Friday, December 30, 2011

Love in All Forms: Calvin's Cowboy by Drew Hunt

Calvin Hamilton reluctantly returns to his home town of Parrish Creek, Texas, to sell his parents' house. Finding the place in need of repair he hires John "Brock" Brockwell to renovate the house before putting it on the market. Brock bares a passing resemblance to Gary Cooper, especially as he often wears western clothing. Calvin has always had a weakness for cowboys. 

Time has reversed the two men's fortunes. In high school Brock was the big man on campus, his popularity allowing him to hide his true nature. Calvin was a nerd, bullied by most of the jocks for being perceived as gay. Now Calvin is a successful New York advertising executive, and Brock is a divorced father with a teenage son who faces financial ruin, unable to pay his late father's hospital bills. 

Can Calvin put past bitterness behind him and help the cowboy with whom he is rapidly falling in love? Will the deeply closeted Brock be able to admit he has feelings for Calvin? Or will pride, fear, distance, and the past prevent them from building a future together?

I don't often read M/M fiction but from time to time I find a book that I enjoy and which I feel has merit, both in its writing as well as the nature of the story.  I really can't remember why I was drawn to this book, but I know that I found it to be one of the most enjoyable I have read in some time.  

This story has a natural feel, a gentle flow, and characters that feel and sound incredibly authentic and real. These two main characters have a past, one that goes all the way back to their high school days when Calvin was small for his age, was a book worm or geek, and John Brockwell was the Big Man jock with the well-heeled dad and the popularity that went with his athletic prowess.  Now "Brock" is broke, his pockets so empty he barely has money for food, has a truck that may or may not start, is two months behind on his rent.  He married because the girl in question got pregnant and it was his family's policy that marriage in that case was absolutely demanded.  Now Brock's son lives with him and he is trying to find a way to keep body and soul together.

Calvin is now the wealthy advertising executive in New York City, co-owner of his own firm, with plenty of money to spare.  He has returned to his hometown to sell his parents' home where he grew up, and Brock's company is given the sizeable contract to renovate and refurbish the house in preparation to sell it.    In the course of their negotiations and getting re-acquainted as mature men, it becomes evident that Brock is gay but has not come to peace with his orientation.  Calvin has been "out" for years.    While some reviewers have seen this story as being without the "conflict" that is an important part of any novel, I maintain that the conflict is two-fold:  first, there is immediate conflict between the two men over their past history and over Brock's issues with Calvin who tries to relieve his financial pain;  second, there is very obvious conflict over Brock's sexual orientation.  In spite of their strong attraction to one another, Brock is continually worried about anyone finding out about his new involvement with Calvin.  This inner struggle also translates into the questions Brock has to face about his financial woes as well as how this will impact his future relationship with his son.  I have a hard time seeing this story as being conflict-free.

This is a warm and intimate look-see into the new relationship between these two men who have grown into fine human beings and who have moved past the silliness and petty behavior of high school immaturity.  It is evident that Brock is very different now than he was in his high school days as he owns up to his destructive behavior as well as his willingness to overlook the bullying and meanness of others.  Calvin's attraction to Brock is a bit of a difficulty initially  since he has been misused and emotionally abused by past lovers who saw him as a well-heeled ticket to future success rather than as a person with whom they wanted to share their lives. Yet it is a credit to Brock that he refuses to take undue advantage of Calvin even though he could have easily done so.   I was deeply touched by Calvin's efforts to re-connect with Brock even before he became aware of his sexual attraction to the man.  Calvin was just a really good man whose sensitivity to others was an indication of his sterling character.

This story is a reminder to everyone that human love comes in all sizes, shapes, and genders.  It is a reminder that how people love is far less important than their willingness to allow love to be an important part of their human experience.    The flow of the story is gentle as is the ending.  It is far more true to life than many novels I have read and I applaud Mr. Hunt's effort to give us characters that are so real.  I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Love or Career? Exclusively Yours by Shannon Stacey

It's the fourth day of Christmas and I have enjoyed this week between Christmas and the New Year's celebrations.  It always has seemed just a little more relaxed with the two major holidays like bookends enclosing this eight day period.  It has also meant a good bit more time to do some reading and reviewing and I have been spending time catching up on both. Here's a review of a book I read about a year ago and thought it was wonderful.  Now it has been released as a published book rather than just an ebook, and hopefully more readers will discover the beginning of this delicious family series.

When Keri Daniels' editor finds out she has previous carnal knowledge of reclusive bestselling author Joe Kowalski, she gives Keri a choice: get an interview or get a new job.

Joe's never forgotten the first girl to break his heart, so he's intrigued to hear Keri's back in town--and looking for him. Despite his intense need for privacy, he'll grant Keri an interview if it means a chance to finish what they started in high school.  He proposes an outrageous plan--for every day she survives with his family on their annual camping and four-wheeling trip, Keri can ask one question. Keri agrees; she's worked too hard to walk away from her career.
But the chemistry between them is still as potent as the bug spray, Joe's sister is out to avenge his broken heart and Keri hasn't ridden an ATV since she was ten. Who knew a little blackmail, a whole lot of family and some sizzling romantic interludes could make Keri reconsider the old dream of Keri & Joe 2gether 4ever.
The choices women face in today's world are significantly more complicated than in former days.  Even as I was finishing high school and college, women were beginning to make a stand for better opportunities outside the home, better educational opportunities, and better pay for their contributions to business and commerce.  But that increased level of personal and professional opportunity has come at a price.   Choices between having a full and fulfilling personal relationship and following a demanding career path has been a rather significant struggle for many women.  In this story the author never backs away from investigating Keri's dilemma--one that has been present in her life and emotions from those days when high school came to an end and with it her relationship with Joe.  She walked away and didn't return until now when her publication is insisting on an exclusive interview with a man who is now well known and whose privacy will only succumb to someone Joe knows--someone who shares a past with him.
This novel is the beginning of a series that highlights several members of the Kowalski family.  Joe and Keri have moved on -- or have they?  Their past may very well be poised to make an appearance in their present, something Keri isn't terribly anxious to have happen, largely because there is still that old struggle over a woman's independence and the right to follow a career dream.  This novel is fun to read, and the introduction to the Kowalski family is done beautifully.  The characters are very well crafted so that readers really know the various family members.  The interaction within the family circle is delightful, even some of the snafu over kids, the upsets the teens experience, and some of the issues that become important for Joe and Keri.  
This is a book worth reading and if it is already in your library as an ebook, it's worth re-reading!  I know I have gone and re-visited the entire series and found each to be just as delightful and satisfying a read as it was the first time around.  This is one book all real and genuine romance fans need to have in their possession.  I encourage you to make it one of your literary friends.  I give it a 4.75 out of 5 rating.
This novel has been re-released by Harlequin in December, 2011.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

It's Almost The First Day of Christmas

It's almost here -- the First Day of Christmas.  It is almost time to do whatever the Christmas Eve traditions are in our families.  In my hubby's family, my mother-in-law would always make oyster stew, white cornbread, and candle salad--a flat piece of leaf lettuce, a half of a banana standing upright, a little bit of mayo/cream cheese mixture that had been colored with red food coloring, with 1/4 of a maraschino cherry in the top like a flame.  We have continued that tradition for many years, even though my in-laws are both gone now.  It is not only now our families tradition but it is a way of remembering so many years when they were still with us and when our kids were little.  

We always opened our presents on Christmas eve--my dad started that.  He always said that Christmas Eve was for us, and Christmas Day was for Jesus--it's his birthday anyway.  So we got to have our oyster stew supper, then we all had a mug of hot chocolate, we would gather around the Christmas tree, my hubby would read the Christmas story out of the Gospel of Luke, and then we would open presents.  We always handed the gifts out, one child at a time.  Everyone had to wait while that person opened their presents.  This started when my sister and I were young--we only got two or three presents.  One from my parents, and one from each of my grandparents.  It just made the presents last a little bit longer.  Even now, with our grown-up kids and our in-law children and grandkids with us, we still take the time to enjoy each person's presents.  I think everyone likes being in the spot-light for just a little while.

I heard a wonderful song the other day and the lyrics really impressed me.

Do you remember me
I sat upon your knee
I wrote to you
With childhood fantasies.
Well, I'm all grown up now
And still need help somehow;
I'm not a child
But my heart still can dream.
So here's my lifelong wish
My grown up Christmas list:
Not for myself
But for a world in need.
No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end.
This is my grown up Christmas list.

It's my sincere wish that all of you and yours will experience true joy and peace during this Christmas season, and I continue to hope that we will all take some time to find ways to help those who have so little and share some of the great prosperity that we all have experienced.

Merry Christmas to you all!!

Monday, December 19, 2011

The KISS Method for Christmas -- It's A Gift To Be Simple . . .

I couldn't stop laughing when my sister sent me this photo . . . how creative and yet, I have to won up to the fact that as I gaze at some of the Christmas lighting excess in our community, I would have wanted to do something just like this.  While I think these folks wanted all the next door visitors to have a good laugh, it did indeed make the point that the big electric bills weren't going to be coming to their house.  In this case, as far as their bank account was concerned, simple really was the way to go.

Yet there is also the annual decisions to make when the holiday approaches.  For me, lots of Christmases have come and gone, and for some years we have had the house decorated inside and out.  A couple of years ago my hubby and I were so busy with family and community and church we ended up having Christmas at our daughter's house and didn't even get the Christmas tree out of the closet--yet, we do have an artificial tree.  I guess I'm one of those "save a tree" people in a very real sense, but I also remember the annual "pain in the vacuum cleaner" we had every year growing up when we were trying to vacuum up all the dead tree droppings off the living room rug.  I will admit I missed the tree.  I have some old fashioned, Dickensonian houses that I have accumulated through the years and we did put those out on the book shelf, but I missed the tree.  I love Christmas trees.  One year I left ours up until April . . . it was almost an Easter tree that year.

But there is also that part of me that knows that my faith is rooted in the belief that Christmas is really not about presents and commercial sharing.  I want to do my part for our nation's economy, and I do like getting a present or two--who doesn't?  Yet, there is that reality that most of the time hubby and I are getting things for each other all year, and at our age, what is there that we really need?  He's always buying me jewelry that he thinks I will like, and I am always trying to find clothes that will delight him.  He isn't a clothes horse by any stretch of the imagination, but I know that he really gets a sparkle in his eye when he puts on one of his beautiful suits, picks out a cute tie, and "gussies up."  At Christmas--and his birthday is also five days before Christmas--trying to find something he really needs or wants is very nearly impossible.

Now our family does the annual name exchange, usually one of the daughters puts us all together with a drawing just after Thanksgiving.  We include the long-distance parts of our family as well, knowing that it means that they will probably not get our gifts to them until after Christmas.  However, we Americans don't pay much attention to the "Twelve Days of Christmas" which, by the way, begin on December 25.  So we always soothe our sense of "being late" with the fact that the gift will arrive sometime during those twelve days.

Last night, on the Family Channel, we watched "The Polar Express" again.  What a great story.  I remember when we went to a little church annually, not far from our daughter's home, the priest always pulled out that book and shared it with the congregation as his Christmas Day homily.  It is about believing in those things we can't see--friendship, caring, and even in the spirit that is Christmas, whether or not we refer to that spirit as "Santa Claus."  It was a fun reminder that keeping our holiday observances close to those kinds of realities--the ones we can't see--that will make the holiday live in our hearts.  For Christians it is about remembering whose birthday it really is.  For Jews it is about a faith that carried them through a time of great persecution to a victory over their enemies.  And for many others it is about remembering that our loved ones and friends, our authentic relationships are what keep us grounded and focused on realities that make us truly human.

It is indeed a gift to be simple--as the old Shaker hymn reminds us.  I trust that this will be a gift we can all claim this year.

Friday, December 16, 2011

An Oldie But STILL A Goodie: Haunted By Dreams by Norah Wilson

John Deadmarsh had loved Cassandra Ashe once, a long time ago. As a student in Toronto, he'd wooed the mysterious Maliseet beauty to his bed, only to have her steal away while he slept, taking his heart with her. When he runs into her seventeen years later in sleepy Fredericton, New Brunswick, the betrayal stings like it was just yesterday. Cass would like nothing better than to steer a wide berth around this tall, dark and dangerous reminder of her youthful mistake. But John, now a psychologist, is treating Cass's young friend Nikki. Their mutual concern for Nikki puts them in frequent conflict. From the first encounter, it's obvious the attraction is still there. 

To Cass's dismay, so is all that loaded emotion from that long-ago summer. Even more disturbing, she sees that John is just as haunted by the events of that summer as she is. How can she continue to deny him the truth about why she left him? But if she tells him the truth, what will it mean for the fragile new bond that's growing between them?

It isn't often that many of us find such delightful treasures unless we are the kind of book lovers who haunt used bookstores.  I do love the old stuff almost as much as the new books that are appearing at an unbelievable rate.  I find, though, that I get caught up in waiting for the next batch of new books and as a reviewer I am usually inundated with stacks of them.  Once in awhile I begin researching an author and find a treasure like this book and am reminded of all the great reading that is "out there" that I have missed because of being taken over by the "new book craze."

This is a story that caught my interest largely because the two main characters meet after seventeen years.  Yes, that's right, seventeen years.  Seventeen years of pain, remembered shared delight, questions, anger, and most of all, that empty feeling that comes whenever one allows those painful memories to remind each one that something that was so very special got put aside almost before it had a chance to become the wonder it was destined to be.  Cass is now 34, divorced but still very close to her ex.  He is a warm and caring man who loved Cass in his own way until he met his soul-mate.  He was prepared to honor his marriage vows and it was Cass who realized that something was dying inside her husband and set him free to be with his true love.  Our hero John is now 40, a licensed psychologist and professor at the local university, a man who could never really face marriage to someone other than Cass, and it is in the pursuit of her long-held dream of becoming a social worker with First Nation families that she and John meet after nearly two decades.  The anger and hurt surface immediately in the form of sarcasm and inuendo of a not very nice sort.  Through a strange set of circumstances, they continue to meet and those encounters force them both to sort out their feelings.

This story is full of surprises for the characters as well as for the reader.  At first I felt the animosity between Cass and John was a pit protracted, but when I thought about the nearly two decades of pain and questioning and, in Cass's case, carefully burying some important truth about that long-ago experience, I began to see their difficulties in moving beyond the anger.  It is also a novel that exposes readers to the extensive difficulties First Nation peoples continue to encounter  because of their color and their racial origin.  Canada struggles with prejudice against people of color as much as does any other country.  As Cass encounters the low self-esteem, the social problems, the lack of good housing and educational opportunity for her own people, she realizes that being adopted into a white, middle-class family has insulated her from so very much.  

So this is really a wonderful love story about second chances as well as a very skillful social commentary on the realities endured by Canada's original inhabitants.  Thus, it is a beautiful literary expression of Ms Wilson's writing skill as revealing some of her own concerns about some of these social ills that have plagued a really wonderful country for a very long time.  I hope you will consider this novel and enjoy it as much as I did.  It is really worth going back and re-claiming this book that first appeared a decade ago.

In future days I will be reviewing some of Ms Wilson's newer work.  Hope you stop back by often.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I've Been Over At "The Island" For Three Days and Now I'm Back with A Book Review I Hope You'll Read

As a guest blogger over at Desert Island Keepers and had fun writing in that genre for three days. It's a fun place and right now there are posts from Vanessa Kelly as a guest blogger.

I have been reading lots the last couple of days as I have been dealing with a repeat bout of vertigo. The Dr. doesn't seem to know how to get to the root cause so am just taking antihistamines and--would you believe--sea sick pills. They seem to be working but having the room spin every time I make a quick movement gets old really fast. So I want to share a review of a book that I really enjoyed and kept me relatively immobile for quite a while.

Out spoken and independent, Lady Alexa Bingham enjoys the heady freedom of making all her own decisions, even though the challenges of overseeing her family's country estate are daunting. But when a chance encounter with London's most notorious rake awakens a secret longing for adventure, she accepts her aunt's invitation for a Season in Town . . . only to find that breaking the rules of the ton has serious consequences.

The Earl of Killingworth uses his rakehell reputation to hide the fact that poverty has forced him to work for a living. As the owner of a gambling den and brothel, Connor has no time for glittering ballrooms or innocent young ladies. But after a reckless wager leaves him with a new business partner, he is forced to take a risky gamble . . . Will the cards fall in their favor?

Alexa and Connor begin to play a dangerous game of intrigue and deception as they seek to outwit a cunning adversary who wants to put them permanently out of business. But if they are not careful, it is the flames of their own fiery attraction that may destroy them.

The "crisis" in this story is initially the subtle but effective attack against the hero. Connor Linsley, Earl of Killingworth, is another one of those aristocrats who inherits an empty bank account and properties that make financial demands when there is not money, thanks to the gambling habit of his father. As a whiz at card games, he uses that skill to eventually become the owner of a gaming hell and brothel, one that is known as The Wolf's Lair. Connor then becomes known as the Irish Wolfhound, thanks to his mother's Irish heritage and it in the upper reaches of the brothel, of all places where Lady Alexa and Connor first encounter each other's independent spirit, their razor wit, and their mutual loyalty to those who are important to them. The kiss they exchange (Connor's "payment" for the information Alexa wants about her brother's whereabouts) begins as Connor's way of putting Alexa off, exposing her to the rough ways Connor has come to expect in his occasional romps with the fairer sex. However, it doesn't put either one of the "off" -- it becomes the kiss that Connor simply can't forget.I have been reading contemporary romance mostly in the past several months so it was fun to go back to my original passion: historical romance. Cara Elliot was an author I had encountered a while back so was delighted to read and review this newest book in a new series. I think she is a truly gifted writer who knows her stuff when it comes to telling a story in a way that keeps the reader's interest while teasing that interest forward.

This relationship seems to be a background story at first, because the initial action of the book is taken up with Connor's concern over the fact that someone is trying to "do him and his business in." Not only did a very skilled card sharp take him "to the cleaners" but the safe in his office was robbed almost immediately afterward, followed by an attack on both him and Lady Alexa. It is during his recuperation that these two begin to find their attraction to one another is more binding than they thought initially.

This is a well-written historical that takes in the ways of the ton as well as exposing the reader to the less refined levels of English society. It is also a mystery and the threads of that story are woven skillfully throughout the love story between Connor and Alexa. It's not a short read and it is not a simplistic story. It is very up-front about Alexa's resentment against a society that puts women in a display case and allows men to essentially do whatever they want as long as they pretend to be upstanding and proper. It explores that sense of independence and while it clashes with society and the expectations of friends, it also allows Alexa to be free with her concern, use her skills as a "country-bred miss" in helping Connor, and brings Alexa's mind into the story as well as her heart.

I make no bones about liking this kind of novel. I think it is a treat for the mind as well as for the heart. It is one of those stories that deals with the deeper and darker issues that make us truly human, that have been at the heart of human efforts to define individuals and societies historically, and which makes the heart of modern women glad. The freedoms that women enjoy today were hardwon by many who chafed under the yoke of social expectation. Alexa could be the poster girl for women who want to be esteemed as much for their mind and abilities as they do for the cut of their gown or the way they execute a dance step. I hope you'll consider making this novel a part of your "to be read" stack of books.

I give this novel a 4.25 out of 5.

Too Wicked to Wed was released in November under the "Forever" imprint.