Sunday, December 27, 2009

YotC: From Friends to Forever by Karen Templeton

Well, this is the last YotC entry. Thanks to KMont for hosting this challenge during the year. I hope that some folks have realized that categories can be great reading.


Tony Vaccaro had been part of Lili Szabo's life since she was a lovesick teenager with a major-league crush. Now the high school athlete was a widowed single dad with a trio of energetic little girls relying on him—and no time for romance.

Little Lili had grown up! Fourteen years ago, she was like a cute kid sister. Now she had the potential to be so much more. But a shocking secret was about to split Tony's world apart. The question was, could he count on Lili to pick up the pieces?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I love Karen Templeton’s books. Her characters come off as real people, with real people problems. I loved the story in this one, but there were some things that bothered me. I always like to start positive, so…

I really liked Tony. Trying to survive after a spouse’s death is everyone’s biggest fear. And raising 3 young girls alone? Yikes! I liked that he was all about being devoted to his kids. He came across as a real parent. With a real preteen. Surly, uncommunicative, and add trying to come to terms with her mom’s death to it, and Claire is not a happy little girl to live with. I did like that she tried to be honest with herself when it truly counted. It showed a level of maturity that I think an oldest sibling would likely have in her circumstances.

Daph was adorable, as was Josie. I thought she had a rather large vocabulary for 18 months, but hey, it’s fiction. I could sympathize with Tony’s fear of losing his youngest daughter, while at the same time trying to come to grips with his late wife’s betrayal. All the emotions portrayed were realistic, believable, and very well written.

The story itself was great. I liked Lili a lot. She’d had a rather rough upbringing, but never seemed to resent it. She always looked on the bright side, but was no Pollyanna. She and Tony were good together. I liked that they didn’t jump into bed, regardless of the attraction that they both acknowledged.

There are two main things that I didn’t care for. One, there was an awful lot of internalizing. All the characters’ thoughts were spelled out. In great detail. A lot. I’d rather have some internalizing and more dialogue and interaction than the other way around.

Also, the accents. Drove me batshit crazy. I think that the “g” on Templeton’s keyboard must have been broken. Tony never said a word that ended in “ing” with the “g”. Goin’, thinkin’, doin’… well you get the picture. And Aunt Magda had a stereotypical Slavic accent. Spelled out in detail every time she opened her mouth. But Lili, also from Hungary, didn’t have her speech spelled out in the same way. It was noted that her accent got heavier at times, but the actual dialect was not written. I’d much prefer that, and although the accent did serve to make Magda larger than life because you could hear everything she said in that accent, still… it detracted from the reading experience.

Karen Templeton is a go-to author for me. There were just a couple things that bothered me enough to make this not my favorite. But Templeton fans will likely not mind enough to stop reading.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Stranger's Secrets by Beth Williamson


Betrayed By Her Own Heart

Sarah Spalding has learned to forge her own way and never to trust anyone—least of all a Yankee. But when her companion abandons her while on a train to Colorado, Sarah begrudgingly accepts the help of Whitman Kendrick—a Yankee, yes, but one with the most bewitching green eyes. Allowing Whit to be her traveling escort is one thing, taking him as a lover is another—even though she’s tempted beyond reason…

Whit Kendrick isn’t quite sure what to make of the sharp-tongued, sassy woman sharing his train compartment. All he knows is that Sarah is refreshingly different from most women—and his urgent, primal attraction for her is unlike any he’s experienced. Breaking down Sarah’s wall of defense won’t be easy. But Whit is determined to prove to Sarah that they’re more alike than different—and loving each other is all they need…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Warning, contains a small spoiler, but one that was revealed in The Redemption of Micah.

In the 3rd book in the series begun with The Education of Madeline, Williamson tells the story of Micah's sister, Sarah. Living in her old house which she had converted to a boarding house, Sarah leaves all her friends in order to attend Micah and Eppie's wedding. Along the way, her cabinmate on the train is none other than Whit Kendrick. From the moment she meets him, Sarah is determined to hate him. He's goodlooking, and he's a Yankee. Sarah suffered tremendously during the war at the hands of a Northern Army unit. It turns out, Whit realizes early on, that it was actually his unit that raped and pillaged that day.

Whit is on his way to meet and marry his fiancee. He certainly doesn't need the trouble that Sarah brings. However, they are inadvertently thrown together by circumstances, and their attraction simply cannot be denied.

One of the things I liked about this book is that Sarah is not altogether a sympathetic character. She comes off as nasty, prickly, and surly. Of course, this is all to hide a world of hurt, but it makes for an interesting dynamic. Usually, this is the role for the hero. Whit seems like a good guy, one who feels guilty for cheating on his fiance, but just can't seem to help himself.

I also liked that Sarah is not shy about going after what she wants. She makes all the first moves sexually. She recognizes what she wants and goes after it. Again, though, I got the impression that she used sex as a defense mechanism - kind of like she'd have sex on her terms, not someone else's.

The book is alternately heartbreaking and sexy. It's obvious that Whit also bears a lot of guilt over his apparent role in Sarah's rape and torture. That event has shaped Sarah's entire adult life, even though she puts a brave face to the world.

As so many of Williamson's books are, this is another raw look at the post-Civil War era, and coming to terms with the aftermath of the war. It's about forgiveness and self-awareness. Williamson, who normally excels at the tortured hero (you MUST read her Devils on Horseback series), has created a tortured heroine here, one who is brash, bold, and sassy, yet extremely vulnerable and fragile at the same time. She curses like a man, is overtly sexual (again, likely due to her experience as a young woman), and has a chip the size of Texas on her shoulder. Whit definitely comes off as the more sympathetic of the two... no, just the more ...well-adjusted, but he also has his own issues to deal with re: the war, and his family.

The only thing I had any sort of problems with was the way the confrontation with the sergeant of Whit's unit was handled. It wasn't really clear why he followed Sarah out to Colorado. He seemed to exist only to be the "bad guy." One would have thought he had his own demons to deal with, but he was apparently just rotten to the core. It did serve its purpose, however, in allowing Whit to come to terms with his role in Sarah's attack, and for Sarah to deal with it as well.

All in all, this is a wonderful entry to this series. Full of love, hate, sadness, joy, redemption, forgiveness, and all the other wonderful goodies that Williamson delivers. It's available ar The Book Depository as of the time of this posting for only $8.99 + free shipping! It's at Amazon for just over $10 (at the time of this post) and on the Kindle for just under $9. Price is the same at BN.com. Official release date is January 4.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rapture in Death by JD Robb

If Immortal in Death was Eve’s book, I’d say this one is Roarke’s book. In this book, Robb explores the idea of subliminal messaging. Roarke shows himself to be completely susceptible to the villain’s suggestions. The effect it has on him is tremendous, and this also highlights Eve’s devotion to him – something he needs tremendously and that makes her and their relationship stronger.

I thought I’d do something that I’ve done in the past: highlight some quotes that show how absolutely fabulous this book is, and places that leaped out at me as significant. So… here we go:

In this first one, Roarke shows how vulnerable he is with Eve, and how much her love means to him. Just wonderful emotions conveyed in this bit:

“You’re so important.” She trailed her finger down his chest. “So influential. And so… gorgeous.”

It was just a little too thick.He narrowed his eyes, caught the laughter in hers. “You’re putting me on.” Her laughter burst out. “You bought it. Oh, you should have seen your face.” She pressed a hand to her belly, yelping when he yanked on her ear. “I would have talked you into it.”

“I don’t think so.” Not at all sure of himself, he turned away, started to reach for his coffee again.

“I could have. You’d have done it if I played it right.” All but doubled over with laughter, she threw her arms around him, hugged herself to his back. “Oh, I love you.”

He went very still as emotion delivered a hard, bruising punch to his heart. Shaken, he turned, gripped her arms.

“What?” The laughter died out of her face. He looked stunned, and his eyes were dark and fierce. “What is it?”

“You never say it.” Swamped, he dragged her close and buried his face in her hair. “You never say it,” he repeated.

She could do nothing but hold on, rocked by emotions pulsing from him. Where had this come from? She wondered. Where had he hidden it? “Yes, I do. Sure I do.”

“Not like that.” He hadn’t known how much he needed to hear her say it, just like that. “Not without prompting. Without thinking about it first.”

She opened her mouth to deny it, then closed it again. It was true, and it was foolish, cowardly. “I’m sorry. It’s hard for me. I do love you,” she said quietly. Sometimes it scares me because you’re the first. And the only.”

Ne held her there until he was sure he could speak, then eased her back, looked into her eyes. “You’ve changed my life, become my life.” He touched his lips to hers, let the kiss deepen slowly, silkily. “I need you.”

She linked her arms around his neck, pressed close. “Show me. Now.”

So beautiful, the emotions portrayed there. How Roarke tells her how much she means to him, and how much he needs her, and Eve’s realization that she needs to give more to him, let herself go a bit.

(sorry - I got tired of typing, click on the next two quotes to enlarge)



So powerful. Eve needs to be the strong one here, absolve Roarke of his guilt. She’s unused to that position – being the compassionate, supportive one. Yet she steps right up, leaves her own discomfort behind to be what he needs.



As Roarke thinks back on who he was and who he wants to be, they have the following conversation. Eve, in her own way, is again the understanding one – the supportive one. Trying to get across to Roarke that she loves him as he is – that his past experiences make up the man she loves. And in her own pragmatic way, she is just what he needs.

This book really got me. Finally, Roarke show some weakness, and it devastates him. Not the weakness, per se, but in terms of how he perceives its effect on Eve. Once again, I’m pressed to say how much any woman would want that kind of love and devotion aimed at her.

You'll notice that I don't ever say much about the suspense aspects of these books. I felt like the most important thing about the suspense portion of Rapture In Death was how it served to forward Eve & Roarke's relationship. It propelled the growth that we see in both Eve and Roarke. Eve, who had to be the strong and supportive one, and Roarke, who had to learn to accept Eve's strength and support.

This was a fabulous entry in the series, one that put Eve and Roarke’s relationship onto a more equal ground. Up until now, we’ve seen him be totally supportive of Eve, but not as much the reverse. They truly understand one another, their pasts, and in this entry, Robb aims to show this aspect of their relationship. As I mentioned in my last review, if Eve doesn’t grow, her unintended neediness becomes a burden to both Roarke and the reader. But by making her the strong one, Robb lets the reader become more invested in the relationship, to see it more as a true partnership. Freakin’ fantastic.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Holiday woes?

So I went to the mall last night to do some last minute Hanukkah shopping. For the first time in my memory, the mall isn't open until 10 pm in the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's, and it was empty. I mean, we immediately got a parking place in the very front.

You'd think all the slow business would translate to lower prices, wouldn't you? But apparently not. I'm very thankful that we put away $200 a month each year for the holidays. Then we pull it out on Thanksgiving weekend to shop. Otherwise, we'd probably be in as big a predicament as lots of other folks.

How about you? Are your malls as empty as mine? And are you getting better deals this year?

Monday, December 07, 2009

ARC: Coming Undone by Lauren Dane

KEEPING IT TOGETHER

Brody Brown has always been responsible for others. After his parents’ death, he gave up a promising artistic career to care for his younger brother and sister. Now, with his siblings grown, Brody owns his own business, has a nice house, makes a nice living, and for the first time in years he’s on his own.

Elise Sorenson has come to Seattle with her young daughter to find peace. After years as a world-famous ballerina—(and just as many years in a marriage-gone-bad)—she’s looking for neither love nor attention. But she finds both in the handsome, honest man who befriends her with no strings attached.

More than friends, Brody and Elise discover in each other what they need—wild, physical passion without commitment. But it’ll take a shadow from Elise’s past to make them look beyond what they need—to what they truly desire.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC of this book from the most generous Lauren Dane. This is the sequel to Laid Bare and the story of Brody, Erin’s older brother.

This book may break your stereotyped vision of a tattooed, motorcycle-riding, tough-looking guy, if you have a picture of such a guy in your head. I admit, my mind automatically goes to a completely different type of personality than Brody when I see a guy like that. My first thought is to turn around and walkrun the other way. Which would be a huge mistake with a guy like Brody. He is warm, loving, caring, protective of his family, unafraid to show his love, and Hawt. So open your mind and do away with any preconceived notions, because this book will break any stereotypes in a big way.

Elise is another damaged Dane heroine who comes out the other end strong, refusing to let life’s experiences keep her down. An abused wife, she has taken control of hers and her daughter’s lives. Although she is wary of Brody at first, she quickly learns that looks are deceiving and that he’s a big, soft marshmallow. Especially when it comes to those that he cares about. Although Elise has a lot of issues to work through, she doesn’t allow them to interfere with her new relationship with Brody, and establishing new friendships with his family and extended family.

Once again, where Dane’s work shines is in the interactions between Brody and Elise, and among Brody’s family. I think I say this in every review I write of a Dane book, but truly, nobody writes family like she does. Every nuance, all the teasing, loving, annoyance, acceptance, happiness, joy, kindness, laughter, and support that a family gives – she manages to capture it. And I liked that the Brown family immediately accepted Elise into the fold. Dane also excels at the relationship between her hero and heroine, and this book is no exception. Right from their first meeting, you feel the connection between Brody and Elise. I liked how there was a good basis for a friendship there, even underneath all the sexual attraction. These two people got to know and like each other, an element so often missing in erotic romance.

I also liked that Elise’s daughter, Rennie, was never an afterthought. She’s a complete character, although quite precocious. There was always the issue of who was going to watch Rennie, she didn’t exist to be cute – she was an integral part of the story. Dane doesn’t shy away from the strain an uncomfortable relationship and rancorous divorce can have on the child involved. She shows Rennie as having difficulty every time that she has to have her monthly visitation with her grandparents. Thank you! So often parents become so wrapped up in their own angst that they forget that everything they do or say has an effect on their children. /editorial Dane shows this to the extreme, with her ex-in-laws being the exaggerated villains, but gets the point across.

When Brody and Elise do finally get together, their relationship grows over the course of several months. Thank you! This book doesn’t get its HEA after a week. No, this couple works to the bone for their HEA. They get to know each other and their families, and fall deeply in love in a comfortable, but H.O.T. relationship. Brody’s issues stem from having to take care of his siblings at a very young age – he doesn’t think he wants to tie himself down, never really seeing what everyone else does – he is already tied body and soul to Elise.

Elise, likewise, having come out of an abusive marriage, doesn’t want to be tied to one man. But she also has fallen like a ton of bricks for Brody. He treats her like a queen, loves her daughter, and is great in bed. His fatal flaw is that he doesn’t want her to worry about anything, so he tends to try to make decisions for her. Having been in an abusive relationship and now on her own, Elise chafes at this treatment.

It’s a pleasure to read a book about two emotionally mature people falling into love naturally, with their eyes wide open. Who, for the most part, talk through their problems. Brody is a natural caregiver, and Elise, while she had issues, was open and honest. This book is incredibly heart-warming, and at the same time it revs your engines like nothing else. There certainly is no lack of hot hot sex. Yet at the same time, none of it is gratuitous. Every sex scene between Elise and Brody has an emotional connection and forwards their relationship. There’s also a bonus scene with Erin and her two husbands from Laid Bare. Wowza.

I closed this book feeling really, really good. Confident in the HEA for this couple. Confident that they were grounded and mature, ready and able to handle what life throws at them. Isn’t that what we all want from a romance? To truly believe in the HEA? You won’t be disappointed in this book if that’s your goal, too.

I highly recommend it. This is from Berkley Heat, release date of Jan 5, 2010. Buy Coming Undone here, here, or here. As of the writing of this post, both Amazon and BN have it for 33% off, and Book Depository has it for 25% off, with free shipping.

Glory in Death and Immortal in Death

Since the In Death Challenge is commencing shortly, I’m going to note that this review contains spoilers for Eve & Roarke’s relationship. Although I imagine almost everyone has read it, there may be some who have not.

Glory In Death

Book 2 in the In Death series, this book advances Eve & Roarke’s relationship. We see more into Eve’s childhood, as her nightmares continue to haunt her. We also learn a little more about Roarke’s childhood as well.

What was great: The subtleties with which Robb writes Roarke’s emotions. On the surface, he’s loving to Eve, nurturing, definitely the more demonstrative of the two. However, Robb’s narrative reveals little nuances that show the depth of his emotions, how scared he is in this relationship that he might lose Eve at some point. Case in point: Roarke presents Eve with a big-ass diamond necklace. Because she can’t handle the overt commitment that it implies, she argues with him about it. Roarke then issues an ultimatum to her about their relationship. Eve still isn’t ready to face her past, or to open herself up that much, so she leaves. Roarke's reactions are so subtle, yet perfect.

What else? The scene where Eve finally says “I love you” to Roarke. Wow. The way that she broke down was so realistic. And his reactions to her were done perfectly. His insistence, his hands shaking, his immense relief.

This book showed tremendous growth in Eve. Although she is still a loner, we see a little more of her relationship with others: Roarke, Mavis, Feeney, even Whitney. Love that she wears the diamond, even though she keeps it inside her shirt, she has to acknowledge her feelings for Roarke by wearing it.

As for the suspense in this one, the whodunnit was fairly obvious to me early on, although I did wonder about a few others. I think that setting the newness and fragility of the relationship between Eve and Roarke (and even Eve and others) against the grimness and crudity of the murders is the point, much more than keeping the reader guessing the villain.

Immortal in Death
I consider this one to be Eve’s growing up book. I felt it even more after I read on Robb’s website that this was only intended to be a 3-book series. That explained a lot of the growth I saw in Eve. She reaches out and deepens her relationships with her friends – in fact realizes that she has friends. When Mavis looks to be the prime suspect in a murder, Eve digs deep in order to clear her name. Her friendship with Mavis deepens in this book, and she opens herself to new relationships with people, such as Dr. Mira and Nadine. Even Peabody. Both Dr. Mira and Nadine move from being acquaintances that Eve strives to keep at a distance to friends, and though Eve still tries to be a loner, she has more difficulty doing so. Much of this comes because she is beginning to come to terms with her childhood – she remembers all of it in this book. We also learn more of Roarke’s childhood, and bits of what has made him the man that he is.

As Eve remembers her childhood (which is not for the faint of heart, I might add), it’s like the lock on her emotions begins to come undone. While she can’t change her basic personality, we see more humor from her, more emotional ties, and more caring.

One scene I really liked was when Eve and Mavis visit Leonardo for the first time, and he’s designing the wedding dress, and Eve admits to herself that she really wants it. Wants to wear that dress more than anything. It’s just so out of character, and such an innately female reaction that it reconnects the reader with Eve and her femininity. It makes her seem more human, with vulnerabilities and hopes, dreams, and desires, even as she strives to deny that part of herself.

Roarke, as always, completely understands her. Gets her. Knows what she needs. Knows when to back off and when to push. I get such a kick out of him calling her “Lieutenant.” My heart broke when learning his back story with Summerset’s daughter. The guilt Roarke carries with him. I liked the honest reaction he displayed by being afraid to make love with Eve after her complete revelation about her past.

The suspense in this one, while once again not totally compelling in comparison to Eve and her character study, was well done, although once again, I guessed the whodunnit.

A few things I find interesting in these books are the juxtaposition in the relationship – Roarke is the nurturing one, the one unafraid to say “I love you,” the one unwilling to let Eve give up on herself or the relationship. He’s the talker.

Robb recognizes that to make Eve a static character would turn readers against her. Eve grows, learns, changes, and acknowledges. All without changing her basic personality.

Something else I find fascinating is that while much of the procedural discussions revolve around doing things by the book, Eve finds it easier and easier to use Roarke and his information in ways that can’t possibly be admissible in court. This lends a hint of moral ambiguity to me that makes the books more interesting.
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