Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Review: Friday Afternoon by Sylvia Ryan

Before kids and the responsibility of life, Levi and I shared a spontaneous, erotic, and deliciously deviant marriage. Years transformed what we had into something comfortable and worn. It hurts me to think his desire for me has cooled. I miss that look of his. Slightly evil and totally hot, like he wanted to devour me. Haven’t seen it in ages.

When I first married Mia, she submitted to every one of my erotic needs. Then came the children. With little complaint, I abandoned my pursuit of kink, content to be married to a beautiful, intelligent woman who’s a great mother to our twins. Out of the blue, Mia confesses she misses the intimacy in our marriage, misses the sex. After this enticing revelation, my plan to reconnect with her unfolds.

In our secret, kinky, Friday afternoon meetings I’m going to give her everything she wants and take everything I need. Will this be the answer to fixing our marriage?

Those of us who have put in some significant time working on a marriage complete with job stresses, kids, and such will resonate with this short novel that is told in the first person by both Mia and Levi.  Both have been feeling the "cooling trend" in their marriage even though both are deeply in love with one another.  Here is a novel that puts BDSM into the context of literally recharging a relationship that may be kinky for many but which was grounded in the D/s dynamic and which had become exceedingly vanilla.  

The concept of "making a date" with one's spouse has been touted often by marriage counselors and psychologists as one way to recharge a relationship where both spouses have taken one another for granted, most often because that is the way things work when two people live together for years, become used to one another's habits and ways of doing things, or when the business of raising children takes over the dynamic of a home.  And while raising the kids is certainly one of the most important tasks any couple can take on, keeping one's own personal relationship is, IMHO, foundational to keeping the kids safe, their future secure in a home where mom and dad know they are each cherished by the other.

This story outlines how one couple decided to put the "wow" back into their sex life and brought back the excitement of being in love with each other.  It is beautifully told, and by going back and forth between Mia and Levi, the author gives readers the viewpoint of both the dominant and the submissive partner.  This kind of solution won't work for everyone, but it is a story that brings the BDSM ingredient into the mix and while it is mild in many ways, it works for these two.

This is a read that won't take up a big chunk of time but it is a very romantic love story and I think it will be a good experience for most lovers of romance fiction.  I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Oldie But Goody: "A Cold Creek Noel" by RaeAnne Thayne

Caidy Bowman had been the apple of her family's eye—until a devastating tragedy forced her to hide from the world. She was used to devoting her time to the animals on her family's ranch. Then widower Ben Caldwell and his two adorable children arrived in Pine Gulch, and suddenly, Caidy wanted more than a life in the shadows….As the town's new vet, Ben needed a place to stay for the holidays—and for his family to heal from their own loss. He absolutely wasn't looking for love again! But Caidy Bowman's sparkling green eyes and sweet smile touched Ben's broken heart, giving him hope for a new future. Their future—if he could convince the beautiful cowgirl that Christmas was a time for new beginnings….

Released in November, 2012, this continuation of Ms Thayne's Cowboys of Cold Creek series is a delightful holiday novel which brings readers a wonderful love story.   This small Idaho town  has been featured in 10 previous stories highlighting various families in the community and giving all of us a peek into the workings of a small Western community.  There is a particular poignancy in the stories that have featured the Bowman family.  Over a decade earlier their beloved parents  were murdered during a home invasion robbery, one that had been planned to occur during the family's absence.  As it happened, the parents and their daughter, Caidy, were home because Caidy was sick.  Mrs. Bowman had become a well-known artist and it was for the purpose of stealing her paintings that the robbery was planned and carried out.  

Now, 12 years later, the entire family labors under the burden of the memory of this horrible experience when happened just a few days before Christmas.   It is especially difficult for Caidy who heard the entire crime being committed.  She has longed for a way to move beyond the hurtful memories, to find a way to replace the grief with a new joy.  As it happens, a new veterinarian is in town and together with his two young children, he begins to impact Caidy's life in unexpected ways.

This is truly the classic love story and yet it is not adversarial in nature but yet there is a good amount of tension between the main characters.  It's never easy to move forward.  For Caidy it means that she will have to let go of the pain and grief of that horrific day.  For Ben it will mean letting go of his anger at his dead wife, a woman who never really accepted her diabetic condition and its limitations and who insisted on getting pregnant a third time, a decision that ultimately cost her the rest of her life, her husband the loss of his spouse, and his children the loss of their mother.   At the core of this story lies the healing power of love and the redemptive power of faith and hope.

I downloaded this ARC a year ago and I just "found" it again on my Kindle recently.  I fell in love with the story to the extent that I went back and read a couple of the early novels in this series.  I know it's a year already since release, but I have a strong belief that such positive powerful stories never grow old.   I know it can be found in libraries and is on sale on several websites.    It's a really lovely holiday story and I think you'll find it worth reading.  I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Book Review: Lying in Your Arms by Leslie Kelly

Madison Reid's engagement is a sham. Her movie-star fiance  is actually her childhood friend who's gay. When he decides he can't keep living a lie, Madison ends things by leaking a salacious story about a hot if fictional affair. Now surrounded by swarms of news-hungry paparazzi, Madison escapes to the beauty of Costa Rica until things cool down.

Firefighter Leo Santori is on his honeymoon.  Alone.   Still torn up about losing his fiance to another guy, Leo isn't expecting anything from Costa Rica. That is, until Madison steps into his world, rocks it and then lights it on fire. The heat between them is undeniable and irresistible. But when Madison's scandalous past catches up with them, will it extinguish the flames or will they both end up burned?N

If you like hot sensual contemporary romance, I'm not sure it gets any better than Leslie Kelly.  Several years ago I read one of her books and the gritty writing style, the overt sexuality and sensuality of her characters along with an irrepressible sense of humor served to "hook" me for the foreseeable future.   Now we meet two more of her fun and entertaining characters, both of whom find themselves in unusual circumstances and both of whom are "running away" in a sense from the realities of normal life.  To be sure, Madison's relationship with her longtime best friend under the guise of an engagement is anything but normal.  But in the Hollywood world of "normal" it wasn't anything out of the ordinary.  Yet her life is being blitzed by the media and Costa Rica seems a good alternative.  For Leo it is also a haven as he deals with the betrayal of the woman he fully expected to marry.   Their resulting affair really lights up the pages in the way that only Leslie Kelly seems to be able to do.  It is one of the reasons that I have always like her writing:  she just tells it like it is.

This is a short novel that will engage you with its sharp and edgy writing, with characters who are different than often appear in novels, with Ms Kelly's appealing blend of sensuality and humor.  (Through the years and reading a number of her stories she has written some of the funniest conversations I have ever read).   All in all, it is a fun and entertaining read and one that is balanced between fun and deep emotion as readers deal with Leo's broken heart and Madison's fears for the future.  It's not a book that will take up immense amounts of time.  It will be a nice read to turn to when you don't particularly want to delve into something that is a much heavier reading effort.  Do yourself a favor:  enjoy this one and I hope it is as nice an experience for you as it was for me.  I give this book a rating of 4 out of 5.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Book Review: Wounded Heroes Boxed Set: They're Hard to Handle and Hard to Love

Favorite Romance Themes™: WOUNDED HEROES is a boxed set of five complete novels from some of today’s most exciting authors -- at an irresistible price!

He’s a loner and a lost soul, the man who keeps to the shadows. He may have believed in love once, but not anymore. Whether his scars are physical or emotional, he’s hurting and vulnerable and in need of redemption—but to get it, he’ll need a Beauty with enough courage to tame the Beast. This boxed set features five full-length romance novels with wounded heroes.

I recently found this boxed set on one of the romance ebook sites at a sale price and couldn't resist--fine full-length novels at a nothing price:  what's not to like?   But these novels are not for the faint of heart.  Each one is about a man who has old wounds of heart or emotions or body and spirit, all tangled up in hopes for the future and disappointments from the past.  These are tough stories and there were times I almost felt overwhelmed by the depth of despair as well as the sense that there was no hope for any of these guys to find some peace in a loving relationship.  Yet all five stories have HEA endings and though it is difficult to get to that place, somehow the patience of genuine caring people and a loving significant other makes the ultimate difference.

Twenty-two years after coming home from Vietnam, Paul Tremaine is determined to erect a memorial to the comrades he left behind. Bonnie Hudson, the widow of a famous antiwar activist, doesn’t want to see that war glorified. Both Bonnie and Paul are survivors of a painful past. Can love heal their scars so they can make peace with that past and face the future together?

Both main characters in this story are struggling with difficulties from the past.  For Paul there is the memory of trauma in Viet Nam and the determination to keep his promise to fallen comrades.  For Bonnie it is the memory of her anti-war activist husband who died while continuing his public struggle against a war he hated.  Now she is almost tied to a shrine set up in her living room but that haloed place takes a beating when some unhappy truths begin to surface.  These two have a tough time finding common ground--a Viet Nam vet up against a woman who is absolutely anti-war.  It makes for good reading and some very tense encounters that are often made even worse by the presence of Bonnie's teen son.   The context is the late 80's so readers will have to adjust their historical memories on this one.

Waiting For You
In Waiting For You, tough cop Joe Moretti meets the love of his life, Dana Devlin, on his brother’s dating website. Little does he know she’s harboring a very big secret, one that almost destroys their relationship. Joe must find a way to prevent that secret, and his own personal ghosts, from ruining their chance together.

This is a poignant love story that links two people with a heap of emotional baggage.  JoeyD, as he is known on his brother's dating site, meets Dana and when finally meeting her face-to-face, learns that she is wheel chair bound for the rest of her life.  Her stellar ballet career was cut prematurely short by a crush injury which has crippled her from the knees down.  What she doesn't know is that Joe's dad died from ALS when Joe was 10 years old, and the memories of his dad's time in a wheel chair, the helplessness of both his dad as well as his own feelings of anger and helplessness have never been addressed.  Now these two people are trying to find common ground, a way to trust one another after keeping facts from each other, and deciding if the stresses of being together are really worth it.  It's a very emotional story with lots of ups and downs.  I felt for both of them and this writer really addressed the difficulties of disabilities in a very forthright way.  I really appreciated this story a lot.

Silken Threads
Graeham Fox comes to London to rescue his overlord’s daughter from her abusive husband, in return for which he is promised her sister’s hand in marriage and a vast estate—quite a prize for a landless soldier who’s never had a home of his own. Attacked and disabled by a broken leg, he rents a room in the humble home of Joanna Chapman, a silk merchant’s widow. Joanna, having learned not to trust handsome, charming devils like Graeham, lets him think her husband is still alive in order to keep him at a distance. Mindful of his mission—and the promised reward—Graeham struggles to resist his feelings for Joanna, but the white-hot desire simmering between them cannot be denied. Inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Silken Threads was honored with Romance Writers of America’s RITA® Award for Best Long Historical Romance.

This was perhaps the most difficult story of the five for me.  It was a full-length historical novel set in the 11th century when the Norman invasion and the Battle of Hastings in 1066 was not far past.  It is a look at the difficulties of women in that time, their presence in society but without any value of their own.  It is a story about trust and about the ties that bind human to human, lover to lover, friend to friend.  It is about loyalty and being faithful to one's commitments.  I found there were some passages that went long on discussions I didn't think added substantively to the story, but the fact that it won a RWA RITA award shows how much I know about those things.  The main characters were delightful--Joanna was a woman whose marriage at age 15 turned out to be an emotional hoax while for Graeham, the possibility of becoming something more than a bastard and a military servant made his attraction to Joanna a great difficulty.  Lots going on in this novel and even with the action taking place nearly a millenium past, loving someone and the problems between lovers never get old.

Texas Refuge
Seeking peace after nearly dying in a failed attempt to save his sister, the last thing former Houston detective Quinn Marshall wants is another woman to watch over, but his rugged Texas ranch is the ideal hiding place for soap opera star Lorie Chandler, who has already lost her husband to an obsessed fan. When the madman finds them, Quinn's sole focus is on keeping Lorie safe, even though his success will mean that he will have to give her up to a life where he cannot belong.

He's a retired Houston, Texas cop with psychic abilities he refused to acknowledge, and she's an Emmy winning daytime drama actress with a five-year-old son and a stalker who  may have already killed her husband.    The tensions that surround any stalker story are here but they are amplified by the inner struggle Quinn endures because his logical cop brain can't own up to his heritage  as an empath.  Their time spent at Quinn's ranch in Texas provides a setting where their love can grow and Quinn's relationship with Lorie's young son blossoms.  The exchanges between this young boy and the adult characters in the story are delightful.  Quinn's great-aunt, Tia Consuela, is also one of the background characters but her presence is far more important than the amount of dialogue given her would indicate.  It's really about two people who manage to find themselves and each other under very difficult circumstances and while having to wade through Quinn's guilt over the death of his sister.  The tension never lets up in this one.

The More I See
Cutting horse trainer Cody Gentry was riding high until he lost his eyesight in a freak accident. He hopes eye surgery will repair the damage to his eyesight. But just in case, his father hires guide dog trainer, Lyssa McElhannon, to help pull him out of depression. Lyssa didn't expect to fall in love or have Cody open her eyes to see there was a whole lot of living she’d been missing out on.

It's no secret that I like cowboy stories and found this one to be a very intense read.  It is a little on the short side, but the main characters are gritty and intense.  It is always difficult when a person as active as Cody--cutting horse trainer extraordinaire and championship holder--loses his eyesight while saving another young and foolish ranch hand who was unwisely mixing chemicals.  Cody's descent into depression, his refusal to accept help, his determination to be stubborn in his isolation are the backdrop against which this story plays out.  Lyssa is a woman who experienced blindness for twenty years of her life but was given a second chance because of modern surgical procedures.  Now she trains seeing-eye dogs and has brought one for Cody.  He patience is quite bountiful but even Lyssa gets fed up.  It's a story that will tug at the reader's heartstrings when Cody takes his first horseback ride, remembering the trail so well and trusting in his steady and trustworthy mount who has taken him the cutting horse championships in the past.   The story is very emotional and there are times when the reader will wonder if these two are going to manage to have their own HEA.

This Boxed Set is one of a number of collections that were recently made available on Amazon and other ebook sellers online for one 99 cents.  Such a deal.  I found all the stories to be really good reads and while I had my favorites (I think the story about the cop and the ballet primadonna was my number 1), all of them were very good reads.  I gave the set a rating of 4 stars on Goodreads and I think a rating of 4 out of 5 is where I am going to stay.