Sunday, November 28, 2010

Review: All The Right Reasons by Sandy James

In this third novel in the Damaged Heroes series, author Sandy James has given us an emotional and compelling story set in contemporary times and focused on the post-war trauma to a good man who is paying dearly for his willingness to serve his country.

Lucas Mitchell was a solid citizen, one who had been raised in a family that took values and the old-fashioned American work ethic seriously. This horse-breeding family business was the foundation of their livelihood and what the setting in which Lucas learned how to be a real human being. But as is often the case, he wanted to "see the world" and to experience something other than horses. So he enlisted and found himself smack dab in the middle of an armed conflict in Iraq. Along with his best buddy Brad, he waded right into the middle of the fray and as is the case more often than not, their Hummer ran right over a hidden explosive device, causing mortal injury to Brad and severe burns to Lucas as he tried to save his friend. His failure to save his friend's life is the ghost that walks with him now that he is home and the owner of an old fixer-upper Victorian mansion, one that looks just like "the money pit." He bought the property because he felt "drawn" to the house.

Unbeknownst to Lucas, a young Gypsy artist, Joy Kovacs, has also felt drawn to this house that seems to be falling down around itself. She quietly but persistently arrives at the location, remains hidden from Lucas' view, and proceeds to do sketch after sketch of both him and his house. He only discovers her efforts when he sees his house in her sketches and paintings at her booth at the fair. Now he is not only drawn to the house but to the artist as well. So impressed with her work is he that he commissions the portrait of his niece as a birthday gift for his sister-in-law. It also keeps him in touch with Joy.

Like all good stories, there is conflict aplenty but the conflict takes two major forms: 1) Lucas' never-ending struggle with his post-traumatic stress disorder and his overwhelming guilt related to Brad's death; 2) Joy's family--an American-born Gypsy family with strong traditions that stem from their Hungarian roots and which are now binding Joy to an arranged marriage and expectations for ownership in the family restaurant business. Both these strands of difficulty seem intractable and seemingly with no resolution. Joy wants Lucas, pure and simple, and she has absolutely no intention of marrying the man chosen for her by her father. She is an artist and wants to attend art school. She has saved her money and enrolled, only to have to postpone this part of her life repeatedly due to her family's interference. Yet she loves her family and is not sure if she can find a way to successfully move her life according to her own choices rather than theirs. Lucas seems unwilling to face his demons--not unlike many ex-military personnel who struggle with this set of mental and emotional trauma. He, like so many, just think they can deal with it by using sex, drink, drugs, overwork, etc, yet the nightmares and the panic never seem to really go away. But with his growing attraction to Joy and the realization that he is not willing to move forward without her, he has some important life choices facing him.

This novel deals very directly with the ravages of war on those who willingly go into the fray that we are experiencing today as a country. When the shooting is over (and we hope that is soon for everyone's sake), there will still be thousands who must deal with the nightmares, the PTSD, survivor's guilt, and all the physical wounds and deformities that will be constant reminders of that terrible experience. Lucas stands as a metaphor for all these "walking wounded" who continue to suffe long after the fact. Joy is also a very engaging character in that she is symbolic of so many that are seeking to transition into a more contemporary way of ordering one's life, moving away from binding traditions without leaving behind the love and connection of one's family and friends. This novel deals openly with the prejudice that grows out of an adherence to old traditions that are kept for their own sakes, not because they are useful or productive. This family bears the scars of the Holocaust and Joy's father, even though he was American-born, found it impossible to move on from the hurt and decimation of that terrible time. His insistence that the only way their tradition/their family could be preserved was to do as he said left Joy with few options, and in the face of her decision to live according to her needs and dreams flew in the face of her father's fears.

This story is about the reality of a love that can stand being tested by difficulty, old wounds, prejudice, anger, and hostility. It is a story of healing that can and will come about through facing one's fears and angers, accepting forgiveness when it is offered, and recognizing that the future does not need to be held hostage to the past. Powerful lessons that most of us have to learn, that's for sure. I felt this novel was one that reached out and grabbed my heart and didn't let go until the last word was read. The story was very well-written, the characters were real, damaged, flawed, and so believable. The family loyalty which Lucas experienced was powerful and far-reaching in its influence in his life. And Joy's need to believe that their love could survive is one of the best parts of the story.

I recommend this novel for lovers of contemporary romance as it is a full-length novel and thus has sufficient length to insure that the characters and the story are well-developed and fleshed out. It was a very, very good read and one that will be on my "favorites" and to-be-re-read lists. I give this novel a rating of 5 out of 5.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Review: Murder in Plain Sight by Marta Perry

Marta Perry, author of more than 35 books, has once again set this murder/suspense tale in the context of the Amish culture as it clashes with the outside world.

Few Americans really know much about the Amish culture or the philosophy behind it. Originating in Germany and East Europe, the Amish are a people who are non-violent, guided by their religious beliefs as stated in their guidebook know as the Ordnung and who have chosen to preserve their way of living in a separatist setting. Without the so-called modern conveniences of the 21st century, they embrace the values of family and friendship as they draw their life from the land and are supported and strengthened by their faith. Membership in the Church comes only in adulthood after a time known as Rumspringa, a period during which teens are free to explore friendships, employment, and even living in the outside world among non-Amish folk called the "English." When one of these young people determines that the Amish life is what they choose, they return fully, are baptized into the Church, and become a permanent member of the community.

This novel tells the story of an Amish teen who is in the midst of his Rumspringa and who is found unconscious right next to the dead body of an "English" girl, holding the weapon that killed her. He is charged with her murder, placed in prison to await trial--a world that is totally foreign to him and against which he has no protection. He is truly like a lamb being led to the slaughter. An elderly local attorney has taken over his defense, but he feels completely unprepared to try the case. Mrs Geneva Morgan, matriarch of a local family that is prominent and whose businesses employ a large number of the citizenry, calls in an attorney from a New York law firm in the hopes that someone from outside the area can better find the real killer.

Jessica Langdon is relatively new as a member of a private law firm having begun her law career as an assistant district attorney. Her firm wants her to get a plea agreement and close the case quickly. But Jessica doesn't feel that is the right thing to do, especially after meeting the accused and meeting his family. She is also introduced to Mrs. Morgan's son, Trey, the actual CEO of the Morgan Family holdings. He is reserved, overbearing, sometimes friendly and sometimes not, convinced of Thomas' guilt, and resentful that his mother is making such a fuss and getting involved with what is turning out to be a very controversial case.

This is a wonderful look-see into the Amish culture and how it clashes with the "English" world. It is a story that is full of friendship and caring, and the developing attraction between Jessica and Trey is central to the book. It is also about Jessica's own journey toward professional maturity as she must make some decisions that could well put her relationship with her father in danger.

Marta Perry writes out of her own experience and exposure to the Amish culture as a life-long resident of Pennsylvania. She writes with respect and admiration for the strength of their connections to one another, their values and the positive influences they bring to any community in which they interact. She has created a novel that is one more of her "keep-the-reader-on-the-edge-of-the-chair" stories, with twists and turns and surprises all throughout the narrative. Probably a seasoned mystery reader will find the resolution to the tale more easily, but this is still a great book and holds the reader's interest from start to finish. While Jessica and Trey's love story is central to the tale, this is not erotic romance but gentle and winsome. It is truly a delightful book.

So I recommend it to all who enjoy contemporary romance and who enjoy discovering ways of living that are out of the ordinary. I give this novel a rating of 4 out of 5.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Give Thanks With A Grateful Heart . . .

Contrary to popular perception, we have "Fall" here in Southern California. It does get cold here, especially in the High Desert, and the trees put on a colorful display. Admittedly it isn't the roaring extravagance of the Sugar Maples of the East, but we are delighted when the cold weather makes an appearance and the Summer has gone away.

Now it is Thanksgiving Day once again--my most favorite American holiday. Perhaps it is because I am a recovering compulsive overeater, and the prospect of all the traditional fare makes my heart beat just a little bit faster. Or perhaps it is about the getting together of our family--an extended family, to be sure, but family nevertheless. It is a time when we re-connect and take the time to acknowledge that we are all important to one another. It is the day that almost forces us to stop and give thanks in a very particular way.

Each Thanksgiving Day we have a short service at our church and one of the traditional components is that each person lists something for which they are truly thankful. Without exception it is for special friends and for family--whether biological or not is unimportant. Those that function as "family" are the people who love us no matter what we say or do, who have patience in letting us be ourselves, who encourage with their words and actions, who give unconditional, non-judgmental love. It isn't always easy to be that kind of family person. We all want to hold one another to a standard, and perhaps that is a part of tough love, too. But most of all, I have learned that each person in my "family" is one who makes me a better person by forcing me to care about them for themselves and not because they conform to my ideas of who they need to be.

So here's to all of us . . . friends, family, book-lovers all, whether American or International, how ever you spend the 25th of November 2010, may your heart be filled with gratitude for blessings of many kinds and varieties. And for those of us who love to eat, have a great time on Thanksgiving Day, and savor those left-overs. Until next time . . .

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Review: A Wicked Wolf by Brenda Williamson

Brenda Williamson's name has popped up often at the ebook online bookseller I visit but I must own up to not having read any of her work previously. She has a fine portfolio of literary achievement and has held her own among the bevy of romance writers who are producing some fine romance fiction for today's readers. So I was excited about reading this novel. I must also admit that until about a year ago I had not read paranormal anything and wasn't particularly interested in doing so. That is no longer the case and I have become a serious fan of paranormal romance. I was not disappointed with this story.

Randi Brown was your quintessential real estate agent, good looking, aggressive, driven--not by personal ambition particularly, but by the need to support her two siblings since the death of their parents. Her boss wants her to get a reclusive billionaire to sell some of his land on Wolfe Mountain, properties that are dream acreage for potential developers. Unfortunately, Mr. Wolfe has repeatedly declared that none of his property is for sale, and unfortunately, Randi attempted to contact him in the middle of a terrifying rain storm. Following a slide into a ditch--an accident that rendered her car unusable, she encounters an individual that allows her to believe he is caretaker for Mr Wolfe's mountain residence. He tells her his name is "Jr" which is not a lie--his name is Nicolas Wolfe, Jr. She is also unaware that he is a werewolf and that he is overwhelmed with her scent--the scent of his mate. He tries very hard to resist her as she is a human. Doesn't work, not even, no way. It doesn't help that she has had a long relational dry spell and his good looks and masculinity are like a blow to her stomach. He scents her attraction and they are both down for the count.

This is a very erotic story and goes back and forth between "J.R.'s" inability to resist her, their mutual determination to resist one another that keeps falling by the wayside, his reluctance to tell her anything about himself and his prevarication regarding "Mr. Wolfe." Randi's car is inoperable so she is stranded several days by the storm. She is puzzled by the occasional appearance of wolves at the edge of the property, and she is perplexed that J. R. keeps insisting that she must remain within the boundaries of house and yard. She is a bit distressed that in the heat of passion he had bitten her. Little does she realize what the long-term ramifications of that marking will be. And overshadowing all this is the occasional surfacing of a mystery involving the death of his first wife, the appearance of his attorney and that man's negative reaction to Randi's presence, a chance meeting with an "old man" when she is out for a walk which brings warning to her that make her very uneasy.

This is a story about trust, about caring for those who need protection from a society that will assuredly misunderstand and persecute, about the right of someone to preserve one's own surroundings for the greater good, and about the power of love and kindness and trust to overcome fear, greed, and death. Ms Williamson has written a story that is full of hot loving, gentle caring, a friendship that grows quietly but persistently, and a journey of discovery for Randi about herself and her abilities to move beyond her comfort zones. Nick (J.R.) must also find a way to move out of the confines of his carefully orchestrated lifestyle, his self-imposed prison of aloneness and silence. He and Randi both must find ways to resolve the tension between what others do not accept or believe, and their love that can bridge both the world of humans and those who don't fit well into the human context.

I liked this story a lot. It was entertaining and very romantic, well-written with a story line that reflected a good plot. The resolution to the mistaken identity, Randi's need to make an adequate living for her family, the mystery of the death of the Mrs. Wolfe, and the impasse between J. R. and Randi was surprising and well-done. This tale will be a worthy way to spend some reading time and will be a stroke for the libido as well. I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.

This novel was released by Red Sage Publishing on 01 November 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Review: Sunrise Over Texas by MJ Frederick

It is somewhat of an on-going surprise that I have come to really like historical fiction set in the Old West, a context that failed to interest me for many years. Now I find that these stories hold my attention to a far greater extent that I would have ever thought possible. This book is certainly not an exception. It is, in fact, quite an unusual tale and one that should be well-received by lovers of historical fiction based on the American West, especially the development of Texas as a state.

In many ways this is not an unusual scenario in the Texas frontier time of 1826: a family comes West to find land and a place to call their own. Circumstances develop which takes the husband and father away from the homestead. Word comes back that he has been killed in an Indian attack. Now Kit Barclay, her toddler son, her mother-in-law and her husband's sister are alone and completely on their own. Having taken refuge at a U. S. Army Cavalry outpost, they are left, for all intent and purpose, to live or die on their own, not knowing if they can survive the coming winter, or resist possible Indian attack on the fort. The soldiers left to assist them are dead along with Kit's toddler son, felled by the onslaught of a killer fever. Only these three women remain and are within weeks of starvation, with no hope of rescue in sight.

A lone horseman is sighted, slowly making his way toward the fort. Is he friend or foe? As he comes closer it appears he is slumped in his saddle, possibly dead. Trace Watson is barely alive, and is suffering from that same fever that took her son's life. Should she offer help to the handsome stranger at the possible cost to their lives and their resources? It appears that she decides that she must aid him, and nurses him back to health. But this is only the beginning of their journey together and not necessarily any guarantee that their "happily ever after" is anywhere in sight.

This story is full of energy and emotion, characters that are wonderfully human, and a family dynamic that is not always a happy one. Kit is a strong and determined woman who has put the welfare of her remaining family before her own health and well-being. She is plagued by a mother-in-law who is determined to keep Kit mourning her dead husband for the remainder of her natural life. Her husband's mother is never far from a complaining tirade--the food, their location so far from her home in New Orleans, Kit's decisions which are always questioned, and ultimately her attraction to the stranger that has literally dropped at their gate. Her mother-in-law's barbed words wound her less and less as she finds warmth and acceptance in Trace's embrace. Their affair bring ease to her sense of abandonment, but cannot erase the sadness and sense of loss from the deaths of her husband and son. Even though they must make one last attempt to reach civilization in order to survive, leaving behind her son's grave is the hardest thing Kit has ever done.

This is not a simple tale of boy meets girl. It is full of the drama of survival, the discovery of a new love, and the complications when that love must deal with reality. The emotional baggage of the past is ever present with both Trace and Kit as it is with all of us. This story never gets easy. It moves from scene to scene that are filled with the tension of surviving hunger and possible violent death, from crisis to crisis, from joy to hurt and back again. There are developments in Trace and Kit's story that are mind-bobbling, and which caused me to wonder if these two were ever going to be able to find resolution together. The context takes the reader from the wide open wilderness of Texas to the upper eschelon of New Orleans society. And in the midst of all this is a tender and fragile love that may or may not survive.

I have not ever read any writing by MJ Frederick, but I am impressed with the scope of this novel and how well-written it it. The plot is well crafted and the story line moves forward without dead spots or delays. The characters are real, so very believable and remind me of people I have known--people who may be living in contemporary times but who have to deal with some of the same emotions and family dynamics. The author has made the tale even more compelling with the unexpected twists and turns which take the reader in directions for which there were no clues. Several were real jaw-droppers for me. There was the quality of a Greek tragedy which is only relieved by the persistent awareness that Trace and Kit's connection seemed so enduring.

This is a feast for the love of historical romantic fiction that embraces American history. I found it vastly entertaining. I read it from start to finish in one sitting. I highly recommend it and feel it is a worthy additon to this genre. I give this book a rating of 4 out of 5.

This novel was released by Carina Press on 06 September 2010.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Review: In the Arms of Danger by Jaydyn Chelcee

Danger Blackstone--that is, Sheriff Danger Blackstone was the law in this town, a compact little community in Montana, a town that had seen vandalism and the disappearance of women over the past months. Now, in the middle of the night, Ms Lacey Weston had been caught sneaking amid the shadows, and she is now under arrest. The sheriff is taking no chances.v>

Lacey Weston is a photo journalist who has come to Montana to do a series on the Western United States. But she has seen far more than she planned--namely, the murder of a young woman, a person who she watched being tortured and finally whose life was snuffed out before her eyes. She managed to run, and run she did, for miles and miles it seemed, until she landed in Sheriff Blackstone's jail. She didn't stay there long, however. Through a series of somewhat comical events, Ms Weston found herself free and in possession of the sheriff's SUV keys, and the sheriff was sitting in her cell in his undies. Little did she know that the gas tank was almost empty with a major storm on the horizon, a storm that ultimately put her life in real danger.

This is a complicated novel that involves the hang-ups of two people: 1) a sheriff that is competent and effective as a lawman, but who has hang-ups about his mixed racial heritage. You can easily make out the shape of the chip on his shoulder. Yet he has a heart that is as big as the state of Montana, and even though Lacey Weston has humiliated him and is on the run, he knows her life is in jeopardy and he is obligated to find her before she dies. 2) A photo-journalist who is still trying to break through the professional "glass ceiling," who is tired of being put down because of her gender, who bristles at the dismissive way the sheriff has handled her report of the "supposed" murder, and who believes that her life is in danger, more from the murderer than from the coming storm.

The early encounter between these two is protracted to the point that it was a bit wearisome for me--I just felt it could have been shorter and just as effective. Yet it was humorous and I had to chuckle a number of times. There was no getting around their attraction to one another, but the sexual tension between them was frequently neutralized by Lacey's arrogance and Danger's penchant for treating her like an empty-headed female. Their adventure gets even more involved as Danger must rescue her from roaring flood waters, must find a way to get them both out of the Montana wilderness safely, while knowing they were being tracked by the murderer.

There's lots to like in this novel although I think the action is spotty sometimes. That is not to say that it isn't interesting. Both main characters are strong and vibrant, their feelings about themselves sometimes getting in the way more than they should, but they come to some kind of alliance necessary to combat their dangerous situation. Both Lacey and Danger have to move out of their emotional comfort zones to begin understanding one another, especially Danger who has a very skewed opinion of women and whose not-very-well-hidden complex about his mixed heritage keeps surfacing. Behind the scenes is the rather endearing context of Danger's ancient grandparents, both of whom are probably on the edge mentally, and yet the reader is not really able to discern if this is approaching dementia or really two very wise and savvy Native American shamans who know far more about life and the future than most people are comfortable with.

This is the first of Ms Chelcee's novels I have read, but I am looking forward to reading the next in this series. I give the novel a 3.75 out of 5 rating.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Review: Running in Fear--Abandoned by Trinity Blacio

Jaycee's story began in Running in Fear--Escaped which was released some months ago. I read and reviewed that book for The Book Binge and was disappointed that I had to wait for Part II of the tale. I have to say that I feel it was worth the wait. I am glad to finally have the rest of the story.

Jaycee was a young woman who had been tortured and abused for much of her growing-up years. She was a shape-shifter with unusual powers, many of which were unrealized and/or undeveloped. She had been molested as a youngster, she had hidden what she was for many years because she was considered to be a shame to her mother, but in spite of all that Jaycee had run from that world and finally found her way into a pack. She was looking for connections that were supportive, love and caring, and hopefully a mate and children in the future. She found the mate(s)--four men who claimed that she was their destined mate. Remi and Dane were alphas of their respective packs and by mating with Jaycee were combining their packs. Pierre was Remi's brother and Mark was a beta wolf. Yet she loved them all. Her great grief, the grieving present when this Part II opens is Pierre's death. Yet he continues to be present in Jaycee's consciousness as her spirit guide.

Now Jaycee is hoping and trusting that Remi, Dane, and Mark will finally bring her life into a new phase, one where she is cherished and given her rightful place as pack Alpha-fem. It would appear that in spite of the love these men have for her, they are really clueless about how to care for and protect her. Time and time again their priorities seem skewed; time and time again their promises are broken, are unfulfilled. No matter what Jaycee shares with them of herself, no matter how fully she is willing to commit to their relationship, they seem unable or unwilling to make that same level of commitment to her.

Jaycee may come across as an immature individual, whining and demanding. Yet when one considers the abuse and distrust with which she was raised, the fact that was kidnapped and almost raped several times but her pack's enemies and by those wanting to rob her of her "gifts," I saw her as a woman so hungry for the esteem and commitment of the men who claimed she was necessary and irreplaceable in their lives, and when they consistently put others before her, when their disregard for her feelings and needs involved them in some acts that were mind-boggling in their capacity to hurt, I didn't find her responses out of proportion at all. Some of the things they said and did made my jay drop! I'm not sure I would have been nearly so controlled in my responses in a similar situation. At what point to promises cease to be believable? At what point do assurances of love no longer ring true? That is the low point in this story.

This is a paranormal romance that has the capacity of great joy but which is squelched by selfishness and disregard. There is no doubt that Remi, Dane, and Mark love her. But they are unworthy of her, of her willingness to commit to them in spite of their disrespect and disregard. There are surprises here and an ending that I don't think most readers will see coming. Jaycee's story, even though it embraces shifters and the like, is metaphorical of how so many relationships go to "hell in a hand basket" because of the immaturity and lack of commitment by one of the parties. That so many relationships survive in spite of is in and of itself a wonder.

So I encourage those who read the first novel in this duo to be sure to read this one as well. And if you have not read Running in Fear--Escaped, I recommend that to you as well. I give this novel a rating of 4 out of 5.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Review: Passionate Heat by Rachel Kenley

Miles Anderson couldn't get away from his hometown fast enough. He and his brothers were considered "losers" and his dad, seemingly always drunk, did little to encourage a different perception. The military opened doors for him and he was delighted to walk through them. There he became an arson and explosions expert and for nearly a decade was one of their best. Just one time he returned to Glenway--only to attend Jilian's high school graduation. She was the love of his life and he would never do anything to disappoint her. Their night of celebration took their love to another level--the first time for them both.

But that was the last time in ten years that Jilian heard from Miles. He literally dropped out of her life. He was from one of the town's worst families. She was the daughter of a man whose businesses employed the majority of the town's citizens. No way was his daughter going to hook up with one of the Anderson boys. Needless to say, Miles' letters never got to Jilian and she turned to others in her grief over the loss. That didn't turn out so well either.

Now Miles is back--having come out of the Army into a civilian arson investigator job. He has been invited back by his mentor/father-figure to investigate three fires that just seem to be too strange. That town had one fire a year. There have been three fires in as many months. Miles would never return if it weren't this particular friend who is asking him for help. He returns to find that his brother had renovated the old family house and he encounters Jilian when going into the local gym, looking for a physical therapist to continue his recovery from injuries that have kept him off the job for eight months. It is not surprising that he received a very cool reception, but as they work together as therapist and patient, their old feelings surface and both realize that their attraction has never waned.

All is not well in Glenway. Jilian's father is more than upset to see Miles' return. Her ex-husband is determined to get her back, if only to secure himself in his father-in-law's will. A long-time friend may not end up being the friend she thought. Yet, this return has surprised Miles on several levels. Perhaps it is possible to come home again and maybe, just maybe there are second chances to be had.

This is a novel of considerable depth and many layers. There is, of course, the romance and it is a tender reunion between these long-lost lovers. There are also swirls of emotion, much that is not so good, underlying their love story. There is friendship and loyalty that spans many years, regard and respect that time cannot diminish, and greed, anger, envy, and betrayal that seek to work their evil. Ms Kenley is an author that has written a number of romance tales of varying length but her work is new to me. I must admit that after reading this story I am looking forward to getting a copy of the next in this series. Those Anderson boys sound like their stories would make good reading. So why not look into this novel? Hunky firefighters are great heros and this one is a worthy example of that. I give this novel a rating of 4 out of 5.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What's In The Ole Book Bag This Week?

For a number of weeks I have been reading up a storm and trying to get caught up with assignments given me by the Ladies of The Book Binge, primarily novellas, short stories, and novels from Ellora's Cave. There was quite a backlog, but I think we've all of us managed to catch up pretty well. In addition, there are pre-publication galley's and copies to read and review, and so that has taken up quite a bit of time. There are still books that need to be read for review, not only for The Book Binge but for this blog as well. So I am seeking to move through the piles--and I do mean piles--of "to be read" books. Could you believe, I went to a blogger get-together this past Saturday and brought home some MORE books. My hubby nearly had a fit. So I spent yesterday cleaning off some shelves in the Day Room--old VHS copies of some of our favorite films--just so I could decrease the piles of books in our bedroom. At least we can get to the bathroom in the middle of the night with fewer collisions.

So here are some of the books I have on the reading horizon--at least for the next week or so:

Veil of Shadows by Shiloh Walker--this is at the top since she is one of my favorite writers
Cheat the Grave by Vicki Patterson
Whisper Kiss by Deborah Cooke
My Way to Hell by Dakota Cassidy
The Jewel of St. Petersburg by Kate Furnivall
Bedeviled Angel by Annette Blair
Dreamveil by Lynn Viehl
Siren's Call by Devyn Quinn

In addition, I am reading some ebooks that are personal purchases--I regularly visit several romance ebook sellers and find lots there to like, even though my budget can't manage all I would like to have--as if I don't have enough to read.

So, keep those book bags open and full, getting the best that you can, squeezing out some reading time everyday, and don't let those really good books get past you.

Until next time . . .

Monday, November 8, 2010

Review: Sazerac Seduction by Eden Elgabri

He was Remy Allemande, a tall, good-looking, totally built attorney at one of the lawyer's tables in the court. She was Cynthia Leblanc, a statuesque, blond, beautiful attorney committed to closing Crawdaddy's, a local restaurant known for its world-class gumbo, attached to a bordello that was seldom matched anywhere. Some men saved up all year for a night at Crawdaddy's. Cynthia needed to go there undercover, to investigate, she said. What she really wanted was to find her sister who had disappeared. She approached the handsome local standing by his Bayou piroque, asking for the water taxi. It was already gone. The stranger offered to take her, but somehow they ended up at his trapper's cabin, supposedly to "check his traps." In truth, Remy had been instructed by his client--Crawdaddy's -- to keep Cynthia under wraps until the court case could be dismissed.

The seduction began with gumbo and sexy talk and was furthered by round after round of sazerac, a Bayou concoction guaranteed to keep one in a pleasant state of haze. And when all was said and done, Cynthia had the erotic night of her life, a night that came close to fulfilling all her fantasies. In the morning, she still needed to find her sister.

This is an all-out erotic love tale full of sizzle and packed to the brim with erotic encounters between these two individuals. There are the edgy suspence aspects, leaving the reader to wonder just what is going on with her sister, what is really going on with Crawdaddy's, will the court case be derailed, will these two recognize one another, can Cynthia manage to investigate Crawdaddy's without blowing her cover--in a bordello, of all places? This little story is built around sazerac, that incredible and flavorful beverage unique to the Bayou and packing a high-proof punch, playing a significant role in the encounters between Remy and Cynthia. It is not well-known anywhere else in the world, and I think it stands as a metaphor for the unique flavor of the Bayou and the somewhat mysterious nature of life in that curious part of America.

Readers of erotic romance will certainly find lots to like in this short story. The author has demonstrated a sure hand in telling this compelling story in a small number of pages. That is never easy to do. This is the first work by this author that I have read and I was impressed with the flow of the narrative, the plot and storyline, the development of the characters so adequately, the evidence of solid research and the author's command of the local lingo. All in all, it is a very good story and all the strands of the tale come together in a somwhat surprising conclusion. The twists and turns in the storyline keep the reader's interest engaged from start to finish. The educational quality is balanced with the entertainment factor, and the reader will certainly find strokes for the libido. I have to be honest in saying that short stories have never been my favorite literary form; I would have liked this tale to be longer. The meeting with Remy and Cynthia was far too brief. I give this short story a 4 out of 5.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Author Spotlight: Hope Tarr

A lifelong romance reader, Hope Tarr dreamt of being a writer ever since she first touched the bright orange keys of her Fisher Price typewriter. That dream has weathered a master's degree in psychology and a Ph.D. in education, as well as a seven-year stint as a research consultant in Washington, D.C. One day in 1993 after writing one too many technical reports, she sat herself down to face the cold, hard truth: she didn't want to analyze people or teach them. What she wanted was to write about them!

Setting is an important aspect of Hope's books. It's A Wonderfully Sexy Life (Harlequin Blaze, December 2006), Hope's Blaze debut, takes place in her native Baltimore, Maryland, home to steamed hard-shell crabs, neighborhood enclaves like Little Italy and Highland Town, and wonderfully quirky characters who hail strangers and friends alike as "Hey, hon."

For more than five years Hope lived in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and the downtown historic district served as the setting for her paranormal romance, The Haunting. Hope's heroine, Dr. Maggie Holliday, just happens to buy a historic house that looks a heck of a lot like her creator's former turn-of-the-century Victorian.

A second-chance-at-love story set in New York City and Belize, Every Breath You Take is the first book to be written from Hope's new home: Manhattan. In the style of Candace Bushnell's Sex and the City, the novel offers a rich panorama of Hope's favorite spots—Union Square, The Strand bookstore, The Roosevelt Hotel and Sardi's.

Hope adores chatting with readers. She is a frequent guest blogger on romance-fiction forums, maintains an active presence on social networking sites such as Facebook and posts regularly to her author blog at, where she also runs monthly and special contests.

The reviews of two of Hope's re-released novels from Carina Press follow this spotlight. Please take the time to look them over. They are both excellent historical romances that are really good reads.

Review: A Rogue's Pleasure by Hope Tarr

This is a novel that was first published in 2000 and has now been re-released by Carina Press. It is a delightful historical that deserves a new audience and which is a wonderful addition to the historical romance genre.

Chelsea's brother has been kidnapped on his way to the European continent, preparing to enter the Napoleonic War. He has lived "high on the hog" in his first years as a young adult and he has managed to begger the family, emptying the family coffers at an alarming rate. Chelsea has used the last of the family's resources to purchase his commission, and is now devastated to learn that she has nothing to meet the ransom demand. What she also does not know is that the entire fiasco has been arranged in order to put her in desperate straits--so desperate that she will sell herself, body and soul, to the perpetrator.

Along comes Lord Anthony, a man destined to marry and who is traveling with his fiance and her mother. He is bored to tears, knowing he has no alternative for the sake of his title to produce an heir, and accepting the fact that an arranged, loveless marriage is the norm. His bride is certainly not hard on the eyes, but she has no desire to be a true wife to him, other than meeting her wifely obligation to produce a child. His advances are met with shock and a determination to avoid physical interaction unless absolutely necessary--after the wedding. It is during this boring journey that the passengers hear the report of a pistol--"stand and deliver"-- and are robbed of their belonging, jewels, etc. The two highwaymen are obviously not of the same generation, and Lord Anthony suspects that one of them is a woman. He is quite right--he has discerned Chelsea's descent into crime in order to obtain the funds she needs for her brother's ransom.

This is a complicated story that includes the rather jumbled relationship of Lord Anthony with his fiance while he battles his attraction to Chelsea. He must keep his suspicions about her criminal activity quiet--he wants her in the worst way--while putting up with her resistance to his advances. He knows the date for his wedding approaches but he is busy working very hard to find her brother so that she can escape having to pay the ransom. There are lots of twists and turns here, and the impasse between the fiance he doesn't want and the woman he does want is resolved in a very surprising way. I was certainly not prepared for that particular solution.

I found this novel to be a very enjoyable read, one that was an engaging journey into the world of Regency England, and which satisfied my love of historical romance. The characters were fun and very real, complicated, flawed, full of normal emotions and the feelings we all must bear. It is a novel that celebrates family loyalty, the strength of true friendship, and the worth of one's own values. It is about good and evil and the struggle to act within one's own moral code. Lovers of historical romance will find this a very good read and one that educates the mind as it entertains. Ms Tarr demonstrates excellent writing skill as she builds this story on good historical research. I felt it was well worth the time investment. I give this novel a rating of 4 out of 5.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Review: My Lord Jack by Hope Tarr

This novel was originally released in 2000 has now been re-released by Carina Press in July, 2010. Set in the late 1700's in Scotland near Selkirk, it tells the story of two troubled people--one trying to escape from the guillotine of the French Revolution and the other trying to escape his past. One is a beautiful courtesan masquerading as a country maiden, the other a brawny and caring Scotsman now making his living as the local executioner. Surrounded by a cast of colorful characters and coming right out of the pages of the history book, this novel embraces the best and the worst in human relationships.

Jack Campbell, a quiet, reserved, keeping-to-himself kind of man, is now the local executioner. He lives alone as he has taken a vow of celebacy, vowing never to bring a child into the world as he was, believing himself to be destined to live his life alone. He has surrounded himself with animal friends, his books, a small circle of friends, and the comfort of a closely guarded, regulated life. He is well-known for his fair spirit and his quiet good judgment. He is respected in the village where he was brought as a child and where he lived with his mother and stepfather and half-brother. It was also here that his mother was murdered, and where his half-brother still lives. There has been "bad blood" between them since they were children. They haven't spoken one word to each other for ten years.

Into Jack's quiet life comes Claudia, a frenchwoman running from the French Revolutioners. She finds herself in this part of Scotland because she is the illegitimate daughter of a Scottish aristocrat and she is trying to reach sactuary there. Her money and personal belongings are stolen, she is assaulted and injured in a pub, and before you know it, Jack Campbell is breaking up the attck and finding car for her wounds. In panic Claudia continues to try to reach her destination with her father, even going so far as to steal (borrow) a horse for which she is hauled before the magistrate and given the death sentence. (From the frying pan into the fire, it would seem.) Several in the village speak up for her and her sentence is commuted--she is now Jack's prisoner for six months. If she attempts to escape, her death sentence will again apply.

This is not a simple story--lots of characters, several story strands which do eventually come together but which are woven throughout the fabric of the novel, and twists and turns that keep the interest level high and the action surprising at times. Since this is a historical romance novel, it is no surprise that Claudia and Jack fall in love. That is not the happy ending. Their story just keeps on getting more and more complicated, almost like a Greek tragedy. Just when the reader thinks they can move on to something positive, there is another incident that threatens their future together. Through Jack's conflict with his half-brother, the reader can discern the anger and hurt that grows and deepens into hatred over time--his obsessive hatred of Jack drives him to violence and crime. On the other hand the reader encounters friendship and generosity in Jack's open acceptance of Claudia and the innkeeper's willingness to give her a chance to better her situation. Claudia's father is a rogue and a blackhearted opportunist, but even there Jack's giving nature and his inner strength prevail. This novel is an insightful study of human nature, of the culture of the times, and the true nature of evil.

Ms Tarr has an impressive educational background and some fine writing accomplishments to her credit. She has done well in this book as the storyline and character development reveal a talent that has been honed through experience. Obviously romance fans are looking for good reading entertainment and they will find that here. But it is also a novel that educates as it entertains by opening up a chapter in Scottish history that makes for good storytelling and good reading. I give this book a 3.75 out of 5.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Review: Ten Ways To Be Adored When Landing A Lord by Sara McLean

It is a well-known fact that during the 18th and 19th centuries in Western Europe, and specifically England, there were few havens for beleagured, troubled, abused, wounded, and homeless women. The class lines were tightly drawn and even aristocratic women were at a loss to find a place of refuge when financially destitute, abused, raped, or had become pregnant through foolish liasons with unprincipled men. However, from time to time, "underground" locations were available, existing in fear of legal or personal retribution. Minerva House which is the context/setting for this novel, was just such a place.

Lady Isobel was an aristocrat, the daughter of an earl who had left the family estate six years ago and who had systematically gambled away the assets of the estate with his profligate living in London. Now her father is dead and her 10-year-old brother is the earl. She presides over a household that is not only rare in its purpose but unusual in its staffing--all the servants are female. They masquerade as male footmen, butler, and stable master working with the chamber maids and cook, all of whom are refugee/residents of this place. But all are women who have come to Lady Isobel for hiding from family, stalkers, abusers, or from society in general. The latest of these women is the sister of one of the most powerful peers in England and Lord Nicolas St. John has, as a friend and expert tracker during the Napoleonic Wars and finder of missing persons, has been enlisted by the Duke to find his sister.
Knowing that she has nothing to support these women or any who may come in the future, she seeks to sell her collection of rare Grecian marbles--statues and busts of Greek mythological personages. As it turns out, Lord Nicolas is not only an expert tracker but he is also an expert in antiquities and Lady Isobel engages him to appraise the statuary and find a buyer. That may be all well and good, but just by being in the house Lady Isobel knows that her secret haven for women is at risk. She risks her own safety and those under her protection as well as risking her own personal emotional involvement with Lord Nicolas to whom she is greatly attracted, recognizing that the attraction is mutual.

This is the romance of two individuals who are hiding--Lady Isobel from a society she views as uncaring about women and children, hiding from men who she has come to believe pursue women for their own pleasure and then throw them away. He own father had repeatedly "sold" her as a prospective bride to gambling buddies in lieu of payment of his losses. Likewise, Lord Nicolas began his career as a tracker when he was old enough to leave home and to search for his mother who had just up and left him and his brother and their grieving father. He used his mobile living habits as an excuse for hiding from permanence, from lasting relationships--after all, his mother had abandoned him by leaving, and his father had "left" him and his brother when he retreated into himself. Loving someone simply meant that they would leave and he didn't need anymore of that. Both these fine people lived in a kind of pervading fear--a fear that insulated them from any kind of romantic involvement of a permanent nature.

This novel deals with some important issues which involved the place of women in that society, how they were valued (little beyond their beauty, money, child-bearing abilities, or servitude capacities), and how they could be curbed and corraled in order to "fit in" to a social set of rules and regs, while leaving men to do pretty much as they pleased. But it also deals with the deep hurts and their consequences when parents and spouses abandon those for whom they have a responsibility, little caring that hearts will be broken, spirits injured--sometimes so deeply they cannot ever heal--children traumatized, and future relationships impacted negatively. Some of the characters in this novel were given a second chance and they took it. Sometimes people can find ways of picking up the pieces of their lives, but in those days there were few helps for women especially. Others, however, chose to remain hidden and to take what little they had of life, guard it jeolously, and never move on.

Ms McLean has an impressive writing portfolio and has become a favorite among so many romance readers. She has written a number of fine historical novels and like this one has demonstated a fine knowledge and skill of the writing task and the storyteller's art. The plot is not an unusual one in that it fits in the classic historical romance mold, but the storyline opens up some unusual aspects of English society which give added dimension to the context. The characters are many and varied, but the main characters are quite fascinating--a strong woman who is willing to do just about anything, including manual labor, in order to provide a refuge for troubled women whom she called "the girls; an aristocrat whose sense of honor was often troubled in that he was pulled in different directions, but whose personal experience had shaped a man of strong principles and solid values. His best friend was also a man of principle, whose understanding of friendship went farther than is often true today.

This is a very good book and one that historical romance readers will enjoy. I think the early chapters were a bit on the dry side--lots of back story and development, some of which I felt was a bit much. But all in all, the reader gains some valuable insights into the society of that day and its attitudes toward those who live outside the upper eschelons. I give this book a rating of 3.75 out of 5.

This novel was released by Harper Collins on 01 November 2010.