Thursday, February 23, 2006

February TBR Challenge - Yours Until Dawn

AngieW's February TBR Challenge - A New-to-Me Author

Title: Yours Until Dawn

Author: Teresa Medeiros

Year published: 2004

Why did you get this book? I am a huge historical fan. I can't believe that I have never read anything by her before. As a humongous fan of Lisa Kleypas and Julia Quinn, among others, she seemed a natural extension.

Do you like the cover? Covers usually aren't a huge plus or minus for me, but this one is actually quite pretty.

Did you enjoy the book? For the first 3/4 of the book, yes, thoroughly. This was the story of a proud man injured in war, blinded, abandoned by his fiancee while he lay injured in hospital, written off by his family as a "cripple" and embittered by his experiences. Yes, an oft told story, but I thought this might be different. Samantha, our heroine, doesn't take any crap from our hero Gabriel. She strives to give him pride in his own accomplishments, to prove to himself he can contribute productively. He does his best to prove her wrong; of course, proving her right in the process. The entire time, he is striving to discover whatever it is that she is obviously hiding. We, the reader, are kept in the dark as much as the hero.

That is, until the last quarter of the book when we discover...


that Samantha is actually Gabriel's long lost fiancee, who left the hospital in shock one day and came back the next to discover he was gone.

This book would have been so much more rewarding for me had Samantha been who she seemed - a down on her luck woman with no connection and nothing specifically to prove to Gabriel, and had Gabriel been able to put the past behind him and come to Samantha as a whole, recovered man - able to get over the abandonment of his fiancee and realize his worth in his own right.

Was the author new to you and would you read something by this author again? She was new to me, and I had heard nothing but good things about her. I enjoyed much of the book, and do enjoy her genre, so would be willing to give her another shot at it.

Are you keeping it or passing it on? I will most likely be donating this one to my local library with my next batch.

Anything else? Not much else to say. I was quite disappointed by the plot "twist" at the end, in this otherwise frequently done "beauty and the beast" storyline. I'm a pretty forgivcing reader, and am going to giver her another shot at it. If my next Medeiros novel doesn't impress me more, I think she will have lost me. So if any of you out there have a great suggestion for my next TM read, lay it on me!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Promises Prevail by Sarah McCarty

I read Sarah McCarty’s Promises Prevail for the first time last autumn. I read it again last night. All of it. It is my first re-read of 2006.

This is how I felt after reading it the first time:

You know that feeling that overcomes even the strongest (intellectually, emotionally) women at times? The one that makes you literally want to crawl up and into a man that makes you feel safer than anyone or place on earth? The trace of hope you hold (along with your breath) when you think you've found that man, that safety? Then the relief you feel--however tenuous at first--once you get there? That is how this story made me feel from nearly the first page.

This is how I felt after reading it again:

You know that feeling that overcomes even the strongest (intellectually, emotionally) women at times? The one that makes you literally want to crawl up and into a man that makes you feel safer than anyone or place on earth? The trace of hope you hold (along with your breath) when you think you've found that man, that safety? Then the relief you feel--however tenuous at first--once you get there? That is how this story made me feel from nearly the first page.

While I do enjoy re-reading a favorite title now and again, I rarely fall under the same spell the second time around. I don’t expect to. I’m usually just looking to spend some time in the company of characters I enjoyed once, basking in the comfort of a familiar face or place.

In reading Promises Prevail again, I did find the comfort I was seeking. But I also found myself swept up in an emotional tide just as fierce as the first one. Again, I was so utterly captivated by Jenna's chance for happiness, I could not look away--not even when hearts were breaking all over the place.

McCarty’s characterization is so rich here, that the reader rides the same razor sharp edge between vulnerability and strength that Jenna does. In scenes equal parts disturbing and soothing, McCarty illustrates both the depth of Jenna’s emotional pain and her fierce determination to leave it behind. None more beautifully captures this struggle than the scene wherein Clint forces her to eat dinner.

For Clint, McCarty wields a brush of patience, painting him with the one trait every emotionally battered woman craves. Earlier in the Promises series, McCarty created a hero known for his patience and humor—weaved so tightly as to become indistinguishable. In this installment, McCarty lends her hero the same patience, but laces it with grit. It is a combination perfectly suited to drawing Jenna back into the world.

McCarty’s supporting characters—those we’ve met previously and a few new acquaintances—are drawn with the same care. I appreciated their depth and purpose, marveling at how adeptly McCarty uses them to add layers to Clint and Jenna. I also appreciated McCarty’s clear insistence on anchoring these characters to this story—refusing to mimic one of today’s most popular trends. I enjoy the anticipation of more series installments as much as the next person. I do not however, want to be pulled out of the story I’m reading by characters who jump in front of the camera, waving their arms and trying to call attention to themselves.

On one final characterization note, I have to mention the dog. Giving the dog equal footing as a member of the household showed true, true insight. You may laugh. But I know firsthand what it is to have a dog that commands this much attention, this much credence. I suspect McCarty also suffers this knowledge firsthand.

Aside from stunning characterization, I will forever re-read McCarty’s titles for their emotional impact. In scene after scene, McCarty epitomizes Jenna’s struggle between open-faced pain, deeply etched scars and the threadbare hope that compels her to live. In one such scene, Clint and Jenna begin their honeymoon in the barn, in a sexual encounter that places the reader in the same reluctant but determined mind of Jenna. It was tender, but disconcerting. Then, when Jenna mistakes kittens for rats in the barn’s darkness, she erupts into terror, startling the reader with its intensity. 'Sensory reaction' doesn't begin to describe the power of this scene, this book.

This book is an emotional read. No question. Whatever your state of mind, McCarty’s characters will drive you beneath the surface and leave you wrung out. As a reader, I am both awestruck and grateful for just such an experience. And for once, I can say that this re-read—Promises Prevail--delivered a powerful repeat performance.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

February TBR Challenge - A New-To-Me Author

February TBR Challenge

Title: Code Of Honor

Author: Catherine Mann

Year published: July 2005

Why did you get this book?

Reviewed by my blogging partner in November. I had just finished Cindy Gerard’s To The Limit and was ripe for another contemporary that featured a hero of military (or police) background and the requisite heroine-in-danger. I added it to my TBR list, but only just got my hands on it last month.

Do you like the cover?

Cover is a bit busy, but I’m neither drawn nor swayed by book covers.

Did you enjoy the book?

Yes and no.

Yes, because it was both tightly written and richly descriptive—high compliments given the degree of action, the required amount of technical background and the development of both primary and secondary love stories. Mann packs a good deal of action and a wealth of military and technical information in here. Neither detracts from the tightly woven plot—which, BTW, is ultra modern, totally believable and the stuff of a sexy, military action film.

Yes, because Mann’s characterization is strong. These characters wandered in and out of my thoughts over the few days it took me to finish their book. For me, that is the clearest indication that the writer has succeeded in bringing her characters to life.

Yes, because I felt the tug, sensed the anticipation between Mann’s secondary H and H. The sexual tension was palpable, the characters the perfect shade of dark—standing equally distanced in the shadow of ‘right and wrong’.

Yes, because Mann fully developed and completed the secondary love story. The reader is not left wanting.

No, because I didn’t care for the primary H and H. Through no fault of the author however. At least I don’t think so. I’m fairly certain that my dislike stems from the heroine’s offer to be sex buddies with her best friend, the hero. Didn’t care for it. And that is exactly where the book starts. Because I was instantly turned off by that tact, I am assigning my dislike to these characters’ actions and not to any failure on Mann’s part to develop them with depth.

No, because I was in the mood for an alpha hero. Again, through no fault of the author, my mood called for a primary hero skilled at reading his woman. (Archaic and caveman, yeah, I know.) Joe always seems at a loss, fumbling when he should be finessing. While he suffered none of that awkwardness during sex, I found his approach to every other aspect of their relationship almost adolescent (totally lacking experience). Admittedly, in a different mood, I would have viewed this dynamic more favorably.

Would you read something by this author again?

Most definitely. The plotline and action were flawless, IMO. And the romance between the secondary H and H was compelling enough to elicit a sensory reaction.

Are you keeping it or passing it on?

Passing it on, but only because I keep so few books. My keeper shelf is exactly that—a shelf (as in one). I’m the one with the ever-clear countertops, remember? The freak that can’t tolerate too much stuff or too much noise in her personal space.

Anything else?

In addition to that brief, and inappropriate, insight into my personal life, I’ll go on ahead and admit to an obsession with Suzanne Brockmann’s SEAL books. While Catherine Mann, an author often recommended by Brockmann fans, delivers complex, exciting military action, she does not elicit the same level of attraction to the uniformed men that populate her story. I’ll read more Mann titles, but doubt I’ll experience the same draw that pulls me to a Brockmann SEAL.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Trust in Me by Kathryn Shay

I finished this book last week, and I needed a good long time to think about it and wrap myself around it before I felt comfortable blogging about it. This is one very deep book. In a nutshell, here is the blurb from the back of the book:

As teenagers, they were called the Outlaws and they kept the police of Glen Oaks on their toes. Though the tight-knit group has left their checkered pasts behind, time has not been kind to the six friends. Beth Donovan is now a widow raising a teenage son alone. Linc and Margo are living proof that sometimes love is not enough. And Joe has hurt Annie as badly as a man can hurt a woman…

But now, the man blamed for Beth’s husband’s death is back in town. Three-time Winston up champ Tucker Quaid has come to try to revive Glen Oaks’ flagging racing scene. His very presence sends Beth’s already troubled son into a downward spiral. With her friends rallying around her, old grievances – and passions – flare. Just when they thought their crazy days were over, the Outlaws are about to discover that no one can predict what lies around the next turn on the track…

This story of six best friends from a small town in New York is incredibly emotional. Shay runs the gamut from physical and emotional domestic abuse to a religious cult’s physical and emotional abuse of a child, from child abandonment to peer pressure, from sexual harassment in the workplace to the death of a spouse, and its effects on the spouse and children left behind. Along the way, these characters discover forgiveness, redemption and normalcy, and rediscover the strength of friendship.

Kathryn Shay has chosen not one tough topic to tackle, but several, and does it with sensitivity and depth. The plot never sags or moves too quickly. All the characters are realistically drawn; intensely emotional, sensitive, and believable. The beginning of the story flashes us back 20 years to the teenage years of this motley crew. We learn about the family life of each of the six teenagers, both the good and the bad. We come to understand the feeling of disenfranchisement that so many teenagers, particularly small-town youth, feel. We feel for these kids, and care about them – despite their delinquent tendencies – while at the same time wanting to beat some sense into them as if they were our own children, wondering the whole time how parents could let their children end up so disengaged from the society in which they live.

Linc and Beth, brother and sister whose parents died and who were left with emotionally unavailable and elderly grandparents to run amok in the town, were taken in by the owner of the town diner, after an attempted robbery. (Phew, there was a run-on sentence!) This is their first experience with forgiveness, one which shapes the rest of their lives. We learn that he gave them the support they needed to become caring, responsible adults.

Flash forward to present day. We learn that Linc has become a minister. My only complaint with the character development, much of which is gleaned through flashbacks, and most of which was flawless, was that I never did fully and completely understand what drove Linc to the church. Yes, the forgiveness he received from the victim of his crime was obviously a driving factor, but with much of the backstory told in flashback, a quick remembrance of a past conversation would have been enough to satisfy this little niggling sense of unfulfilled desire for a further look into the inner workings of Linc's mind. Mind you, this didn't spoil the story for me, because there was enough there, but I felt like there could have been more. Linc’s entire adult life is based on his deep and abiding belief in God, and it would have been nice to understand a bit more fully why that is. Shay did get her point across, though, that it was the guidance and love of the diner’s owner that brought Linc to that special place in his life, which is why I only felt slightly cheated rather than letting it become a story ender for me. Because the rest of his character is fully developed, and completely whole. Throughout Linc’s story, he never loses that distinct “Lincness” that we come to know and love in the telling of his teenage experiences. Shay shows that ministers are normal, everyday people, with regular feelings, hopes and desires.

The rest of the characters are amazingly well drawn, thoroughly fleshed out, and intensely alive to the reader. We watch a woman with no belief in God – in fact, an intense disbelief – struggle with her love for a minister. We watch the victim of wife abuse come to terms with the return of her seemingly reformed abusive husband. We see a widow and her son come to grips with the return of the man they hold responsible for their husband/father’s death. We watch a teenager struggle with grown up issues and learn how to deal with life responsibly.

None of this is done tritely; all involved are deeply emotional, hurt, intense, struggling, loving, realistic human beings. Watching the love, support and caring between the lifelong friends is really beautiful. Shay shows that real grown ups can have truly meaningful friendships and support one another through thick and thin, while never losing their ability to be their own people. All of the characters want a normal life, and the journey there is the point of the story. What is a normal life? How do we deal with horrific events in our lives? How do we deal with everyday pressures and desires? How do we love and protect our children while teaching them to be responsible, caring, contributing adult members of our communities? How do we come to terms with the understanding that what we desire with all our heart is unavailable to us? How do we learn to forgive and move on? All these issues and more are explored in depth – not an easy feat in a 400 page novel. Yet, I didn’t feel cheated on this journey. I felt complete at the end.

If you are looking for a light, fast love story, this is definitely not it. This is not a typical love story between a man and a woman. Don't get me wrong, this is definitely a romance, not chick lit, and love and sexual attraction play a huge role in the story. But it is also a deep, heartfelt look at adult life and love, problems and solutions, forgiveness, redemption and absolution. I have never read a contemporary romance that affected me more. Kathryn Shay has never disappointed me, and this one is no exception. I strongly recommend it.
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