Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Power Corrupts and Great Power Corrupts Greatly . . . "Taking a Stand" by Ken Casper

Homebuilder Jesse Amorado and former Air Force Captain Tori Carr come from the same Texas town but from very different worlds. When she returns home to Coyote Springs to help her father, a real-estate developer, turn the seediest neighborhood into an exclusive resort for the wealthy, Tori and Jesse immediately clash. He'll do whatever it takes to save his heritage, and she is caught up in proving herself to her father. 

As personal tensions rise and local trouble begins to brew, Jesse and Tori fall in love-despite it all. They soon find, however, that they must not only confront vested interests and prejudices, they have to fight for their very lives.

I received this advance reader copy from Net Galley toward the end of 2011 and just re-discovered it on my eReader this past week.  I'm a great fan of stories that have both a romance and some mystery/suspense, and this book has both in goodly amounts.  There is also a hefty amount of culture clash and the ever-present issues that emerge over immigrant populations and the significant distance between people who live in great comfort right along side those who barely manage to survive.  This book does not back away from those issues nor drawing its word pictures so realistically that the reader can feel the anger and frustration of the residents who live in the poor neighborhood through which Tori drives her sports car.  Yet readers will also experience the frustration of those who have invested significant amounts of money in development projects, some of which can make or break families and fortunes.  This book has it all and it was a marvelous reading experience.

It has been said that ". . . power corrupts, and great power corrupts greatly."  I think that statement encapsulates the core of what is going on in this story.  At the crux of the crisis is two philosophies, one which sees everything in "progressive" terms, sort of the "out with the old and in with the new."  No one wants to see people live in dangerous housing, yet for many and in spite of the deterioration, their neighborhood has been their family's haven for generations.  For them, there is little to recommend the shiney and new.  On the other hand, a man like Tori Carr's dad has worked hard to build quality into the structures of their community, but a man like that doesn't sometimes see that others are hitchhiking on his hard work and can ultimately sour the achievements of a lifetime of diligence.  There is mistrust and betrayal aplenty in this story, hurt from words and actions, disappointment in long-term friends, and some ah-ha moments when people who should have been trustworthy turn out to be scoundrels.  

This is a beautifully written novel and it is one that serious readers can enjoy while having their imaginations exercised well.  It is not a simplistic tale and there is sufficient mystery to keep the reader wondering who is really the bad guy here.  It is a part of a series yet each book can stand alone.  And most of all, this novel testifies to the find talent and expertise that went into its creation, of a writer who knows how to tell a really good story and do it in such a way that the reader never wants to put down the book.  I am looking forward to the next story in the series with bated breath.  I give this book a rating of 4 out of 5.

This novel was released by Bell Bridge Books in November, 2011.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Truly Adult Love Story: "A Godsend" by Dalma Heyn & Richard Marek

Does love as we once knew it still exist? In our age of Twitter, texting, sexting, iPhones and Facebook, can two adults – he a West Coast book anthologist, she a Vermont maple sugar farmer – fall in love the old-fashioned way, through meeting, attraction, lust, adversity, resolution? No, says Jove, God of Gods. Yes, says his son, the God of Love, whose career depends on it. Jove allows him only one intervention to effectuate the passionate, iffy romance between Evan Cameron and Eve Golyakovsky, whose life experiences make them wary of giving themselves to one another, and he blows it. Because of an ice storm that threatens to destroy Eve’s maple trees, and Evan’s ex-girlfriend’s illness that compels him to take her in, their love for each other is about to implode. The God of Love is now powerless to intercede. But the soul of a man and the heart of a woman are stronger even than the will of the Gods, and the result is a love story for this day and for time immemorial.

Few of us can remember when romance was conducted long distance by letter. I remember commenting to some younger members of my family that they would have literally "died on the vine" if they would have had to wait for answers to their letters as I did when my hubby was stationed in Europe just a month after we married. It seemed like the spaces between the arrival of those letters--and he wasn't much of a letter writer to begin with--seemed interminable. I am delighted that our military and other families who are distanced from one another have Skype and email and overseas cell phone service, etc. But in former times, romance was carried out in much different fashion.

This novel takes all that electronic stuff out of the equation and brings in the presence of the gods--most especially Cupid and Jove, to be specific. And as it turns out, Evan and Eve are both quite technologically challenged comparatively, and their romance which begins under some unusual circumstances to begin with, is carried on with the written word. But even for Evan, writing his own words are difficult when it comes to his own feelings. And the joke in that? Evan is a published writer with the task of writing a sensitive and literary introduction to a collection of some of the world's most intense love letters. He's not above borrowing words and phrases--whole sections--of letters by Robert Browning and Keats and Beethoven. That backfires, too. And with Cupid's hands tied and his freedom to intervene seriously curtailed, this turns out to be a love story that full of the passion of new love and the frustration of miscommunication, jealousy, old loves, betrayal, and on and on. All that human stuff that gets in the way of love's bloom more often than not.

I think this story has a wonderful message--and I really don't know if the authors intended a "message" as such, but it spoke to me loud and clear. Having grown up in the letter-writing era (and I still cherish a few boxes of some really spectacular fancy stationery), I have a deep appreciation for the speed with which we humans can correspond and connect locally as well as around the world. But when it comes to love, to nurturing a deep and abiding friendship that matures into lasting love, there is something to be said for taking one's time, for allowing the relationship to grow at its own pace, to become something precious as in a well-aged wine or a wonderful cheese whose flavor is never fully developed without sufficient time. Cell phones and email are wonderful and Lord knows I certainly am hamstrung when the internet goes down. But I think my one great romance is all the better for the time it took to become what it did, and I still have those letters and a poem or two, a short, two-paragraph essay that I take out and read every once in a while and savor the joy of it all over again. I know I can print off the emails--we don't take the time to do that much, either.

This is a compelling love story that has the reader joyful at one point and grieving at another, wondering if these two will ever get past the hurt and wounds, the misunderstandings and the behind-the-scenes betrayal. I was deeply touched when Evan just got in his car and drove all the way across the country just to connect again with Eve. This story is an emotional roller coaster and the reader will experience every moment of joy and pain. It's just that well written. Both these writers have significant writing credits and are published internationally. They both know what they are doing and have collaborated to give the romance-loving readers a wonderful book. I hope you will seek it out and enjoy it as much as I did. I give it a rating of 4.5 out of 5.

This novel was released by Amory New Media in October, 2011.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Healing the Hurts of Abuse: "Coming Up Roses" by Catherine Anderson

Widow Kate Blakely knew nothing of love - but she knew plenty about unhappiness. She'd married young, hoping to put down roots in a safe haven, but her husband had shattered her naiveté, and made her fear for her beloved daughter's safety until the day he died.

When she first met her new neighbor, Zachariah McGovern, all she saw was danger. But Zach saw much more. He saw beauty, he saw tenderness. He knew he could rescue Kate Blakely from her past - if only she would let him.

What Zach couldn't know, however, was the price that had to be paid to save the woman he loved.

I'm not sure there is any way to really empathize with women and children who are brutalized unless one has had a similar experience. There is just no way I can even imagine how I would feel if my husband were to beat me, terrorize me with religious psycho-babble as in this story, or brutalize my children as did this father when he held his daughter's hand in the fire as punishment and plunged her entire head in the mild bucket for sneaking a sip of the cream. I can understand it mentally and know that it happens. As one who was an active ER nurse at one time I have seen the horrific effects of physical abuse, but again I am not sure any of us who have not experienced these horrors can fully appreciate the inner conditioning that such living can fashion. Suffice it to say that this is a story that chronicles the terror and conditioning to a young mother and her child who suffered five years of physical and psychological abuse from a husband and father who was certifiable and who used a psychotic and extremist interpretation of the Bible to support his sick understanding of family and spousal relationships.

Ms Anderson has written a sensitive and insightful book that brings the reader into the misery and needy lives of Kate Blakely and her daughter Miranda, both of whom are still so very young. Kate was high school age when her uncle literally "gave" her into the sick and warped care of Joseph Blakely, a man who had no more right to a wife and child than one's favorite mental patient. Now Kate and Miranda live in constant fear from Joseph's brother who believes, in the same kind of sick and warped way, that Joseph "gave" them to him, that he has the right to rape Kate and continue to terrorize Miranda. If their neighbor has anything to say about it--a man who has fallen deeply and authentically in love with Kate--she will be free from this terrible ordeal once and for all as well as receive the loving care and respect she is due.

Anyone who reads this book will be deeply touched by the kindness and patience of Zachariah McGovern, a man who braved a nest of rattlesnakes to save Miranda when she fell down a dry well, a man who Kate nearly killed herself with exhaustion to save, and a man who has determined that she will be his wife one day. This is a love story of gigantic proportions, one that will touch those deep wells of empathy we all have inside us when we feel the pain of another, even a fictional character. Yet there is wonder in this novel, the wonder of a child who discovers that a man can be one's forever friend, a man who can keep faith and his promise, one who will not hurt or injure while teaching and caring for a child. The talks between Zachariah and Miranda are really wonderful--full of understanding, patience, wit, and deep affection. It is Miranda's growing love for Zachariah that ultimately drags Kate into marriage with him--kicking and screaming, to be sure, but which now gives this delightful man the opportunity he needs to change Kate's view of the world and most importantly, her view of herself. The down side to their story: dealing with Joseph's body in the Rose Garden. And as Zachariah observed: Joseph is not pushing up daisies, he is pushing up roses.

This novel was first released in 1993 and is now being re-released after over a decade of being out of print. But I am here to say that it is as timely now as it was then, a book that begs to be read and one that will be deeply appreciated by readers of historical romance and romance fiction that deals with very real social problems. This is a book that just shouldn't be missed and I hope all of you will check it out. I give it a rating of 4.5 out of 5.

This novel will be released 01 May by Signet Books.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

I've Inherited What??? "Her Cowboy Stud" by Randi Alexander

Trace McGonagall's quiet life on his Houston stud ranch is shaken up when gorgeous Macy Veralta arrives to claim an inheritance left to her in his uncle's will. Trace sees her as just another gold digger, but he also can't resist her curvy body. When she hints at being the perfect submissive to his Dom, he has to have her.

Macy wouldn't have been three months late to claim her inheritance if she'd known Trace was sin in jeans. The cowboy's dominant bearing and the smoldering glint in his eyes send shivers to her toes and stirs images of being bound in his bed and disciplined at his hand. But could Trace's perfect seduction be part of his plan to reclaim her inheritance?

He's everything she has been led to believe he is--at least, in the "looks" department. Tall, muscular, steely gaze, looks great in those worn but tight jeans--just as his Uncle Silas claimed. Now Macy is there to see for herself, and to claim whatever she has inherited from this mysterious old gentleman she met while sharing a curious conversation in the first class compartment of an airplane along with a very good bottle of wine. Now, old Silas is dead and his nephew is looking at her like she has just crawled out from under the nearest rock. Yet there is something about her. Little did she know that Silas has spoken of her in his last letter to Trace, the letter found after his death.

This is a very entertaining novella about two people from very different walks of life who have been literally brought together by an old man who seems to have had the knack of getting what he wants. He also seems to have had that uncanny ability to read people, and as much as he loved Trace, Silas knew that his nephew was way too withdrawn for his own good, and way to prone to think negatively about someone he doesn't know. Silas saw a new and bright spirit in Macy, knew that her joie de vivre would be just the bright light Trace needed in his life. The sexual tension was apparent right from the first, but the trust wasn't there yet.

This short read really keeps the heat up from almost the first. There are some unhappy moments, but these two stumble along in trying to find their way toward each other, in spite of the sexual stuff--sometimes that can be more of a obstacle to understanding than a help. This story is definitely erotic and yet there is that sense that the underlying story is important--two people who really, really need to find each other. This novella is another in the "Cowboy Kink" series written by several different authors, and this author has added nicely to the line-up. There is, indeed, some kink involved, but it isn't the first thing out of the shoot. It is a mutual discovery that Trace and Macy make together that then becomes an enriching ingredient in their growing awareness of something deeper than just lust.

This entire series is fun and entertaining and I hope you'll check it out if you like studly cowboys. I give this novella a 4 out of 5.

This publication was released in March, 2012, by Wild Rose Press.