Friday, April 26, 2013

Giving New Meaning To ". . . the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" -- a Riveting Trilogy By Niki Savage

Every once in awhile I come across a series or trilogy of stories that seem to grab my interest and imagination more than is usual.  The first book has been on my eReader for a very long time and for some reason I just haven't taken the time to read it.  Don't know why I bought it in the first place--probably because of some blurb on All Romance eBooks or some such website.  Suffice it to say, when I got around to reading it recently, I was hooked and I mean really hooked!

This is the first book in the Crossfire Trilogy.
A deadly mercenary wakes up in the home of Marcelle Deschamps, a woman he has never met, but who haunts his dreams. As the weeks go by, and his body heals, he finds himself falling in love with her, but can he overcome the guilt he feels at the life stolen from her? Will the dark side of his psyche, the result of his terrible past, triumph and hurt her? If she finds out his part in the death of her husband, will she chase him away or grant him absolution?

Marcelle Deschamps, the golden girl of world cycling, struggles to cope with life after the death of her husband, a famous racing driver. Life is a challenge, where even a restful night’s sleep is impossible. She saves Stefan Ziegler’s life when she finds him helpless and wounded, and gives him shelter in her home. Soon she finds out that her patient has the uncanny ability to grant her the peace that has eluded her for two years. Claude, a close friend, warns her that Stefan is a soulless killer, and not the man he pretends to be. Should she believe Claude, or listen to what her heart tells her? Can she risk trusting the man who holds her heart in his hands?

This first book really sets the stage for all that comes from here on out.  It is filled with people who are good to the core, some who flirt with danger or skirt the rules of society, and there are those who are evil through and through.  Stefan is a man with a sad and destructive past, an upbringing that has made him first and foremost into a survivor, a man who has learned to discount the value of human life, especially those who think it is OK to kill innocents for political gain or because of their loyalty to fanatical causes.  It is just such a person who has wounded Stefan seriously and whose life is inextricably linked to Stefan and Marcelle throughout all three books.  Yet for both of the main characters, their meeting has now opened up new possibilities, the kind neither ever expected and which neither know how to  manage.  Stefan is truly in love for the first time in his life;  Marcelle, however, is struggling with the grief over her first husband, a man who accepted her, her need for winning, her unpredictable lifestyle, and her sometimes killer mood-swings and who loved her unconditionally.  How does one move on from that kind of loss?  Yet loss is a reality and an ever-present component of Stefan's life, one he is becoming less and less able to tolerate as time goes on and as his love for Marcelle grows.

 Stefan tries to find his way back into Marcelle's heart, but his betrayal had wounded her deeply, and she had fallen into a destructive lifestyle. To save Marcelle's life, he kidnaps her and takes her back to La Montagne. Will this turn out to be the biggest mistake he has ever made? Will she ever trust him again?

Falling in love is one thing, managing and sustaining a long-term relationship built on that emotion is often not easy.  For these two very intense and very differently motivated people, just keeping their schedules coordinated takes skill.  Their hearts are not atuned to putting someone else's interest first.  For Marcelle it is all about winning, and she begins to slide down the slippery slope that plagues many professional athletes when she becomes involved with prescription and performance enhancing drugs.  Yet it all goes back to her unwillingness to move on from her husband's death--the "ice" of numbing grief keeps on threatening to encase her insides.  Only Stefan has been able to melt that coldness and now he is distant from her, with their break-up once again putting her back into that lonely, dark place where the ice can once again paralyze her.  Stefan is a man of action and only his intervention can stop her destructive behaviors.  It is a book that will further entrap the reader in a story that just keeps on getting more and more complicated.  This story brings background characters more to the forefront of the story, with their contributions to the situation that binds Stefan and Marcelle.  

Stefan's worst fears come true when Marcelle disappears after a meeting with her cycling team manager on his smallholding outside Paris. As Omega, an anti-terrorist organisation, starts a race against the clock, desperate to find her before it’s too late, Stefan goes to pieces, blaming himself for drawing her into his world. Can their marriage survive such a cruel test? Will Marcelle’s bitter experiences at the hands of her captors change her forever, even if she survives? Will she blame Stefan? Can he stop blaming himself?

What keeps coming out in these three books is the fact that Stefan is a man with a genius IQ, a person who has put together an anti-terrorist organization that is sought by individuals and governments alike, and a man who has never really resolved his own personal sense of loos and guilt over what has happened in his past.  Add in his fear that his enemies will take Marcelle as a way of getting to him, and you have a potent mixture of emotions, fears, and anxiety that continues to play out in the situations in this story.  Stefan is so fearful of making Marcelle a target, that he insists on keeping their relationship a secret and gives her a necklace, a locket shaped out of a ruby that contains evidences of his love for her.  Yet his worst fears become a reality.  The first half of this novel tell of Marcelle's personal trip to hell as she is tortured by Stefan's enemies, some of whom he thought he had eliminated.  The second half is about her recovery, her difficulties trying to re-enter a "normal" life (if you can call Stefan's world normal), and the rocky ups and downs of trying to keep their relationship intact.  What is most distressing is the fact that both these powerful and intense people have a skewed sense of reality that has been warped by their past experiences, all of which are painful and destructive.

This trilogy is intense, deeply emotional, filled with suspense, pain, and deep hurt, balanced by the healing and redeeming power of love that each of these characters desire so desperately.  By the end of the third book I had really mixed feelings:  on the one hand I was really worn out over all that these two had endured. On the other hand, there was a pressing desire to read a sequel that would prove that these two were able to put their relationship together in a sustainable way.  I don't know if the author can do that, but perhaps in writing additional stories about the Omega personnel, author Niki Savage can also provide some updates on Stefan and Marcelle.  I know that lots of reviewers would love to know that they got past all the PTSD that has plagued them and found a sure foundation for a life together that endures.

This is the first work I have read by this author but I think she has done a great job.  All the books are well written and the stories flow in such a way that it is obvious to me that the author has a good grasp of the stories as a whole.  When I was teaching creative writing it was always obvious when a student was sort of making it up as they went along without some sort of plan that gave the story structure.  Not so here.  It is a series/trilogy that readers can sink their teeth into, that will hold their interest from the beginning and will involve the reader both intellectually as well as emotionally.  One warning:  some reviewers have been impatient because the recovery phase in book three seems extended.  That's the whole point.  Both Stefan and Marcelle are faced with the necessity of facing their wounds and dealing with them in constructive ways, not just "stuffing" them away as many are wont to do.  These are not easy books to read and they will put  the reader's patience to the test.  I think that's OK in this instance.  What these two have endured is not easy to overcome.

So read and enjoy -- these books came out in 2011 and 2012.  But they were new to  me and I found them well worth the time and effort to experience.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Reading . . . a Lifetime of Companionship With Books

I guess it's really no mystery why I inevitably end up with my nose in a book at almost every opportunity.  I learned to read when I was four years old and I can clearly remember the first time I read words out of the reading primer I had, the absolute delight at having successfully translated those marks on the page into language both my mother and I could understand.  Yes, it was the Dick and Jane book, but it was nowhere but 'up' from that point.

Reading has always been my safe haven . . . the entry into that magical world of literary entertainment or learning that has always fascinated me.  During my growing up years I was prone to have four or five books "going" at once, scattered all around my house, so that no matter what my mom gave me to do, there was a book handy and I could keep it in one hand while struggling to do something with the other.  I never had any trouble keeping the stories straight either.

Now I have walked through several decades of life, raised children with my hubby of many years, and all through those personal and professional times I have had my friends:  my books.  Our recent move turned out to be far more expensive than we planned, largely because of all my books.  My hubby would have gladly had a book-burning for the whole neighborhood but it would have been like a wholesale massacre of my "friends."  And in recent years, reading for enjoyment as well as for book reviews has taken up time but none of those moments spent reading have been difficult.  Now my hubby gets irritated when he sees my nose in a book more often than not, but as much as he loves to read it has never been the safe place for him as it has for me.

Now with my daughter's near and close skirmish with cancer, reading has been where I have gone for stress relief.  I know others who love games on the computer or their iPads or iPods or cell phones, but I just have my stack of books and that's where I find it so relaxing to roam amid the lives of others, learn about far away places and times long gone, and appreciate the scholarship and efforts of those writers who give us non-fiction tomes as well as committed literary artisans who craft stories of fantasy.   How I wish I could have done something like that.  Of course, I realize I can do things others can't, so I guess it's important that I appreciate and treasure my own gifts as well as others.

I just know that reading has been a constant in my life for all but about four years, and I can't conceive of it ever being different.  I wonder sometimes what I would do if my sight were to be threatened or fail.  I guess that would open up the world of audiobooks.  In any event, I don't think I can ever imagine my life without the companionship of books.  They are truly the doorway to the world and to a kind of tension release I don't think I could have done without.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Grim Reaper visited My Neighborhood . . . so to speak

It's absolutely the truth and when it happened, it caught us all unawares.  Death tried to come calling, and needless to say, and that almost-visit managed to be a significant wake-up call.  Enough with the flowery language.  We've had a scare in our family.

For my family which is made up of a preponderance of women, the spectre of breast cancer had never been a problem.  We were all careful to get our mammograms, to do our self-examinations, to eat well and keep our immune systems health.  But at least one woman in every generation(on my mother's side) of my family have had cystic breast disease so we have sort of held our collective breath to see if the condition would get lethal.  Well, it finally has.

Last week, one of my three daughters had breast cancer surgery.  And yet, her story is one of those that almost has the listener's jaw dropping.  She had her regular mammogram at the end of 2012.  Clear as a bell!  Thankfully, she has a family doctor who looked at those films and didn't like what she saw.  The radiologist didn't either.  So there was enough uneasiness that they convinced the insurance to pay for a MRI biopsy on the left breast.  Benign!  But . . . the MRI revealed a mass in the right breast that didn't even show up on the mammogram.  So another MRI biopsy was scheduled.  Again . . . benign.  So since the masses were fairly significant, the oncology surgeon recommended removal which was done.  No problem, right?  Wrong.  When the mass from the right breast was examined post op in the pathology lab, it was discovered that it was malignant.  All this after a mammogram and two biopsies that declared everything was fine.  Good thing she had doctors who weren't comfortable with the test results.

Now she has had the follow-up mastectomy with the beginnings of reconstruction and is doing well in her post-op recovery.  I did tell her that getting up in the middle of the night to give her pain medication was reminiscent of night feedings, and helping her with her showers was a whole lot more trouble than when I used to give her baths in the kitchen sink when she was a baby.  But all in all, she's doing well, and even when she had a bit of an emotional melt-down--something we all have when we are on the other side of a crisis -- she had to admit that the idea of being a cancer survivor was mind-boggling to say the least.

We seldom realize how close death comes . . . we may not even realize that we were just "that close" to having a terrible accident, or that if we had been just a few moment early or late we would have been in a life-threatening situation.  We live without concern that we may be days away from heart attack or stroke (those kinds of things happen to other people) or that people we love are in some kind of danger that could bring about their death.  So now that we have felt the faint breeze caused by the flapping robes of the Grim Reaper in our family as he made his presence known, we all have a new appreciation for the joy of living, of knowing that every day is precious.

Yesterday is gone.
Tomorrow isn't here yet.
We only have today, and that is why we call it "The Present."

Many, many thanks for the gift of today and the lives we all share.