Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Gentle Rain by Deborah Smith

A Connecticut heiress.
A Florida cowboy.
His heart. Her secret.
And the very special family
she has come home to find.

When this book was recommended to me by both Linda and Jennifer, I was like, "It's first person." I rarely do first person. But the raves kept coming so I said, "What the hell. Why not?" and got the book from my library. Boy, oh boy, am I glad I did!

A Gentle Rain isn't your normal book. You won't find Navy SEALs, serial killers, or drug dealers. You won't find wannabe gangsta vampires (stab me in the eye with a flaming hot poker!). You won't find billionaires whose secretaries are secretly having their babies. You won't even find hot, steamy sex. No, with A Gentle Rain you find so much more. Between the covers of this book you will find emotion, acceptance, and forgiveness. You will find uneducated and "simple" human beings who are so much more than they look to be. You will find a woman searching for her "identity" and finding exactly what she needed.

Deborah Smith's A Gentle Rain will teach you "a lesson in humility" (that's a quote from Jennifer B). It's an amazing story that touched my heart from the get go. On page 5, I fell in love with Ben. Here's the reason why.

I walked toward the second door. "Don't you go in there, boy," the nurse called. "You don't want to see that poor little ugly baby."

"He's my brother, lady, and you shut the hell up."

I'd never spoken to a woman like that before. I'd been raised right. But I'd never been the big brother of a feeble-hearted idiot before, either. Shame and pride fought it out inside me. I started defending my baby bubba from the first, even when I wished he'd never been born. I went into his room.

He was wrapped in tight sheets inside a small metal crib with a see-through dome. An oxygen tank fed air into it, hissing like a snake. I clutched the crib's side, swallowed my bile, and slowly, squinting in fear, peered down at him. He looked back, or tried to, as best as any baby can focus.

His head was too big, and his face was flat. His eyes slanted like the eyes of a Chinese boy I'd seen at a rodeo in Tallahassee. He was scrawny. His skin had a weird blue tint.

But he wasn't ugly. He had mine and Pa's black Seminole hair. He had Ma's cute, brunette-white-girl nose. He had my serious look on his face. And he smiled. He smiled at me.

I put my forehead against the clear dome that separated him from me, and I cried. It was the first and last time I'd let him see me shed tears over him. That's when I realized it: He's a Cracker horse. I have to see him as special, and that means worth saving.

Pa came in eventually, looked the baby over without a word, then finally spread one big, callused hand on the crib's dome. He put the other hand on my shoulder. I felt a tremor in it. "What d'ya think, Ben?"

"He's a Cracker," I whispered hoarsely. "If we don't give him a chance to prove hisself, who's gonna?"

Pa squeezed my shoulder. "Then we're agreed. Your Mama'll be proud of you. Proud of us both. She loves him."

"Then so do we, " I said.

Ben was nine years old at the time and he was amazing. He's this young and this accepting. This young and could see his brother for something more than the "retard" the doctors and nurses were calling him. And he loved and accepted him just as he was. Imagine, nine years old and capable of this, imagine how much more amazing he is as an adult. While Ben is uneducated, he's extremely intelligent. The beginning of the book had me teetering on the edge of reading on and putting it aside, I couldn't decide. But it was Ben and his compassion and Kara and her plight that had me continuing on.

Read the book. You won't be sorry.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Gentle Rain by Deborah Smith

Linda asked me to comment on this book, but I could not limit my reaction to just a few words…

Title: A Gentle Rain
Author: Deborah Smith

Type: Per the spine label, Romance.

Copyright: 2007

Why: If memory serves, there was blogger buzz one or two years back for Smith’s The Crossroads Café. I added it to my TBR list, made a mental note of the author and ultimately picked up another of her titles first. That book was Sweet Hush and, looking back over the blog, it looks like I never got around to reviewing it. A shame, since it was a fab read. As was The Crossroads Café (reviewed by Linda).

A Gentle Rain is Smith’s 2007 release. It went on my list prior to its release date, but I’ve just now gotten to it. In the future, I’ll try to remember the punch Smith packs and pick up her new releases sooner. Like the day of.

Comments: In a review awhile back, I mentioned being unable to remember anything else about a book but its characters. Voice, pace, plot—all were so entwined with characterization that I couldn’t separate any one thing out. Same here. A Gentle Rain was simply time spent in the company of extraordinary characters.

Written in first person, narrated alternately by Karen and Ben, this book put me ‘there’, in the scene, with seamless ease. Through that narration, Smith slows reader heartbeat, soothes and cajoles us into the gentle, simple life found at Thocco Ranch. Masterfully, we are immersed in not only the story’s details, but also its sensations. And despite the weighty issues—social and emotional—and the Florida heat, the sensation is not an oppressive one. There is a simplicity both lived and acknowledged in this story. We experience it firsthand in the patient love Ben and Karen show Thocco’s mentally handicapped ranch hands. And again and again in the actions and words of those ranch hands, related to the reader through Smith’s affected narrators. It’s magic—that weave of spirit, condition, and manner that carries the reader along through the story. You feel it, experience it—rather than watch.

Smith’s voice and her first person narratives give us very rich characters in Karen and Ben. Humor and quirks abound. These two will give you a bellyache for the laughs. They also serve as wonderful examples of the power of personality. It shines in both, pulling us deep, well beyond appearance and even motivation. Both are a joy to know, flaws and all.

The ranch hands? Real, just very, very real. Like Karen and Ben, you’ll find yourself cheering for them, while all along it is they who are building up your own character. These folks, and the crazy ass horse they adopt, carry the story with a power that matches that of Karen and Ben. Within them all, there is humor and loss, balanced beautifully against a penchant for simply living and a reminder to appreciate all of it. Just as Linda said, it is meant to be savored. I lost count of the number of times I paused to reflect on the profound or ride the endorphin wave after each belly laugh.

Fabulous read.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Thin Ice by Liana Laverentz

This is a contemporary romance about a doctor and a hockey player.  Liana contacted me via the Lori Foster Weekend group and asked me to review it.  I've never been asked personally by an author to do this and I felt hesitant but finally agreed.  Boy am I glad.  

This is one of the most powerful and heartwarming books I've read, ever.  Both Eric and Emily had serious emotional hang-ups which directly impacted on the other's weaknesses.  There were moments when my heart was pumping furiously because the drama of the scene was so well written I really felt what the characters were feeling.  There were also some moments that made me laugh out loud they were so amusingly spot on.  I suspect Liana is a hockey fan and if she's not, she knows someone really well who is.  She captured some scenes during a couple of hockey games so well that I could see it happening.

I hesitate giving a recap of the story because it's important to discover the layers of Eric and Emily as they reveal them to each other. This is about a developing relationship.  There were many times when either Eric or Emily would choose not to discuss the situation with the other and make a decision that wasn't really in their best interest.  Just as I would be ready to throw the book against the wall and scream "NO", the reason given for the decision made so much sense I would just sigh and go with it.  Plus Eric and Emily are beautifully drawn, three-dimensional characters about whom I came to care a great deal.  

This is a story about the impact of abuse - physical, mental and emotional.  But it is also a signal lesson on the importance of communication.  Every time there's a misunderstanding it's because they kept secrets and didn't talk with one another.  I know this is a standard in romance, but for some reason it felt like a major influence in Thin Ice.  

Well, I'm off to buy her other book, Jake's Return.  Liana Laverentz has a new fan girl.  Oh, and Thin Ice was 2008 Eppie winner for Best Contemporary Romance.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Simply Perfect by Mary Balogh

In the first three books of this series, teachers from Miss Martin's School for Girls find true love.  In each book we see Miss Claudia Martin as "the older woman" who is their dear friend and supporter.  She encourages them in finding their paths to happiness.  We catch glimpses of her conflict with the aristocracy and we suspect that the anonymous benefactor of the school might be her greatest nemesis.

In Simply Perfect,  Miss Martin finally gets her HEA! Joseph, Marquess of Attingsborough, shows up unexpectedly at the school to escort Miss Martin and two of her students to London. Before they leave he asks for a tour of the school and charms everyone. In an amusing refrain after he visits each room, Miss Martin thinks to herself that everyone was "gazing worshipfully at him" and you can tell she's not happy about it.   What she doesn't know is that he has an illigitimate daughter who is blind and he is thinking of her welfare when he talks with Miss Martin about education.

A year or so ago I read Simply Love (second in this series) and was delighted with the unusual characters. At times it was confusing because people were mentioned who obviously had backstories of which I was totally ignorant.  When I read that Simply Perfect had come out, I knew I needed to read the other books in the series before I attempted it. So this week I read Simply Unforgettable, Simply Magic and Simply Perfect. Whew! Balogh marathon!

I'm glad I read these books before Simply Perfect because everyone shows up in this story, including all the aristocracy from previous books which I haven't read. Amazingly, their characters came through quite clearly and this almost felt like Ms. Balogh was finished with these people and their world. Except Lizzie, Joseph's daughter, is so lovingly depicted I wonder if we'll get her story next.

Although Ms. Balogh's voice is consistent, I was impressed with how different she made her H/h in each story.  Each was clearly drawn, especially the men.  I'd recommend every one of these books.  Although Simply Love can be read before Simply Unforgettable they should both be read before Simply Magic.  And since Perfect is probably the culmination of the series,  the others should be read first.  Not that this should be considered a hardship. LOL


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A Gentle Rain by Deborah Smith

Deb Smith has written another winner about the South, this time it’s about Florida Crackers. Although there is a romantic aspect to this story it really is about a group of misfits on a ranch in Florida.

Ben Thocco is part Seminole and owns a cattle ranch in Florida. His little brother, Joey, has Down’s Syndrome and is dying from a heart problem but Ben has taken care of him from the moment Joey was born. All of Ben’s ranch hands are mentally challenged in some way or another, but he’s managed to find jobs for them that suit their talents.

Kara Whittenbrook was adopted by a couple of rich environmentalists who raised her in Brazil. When they died she learned she wasn’t their natural daughter and set out to find her birth parents. She finds them at the Thocco Ranch.

The story is narrated by both Ben and Kara. Sometimes it goes for pages from one point of view and at other times there’s a quick transition. Only occasionally did I get confused as to who was telling the story.

The book’s title comes from Ben’s description to Kara of how his ranch-hands see him. “Look how they put up with me. I ain’t the fastest hoss in the race, or the most lovable, but they find excuses to like me anyhow. That’s what really makes ‘em special. Most people look at a leaky soul and see nothing but trickles of good intentions fallin’ on bone-dry earth. But these folks? They see a gentle rain.”

I found myself wanting to savor this book in a way I rarely do. The descriptions of the land, the people, the animals were so lovingly drawn, I wanted to take my time. Normally I tend to skip the descriptions and just hit the highlights skimming the paragraphs, but not with A Gentle Rain. And I enjoyed the slang, uneducated language of Ben contrasted with the overeducated, Yale graduate, Northern heiress phrasing of Kara’s.

I hope Jennifer will add her comments when she finishes reading it.
Related Posts with Thumbnails