Monday, December 17, 2012

Our Thoughts are With Those Who Mourn Their Dead . . .

A hundred years from now it will not matter
what my bank account was,
the sort of house I lived in,
or the kind of car I drove.
But the world may be different because
I was important in the life of a child.

Life as many know it ended Friday morning, before 10:00 AM, in Newtown, CT,
when a troubled young man, who had already murdered his mother in her sleep,
drove to the Sandy Hook Elementary School, and there he managed to get past the
initial entry barriers and within 10 minutes of entering the school, had shot and killed the 
principal, the school psychologist, and turned his bushmaster rifle on the teachers and 
children in two of the school rooms.

Now families, communities, and the entire nation is still trying to "wrap our minds around" the reality of this level of violence, the horror that so many children witnessed, the
sense that over 550 children experienced that their lives were no longer safe.  Vigils,
prayer services, community gatherings, family assemblies, and now 28 funerals will be held
in and around Newtown, CT--20 children, six teachers & school administrators, one mother 
and her son, the shooter.

I can only add  my voice to those who are mourning the senseless deaths that have marred the American consciousness, remembering that not only Newtown residents are in mourning, but there are those who were terrorized in Clackamus, OR just two days before this school shooting.  We remember those in Aurora, CO, in Oklahoma City, OK, in Newport Beach, CA, and all the communities in the United States where 24,000 kids have died in the past two years.  And reflecting on the words of the President of the United States, have we done enough to keep our children safe?  And if we have not done so, why not?

It is these thoughts that keep circulating through my mind today, and I felt I needed to express my anger that any child dies, whether s(he) is sitting in a school room, or playing in front of the house when someone starts shooting from a car that is driving past that location. That same anger sizzles and pops in my heart over the abuse children suffer, at those who drink up or spend grocery money on drugs, rather than feed their kids.  

We will never solve all the problems of the world, and there is no law or set of laws that will eradicate evil from the world.  But reasonable people make reasonable laws so that there is a reasonable expectation that our children will be safe to grow up and reach adulthood in pursuit of a meaningful life.  Just as each of us has individual choice about the aspects of our own lives, so we as a nation make choices of what we want to be the factors of American life.  Are our guns, especially those military-type assault weapons, so necessary to us, so precious to us as a society that we just have to have them?  Are we willing to put the safety of any of our citizens, especially our children, at stake in order to satisfy our lust for violence?
These are questions we all have answer, and it doesn't appear that there is any better time than now.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

You Bit Me And I Turned Into What???? "For Toron's Pride" by Tressie Lockwood

When her jerk of an ex-boyfriend turns her into a lion shifter, Sienna just can't accept that she is no longer human. She's determined to live a normal life despite PM'S as a shifter being off the charts. When she meets Toron, the leader of the Pride, she can't deny how sexy he is or her attraction to him, but Toron has a power that threatens to sweep away all the plans she's made for her life. No one man should have that much control over the the people around him. After a night of unbelievable sex, Sienna leaves Toron, and he let's her go. Five years later, she is forced to seek help of the man she's never been able to get out of her head. Will he forgive her for the decision she made so long ago?

Lots of stories embrace the factor of the human who is transformed into a shifter, and that is certainly the premise of this novella.  Yet this is different in that the heroine is an African American and she is sassy and mouthy and not about to embrace her new identity.  Yet she is aware that her life has been changed irrevocably and nothing she can say or do, no amount of resentment against her careless ex-boyfriend can undo what has been done.  Now she is invited--compelled--to attend an instructional weekend held by the Alpha of the closest pride, Toron the lion-shifter and a man who is instantly attracted to Sienna.  But she is wary of him because she knows he is a player, taking multiple women into his bed and one who has made it clear that he has no intention of allowing his heart to become engaged to any one woman.  Sienna is sooooooo not giving in to this hedonist!  That's what her head and heart say;  that's not the message her body is transmitting.

This is an interracial romance between a very dominant alpha, a shifter whose power is undisputed and one who has determined that he will not allow love for any one woman to have power over him.  Yet Sienna with her beautiful chocolate skin, her pouty, sexy lips, and her beautiful eyes whose depths draw him in like quicksand, challenge his life goal and weaken his determination to remain apart from her.  This story seems to have just a bit of a different slant than many paranormal shifter tales.  The two do  manage a night of hot loving, but part without any commitment to one another.  The reader is left to wonder how this is all going to come out.  It is especially upending to find out that Sienna has been raising Toron's son, Simeon, without his knowledge or support.  It seems that is Sienna's preference -- for now.

Tressie Lockwood writes wonderful interracial romance, bringing black and white partners into love relationships that advertise the wonder to be had when two people set aside racial prejudice and simply enjoy the love that grows between them.  That they are often reviled by former friends and family is an aspect that Ms Lockwood does not seek to avoid.  But she also writes of friends and family who seem to be just as blind to skin color as the partners themselves.  It is uplifting and encouraging to read of families who have learned to prize others on the basis of what they are on the inside, embracing their cultural diversity and allowing those differences to enrich rather than divide.  So it is in this novel that not only embraces the racial diversity but also brings in the prejudices that shifters often exhibit between the naturals -- those who were born shifters -- and the "regulars" -- those who have been created at some point in their human lives.

The fun in this story comes from Sienna's mouthy responses to the challenges and people in her life.  She is simply not very impressed with Toron and she doesn't hesitate to express her feelings powerfully.  Such fun!!  It is always a bit satisfying--in a feminist sort of way--to see a powerful man cut down to size by a powerful woman.  And Tressie Lockwood doesn't back away from creating powerful heroines.  Sienna is certainly the quintessential example of such a woman.  

I think readers will really enjoy this story, even though it is a novella.  I would have liked it to go on a bit, but Sienna and Toron's story continues as a part of the back story in the second novella in this series, In Hawke's Eyes, the story of Toron's best friend who is a hawk shifter.  I hope you will consider adding this very readable novella to your library.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I May Have To Marry The Guy, But I'm Not Going To Let Him Have His Way . . . "How To Tame A Willful Wife" by Christy English

1. Forbid her from riding astride

2. Hide her dueling sword

3. Burn all her breeches and buy her silk drawers

4. Frisk her for hidden daggers

5. Don't get distracted while frisking her for hidden daggers...

Anthony Carrington, Earl of Ravensbrook, expects a biddable bride. A man of fiery passion tempered by the rigors of war into steely self-control, he demands obedience from his troops and his future wife. Regardless of how fetching she looks in breeches.

Promised to the Earl of Plump Pockets by her impoverished father, Caroline Montague is no simpering miss. She rides a war stallion named Hercules, fights with a blade, and can best most men with both bow and rifle. She finds Anthony autocratic, domineering, and...ridiculously gorgeous.  It's a charming re-telling of "The Taming of the Shrew" but in reality,who is taming whom?

She had always known she had to marry to save the family reputation from disaster over indebtedness. She had been trained to accept her fate as the daughter of an impoverished aristocrat, a man who had more than proven his worth in the Napoleonic Wars, but who had come home to empty coffers.  Now his closest friend was offering for his daughter and Caroline knew that her father was entrusting her future to a man he truly believed would hold her dear and treat her well.  What Caroline wasn't prepared for was having her heart engaged by the enchanting rogue or having to face his mistress of over 10 years.  Add in the almost insidious presence of the Viscount Carlyle who had ruined the earl's sister, and you have anger, tension, revenge and distress up to ying yang.

This historical romance begins as many others do with the arranged marriage of two people as a  .  Anthony was certainly attracted sexually to his bride and made no bones about that fact.  However, he was unprepared for the inroads to his heart that she made.  The biggest difficulty was her unwillingness to be a compliant and biddable bride, continuing on with her sword and knife training, her archery, and her insistence on riding out alone to visit tenants and visiting the local villages.  While she submits willingly in the bedroom, his autocratic commands on the other aspects of her life chafe and gradually cause a chasm in their marriage that doesn't appear to be able to be mended.  It is a delightful, saucy, sexy, carefully written and beautifully told story of a marriage between two very different people and two individuals who must reconcile their attraction to one another sexually with the demands of human relationship, the need for being partners in more than just bedroom antics, and the respect that must be present to keep balance in their marriage.

I really love historical romance and could read it non-stop.  I don't even mind that most of them follow a well-established format that is often quite predictable.  But when I encounter one that adds in the spice of the antics that drive the Countess Ravensbrook and which manage to slowly but surely enrapture her husband reluctantly, it is a novel that stands out as one most historical romance lovers will appreciate above and beyond the norm.  It was just recently released by Sourcebooks, Inc, and is one that I know begs to be read and enjoyed.  I highly recommend it as worthy of the time and effort of serious readers.  I'm very glad I had the opportunity to read and review it.  Please let me know if you have read it and what you thought.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Disappointment, Struggle, and Finally Love: "Bodywork" by Marie Harte

First of all, I want to wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving!  It is, by far, one of my most cherished American holidays.  I always think of the times when my mom and dad and my sister gathered for our Thanksgiving dinner together, so very far away from any of my relatives, and knowing that it was "just us." I think those are some of the occasions when my ties with my family became strongest.  There are so many people who are important to me--my four kids, my in-law children, my six grandkids, my friends who are like family to me, my many professional colleagues who make my life rich.  And for all of you who are "friends" and who stop in here . . . for you I am so very thankful that you share in my love of all things having to do with books.  Many blessings to you all on this special day!  And now for a look at a wonderful book . . .

Their first meeting could have been better. He ran into her and her hot coffee, and raced off with a burn and a snarl.

Their second meeting should have been better. He lay naked, face down on her massage table while she stared at him in horror. Being sexually attracted to Mr. Tall, Dark and Rude hadn't been on her agenda. She just wants him out of her massage clinic before he recognizes her or she says something obnoxious before jumping that sexy body. Not professional. Not at all.

But when Shelby Vanzant and Shane Collins meet again, the third time's the charm. Shane has found his match, a sexy, intelligent woman he can't stop thinking about. Shelby is scared, because she might grow to like this guy. The last guy she liked dumped her for someone hotter. She's willing to take a chance--maybe--if her flamboyant mother, Shane's macho best friend and his Casanova of a younger brother don't screw things up. With fate on their side, they might both have a shot at a love they'd stopped looking for.

Two hurting people--disillusioned by their disastrous ex's treatment of them and subsequent departures as cheating #@&*.    So hurt are they that even the thought of any kind of long-term relationship gives each of them the heebie jeebies.  So when they collide, then again meet at Shelby's therapeutic massage clinic, the last thing they manage will be any kind of connection that can develop into a dating arrangement.  Ultimately they give into their attraction but both agree that a "friends with benefits" kind of connection is best.  And to hear each of them tell it, the benefits are out of this world.

This is a novel that brings some very different people into close proximity with one another.  Shelby's mom and her business partner--a gay professional that "adopted" Shelby 30 years earlier--are very into Taro and and the like, reading auras and astrological signs and working behind the scenes to interfere any way they can.  Shane's folks manage to get into the scene as does Shane's younger brother, a 17 year old who makes more noise than sense and manages a fair amount of damage, all in the name of loving his brother and wanting to see him happy.  The progress of Shane and Shelby's romance is rocky and fun in many ways, trying so hard to keep the sex just sex and nothing more;  they work so hard to keep their friends and relatives at a distance and never quite manage that.  They work so hard to trust when neither really know how to do that anymore.  So this story has lots of very real anxieties, very real people who struggle with those feelings, and some very funny and "out there" others who keep the two main characters hopping and worrying and hoping that they can find some sense of satisfaction in life.

Marie Harte has written lots of books and I have read some of her paranormals and enjoyed them a lot.  This is one of the non-shifter books of hers that I have read and as a contemporary romance that is very erotic, I found it to be very entertaining and one that I am glad I didn't miss.  I would have if I had not been trolling through the Amazon lists one day and way the author's name.  Now I realize that she has written bags and bags of books I never knew were her's.  This book was released late in 2011 but it is a fun book and a grand way to begin her series.  It is now followed with the second book entitled Working Out and is a novel that feature's Shelby's best friend Maggie Doran and Shane's best Mac Jameson, both of whom figure prominently in this first novel.  In fact, both of these friends get heavily involved in trying to bring Shane and Shelby together, moving them beyond the "friends with benefits" into a genuine love relationship.

I hope you will look for this novel and enjoy it as much as I have.  I really could empathize with Shane and Shelby as they dealt with their fear of new relationships.  All of us have been greatly disappointed in people we thought were trustworthy and who have let us down, often very suddenly.  This is a story about real life, about real people who are very like people we may know.   Their struggles are very like those we may have experienced or know friends who have experienced similar upsets in their personal lives.   So there is that taint of reality that gives life and believability to a fictional story, especially one that is set in a very real context.  I am delighted to be able to share this book with you and hope you have an opportunity to read it in the future.  I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.

Monday, November 19, 2012

What happens when happily ever after meets reality? Susan and James Williams are drifting apart. After a devastating loss, their lives are thrown into further turmoil when a mysterious stone at a museum hurtles them back to the Old West. Their supernatural experience only intensifies the chasm between them, and when James realizes where they are, in a moment of anger, he pronounces that they were never married.

They go their separate ways, unsure of what this new world holds in store. James settles into a job as bartender. Befriended by local rancher Daniel Miller, Susan soon develops feelings for him. She’s torn between starting a new life in a new time and healing her marriage and returning to the twenty-first century.

Will the miraculous journey back in time help Susan and James reconcile, or has destiny set new roads for them to travel that lead them away from each other?

OMG, where do I begin?  I guess I should start out by saying that this is the fifth book in this series I have read and I think they just keep on getting better.  I first discovered Sandy James through a free read--the third novel in this series that spurred me on to getting books 1, 2, & 4.  I have to also admit that I resisted reading this novel because I have never really been a fan of time-travel, but I have always thought that Ms James' writing was above the norm so decided, tardy though it may be, to read Twist of Fate.  I am soooo glad that I did!

Like all the main characters in this series, Susan and James were deeply hurt, damaged in their emotions, damaged in their marriage, damaged in their view of their life as individuals as well as a couple.  They survived each day, often trying to recover from that day's emotional injuries--hurt words, thoughtless actions, sarcasm, seemingly disrespectful of one another.  Their hard and unfeeling exteriors hid hearts that were broken, bruised by the loss of their unborn child--a son they both looked forward to knowing, a child that would have brought new life, love, and laughter into their home.    Both were grieving deeply, yet neither one would share that grief because of harsh words and what seemed to the other to be a dismissal of their hurt.  Add in the factor of James' discontent with his job--a discontent that had gone on for years but a job he pursued out of responsibility for his family.  You have a boiling cauldron of unexpressed anger and hurt--the makings of a very potent rage.  Through a series of unforeseen happenings, a radical change of circumstances, and challenges to the strength of their marriage ties, Susan and James were forced to face themselves, their attitudes and actions toward one another, their willingness to think about the future without one another, and the challenge to face up to what was before them.

This novel is another example of this author's ability to go to the core of a relationship, to peel away the layers of time, of taking one another for granted, of the easy convenience of living together but of having become so used to one another that they had stopped "seeing" each other as partners, as lovers, as friends.    This is one of those novels that will keep you riveted to the page, that will make it possible for you to envision the people, the action, the surroundings, and even to feel keenly the emotions that were driving these two people apart.  It is a story that will hopefully cause every reader to examine their own relationships and consider what really are the qualities that bind two people together.  Perhaps the most compelling quality of this story is the personal reflection Susan and James must endure as they take a new look at themselves, as what makes them who they are, at how they can manage to survive as an individual in an alien environment and how they must choose actions that will impact their future.  

This is a compelling story, well-written with a story line that is moving steadily toward the crisis and resolution.  Ms James is a writer whose expertise shines through all her novels and are a joy to read just from a literary standpoint as well as for the entertaining content.   This book has been around for a while but it is one that shouldn't be missed.  If you have not read any of this series, the third novel is still available as a free read at Siren-Bookstrand and is a wonderful book as well.  Twist of Fate is one of those books a serious lover of romance fiction just shouldn't miss.  I give it a rating of 5 out of 5.

Friday, November 16, 2012

We Love Our Books, But There are Other Creative Arts Still Surviving the Technology Age!

Just thought I would share this with you all . . . I am inordinately proud of the work that my home church members and friends have done this year on the Potluck Quilt.  We make one of these every year for an annual raffle, and it is always a testimony to the creativity and survivorship of sewing arts.  Even some of the young people in our congregation have contributed a square.  Each person can choose whatever design they wish but they must all use the same color binding and backing.  I knit an afghan with the related colored yarn and that is the second prize.  The drawing is December 23.   I'll try to post a picture of that when it is done.  I have to get "cracking" on it, too.  Have been busy and lots to do with the year end approaching.  We sell raffle tickets for this quilt, but I just wanted you all to enjoy it with me.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Saying Good-bye is Never Easy

 It's been a busy time with all of us on the verge of the holiday season -- getting everyone squared away for Thanksgiving, whose house is going to be Turkey Central, or who is going to cook what.  In the midst of all that comes the phone call:  my sister-in-law has died.

Marilyn was one of those really interesting individuals who wasn't always easy to read, who was married to my hubby's older and only brother, and who already had two daughters when we married.  Both she and my brother-in-law were graduates of the University of Iowa, she was a life-long educator and loved to teach first grade--truly a labor of love.  She was one of those women who always seemed to have the proper table decorations, the right kind of table settings for the occasion, the proper anything for any time.  She was quiet spoken, but when she did speak she had a very strong opinion to express.  Those of us who knew her could always tell when she thinned out her lips because we knew she had chosen to keep her thoughts to herself, even though those thoughts were pretty strong.

Her last years were very difficult.  My brother-in-law has been gone for 17 years and during that time Marilyn began suffering from several heart attacks and strokes.  About 10 years ago it seemed that she was going to be totally disabled by all she was suffering.  But true to her form, she kept fighting back and eventually was able to walk and talk almost normally.  Our last visit with her was such fun.  She remembered some wonderfully funny times, before I ever met my hubby, when she recalled times when he was bratty and acting like the "little" brother (he was in college at the time) that he truly was.  While he denied most of it, Marilyn certainly didn't let him off the hook.

She loved her kids, her grandkids and great grandkids--pictures of them were pasted all over her room.  She still loved carrot cake and lavender and purple flowers, and classical music.  She was a keyboard musician and had a very pleasant voice that she used more often than I realized.  Her last three weeks were dreadful, but her son told me that after her final stroke three weeks ago, she made up her mind that she had enough and refused to eat from that day on.  She literally clamped her lips shut and wouldn't budge.  How like her.

We grieve because she is the last of our family on that side in our generation.  We have lost a sister and friend and are so thankful that the hard and painful days are over.  Rest in peace.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Has It Really Been Two Weeks Since I Last Posted?????

O Dopey Me!!  I can't believe it has been so long since I even thought about posting.  No wonder so many of you don't stop in anymore.  I offer my sincere apologies for not keep up -- just trying to find a new house, trying to get lots of other stuff done that will mean we must start packing up our junque, and I just didn't stay up with this blog.  I love to read all your blogs, but I haven't been good about doing my part in the So. California blogging community.  Anyway . . . I have been reading some really good books and one that has piqued my interest is timely for the Halloween observance that is just a couple of days away.  We have been enjoying all the decorations people are putting up on their homes, at schools and public buildings, etc.  Even the fellowship hall in our church now has lots of fun decorations and the congregation really had a good time with Halloween cupcakes after church yesterday as well as a yummy potluck complete with my favorite:  deviled eggs.

Anyway . . . back to the book . . . I found it online just recently and so I want to share it with you.

Jordan Cross has returned to Holiday, Montana after eleven long years to clear out her late aunt’s house, put it on the market, and figure out what she wants to do with the rest of her life. Soon, she finds herself facing the town that turned its back on her because she was different. Because being labeled a witch in a small town didn’t earn her many friends...especially when it wasn't a lie.

Matt Cooper has lived in Holiday his whole life. He's perfectly content being a bachelor alongside his four single brothers in a very small town. After all, the only woman he'd ever loved ran out on him without a goodbye. But now Jordan’s back and just as bewitching as ever. Can they rekindle their romance with a town set against them?

Lots of fictional characters have piles and piles of personality flaws and inner hang-ups, but few have to contend with the burden of magic that has been handed down from female ancestors.  Jordan is a woman who has borne the burden of being different and her responses to a community rife with prejudice has crippled her views of living, her choices of future endeavors, and entering into positive personal relationships.  Most of all, the man she has really loved all her life has been left behind because she has given power to mean-spirited, prejudiced, angry and hurtful people in her hometown who even after she returns are continuing to make her life miserable.   A simple display of her magic when she was five years old alerted the community that she was a powerful person in the making and small-minded people, especially members of their "ruling" family, took it upon themselves to destroy her and drive her away.

Many of us are thankful that there are places in the world where a live and let live attitude prevails.  That is not so in towns and communities like Holiday, Montana where the community has allowed a powerful and greedy family to run rough shod over them, all because there is no one with the gumption to stand up against this brother and sister who think the town is there to serve their interests.    Now Jordan Cross has returned and along with "finding herself" she is also finding that the old feelings between her and Matt Cooper are still very much alive.  But Matt has a mysterious problem that is eroding his sense of purpose about any future he wishes to have with Jordan.  In a way this novel is a mystery upon a mystery even while we agonize with Jordan as she searches for the inner fortitude to take a stand for herself.

Yes, these people are really irritating . . . any town that allows the prejudice and small-mindedness of their mayor and his family to be the predominant spirit should all be horse whipped.  But the truth is that such communities with their closed off thinking really do exist.  I have lived in some of them, and one recognizes the power that some families--the power they don't deserve nor have earned--to influence strongly the way a community responds to people who are different.  Matt and Jordan are irritating too, as they are reluctant to deal with their own inner questions.  But those of us who have worked with people with sizable piles of insecurities and fears from the past know that breaking through that kind of obstacle to positive living is often very difficult.  It was a testimony to the power of their early life connection that Matt and Jordan were able to have any kind of renewal at all in their relationship.

I found this short novel to be interesting on lots of levels, even though I was P. O.'d lots of times at the arrogance of the mayor and his sister.  I don't deal well with cruel, arrogant, manipulative, abusive people, whether or not they be real or fictional.  Yet I appreciated the loyalty and comradeship of Matt with his four brothers, their acceptance of Jordan's unusual powers, and even the willingness of one of the brothers to speak his mind in a loving and corrective way during a crisis.

I think it is a fun read -- not long and certainly not complicated.  But it will be well received by Carrie Ann  Ryan's fans as well as those who are in the mood for a story with family and friendship that stands against prejudice and meanness.  I give it a rating of 3.75.

This short novel was released by Fated Desires Publications in October, 2012 and it can be purchased at

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Deep Wounds of Child Abuse: "Nobody's Perfect" by Kallypso Masters

Savannah Gentry, now Savi Baker, escaped the torture and degradation forced upon her by a sadistic father for eleven years and has made a safe life for herself and her daughter. When her father threatens her peace of mind—and her daughter's safety—Savi runs to Damián Orlando for protection. Their one day together eight years earlier changed both their lives and resulted in a secret she can no longer hide. But being with Damián reawakens feelings she wants buried—and stirs up an onslaught of disturbing flashbacks that leave her shaken to the core with little hope of ever being a sexual being again. 

Damián has his own dragons to fight, but has never forgotten the one perfect day he spent with Savannah in a cave at the beach. He will go to the ends of the earth to protect Savi and her daughter, but can never be the whole man she deserves after a firefight in Iraq. Besides, the trauma of war and resulting PTSD has led him to find his place as the Masters at Arms Club's favorite sadist. Savi needs someone gentle and loving, not the broken man he has become. But he sees that the lifestyle he's come to embrace also can help Savi regain control of her life and sexuality. How can he not help redirect her negative thoughts and actions if she needs him?

This fourth book in a riveting series about Alpha males and the women who tame them . . . the author's description, I might add . . . is a continuation of the story of two young people who met when they were 19 years old, both at a crossroads in their lives and who collided and shared a love that changed their lives, even though they didn't know it at the time.  Now, eight years later, both have been radically changed, their life paths have once again crossed and they now share a daughter.  

Damian is no longer the rather irresponsible teen who ultimately found no way forward back then and decided to enlist in the Marines.  Landing in Iraq, he experienced one of war's most devastating lessons--that no one can keep everyone alive.  Losing his own foot took Damian out of action, but his life was forever changed, and if it were not for encountering his former Marine leader, he might have ended his life.  Now he has regained control over his life, come to some very important self-understanding, learned some deep insights about the human soul, and is a co-owner of the Master at Arms club in Denver.  It is to Denver that Savannah Gentry flees when her abusive and sadistic father again locates her and tries to enslave her once again.  She is now Savi Baker and she has her eight year old daughter in tow--Damian's child conceived on that remote beach in So. California eight years earlier.  She doesn't know that Damian has carried her in his heart through the days of war's hell and the recovery that followed his injury.  Now Savi is the one who has been forever marked by her father's pedophilia and sadism, by his use of her body as a child and later as a "gift" to his political and business clients who have  sexually abused her and sadistically beaten her almost to death.

This story is really a continuation of the other books in this series.  It is most certainly not a stand alone novel in the truest sense of the word, but I do believe that someone who picked this book up without reading the first books would catch the gist of this story but would be left in the dark about the characters who are background here but whose stories have been featured in the earlier novels.  There is also a very strong BDSM presence in this book, one that demonstrates the positive aspect of the lifestyle for those whose life experiences have been so wounding that the external pain of BDSM can help to release the inner pain that is so overwhelming that those who have been victimized literally shut down.  The scenes themselves, however, are quite mild.   In Savi's case, her own self-medicating involved cutting, a phenomenon that is well-known in the mental health community as a way of inducing endorphins that can soothe and tranquilize and make it possible for victims of abuse to move through their lives.  Damian's way of helping Savi release her inner pain was very mild and along with his treatment of her were the insights that helped her to get past her "triggers" and fears for herself and her daughter.  

I found this book to be another fine example of writing skill from a relatively new author and one whose following is growing as we speak.  I am delighted to have found the initial novella and have been chomping at the bit, waiting for each new book's release.  Due to happenings in the author's life they have not come to us as quickly as originally indicated, but as one who reads lots and lots of books, I find this novel to have been compelling.  It is a highly emotional story, one that will resemble an emotional roller coaster by the time it is all done.  It also highlights the deep and soul deadening wounds that come from child abuse and the awful hurts that can kill the body as well when sadism is out of control and used without regard to the victims.   I highly recommend it, not as a particularly easy book to read, but one that brings forth that kind of satisfaction when one realizes they have read a really good book.  It is a story that deserves to be read and appreciated.  I give it a rating of 4.25 out of 5.

This novel can be purchased both at Smashwords and Amazon.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Uber-Alpha Male: What's With This Guy? "Staking His Claim" by Lynda Chance

Twenty-one-year-old Elaina Ruiz has only just begun college when she meets Raul Vega for the first time. Recognizing his ruthless intensity for what it is, she doesn't correct him when he assumes she is an eighteen-year-old freshman.

Raul Vega has never met a woman he couldn't do without. Until he meets Elaina Ruiz and knows she has to belong to him--even if it means waiting for her to grow up.

Right from the beginning of this short novel you will be introduced to this I'm-going-to-have-you-whether-you-like-it-or-not kind of hero and if you are like me, you won't like him very much.  He spies Elaina, makes some assumptions about her, not the least of which are that she is way too young for him.  But he is determined that she is going to be his woman and from that point on he makes sure that no other male gets within shouting distance from her.

There is, however, one other factor in Raul's response to Elaina.  He is Hispanic and macho to the core.  He not only has his own personality traits to contend with, but he also has his cultural norms mixed in as well.  He is the man and his woman will always recognize that or else.  For a good portion of this book I really silently applauded Elaina's  subtrefuge about her age.  She had no intention of making it easy for this man.  That she responded to him with equal wanting is never in question.  But she has enough steel in her spine that she is going to  make him work for her and that she does with a vengence.  

Yet this story has a very tender and loving back story and as Raul and Elaina's relationship goes from turbulent lust to deep connections, the reader is aware that as she steals his heart she is also discovering that he is a man of great loyalty and gentle protection.  A simple touch of Elaina's hand is sufficient eventually to calm Raul when he is ready to fight the world.  He will fight the world to keep her for himself or to protect her, but her deep love will keep him tender and caring when nothing else will.

This is another one of Lynda Chance's great stories and is one that will be an emotional roller coaster for most readers.  It will be the kind of story that one will either like completely or dislike completely.  Alot of that has to do with the reader's own context and one's ability to relate to such strong characters.  They are gritty and lusty and there is no half measures here.  Her love scenes are very erotic and the loving is hot.  So all in all, this is another of her works that will please most readers and especially those who are really "into" the alpha male.  But don't worry:  Elaina is just as strong.  Her soft curves hide a woman who is every bit as determined to be herself as Raul is to have her.  It makes for some very entertaining reading.  I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Can Love Survive Betrayal, Disappointment, and Grief? "Ready for Love" by Marie Force

For four of the best summers of his young life, Luke Harris was in love with Sydney Donovan, a wealthy seasonal visitor to Gansett Island. Then Sydney went off to college and never came back. She married another man and had two children while Luke remained on the island, working at McCarthy's Gansett Marina and wondering what had gone wrong between him and the only woman he ever loved. Fifteen months after Sydney suffers the tragic loss of her husband and children, she's returned to Gansett to figure out what's next, and that may very well be a rekindled love affair with the one man from her past she’s never forgotten. But is she ready for a second chance at love?

He was an upstanding, hard-working young man, but he had not wealth nor was he considered "upper crust."  Therefore, the Donovans didn't consider him good enough for their daughter Sydney.  In spite of the fact that Luke loved  Sydney with a mature and life-long love, she left and never returned until after her family had all been killed in a terrible auto accident and she was truly alone.  Now she has returned to Gansett Island with the hope of finding some peace and some relief from her bone-crushing grief and loss.     Every night, under the cover of darkness, Luke would quietly come up onto the back section of the Donovan property and silently watch over Sydney, not stalking are planning anything harmful to her.  He didn't even hold out any hope for the future with her.  He just simply loved her still and needed to be sure she was OK.

This is a story that will indeed pull at your heart strings.  Third in the "McCarthys of Gansett Island" series, this is probably the best story so far for a number of reasons.  First, it is very emotional and full of pathos--Sydney's sense of loss is at times overwhelming.  Luke's deep sadness over the loss of their love affair years earlier has marked him making him even more shy and quiet.  Second, as with many series, this book also continues the stories of couples from the first two books as well as the experiences of other full time residents of the island.  It continues to be filled with that warmth and togetherness that pervades the other books and which forms the foundation for the relationships that make this such a wonderful place to  live.   Marie Force has such a compelling style of writing that readers will most accutely feel Sydney's struggles as she wants to move forward yet must deal with that sense of "betraying" or "cheating" on her dead husband as she allows her old love for Luke to resurface.  Also, there is the still present sense by Sydney's parents that Luke isn't quite good enough for her and she must make some decisions about who is in control in her life and of her future.

I like series because I like to get deeper into the experiences of the characters, to journey with them into the future, to read about where their lives have gone and how their relationships have played out.   Those qualities are very much present in this series and are more evident here than in the preceding novels.  Obviously, as the series continues there is that build-up of information about the characters that keep on making their appearances.  But there is something very special about Luke and Sydney's story, a kind of love affair that brings on that peculiar version of "warm fuzzies" I feel when a couple seem to fit to an extraordinary degree.  

If you like the family-oriented love story mixed in with some spice and set in a delightful island community, you'll love this novel and those that came before it.    It is really a joy to read and this author is one that is rapidly becoming one of my favorites.  I give it a rating of 4.25 out of 5.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Healing Power of True Caring: "Need: Finding Anna Book Two" by Sherri Hayes

As Brianna comes to terms with the realization that she is no longer a slave, she must figure out what she wants for her life. Forgetting her past isn’t an option. It is an integral part of who she is now, and it will forever shape her view of life. The one thing she knows is that she cannot imagine her life without the man who saved her, but can she be what he needs? 

Stephan never imagined falling in love with the woman he rescued, but the thought of her no longer being part of his life is physically painful. The scars from her past continue to haunt her, and he is helpless to stop them. All he can do is try to help her work through the traumas of her past. Can he be everything she needs and help her move on?

The two must figure out how to navigate not only their relationship with each other, but also the outside world. A friend from Brianna’s past shows up where she least expects them, and Uncle Richard continues to enforce his well-meaning agenda to get Brianna more traditional help. As forces, both friend and foe, threaten to tear them apart, Stephan and Brianna have to navigate the turbulent waters and find what they need in each other.

Earlier this month I reviewed the first book in this series, Slave:  Finding Anna Book One  where Brianna and Stephan were introduced.  As a young woman sold into sexual slavery by a father deep into gambling debts, Brianna had lost her sense of self, her connection with her past, any love for her father, or the ability to think past whatever her "master" was commanding her to think or do.  With Stephan she began to reclaim who she was, a glimpse of the woman she could be, a new understanding of how a male/female relationship could function even outside the BDSM world that had tortured her, and to be re-introduced to some of the simple pleasures of cooking and reading.

Now we see how her rehabilitation is progressing, what Stephan must continue to do to help Brianna become an independent, vibrant and free-thinking woman, the one he sees lurking underneath her fears and the brain-washing done to her by her old sadistic "master."  As a young Dom he knows both the good and the bad that the lifestyle contains.  He also knows that as his attachment to Brianna grows he is himself caught in a dilemma about how to set her free, knowing that in doing so she may even decide to not only leave the old hurts and fears behind but him as well.

This is a very emotional book, one that will take the reader on Brianna's up and down emotional roller coaster.  Her few steps forward, few steps backward are sometimes difficult to bear.  Her learning curve is very hesitant at times.  When it seems she has made great progress she will meet someone who she remembers from the horror days or who reminds her of old memories, and she retreats back into herself to a degree that one wonders if she can ever be made whole.   Some reviewers have expressed an impatience or boredom with Brianna's experiences, but I found the entire book to be compelling and one that really tugged at my heart.  As a helping professional in real life, I have had to work with people who are damaged and whose future ability to function wholly is very much in question.  Someone who is as profoundly modified as Brianna is a true puzzle to people who don't understand the pathology--someone like Brianna's friend from the past who wanted to blame Stephan or who had no real understanding of the depth of the damage that had been done to her.

This is a story that is not easy to read but is pertinent to the contemporary social ill of sexual slavery so rampant throughout the world.   There are other authors who have addressed this ill in compelling novels.  Cherise Sinclair's To Command and Collar deals with the rehab of a rescued woman although that book contains far more overt BDSM practices that bring that woman back into a healthy understanding of herself.  I would encourage you to do some research and to become educated about the depth and breadth of this problem.  It is estimated that 75,000 individuals are abducted annually in the United States, the majority of them women, and sold into sexual slavery.  This book may be truly helpful in seeing the hurts such terrible practices can cause.  I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Which Will It Be? Friend or Lover or Both? "Fool for Love" by Marie Force

Joe Cantrell, owner of the Gansett Island Ferry Company, has been in love with Janey McCarthy for as long as he can remember. At the same time, Janey has been dating or engaged to doctor-in-training David Lawrence. When things go horribly wrong between David and Janey, she calls her “fifth brother” Joe, one of the few people in her close circle who lives on the mainland. Janey decides a few days with Joe is just what she needs before she goes home to the island to face her parents and family with the news of her broken engagement. It was bad enough for Joe loving Janey from afar, but having her in his house is pure torture. Will he take advantage of this opportunity to show her what they could have together? And what will Joe’s best friend and Janey’s protective older brother Mac have to say about it?

Second in the "McCarthys of Gansett Island" series, this novel tells the story of the youngest McCarthy sibling, the "baby sister" and the young woman who has been patiently and systematically building her life and future around the hopes and dreams and plans of her fiance, doctor-to-be David Lawrence.  She is shocked, however, when she makes a surprise visit to her man--on the occasion of a special anniversary of their engagement--and finds that he is having an energetic romp with someone else in his apartment and subsequently tries to convince her that it was just a little "stress relief" for an overworked medical resident.  Janey has to face the fact that the relationship has been over for a long time, that she has put her dreams on hold for David, and now she is at emotional loose ends.  It is here that Joe Cantrell, close friend of her brothers--a fifth brother, if you will--and owner of the Gansett Island Ferry company steps in as "shoulder to cry on."  Little does Janey realize that Joe has been in love with her for years, has just been nursing his broken heart as he sees her planning a life with her doctor.

This is a compelling love story that is complicated by the fact that Janey's view of Joe has always been one of deep friendship as a sort-of sibling to him.  Now she begins to pick up on the sparks of his deep and long time love for her, sees Joe in a different light, and has to analyze her attachment to David, her own sense of deep disappointment over putting her own dreams on "hold" and how her future is going to play out.  Add in the fact that Joe and her brothers have been close for years and you have the added stresses of working out how to deal with all those feelings.

Perhaps the deeper "story behind the story" here is that we often get involved in emotional entanglements that we think are one thing--romantic love leading to marriage--when in truth the relationship can't sustain that kind of longevity.  In Janey's case she had taken so  much for granted, the relationship had to bear the burden of long absences between her and David, and the deeply buried disappointments she carried inside of her over putting her future on hold in favor of David's plans.  There are some surprises in this novel that keep the reader wondering what will happen next, but through it all runs the strands and bonds of deep family connection, this family's connection to the island itself, and the small but vibrant community of year round residents that make up Gansett Island.  It's a compelling love story that is a stand alone novel, but reading book one will give the reader greater understanding of the dynamics that enrich and spice up this love story.

Released in mid-2011, this book is a wonderful piece of romance fiction and is worthy of being read and enjoyed.  I hope you will give it a look.  I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Live, Love, and Laugh . . . "Opposites Attract" by Cat Johnson

A three-part lighthearted romp through the intertwining lives of six people who learn that in spite of everything you have to remember to live, love and laugh to be happy.

 Taking A Leap: Bradley Morgan is the quintessential computer geek and nice guy, through and through. The only problem is that in his opinion, nice guys almost always finish last when it comes to hot women like his sexy co-worker Alyssa Jones. But things change after Alyssa finds her boyfriend cheating. Suddenly, nice guys like Brad don't look so bad. So when Brad agrees to ghostwrite the sex scenes for a romance novel as a favor for desperate client Maria White and asks for Alyssa's help after hours, she agrees wholeheartedly and things really start to heat up. Brad and Alyssa learn you should never judge a book by its cover, and that sometimes love requires a leap of faith.

 Light My Fire: Amy Gerald's life is filled with whirlwind romance. Unfortunately, it's all on the pages of the romance novels she publishes. That is until she volunteers to cat-sit for her author friend Maria and meets Troy O'Donnell, the hunky fireman who lives next door. The problem is, this commitment-phobic consummate bachelor is far more willing to run into a burning building than allow love into his life. Troy will grasp at any excuse, even the ridiculous assumption that Amy is a lesbian, just to avoid his growing feelings for her. Amid a comedy of errors and misunderstandings, which includes Troy's first hilarious visit to a gay bar, Amy manages to light Troy's fire, but can she also conquer his fears? 

Second Time Around: Antonio Sanchez thought that at 32 his life was all mapped out--wife, kids, career...until some major bumps in theroad radically alter his course and send him careening right into the path of newly divorced Maddie Morgan. Suddenly thrust back into single life, Antonio moves back in with his old-fashioned parents and has to learn to juggle his kids, his job at the firehouse, and his role as Best Man for his newly engaged best friend Troy, all in addition to facing his unquenchable desire for Maddie. Throw in a slew of matchmaking friends and relatives, led by Maria whose apartment appears to be the Bermuda Triangle for lost lovers, and Antonio and Maddie discover just how complicated things can get. Can the pair prove that love really is better the second time around?

I hadn't read a Cat Johnson work for some time when I came across this book and decided that I need a "fix" for my Cat Johnson yen.  She has been one of my favorites for a long time and I am delighted to find this trilogy of short stories that was first released in 2007 and has now been updated and re-releasedin 2011.  

Unlike some anthologies, these stories are not only linked by theme but also are connected through the friendships and professional associations of the characters.  While each story has its own focus, all of these people seem to be stuck in some way in their personal lives, either by their own self-awareness and their sense of being "less than" or are caught in a life situation that can get complicated and often overwhelming.  

In the first story you have a young man whose self-image as a "geek" has kept him from reaching out, of exploring his relational possibilities.    Fear of being rejected for who he is, for his interests that he doesn't think would be of much interest to a sexy woman have kept him locked into a single and lonely life.  Fear can do that.  But the author sets him up in a situation that allows him to explore his sexuality in a way that gives him hiddenness while putting him in contact with a woman in such a way that both he and Alyssa discover that it is always a mistake to judge someone by external appearance or occupation. 

Story Two highlights the problem of a man who would rather eat glass than get involved in a committed relationship.  All of us know someone who has had a bad experience or whose exposure to the experiences of pals has convinced him that staying single, footloose and fancy free is really the best way to live.  Troy does indeed carry his fears a bit far, but in truth, this is a very insightful look at the way some people get stuck when down deep they really want to move forward with their lives.

The Third Story is a common enough situation, especially when 57% of American marriages end in divorce.  (For hubby and me, even at the darkest and most difficult times in our marriage, it seemed easier to "fix" the marriage problems than face the complications and difficulties a divorce would bring.)  And as it was with Anthony, life gets complicated very quickly when one does not pay attention to one's relationships and allows one's partner to become distanced.  Anthony really wasn't prepared for the single life, didn't see that divorce coming at all.  And like so many who really don't want to be alone, he found that moving on with his life was more difficult than he ever dreamed it could be.  

All these stories are fun love stories and in characteristic Cat Johnson fashion  are filled with love and under-the-covers kind of "getting it on."  But there is a deeper set of truths in these stories that make this a fun book to read on the one hand, and on the other it is a fictional look at real life problems that plague many male-female relationships.    It's a book that is well worth taking another look at and one that will be entertaining as well as thought-provoking.  I think you will enjoy it, especially if you have read other Cat Johnson books.  I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Damage Done When Safe, Sane, and Consensual Aren't Observed . . . "Slave: Finding Anna, Book I"

Stephan has lived the lifestyle of a Dominant for five years. After several rebellious teenage years, it gave him the stability and control he had been seeking after his parent’s death.

As president of a not-for-profit foundation, he knows what his future holds and what he wants out of life. All that changes when a simple lunch with his college friend and Mentor, Darren, leads him to buying a slave.

Thrust into a situation he never thought he’d be in, Stephan can’t walk away. He is compelled to help this girl in the only way he knows how.

Brianna knows only one thing, she is a slave. She has nothing. She is nothing.  Can Stephan help Brianna realize that she is much more than just a Slave?

Human trafficking is a blight on the planet Earth and is one of the most lucrative businesses alive today.  Thousands of human beings are kidnapped and sold into slavery in the United States every year,  most of whom are transported to locations outside the U. S. and are never seen or heard of again.  They disappear into a private "slave collection," brothels of varying degrees of degradation, or when they are no longer able to "perform" are driven on to the streets of a foreign country or abandoned to die of terminal illness or severe damage.  The hero in this story knew all this, wanted nothing to do with human sex trade practices.  But when he found out that a young girl was being kept as a "slave" by a known sadist, a man the BDSM community had less than a good opinion of, Stephan took matters into his own hands, "bought" this young girl, barely 18 years of age, and brought her into his home with the intent of trying to give her a life back and undo the damage done to her.  She was called Brianna by her "master" and all who knew her in the BDSM context.  When a long-time friend recognized her on one of her infrequent outings with Stephan, he called her "Anna" as that is what she had been called throughout her life with her mother and then living with the dad that betrayed her trust.

This is really not about BDSM practice between a Dom and sub so much as it is about the dastardly effects to a beautiful young woman sold to a sadist without boundaries or conscience, and who is now merely a shell of a human being.  Stephan is certainly a Dom and knows his way around a D/s relationship.  But this new challenge of literally rebuilding a human being who has been so destroyed by a lifestyle he loves is a totally new thing for him.  His compassion and his growing awareness of her, his insight into what is going through her mind whenever he speaks even the most insignificant words to her, his desire to see her reclaim her total humanity is the core of this story.  While the novel focuses on Brianna as the victim who is rescued, the novel also highlights the growth that Stephan experiences as he searches for ways to give Brianna back a sense of self while using her "training" to get her to cooperate with the simple rules he wants for her--things like texting him hourly as a way of getting her not to become obsessed with her worries about whether she is pleasing him.  Since she sees him as her new "master" she is obedient and he can work with that sense of obedience to get her to do things she needs to do to care for herself, to read again, to begin cooking (something she really loved to do), to go outside the home to shop as a way of getting her back into society.  

All in all this is a compelling and very emotional book.  I have read a few reviews that criticize the character of Brianna because she seems to fall back into destructive behavior so often.  Well . . . anyone who has ever been around anyone who has been subjected to pain and torture as a means of behavior modification (veterans will understand this) knows that it is almost always a matter of "one step forward, two steps backward" with many flashbacks and periods of remembered terror.  Stephan was a man of conscience and I was amazed at his patience and the way he developed consistent routines to put Brianna at ease so that she could begin building trust in another human being.  Even though his emotional attachment grew into love and desire, he was a man who controlled himself for her sake and because he recognized her fragile condition and cared more about her than achieving his selfish goals.  

This is an amazing book and one that I think needed to be written.  I found it on Net Galley and although it was originally released in 2011, it is now being re-released.  It is a wonderful story and the first in a trilogy about Stephan and Brianna's relationship.  I hope you'll think seriously about reading this novel.  I give it a 4.25 out of 5.