Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I Don't Know If I Want Your Help . . . "Colby Law" by Debra Webb

To solve the most heinous murder in Texas history, Colby investigator Lyle McCaleb has an unusual mission: find and protect the killer's long-lost daughter. The complication: she's tough, gorgeous rancher Sadie Gilmore—Lyle's first and only love. And now the mysterious past she barely remembers is threatening her very existence.

Lyle regrets leaving Sadie broken-hearted seven years ago. And as he investigates and gets deeper into danger, he finds it almost impossible to maintain his professionalism around her. But another dilemma threatens their newly rekindled relationship. Can Lyle regain Sadie's trust while concealing the secret that may devastate her?

According to the publisher's blurb, this is the 48th book in the Colby Agency series, and while this is the first book in that series that I have read, I had no difficulty making heads or tails of the story.  It was kind of a reminder of some of the really awful serial killers in recent years--John Wayne Gayce or the buy in Wisconsin or the one from Seattle--the Green River Killer--all are terrible and that was the sense I had about Sadie's father, a man who was on Death Row and who was seeking to gain some favor from the Colby Agency investigator.  As if that weren't bad enough, the killer's wife, also accused of the murders, has now been released and she is sort of a loose cannon in the story.  All the way through the reader is not really given any help in deciding if she is one of the good guys or indeed one of the killers who has just managed to escape prosecution.

Anyway, this is a very well-written story, one that is full of the tension that goes with a very good murder mystery as well as lots of sexual tension.  There is tension between Sadie and her adoptive father, a man who wants to control her and whose control she battles every step of the way.  The old wounds of Lyle's defection seven years earlier are still very raw, and so there is a great deal of upset and people rubbing each other the wrong way present in this story.  But it is not the kind of adversarial wrangling that drives me crazy in some romance novels.  All of the tension here is such that it all  makes sense and as the story progresses, there are patches of relief--sort of light in a dark sky, and even amid their working to get past the hurts of the past, Lyle and Sadie find some common ground that makes his presence as her protector slightly more tolerable.

Throughout this story, however, there is that current of on-going evil, sort of the ripple effect that the evil perpetrated by these serial killers continues to invade the lives of Sadie and others in the story.  And the sadness for me is that no matter how hard the innocent try to get away from the evils pushed off on them, it just keeps rearing its ugly presence.  And make no mistake:  there are innocents here who didn't even know about the crimes when they were committed.  

This is released in the Harlequin Intrigue imprint, and while lots of folks still have a bit of prejudice of the Harlequin books -- left, no doubt, because of the cookie cutter novels that were published in the past, still this is a very compelling work and one that is truly readable and which has lots of twists and turns.  It was a very good reading experience, and for those who like some mystery mixed in with the romance, this will do it for you.  I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.

This novel was released by Harlequin Intrigue in May, 2012.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Past or The Future?? "The Cowboy Takes A Bride" by Lori Wilde

Ex-champion bull rider-turned-cutting-horse cowboy Joe Daniels isn't quite sure how he ended up sleeping in a horse trough wearing nothing but his Stetson and cowboy boots. But now he's wide-awake, and a citified woman is glaring down at him. His goal? Get rid of her ASAP. The obstacle? Fighting the attraction he feels toward the blond-haired filly with the big, vulnerable eyes.

When out-of-work wedding planner Mariah Callahan learns that her estranged father has left her a rundown ranch in Jubilee, she has no choice but to accept it. Her goal? Redeem her career by planning local weddings. The obstacle? One emotionally wounded, hard-living cowboy who stirs her guilt, her heartstrings, and her long-burned cowgirl roots.

It has been said that it is impossible to keep a good woman down.  So it is with Miriah Callahan, the daughter of a Texas cowboy who was obsessed with cutting horses, and who  made the choice, early in Miriah's life, that he would rather have the horses than his family.  As far as the citizens of Jubilee, Texas were concerned, "Dutch" Callahan was the salt of the earth and one of the best men who ever walked the planet.  But then again, Jubilee was the world's cutting horse capital.  Miriah's "take" on Dutch was considerably different.  She remembers his leaving one day to go see a man about a horse, and she only saw him once more in her life--when she was 14 years old--and then he was dead.  Her anger and resentment at being abandoned and not loved, at knowing that he chose all those horses and all these other people over her and her mother, knows no bounds.  But coming to claim her inheritance was the only things she could do.  

This is a wonderful cowboy romance full of real, deeply flawed, both hurting and happy people who happened to have a view of living and friendship that is quite different from Miriah's.  She's the big city gal from Chicago and they're just small town folk who have built their lives around the joy of horses, and cutting horses in particular.  It is the story of one woman's life journey that forces her to look at herself and others with different eyes, who has to deal with her own sense of loss while not really understanding the clash between the grief over her dad as it clashes with her anger and sense of abandonment.  But there are others in this story who have loved deeply and lost, whose fear of that kind of pain keep them from venturing on in their lives, who seem content to love their horses and meet their personal needs in some superficial ways.  It is about life and death, living and loving and losing, about joy on a wedding day, and the deep sorrow and mourning of a funeral.  In other words, it is about real life.  

You won't have to be a confirmed fan of cowboy romance to love this story.  Ms Wilde has a long list of successes to her name and those who love good loving, good writing, and the riveting nature of a good story will like this book.  It is not a simplistic boy-meets-girl novel and there are triumphs and failures and crises that take the reader in some surprising directions.  So don't miss this one.  You'll be glad you gave it a go.  I give this book a 4.25 out of 5.

This novel was released by Harper Collins Massmarket in March, 2012.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Culture Clash . . . or . . . "The Sheikh's Bargain Bride" by Diana Fraser

Being trapped in a marriage of convenience in a desert kingdom, where duty and tradition reign as supreme as the sheikh, is the worst thing that could happen to freedom-loving Anna Whitman. However she has no choice but to agree to Sheikh Zahir Al-Zaman’s demands when he kidnaps her son.

Duty, loyalty and tradition are the driving forces in Zahir’s life. He’s fought for them all his life and now finds himself obsessed with a woman who appears to be the opposite of everything he values. In order to control his obsession with Anna he believes he needs to possess her. And he’s prepared to go to any lengths to do so—even using Anna’s child to blackmail her into marriage.

But Zahir will not force her into his bed; he has his strategies for seduction. Despite an intense attraction, Anna is not going to make it easy for him. Even when she begins to understand him, and his culture that seemed so restrictive at first, she won’t have a relationship with him based on lies. But how can she reveal her secrets when they will shatter the beliefs he holds most dear?

Freedom-loving--that's what all Americans are.  Yet for Anna, the idea of being independent and free to chart the course of her life was her first priority--or perhaps coming in second after loving and caring for her son, Matta.  Anna's marriage to Abdullah, Zahir's brother, has lasted only a very short time after discovering that he had married her only to cover up his homosexuality from his family.  Yet they remained best friends, even to the point that Anna continued to keep Abdullah's secret, even after his death by drug overdose and even taking the blame for his death, a blame that really was not hers at all.  Yet when Zahir used Matta to bring Anna to the desert, used her son to coerce her into marriage, Anna had no choice.  

This is an amazing novel of the clash between the American values we almost all take for granted with a culture that happily continues to this day, a culture that is based on an autocratic way of governing country and family and personal relationships.  As the Sheikh, Zahir was the last word in just about everything, but what Anna didn't know and what Zahir didn't tell her, was that he was absolutely obsessed with her because of the one night they spent together in Paris four years earlier.  Anna's anger at being forced into accepting Zahir's ultimatum did indeed gradually soften and she gradually came to realize that there was a sense of belonging available to her that she had never experienced before.  As a woman bent on becoming a kick-ass lawyer, however, she just couldn't see past the boundaries, past what she perceived as restraints personally and every other way.  

Anna's pursuit of independence came with a very hefty price, and the reader will find that plowing through all the layers of this story, of Zahir and Abdullah's family, of what it takes to be open to other ways of living and relating will draw one into the story in a deeply emotional way.  The writer has crafted the characters with a deft hand, allowing readers to literally sense the emotions, the connections or the disconnects, the strong maternal feelings and the erotic couplings that are a part of this romance.  Both Anna and Zahir are strong, assertive persons, people who have set a path for themselves and those around them and who are not content to just float through life letting others make their decisions for them.  Their difficulties were as profound as their love for each other, all of which were caused by deep emotions that had the power to enrich or disrupt, and the seeming bent they both possessed to misread and misunderstand one another.  Again, I had the strong sense that those feelings and miscommunications were as much a part of the culture clash as religion or family structure.  

Ultimately this story is about the power of genuine affection, respect and deep loving to re-order one's personal life view, to provide answers to some of life's deep longings, and to bring people together across significant barriers.  Anna and Zahir remained, in essence, who they were, but their emotional connection was the most powerful change agent in their lives.  Anna, who feared close emotional ties as the foremost enemy of her personal independence, and Zahir who believed that his early life as a warrior and desert fighter had killed his capacity to love -- each found a way to reclaim who they truly are.  How they managed that is at the core of the story and the stuff that makes this novel compelling and one that will not turn loose of the reader's mind and emotions from start to finish.  I give this delightful read a rating of 4.25 out of 5.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Fun With The Sun or The Solar Eclipse of 2012

Yep, that's what it looked like from our front yard last evening when we donned our protective eye wear and gazed at the heavenly phenomenon.  My last glimpse of a solar eclipse was almost 50 years ago when we were living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa with my hubby's folks after just returning from Germany.  I know the one years ago was a total eclipse and this was classified as an "annular" eclipse, but both were spectacular and I am delighted to have been in the part of the world that we could view it for a few minutes.

One of our friends drove all the way to Cedar City, Utah in order to see the 100% view while ours here in Southern California was "only" 86%.  Yet it was freaky to see how the brightness of the sun was dimmed and to watch the shadow of the moon creep across the face of the sun.  I watched a live feed on the internet for a while--it got tiring to keep my head at that angle, and yet it was about an hour before sunset so the angle wasn't as bad as if the sun had been directly overhead.

Just thought I would share my own excitement at being one of the "favored" ones.  I understand the last glimpse of the eclipse was somewhere in Texas before it was all over.  As one commentator put it:  "We have so many manufactured adventures--good books, video games, sci-fi films and paranormal kinds of stuff that everyone enjoys for their thrills.  This is one that nature gave us and it is every bit as good if not better."  Took the words right out of my mouth!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mother's Day plus four --

I have to admit that I like Mother's Day a lot!!  As nice as birthdays and Christmas and Valentine's Day are, there is something rather special about being annually congratulated for procreating, especially when one's children are grown and they have had much time to reflect on their advent into the human race vis a vis my connection with their father.  It's even better when there are hugs and kisses and "we love you, mom" kinds of cards and notes and flowers and such.  I got a wonderful steak dinner out of hubby this year in the company of one of my kids along with flowers delivered at my door (always really special), potted lilies, miniature roses, and an ecard or two.  All in all, it was a very special day.

But I had to think, also, that once the hubbub has died down, life goes on pretty much as usual.  This year the Los Angeles Dodgers gave away a tote bag to all the mothers who came to the baseball game at Chaves Ravine in Los Angeles, and it struck me as being a bit bizaare--much like my humor, I'm afraid.

Now why would I want another tote bag?  I already have a permanent pitch and bend to my back which started quietly years ago when my babies were coming fast and furiously and the diaper bags were multiplying in the back seat of our car at night when no one was looking. The curvature of the spine was barely seen by anyone, including me.   Having become very  used to carrying half my infant supplies everywhere I went, I began to insure that the bend and permanent leaning of my body to the left was accelerated by carrying one of the biggest purses on the planet.  I not only spent years carrying almost everything my kids couldn't manage and that my hubby was sure to forget if I didn't remember it for him, I then bought even bigger purses so that I could be the pack animal for my grandkids, all of whom seemed to have inherited the gene that forces all little people to make sure that mom and grandma have sufficient junk to fill those huge purses.  Now the Los Angeles Dodgers are going to give me a tote bag, as if I need another recepticle for junk, toys, headache pills, facial tissues, hand cream, money, cards, reading glasses, make-up and such, cell phone and all its attendant extras, along with everything my hubby gives me to carry because "my pockets are full and you've got that big purse, anyway."  Needless to say, I passed on the Andre Ethier Mom's Tote Bag from the Dodgers.  I bet he gave one to his mom, though.

So Mother's Day has come and gone.  But the hugs were genuine and the flowers live on, and the memory of all the good things we shared again as a family remain solidly ensconced in my memory.    And in spite of my weird response to their offer, God bless the Dodgers for thinking of me.  After all, it's the thought that counts, isn't it?