Thursday, September 30, 2010

Review: Black Passion by Lorie O'Clare

A number of months ago I reviewed the first in this series from Lorie O'Clare entitled Black Seduction, the story of a den of jaguar shapeshifters, the VicMoran brothers, plus Angela Kalusian, who live in a community in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Angela's littermate, Natasha, once her closest and dearest friend besides being her sister, now has decided that the coffers of the community can be enriched by "selling" her community members as mercenary killers for hire. She is bloated with the greed for wealth and power, and the VicMoran brothers and Angela are wanting no part of it. They leave, and their destination is Central America, the only other place where jaguar shapeshifters reside, deep in the heart of the Costa Rican rain forest. In the course of their journey, Angela and Raul become mates.
Now this second novel in the series picks up the story of these brothers as they have not settled in their new home. Angela and Raul VicMoran have established their own den, and the Ran and Rafe, as single males, have a den of their own. This novel is really Ran's story and how he acquires a mate, one he is not sure he really wants but obtains in spite of his reservations about her family, especially her mother.

While the first novel was really insight more into the personal relationship of Raul and Angela and the inner workings of a family, this second novel expands on what it means to be a part of the greater community with its power struggles, its family dynamics, and how this jaguar community resolves the issues that are vital to its survival. The evil that was left behind in Colorado is now threatening them and Ran's expertise with computer technology assists them in being prepared for the onslaught of unprincipled forces who want to capture these shapeshifters and force them to be mercenary killers to satisfy Natash's greed and lust for power.

At the core of this story, however, is Ran and Olivia's love story and the dynamics of their mating. Olivia is out of step with her community; she wants to be independent, determining her future for herself, yet forced to remain in her parents' den as a single female, under the heavy hand of her overbearing mother and her seeminly passive father. Yet her desire to mate with Ran, a male who has fascinated her ever since the brothers arrived in her community, gets out of control. Even though Ran is aware of her mother's penchant for being in charge (a position that is not favored throughout the jaguar community), Ran is drawn to this beautiful feline and mates with her. He is distressed at her unwillingness to be cooperative with the rules of the community and resists moving forward with the mating process. Yet his desire for her does not fade, and in spite of all his efforts, her scent remains on him--proof positive that she is already his mate.

The ups and downs of this rocky romance, complicated by a manipulative mom, outside pressures from those seeking to capture and imprison the jaguars, form the core of this novel. I think Ms O'Clare has a true story teller's heart and yet in this second novel I think the words got just a little bit away from her. Unlike the first book, she lost just a little of her edge, efficiency and economy of word usage and the passages containing internal dialogue, especially over the problems with Olivia's mother, just seemed to get away from her. Now this may be more about me as a former English teacher than about the author. I am more than willing to acknowledge that. But in spite of what I felt was an overload of verbage at some points, I think this is a really good story and a very enjoyable one. I like shapeshifter stories anyway so was fascinated with the fictional society that O'Clare created. It was inventive and brought in the tension often encountered when two males are interested in one female, the part played by the larger community in the process, and the internal family dynamic. The loving was certainly hot, but I felt it was well balanced within the context of the wider community. I was quite taken with their interdependence. Would that humans could work so well together.

So I can recommend this novel as one that feline shapeshifter fans as well as romance fans would probably enjoy and find readable and stimulating. I give it a rating of 3.75 out of 5.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Review: Aftershock by Jill Shalvis

Those of us who live in Southern California can relate well to this story. In my own family, my oldest daughter and her family were stuck in the San Francisco Loma Prieta quake and were out of communication with us for hours. It was very scary. And then hubby and I and our kids living close by all had a shock in January, 1994, at 4:00 AM , when the house started shaking and just didn't seem prone to stop. The Northridge Quake was a dilly--a 7.0 biggie.
So this story rings very true for a reader like me who has been through some of these "temblers" as they are sometimes called, both big and small. The aftershocks go on for days, and they are often just as scary as the very first quake action.

We've all heard the miraculous discoveries of people who have been trapped in rubble for up to 4 days and somehow they survive. While it wasn't 4 days in the case of the characters in this story, their long and frightening experience being trapped under an old warehouse that was unsafe to begin with is not unusual in our part of the country. But the story is deeper than just the quake that brought Amber Riggs and Dax McCall together, huddled under the only sturdy furniture they could find deep in the warehouse basement--an old oak desk--with both of them pretty much accepting the fact that they have a better than even chance of dying. Cool and motivated real estate manager Amber with successful, single, fun-loving Dax who was the fire inspector, both now knew the core-liquifying truth that they were going to die. In the harsh reality of several aftershocks that threatened to flatten the full weight of a multi-storied building on top of them, Amber and Dax comforted themselves with body heat and finally, kisses--kisses that turned into so much more--an affirmation of life in the face of certain death. When they were eventually rescued, Amber remembered that Dax had told her that he was single and determined to remain so. Thus, when they were separated by the necessities of speaking with authorities, Amber quietly slipped away. As she put it: "I have no desire to be the 'flavor of the week.'"

It was a year later, when Dax was accompanying one of his sisters to the OB/GYN clinic for her late pregnancy check-up, he spied a familiar face across the waiting room and realized it was Amber, and she was holding a baby. . . as it turned out, his baby. And thus began a small war of wills and emotions and trying to find a way to both be parents to this remarkable little girl, one that had been a surprise to both of them and who kept them connected.
But Amber had issues . . . a military father who had never forgiven Amber's father for leaving him and her, who had raised Amber believing that her mother was a slut. Now he had also repudiated Amber over her pregnancy and she was truly alone. She had been alone for years, if the truth be known, so she would do this alone. Except Dax would have none of it. He was a responsible man, very good at his job as a county fire inspector, and one who fell instantly in love with his daughter. Yet his anger over Amber's apparent decision to not tell him about their child angered him for a very long time. How to get these two really good people to get past all this?

That is the crux of the conflict in this novel. Shalvis has crafted a story that gently but relentlessly works through the issues and barriers to each of them coming to grips with the other. Both love their child, but actually it is Amber's fear of being controlled by another person--mostly growing out of her father's never-ending control of every aspect of her life when she was growing up--that kept them from growing close. Dax was determined--he grew to love Amber as the strong, caring, genuine person who had weathered that quake with him. He saw her fearless protection and love for their daughter, and he resonated with gratitude that she was always willing to allow him maximum access to his daughter's life. These were just two really good people. When I finished this book that is the overwhelming impression I had of these two characters and even now, having read the book again, I am still sure that would be wonderful people to know in real life.

So go sit in your best chair and turn on your reading light. This is Shalvis at her best and you don't want to miss this story--a beautiful woman, a tall, sexy man, and an adorable baby. All the kinds of stuff that make warm, fuzzy, enjoyable, and memorable love stories. I give this book a 4.5 out of 5.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Review: Riding Wild by Jaci Burton

It has been said by those far wiser than I that " . . . the course of true love never runs smooth." That seems to be the case in a number of Jaci Burton novels of which this is one. Written as the first in her biker series know as the Wild Riders, this novel introduces readers to the undercover governmental agency formed to infiltrate biker clubs and gangs and to be virtually un-noticed as they seek to do their jobs.

Mac Canfield was a lone wolf type of guy who had been well on his way to spending most of his life in prison for grand theft. Approached by Gen. Grange Lee to be a part of this new undercover agency, Mac agreed to do so in exchange for a clean slate legally. Little did he realize that the General would be the father he never really had, give him opportunities educationally, and help him to transform his life and move in a different direction. Now he was a thief, but he was stealing back items and commodities stolen from the government and which weren't able to be retrieved by legitimate means.

Mac's high school sweetheart, Lily West, was from a wealthy home, used to a life of luxury, bent on determining her own direction in life, but having to work constantly against a parent who was equally determined to plan out her life. She is now living in Chicago, working as a private investigator, after several years in law enforcement where even the long arm of her father's influence kept her from doing her duty as she saw it. A robbery at one of Chicago's museums brings Mac and Lily together--Lily's investigations firm had been hired to determine the effectiveness of the museum's security system and staff. Once again she finds Mac stealing, believing that he is just a involved in crime as he was ten years earlier. But in order to keep Lily from finding out what he really does, Mac is instructed to sort of kidnap her, take her on an extended road trip on his Harley, and dump her somewhere out of sight and harm's way. Once again Mac is going to have to abandon the only woman he has ever loved, just as he did 10 years earlier.

It seems to me that the core ideas that drive this story are the inability to trust after having their initial trust broken. Also, this story is about what it means to really believe in someone, looking beyond the externals of one's life situation and recognizing the true nature of someone as intrinsically good, honorable, and caring. Lily has waited all her life for her father to see her as she really was, a grown-up and one that actually possesses a brain. Her father has never seen her as anyone other than an extension of himself and a pawn on life's "chess board" to manipulate and control. Mac realizes belatedly that he has not been much better, as he drove Lily aware 10 years earlier, thinking that she would be better off without him. He even went so far then as to tell her that he didn't love her. Now he had to face her anger and the indifference she used to guard her heart.

This is a very warm and engaging love story, lots of hot loving, but a re-discovery of a love that had never really died but which needed to be claimed by two adults who were now mature and in tune with their inner selves. Ms Burton, as always, writes beautifully, with that realistic touch that puts the reader smack dab in the middle of the story with its nuances, action, and surprises. The plot is not necessarily unique, variants of which have been used by suspense fiction writers for years. But there is something unique about a "bad boy" living right and serving our country in quiet hidden ways that grabs the imagination. In Burton's hands, such a story line blossoms into a beautiful novel.

So grab your leathers and climb on for a wild ride with the Wild Riders. And I know for a fact that all this series will take readers to places they may never have been and give all of us a view of life on the wild side. I give this book a rating of 4.75 out of 5.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Review: Dare to Love by Jaci Burton

Since when is it OK for a parent to determine the spouse of a child and to arrange their adult life? We might be surprised at how often such a thing happens, especially in those social circles in our country thought to be "upper class." We don't like to think there is a class system in the United States, but believe me, there is! And this kind of parental manipulation is often found in families where it is more important to keep the family name going, to keep the family fortune intact and only shared with the chosen few, and to make sure that children don't "disgrace" their socially aware parents.

Such is the basis for this novel by Jaci Burton. A smart, classy, good-looking, sexy and highly successful attorney is caught in just this kind of relationship with her father. She is a partner in their law firm, and her father has her husband all picked out. Funny though, that Lucy Fairchild just simply detested the man her father has chosen. But that doesn't seem to be the entire jist of this story. Burton dares to uncover the true self-interest in this father's machinations and the lengths to which he will go to get what he wants. Is this his way of showing true and authentic father-love to his daughter? That, it seems to me, is the core question behind this story along with the question of whether or not Lucy is willing to allow her dad to decide her future for her.

On the flip side is Jake Dalton, construction boss for a project close to Lucy's office, and who challenges her to a new life experience. Little does she realize that he is a business owner, well-educated, industrious, but wearing a hard hat and work clothes instead of a business suit and tie to work. In many ways this story is a contemporary Pride and Prejudice and pairs these two who have come from different strata of society, but who both have been searching for someone to complete their lives.

This is another well-written Burton story that is built around authentic human experience and which probes some of the relational problems modern people encounter. It also challenges the "class system" that automatically excludes some people from being accepted and welcomed, simply because they didn't attend a particular school, be involved in a particular short list of career choices, or wear clothes that seem acceptable. In other words, they are outside the boundaries set by social snobs. Lucy must expand her understanding of people and come to some kind of crossroads in her life journey where she is open to new experiences and honest about old relationships. As always, there are surprises and some unexpected developments in the story that keep the reader interested and moving forward.

I was quite drawn to Jake and Lucy--both curiously vulnerable in their own way. Both were strong but had not investigated those inner strengths by living "outside the box" of familiar surroundings and people. Now each must open their eyes to not only their own strengths, but the authentic understanding of one another. In which direction will their lives go?

This book has been around for a couple of years, but it is worthy of our interest or even of being re-read if the reader has visited it once already. I think it is as good as anything she has written and will remain on my "favorites" list for some time to come. I give this book a rating of 4.25 out of 5.

Monday, September 20, 2010

There's No Place Like Home . . . Well, Maybe One or Two Other Places . . .

Well, it's home again after a jaunt into out of the way places which are daily wrapped in the balmy breezes of the Trade Winds. We arrived home from Maui late Saturday evening and believe me, Los Angeles International Airport didn't smell nearly as good as those warm breezes at Kahului.

I had to laugh at my daughter--we traveled with her and her hubby--as she went out on the "lanai" or balcony right before breakfast to breathe deeply and marvel at the richness of the landscape all around our time-share resort. When she came back in, she commented: "Just another crappy day in Paradise." We were also amused when one of the airport people asked us if we had a good time during our time in the Islands, and we asked him if anyone ever complained. He had to admit that he had never met anyone who had a negative comment about their time in Maui.

I have to admit that it was just different for me. In past years we had visited and stayed on Kauai and Oahu, for an extended time on one occasion. Both those islands just have their own pace of living and just a unique feeling. Kauai is very laid-back, and it rains for anywhere from 20-30 seconds throughout each day. The island is the wettest place on the planet with 500 inches of rain annually. Oahu is far busier--with three military bases, the famous Diamondhead, Waikiki beach and a larger population. They also have an island-wide bus service which means that we didn't have to rent a car while there. Not the case in Maui. The roads have been improved--even some four-lane roads in some places in Kahului and Lahaina. But it is different in that there are two volcanic mountains--Haleakela and Iao--so that getting anywhere means going around one mountain or the other.

The photo above is the Iao Needle--remnants of the extinct volcano and believed to be a holy site. The Needle was also used by warriors to scope out the approach of enemy invaders. This valley was the place where the king of Maui and his warriors met King Kamehameha for a terrible battle that eventually unified the islands under the one king.

This beautiful shot of Molokini is really a small volcanic crater that is now one of the most popular places for snorkeling. The waters are particularly clear out in the middle of this inlet. Our daughter and her hubby were hoping to do some snorkeling, but hubby broke his shoulder just a few weeks ago and so couldn't really handle the physical stress, even though the shoulder is healing well.

So we drove the Hana Highway--an eight hour trip with more hairpin curves than a beauty shop, and about half-way through the trip I thought: "I am SO ready for this to be over!!" Then the next day we ascended Haleakala volcano and viewed the crater -- nearly 10,000 feet elevation. It was cold and the air was thin. But the view was absolutely breathtaking.

So we return to the grind--going to the office, taking care of grandkids, reading, reading, and more reading, and now lots of reviews to write after being off the computer for a week. Thanks for those of you who stopped by -- hope you all have your "day in Paradise" somewhere in the South Pacific or other wonderful tropical places on our beautiful planet.

Bye, for now . . .

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Taking a Break . . .

Just a few days away, that's all. Just got on a plane a couple of days ago and am now "suffering" in Maui. Beautiful scenery, wonderful weather, and time to relax and unwind. I'll be back in a few more days with some reviews and such. Have my eReader and some print books with me -- we are driving alot and doing the sights, so the reading has to be fit in with the activities. Still, hope all the kids are back in school and getting along well, moms are glad for a few hours of quiet, and the back-to-school and teacher conferences have been OK. Missed Grandparent's Day at my granddaughter's school for the first time in eight or nine years--just too much going on and finally had to admit I couldn't be in two places at once. Go figure . . . Keep your eyes on the prize--making that "To Be Read" pile decreasing.

Be back soon . . .

Friday, September 10, 2010

Review: Lost and Found by Katie Jamieson

Krissa has always been the responsible one. Driven to fulfill her mother's abandoned dreams, to make her husband Derek happy. She has brought that single-minded determination to the one dream she has for herself--a child. Except she and Derek can't conceive, and Derek refuses to consider using a stranger's sperm. The result? Guilt that her desperation is causing their marital rift.

The last thing they need is a long-term house guest, but Derek's best friend Nate, a nomadic phootographer recovering from a career-threatening eye disorder, has nowhere else to go. Nate thought his friends' home would be a temporary haven from the grief that has dogged his heels since his wife died. Instead he is in the middle of a marriage in meltdown. Soon their friendship develops an underlying hum of forbidden sexual tension. When Krissa proposes a wild idea--that Naste be their sperm donor--Derek has an even wilder proposal: bypass the fertility clinic and accept Nat's donation straight from the source.

At first Krissa believes she is on the fast track to having her dream. But it quickly becomes clear that when the heart gets involved, and secrets are revealed, the simplest of arrangements can become entangled beyond belief. . . or repair.

This is another very good novel from Kelly Jamieson and is a contemporary look-see into the workings of an upscale Southern California suburban couple living "the life." With a mansion overlooking the Pacific Ocean near beautiful Santa Barbara (and it really is beautiful there), with successful careers that put both Krissa and Derek into the business fast lane, these two are the envy of many. Yet their marriage is in very real trouble. Their efforts to have a baby--something Krissa doesn't think she can live without and which Derek has a rather ho-hum attitude toward--have put severe strains on their relationship. The efforts toward procreation have cost them intimacy and Krissa's single-minded determination to achieve this greatest of all desires has overshadowed nearly everything in the couple's life.

Krissa is woman who will do whatever it takes to make the people in her life happy--even if it means taking responsibility for their unhappiness. She is giving and vital, creative and hard-working, seeking to be a successful business woman as well as keeping a spotless home and being a great cook. The news that Derek is sterile devastates her. Her grief is made even more upending when she hears from Derek that he will not adopt nor accept a child from an anonymous donor. Now what can Krissa do?

Derek's character seems OK at first, but as the novel progresses, his weakness and self-centered thinking begins to "shine through." He uses almost any excuse to "do his own thing" and while he seems to be honestly in love with his wife, he demonstrates that love only when it is convenient for him. He appears to welcome his best friend from college, yet he really doesn't go out of his way to be very welcoming. That he leaves to Krissa.

Nate is troubled and still reeling from the death of his wife and unborn child two years earlier. Yet there is something "off" in his continuing emotional separation from friends and family. He is only at Krissa & Derek's home because he needs a neutral place to recover from a case of botulism that has affected his eyesight. It is a slow healing and thus Nate is in this home for weeks. Then he is invited to be the "sperm donor" for Krissa & Derek--an awkward situation at best.

Ms Jamieson has dealt with the issues very well here, IMHO. The strains in the marriage are evident almost from the first when Derek finds out he is sterile, leaves the doctor's office, disappears for hours, comes home drunk, smelling of perfume and cigarettes. There is no thought on his part that Krissa is also in emotional pain. Somehow Derek's hurts always take precedence. We are also aware that there is a growing attraction between Nate and Krissa--Nate can see so much that is being "stuffed" down by Krissa as Derek rides rough shod over her dreams, feelings, and efforts to make the marriage work. The story moves along -- there are no dead spots in this telling. From time to time I did get a bit weary with the internal dialogue on the part of a couple of the characters, but I recognize that there are some weighty issues being considered here and thus people are perhaps more introspective than in a light-hearted romance scenario. All the characters have the touch of authenticity and each is unique in their own way. I almost had a feeling that they were iconic--that each was representative of a type of person we probably all know. Thus, this circle of friends and family are truly representative of an entire slice of culture and living.

Ms Jamieson also has built some twists and turns into the story, some of which are truly a surprise. They were the sort where we would usually respond: "OMG, I wasn't prepared for that!" The ending will please most of the readers, but I think the author used creativity in getting the reader through the conflict to the story's conclusion. There are some great love scenes and the threesome that exists for a couple of weeks between Krissa, Nate, & Derek is very erotic. But there are "lows" here, too. Tears, betrayal, disappointment, grieving--all make an appearance.

So this is not your "pie in the sky by and by" kind of love story. There are troubled people seeking some sort of positive direction for their lives. How they manage and whether or not they are successful is the stuff at the core of this story. I can't tell you why--can't put my finger on the specific quality that I liked so well about this book. It just comes together so well and I think the author accomplished what she set out to do. I can't believe there isn't a romance fan "out there" that won't love this novel. I give it a rating of 5 out of 5.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Review: Turn It On by Vivian Arend--Book 1 in the Turner Twins Series

Pushing the sensual limits can set off all kinds of alarms!

Inheriting her grandmother's home is a dream come true for web designer Maxcine Turner. She is looking forward to a little freedom from the constant demands of her beloved, crazy mob of a family. When vandals expose just how vulnerable she is living alone, she seeks help.

Ryan Claymore's well-thought-out-life was wrenched out from under him when responsibility for his special-needs half-brother landed on his shoulders. Going from military man to business man hasn't been easy. He counts himself lucky he has found Maxine to trade his security-system knowledge for her website expertise. The red-hot chemistry that sizzles between them comes from out of the blue, and they both fight a losing battle to resist. Even the secret Ryan hides isn't enough to keep Maxine from working her way into his heart--and his bed.

But something else might tear them apart--whoever seems determined to destroy her home, and her sanity along with it.

Vivian Arend is well-known for her varied and creative subject matter in her literary works but I have read mostly paranormal stories from her. Now we have a contemporary romance/mystery that brings an interesting cast of characters into the mix and makes for a tale that is neither simple or single-layered.

Suffice it to say that Maxine is awash with relatives. Her twin, called Junior, is protective and not very happy that she has decided to move out of his home into her own, much less into an old house that was given her by her grandmother. Actually, the house was given to the family, and no one else wanted it, neither did anyone seem interested in selling it and splitting the profits. Maxine was delighted since this was a house full of memories and family tradition and the last thing she wanted was to see it leave the care and keeping of someone in her family. The acts of vandalism started almost from the moment she decided to renovate and move in. Thankfully, the insurance paid for most of the damage, but the necessity of an alarm system was the reason she and Ryan came into contact initially.

Ryan is a man who has made his way in the world believing that his main career would be the military. Now, after being made aware of a half-brother he did not know existed until recently, he has left his military commission and begun using his communications expertise in a security systems business. He has also not really planned on any kind of long-term relationship. Yes, he has had women in his life, but none seemed to be for more than temporary companionship. Now, he is once again finding that Maxine has piqued his interest and having been without female companionship for quite some time, he begins to fantasize about her ending up in his intimate embrace. Little does he realize that he is entering into a mad and crazy family world that will puzzle and almost overwhelm him. On the other hand, he keeps the presence of his half-brother a secret even from Maxine. What will be her response? Will this cool her interest in him?

Both these people have considerable "speed bumps" in their emotional lives. Ryan is focused on caring for his half-brother--a teenager with the understanding and competency of a 6-year-old--and getting his business off the ground. Is there really time and room in his life for even so pleasant a diversion as Maxine? Maxine, on the other hand, is captive to the wishes and demands of various members of her family. Even having moved into her own home, she still hasn't managed to find the magic word "NO" when presented with projects of activities or additional responsibilities. Because she works at home, her relatives believe that she is always available. Will Ryan accept the demands they make on her, especially when they cut into the time she can spend with him?

This is another fine Arend story with only one flaw that I can see: it is just too short. All her stories are novellas or slightly longer, and I would love to see her sink her writer's teeth into a novel-length tale that will tax and stretch her writing and story-telling abilities. It is full of fun and witticism, sexy encounters and intensity, family interaction and caring, an authentic sense of responsibility while caring for the disabled. It is a story that is fun to read, but the mysterious acts of violence keep the reader perched on the edge of the seat. Not easy to weave these multiple characters, story-lines and all that goes with it into a finished literary tapestry. So I recommend this as a very good story and hope that not only Arend fans will enjoy it, but that it may be an additional joy to those who just love a really, really good love story. I give this book a rating of 4 out of 5.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Review: No Longer Mine by Shiloh Walker

One woman, one man, and a love that won't let either of them go. . .

Born on the wrong side of the tracks and dealt a fair share of hardship, Nikki Kline never gives up a fight. Even when her reason to keep going is ripped from her, Nikki tries desperately to hang on. But when the man who broke Nikki's heart comes back into her life she doesn't know how much she can take. Especially since that man seems determined to win back her damaged heart.

Wade Lightfoot is a man who knows he's made more mistakes than most. As much as he would like to repair the damage he has done to those he loves, Wade also knows there is no going back. But when he sets out to put things right the last thing he is prepared to find out is that he had a son--a son he will never get the chance to meet.

When the truth is out and all the old wounds are bared, it seems impossible that Nikki and Wade will find their way back to each other. But true love is an undeniable force that even past hurts can't destroy.

In her dedication to this re-released story, the author comments:

"This book went out of print sometime in 2005 or 2996. Since it has been out of print I've had a number of readers ask me if I would ever release it again. My initial response was NO--capital letters, italics, bold font and all. It ws my first attempt at a full-length romance. It is not one of my better attempts either. It is rough, the characters are a ittle overdone, and sometimes I don't like either of them very much. But, like many writers' first attempts, it does have a special place in my heart, and part of what makes it special is the story itself. So while I know some of the flaws with this story, I knowI can fix some of them, fixing a lot of them would actually be changing the story."

There is no doubt, after reading this novel, that it is evident that in the succeeding years Ms Walker has honed her writing skills and put a great deal of work into refining her considerable talent. Yet I have to own up to being drawn into this story because it is rough, edgy, with emotions that are raw and in-your-face, and there just isn't much joy here. Yet there is an underlying grit in all these characters, especially Nikki's family, for coming through the hardships of poverty and social avoidance, their father's alcoholism, and her personal disappointments and wounds. Wade has also had to "live with the consequences of his choices" in a daily encounter with the hurts his mistakes have caused, not just to him and to Nikki, but to people who were also as undeserving of hurt and these two people.

There were times while reading this novel that I didn't think the pain would ever end. It was almost like a Greek tragedy: the longer it went on, the worse it got. And perhaps that is why I just kept on reading, because I was convinced that these two really nice people just couldn't end up bearing the brunt of all they had done or endured without some sort of redemptive force brought about by their love for each other. I think those of us who have lost a child--whether through accidents or sickness after birth or miscarriage--understand that there are holes in our hearts which may never be filled. It is a credit to the human spirit that even the deepest hurts can be healed to some degree. And this was my hope, even in these fictional circumstances, that kept me glued to the pages.

Ms Walker has given us a novel that forces readers to deal with the pain in these lives, just as we often have to endure pain in the lives of friends and family members, or even in our own experience. Writing is never easy--it is hard work--and writing about gritty, rough, and uncomfortable circumstances, whether caused by one character or another, takes a kind of literary fortitude. This story never lets up and while the plot is not necessarily inspired--we all have endured the fall-out that mistakes force on us or those we love--it is important that we encounter characters such as these. I know that I have learned much from the important people in my life. But I must admit that good fiction has been as instructive, or perhaps more so, than all the "reality" lessons I have encountered.

So I hope if you have not already done so, you will get a copy of this novel and settle in for some unsettling reading--reading that will hopefully increase the "human quotient" in each of us. I give this novel a rating of 4.75 out of 5.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Word About Labor Day . . .

Labor Day was one of those holidays that as a kid I was always unhappy to see coming. It always meant that the next day we had to go to school. Those days are long gone and yet I remember that we always seemed to fall into a traditional routine because that was the last major holiday of the summer. Picnics with friends or community groups, badminton, soft ball, and bubble-blowing contests (the wads of bubble gum in a child's mouth really could defy description), and watermelon seed spitting contests--all were a part of that special day.

As kids we didn't even bother to think why Congress had set this day as the first Monday in September. Most of us had little knowledge of its importance or couldn't care less about celebrating the productivity of the American worker. Yet that is what we were observing. After I entered the work force, the significance of that day certainly changed. It was the beginning of Fall--even though the autumn solstice wasn't for two or three weeks--, it was the beginning of school, and it was the day we had to put away our summer church shoes (which were white) and start wearing the black patent leather Mary Janes or leather Buster Browns, whatever our mothers were making us wear, whether we liked them or not.

So I trust that even those childhood celebrations and all the fun are past and those years are but faded memories for many, that this Labor Day will be filled with rest, relaxation, good memories, family, friends, community gatherings, church picnics, and sharing the ice cold whatever in the back yard or on the patio, or in the city park pavilion.

Blessings to you all, and God bless the American worker, whatever each of us may do to add to the productivity of our country, our community, and our family. Until next time . . .

Friday, September 3, 2010

Re-Reading Books: Re-visiting Old Friends--Instant Attraction by Jill Shalvis

I am the Queen of the Re-Read!! I love my books and I find that certain of them tend to become like cherished friends. Now don't get me wrong: I read new books all the time and as a speed-reader, I get lots of books read. But in the middle of the night, when the "post-menopausal female" part of my physique starts shouting at me, then I get out my eReader and visit old friends. I keep some already-read books on there just for that purpose.

Instant Attraction is just such a novel. It one of those breezy, sizzling, scenic and engaging love stories for which Jill Shalvis is so well known. It is the novel in a trilogy about the Wilder brothers, three men who now run Wilder Adventures in the High Sierras of Northern California. The youngest, Cameron, is an injured and now out-of-the-running former snowboarding champion--the Olympics, World Champion, etc--and who has really not known how to order his life around anything except this sport which has been the center of his life for as long as he can remember. No glory, no more big money from sponsors, no more groupies--he is now back home after a year of wandering, being completely out of touch with his brothers.
The other main character is Katie Kramer, a survivor of the collapse of the Santa Monica Bridge--the only survivor, and as a response to that trauma she has left Los Angeles in search of adventure. Guess where she ends up? That's right--at Wilder Adventures and ultimately in Cameron's bed. Both are running away--he from his grief over the loss of his sporting career; she over the survivor's guilt that brings the nightmare to her sleep every night since the tragedy.

The setting is beautiful--as one who has often vacationed in the High Sierras, both in the summer and the winter, it is one of my favorite places. The plot is interesting--lots of conflict to move the story along. Of course, there is the initial conflict between Cameron and Katie--both are "temporary" in some respects. The brothers are not sure Cam will stay and it is for sure that Katie is there only to relieve the regular accountant who is on paternity leave. There is conflict between Cameron and his brothers because of his long, silent absence. There is conflict between their Aunt Annie and her estranged husband. The story line moves along nicely and the dialogue is sparkling and witty. The love that slowly begins to manifest itself between Cam and Katie is challenged by their own reluctance to face themselves, let go of the past, and be willing to risk the future. Don't forget the ex-lover, Serena. Wishful, California is a small town and she is a friend of Annie's. You can bet that she knows well that Cam is no longer available to her and she is not a happy camper. She is all set to be the stick in the spokes of Katies wheels.

This is a fun love story and is a very nice example of Shalvis' writing talent and experience. She tells the story well, doesn't over-complicate the plot, and makes the characters unique and interesting. The interplay between the brothers is raw and caring in its own way. This book was written several years ago so some new fans of romance fiction may have missed it. I recommend that if you have not read it, that you consider doing so. If you like Shalvis' writing, I think you will find this a good read. I give this novel a rating of 4 out of 5.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Review: Promises Prevail by Sarah McCarty

This is Book 3 in McCarty's Promises series about citizens of a Wyoming community in the late 1800's. Each is a stand alone book, yet they are all very interrelated as the characters for this book are present in the first two novels.

Clint McKinnely is on a mission to find a wife. He has given up trying to find a "soul mate" kind of wife. Rather, he has now come up with a set of specifications and is seeking the best "candidate" to fulfill those requirements--much as he would in selecting a brood mare for his horse breeding program. He has a curious sense of honor about many things and he deeply respects and admires women. He just hasn't found a love interest and since he has come to the point of wanting to settle down as has his best friend Asa McIntyre and his cousin Cougar McKinnely, he is on a search.

The truth of the matter is that he has wanted Jenna Hennesey for years. He knew she had married a brute in her first husband, and even during the years she was with that first spouse, Clint's reaction to her, every time he saw her, was to quietly and inwardly claim her for himself. Now she is a widow, injured because of the fire that her husband started and from which Clint rescued her. But her leg has never been right since, and even though she is now the owner/operator of the Sweet Tyme Bakery, he worries about her and checks on her regularly--even to the point that he brings his latest "wife candidate" there for breakfast. Clint finds out that a baby has been left on Jenna's doorstep and that she is hiding the little girl. She had so wanted a child of her own for a very long time. She knows down deep that she can't keep the baby, but then, Jenna was always a woman who learned to hold on to hope, even when hope seemed to fail her time and time again. So she and Clint marry, ostensibly to provide the child with a family. In truth, Clint couldn't have been happier.

And so the marriage of Jenna and Clint begins and it will be a journey that is fraught with emotional speed bumps and pot holes. Jenna is a damaged woman because of the abuse her first husband heaped on her as well as giving her to his poker friends to rape in payment for his gambling debts. Clint must find a way to break through and bring joy back into their physical relationship.

Clint is a patient man. He is known and respected as few men are in those parts. Together with his cousin Cougar, he was a U. S. Marshall who had a unique way of literally scaring the truth out of the bad guys. He was not a man anyone chose to tangle with if they were in the wrong. Yet this man cuddled abandoned kittens, talked softly to children, wooed Jenna with bubble baths and soft words, and protected his own with a fierce passion and loyalty.

This is a story of reclaiming a soul, not just a marriage. It is also the story of bringing hope to those who have been abandoned, joy to children who have lost their way, family loyalty that survives the worst challenges, and love that endures the worst that human beings can do to one another. This is perhaps the most emotionally charged novel in the series so far. I loved the first two books and plan to go back and re-read them soon. (I often re-read stories I love several times.) But I have to say that I not only loved this story but I responded emotionally to this book at a far deeper level. Somehow it really got to me.

So I hope that if you have not read this series you will consider doing so. It is American history learned in the best possible way. It is filled with erotic encounters between Clint & Jenna, warm fuzzies and tough love. The novel glows with a growing realization of self-worth that not only Jenna discovers but others who populate this wonderful book as well.

McCarty's writing style seems to be especially evident in the smooth segue from story to story, the historical research that is present without being "academic," the the seamless inclusion of some very hot and erotic scenes that just feel right, and the surprises in the story line that keep the reader interested from page one. It also preserves the integrity of the former stories in that those characters continue to make appearances throughout this book. You have to love Doc and Dorothy as well as the Rev. Swanson, just to name a few. They are all marvelous, inventive characters that expand the story in a very quiet but effective way. A great read and one that will always remain on my favorites list. I give this book a rating of 4.75 out of 5.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Review: The Men of August by Lora Leigh -- NOT for the Faint-hearted!

I haven't been keeping up with this blog for a week or so -- been writing lots of reviews for The Book Binge and reading, reading, reading. Hubby gets a bit grouchy over this -- says that's all I do nowadays. I have to admit that what started out as just a fun hobby as turned into something that I enjoy immensely and have committed a significant time to. As a part of my own reading project, I have encountered a number of great books--favorite authors whose older works are not mentioned much and which I find in the used book store. By reading these I get a feel for an author's earlier work and when I do reviews of their latest releases it is helpful to note how they have grown and expanded as writers or, perhaps, they haven't at all.

Anyway, in the course of my own reading, I found Lora Leigh's Men of August series published by Ellora's Cave. I am doing the entire series here in this blog post because they are so interconnected and while they can stand alone--Leigh is certainly a past master at such work--they are best read in a series.

All the August brothers: Cade, Brock & Sam, had been sent to the ranch of a so-called friend of their father's--to learn new ranching techniques supposedly. In truth, the man was a sexual predator and from the very first day they were there, they were raped, drugged, imprisoned, and made to not only submit to abuse but to abuse one another for the entertainment of this madman. This went on for months and when the brothers returned to their father, they were changed irrevocably--physically, emotionally and psychologically. The love and connection they had as brothers had been damaged and in some way destroyed. Now the only time they felt connected was when they shared a woman.

Book 1, Marly's Choice, is the story of Marly McCall, a young girl that had been brought to the August Ranch when she was 12 years old. She had her adolescent crushes on all the guys but as she reached college age and began her college career, she realized that Cade, the oldest August brother was the man she truly desired. However, she was aware of their unusual sexual preferences--they shared every woman any of the brothers with whom the brothers became involved. She went on a campaign to win Cade's love and yet she knew that this would also mean accepting Brock and Sam into her bed. This is Marly's story, but it is, to a great extent, Cade's story as well. As the oldest brother he had tried to protect them during the horror, but in doing so, he had become full of shame and rage, and that dark part of him is edgy and seemingly insensitive to love and caring. The reader is introduced to the abuse and its results, but not as fully as in subsequent novels in this series.

Book 2 is Sarah's Seduction, the introduction of Sarah Tate into Brock's story. The Prologue details their initial sexual encounter six years earlier, even before their relationship with Marly. But Sarah runs away, knowing about the menage that was expected, and being only 18 years old, she just couldn't handle it. She is totally spooked when she sees Brock's twin, Sam, watching them as they make love. She marries another a week later, and this novel picks up the story of Brock and Sarah just after Sarah's divorce from a man who she never loved and one who spent six years being unfaithful and spending her inheritance.

Brock was the oldest of identical twins. In his conversations with Sarah the reader gets a fuller recitation of the kinds and forms of abuse the brothers survived. She recognizes that she has never stopped loving Brock and that his love for her is a "forever" kind of love, but not only does she realize the menage arrangement was to come if she stays with Brock, but she also must accept that the three brothers will continue their involvement with Marly. Lots to consider for this young woman. Of the three, Brock seems to have made some peace and acceptance of what happened, but in some weird way, they see their sharing as the ultimate act of love expressed toward their brothers as well as insuring that their women will always be surrounded by men who love and treasure them.

Book 3, Heather's Gift, picks up the story that began toward the end of book 2, namely the introduction of Heather James into Sam's life. He of all the brothers was most damaged physically and the description of what was done to him is horrific. Now he has become entranced with Heather, the younger sister of one of the security that has been hired to guard the August Ranch. Because, from Book 1 onward, there is someone who is seeking not only to destroy the August men but to kill their women as well. It is someone who has intimate knowledge of the kinds of physical injury that Sam sustained, because toward the end of Book 2, Heather is drugged, stripped, and physically injured in the identical manner as Sam. It is absolutely heartbreaking. Now Heather has to face her feelings for Sam, but he is so fearful, so angry, so full of shame. Yet he wants Heather in his life. She, too, must accept the strange family relationships of the August brothers. She, too, must decide if she can not only allow herself to enter into a menage relationship, but can she accept that Sam will also, from time to time, be with Sarah and Marly.

The mystery of the stalker is solved ultimately and the ending is a real jaw-dropper. I never saw it coming, and I think I follow crime clues pretty well. Not this time. And with the final chapters comes the full disclosure of what was done to these men and one wonders how they ever came out of that experience alive, able to function and be relatively productive, and be able to find their place in the world.

The final chapter to their story is told in a Christmas story entitled August Heat. Here there is resolution and here the brothers and their spouses begin again. If there is any "happily ever after" it is here. And after slogging through the horror of this series, it is a joy to read this book, complete with some very fun interaction between the sisters-in-law and the brothers.

There are mixed reviews to this series. Some loved that the stories were very, very erotic--HOT, to be truthful. Others were turned off by the repetitive nature of the problems these men faced among themselves as well in their encounters with the women. There are readers that are not open to any form of sexual domination and that is certainly present in these stories as these brothers have not yet worked through the rage and shame. Yet I found that there was never injury or hurt, that there was, in their own very strange way a deep respect for their lovers and a desire to see them treasured.

For readers who do not like menage, this is not for you. And if reading about severe sexual abuse is disturbing, that these books are best left alone. I, for one, do not ever try to back away from facing the fact that such abuse exists in our world and to a far greater degree than most of us want to accept. Lora Leigh has not backed away from it. And these are definitely "in your face" novels. If you read erotic literature, if you can deal with the menage aspect of sexuality, if you can be open and accepting of those who must deal with the fall-out, then you can read these books and perhaps find them instructive and worth the time.
I give this series a rating of 4.75 out of 5.