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And here’s another catch up post of long overdue mini reviews.
The Shadow Ellysium by Django Wexler
B / B+
This short novella served its purpose as a teaser to generate interest in the Shadow Campaigns series. I loaded The Thousand Names on my Kindle – now I just need time to read it!
To Win Her Favor by Tamera Alexander
B / B+
This inspirational romance caught my eye because of the horse on the cover. Maggie is dismayed when her father arranges her marriage to Cullen, an Irish immigrant. She’s reluctant to marry a complete stranger, and an Irishman at that. She’s also fearful that he’ll object to her training her mare to run in an upcoming race.
I enjoyed the development of the romance, as well as the details of daily life on a farm in post Civil War Tennessee. The author doesn’t shy away from describing the prejudices and terrible treatment of the Irish and African Americans. At first I had a hard time with Maggie because her thoughts and views mirrored those of her neighbors, but as she got to know Cullen and the farm hands working for them, she began to finally see them as individuals deserving respect. And the horsey bits were entertaining.
Hit! by Deliah S Dawson
This just did not work for me. I can’t help but think that a huge banking conglomerate would have a better solution for deadweight borrowers than having them assassinated, or forcing them to be assassins. Meh, I didn’t care for HIT.
Mad About the Major by Elizabeth Boyle
Fun read with a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off vibe. Lady Arabella escapes the suffocating confines of her father’s estate to grab a small taste of freedom before she’s forced to marry a stodgy old bachelor. Her father is furious with her because a handsome stranger made a spectacle of her at a ball, and now he’s adamant that she marry before she’s completely ruined. She runs into the rakish Kingsley, the stranger from the ball, after he almost runs her down with his carriage. Arabella convinces him to accompany her on her day of freedom, arguing that he owes her three favors for his behavior at the ball. What follows is an enjoyable romp through London, as Arabella and Kingsley fall for each other during their unusual adventures. I really enjoyed this.
I have been reading up a storm, but I’ve been lax on writing reviews. Here’s a quick catch up post with short reviews.
Hello, I Love You by Katie M Stout
This dragged for me, and I didn’t think there was any chemistry between Grace and Jason. I read this mainly for the setting, but the school might as well have been anywhere, which was a big disappointment. Cultural details were sparse and shallow. I didn’t get a feeling that Grace was in a foreign country, and the fact that everyone she interacted with spoke English didn’t help make this unique or different. It also bugged me that Jason and his sister were the only Koreans to use Korean names.
The Surgeon and the Cowgirl by Heidi Hormel
C / C+
Both protagonists were all about “Me, me, me!” and it felt like it took forever for them to mature. I’m not completely convinced that they will ever effectively communicate, which made the ending rushed and not completely believable.
What Once We Feared by Carrie Ryan
Not enough here to even call this a short story. Lots of potential, but it fell flat because it felt so incomplete. This should have been called a teaser, not a short story.
Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire
Fun, quirky read that somehow combines ballroom dance with mythological critters.
Verity comes from a long line of cryptozoologists, but her true passion is for competitive dance. She’s spending a year in Manhattan to pursue her dance career, as well as to keep an eye on the beasties living in the big city. When Dominic, a member of Covenant, arrives in town, his kill all non-humans before even asking them how their day is going attitude gets on Very’s nerves. Both Dominic and the sudden appearance of a snake cult in the sewers under the city have made her life extremely complicated.
Though it got a little draggy in places, and was over the top in others, overall Discount Armageddon was a fun adventure.
May Contain Spoilers
Continuing my Harlequin marathon, I discovered that the library has Harlequin bundles in their collection. BUNDLES! Of HARLEQUINS! It’s like being a kid in a candy store after hours, with no supervision and nobody to tell you to STOP gorging yourself with all of that yummy candy! This discovery is the equivalent of finding King Tut’s tomb, so forgive me as I gleefully consume as many Harlequins as I can. Every day I read until my EYES BLEED!
Getting back to the topic at hand: I borrowed the March 2014 American Romance bundle because it was actually available for check out. These bundles are very popular, and I am on wait lists for about 4 others. I love the opportunity to read new to me authors, because when I pick single issue titles, I go by authors I have already read, or a brief perusal of the blurb. I don’t even look at that with the bundles. I just start at the beginning and work my way to the end. I have yet to encounter a title I disliked so much that I didn’t want to finish it, and it’s been fun just reading for the sake reading.
As it turns out, I have read Cathy Gillen Thacker a few times before. Each title has been a solid read. The Texas Wildcatter’s Baby featured a great hero, but I had some trouble with Ginger, the heroine. She is fearful of being betrayed after an unhappy marriage, so she has become super independent. When she learns that she’s pregnant after a night with her serial hook-up Rand, she’s momentarily panic-stricken. She is bidding on the biggest oil drilling project of her career, and she only has one shot to get it right. This is a make it or break it moment for her fledging business. Now that she’s pregnant, she’s afraid of how it will impact her career. The oil business is dominated by men, and after her husband’s company humored her ambitions to build a career for herself, she’s afraid of anything that will make her look weak before the competition.
With a plan in mind, she confronts Rand with the news. Then she proposes a temporary marriage to him, just until the baby is born. It will be better for her business if she’s married when the pregnancy is common knowledge. She also wants Rand to be a part of their baby’s life. They agree to a quickie wedding at the county courthouse, but things don’t go exactly as they had planned. Instead, they show up at Rand’s family home, where his family has already learned about the marriage and throws them a surprise wedding party. It’s also a chance to catch up with a few of Rand’s brothers, who have been featured in other books.
Once they’re married, it’s all about work for Ginger. She has to nail down her proposal for the oil drilling project, and work comes first for Ginger. She now has a little one to worry about. Forget about Rand! He’ll be fine one his own. That’s what drove me bonkers about Ginger. Rand is one of the most perfect romance heroes that I’ve come across, and Ginger is too busy maintaining her independence to figure that out. He’s kind, protective, and helpful. What woman wouldn’t give her eyeteeth for a guy who FOLDS laundry?? Or lets her sleep in and catch up on her rest? The list of his positive qualities is endless, but Ginger turns a blind eye to all of them.
To stir up trouble with the couple, they also have to deal with Ginger’s clingy mother and her devious ex. Through it all, Rand has her back, and eventually, even Ginger begins to appreciate his presence in her life. She’s just too afraid of losing her independence to admit it to him, let alone herself, so the grade took a knock because I was so frustrated with her. It’s not until 4 or 5 pages until the end that she gives in to her feelings and confesses her love, and that was cutting it far too close for me. Otherwise, this was an enjoyable read.
Review copy borrowed from my local library
Love Isn’t Part of the Deal
Ginger Rollins can’t believe she gave in to temptation—again! It’s time for her and Rand McCabe to face the consequences. Never mind that the geological engineer and sexy environmental cowboy are on opposite sides when it comes to the Texas land they both love. Now that she’s pregnant, they have one option.
Rand isn’t used to being proposed to by a woman—especially one as gorgeous as Ginger—but he’s all for getting married. Too bad the independent wildcatter sees their union as a nonnegotiable deal. Doesn’t she know they share more than hot chemistry? How long can he keep his feelings—and their baby—a secret? Rand vowed to love and honor Ginger forever. And it’s a promise he intends to keep….
May Contain Spoilers
I read The Girl Who Could Fly because I received a copy for a blog tour. I love middle-grade books, and since it’s been a while since I read one, I was excited to start this. I loved the author’s voice, especially while Piper is still at the family farm. She’s a surprise to her older, salt of the earth parents, and when the lively, happy Piper is born, they are taken aback. They are, while not joyless folk, serious and dedicated to the land that has been in the family for generations. They don’t need much and are content to get by, farming the land, tending their livestock, and fitting, uneventfully, into their community.
Then along comes Piper. She floats. Her mother Betty immediately realizes that her daughter isn’t “normal.” To a woman who embraces being normal and not tempting fate, who relishes doing things as they have always been done, Piper is an unexpected hiccup in her road of normalcy. Betty decides that it’s best to keep Piper on the farm, homeschooled and doing her chores, so that the neighbors don’t start gossiping about them. Piper upsets her plans one summer day, when she watches a momma bird push her babies out of the nest. Piper wonders if she can fly too. And once Piper sets her mind to something, nothing is going to get in her way until she accomplishes it.
An unfortunate event at the Fourth of July picnic, the first that Piper’s been allowed to attend, has disastrous consequences. The entire community learns that Piper can fly. Soon, the entire world knows. When Dr Letitia Hellion and her crew from the top secret institute I.N.S.A.N.E. show up at the farm, promising to school Piper in her abilities, and to keep her safe, the McClouds have no choice but to let their daughter go with them. What Piper finds isn’t exactly the paradise she’s been promised, but it takes the help of a mean supergenius to figure out that she’s actually a prisoner and not a student at the high tech facility in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by miles and miles of snow and ice.
I loved Piper and Conrad. Piper is completely guileless, the total opposite of Conrad. Conrad is frustrated and just plain mean, and Piper’s happy attitude grates on his last nerve. He picks on her mercilessly, and Piper, who doesn’t have much experience in social settings, first tries to win him over, and when that doesn’t work, tries to ignore him. Of course he gets her into trouble every chance he can, until one disturbing event makes Piper realize that all is not as it seems at the institute. Conrad and Dr Hellion have been locked in a battle of wits for four years, and Conrad believes that with Piper’s help, he’ll finally get the best of her.
I liked how Piper fought to be true to herself, even at a terrible price to herself. While she yearns to fit in, she begins to realize that being who she is is more important that being popular. Her sunny disposition does endear her to others, regardless of how hard they try to resist. I liked the message that being different isn’t bad, and everyone deserves a chance to be who they really are.
The Girl Who Could Fly is a quick read, with action, adventure, and danger. It’s also about learning to get along with others despite their differences, and the importance of being yourself. I am looking forward to The Boy Who Knew Everything, because I enjoyed Conrad so much.
Review copy provided by publisher
About the book:
You just can’t keep a good girl down . . . unless you use the proper methods.
Piper McCloud can fly. Just like that. Easy as pie.
Sure, she hasn’t mastered reverse propulsion and her turns are kind of sloppy, but she’s real good at loop-the-loops.
Problem is, the good folk of Lowland County are afraid of Piper. And her ma’s at her wit’s end. So it seems only fitting that she leave her parents’ farm to attend a top-secret, maximum-security school for kids with exceptional abilities.
School is great at first with a bunch of new friends whose skills range from super-strength to super-genius. (Plus all the homemade apple pie she can eat!) But Piper is special, even among the special. And there are consequences.
Consequences too dire to talk about. Too crazy to consider. And too dangerous to ignore.
At turns exhilarating and terrifying, Victoria Forester’s debut novel has been praised by Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight saga, as “the oddest/sweetest mix of Little House on the Prairie and X-Men…Prepare to have your heart warmed.” The Girl Who Could Fly is an unforgettable story of defiance and courage about an irrepressible heroine who can, who will, who must . . . fly.
May Contain Spoilers
I loved House Immortal. I purchased it when it was an Amazon deal of the day, and I read it on the plane to Tampa two weeks ago. Everything about it felt fresh and new, and I really liked Tilly. I didn’t like the cliffhanger ending, but since I have the next book in the series cued up on my Kindle, the irritation didn’t last long.
Matilda Case has been living a low profile existence on the family farm, taking care of her senile grandmother, as well as the creatures her father stitched together. Tilly herself is a galvanized, a being stitched together from bits and pieces. When she was a child, she became ill and would have died if her memories hadn’t been housed in the stitched together body. Now she’s hiding out on the farm, pretending to be human, while avoiding allegiance to any particular House. In Tilly’s world, there are only twelve galvanized beings (thirteen, counting Tilly), they gave up their rights to be considered human to stop a war, and now they are possessions, fought over by the powerful Houses that rule a post-apocalyptic Earth.
When the head of one of the Houses, Slater Orange, of House Orange, learns about Tilly, he’s sure that his mind and memories can be stitched into another body, too. With Quentin, Tilly’s genius brother, a prisoner in his House, he’s racing against time to see his dream realized before the disease ravaging his body kills him. With Tilly’s life hanging in the balance, Quentin is reluctantly forced to cooperate with Slater.
Tilly has been worried about Quentin. He hasn’t been home in years, and she hasn’t heard a word from him. When the peace of the farm is shattered by the arrival of Abraham, one of the galvanized, she’s forced to leave her home and pledge to a House. Otherwise, because she doesn’t have any rights under the law, the Houses will fight for her and she could end up with any of them. Determined to make the best of a bad situation, Tilly has decided to use her new connections to locate her missing brother.
That’s the basic plot, and I don’t want to give away any more details. I enjoyed the pacing and the characters. Tilly is one tough, independent woman, and she doesn’t let anyone intimidate her. Because she has the strength of a galvanized, she’s doesn’t back down from confrontations. She’s also basically immortal, which also gives her confidence in tense, life-threatening situations. I guess if I was that hard to kill, as well as that valuable, I wouldn’t be a pushover, either.
There are some light romantic elements between Tilly and Abraham. Abraham also serves as a mentor as Tilly negotiates the confusing new world she’s become enmeshed in. I liked the concept of these powerful, immortal beings that are also powerless in the society they live in. Abraham brokered the peace to end the war, convincing the other galvanized to give up their rights under the law to prevent the slaughter of more humans. Some of the galvanized are not in good situations and they are mistreated by their current contract holders. Once they sign a contract with a House, the word of the House leader is law, and they have to follow whatever orders they are given, whether they agree with them or not.
If I have one complaint about the story, I thought that the pacing got bogged down a little near the end. I didn’t care about another roll call of the galvanized and their accomplishments; I wanted to find out what happened to Quentin and Abraham. Otherwise, I thought House Immortal was exciting, suspenseful, and creative. I can hardly wait to crack open Infinity Bell, the next book in the series.
Review copy purchased from Amazon
One hundred years ago, eleven powerful ruling Houses consolidated all of the world’s resources and authority into their own grasping hands. Only one power wasn’t placed under the command of a single House: the control over the immortal galvanized….
Matilda Case isn’t like most folk. In fact, she’s unique in the world, the crowning achievement of her father’s experiments, a girl pieced together from bits. Or so she believes, until Abraham Seventh shows up at her door, stitched with life thread just like her and insisting that enemies are coming to kill them all.
Tilly is one of thirteen incredible creations known as the galvanized, stitched together beings immortal and unfathomably strong. For a century, each House has fought for control over the galvanized. Now the Houses are also tangled in a deadly struggle for dominion over death—and Tilly and her kind hold the key to unlocking eternity
The secrets that Tilly must fight to protect are hidden within the very seams of her being. And to get the secrets, her enemies are willing to tear her apart piece by piece.…
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It’s not enough to just want something and hope that it will be delivered to you on a silver platter. Unfortunately for most of us, life isn’t that simple. What we try to teach our kids is that you absolutely can achieve your aspirations, your goals, your dreams, but it takes work, persistence and determination. […]
I love this Liana Brooks quote so much I decided to illustrate it. :-)
And on the topic of helping the authors whose work you enjoy, here are some ways to help authors even if you can't afford to buy their books.
May Contain Spoilers
Milly isn’t having a good day. Her refuge for the next two weeks has been yanked out from under her, and instead of working as a chalet girl for a rich couple and their kids, she’ll be heading back home to face her friends’ pitying glances. After catching her fiancé doing the nasty with her best friend, she’s lost a lot of confidence in herself, as well as her dreams for the future. The temporary position in France was going to get her out of London long enough for her loser ex, Robbie, and her former BFF to clear out of her place, and allow her to squeeze in a little ski time, too. Convincing her boss to let her stay in the chalet overnight to get some sleep before heading back home, Milly meets Lucas, a guy she assumes is a ski instructor.
Lucas is really a handsome young billionaire, and he owns the chalet. When his mother’s friends can’t keep their vacation plans due to a family illness, Lucas pulls some strings and gets them to pay for Milly’s time anyway. He’s annoyed that they didn’t let her know about their change of plans, and he finds her amusing and refreshing. Milly doesn’t know who he is, and she treats him like a person, not a bank account. He thinks that he’ll decompress for a few days, go skiing with Milly, and amuse himself at the same time. When the cat gets out of the bag, he has an irate Milly to deal with. She’s angry that Lucas wasn’t upfront about his identity, and she feels like a fool for jumping to conclusions. He offers to help her out financially, if she’ll go to Madrid and pretend to be his fiancée. His mother is not well, and he wants to her to stop worrying about him finding himself a wife.
While I enjoyed the author’s writing style, as well as Milly’s down to earth personality, there was a distinct lack of chemistry between the protagonists. This was another story featuring a hero who has convinced himself he can never fall in love, due to an unpleasant experience when he was nineteen. He’s in his thirties now. I would hope that he would get over the unpleasantness after more than ten years!
Even though this story didn’t work for me, I would like to read more by the author. I liked her easy-going writing style and the heroine’s inner monologs.
Review copy borrowed from my local library
The Secret Billionaire
Billionaire Lucas Romero is many things—brooding, talented and a consummate womanizer. The one thing he’s not? The “ski instructor” beautiful, innocent Milly Mayfield thought she was giving herself to in a sumptuous, secluded French ski chalet! And now she’s livid!
Arrogant playboy Lucas is bewildered by Milly’s decidedly unusual reaction to the revelation of his substantial wealth—he’s never had complaints before! But even Milly cannot ignore the sexual chemistry between them. So when a family emergency means he needs a willing woman by his side, Milly suddenly finds herself whisked away to Spain…and engaged!
What makes a book worth reading?
A Theory of Expanded Love, for instance.
This coming-of-age novel by Caitlin Hicks plays out in the months between two famous deaths—Pope John XXIII and President Kennedy, in 1963.
I caught up with Caitlin Hicks to discuss issues important to fiction writers.
“What’s your book about, Caitlin? What’s its message?”
“Message?” she says. “No message. It’s a novel.” And a hilarious one, I might add.
And yet I don’t entirely believe her. Her story is definitely about something. I don’t give novels much of my time if they don’t appear to be about something. The story’s 12-year-old protagonist, Annie Shea, is too outspoken for the book not to say something.
Hicks soon confesses that she “had a question to answer with the story,” and so I ask her, “What question?”
“I’m not telling you!” she says. “I’m not telling anyone.”
She’s starting to sound like Annie, smart and sassy and skilled at digging her heels in.
“If you read the book,” says Hicks, “maybe you’ll find the answer.” Or maybe not. “Because it’s not directly answerable in an obvious way,” she says.
“Was your question answered for you?” I ask.
“Yes, but I’m not going to say what it was.”
Every good book has a secret centre
Caitlin Hicks is right to protect the mystery of her question. Readers love books that circle a central question, even if it’s never explained.
The best novels, like A Theory of Expanded Love, possess a secret centre.
I reflect on novels that have bored me—books whose point is quickly obvious. The hero’s trajectory is unambiguous, and so lacks mystery. The reading experience is mediocre, if not downright tedious. Genre fiction can get like that.
Perhaps this is why A Theory of Expanded Love is getting such rave reviews, because it is about something that is “not answerable in an obvious way.” Something to do with love. Or the lack of it. That’s my guess.
One of thirteen siblings, Annie Shea had to fight for face-time with her mother. “I had been tracking her around the house so she would notice me,” says Annie. Perhaps there’s not enough love in a large family to go around. Or does love expand infinitely? That’s a theme you can build a novel around.
“Whenever I have a question,” Hicks says, “and I create something from that question, it usually turns out to have some holding power.”
By holding power she means compelling. I know writers who want to take that word out and shoot it. It haunts them and for good reason. Compelling is the Holy Grail for novelists who want to write a book worth reading.
As long as I’m exploring…
“As long as I’m exploring then it’s interesting,” says Hicks. “My curiosity is everywhere in the book.”
Hicks may be touching the heart of the matter: As long as the writer is exploring, the story holds the reader.
Few writers speak of stories having an unspoken theme or core. One believer is Orhan Pamuk (Nobel Prize for Literature, 2006):
“[The reader] cannot help reflecting on the meaning of life as he tries to locate the centre of the novel he is reading. For in seeking this centre, he is seeking the centre of his own life and that of the world.”
I wonder if Hicks is trying probe the centre of her own life in the novel. Is her story fact or fiction?
Memoir vs. novel
Since Hicks and her protagonist were both raised in large Catholic families in Pasadena, California, I have assumed that A Theory of Expanded Love is autobiographical.
“Annie Shea is not me,” Hicks says. “This is not a memoir, it’s a novel. I’m not a redhead. Annie is so much smarter and confident. I may have thought what she thought, but I didn’t question things. I was a well-bred Catholic girl all the way up to graduating from college. I was going to confession every day. I was trying to be holy.”
For Caitlin Hicks, her real-life family wasn’t sufficiently pregnant with story material.
“I couldn’t write a memoir because I felt like I knew everything I wanted to know about my family. But then ‘the question’ came up, and I wondered why that was?”
Out of that curiosity a novel was born.
It’s a novel that explores family life through the antics of a pre-pubescent girl, and it made me laugh out loud. Annie is a girl whose desperation derives not from abuse or neglect but from a powerful urge to know how life works. Especially love.
That’s definitely it. Something about love. Love expanding to nourish every newborn heart. Is that it, Caitlin?
“It’s not really a secret,” Hicks says. “But I’m not going to tell. It’s unmentioned, but through the whole book you get a sense of what that might be.”
Here’s what I think:
Love is infinite, and when you read this novel you feel it shining through the young and rebellious Annie Shea.
Annie’s story is more than well worth reading.
May Contain Spoilers
I read His Defiant Desert Queen because it was included in the Harlequin Presents bundle that I borrowed from the library. I randomly checked it out because it also included a Caitlin Crews title. I didn’t read any of the descriptions prior to gobbling them up, and I definitely had mixed success with this collection. I had so many reservations about this title, my first by Jane Porter. Though I ultimately enjoyed it, I had to resist the very strong urge to DNF it at the beginning.
Jemma Copeland is not having a good year. Her father was busted for running the biggest Ponzi scam in history. Instead of paying his dues, he’s high-tailed it with some of his ill-gotten gains (he did get what he deserved), leaving his clueless family behind to deal with the scandal. Jemma’s modeling career was destroyed, her fiancé dumped her, and her friends all turned their backs on her. Now she’s struggling to make ends meet. When she’s offered a modeling job in Saidia, she uses her sister’s passport to secure a visa after being denied entry into the country under her own name. When Sheik Mikael discovers her deception, he’s extremely displeased that Jemma flaunted the laws of his country. He also has a bone to pick with her family after his mother fell victim to her father’s schemes, leading to his mother’s death.
Mikael drags Jemma to his tribal village so the village elder can pass judgment on her. Mikael is given two choices regarding her punishment. Either she spends seven years as a “guest” in the village, or he marries her. Even though he feels nothing but contempt for her, he loads her on a camel, ties her to the saddle, and rides off to his desert palace, all without her consent. That right there almost caused me to stop reading the book. In Mikael’s country, the sheiks have kidnapped their brides for generations, in order to cement tribes together through marriage. I didn’t buy that, and had a hard time dealing with both his contempt for her and his treatment of her.
The story did get much better as it went along, despite my reservations with the premise. As Mikael and Jemma spend their “honeymoon” together in Mikael’s sumptuous home , they slowly get to know each other. Mikael comes to understand that Jemma had no control over her father’s actions, and he slowly realizes that she’s nothing like he thought she’d be. He also begins to put his own guilt over his mother’s death into perspective, and begins to forgive himself for how he acted after his parents divorced. He has a lot of inner turmoil to overcome, and with Jemma’s help, he begins to work through them.
As far as Jemma went, I didn’t like her at first. She is all about Me, Me, Me! She agrees to go through with the farce of a honeymoon, knowing that in eight days she can just tell Mikael that she’s not happy and he’ll send her back home. As the days go by, though, she starts to realize that she is happy, the happiest that she has ever been. She’s no longer lonely. Mikael is a tender and passionate lover, and she genuinely enjoys his company. Before she knows it, she’s fallen in love with him. That turns out to be another point of contention, because Mikael has promised himself that he will never fall in love (this is such an overused trope in romance, and frankly, it is one that I am losing patience with). This opens the door to more conflict, and Mikael’s final realization that he can’t bear to let Jemma go.
By the end of the story, I believed that Jemma was happy, and that Mikael made her feel safe, protected, and cherished. I also believed that Mikael forgave himself, allowing himself to find the love that had eluded him.
Review copy borrowed from my local library
I will not marry you. I will not!
When Sheikh Mikael catches notorious model Jemma Copeland flaunting Saidia’s laws—and her body—in his desert, he knows one thing: revenge against his family’s destruction is within his reach! To achieve it he makes Jemma an offer: imprisonment or marriage.
With her life shattered by the scandal that rocked her family, Jemma needed that modeling job. She didn’t know that she was breaking the law! But Mikael’s outrageous proposal pushes her beyond shock…to utter fury. If he expects her to be a meek, pliable bride, this arrogant sheikh has another think coming!
Most Certainly Contains Spoilers
My Harlequin-o-rama continues with Blame it on the Rodeo. I borrowed this because Lexi is a vet, and there’s a horse on the cover. I had no expectations going into it, and truthfully, I didn’t even read the entire synopsis. Sometimes that bites me in the rear, but this time I was pleasantly surprised, and I could not put this book down. I loved it!
I had a great feeling about the story when it started with an equine embryo transfer. That is how my Morgan, Elle, was bred. She’s an embryo transfer, and was carried by a Saddlebred surrogate. I have never encountered this in a story before, and I was really excited to see it here. When I pick up a book featuring a veterinarian, I expect the protagonist to do veterinarian things. I was so pleased with all of the medical procedures in Lexi’s daily activities; Coggins tests, West Nile vacations, helping to with a difficult delivery – these are things I hope to read about, so Amanda Renee gets a double thumbs up for Lexi’s profession feeling authentic.
As the story progressed, I started to get a little apprehensive. When Lexi was an eighteen year old college student, she and her high school sweetheart shared a romantic weekend together, and Lexi wound up pregnant. Home for Thanksgiving, she intended to tell Shane that he’s going to be a father, only to learn that he’s about to marry another woman because he got her pregnant. Heartbroken that he cheated on her, Lexi kept her pregnancy to herself, carried her baby to term, and then, knowing that she’s not ready for motherhood, placed him with an adoption agency. Now, thirteen years later, her secret has come home to roost. Lexi suspects that young Hunter, a student at Shane’s rodeo school, is the son she gave up all those years ago.
Lexi’s anguish is compelling and believable. After hiring a private investigator to confirm her suspicions, she is conflicted. Does she disrupt Hunter’s happy life and let him know that she’s his mother? Does she throw a major wrench in Shane’s life and tell him what happened? She kept her pregnancy a secret from everyone, including her own family, and now she’s afraid of what they will think of her. I was completely sympathetic, and wondered what she was going to do to bring a measure of peace to herself.
Shane, on the other hand…I had issues with Shane. The first major strike against him was his cheating. Sure, he was young, but I expect a romance hero to be faithful. He is urged by his parents to marry the buckle bunny he knocked up, only to learn a year later that the child is not his. Oops! Oh, the irony! His long-time friend is pregnant with his child, and he marries a woman pretending to be pregnant with his child. Ouch! Maybe he should have demanded a paternity test right off the bat. He is devastated when he loses the baby he’s come to love, and he’s spent every day since wondering what happened to him. Is he happy with his father, another rodeo competitor?
Shane’s other problem is Shane’s preoccupation with himself. He lives for the rodeo. He longs to win the world championship, both for his ego and to help get his rodeo school on the map. He’s dated just about every single female in town in an effort to forget about Lexi, but he doesn’t own up to his irresponsibility and his own actions that caused him to lose her. He still loves her, but he won’t tell her. He drove me bonkers! And when he learns the truth about Hunter? Ugh! He comes across as a self-righteous ass and puts all of the blame on Lexi, without accepting that, ultimately, he was the one who screwed up. While I’m still not sure I believe that he will ever be the kind of man Lexi needs, he did change by the end so that I was hopeful that he had learned some valuable life lessons.
I finished Blame it on the Rodeo and immediately wanted to catch up on the other books in the Ramblewood, Texas series, so I’ll call this a successful outing.
Grade: B / B+
Review copy borrowed from my local library
A Secret The Size Of Texas
Veterinarian Lexi Lawson has her hands full–and not just when she’s delivering foals at the Langtry family’s ranch. Working there forces Lexi to confront Shane Langtry, the man who broke her heart. True, he seems different now–more generous, more grounded. But Lexi isn’t fooled: Shane lives for rodeo competition and nothing else. Besides, after what he did to her, there’s no way she’d take him back.
Long ago, when they were in love, Lexi hid a terrible secret from Shane–one she planned to keep forever. But when he learns the truth, she’s forced to choose between the past she left behind…and the future they might still find together.
May Contain Spoilers
I am having a love-hate relationship with Crews’ books. I love the raw emotion of her writing, but gosh darn! Her heroes can be such douche bags! Since At the Count’s Bidding features the revenge trope, I was expecting Giancarlo to not be the nicest guy at first, but I had a hard time wrapping my head around how awful he could be. It was hard for me to accept him as heroic or romantic, and I wondered what Paige saw in him. I started to think that the only reason she was allowing him to treat her like that was because of all of that guilt she carried. For what? For something she did ten years ago, when she was just barely out of her teens.
At first I was upset with Paige for allowing Giancarlo to treat her like a doormat, but what else did she expect? Every adult in her life treated her terribly, especially her mother, so why would she expect her lover to take an active interest in her and find out why she did what she did? Instead, he rejects her cold, disappears from her life for ten years, and then – poof! He’s back. That was completely Paige’s fault. How she thought working for his superstar mother could possibly be a good decision is beyond me. But wait! I’ve gotten ahead of myself.
Ten years ago, Giancarlo fancied himself a director. With his mother’s connections and his own personal wealth, playing out his fantasy of making movies was quickly a reality. On the set, he saw Paige, and it was as if the earth stood still. The two were drawn to each other like moths to flame, and soon were burning with passion. Then Paige’s past caught up with her, she betrayed Giancarlo by selling pictures of them getting naughty to a tabloid, and Giancarlo thought the world had come to an end. Now, don’t get me wrong, but most people craving privacy don’t get caught up in the movie biz, and most people in the movie biz would love a scandal like that to set their stars aflame. There are several celebrities whose careers are built on little more than a sex tape here or there, so would he really get all bent out of shape about a couple of stills showing him in action? He made the wrong career choice.
After they are reunited at his mother’s house after ten long and bitter years (for him), Giancarlo threatens to spill the beans on Paige’s past and get her fired. Would his mother really allow her to stay employed after Paige betrayed him like that? I was thinking that, yes, she probably would, because if his mother had thought of it first, she would have done the same thing! She thrived on attention and the adulation of the press and her fans, so a little scandal would have gotten her what she craved without too much effort. Heck, if she could have used their pictures again to get herself some press, she would have cheerfully done that, too!
But Paige, terrified that she’ll lose her job and Violet’s friendship, agrees to jump every time he snaps his fingers. She’s to be there for him when ever he wants, where ever he wants, so he can finally achieve his revenge. This, I did not like so much . At first he starts to degrade and minimize her, until he realizes what a dick move that would be. I had a hard time with his behavior in the beginning of the book, because after treating someone like that, it’s hard to come back from that and look noble and romantic.
I had so many issues with this book, when Giancarlo treated Paige horribly, and she acted like a doormat and accepted it. When Giancarlo blamed Paige for getting pregnant because he THOUGHT she was on birth control, I thought, That’s it! He can never recover in my mind from that! What a jerk! He didn’t even care enough to ASK Paige about it, or better yet, take responsibility in his own hands and make sure that he didn’t get her pregnant. A guy with that much money, who didn’t ever want to get trapped in marriage, would have not left something that important to chance! Giancarlo was so selfish he didn’t even think that there might be more to what happened in the past than Paige wanting money. Ugh!
Even when I wanted to chuck my Kindle against the wall in utter frustration, I kept reading. Why??? I know you are asking. Because the strength of the writing kept me turning the pages. It is so emotional and melodramatic, and I really like Crews’ writing style. I might not like what her characters do, but all of those words she uses to make them do it? Those I like! She even made Giancarlo grovel before Paige took him back, and somehow let him redeem himself, even when I didn’t think that could ever be possible. I have to keep reading her books to see if all of her heroes are douche bags.
Grade: Story: C (Because of my reservations)
Hero: D for DOUCHBAG!
Writing: B+ for why else would I have finished this if I hated the hero that much???
Review copy obtained from my local library
“It’s the surrender. It’s all about the surrender.”
Paige Fielding has waited ten years for Giancarlo Alessi to walk back into her life. But the man she was once forced to betray isn’t interested in asking questions, or hearing apologies…
Shocked to discover Paige working as his mother’s PA, Giancarlo sees his thirst for vengeance reignite. So he lures her to Tuscany, where she will bow to his every pleasurable command.
But the lines between payback and passion quickly blur. And when Giancarlo discovers Paige is pregnant he must ask himself: Is it really revenge he so desperately craves—or her?
Lidia Yuknavitch is fearless—a trait I typically admire. Her new book opens with an exquisite scene and then slowly peels away to fractions. My reflections on it all are here, in the New York Journal of Books.
May Contain Spoilers
I was more than annoyed when I learned that Scribd was drastically cutting back on their romance catalog. I signed up for an annual subscription shortly after they acquired 15,000 backlist Harlequins. Harlequins are my crack, so I’ve been dismayed that my favorite authors will no longer be available there, after they took my money and still haven’t emailed their customer base about their actions. So, I decided to spend most of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday reading manga on the website. I haven’t been a power user until this weekend. I was more than content to know that that huge library of Harlequins was there, waiting for me when I had time for them. Now, I am going to be a power reading, and get my money’s worth from the subscription. I figure I have about 4 months of minimal reading to make up for.
I had no real reason for picking Personal Relations to read. The cover is kind of cute, and it was one of the first titles on the recommendation page, so what the heck. I went for it. This is a cute read!
When Brooke’s sister and Chase’s step-brother announce their engagement, the high school students don’t get the happy reaction they expected. Both Brooke and Chase are upset and want their wards to have a better future than getting married as teens. As they try to convince Courtney and Jeff that they have plenty of time to get married, and that college is more important, Brooke and Chase can’t fight their growing attraction.
This is a cute read, with very fast pacing. Both Brooke and Chase are desperate for their siblings to change their minds and wait, so that they don’t turn out to be unhappy like their parents. Chase’s parents weren’t compatible, and they both moved on after their divorce, leaving the brothers to fend for themselves. An unwise decision by Brooke costs Brooke’s parents their savings, and driven by her sense of guilt, she takes guardianship of Courtney when they leave for a job overseas. Hoping to be the voice of reason, the two adult implore the teens to stop and think before making the biggest mistake of their lives.
After a rough introduction, which starts with Chase trying to buy off her sister and ends with Brooke soundly slapping Chase on the cheek, the two adults agree to put aside their animosity for the sake of Courtney and Jeff. They think that if they join forces, the kids won’t stand a chance against them. They quickly realize that they underestimated how stubborn the teens can be, and are soon pulling out their hair in frustration. Every argument and attempt to make them see the folly of their behavior is ignored or thrown back at them.
While the romance was just a little too much of a whirlwind, the story was humorous and fun. Brooke and Chase are sent on a merry chase after the teenagers, which leads to an unexpected visit to Vegas, as well as a surprise declaration from Chase. The art was clean and the style fit the story well.
Review copy read at Scribd
Brook is shocked when one day her younger sister, Courtney, announces that she will be getting married to her boyfriend, Jeff. However, the two of them are still in high school. “As her older sister, I must put a stop to this reckless marriage!” When Brook consults with Jeff’s cool and handsome older stepbrother, Chase, he throws her a $10,000 check, saying bluntly that “I’d like to pretend none of this ever happened”! Shaking with anger that he has insulted her sister by saying she’s only after money, she ends up slapping him in a burst of outrage!
May Contain Spoilers
I loved Fireborn, so I was eager to dive into Wicked Embers. While I did enjoy it, the non-ending was a letdown for me. I prefer at least the illusion of completeness, even if I know that the larger, more complicated plot threats won’t be wrapped up until later in the series. I didn’t even get my faux ending here; instead, Emberly, Jackson, and Rory manage to survive a no-holds barred battle with some vampires and bam! It’s the last page. So the grade did take a knock for that.
Emberly has a lot to keep her busy. She keeps having dreams about a mysterious creature with backward feet that sucks organs from corpses, there is a passel of nasty vampires after her, she’s made more werewolf enemies, and Sam, her love of this life, still hasn’t forgiven her for not being honest about what she is. All of this keeps her on her toes and fighting for answers. As the frequency of her dreams increase, she’s desperate to track down the creature before it moves from the recently deceased to killing its own victims. She and Jackson are also looking for a backup of research notes, which may or may not exist, about the Crimson Death, which turns its victims into mindless killing machines. The red cloaks, victims of the red plague, are controlled by a psycho wearing a gray cloak, who is also after Emberly for nefarious purposes. She is thrust from one precarious situation to the next, with hardly any time to catch her breath!
Even though the book is almost 400 pages long, the pacing is such that I polished it off very quickly. I was reluctant to put down my Kindle, and I was happy I waited until the weekend to start this, because I stayed up past my bedtime reading away. While we learn a little more about phoenixes and the fae, I wish the world building was a bit more robust. Details about the creatures populating the series are slowly teased out, which can occasionally be frustrating.
I like all of the characters, especially Emberly and Sam. Emberly is tough, and I get a real sense that she isn’t human. She’s a spirit, a creature made of fire, and in order to survive, she needs Rory, her life mate, to recharge her energy and ensure that she reborn from one life to the next. Because of their symbiotic relationship, phoenixes are cursed. They need their life mate, but they will never be in love with their life mate. Instead, there is one person that they are fated to fall in love with every lifetime, only to have their love rejected. Emberly’s love is Sam, but he, understandably, just can’t wrap his head around the need to have Rory in the picture, too. It didn’t help that Emberly wasn’t up front with Sam about herself, so Sam just thinks she’s cheating on him with Rory. I can see how that would be a relationship breaker!
I’m hooked on this series, and I can hardly wait to see what happens next. Thanks to Signet, I have a copy to give away to one of you. Just fill out the widget below to enter!
Review copy provided by publisher
Keri Arthur, New York Times bestselling author of Fireborn, presents the thrilling new Souls of Fire Novel featuring Emberly Pearson, a phoenix that can transform into a human—and is haunted by the ability to foresee death….
Crimson Death, the plague like virus spawned from a failed government experiment to isolate the enzymes that make vampires immortal, continues to spread. Emberly and her partner, Jackson Miller, are desperately seeking the stolen research for a cure before the virus becomes a pandemic.
But their mission is jeopardized by another threat uncovered in Emberly’s prophetic dreams. A creature of ash and shadow has been unleashed on a murdering spree. Now Emberly must summon all her gifts and investigative knowledge to put an end to this entity’s brutal rampage—even if it means placing herself in harm’s way….
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May Contain Spoilers
I am a sucker for cowboys and veterinarians, so when I saw that The Heart of a Cowboy had both, I instantly borrowed it from my local library. While parts of the story had me rolling my eyes, overall, I thought this was a good read. Lots of soul searching from both protagonists, a dark secret that’s been entrusted to Natalie, and genuinely likable supporting characters had me finishing this off in less than an afternoon.
Natalie’s alcoholic father reveals the terrible secret he’s been hiding for twenty years, and a death bed promise has her driving from Kansas to the small town in Texas where her family used to live. When she was a young girl, her parents uprooted the family, packing them into the family car and moving all the way to Kansas, all without an explanation. When Natalie learns the reason for her family’s flight, she is sickened and ashamed. Her father got behind the wheel when he was drunk and killed Natalie’s best friend’s mother. Now it’s Natalie’s duty to let the Brody’s know what really happened that awful night, all those years ago.
Natalie is understandably struggling with her promise. She doesn’t want to tell the Brody’s what happened, afraid of how it will alter their feelings for her. With her father dead, there’s only her mother left to turn in for her crime of silence. She’s also afraid that by bringing up the past, the Brody’s happiness will be destroyed. Being a person of her word, though, she reluctantly heads back to Blue Falls to face the ugly past that her father left shattered behind him.
Garrett, now the only unwed Brody sibling, wonders why he hasn’t found a woman to settle down with. All he wants is the love of a good woman, a family of his own, and the satisfaction of improving the cattle ranch that has been in the family for generations. When Natalie comes back to town, he’s drawn to her beauty and kind nature. He senses that she’s troubled and hiding something, but he can’t figure out what it might be. When he finally learns the truth she’s been burdened with, he doesn’t think he can ever forgive her for lying by omission.
I enjoyed The Heart of a Cowboy. While I wondered at the work comp issues behind her injuries after helping out the small town vet (as well as who was going to foot the medical bills), and found her discharge from the hospital so soon after being trampled by a bull (I know, I know – NITPICKING, but after all my insurance issues and the medical crisis in my family, it made my eyebrows raise)questionable, but it did earn her a guest room at the Brody ranch, so she could feel even more emotional turmoil about the secret she just doesn’t have the courage to divulge. With a father more attached to the bottle than his children, and a stressed out, distracted mother, Natalie felt more at home with the Brodys than her own family, making her task even more difficult. Mr. Brody is so kind to her that I could easily understand her reluctance to tell him the truth about his wife’s death. Natalie’s father really was a coward, and I had a hard time accepting her loyalty to him.
The romance is sweet and developed convincingly. Even when Garrett’s anger and sense of betrayal at Natalie boils over, he’s easy to forgive because it is a shocking and heartbreaking revelation. I enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to reading more books in the Blue Falls, Texas series.
Grade: B / B-
Review copy obtained from my local library
WHAT IS SHE HIDING?
Of all the Brody boys, Garrett would have been voted most likely to settle down. But somehow, the right woman never came along. Until now. Veterinarian Natalie Todd left Blue Falls when she was a kid, but she seems to fit right in. Her old friends are there and she has a job with the local vet if she wants it. Every kiss tells Garrett she feels the same way he does. So what’s holding her back?
Natalie can’t say, and every kiss just makes it harder. She came back to fulfill her father’s dying wish, and found a happiness even greater than she remembered. The secret she carries will destroy everything, plain and simple. That’s why she can’t tell him. Not yet. Maybe not ever.
May Contain Spoilers
I waited a long time on library hold for The Sheikh’s Princess Bride. After reading The Sultan’s Harem Bride, I was interested to see what happened to Asim’s sister, Samira. I was ultimately disappointed, though, because the book featured one of my least favorite tropes – the miracle baby. There wasn’t one hint in the synopsis about it, or I probably wouldn’t have checked it out from the library. This trope almost never works for me, so it was no surprise that it didn’t work here, either.
Samira longs for a family. After her miscarriage, she is unable to conceive again, so she decides to ask her childhood friend, Tariq, to marry her. He lost his wife and has young twin boys to raise, but juggling the duties of ruling Al- Sharath with raising his energetic sons is challenging. While at first put off by Samira’s proposal, he agrees to her plan, without telling her that he doesn’t really agree with her only condition, and who could blame him? What man would settle for a marriage in name only, without any of the benefits of matrimony?
Once Tariq makes it clear after their wedding that they will be a couple in all ways, Samira feels betrayed. Tariq had given his word that there would be no sex, after all, and now she can’t trust him. He’s persistent and persuasive, however, and she soon gives in to her attraction to him. They have agreed that neither will fall in love with other. Both have had disastrous relationships in the past, and neither wants to suffer through that again. Samira was publically cheated on by what she thought was the love of her life, and Tariq watched his wife wallow in sadness when he just couldn’t return her feelings for him. Both Samira and Tariq swore that love would never bring them low again, and of course, neither can stick to their guns.
Samira quickly finds married life satisfying and fulfilling. She now has two sons and an attentive husband. When she discovers that, miraculously, she’s pregnant, she can’t understand Tariq’s sudden distance from her. Tariq is still suffering from the guilt of not being able to save his late wife, who died in childbirth. At first he’s angry at Samira, believing that she lied to him, and then he’s fearful that the same fate will befall her. Samira is hurt now that Tariq is suddenly too busy to spend any time with her, and she wonders what she’s done wrong.
As previously stated, I dislike the miracle baby trope, so that earned a big groan of dismay from me. The other problem for me was Tariq. He constantly insists to himself that he is incapable of love because of his harsh upbringing, yet he dotes on his young sons. He’s furious that Samira didn’t discuss the pregnancy with him first, too, which made me want to slap him on the side of the head and say, “Hello!! Miracle baby, dude! These things just aren’t PLANNED!” It took him so long to realize that he did have deep feelings for Samira that I started getting impatient with him When she decided to put some physical distance between them and go to Paris – that was when Tariq finally has his light bulb moment. If I had been Samira, I’d have made him work a little harder for her forgiveness.
If the miracle baby trope doesn’t bother you like it bugs me, you will probably enjoy The Sheikh’s Princess Bride better than I did. Though it ultimately wasn’t my cup of tea, I did remain invested in the story.
Review copy obtained from my local library
Wanted: royal bride and mother
For Sheikh Tariq of Al-Sharath, one miserable marriage was enough. With a kingdom to rule, he has no time—or wish—to find a bride, but his children need a mother.
Could Princess Samira of Jazeer be the answer? Samira has sampled passion, and it left a bad taste. With the knowledge she can’t have the children she’s always wanted, Samira steps into Tariq’s ready-made family. Her only condition? No sex!
Samira thought royal duties and her love for Tariq’s children would fill the hole in her heart, but a craving is building that only the sheikh’s touch can cure…
The Leaky Cauldron at Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley needs your vote to be ranked Best Amusement Park Restaurant. USA Today has nominated 20 restaurants from theme parks across the United States and is asking readers to select their favorite to create a ranked list. As of this morning, the Leaky Cauldron is ranked #2.
Harry Potter fans will love tasty British fare, such as fish and chips, cottage pie and bangers and mash at this pub located in Diagon Alley. The Leaky Cauldron was carefully-crafted to ensure authenticity after years of studying Harry Potter books and movies as well as typical British pubs. Of course, Butterbeer — the popular wizarding beverage — is available for purchase.
Several of our Leaky Cauldron staff have good things to say about the restaurant. Emma Pocock says, “The Leaky Cauldron has a great atmosphere, and really adds to the ‘English village’ vibe they’ve got going in this section of the park – the food is great, too! It really feels like you’re walking into the real thing, but the weather’s probably hotter.”
Alysha McLeod writes, “Stepping into The Leaky Cauldron is like being whisked into Harry’s world by a portkey. The atmosphere is incredible, and the food is wonderful. It’s a nice change of pace from most theme park food–everything is so comforting and homemade-tasting. The Yorkshire pudding and minted peas were a particular highlight for me.”
Finally, Catherine writes, “When eating at the Leaky Cauldron, I found myself expecting to see Harry, Ron and Hermione, sitting at a table in the corner, huddled away with their glasses of Butterbeer. The extraordinary attention to detail makes one feel as if they have actually stepped into the world of Harry Potter; with every glance around the room I found something new. The family atmosphere, excellent witches and wizard on the wait staff, and good English food made the Leaky Cauldron exactly how I imagined it would be. One of the best parts of my visit to Diagon Alley was enjoying a Butterbeer at the Leaky Cauldron (and hugging the cracked Cauldron, of course). On my last night in Diagon Alley, as the park was closing, I specifically bought a Butterbeer from the near-empty Leaky Cauldron restaurant, and sat on the window sill, watching muggles and magical folk trickle back though the brick wall, while the music and the lights remained alive. It was a truly magical experience, and The Leaky Cauldron deserve to be voted America’s #1 Theme Park Restaurant.”
Each person can vote once daily until July 7 to support the Leaky Cauldron restaurant. Thanks Robert Martinez Jr. and Marianella Zapata Noriega for letting us know that our shared namesake has made this list!
See here to cast your vote.
May Contain Spoilers
I was in the mood for something different, and when I saw Elantris mentioned on a list of zombie books, I decided to give it a shot. While there aren’t zombies in the traditional sense, Prince Raoden, is technically dead, with no heartbeat, no real need to eat, and wounds that never heal. When he becomes the victim of a curse that makes him one of the living dead, his father sends him to the deteriorating city of Elantris, which was once the shining beacon of Arelon. Now its magnificent buildings crumble and its streets are coated in slime. The other cursed residents of Elantris suffer from an all-consuming hunger, and every little wound causes unending suffering. Those that have succumbed to the pain lie huddled in the streets, muttering and no longer aware of their surroundings.
At over 500 pages, Elantris is a bit longer than novels that I usually read. This isn’t a conscious decision on my part, but most of the books that I read clock in at around 350 pages. I don’t know if that’s because publishers are so focused on series now and the pressure to produce books on a steady time table has put a dent in page count. Or maybe reader attention span has forced shorter books to prevail. Regardless, when I see a longer book, I do sometimes think twice about picking it up because they can take so long to read. A thousand pages can be off putting. Five hundred pages – that’s doable in a few days for me, so I clicked the Borrow button and settled down with my first Sanderson read.
I really liked the characters, and there are a lot of them. Sarene was my favorite, with Raoden running a close second. They were engaged to be married, until Raoden’s untimely “death.” When Princess Sarene arrives from Toed, she’s dismayed to discover that she’s now a widow. The terms of the marriage contract between Toed and Arelon stipulated that should Raoden die, the marriage instantly becomes binding. Toed and Arelon are the last two countries holding out against the religious fanatics from Fjordell. The marriage between Sarene and Raoden was meant to cement their countries together and make them allies against the priests of Shu Dereth. With a convert or die policy, countries have fallen like dominoes under the might of Fjordell. Sarene is committed to resisting conversion to Shu Dereth, and she and Hrathen, a high priest who has been sent to convert Arelon, battle to sway the populace of Kae, Arelon’s capital. Sarene fears that if Arelon falls to Shu Dereth, Teod won’t be far behind.
Sarene learns that Raoden had gathered together followers to oppose his father, King Iadon. Iadon is a poor ruler and has weakened the country considerably since he took control ten years ago, just after the collapse of Elantris. Iadon instituted a policy that rewarded the wealthy, and made virtual slaves of the poor. The injustice is so great that Raoden and his father constantly butted heads over Iadon’s policies. Sarene wishes to infiltrate Raoden’s group and persuade them to continue their opposition to Iadon, as well as to fight against Hrathen and his efforts to convert the citizens of Arelon to Shu Dereth.
More than anything, Elantris is about politics. Arelon is seething with political cesspools, from the threat of forced conversion to Shu Dereth, to the possibility of rebellion from a group of nobles. With Raoden in the decayed city of Elantris, struggling to understand the power behind the Aons that once created the magic and wonders that held Fjordell at bay, there’s yet another threat that few are even aware of. Everyone thinks that Raoden is dead, and Iadon hasn’t done anything to enlighten them. A petty man ill suited to leadership, Iadon believes that wealth is an indicator of the right to rule. With his repressive laws, the poor suffer and seethe at the injustices shown to them. It’s a huge powder keg just waiting for a spark to ignite. Sarene turns out to be that spark, but has she brought greater ruin down on the her new country?
I really enjoyed this book. It’s a nice blend of political intrigue and mystery, with a light romance thrown into the mix. I wanted to know what happened to the gods of Elantris, those mighty beings that once ruled Arelon. Why didn’t the magic work anymore, and why were those taken by the Shaod now cursed, powerless shells instead of the once powerful gods that the transformation turned them into? While I liked Sarene, I was dying to find out the secrets behind the fall of Elantris. And what was the deal behind the monasteries of Shu Dereth? The momentum flagged a bit with the chapters featuring Hrathen, but I found him, at the beginning at least, to be humorless and void of a personality. No wonder he was having trouble winning over the masses during his quest to convert the citizens to his religion!
Review copy obtained from my local library
Elantris was the capital of Arelon: gigantic, beautiful, literally radiant, filled with benevolent beings who used their powerful magical abilities for the benefit of all. Yet each of these demigods was once an ordinary person until touched by the mysterious transforming power of the Shaod. Ten years ago, without warning, the magic failed. Elantrians became wizened, leper-like, powerless creatures, and Elantris itself dark, filthy, and crumbling.
Arelon’s new capital, Kae, crouches in the shadow of Elantris. Princess Sarene of Teod arrives for a marriage of state with Crown Prince Raoden, hoping — based on their correspondence — to also find love. She finds instead that Raoden has died and she is considered his widow. Both Teod and Arelon are under threat as the last remaining holdouts against the imperial ambitions of the ruthless religious fanatics of Fjordell. So Sarene decides to use her new status to counter the machinations of Hrathen, a Fjordell high priest who has come to Kae to convert Arelon and claim it for his emperor and his god.
But neither Sarene nor Hrathen suspect the truth about Prince Raoden. Stricken by the same curse that ruined Elantris, Raoden was secretly exiled by his father to the dark city. His struggle to help the wretches trapped there begins a series of events that will bring hope to Arelon, and perhaps reveal the secret of Elantris itself.
A rare epic fantasy that doesn’t recycle the classics and that is a complete and satisfying story in one volume, Elantris is fleet and fun, full of surprises and characters to care about. It’s also the wonderful debut of a welcome new star in the constellation of fantasy.
The Four Points #3
Story: Scott Lobdell
Art: Jordan Gunderson
Colors: Valentina Pinto
Letters: Josh Reed
Publisher: Aspen COmics
Team stories are probably the hardest to tell in comics, maybe anywhere. To enjoy any tale; the reader needs to know whose story it is. A perfect example would be when you watched The Mighty Ducks, the movie was the redemption story of Gordon Bombay, but we’re made to believe this is a movie about a hockey team. That film also exemplifies how once we know whose story it is the supporting characters need to have a delicate balance that doesn’t steal the focus but keeps them from being trees in the background. The Four Points by Aspen Comics has been that right team story and it doesn’t even have Emilo Estevez or Joshua Jackson in it.
Four Points is the story of a mental patient named Gia who through both a gift and a curse is forced to bring together three volatile elements to save the world from the approaching horsemen of the apocalypse. These elements are in fact complete strangers from around the globe. A Russian wind rider named Ivana, the fire goddess Ara, and the publisher’s most recognizable face Aspen Matthews. So far this dysfunctional group has survived a confrontation with the horseman known as War. In issue #3, the team is in the middle east investigating a plague ravaging the population. It’s easy to guess which horseman they’ll have to deal with in order to put an end to the suffering, but where the book poses its heavy questions is in the hard choices they’ll have to make if they want to stop it. If you’ve read any of the Fathom volumes, you already know Aspen Matthews is a morally centered agent of life. Her affiliation to Gia’s crusade will be tested if she’s forced to play the role of assassin. In the end, more questions about this ominous threat are raised as these Four Points struggle to aim in the same direction.
Writer, Scott Lobdell isn’t particularly known for lacing his stories with political undertones. It’s why Four Points feels different from most of the work he’s done. He’s brought together female characters of radically different cultural backgrounds and melts the pot in front of the readers eyes. The big questions of Four Points surround Gia and the messed up mindset she inherited from her family. Finding out where the voices in her head come from is just part of the appeal. There’s a hook in how much mistrust the other three have for each other but know they can’t save the world alone. Sure it’s been done lots of times before, but when done right it’s still good every single time.
Lobdell has always been a writer whose story can be greatly deterred by subpar artwork. Fortunately, artist Jordan Gunderson is solid here. Any Fathom story needs to have the spirt of a Michael Turner book. Gunderson imitates the iconic artist’s most notable trait without cloning it, sex appeal. Turner had a gift for drawing the most gorgeous female characters and giving them allure without crossing the line of cheap. The sultry eyes and powerful posture are well used in this book. Gunderson still has some room to grow when it comes to the faces in smaller panels but his larger detail work makes up for it.
If you’re on the fence about trying Four Points, you definitely have to start at the beginning. The story is one of the best put out by Aspen so far this year. It’s a familiar dive into the fantasy pools they like to swim in, but it manages to do a lot of fresh things. Despite a bit of an abrupt ending, Four Points #3 is worth picking up.
May Contain Spoilers
As you know, Harlequins are my crack. It doesn’t matter which series, I love them all. I can always count on them for a quick escape from reality, so when the author of Tycoon’s Delicious Debt asked if I would review it, I jumped. I haven’t read Susanna Carr previously, so I was eager to give a new to me author a try. I have read a few of the books in The Chatsfield continuity, which was another plus because once I start something, I try to finish it, (though I’m not always successful!).
Serena Dominguez is consumed by an all-encompassing rage that has directed every move she’s made since she was old enough to work. The Brocks destroyed her family, plunging them into poverty and despair. She was forced to watch as her mother sold off one piece of jewelry after another to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. Finally, the strain became too much for her parents and they divorced, another casualty of the Brock family. Seething with an anger that can only be quenched after she has done to the Brocks what was done to her family, Serena finally has the means to bring about their ruin.
Cooper Brock took over the family business after his father, Aaron, retired. Cooper is aware that his father didn’t play on a level playing field, and heck, he hasn’t either. Pressured to be successful in every endeavor, Cooper cheated his way into his first major deal, giving himself a reputation that he hadn’t really earned. When Serena appears with a tantalizing offer, he must reject it because the price is too high. She sniped a land deal from him, and now she’s willing to sell it to him for hotel shares he owns. He needs those shares, though, to keep the lid firmly sealed on his previous dirty deal. Now that he has become successful in his own right, through legitimate negotiations, he isn’t proud of his past and he’ll do anything to keep it quiet. When Serena threatens to reveal his father’s dirty laundry to the press, however, he realizes that he may be forced to sacrifice his own reputation to protect his father.
I enjoy the enemies to lovers trope, so I plowed right through this book. While I had a hard time sympathizing with Serena, I loved Cooper. He astutely chastises her for wasting most of her adult life seeking her revenge, even after her parents had moved on with their lives. When it’s revealed that her father wasn’t a completely innocent victim – well, that made her thirst for vengeance less warranted. Serena picked and chose which transgressions deserved to be punished, conveniently ignoring that her father was just as shady as Cooper’s. That and her insistence that it was her due to have the privileged upbringing that Cooper had just grated every time she brought it up.
Both Cooper and Serena had empty lives, and they needed each other to realize what a hot mess they made of their potential. Serena wasted all of her energy chasing something that didn’t really matter any more, and even with her goal in reach, she was still unhappy. There was no joy or satisfaction in bringing about the ruin of another life. Cooper spent his entire life trying to be perfect, to earn the love and respect of his parents, something that he never received. All of his accomplishments meant nothing because he didn’t have anyone to share them with. Cooper and Serena are able to finally let their guard down around each other, and discover a sense of peace and belonging. Cooper felt especially grounded when he was with Serena, and he’s the first to realize how special their relationship is. Serena fights him every step of the way because she can’t set aside her anger, and that was my greatest complaint with the story. Serena just can’t let it go, even after Cooper proves himself to be a caring, honest man, and I found her constant distrust of him irritating. I thought the resolution was a little too rushed, but overall, I enjoyed Tycoon’s Delicious Debt.
Grade: B Great read for the beach!
Review copy provided by the author
He has a debt to pay…
Cooper Brock knows Serena Dominguez can ruin him with a snap of her delectable fingers, but he won’t give in to her demands easily. Instead, he gives Serena his own ultimatum: to confront the smoldering attraction between them.
And she’s ready to collect!
Serena has spent her life planning the downfall of this man. But when she yields to his challenge, Serena is stripped bare by Cooper’s raw passion. As he holds her in his arms and whispers her name, Serena realizes she may have just fallen in love with her enemy…
May Contain Spoilers
I haven’t read a historical romance featuring Native American protagonists in a long time, so I snapped this up from the library. When I was younger, I used to eat these up. Ride the Wind, Nakoa’s Woman, Only Earth and Sky Last Forever – if it featured Native Americans, it ended up on my wish list. There were so many of them published in the 80s and 90s, and then – nothing! Regencies took over, I read more fantasy and comic books, and that was the end of that reading phase of my life.
I enjoyed Running Wolf, but I did have some problems with it, mainly due to the power disparity between Running Wolf and Snow Raven. After she is captured in a raid, she is taken to Running Wolf’s village. As his captive and a hated Crow, his Sioux clan does not treat her well. She is beaten and stripped naked, and after Running Wolf gives her to his mother, Ebbing Water, she is ill-treated and only given food and a blanket because of Running Wolf’s intervention. His mother hates Snow Raven because she is a Crow, and a Crow warrior killed her husband. She is instantly suspicious of her son’s motives. Why has he brought this captive to their village? While he claims that he captured Snow Raven so she would have a servant to make her life easier after he moves into his own tepee, even Running Wolf knows that he’s not being honest with himself.
Snow Raven is fierce and independent, and when she’s taken captive, she thinks about taking her own life. She doesn’t want to die, however, and she thinks that her father, Chief Six Elks, will eventually rescue her. Then she realizes what an impossible task that will be for her people. All of their horses were stolen by the Sioux, winter will soon settle over the Plains, and preparations need to be taken for the winter. How will they even hunt without their horses? This does pose an almost insurmountable challenge for her village, because they depend so heavily on the horse to help with hunting, protection, and moving the village as the weather changes.
Once she’s given to Ebbing Water, she understands the position she’s in. Snow Raven has to work for everything, and still she’s given only meager servings of food and nothing to clothe herself with. She didn’t expect to be treated well, and her own people probably would have killed a captive Sioux, but she’s not willing to just give up. After her mother died, Snow Raven began to pursue tasks typically undertaken by boys. Though her father didn’t encourage her, she was taught to hunt, ride, and shoot a bow like a man. These skills are put to good use, as she is able to trap small game, and because of Running Wolf, she is allowed to keep the hides.
I liked Snow Raven, because she is tough and determined to survive. She’s also capable and brave. Running Wolf, on the other hand, I had a harder time with. He is a war chief, and he believes that his duty to his people trumps everything else. These feelings for this Crow captive? They are fleeting and a test of his ability to be a future leader. As a war chief, he’s not supposed to be selfish and keep things for himself. Whenever he thinks of Snow Raven, he becomes jealous and possessive. He only gives her to his mother because it would be unseemly for him to keep her for himself. So, instead of just keeping her, and keeping her safe, he puts Snow Raven in so many needlessly dangerous situations. His mother hates her because she is Crow, and she would be more than happy to cut her throat. Many of his tribesmen are accusing Snow Raven of being a witch and casting a spell over him, and his erratic behavior towards her doesn’t help matters. I thought he was the exact opposite of what he wanted to be: by pretending that Snow Raven didn’t mean anything to him, he came across as selfish and unfeeling to me. While I’m sure he pacified some of his people, he alienated me, the reader, and I just wanted Snow Raven to steal a horse and run far, far away.
My opinion of him improved later in the book, but if I hadn’t liked Snow Raven so much, I don’t know if I would have enjoyed Running Wolf. It’s grimmer and a little grittier than I was expecting, and I didn’t find it particularly romantic. I did find it engrossing and hard to put down, but if you are looking for sunshine and rainbows, I don’t think you are going to find it here.
Review copy obtained from my local library
Running Wolf is a valiant Sioux warrior. During his first raid as war chief, he captures a surprising Crow enemy—a woman! This spirited fighter is unlike any he’s ever met. Her beauty and audacity are entrancing, but threaten his iron resolve…
Snow Raven must focus on freeing herself, not on the man who keeps her captive. But as she falls deeper under Running Wolf’s spell, she realizes he is her warrior—and she’ll risk everything for him!
May Contain Spoilers
Once a week or so, I search through the Harlequin manga for the .99 titles. I purchased A Game of Chance because it was written by Linda Howard and it is part of the Mackenzie Family series. I was very disappointed with it; the adaptation from novel to comic did not work for me. I felt that the story was way too complicated for the allotted pages, and I never got a sense of who the characters were.
Chance Mackenzie is trying to track down evil terrorist Crispin Hauer, and after hacking into a government database, he located the birth certificate and adoption records for Hauer’s daughter, Sunny Miller. He cooks up an elaborate plan to get her on his private plane and crash into a remote, inaccessible mountain range in an effort to get to know her and get her to give up the goods on her father. He can’t fight the undeniable attraction he feels for her, and soon they are caught up in a steamy affair. It soon becomes clear to Chance that Sunny doesn’t know anything about her birth father, and she’s spent her enter life running from him and his men. Not one to fail at a mission, Chance decides to use Sunny as bait to bring down his target and put an end to Hauer’s terrorism.
That’s an awful lot of story to fit into 192 pages of a comic book. The story didn’t flow well for me, and the romance was far too rushed and unconvincing. Both protagonists’ casual disregard for using protection also grated on my last little nerve, especially after Chance boasted about the number of condoms he had.
Chance is the most unprofessional undercover agent ever, and getting the daughter of the international terrorist you are trying to catch pregnant isn’t really good form. I had a problem with his background story, too. If he was a feral kid living on the streets until he was 14, he must have had one heck of an awesome tutor to get him all caught on the schooling he missed out on so he could join the Navy, become a SEAL, and learn his super-duper computer hacking skills. I guess anyone can learn how to fly a plane, especially a SEAL, but crashing it into a mountain and not getting a dent on it, despite all of the rocks it scraped up during the crash landing – I just didn’t buy that. I wish I had his spy budget and could crash a plane in a remote area for a little downtime (I of course would make sure all of my Kindles were charged prior to takeoff.) And how convenient that Sunny carries an emergency kit complete with first aid kit, rations, water, blankets, and a….tent? NOPE. That just seems like an awful lot of stuff to drag around every day, even if your father is an evil terrorist trying to catch you, and was a wee bit too convenient.
I didn’t care for the art, either. Character proportions are awkward and the artistic style is more minimalistic than I care for. It’s functional, and that’s about it. Glad I only paid .99 for this.
Review copy purchase from Amazon
Intelligence operative Chance Mackenzie has been looking for an elusive international terrorist, and finally comes across some information about the terrorist’s beloved daughter. Her name is Sunny. She is clearly in league with the terrorists. Chance fakes a “chance encounter,” gets Sunny on a private plane and crashes it in a canyon. It was all part of his plan to get her alone and trick her into revealing her father’s location. But her bright, sparkling eyes and golden hair are so pure and angelic… Chance is confused by these new, intense feelings brought about by a passionate kiss.
Contains Many Spoilers
I haven’t read anything by this author before, and honestly, I’m not sure what prompted me to borrow this particular title from the library. I don’t usually read the plot summaries for Presents, so it wasn’t that. The cover? Nah, I don’t think it was that, either. Sure, the dress is beautiful, spread out around the couple, but the rest of it is a confusing mess. Are those rose petals? A carpet? Pink lily pads? It was probably the latest Harlequin release that was actually available for check-out, so check it out I did.
I have a love-hate relationship with Undone by the Sultan’s Touch. I don’t even know what to rate this. On one hand, it is emotional and angsty, with a whirlwind romance in an exotic location and the promise of a fairy tale that ultimately goes unfulfilled. On the other hand, Khaled was a jerk, and I was waiting for the big grovel from him. It never came. Instead, Cleo just takes him back. He was right in thinking she was a mouse. The thought of spending the rest of my life with an emotionally disconnected guy like that is so NOT appealing. Both characters were emotionally stunted, and neither took ownership of their faults. It was always someone else’s fault they acted/reacted the way they did.
Cleo is running away from the embarrassment and heartbreak of catching her fiancé, Brian, doing the nasty with another woman, two weeks before their wedding. When she angrily calls off the ceremony and vows to have nothing else to do with him, her family urges her to forgive him and just go with the flow. Cleo digs in her heels, packs a bag, and heads off for parts unknown to find herself. The whole time, she fumes and broods about the ex, even after meeting Khaled. Which made me think that her initial interest in her handsome sheik was just her idea of revenge against Brian. His presence in the story is like that of an abscessed tooth, ceaselessly irritating. Cleo brings Brian up so often, it was obvious that she hadn’t forgiven him, hadn’t gotten over him, and wasn’t ready for a new relationship. There could be no other reason for her to pick Khaled, because he’s not exactly a knight in shining armor, either.
Khaled’s motivation for his courtship and marriage to Cleo are purely selfish. His country is in political turmoil, as well as financial distress. He is courting foreign investment, and he believes that by marrying Cleo, he will make Jhurat more appealing to Westerners. So he remakes Cleo into a fairy tale princess, with a new look, beautiful clothes, and a romance to be the envy of women the world over. Only he’s just pretending, and Cleo, who is so out of her depth, doesn’t realize that all he wants is a wife, an heir, and no emotional entanglements. His plan is to get her pregnant, send her to the family estate outside of the city, and rule his country without the interference of messy emotions.
Cleo, caught up in the fantasy, ignores the warning signs that something is wrong. She marries Khaled, and then doesn’t understand why, after their wonderful honeymoon, a week at Khaled’s private oasis, he suddenly doesn’t want to spend time with her. He won’t even let her move into his suite. Nope, she’s going to stay in her own room, and when he wants her, he’ll seek her out. When she dares to go to him, to invade his space, he is appallingly cruel to her. After that, I was expecting a great big grovel from Khaled into order for me to believe that he loved her and would try to put her, if not first on his list, at least second after Jhurat, because, you know, he’s the sultan and he is Jhurat. Instead, we don’t really get to see his remorse, and Cleo decides that she is just as much to blame for their problems as he is. Say? What?? UGH! I disliked how meekly Cleo went back to Khaled, after finding the strength to leave him. I didn’t find her revelation a measure of her new found maturity or a show of courage; instead, I found it the exact opposite. I thought it a weakness, that she was blinded by sex, and I never got the feeling that they had worked through their very different ideas of love, marriage, and companionship. It was a very disappointing ending, and I am so unconvinced of their HEA that I am weeping bitter tears over the 3 hours it took me to finish reading this.
Despite my reservations, I want to read another book by this author. I found the writing emotional and raw, and had a hard time putting Undone by the Sultan’s Touch down. So, I guess you can say that I enjoyed the author’s writing style far better than I enjoyed this particular romance.
Grade: ?? B-? C? D?? I have no idea what grade to give this one!
Review copy obtained from my local library
“Kiss me, if you are so daring!”
When Cleo Churchill’s travels land her in the path of Khaled bin Aziz, Sultan of Jhurat, she’s instantly transfixed by his warrior physique, commanding presence and intense eyes. But what would a sultan want with an ordinary girl like her?
Cleo is exactly what Khaled needs: a convenient, yet beautiful bride to unite his warring country. He’ll offer her diamonds and riches but nothing more.
Yet as their marriage plays out in the darkness of the night, the passions unearthed threaten to consume them both!
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May Contain Spoilers
This is another .99 Harlequin manga that I nabbed from Amazon. An Uncommon Abigail would have received a higher grade if it had been the complete story, but there are a lot of loose ends that need to be tied up. I am assuming those will be tied up in The Prodigal Bride. When I purchased this, I did not realize that it is not complete in one volume, and there is no mention of that fact in the manga itself. I had to use Google-fu and Amazon to track down the next volume. (The Fortune Hunter is the first volume – it took me even longer to figure that out! I only managed that because I finally located the original book the manga is adapted from.)
Amy, fearful that her younger brother has been kidnapped, disguises herself as a lady’s maid with the help of her friend Sara. Together, they attend a house party, searching for clues as to Ned’s disappearance. While snooping through Major Anthony’s rooms, Amy discovers a naked man! Little does she know that she’s uncovered another mystery, but this one may cost her her reputation.
This is a cute, fast read with pretty art. The lavish details given to clothing and backgrounds made for a visually interesting read, and emotions are deftly revealed through facial expressions. Amy is determined to save Marcus after he protects her from an unruly house guest, putting himself in danger of discovery. Wanted for the merciless beating of a gentleman, Marcus is hiding until he can clear his name. Now that Amy is on the case, he’s worried that she’ll be ruined or injured by his foe. I was entertained right up until the point that it dawned on me that – NOPE! – I wasn’t going to find out what had happened to Anthony’s wife, (he’s been accused of murdering her), or to see William’s comeuppance. That was disappointing because I wasn’t expecting it, as the Harlequin manga are typically complete in one volume.
Grade: B- / C+
Review purchased from Amazon
Amy, despite being of noble birth, is attending a grand party at the famous Lyndhurst Chase estate, not as a lady but as a maid. Her younger brother Ned was last spotted at Lyndhurst before his mysterious disappearance. And there are rumours that Major Anthony, the owner of the Lyndhurst estate, is responsible for the disappearance of his own wife not long ago. What kind of trouble has her brother gotten into? Under the disguise of a lady’s maid, she sets off to look for clues of Ned’s whereabouts. But during her search, she comes across a mysterious man in hiding. Who is he and could he have something to do with Ned’s disappearance? But the more Amy learns about this handsome stranger, the more perilous her world becomes. Especially after she falls in love with him.…