Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Is There A Doctor In The House? "Strictly Professional" by Sandy Sullivan

Savannah Gibson needs a ‘stud,’ and time's running out. Her parents have already given her and her sisters an ultimatum. A grandchild or no trust fund. One thing keeps her awake: who does she ask?

Doctor Brandon Cooper is hot with his dark curly hair, solid chest and sexy blue eyes, but he’s also a colleague and a cowboy from Montana. He steer-wrestles on his days off and rides a Harley.

Thoughts of Brandon wrestling her to the bed and having a round of hot sex encompass her dreams and make her panties wet, but she doesn’t want a permanent fixture in her life, especially a cowboy.

Having grown up on a cattle ranch in Texas, she’s learned to hate cowboys. Cows are stupid, horses are ornery, and cowboys are arrogant, selfish, commitment phobic, mean, rotten… Can she possibly ask him to be the father of her child?

Back in my upper elementary school days and into my junior high days I was a fan of all things medical, starting out with the series, Sue Barton, R.N. Old fashioned, to be sure, but then I was set on a career in nursing (among others who were in competition for my interest) and I read everything I could get my hands on that was about doctors and nurses. Ultimately, I did have some years in nursing and found out that doctors have their own persona, their own ways of looking at the world, and I left nursing when I decided I was tired of being a "handmaiden to the gods with M.D. behind their names."

So I was just a little surprised at myself for even paying attention to a novel that involved two doctors. What caught my interest was the fact that this was a Sandy Sullivan novel and having read a number of her books recently, decided to take the plunge. Boy, am I ever glad that I did. And I discovered a novel that held my interest, kept me glued to the pages, and one that really turned out to be a reading delight. It didn't hurt that I understood lots that was going on with these two main characters medically, but that was not at the heart of the story.

Here we have a woman who has worked hard to establish herself as a doctor, only a year away from finishing her residency in emergency medicine, having supported herself entirely rather than tap into the extensive resources of her wealthy family. She is proud of her accomplishments and is devastated to learn that her parents, while they acknowledge her considerable achievements and her hard work, are far more interested in her as a producer of grandchildren who can assure their goals for the future, take a part in the family enterprises, and carry on the family presence in the world. No baby, no trust fund. Period. Her parents make the token statements that they want her happiness, but when push comes to shove, their desire for grandchildren takes first place in their interests and considerations.

Savannah is one of those strong, competent, independent women who is duly offended and saddened by her parents' demands, but she realizes that her trust fund is necessary if she will reach her goals once she is ready to strike out on her own as a fully licensed physician. How Savannah and Brandon came to be parents is the foundation of the story and while I will not give away those details, suffice it so say that the ins and outs of their relationship, the ups and downs of their pre, during, and post pregnancy encounters are, in large part, the bulk of the tale. However, at the heart of the story I think we have a woman who wants all that life can offer but she is tired of men who see her parents' affluence before they see her, including her very first love who is now a professional football player. Even when she encounters him again after ten years he is still more in love with her father's money than with her. She also carries the remembrance of cowboys who were willing to role in the hay with her because she was a means to an end, being the boss's daughter. All these factors mixed together, especially the fact that Brandon is a weekend rodeo champ and a Montana-born and bred cowboy, makes for a very rocky relationship.

I find these kinds of romances very fine reading as they are not simplistic, have some human substance and give the reader much to consider that are instructive. I find that fiction is a more than worthy tool for teaching life lessons, and everyone of us knows that we are wise if we learn from the experience of others, whether real or fictional. Somehow this story sounds so real, possibly because of my medical involvement in the past, but I don't think that is the whole reason. Sullivan has created characters who are struggling with life challenges, albeit in a very constricted set of boundaries as physicians, but still meeting some very human challenges. That Savannah's parents have put her in a bind is certainly unusual, but it still requires that she respond in a way that is responsible and consistent with who she is. It was that response and Brandon's as they were faced with some fairly difficult scenarios that give this story its dimension and verve.

I liked this novel a lot, and as it is the first in a new "Stud Service" series from Siren Publishing and Ms Sullivan is only one of a number of fine authors who will be contributing their efforts to this series, I am delighted that more such novels are on their way. I give this book a rating of 4 out of 5.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Who Says I Need A Man? "Chantilly's Cowboy" by Debra Kayn

All Chantilly McDougal wants is to run her daddy's ranch. The only one of five sisters content to stay on the McDougal spread, Chantilly loves the land and knows the workings of the ranch better than anyone. So when Stuart McDougal hires Jack Grady as his new foreman without even consulting her, Chantilly is furious. She doesn't need the help of any cowboy, no matter what feelings the man arouses in her!

Jack Grady can understand Tilly's frustrations over working with him, but he needs the job to put his nephew through law school. Besides, he's made a promise to Stuart, and everyone knows a cowboy never goes back on his word. But when he finds himself falling for the boss's daughter, Jack is torn between being honest with Tilly, and keeping her father's secret.

The world of ranching seems to be one of the areas of American life that lags behind other enterprises--it's more a man's world than most, and women seem to have to strive twice as hard to be taken seriously. There are myriads of stories about women being left to run a ranch alone, and in some it takes the All-American Cowboy to ride in on his mustang and save the day. Thankfully there are stories that give truth to the fact that a woman can pull off just about anything because what they lack in brawn they more than make up for in brain.

Chantilly MacDougal has a problem that doesn't face too many families: her dad was blessed with no sons, and of his five daughters, only his youngest now has exhibited any substantive interest or made any long-term investment in their family ranch in terms of time and hard work. She knows that it is time for her dad to acknowledge her love for their ranch, to give credence to her leadership abilities that have been demonstrated for years, and to let her try her hand at being the guiding force behind this enterprise. While her dad gifts her with his verbal praise, unbeknownst to her he has hired a "foreman," a man with a more than adequate knowledge of ranching, but a choice that was essentially taken out of her hands. Chantilly is angry and that anger certainly makes itself known in the early days when she and Jack Grady have to find a way to work together. That they were attracted to one another doesn't help any, either. That her dad has a habit of leaving the ranch for hours at a time almost every day, is another quirky reality that begins to get under Chantilly's skin and one that ultimately is a great family mystery for her and her sisters.

Jack is a genuine nice guy. He is a man who has taken on the care and raising of a young boy and one who is now enrolled in law school, who really needs this job for obvious reasons, and who wants to be associated with a ranching operation of this magnitude. That Chantilly comes with the package is not a problem either, except she is angry that he is there and resistant to working with him. He can understand her upset, but he has given his word to her dad to keep the underlying reason for Jack's hiring.

All the people in this story are really very nice, the kind of people most of us would have no problem calling "friends." My biggest problem with this story was indeed the underlying reason for Jack's presence: to provide a husband and "head of the household" for Chantilly, as if she would not be able to order her life or run the ranch well otherwise. Still that old male chauvanistic belief that women just can't quite pull it off without a man in the picture. There were some other factors that come out of the story that certainly give positive credence to her dad's decision to hire Jack, and that is all to the good. I know her dad wanted Chantilly to be happy, but how like an overbearing man to think that a man is necessary for her happiness. I was bothered that such a determination was not left up to Chantilly.

All in all it was a very pleasant read, but my primary problem was the length--I just don't think the characters and the premise of the story were given sufficient length for adequate development. That's probably me more than anything, since I really don't like short stories, novellas, or too short novels very well. I liked all the characters in this story and perhaps that is why I was disappointed in its short length. Yet, in the final analysis, I like the story and am looking forward to reading the stories of the other four sisters. This is the first work by this author that I have read and I felt that the writing style and use of language was very well done. Just not enough of it. Once again, that is probably reflective of my own prejudice. I think this would be a very nice read for a summer evening, some time by the pool, or just indulging in a nice time with some good people. I give this novel a rating of 3.5 out of 5.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I Am SO Stuck: "Wild Wyoming Nights" by Sandy Sullivan

Abigail Carter lost her firefighter husband on September 11th. On a mission to heal her heart, she starts a new life in the prairies of Wyoming. Her neighbor, hunky rancher and quarter horse expert Chase Wilder, makes her heart race for the first time in years, but will she let him get close enough to warm the cold winter nights? Chase rescues Abby from her overturned car in an accident similar to the one that took his wife. His dormant libido goes into overdrive when he looks into Abby's beautiful green eyes. Unfortunately, she's still struggling with her grief, and Chase doesn't want to push her. Can the two find a way to overcome the past and have a future together?

Well, reading buddies, my interest in "cowboy romance" continues. It is the strangest thing . . . just not something I even understand, but I guess some of this interest is due to the years we lived in Idaho and also for a couple of years in Salinas, CA where the huge rodeo is held every year, one of the three largest in the U. S., or so I was told.

Anyway, I found this book online and because it involved the widow of a 9/11 firefighter victim, I found my curiosity engaged and I found this to be a very good book. First in the "Wilder Series" it is the introduction to the Wilder family of brothers and their sister, all of whom were raised in a small community near Laramie, Wyoming and whose lives have been totally involved with horse and cattle ranching. Chase Wilder is known throughout the area as a breeder of first class quarter horses and Abigail Carter buys the property right next door, a house and property that have been vacant for some time. She is seeking a new surrounding and freedom from the crush of city living while she pursues the dream of breeding and raising horses which both she and her deceased husband hoped to experience sometime in the future. For Abigail, the future is now, and with the death of Josh, she is free to move forward. But that is very difficult, not only because of the normal grieving process, but because of the circumstances and because she and her mother both are intuitive, empathic people. She is "stuck" on the fact that on September 11 she "knew" something dark and terrible was going to happen. She just didn't realize it was going to happen to her Josh.

Chase Wilder is "stuck" as well . . . his wife died in an accident two years previously and he, too, blames himself for that event. His guilt over his preoccupation with his breeding business and the lack of paying attention that particular day to his wife's demands have convinced him that she would not have died had he been more attentive and responsive to her requests. Wherever the truth may lie for both these individuals, they are both riveted to the past.

Abby had driven snow covered roads in New York all her life, so a snow covered road in Wyoming doesn't scare her. But the severe Wyoming winds and weather take their toll and before she knows it, she is in a ditch, and the first person to find her is Chase Wilder. Out of that initial encounter comes the knowledge that they are attracted to one another. This becomes even more obvious when Abby "feels" that Chase has been injured and finds him in a bad way with a broken leg from being kicked by a stallion. Now they are thrown together daily as Abby feeds and cares for Chase's horses and because she is cooking and cleaning for him until he is back on his feet. Bottom line: they are both turned on, but neither is remotely interested in any kind of relationship so the course of true love does not run smooth with these two as the play the came of "come here, go away" repeatedly. Abby even dates one of the emergency room doctors who attended her following her accident, but the spark just isn't there.

At the heart of this story is the fact that neither Abby or Chase can get past their sense of personal failure in the deaths of their spouses. The author has used the literary device of "ghosts" of these two spouses as a representation of how such a sense of guilt can dampen any movement toward the future and any healthy processing of the loss. In Abby's case, Josh is urging her to find love, to recognize that he will always be a part of her, but that she must move on to a new love. Chase's wife, on the other hand, is jeolous and possessive in death just as she was in life and her efforts to keep Abby out of her house and her husband's affections is quite persistent. But this is not a ghost story, and points up the struggles any husband or wife must endure when they experience the loss of a spouse. It truly is like an emotional amputation.

In all the novels in this series the presence of the Wilder clan play an important part. Chase certainly is his own man, but he demonstrates many of the qualities his family has taught him and even when he is torn between his attraction to Abby and his loyalty to his dead wife, he is still trying to be an honorable and caring man. This is a very nice love story, that is beautifully written and which reads smoothly. The Wilder Family are people we would probably all like to know in real life and are individually and collectively upstanding and honorable people. Don't for a minute think this is a dull romance. It is anything but. There are surprises and upheavals, emotional ups and downs, some ghostly appearances and lots of family support. And behind the closed doors, there's some hot loving as well.

So if you are in the mood for a very nice cowboy romance, Sandy Sullivan has given us one that will satisfy and entertain. I give this book a rating of 4 out of 5.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Friends, Fun, and Books -- What Could Be Better?

I've never really done a "week in review" kind of post. Once in a while I put up the old "Book Bag" graphic and list some of the stuff I am presently reading. I just don't seem to be able to keep up with those kinds of posts. Some bloggers are so faithful and consistent -- not me. My job gets me up and out of the house, possibly more than I really want to, and with my love of books and being surrounded with piles of them and tons of ebooks on my computers, I would be a happy camper just vegging out and indulging.

But the fun things that come out of blogging are getting to know other So. Calif. bloggers, authors through email and such, and sitting down with

people who love books as much as I do and just having a gab-fest. One such gathering occurred this past Saturday when several So. Calif. bloggers were able to get together and indulge in just an all-out gabfest about books. Above, left to right, are Renee, Tracy, Judith, Wendy, and Nikki, all of whom love books, read voraciously, have very strong and well-defended opinions on w
hich books they like and which ones they absolutely didn't like--all shared with a sense of fun and we're-all-in-this-together kind of comraderie. My favorite times, other than lunch, was when we could just share. It was fascinating to watch some of the other customers in the Covina Book Store and the Barnes & Noble Book Store nearby, as all five of us were standing in the aisles around the romance fiction, pulling books off the shelves, putting them back, pointing to our favorites, letting the others know when we saw one we couldn't stand--all just a bunch of friends enjoying books. Some of the books we were highlighting were by authors most of us read extensively, and some were really not known or those whose books we hadn't read yet. So I came home and went through my "recently read" list--mostly ebooks--and found that I had complied a fairly hefty pile of books that I had plowed through in a few days.

Sealed Forever is Ms Daughtridge's fourth book in her current series a
nd was a delightful book about two people from very different walks of life, who had met previously at the wedding of two of their best friends--she was the maid of honor a nd he was the best man--and these two friends were trying their hand at matchmaking, unsuccessfully. Both were really quite emotionally banged up and not ready for a new relationship. Now they meet because a baby has been abandoned and as she is a new M.D. in town and he is working undercover as the administrator of a small private airfield, their friendship and connection through this child serves to keep them in touch in each other's lives.

Losing Control by Crissy Smith is the story of a man who
has now returned to the United States to take up a position as head of security for a large firm. He has essentially be hiding out in Europe after finding his mate--he is a werewolf--and being frightened to death to realize that his mate is another man working for the same firm. Now he has returned to acknowledge that relationship and claim his mate, but he also comes in contact with a graphic artist working for his firm and knows immediately that she is their "third." How he manages to restore trust between himself and his mate as well as find a way for the two of them to bring this lady into their long-term relationship forms the core of this story.

Cowboys Like Us by Vicki Lewis Thompson is the story of a professional baseball player who, due to a very serious knee injury, is no longer playing pro ball with the Chicago Cubs. Coming to Wyoming in order to attend the wedding of a long-time friend, Logan begins to revisit his love for furniture making and is working at the Last Chance Ranch for a few weeks. During this time he also strikes up an affair with Caro, the bartender at the Spirits and Spurs bar and a woman who begins to push him to get in touch with himself and look to the future. It is a compelling short novel and one that was a very entertaining read.

These are but a few of the titles I waded through in recent days. I have done a number of reviews for The Book Binge and even though I am not due to post on the Desert Island Keepers for a few months, I urge you to visit over there. Lots of good stuff to be looking at and enjoying.

Most of all, don't lose sight of how precious our friends are, how important it is to stay in contact with people of like minded living and caring, and doing the things that give our lives meaning. There are so many ways to stay in touch--phones, email, Twitter and Facebook, just to mention a few. And best of all, those face-to-face gatherings are the places we make very good memories. Keep your noses right where they belong . . . in a book, of course.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

How Did She Live Through All This? "Warprize" by Elizabeth Vaughan

Xylara is the Daughter of the Warrior King, Xyron. With her father dead and her incompetent half-brother on the throne, the kingdom is in danger of falling to the warring Firelanders.

Before she was old enough for a marriage-of-alliance, Xylara was trained as a healer. She can't usurp her brother or negotiate a peace--but she can heal the brave ones injured in battle.

But not only her countrymen are wounded, and Xylara's conscience won't let Firelander warriors die when she can do something to save them. She learns their language and their customs and tries to make them as comfortable as possible, despite their prisoner-of-war status.

She never expects that these deeds, done in good faith, would lead to the handsome and mysterious Firelander Warlord demanding her in exchange for a cease-fire. Xylara knows must trade the life she has always known for the well-being of her people, and so she becomes...

This goes under the category of "Why Did I Wait So Long To Read This Book?" A number of months ago I was engaged in my occasional raid of my daughter's reading shelves when she stuck this book in my face and said: "Mother, you absolutely HAVE to read this book!!" And of course, being a sensitive parent with the emotional well-being of my daughter being a priority, I took the book, asked some questions about it, and put in the TBR pile--the one that is not very close to the pile I grab from ordinarily. She also gave me Books 2 and 3 in this trilogy, so I was obligated to read Book 1 eventually.

OMG -- was I missing a treat!! I have not read much fantasy/historical stuff recently but thought I could wade through this just to please my kid, and I was hooked--top of my head to the bottom of my feet. Incredible writing that laid out the plot and the characters immediately became real.

Told from the perspective of Lara, Daughter of Xy, who eventually becomes the Warprize, it is a riveting story of a woman who has no political ambition, who is second in the royal line of accession, but who has no desire to rule. She is a Master Healer and a person whose heart is so big she will put her skills to work for anyone, friend or foe. Her half-brother has ascended to the throne at the death of their father just three months earlier, yet he has always looked at her with anger and distaste. Her people are now embroiled in a war with the People of the Plains led by the Warlord, a savvy, clever, adept military strategist whose campaigns ultimately prevail and Lara's brother has no option but to agree to the terms of surrender. While this is going on, Lara is applying her healing skills to both the warriors of Xy as well as the prisoners of war, one of whom is second only to the Warlord. Unbeknownst to her, the Warlord meets her as she is attending to his friend and it is there that he decides he must have her.

Thus, the link between the conquered and the overlord is Lara. The Warlord demands that she be given to him as the Warprize, and her continued cooperation and that of her brother will maintain the peace between their two peoples.

This is, at its core, an intense love story between Lara and Kier, but Lara has been told the nature of the relationship by her brother who even went so far as to style her future standing as that of "body slave" and recommended that she poison herself rather than become Kier's "plaything." Lara is all about saving lives and thus she rejects the possibility of suicide, but she goes to Kier thinking that she is just a thing in his eyes. It is only several months later that she learns that her brother has lied to her, that Kier intends to make her his Consort and is wooing her.

Elizabeth Vaughan is one of those authors whose imagination is way beyond most people's, who has created a world wherein two cultures exist side by side but fraught with prejudice and misunderstanding. Few understand the other's language, and communication is sometimes as problematic as it is helpful. Lara battles her considerable homesickness, her need to adapt and change from a "city dweller" to a woman of the Plains. The moral guidelines are different, her own innate modesty is a puzzle to a society where men and women are completely comfortable with nudity, where women are prized as warriors, where babies are seen as propagating a race rather than belonging to their mothers, where medical care is in the hands of warrior-priests who have convinced everyone that healing is magic and not a system of the application of remedies that aid the body in its healing tasks. Lara as the Warprize is looked upon by most as a treasure and a gift to their people. Kier's enemies attack her readily and seek every way to humiliate and diminish her in her own eyes as well as those of the people.

This story delves into the issues that divide all societies, whether ancient or contemporary--an unwillingness to change, a lack of good communication, prejudice against those who look different or speak differently, or whose moral code differs significantly. Set in ancient times, it is a wonderful story about a man and woman who want to bring their people together peacefully, and who want to see attitudes and beliefs change for the betterment of their citizens. As has been true down through history, any such sweeping change or the effort to cause them are met with significant opposition and these detractors not only endanger Kier & Lara's efforts for peace, but end up endangering their relationship and their future together.

This is fiction writing at its best and the kind of book lovers of really good romance fiction long to encounter. This book has been around for about six years, but it is a literary treasure that should be revisited or discovered and prized for being the wonderful piece of storytelling it truly is. Together with the other two books in the Chronicles of the Warlands, it forms a wonderful body of writing that tells Kier & Lara's story and moves them from war campaigns to the nitty gritty of what it means to be People of the Plains. There is love and deep devotion here, disappointment and disillusionment when old friends become detractors, struggles to find the best in themselves, and a never-ending watchfulness for those enemies who would plunge the People of the Plains once again into war and death.

This story has as one of its less obvious strands the stubbornness that Lara battles, especially when she just can't let an illness go or when she continues to fight for a life that was already lost. That stubbornness stands her in good stead often, but it will ultimately put her relationship with Kier in danger, will cause him irreparable harm politically, and cause the deaths of many of their friends and of warriors who would otherwise survive the war. It will be the source of great grief down the road.

This is a "must read" book and I am still kicking myself around the block for waiting so long to read it. I read it and the two sequels all in one sitting. I think I turned the light out at 4:00 AM. It was worth it! I give this novel a rating of 5 out of 5.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Where Can I Go From Here? "Safe Harbor" by Tymber Dalton

Clarisse seeks refuge from her abusive ex-boyfriend on the Dilly Dally, her uncle's old fishing trawler in Tarpon Springs, Florida. She doesn't expect to find Mac and Sully, the Dilly's sexy new owners, on board making love. They're at first startled by her appearance, then outraged by the injuries her ex inflicted. They insist she stay with them, and with nowhere else to go, Clarisse agrees. Both men find themselves falling for Clarisse, but she can't bring herself to completely trust Sully, a former cop, like her ex. She's shocked to discover the men aren't just lovers either, but full-time Master and slave in a BDSM relationship. As she learns more about their history and lifestyle, she uncovers her own hidden desires. When danger from her past returns, can Sully and Mac provide Clarisse a Safe Harbor?

As I have confessed in some of my other posts on Desert Island Keepers and The Book Binge, I have been on a journey of discovery about various aspects of romance fiction. Two of those were M/M books as well as those featuring BDSM relationships. Curiously, this novel by Tymber Dalton contains both. So it has been a mind-boggling experience from page one.

That spousal/family abuse is brutal and often life-threatening is a fact that no one can dispute any longer. It is no longer society's dirty little secret--the one that even law enforcement refused to take seriously for decades putting their refusal under the guise of "matters between family members so we can't intrude" kind of baloney. Ms Dalton starts off this novel with a bang--a wounded woman whose cop boyfriend has beaten her to within an inch of her life and whose future safety is seriously in jeopardy. Now she has only one place to go: her uncle's fishing trawler where she spent many hours during her growing-up years and where she hopes she can find some safety. Once again she is doomed to be disappointed, or so it seems. Her Uncle Tad has sold his boat when he fell victim to stroke. Clarisse discovers that the new owners are lovers when she spies them on deck having sex and she is confronted with the truth that her hoped-for safety doesn't exist.

Brant McCaffrey and Sullivan Niccoleti are indeed lovers, but they are also Master & Slave in a 24/7 D/s relationship, one that Clarisse doesn't understand and with her history initially believes is hurtful and destructive. What throws her completely is the fact that Mac & Sully have empathized with her situation totally and take her in like a long lost relative, simply because of their anger over her being a victim of such abuse as well as the fact that she is Uncle Tad's niece--a man they deeply respect and one who has become important to them as well. Her presence in their home is conditional on her understanding and accepting who they are and the nature of their relationship with the BDSM lifestyle. Mac becomes very important to Clarisse very quickly, but Sully is another matter. He is a former cop--and in her mind, cops stick together. It takes lots of time for her to begin to realize that Sully is totally trustworthy and is just as much her champion as Mac.

There comes the day when Mac confesses to Sully that he is in love with Clarisse (who mistakenly thinks that these two guys are gay) and Mac discovers that Sully has fallen in love with her as well. They break this news to her, inviting her to enter into a Triad relationship with them, but only if she can accept their BDSM relationship and is willing to marry Sully -- he is sort of old-fashioned that way--and live under his authority and guidance. Needless to say, this is a true challenge for Clarisse and one that quickly takes her beyond her comfort zone, but one which she comes to understand is necessary for both Mac and Sully--and possibly for her as well.

This is a deeply emotional novel, one that is filled with hurt and disappointment, with betrayal and wounds of both body and spirit. Yet is also depicts an authentic caring and a love that is restorative and which brings out the best in all three of these people. In spite of tragedy and possible loss of Mac brought on by an attack by Clarisse's ex, these three people are sustained by their love for one another, their understanding of their deeper needs, and their absolute acceptance of their deeper needs and hopes for the future. It is a story that wraps itself around the reader's heart and just won't let go. Now if a reader goes in with prejudice against the M/M relationship between Mac & Sully, or who is deeply offended by BDSM in any form, then this will be a complete wash for them and it is not the kind of book for them. But I waded in with the determination that I would read with an open mind and found a story that distressed me deeply--there are far too many similar situations in real life--and which then, in turn, warmed my heart just as deeply. Mac & Sully's relationship had been born out of deep hurt and disappointment and they did, indeed, become "safe harbor" for one another. The depth and authenticity of their love was proven when they were also able to extend that safety and love to Clarisse and it became the family she thought she would never again have after the deaths of her parents--a death that possibly had been caused by her ex.

This is not a new novel having been published a couple of years ago. But it is one that bears reading and which is the kind of book that, while it is fiction, portrays relationships that are based on the quality of loving all of us yearn to experience in one form or another. As the Good Book teaches: a true and authentic loving seeks the best in the loved one. In so doing, that love shines back in return. What more could any of us desire?

I hope that all of you will investigate this and some of the other of Tymber Dalton's books. She is an amazing writer and one that is so delightful to read. Her writing moves the story along and keeps the strands of the tale alive as she weaves the lives of her characters in and out of one another's experience throughout the novel. No matter when a book has appeared, good writing is worth reading and I think this is an example of one of the best. I give this book a 4.75 out of 5.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

You Can Run But There's No Place To Hide . . . "Play Dirty" by Lorie O'Clare

Heartthrob bounty hunter Greg King knows how to work it—and he knows that he can have any woman he wants. But there’s more to Greg than meets the eye…and he’s still haunted by the memory of his beautiful, estranged wife. Much as he’s tried to move on, he’s never been able to stop wondering why Haley left him. Or what he could have done to make their marriage better—and make her stay…

After putting a vicious criminal behind bars, Haley King had no choice but to leave her loved ones behind and enter the witness protection program. Turns out that, in her new life, Haley has once again found herself in serious trouble—and needs help from the only person she can trust: her husband. Now, as old secrets threaten to tear them apart and danger closes in from all sides, it’s up to Greg to keep Haley safe…and convince her that this time, he’s playing for keeps.

Greg & Haley King have been married a very long time. But the last six years of their marriage have been hell. Not only that, they have been totally out of touch with one another due to the fact that Mrs. King has been living under an assumed name in the Witness Protection Program. So Greg and their two sons, Marc and Jake, have been busy moving forward with their business as bounty hunters, but Greg's personal life has been on hold. The relationship between these two very serious people forms the underpining of this novel and provides the sexual tension that keeps the interest level so high. Add in the fact that this is a mystery/suspense/action novel complete with international players and unfriendly foreign law enforcement personnel, and you have a novel that is edgy, with very sharp and rough characters, and lots of unanswered questions.

I have to take issue with the publisher's blurb as to Greg's puzzlement over his wife's leaving. He knew why she did it. That he disagreed with her decision is never in doubt. But the curious factor here is that for neither one of them did time or space ever dilute their emotional intensity or their certainty that the other was the only person they could ever love with this kind of intensity. Yet while those six years apart did not dilute their love for one another, it did bring about some serious changes in both these people and in their sons. Haley missed out on the last years of her sons' maturation process and when she came home, they were no longer boys. She also made some important discoveries about her professional abilities and about the role she was prepared to resume in the marriage if ever they could be together again. For Greg, these years were misery personified, and for a man who was the quintessential Alpha male, he came to a point where he had to accept that being willing to accept Haley as she was did not mean that he was weak or inept. Learning to give as well as take, to cooperate rather than always having to be in command was a journey of discovery for this talented and able individual.

This novel is really about how two people learned some important lessons about themselves and then faced the challenge of integrating those changes into a relationship neither was willing to give up. Greg faced a woman who was no longer satisfied to be at his beck and call, putting aside her opinions and thoughts, allowing him to set the pace of their lives. Now Haley knew that she was good at her profession, knew how to investigate with the best of them, could handle herself in a crisis, and wanted to be Greg's partner, not just "the little woman." Quite a change for this hunky guy to absorb. His challenge: keeping his wife and his marriage, but having to accept this person who was almost like a stranger in many ways.

Haley's challenge was patience--she knew Greg's strengths and she was also aware that he had a gentle side that he didn't want anyone to see. She needed him to show it to her and to be comfortable doing so. That she loved him more than anyone else on the planet gave her the strength to go after him and to insist that he find these deeper strengths within himself.

I really liked the mystery/suspense/action aspect of this novel. I know that for many this was not a plus and the wide range and number of background characters was confusing for some, but I think that is the kind of story this author writes. It seems that she really functions on many levels and her stories reflect the fact that she "digs" complicated, multi-layered, heavily populated novels and this one certainly is that kind of novel. I appreciated that quality as I get a little irritated and impatient at the simplistic stories. That is not to say that there aren't times when I just want to indulge in romantic fiction that is a boy-meets-girl-and-they-fall-in-love-and-live-happily-ever-after kind of novel. This is not one of those, and if that is what the reader is seeking, lots of luck. Not here, and not often with Lorie O'Clare. For those of us who are looking for the deeper and more challenging reading experience, this is more to my taste.

I first encountered this author through her paranormal romances and reviewed two of those for The Book Binge and found them to be fine reading experiences. This novel is a new direction for me and one that I have enjoyed a great deal. I am looking forward to the next book in this series. I give this a rating of 4.5 out of 5.