Saturday, January 26, 2013

To Love, Honor and Betray by Jennie Lucas

To Love, Honor and BetrayTo Love, Honor and Betray by Jennie Lucas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have this feeling that Jennie Lucas always has fun writing her books. They are so dramatic! She doesn't seem fearful about going for it with story ideas. This book has some very iconic imagery, such as Callie sitting on the steps of her old apartment, in a too-big wedding dress hiding her pregnant belly. Her hand full of wilting flowers for her bridal bouquet. And Eduardo shows up and demands the truth about her pregnancy. Drags her off to his car and away from her best friend, who is about to marry Callie. That was powerful. Other moments, like Callie going into labor and the Judge hurriedly marrying them. The characters are very intense, particularly Eduardo. He has such a little boy lost feel to him. Confused by his powerful feelings for Callie. His fear of losing her, but holding back because he thinks that love will make that loss even more inevitable. What he does, in desperation to keep her to himself, in their nuclear family with their baby, is pretty ruthless. I didn't know how I felt about that. I mean, it was very wrong, but I felt bad for this guy that he was so desperate to go to those extremes. I wasn't exactly sure about Brandon. Was he a little bit calculated when it came to Callie? Maybe obsessive? I wish this part had been more clear. As it was, it felt like a mix of Eduardo's paranoia and some intentional behavior on Brandon's part.

I sort of didn't like the way things went towards the end. I felt that both of them weren't truly fighting for what they wanted. Yeah, it was angsty, but a romance buzz-kill. One part gave me an icky feeling. Kind of hard to describe. I didn't find it that romantic, is the best way to put it.

To Love, Honor and Betray overall, was an enjoyable read. Definitely a bit over the top in some ways. The love scenes were very sensual and kinda spicy. If you like your Harlequin Presents with lotsa drama, this one will work for you. If you don't like that 'out there' kind of HP drama, pass this one by. I admit that the soapy drama-loving gal inside of me definitely does.

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Bought For The Marriage Bed by Melanie Milburne

Bought For The Marriage BedBought For The Marriage Bed by Melanie Milburne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It was a bad move to pick book up this past 3 am this morning when I knew I had to go to bed and get up semi-early.  'Cause I got sucked in, big time!  I don't normally like when the hero or heroine lies to each other or puts on a charade, but there is something about the twin storyline that gets you. Especially when one twin is 'bad' and the other twin is 'good', and they take over each others' lives.  In this case, Nina was the good girl.  I loved her.  Her caring heart and devotion to her young niece Georgia won me over on the first page. Which is why I couldn't put this down this morning.  I also liked that she was sassy with the hero. She was no wilting female.   She was a tough and loving woman of very strong principles. While it wasn't really wise how she played along to Marc's sexist prejudices about women, it was actually kind of cool that Marc fell in love with her, even with her so-called notorious life.  I think that there was a real connection between Marc and Nina, that overcame all those obstacles between them. Heck, that is why I am a bonafide romance novel fan. I love seeing love overcome all kinds of obstacles.  And Georgia was such a sweet little baby. 

I think it was interesting that Nadia truly was a bad seed. I mean bad! Oh my, the things she was up to were kind of eye-opening. And so soon after having a baby! It was also interesting to see how twins with the same start in life could go in such different directions. I also appreciated the contrasting or comparing dynamic between Nina and her sister, and Marc and his brother. I felt for Marc that he had been forced to shoulder the burden for so many things that went wrong in his family. He did use some terms I hate for a man to use for a woman, but other than that, he was a good guy.  I liked how he stood up to his father for Nina.  I think a man should definitely demand that his father show respect for his wife. 

Despite reading a few books I enjoyed by her, I haven't been a huge fan of this author in the past, but I think I will have to reevaluate that.  This is the second book in a few days I read by her and really liked. She definitely writes intense and emotional books. And unlike the one star book I read by her, I really liked Nina and the heroine in the last book I read. They are well-developed, complex heroines. That's what I like in a book, when the hero and heroine can meet on equal terms, even if their lives and paths have been so different.

So, even though I ended up with a sleep-deprived hangover, it was kind of worth it for this book.   Definitely a well-earned four stars!

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Claiming His Wedding Night by Lee Wilkinson

Claiming His Wedding NightClaiming His Wedding Night by Lee Wilkinson

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This was pretty good but not great.  I liked Lee Wilkinson's descriptive writing.  I felt like I was within the story, seeing everything in technicolor.  I liked how I slowly saw more and more of Jared as a person. Although from the beginning, I could tell he was crazy about Perdita. I find a hero who is crazy in love a sure fire way to elevate a book to a higher level.  Can't help it. It's my 'button'.  In this case, this is the strong point of this book. Again, not that it's bad. I just felt that Perdita was a bit harder to identify with. I mean I can understand that she took a lot on faith from people who she thought were trustworthy, but she didn't listen to what her heart and gut was telling her about the man she loved, and she cost them three long years.  That was like a pain in my gut. I hate wasted potential, you know?  What I love is Jared still loved her so much, and waited for her.  He could have moved on physically and emotionally, and who would blame him? But he doesn't.  That makes me sigh.

So, yeah, I was a bit annoyed at Perdita, and even more, the person who engineered the destruction of her brief marriage to Jared.  I have to take points off for that. But Jared, oh my darling, I add points for you.

So I end up with a 3.5/5.0 star book.  *Sighs some more about Jared.*

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Expecting the Boss's Baby by Leanne Banks

Expecting the Boss's Baby  (Silhouette Desire, #1338)Expecting the Boss's Baby by Leanne Banks

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I was rearranging my books and came across this one. It caught my eye.  So I ended up reading it. This was a very good story.  I actually liked both characters.  Michael was a man who had lost his mother at a young age, and ended up in the foster system, eventually at The Granger Home for Boys.  Because of that loss, he had determined never to fall in love or give his heart away.  For three long years, he fought feelings for his secretary, Kate, until they had too much champagne, and shared a night of passion. The next morning, he apologized and told her he wanted things to be just business.  Kate never got over that night, because she'd fallen in love with Michael.  She knew it was a risky thing to do, but the heart doesn't listen to logic. When she reveals her pregnancy, Michael has to campaign for her to marry him, to make sure that his child has a family and a secure future that he didn't have.  But that alone isn't enough. He finds that he wants his very wary wife's heart and a chance at a real family.

This was a very good book. Banks thoroughly involves me in this relationship between Michael and Kate.  This book is both emotional and sensual.  I loved seeing their hearts open up to each other and connect on deep levels. I liked that Kate doesn't settle for just part of Michael, because she shows him that he can have more if he does take a chance.  Category romance is such a neat way to get a lovely romance that you can read in under two hours, but get the full exposure, albeit in brief form.  I like marriage and baby books, and with a hero who acts tough and detached, but really is a sweetheart, plus a heroine who is very lovable, what more can you ask for with this book?

I plan to read the other two books about Michael's best buds, who were also in the Boys' Home,
Millionaire Husband and The Millionaire's Secret Wish

Overall rating:  4.5/5.0 stars.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Spanish Birthright by Cathy Williams

A Spanish Birthright (Presents Extra)A Spanish Birthright by Cathy Williams

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

After reading my last HP, this one pales in comparison. However, it's a good book. 

Some of my thoughts:

*I could totally understand why Alex was unhappy with Gabriel's lying to her about his identity.  It's probably a 'duh' comment, but I truly hate when people lie to you.  It's usually unnecessary.  And it makes a future relationship based on trust very difficult. So, I could see Alex's insecurity in her relationship with Gabriel, although I didn't like it.  I felt her struggle not to be 'weak' in her feelings for him.  It's hard when you fall head over heels, and you can't be rational about it. I got that, loud and clear. I did like that she fought that insecurity and worked on hanging onto her sense of identity. I didn't agree with every decision she made. But in the light of their relationship, they made sense.
*Gabriel is a hero who's arrogant, but not to the point of it being a chokepoint to me.  He even admits that he's arrogant, and I like that he comes down off his high horse and works to meet Alex halfway. I also liked that he was man enough to appreciate a woman like Alex who 'keeps it real'.  She isn't into makeup, girly clothes, or glamming it up, but Alex loves her for who she is. His only thing is that she doesn't wear tight clothes because he's possessive over her. I'm all for a guy who doesn't try to change a woman to fit his unrealistic view of his perfect woman. Alex was his perfect woman as is.  Works for me!
*Luke is present in the book, which is good. I think it's such a waste to have a book about parents and you never see the kids. You could see how having a child changed your life in the dynamic with Alex and her son, and how Gabriel had to get up to speed with having a child.

Yeah, I have to say that I'd probably have rated this higher if I hadn't read the book I just finished right before it. That one just blew me away, so in comparison, this one is going to be in the 3.5 star range.  A good book that I enjoyed.  I liked a lot more than I didn't like, and that's always a good thing.

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Surrendering All But Her Heart by Melanie Milburne

Surrendering All But Her HeartSurrendering All But Her Heart by Melanie Milburne

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I gobbled this book down. Seriously!  I was so drawn into this story. The heroine's personality and the psychology of her character was tremendously fascinating. I think Milburne nailed Natalie. Natalie was a ball of rage, and with good reason. She is a realistic product of toxic parents who have forced an innocent child to shoulder blame for something that never should have been her responsibility. And as the author showed, this damage doesn't just disappear overnight. Instead, a hurt child like Natalie takes that into her adulthood and every relationship she has as a grown woman.  I literally hurt for Natalie.

Some readers would be turned off by her comments to Angelo, which were often abusive. But to me, I could see them for what they were, a cry for help.  Natalie felt trapped by her family obligations and how they had damaged and poisoned her life and her very self-esteem. She wanted to break free, but that wasn't as easy as it seemed.  Honestly, I think she probably needs therapy, and I personally feel that an encounter with Jesus Christ would do a lot of good for her. He would take away those burdens and the anger and pain she carries.  It hurt to see her truly hating life and having trouble even enjoying one day in her life.  I was just glad she hadn't taken the suicidal route. I think she felt obligated to live because of what had happened to her when she was young.  So in real life, I would have expected something more interventionist for Natalie than just a love connection with the hero. Most of the time, that isn't going to fix what is broken, although being loved unconditionally is an important ingredient. But in the context of this story, I liked how the author dealt with her issues. Angelo has truly impressed me. He make a few miss-steps along the way, but overall he showed tremendous patience, even though Natalie did things that were hurtful to him.  I liked how he didn't give up on her, but kept showing her that she mattered to him and he wanted a life with her.   Considering how hurt Natalie was and how damaged her family was, and his ignorance of that, I think Angelo did a great job of connecting to her.   Other than one thing he does shortly after they get married, I found him to be a real hero. Just the man for this very wounded woman.  Maybe not truly realistic, but still I felt the power of their connection and how it put Natalie on the track to healing.

Man, this book blew me away. I found it very enthralling and emotionally involvinhg. It also involved me intellectually as I assembled the puzzles of Natalie's tormented psyche and came up with a picture of a woman who had been wronged so utterly by her parents. They had failed her in huge ways, and that kind of damage just sets an adult up for a lot of dysfunctional relationships as they get older. 

I don't normally read Harlequin Presents for a look at 'real life.' I'll be honest. But I love angst and passion and I love seeing hurting people find happiness, healing and love. And Ms. Milburne definitely delivers.

This book won't be for everyone.  But I was very impressed.  I just pimped it to my sister, who doesn't read a lot of Harlequin Presents. I can't wait to see what she thinks of it.

Overall rating:  4.5/5.0 stars.

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Bayou Moon by Ilona Andrews

Bayou Moon (The Edge, #2)Bayou Moon by Ilona Andrews

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

William's story lived up to my expectations.  He is a very cool character that more or less stole the show from the hero in On the Edge. Not that Declan wasn't a perfectly good hero.  Well, he was a bit more 'golden boy' than I like my heroes. But he worked for Rose. As for personal taste, I go with William!

What can I say? I like 'em edgy.  I appreciated how the Andrews shaped Williams character and showed all his textures and layers.  One would think that a changeling would be a pretty basic guy, all id.  Not William. He has a dichotomy, although he does aim for simplicity in his actions and thought processes.  And wonderfully self-controlled, considering.  He had to learn it the hard way, which is organic.  I think he was very true to his nature.  He had that primal, violent aspect, but also a loving, sensual (and not just in an erotic) nature. Although he had never been part of a family, you could see that he valued and treasured the concept of family.  I especially liked how he reacted to Cherise.  Just on a primal level, he fell for her and 'knew' she was meant for his. Even with that instant feeling, nothing was guaranteed in the story. There was a long journey for them, and that love story adds to but doesn't take away from this distinctly gritty fantasy read.  Although I will put this on my urban fantasy shelf, I guess it really isn't UF. It's more like rural fantasy.  Hey, would love more books in this sub-genre!

Speaking of rural fantasy, I loved the local color.  With On the Edge, that was a major appeal of the story, the down-home Southern ambience of the story. This story goes even deeper. This is about swamp people.  It felt very authentic and real.  I think we can all identify with having an interesting family.  How we have various relations that are just kind of odd, but we love and accept them because they are family. That's this book in a nutshell.  Cerise's family was full of characters, each one distinctive. They gave her a headache and sometimes a heartbreak, but they were blood, and blood is thicker than water.  So what if her family has some folks that aren't strictly human? Every family has quirks. I loved Cerise's loyalty to her family, and better yet, that William could respect that and realized that his Mate's family was his family now.

As far as adventure and action, this book has it in spades.  As with other books by Andrews, it can be gritty and gory.  The whole storyline about the scientific/magical adaptations was rather stomach-churning!  If you're squeamish, you might not want to eat while reading some parts.  William is seriously awesome as far as his warrior skills, and Cerise more than holds her own. In fact, she rocks the house.  She's a tough, strong woman, the kind of woman you want to high five.  Despite being tough, she has some vulnerabilities that give her a realistic portrayal.  I could identify with her love of family but her feeling of being trapped by obligations. I liked her a lot. On top of her emotional and mental fortitude, Cerise is an incredible swordswoman, which definitely works for me, because I love swordplay.  I also liked that her family is full of tough guys, of both sexes. Particularly, liked Kaldar and Aunt Marid, and little Lark. Let's not forget Gaston.  But all in all, quite a brood, the Mars!

This was a long book, for sure, but there wasn't filler. I think moreso that there was a lot of story to be told, and no need to cut some of it out. We got William's fully-fleshed story and I loved it.  Although I fully adored On the Edge, I love this in a different way. I think that's a great progression for a series, that each one feels different, although it captures what I love about Ilona Andrews' writing and stays true to their voice.

Now I'm wondering what these folks can get up to next in the Edge, Weird, and Broken, or all of the above!  Glad there are more books in this series to read!

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Play of Passion by Nalini Singh

Play of Passion (Psy-Changeling, #9)Play of Passion by Nalini Singh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After a long break from this series, I'm glad I'm back. I missed this world!  I put this one off because I wasn't too enamored with Mercy, another dominant female changeling, and I wasn't looking forward to more of the same irritation.  Fortunately, Indigo isn't like Mercy in that sense.  However, the dominance issue seems even more troublesome with the wolves. I guess that make sense, for wolf pack dynamics are very crucial.  Cats don't have quite the same rigid social structure. 

I liked this book a lot. I didn't love it. I guess I just didn't feel as compelled by Indigo and Drew's love story as I've felt in the past.  I freely admit that I am a big fan of the Psy storyline, and when it's two Changeling leads, it's not as much fun. Not as much contrast, and inherent tension in the pairing. Not to say that Indigo and Drew's story didn't have tension, because it does.  Both emotional and sexual.

I didn't know much about Drew, and I was pleasantly surprised with the complexity of his character. His identity and the result that it has on his place in the pack reminded me of the Alpha and Omega series by Patricia Briggs. I'm not sure if you could directly call Drew an Omega, and probably Singh avoids doing so because of the inherent comparison. However, I think he probably is an Omega, in that he doesn't have to respond in the same way to a dominant pack member. Of course he recognizes the Alpha and respects dominants, but he has more independence.  I guess you can see I did like the insight into pack dynamics that this book delivers.  Being very interested in that when it comes to stories, I appreciated it.

One thing I wasn't as comfortable with was all the 'in your face' about the fact that both Andrew and Indigo had people they had been sexually involved with still in their lives.  I think I am way too possessive a person to be 'cool' with that.  In a way, it was good that they had to just get over it and focus on the now.  I like to think I would be a big enough person to do that if I was presented with a similar situation in real life. Not sure though.

As far as the ongoing Psy storyline, I feel that got shortchanged. There was some progression, but it seemed less expansive than I had hoped. Maybe I was wanting more because I was less invested in Indigo and Andrew's love story...It could also be because Kaleb doesn't show up in this book the way I wished.  Or some of the other Psy I am crushing on.  Admittedly, it was cool seeing more of Judd, because I love him.

So, yes, this was a very good book. But it wasn't as good to me as some of the Psy books. I did respect Indigo and I liked her. I could see the issues she faced as a tough female. It's hard for females who fail to fit certain expectations of gender, and when they meet men who they fall in love with.  That man has to get who they are and respect them for who they are.  I can honestly say that Drew is the right guy for her.  As far as Drew, I think Indigo grew to appreciate and understand what a complex guy Drew was, easygoing by effort.  A deep ocean who pretends to be a still pond. People tended to underestimate him and that could lead to some real hurt. I'm glad that she was man enough to embrace the whole of Drew.

Yeah, this was a a solid four star book, but not a five star read for me.  That's a shame.  Let me tell you, I am so excited to finally read Hawke's book. He has the heroine I was hoping for too!

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Beneath the Dark Ice by Greig Beck

Beneath the Dark Ice (Alex Hunter, #1)Beneath the Dark Ice by Greig Beck

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let me preface this review by saying that one of my favorite books of all time is an action/adventure novel set in Antarctica. So I was trying so hard not to compare them.  Trying hard (sighs dramatically)!

When you read a new author, there is always that 'getting to know each other' period that can at times be rough. With this book, it was a bit rough.   Wasn't sure about the way he told his story. I couldn't get a feel for the characters.   Some felt a little thin to me.  I told myself to give it a chance. Glad I did. But as I kept reading, I got drawn deeper into this story.  This is one of those 'wait for it' type reads.  And yes, Beck does deliver.

Warning to the Wise:  Stay out of deep caves!

Oh man. It just kept getting worse. I really have an issue with creepy crawly stuff and Beck kept it coming. I had no idea that the storyline would go in this direction.  This is one of those books where I was highly vocal as I read.  A whole chorus of "Ugh! Yuck! OMG! Ick! That's nasty." You get the idea.  I'm a bit claustrophobic and since I don't like creepy-crawly stuff, you definitely won't catch me going into some prehistoric cave after reading this book.  I mean, I love animals and nature, but this place was freaky!  I like that uncrossable barrier between hidden ecosystems in which humans are scrumptious prey.  Very much, thank you!  My innate fear of contagion was going crazy in that place!

Alex Hunter. He's the man!

While my true Special Forces literary husband will always be Shane "Scarecrow" Schofield, I have to say that Alex is pretty cool. I love his super-abilities.  And he's a very humble kind of guy. He's all about the mission, and he is a protector.  Honorable.  He's not on some ego trip.  I even liked how he had to stop himself from hulking out.  That was kind of different--in a good way.  I will be reading more of his adventures.

Man, the body count!

This is one of those books where people are dying right and left. And in nasty ways.  Oh, that poor guy with the you know whats eating him up. Ugh!  It sucked!  I liked a lot of characters who didn't make it. And that tool, you know which one I meant, he caused a particularly painful death for one of the guys.  He bit the dust in a nasty way, so he didn't get off scot-free.  But still, the loser!  This is one of those books that you shouldn't get attached to any characters, 'cause you never know....

Cold Settings Are Awesome!

I love cold weather and I have this strange love for Antarctica.  I was excited to read another book set there. This book is kind of a cheat in that regard. Because they end up underground and it's warm and like a tropical type (in a really strange way) ecosystem, we don't get a lot of cold weather action. In a way that was cool, because I was not allowed to draw comparisons to my beloved book of all books. If you know me, you know which book I am talking about.

The Adversaries

Don't get me wrong. I love me some Russian characters. But that Uli is such a jerk. I couldn't stand him. A sadistic, evil, horrible, thug.  He lacked some depth for me, and I couldn't even think he was a cool villain. He was just a jerk. Like a particularly psychotic schoolyard bully.  The whole Russian part didn't really do much for me anyway. I think that it did add some tension to the story, but fundamentally, this is more of a man versus nature conflict story.  That part got my attention much more.  Ugh, huge slug-monsters and worms.  Ick!

Overall Thoughts

This was a good action/adventure novel. While not perfect, it has some things to commend it, namely, creeptastic moments where the characters are pitted against icky prehistoric gross monsters. I liked the high-tech weaponry, especially that gas-projectile gun (very cool).  And a pretty cool lead with some awesome abilities.  Aimee was very likable too. She knew her stuff and her personality was good.  I will read more of this author, and stay my butt out of deep, subterranean caves!

Recommend it with reservations!

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Beast by Pepper Pace

BeastBeast by Pepper Pace

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh my goodness. This is one of those that has a sappy romantic like myself sighing.  A lonely, isolated man.  A woman who 'has it together' or so it seems, but is a wreck on the inside.  And they find each other.

The Beauty and the Beast retelling doesn't get old for me. After all, I am a die-hard romantic and a die-hard fairy tale lover.  Pepper Pace does both so well here.  Yet, instead of the Beast being grumpy and surly, Christopher is the sweetest teddy bear (although he probably resembles a Grizzly bear) imaginable.  I loved him! 

Pace challenges the reader here.  Our Beauty has a significant weight problem. And the weight problem isn't her issue, but the emotions underneath it, the ones that caused her weight issues, and the results of them.  If you've ever been overweight, you know how it is for Ashleigh.  The comments that hit like barbs, because someone thinks they have the right to say something or the fact that they are insensitive, because they've never struggled with weight problems. The assumptions made about you because of your weight. 

On the other side, she doesn't make Ashleigh into a completely harmless victim.  Ashleigh has some shallowness issues to work through.  But that's the beauty of this story.  She is able to see the beauty beneath the horrible scars and disfigurement that Christopher has.  I truly loved the emotional connection between Christopher and Ashleigh. And there was also a very sensual component to this book, for romance readers who need that in their stories.  Lots of spice and hot love scenes to go with an emotional love story that feels so authentic and timeless.

When I got to 38% on my Kindle and love declarations were made, I wondered what else could happen in this book. Well, plenty. This is a love story about not just two people finding each other, but also also finding their way to healing.  Making a life together in spite of obstacles they both face.

When you read these kinds of stories, the stubborn person in you is determined to be upset if the problem is fixed, such as the heroine losing weight, or the hero getting his disfigurement repaired. But is that truly fair to the story for the characters not to go through that passage 'just because'? After all, it's easy to stay where you are. Even harder to take that step of faith to change something about yourself for the right reasons. In this case, the resolution made so much sense and only added to this story.

If I could change anything?  That's a matter of personal tastes, and I'm sure many will disagree with me.  However, I could have done without some of the graphic language in the love scenes.  While they were scintillating and the chemistry powerful, I guess I didn't need to read certain terms when it came to body parts.  That's a small quibble.

I'm personally no grammar stickler, but there were a couple issues there.  I feel bad even pointing them out because a 100% accurate book doesn't necessarily tell a story that I love, like this somewhat imperfect one does.  Overall, I found the writing very poised, professional, and so emotionally-stirring that I couldn't help but give this a five star rating.

This was a beautiful love story. That's kind of ironic, because this story is about how what's on the surface doesn't show you everything. That what is at the heart is worth fighting for in the end.

Highly recommended to romance readers who enjoy a more sensually descriptive love story, or just any old sap who can't resist a tried and true love story.

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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Dearest Traitor by Patricia Wilson

Dearest Traitor (Harlequin Presents, No 1685)Dearest Traitor by Patricia Wilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I admit the last ten pages is what bumped this up to a four star book.  I didn't like how everyone seemed to patronize Georgina.  I hate when people patronize you.  I think that's the problem you run into when you grow up with people. They are used to seeing you a certain way, and their vantage point doesn't necessarily change unless circumstances or you force it to. And even if you try to change their perceptions, they just view you as acting out or being strange.  I think that was the case with Georgia.

Honestly, I was wishing she didn't feel so strongly for Steven. It was like he had power over her. I don't like that feeling either.  I wasn't loving him until towards the end, when I did see how much her feelings were reciprocated.  I almost think this could have been a better book if Georgina had gone away for a few years and came back more mature.  I would have loved to see Steven do some pining.  As it stood, I feel like he viewed Georgina as a sure thing. Kind of like some chocolate you put away for when you really want it.  You go about your typical activities, smiling smugly because you know it's there waiting for you. Maybe that's uncharitable on my part.  Or course, Georgina's antics don't' always make things easy for Steven. Even though it seemed like he always had the upper hand, she made his life a lot more complicated. But I say he deserved to be put through his paces.

So yeah, I admit. I'm a sucker for a good declaration of love.  And I love a possessive hero.  Steven's actions and declarations at the end saved the book for me.  So four stars.

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The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can't imagine how hard it was to write a novel about kids being forced to kill each other. Probably much harder than it was to read it. After all, in my limited viewpoint as a person who also writes (although unpublished), I really dislike hurting my beloved, lifelike characters, and much less killing them, or having them do terrible things, unless they are supposed to because they are evil.

But Ms. Collins had to take kids between the ages of 12-16 and force them to deliberately harm each other.

It's a journey into a world in which a whole society plans events and festivities around such barbarism. It's not the Roman Empire. It's a dark future in which North America has become a much smaller continent called Panem. The society is a dystopic one in which the resources are not so much limited as restricted and deliberately kept from those regions whose denizens participated in a rebellion over 40 years ago. Their punishment is to have twenty-four of their children, two from each District, selected in a process called the Reaping. Those who are chosen must go and fight in the Hunger Games. If you've seen Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, then the phrase "two men enter, one man leaves" sort of gives you the idea. Except in this case, it's twenty-four kids enter, and one leaves.

Our heroine, Katniss Everdeen, grows up to the age of 16 in this world. She has been taking care of her family since she was 11, hunting illegally in the forests beyond the fence around District 12, bringing back fresh meat and wild plants to feed her young sister and mother. Her heart has become hard so she can survive. But when the day comes of the Reaping, and her young sister Prim's name is called, she volunteers to go to the games in her place, almost unprecedented. Most people know that they won't return, especially the poorly-trained and outfitted tributes from District 12. But her sister is not going to face the sure death that awaits her in the Games. Not when she can.

The other tribute from District 12 is Peeta Mellark, the baker's son. A boy who did a life-saving act of kindness to Katniss several years before, one she can never forget. She doesn't like him for that reason, also because he reminds her of what she doesn't have, as essentially a townie, when her family lives on the fringes, the offspring of a deceased miner. However, they will have to form an alliance dreamed up by their sponsor, Haymitch, who won the Games many years before. He's a drunk, but he is going to do what he can to keep at least one of them alive in the Games.

I wasn't looking forward to reading this. I don't care for dystopian fiction. And the thought of kids killing each other, well it doesn't work for me. However, I decided to give this a read and bought the book a few years ago. Managed to put it off until now. When the Action Heroines group on Goodreads selected it as a group read this month, the choice was made. I started it, and was crying, not too far into the book (made even more painful by the fact that I have a nasty cold right now with a bad sore throat). I was sucked in.

I love a tough, survivor heroine, and Katniss is definitely that. Not only a survivor, but a girl who made sacrifices for her family. She's without a doubt, a very well-developed character. I like the fact that Collins takes the effort to describe Katniss' thought processes so well in this book, her woodcraft, her no-nonsense approach to life. How she suppresses those soft emotions that would have been a liability to her in her present situation. But deep down, how Katniss has the potential for love, and she does love. When Katniss bonds with another tribute, a young girl named Rue, who reminds her of Primrose, I could literally hear and feel my heart breaking. We all know how this ends. And Katniss best of all. But that doesn't mean you can stop feeling emotions, even when the brutal reality of your existence and forced choices seem to dictate otherwise.

That's part of what makes this a difficult story. The fact that kids are forced into a world in which they starve to death, not because there is nothing to eat, but because someone feels that they shouldn't have the basic things like a full belly and a safe life, for political reasons. That's going on today in this world. It should break a person's heart, and it does. Is this so very out there, when in real life, there are child soldiers in the world right now? I know I'm going towards "Soapbox" territory, so I'll stop myself. Yeah, I guess that's the point. Why should I keep my blindfold on to these horrors and immerse myself in safe, happy tales all the time? And forget that events like this do happen (maybe not in this obvious, fictional landscape kind of way), but in a way that is lot less showcased, and much more brutal.

I admit I liked the role reversal here. Peeta, the boy is more emotional, more approachable, more in need of protection. And Katniss is tougher, more armored, the protector. That doesn't hold true across the map, for Peeta shows depths that surprise Katniss and the reader. And likewise, Katniss has her moments when she doesn't have it all figured out.

Since this is first person, we don't get to find out how the grown-ups feel about this travesty. But I can surmise that people like Haymitch, Cinna, even Effie feel their share of anguish for the roles they play every year, as they watch twenty-four more children go off, most of them to their deaths, even if it's well-hidden.

It's a mad world, and all this comes together in this story to propel me through a gamut of emotions, most of them uncomfortable. I could almost identify with the kids, that horror of knowing, "This is it." The Games are real. I was there with them, and I wasn't spared the realness. I guess that's another reason to respect this work, that the author doesn't soften such a terrible concept. She doesn't allow you to settle into a false sense of security that it will be alright. That would only be a form of contempt in my mind. If you're going to go there, then bring it. And she does.

My final verdict: The Hunger Games is tough reading. But it's complex and powerful, and completely involving. I couldn't stop reading this until I was done.

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