Sunday, November 27, 2011

Let's Talk Turkey . . . Being Thankful for More Than One Day

Well, turkey day has come and gone, and this year I didn't have to cook dinner for my entire tribe. We actually had Thanksgiving Dinner at someone else's home, and that was really neat and lots less work! One inevitable downer: no left-overs!! And I think the second best day of the year is the day after Thanksgiving with all the turkey left-overs. Yummmmm!! Hot turkey and gravy sandwiches; turkey pot pie; my mom's turkey croquettes; turkey hash; and on and on. Hubby and I would bake a turkey every month if we would think about it more often. We LOVE turkey.

But in truth, the food on Thanksgiving Day is really secondary, and perhaps more this year than for lots of years past, I am more aware than ever that my life is lacking a healthy portion of gratitude. Of course, I am thankful for friend and family--most of the time, that is. The kids and grandkids can be a bit wearing from time to time. What I am realizing is that I don't often stop and express thanks for the little things in my life--and some of the big ones, either. Like a good job, even at my age, lots of opportunities to read good books and to communicate with other readers, bloggers, authors, and people who share in that particular obsession. I am thankful for a hubby of long-standing -- a man who now is retired and who regularly tries to micro-manage my life, but who is always there to support and fit in, even if he really doesn't fully understand sometimes where I'm "coming from." I'm thankful for my health--something I have taken for granted for most of my life. Good genes and I think some good health practices early in my life are paying off now.

The real issue is that being thankful really does change the overall outlook people have in their everyday lives. It has even been known to change the body chemistry--changing the negative into the positive, and helping to move individuals through some rather overwhelming difficulties. "Counting Your Blessings" may seem as innocuous to many as counting sheep to overcome insomnia. But the anecdotal evidence shows that it really does work, makes a difference when some difficult happenings, situations, circumstances, etc. are threatening to overwhelm and upend.

So it is my sincere hope that all my readers and "followers" had a truly blessed and restful Thanksgiving Day holiday, didn't get too frazzled by "Black Friday," and are looking forward to the coming days, weeks, and months of living with thankful hearts and spirits.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Love Those Men In Blue: "The Night Is Darkest" by Jayne Rylon

Some secrets refuse to stay hidden.

Lacey Daughtry's perfect weekend is interrupted by tragic news of her brother's murder in the line of duty. Plagued by a rash of mysterious phone calls, she turns to her brother's best friends and fellow officers for protection-and comfort.

Spending time in close contact with Mason and Tyler, the two men she's dreamed of since her first girlhood crush, seems like the answer to a prayer. Especially when they begin to explore the desire she's harbored for so long. But the partners are holding out on Lacey. Determined to suppress the most extreme facets of their lust, they agree to settle for sharing the woman they crave while concealing their desire for each other. Until Lacey cracks their resolve, unleashing a torrent of emotions that threatens to distract them when they can least afford it.

Their blossoming relationship is complicated by secrets. And the only way to evade the killer threatening their lives is to bare their souls in the darkest hours of the night. Or everything will come crashing down, just before the dawn.

I recently read a couple of books written by Ms Rylon in collaboration with Mari Carr (The Compass Brothers Series: Northern Exposure, Southern Comfort) and really liked the style and content of the stories. So I looked up this author as an individual writer and discovered some additional books and this series entitled Men in Blue. (I had read and reviewed several of her books previously from Ellora's Cave for The Book Binge.) This first book was released in 2009 but is one that is very much rooted in contemporary times and places, is really about three people who have been friends for years, who are mourning the death of a much loved brother and friend, and who are keeping secrets from each other--at least they think the others are clueless. Like so much else in their long-standing association as friends and lovers, that assumption is wrong also. Mason and Tyler have been secret lovers for quite a while, have "wanted" Lacey as their third for even longer, but have agreed that their pursuit of her will be conducted as if they are just best friends. It's a small town with some fairly accomplished gossips and some highly judgmental people. Add in Mason's unwillingness to accept his attraction to Tyler, and you have a pretty good level of conflict on every front.

Lacey knows that she is seen as "the little sister" of their friend who has just been killed in the line of duty. She can't seem to get them to see her as a grown woman with a serious love for them and the need to have them in her life. They also don't realize that she has been aware that their friendship is closer than just "best friends" and that this reality certainly doesn't "turn her off." That is one of their greatest fears. She is being stalked but hasn't shared that with them either as they seem to be avoiding her.

This is not your simple boys-meet-girl kind of story. It isn't a simple menage tale where two men grab the girl and they are off for hot sessions of threesome sex. It is a story that is full of the conflicts the men feel over their attraction to each other, their worry about being open in acting on that attraction, their worry that Lacey might run from them if she knew, their conflict over her being their friend's "little sister," and their most urgent concern that Lacey won't be able to deal with their "dark" and kinky needs. There is also the mystery about who might be stalking Lacey, or perhaps the slowly emerging clues that the death of Lacey's brother might not have been accidental at all.

At its most basic, this novel is about discovering the depth and breadth of relationship--the grandeur that Mason and Tyler need to discover in their own love for each other, the maturity and acceptance that Lacey has for them both as lovers and her own dark needs that they can fulfill, and their need to come clean with each other and live in the open as honest lovers and friends. There is also an entire circle of "men in blue" that form a kind of extended family for these three, all of whom are accepting of them as individuals as well as a triad. As they discover each other they are going to be challenged to discover the authenticity of their friends' caring for them as well.

This novel is really beautifully written as the strands of each of these people's lives are woven together alongside the mystery that has engulfed them. Their discovery of the perpetrator, their sense of betrayal at who this is, their recognition of their ability to move beyond a very limited view of life and relationship are the factors that shape and form the context of a story that is full of surprises and which never leaves the reader bored or at loose ends. It is a worthy beginning to a trilogy that will draw the reader into the lives and experiences of a circle of friends--all of whom are different but equally talented, whose own experiences make the reading just that much more interesting. I loved the book and was so pleased to know that the experiences of these characters would continue on through books two and three. I give it a rating of 4.25 out of 5.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Feelings Exactly!! "Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy" by

Garrett was sure his obsession with Tessa would be the death of him. He'd watched her patiently for a very long time. Okay, so "patiently" wasn't exactly a good description. He'd run off every man within a mile of her for years. He knows her habit of skinny-dipping in the lake that joins their properties, and this time, he plans on taking advantage of it.

Tessa thought Garrett was out of reach. He's ten years her senior and always has a horde of slim blondes hanging off him. She's short, curvy, and black. Definitely not his type. Too bad no one told Garrett that. Now, Garrett is determined Tessa will be his, and this is one cowboy who won't take "no" for an answer.

While this story isn't a part of Cara North's Country Music Collection, I still noticed the book because of the title and its reference to a current contemporary country/western ballad. It is one of those stories that is tense and filled with less than optimum relationships right off the bat with characters that must struggle with the social barriers of race, color, and an age gap. It is about a cowboy who has never veered away from his wanting Tessa even though to most people it looked like he was a player--he always had the cute blonde salivating over him. Perhaps that is how he dealt with the issues he had to confront about their differences. His heart and his libido paid little attention to the social difficulties. They wanted Tessa.

I have always enjoyed interracial romances because they, like so many stories, take the reader away from the comfort zone most WASPs live in and they pose some scenarios that challenge every reader to be open to new possibilities. I have always thought that it takes a very determined couple to live outside what many would see as "norm" -- within their own racial structure and finding life partners within that context. Love is not aware of color barriers or even age gaps. Ten years is a lot of years--they make little difference initially, but eventually they make far more of a difference. Men simply don't live as long as women--at least, that is the national average--and those kinds of age differences can separate lovers eventually in the course of growing old. Don't get me wrong--I don't think that should make any difference in deciding who will be one's life partner. It's just the reality folks have to face.

I found this story to be so readable and enjoyed it a lot. I hope some of you will check it out. I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.

Friday, November 18, 2011

There's More To Me Than Just Being A Mother: "One Hot Mama" by Cara North

Rafe decides that it is time to make his move on Layla. Layla adores the man, but she has secrets too dark and too risky to let herself fall for him.

For a man who knows everything about women, he doesn't know anything about Layla and to earn her trust he has to do more than win over her children.

The is the third in the "Country Music Collection and a story which now features the third brother in the family--a man who has always been the peace-maker, the one who has stood in the gap when difficulties make family life uneasy and tense, and who now is drawn to a single mother with two kids. His efforts to draw her into any kind of relationship continually fall flat, and even the relationship he has established with the kids--they absolutely adore Rafe--doesn't seem to make much difference when it comes to bringing Layla and Rafe closer to where he would like to be.

As has been the case in the first two books, the story is edgy and real, the characters are not gilded with literary smooze, and the story smacks of contemporary life. The background characters are, in many cases, persons readers have met in the first two books, and their stories continue on just a bit. Certainly Layla is now in a quandry because the real stories of her past are in danger of being revealed. Yet she craves the relationship Rafe's brothers have managed to have and she wants security for herself and her kids.

This story is one of those novels that grabs your emotions and just doesn't let go until the last word is read. Even then I found it difficult to move away from the story and kept on thinking about the characters long after I had finished the book. I find that is true of the really good ones. If nothing else, the characters and their story connected with me on some level.

I think Cara North is a very accomplished writer and have enjoyed her style and her use of the language. Readers of contemporary romance fiction will like her writing and will find that her stories are compelling and worth the time and effort to read. I give this book a 4.25 out of 5.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Back Up Ten And Punt: When Things Get Hairy in the Locker Room

I guess having lived for decades with a high school sports coach and having a son who is a football coach has finally rubbed off on me. If you don't believe me, then you'll probably have trouble believing that one of my thrills at being in Chicago recently was seeing Soldier's Field--the venue where the Chicago Bears play. I have heard about, been party to, and had my entire weekend taken over by sports, namely football. In the days when thee was only a single 13" TV in our living room, the kids and I got lots of other stuff done. Dad, of course, had taken over the TV for the entire weekend.

Most recently I have been shamed and saddened by the happenings at Penn State--the hurt that was revealed after being covered up for 13 years and the fall-out that is affecting the university now. I am most ashamed when I hear commentators speaking about the great damage done that day for Penn State. Oh Hello!! The hurt happened years ago and it wasn't just to the university. The loss of a beloved coach has to feel harsh and is difficult for lots of people the consider that such an action to fire Joe Paterno and the college president has to make lots and lots of students and alumni very upset. I know this is a hot button issue and I'll probably get scalded for my writing about it, but I am upset about lots of stuff pertaining to this situation.

First, I realize that Mr Paterno reported the illegal activity to the Athletic Director in the late 90's, but my understanding is that at the time Pennsyvania had a mandatory reporting law. That means that the coach had an obligation to report the information received to the law enforcement officials. That's not what happened. And perhaps the greatest sadness about this entire affair, apart from the damage done to the victims, is that Joe Paterno decided to protect his legend instead of making sure that a staff member was prevented from doing any harm to more youngsters. I know that sounds harsh and judgmental, but when people begin to believe their publicity and allow their public persona to be what they protect instead of seeking justice for those young boys, then there is something seriously wrong. I also know that college football is a force with which to be contended in our society and that influence is supported by millions of dollars worth of TV exposure, the whole NFL scouting machine, and the flow of those media dollars into the coffers of university and college athletic programs. And as beloved as Coach Paterno may be to the Penn State students and alumni, he became a part of the cover-up as soon as he opted out of his mandated reporting responsibilities.

This situation, like many others of the same kind, are full of wounding and scalding sadness--not only for the victims, but for lots of friendships and relationships that get caught up in and ground to powder by the the inevitable fall-out that will happen sooner or later. For those victims, it is justice long delayed. For the coaching staff and college administration it is a powerful wake-up call to honesty and transparency. Strangely enough, I am impelled to send prayers to everyone that will be ultimately touched by this tragedy. No matter how grand the football aura may be, no matter how legendary the coach, the sanctity of and respect for the human person of any age, much less a child, can never take second place.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

No, I Haven't Died!! I'm Really Home, Finally!

What an incredible privilege to be able to travel throughout our beautiful country and experience the beauty that we so often take for granted! Train travel affords a unique view of what is often seen from roads and freeways. Train tracks are most often in a different part of the town and wind their way through meadow and hill a far piece from the roadways. And I continue to sing the praises of train travel--quiet, long periods of time to read, knit, sleep, listen quietly to music, meet people from all over the country, and see some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet. What's not to like??

I continued my journey through Cara North's "Country Music Series" of novels and continue to find her writing very much to my taste. Book Two, She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy is another compelling story about a very different situation: a marriage that is on the rock even before the
marriage begins. Now admittedly we read of such happenings now and then among celebrities--i.e. the rece

Kardashian fiasco is a case in point. But I don't often encounter it in romance fiction. This book deals with such a scenario in a way that is edgy and seems to "go for the throat." It is visceral and gutsy and the characters are hurting big time. There were times when I wasn't sure this book could come up with a resolution. It almost read like a Greek tragedy.nt

Ms North has a wonderful way with a story. I hope that those of you who really like contemporary romance--straightforward, gutsy, and a healthy dose of eroticism mixed in--will take a look at this series. It caught my eye because I like the songs that are referenced in the titles, and while each is a stand alone novel, I would recommend starting with book one since the family and secondary characters are fascinating and really hold the reader's interest. Be prepared to feel the hurt, disappointment, passion, fear, and complicated relationships that are the stuff of real life. I think you'll be glad you indulged.

Never fear: I'll be posting some interesting reviews shortly. I am trying to catch up with some reviews I owe The Book Binge so right now I'm spread kind of thin. Those of you who checked in and found me absent, thanks for your faithfulness. Hopefully we'll all be back together and sharing some of the stuff that we have been reading in the past 4-6 weeks. Let me hear from you. I really love all the comments I receive.