Thursday, September 29, 2011

Friends: Our Greatest Treasure!

Hubby and I have been working to finalize the arrangements for a cross-country train trek that he and I will be taking in mid-October when during which we will be visiting with two families who have been friends for over forty years. Actually, we all served together back in the late 1950's-early 1960's when we all were stationed in Berlin, Germany. We were a part of what was then referred to as the "German-American Community" and worked in a setting that was not segregated from the German establishments around the various military offices. It was a very unique setting and we had wonderful opportunities to get to know people we would ordinarily not have met. Planning this trip has sort of turned our thoughts back to those days, made both hubby and I realize that we have encountered some very special people in our life, many of whom we have had to bid farewell or whose lives have taken them in different directions.

Added to the remembrances engendered by all this trip planning is some thought brought on by a discussion I had with a local friend about holding grudges. I guess the direction of our thought was along the lines of: "What is really most important? Holding the grudge or keeping the friend?" I found it a question I hadn't considered often in recent years. As one who really doesn't hold grudges, I haven't thought much about what really is going on. But I have realized in recent days that two of my really good friends are mad at each other and, in my humble opinion, are holding grudges about really silly stuff. Obviously, it isn't silly to the two of them, but really, is the grudge so important that they are willing to sacrifice a long-time friendship so they can hold on to their particular "take" on a given situation? I'm worried about them, and yet I know I have to stay out of their way.

This, of course, has moved me on to thinking about the value of friends in my life. I am presently counseling with a lady who seems to have a talent for choosing people as friends and acquaintances who are absolutely toxic for her. They continually disappoint her and have, in fact, had some destructive influence on her and her life. She is so needy, and so lonely. Made me realize just how precious to me my friends have been throughout my life. Thanks to Facebook I have been able to connect with some friends of the past (although their lives are so different now and we really don't have nearly as much to share these days). I will always treasure the times we spent together. I choose to believe that they were there when I needed them, and hopefully, I met a need in their life as well.

Of course, I also remembered people I thought of as "friends" and realized later on that they were acquaintances or people I worked with, but that they had not investment in my life as a true friend would have. Those experiences taught me a lot about being insightful about the people in my daily life--are they co-workers I value but don't have much to do with my life outside of my job? And I realized that the number of true friends I have had in the past and have now are a much smaller number than I first assumed. All the more reason to treasure the true friends I have.

Lastly, I can't have any commentary on "friends" without acknowledging my very best friend who happens to also be my hubby of many decades. He has stayed with me through thick and thin, through kid troubles, money troubles, job troubles, and with his irrepressible sense of humor, made me laugh when I least felt like doing so. I am truly blessed to have him in my life.

Hang on to your friends . . . they are our greatest treasure!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

When Is The Pain Going To End? "Becoming Three" by Cameron Dane

Deputy Jace Maxwell looks out for Sarah Tennison, and wants her. Although the fiery feisty woman is a friend, he knows he can’t have her. Because as much as he craves Sarah, he also lives with a secret, fierce attraction for men. And Sarah just won't understand.

Sarah has suppressed her love for Jace, knowing he only sees her as a chore. Enter cowboy Jasper Simmons. Jasper is as sweet and gentle as Jace is hard. Sarah tries to keep both men separate in her mind, but can’t stop fantasizing about being tangled and sweaty in bed with both of them.

When Jasper finds a dead woman nailed to a tree, he is thrown into contact with Jace. The proximity unearths an attraction neither of them had felt before. Seeing Jace with Jasper in an emotion-filled situation gets Sarah wondering if her roommate is keeping secrets. Then Jasper admits to Sarah he once had a crush on another man, Jace suddenly kisses her in a shocking lapse of control, and suddenly Sarah's fantasies are taking on a vivid reality. Will sweet, awkward Jasper be the key to two becoming three?

This novel is the 6th book in a series and the majority of the novels are M/M stories. However, the author has brought other romantic relational configurations into the saga of the Hawkins Ranch which figures prominently in connecting all the characters throughout these stories. The other consistent ingredient is that all the characters are either involved in ranching or law enforcement. So it is in this story. This novel was released in 2009, but I encountered it recently and found it to be a compelling read.

Both the male characters in this story are very masculine, especially Jace who is alpha in his way of relating to both men and women. His relationship with Sarah is very complicated since Sarah's brother, presently serving in the military in the Middle East, really "gave" Sarah into Jace's care and protection when he was deployed. Now it has been a number of years, Sarah has grown into a mature, sexy, strong-minded woman, and Jace is having a very difficult time maintaining the "big brother" relationship with her.

Along comes Jasper, a kind-hearted, caring, gentle but strong-minded man who fell for Sarah when she was just 18 years old. Now, four years later, Jasper feels he can make his move. He has issues of feeling unworthy because of his roots, his lack of superior education and talking skills, as well as a brother who is incarcerated for rape. Yet his heart has belonged to Sarah for so long and he knows that her attraction to him is of long standing and such that he is confident that they have something special brewing.

This is a story of discovery and growth, of coming to terms with one's own issues and acknowledging oneself honestly in all the facets of being--inner strength, comfortable in one's skin, sexual orientation, etc. For Jace, he knows he needs to be in a multiple partner relationship but he has been deeply hurt by couples who welcome him initially and then discard him in the end. He is bi-sexual but has kept his "secret" from anyone in his small community. Keeping all this important stuff about himself under wraps has spawned lots and lots of tension that has impacted his relationships. For Jasper, he struggles with feeling good about his abilities, his growth past his feelings of inferiority, moving forward after some poor adolescent choices, and acknowledging that he is "good enough" to be Sarah's lover. For Sarah, she has had to face her attraction to Jasper but she also knows that Jace is important to her in a romantic way. She also has to find a way to move Jace away from the "big brother" feelings so that he can be open about his feelings for her.

This is also a story that contains a parallel murder mystery involving a serial killer and one that has invaded their small community. Jasper finds the first body, nailed to a tree in a back pasture on the Hawkins Ranch, reminiscent of a crucifixion. Ultimately suspicion falls on almost everyone involved with the Ranch and most of the town's citizens. As a sheriff's deputy, Jace is also deeply involved in the investigation. Jasper's brother, the rat-fink nasty guy who has always lorded it over Jasper and who is now, once again, attempting to use Jasper & Sarah's romance--threatening to do harm to Sarah--as a means of blackmail and such. So this entire murder mystery story line adds a good deal of complicated, messy factors into the story, and I, for one, think it just makes the novel a whole lot better.

The real issue, though, is the way these three people discover that their mutual attraction can be forged into a relationship that will meet all their needs. It is tense, hot, sexy, and very revealing as the layers of propriety are peeled away and each of these three must make some critical decisions about their future as a person and as a part of this triad. They all struggle, and that struggle is the core of the story. It is almost as if everything else swirls around the central action which is the almost inevitable way these three come together. But don't get me wrong--it isn't smooth, easy, or simplistic. Lots of heavy emotion, lots of self-doubt, lots of worry about the social ramifications, lots of concern each carried around over how they are perceived by each other and the wider community. It's a messy story, but let's face it--life is messy!

I first read Cameron Dane when I bought Ride, the fourth novel in this series about the town sheriff and his compelling attraction to a woman who was a semi-professional bull rider. Boy did he struggle with the whole idea of a woman involved in that part of Rodeo. Liking that book a whole lot led me to this present novel and I am delighted to have found it. I think this author--who writes lots and lots of M/M novels--has managed to translate her considerable understanding of human nature and relationships into engaging stories. She also manages to write the love scenes in such a way that they are not contrived--as if the story makes opportunities for sex--but rather allows the sex to be a natural outflow of the story and the relationships.

All in all--this is a really terrific book and one that is on my favorites list. I give it a rating of 4.25 out of 5.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Gone for Awhile, But Hopefully Not Forgotten

It's been a while -- just a busy month, I expect. Got a bit sidetracked with Labor Day, got a couple of fairly hefty bags of books to read and review, and two knitting projects that are driving me crazy with some deadlines to get those done. Add in the fact that hubby and I are getting ready to be gone for a few weeks in October, with all the pre-preparation for my job that such a trip entails, and the blog has sunk down to the bottom of the "to do" list.

I apologize to followers who may have been checking in--just haven't gotten around to writing anything much.

So what have I been doing?? Well . . . daughter Tracy and I went to a So. California bloggers get-together that was great fun. Hubby just shakes his head.

"How can you find so much to talk about that involves books and for so many hours?"
What can I say? Get a group of gals together in the same room, surrounded by piles of books, mutual love of books, and well . . . the hours just fly by.

And then I have been reading, reading, reading . . . in between knitting, knitting, knitting. I have written some reviews for The Book Binge and made an appearance on Desert Island Keepers but just yesterday I remarked to hubby that I had a "ton" of reviews to write. It reminded me that I hadn't posted anything on this blog either.

So here are some of the books I have been plowing through in the past few days:

Exclusively Yours by Shannon Stacey. Such a fun book! I was so impressed with the sense of relationship mixed in with family, fun, romance, and rib-tickling humor that this author brought into this story. I had not read anything by this author previously, but I found it to be a wonderful reading experience. I had to get the rest of the series--these characters were just too engaging to be satisfied with
only one book.
The setting of this book is a kick in itself. Romance in the midst of a family camping trip? Way too much togetherness and far too little privacy. Yet they make it work and these two former lovers have some significant challenges in working out their issues.

Prism by Nikki Soarde. This is a MM/F story that brings together three different people, all friends from college years, but whose lives have gone in different directions. Clay and Dax have had an intense attract
ion to one another and they have lived together for a number of years--an "open" relationship that has been compromised a time or two as one or the other of the men has "strayed"into another affair, but they keep coming back to one another. Now their friend Sydney has arrived from Paris, hurting, disillusioned, and newly divorced. Both men are faced with their attraction to her and their latent, long-buried desire to bring her into their relationship as their "third." It is a very erotic, steamy novel that has been around since early 2010 but which is still a great read from Ellora's Cave.

A Forever Kind of Love by Shiloh Walker This is another premier work that illustrates Ms Walker's ab
ility to make characters jump off the page. This story is about loving and loss, about living and dying, about the pain of shattering hearts and grieving over what can never be, about disappointment and betrayal and accepting the truth that those who should have loved just don't. It is not an easy story and was one of those that had me in tears. Walker's ability to make words come alive in the mind and imagination is unsurpassed.

Jace by Sarah McCarty A complicated, engaging story that is a continuation of the Shadow Wranglers series. As I had not read the first two books in the
series I was somewhat lost when encountering ideas and happenings and characters that were carry-overs. That being said, it was a delightful read for anyone who likes paranormal romance and who is a Sarah McCarty fan. It might be characterized as a love-lost-love-found kind of story, but there is far more to it than that. Embracing the tensions that have existed between the vampire community and wolf-shifters, this story also deals with the deep wounds caused by unscrupulous scientists who have imprisoned a wolf-shifter in the attempt to use her as a breeder. Now rescued, Miri and her vampire mate have a lot of baggage to wade through as they seek to find their way back to one another while discovering the location of their lost baby daughter--a child daddy didn't even know existed. Add in the tensions between the two communities and you have a multi-layered story that keeps the curiosity of the reader never quite satisfied. As always, this author manages to make a really good story rise to the level of a great one with characters that are compelling and the knack of bringing fictional characters assume life-like quality. Just a truly terrific story!!

This barely makes a dent in the pile -- lots more books I could talk about, but this is just a smattering of some of the interesting books I have been enjoying. Thought I would give you some in differing categories of romance fiction. Some are more recent than others. But anyone who has been following this blog knows that I like to pull up books that have been around for awhile.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day 2011 -- Is It Your Job Or Your Life?

Labor Day -- Whoopee!! A three-day weekend!! The Last Blast before the Fall activities begin again! So Labor Day has become in American tradition. W inhen I was a kid no one went back to school before the day after Labor Day, so even though we were delighted to have another holiday, and the adults were glad for a day off work, we school kids were aware that early on that Tuesday after Labor Day we were going to be kicked out of school, force-fed our breakfast, dressed, spit-shined, and sent off to meet another academic dictator and a room full of kids who may or may not turn out to be friends.

Nowadays Labor Day means many different things to many people. Here in the small community where I live they still start school the day after. But throughout Southern California schools are starting at many different times and there is no longer a summer vacation in some districts with year-round school schedules. Yet there are still family picnics, company get-togethers, celebrations of one kind or another, a beer-burger fest in backyards, traveling to visit family or friends, accidents, drunk driving, and all the good and not-so-good that comes with holiday observances.

This Labor Day I have been thinking about what it means to us as human beings to work. My daughter and I were talking of this just this past weekend as we traveled to one of our So. Calif. Blogger get-together days, about what jobs and careers mean to people.

My grandmother (from Western Kentucky) always made a point of reminding me to " . . . never forget who my people are." It took me some adult living to recognize what I think she was trying to tell me. In our society it is common, when being introduced to someone new, to first inquire: "And what do you do?" This is especially true of men. More and more it is becoming obvious that we as a society see people based on what they do rather than who they are. It was one of the realities that crashed in on my hubby the first time he lost his job. For quite some time he was very depressed. At first I thought it was because of the financial crunch. Later he admitted that it was because he felt worthless, not living up to my expectations or those of "society" or being a "real man."

In truth, judging people according to their job or career is, in my opinion, very demeaning. I like what I do, feel that is what I should be doing to use my gifts and talents productively, but I would hate to think that is all I am. Surely I am more than what I do! I think of some women I have known that were single moms, worked endless hours doing two low-paying jobs, often thought to be at the "bottom" of the social ladder. Yet, they were some of the best people I have ever known. Giving, caring, considerate, responsible, selfless--all the qualities that make a person a stellar human being. In the eyes of many they were just human "flotsom & jetsom." What does that say about our society that can dismiss these wonderful women as "disposable?"

My hope is that my life is lived in a way that testifies to who I am rather than what I do. I often spend time reminding myself that while I may be married, be a mother and grandmother, active in a career, that I am who I am and I am a career person who happens to be a woman, who is also married with children and grandchildren. While these activities certainly enriched my life and I am deeply grateful to have found my life partner and brought four wonderful people into the world and made richer by far with the lives of six delightful grandkids, I am who I am as a person and that is who I trust the world can see.

There is a genuine possibility that this may all seem irrelevant to many. In my counseling life, however, I find that many persons get tripped up in their self-image because they confuse their jobs with who they are. I like to think it this way: my vocation or calling is to be the best human I can possibly be; my occupation allows me to make a living and pay my bills. There is a significant difference. This Labor Day reminds me that my most important labor is to continuing working on me while, at the same time, I continue earning a living.

Hope you all are having a wonderful holiday!!

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Road To True Love Is Full Of Potholes!! "Getting Lucky" by Kayla Perrin

In just four short months, lucky–in–love Annalise is going to become a mother. But before she hits the delivery room, she's got one last piece of business to take care of: hooking up her single girlfriends with a pair of sexy brothers on a special weeklong getaway.

Lishelle and Claudia are more than ready for some no–strings–attached flings. And soon Lishelle and gorgeous, insatiable Kwame are setting the sheets on fire. Even back in Atlanta, the sex is amazing. So why is she still so bothered that her ex–boyfriend—the one she dumped—is getting married?

Meanwhile, Claudia can't get enough of Rohan's expert toe–curling, scream–inducing moves. But introduce him to her high–maintenance society friends? Puh–lease. Sure, he's funny, smart and devoted—but without movie–star looks or a matching bank balance, he's hardly Claudia's ideal man. If that makes her a bitch, fine. She has an image to maintain.

But when tragedy strikes, it soon becomes apparent to the friends that they need to rethink what's truly important in life. Because while a hard man is good to find, it takes more than luck to keep him!

I noticed that the reviews on Goodreads were all over the charts, and while I work really hard to not be influenced by other reviewers, I was surprised at the wide response to this book. I checked them out after writing this review and found the comments really interesting. That being said, I have to say that I found this book very interesting. I like stories that are introspective and deal with the negatives in human relationships as well as the positives. These three women who have formed this almost sister-like bond are really the kind of friends we would all like to have--those who love us no matter what we do or what our particular idosyncrasies may be. Each woman was facing a few issues that were clouding her judgment and that clouded judgment directly affected the way each related to the love interest in their lives. That the issues were, in the final analysis, curiously similar is a fact that few of us can perceive, especially when we are so invested in a given set of attitudes. So it was with each of these women.

I also have to admit to a prejudice against books written in the first person. Just has never been a writing format that I read very much. Don't know why. Just have never liked it very well. Yet in this particular book it seemed intrinsic to the story as each chapter was a part of the story told from the perspective of one of the friends. I do want to state that I think some kind of short introductory statement would have clued in the reader as to who the speaker was. I have to read several paragraphs on a couple of occasions to figure out whose voice I was reading. Nevertheless, this was a story that needed the varied perspectives and it gave dimension to the tale by being able to view situations and attitudes and behaviors from the viewpoint of the three women. The dynamic between the best friends was not always easy, and they knew each other so well that they were often seemingly reading one another's minds. Not true, but it is a symptom of that kind of close, long-term relationship. I also enjoyed the level of honesty between the three--yes, they manipulated a bit, and yet the care they exercised in sharing news or opinions testified to their foundational respect and love for one another.

This was a very erotic book yet the sex did not overwhelm the story. The love relationships of each woman, their love for and patience with one another transcended any issue or happening. The female perspective of the men in their lives was sometimes quite humorous. And the writer did a wonderful job catching the unique character and personality of each character. While this is fiction through and through, it had the sense of reality that made it relevant to contemporary life and experience.

So I recommend this as a really delightful interracial love story as well as an insightful study of the friendship and relationship between three very different women. I give this story a 4 out of 5.

This book was released in August, 2011.