wonders of Spring in this part of the world. But with Spring comes a bunch of extra stuff that is annual in nature but nevertheless, one must buck up and dive in and do what must be done. Like all the extra Lenten and Easter stuff at church, extra babysitting with grandkids during Spring Break, trying to figure out when or if we can plan some more time away in late summer, getting the old winter plants out of the flower beds and putting in the Spring bedding plants like the primroses, petunias, lavender, taking advantage of all the pre-Easter sales, especially the shoe sales at the Designer Shoe Warehouse--one of my most favorite and addictive retail locations, and so on and on.

This past week I have indeed done some reading -- some were books I need to read for The Book Binge reviews, some for this blog, and some because I have been wanting to read those books just for myself. I also have two afghans in progress--one I started in Missouri and had hoped to finish while there, and one that I started months ago and really really needs to be finished.

So I once again apologize for the long silence and wish all of you a Spring that is filled with beauty and a sense of renewal as the seasons pass. Keep in touch . . .