Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Forbidden Seduction by Sara Wood

Forbidden Seduction (Harlequin Presents, # 1952)Forbidden Seduction by Sara Wood

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This was kinda different.  The heroine gets fooled into a bogus marriage by a sociopathic Sicilian, and finds out from his brother that he was already married since he was nineteen.  It turns out his wife has been sabotaging Debbie and her mom's sandwich business to get revenge.  Debbie finds all this out from a coincidence when Luciano buys the bank where she delivers sandwiches through a service contract. 

I liked that Debbie really was a working class girl.  I can imagine her with an East Enders accent.  It was a matter of suspending belief that she truly had gotten fooled into a bogus marriage and it didn't come up.  I don't know how easy it is for a foreigner to get married in England when he's already married. I'm guessing you couldn't do that very easily in the United States using your real name.  I'll allow that this was possible for the purposes of the story.  I feel that Debbie got over being betrayed and made into an involuntary bigamist/adulteress too easily. 

I didn't quite get why Debbie was determined to go to the funeral in Sicily when she already knew her so-called husband was a lying sack of you know what, and she took her son. I felt that was extremely naive of her, despite being warned by Luciano.  She said she wanted to pay her respects.  I think that was just a plot device to get the story moved to Sicily.  The rest of the story is Debbie and Luciano owning up to their feelings, and that was sweet. Luciano is such a lovely guy. Considerate and caring, despite the great wrongs perpetrated against him. 

I think the best part of this book is that both leads are very likable and kind people who were taken advantage of by the dead bigamist husband and his family.  Their characters appealed to me. I think the melodrama about Luciano's Sicilian family is to be expected for a Harlequin Presents book, but I think that the resolution on their threat towards Debbie and her son Stefano was anticlimatic.  I would have liked a more dramatic on-screen confrontation, but maybe that's just the dramahound in me.

This is pretty good.  So, 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Hellboy Volume 2: Wake the Devil by Mike Mignola

Hellboy, Vol. 2: Wake the Devil (Hellboy, #2)Hellboy, Vol. 2: Wake the Devil by Mike Mignola
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This second volume in the Hellboy series is menacing and intensely creepy. People familiar with the first film by Guillermo Del Toro about Hellboy will recognize some elements of the story, but a good bit of the story was also adapted to the animated film "Blood and Iron." I think that as dark as both film adaptations are, the source material is moreso.

Hellboy managed to overcome his origins through sheer force of his self-determined will in Volume 1, Hellboy, Vol. 1: Seed of Destruction. He is challenged yet again, because forces of evil want him to take his role as the bringer of the apocalypse. Back to cause more trouble is the spirit of Rasputin and his cadre of Nazi devotees. In this volume, their plan is to gain control of the remains of notorious vampire Vladimir Giurescu and use his vampiric nature to create a super-army to help bring on Ragnarok. Rasputin has a grander final plan in mind that gets his group even closer to the desired end-time apocalypse. When Giurescu's remains are stolen from a museum in New York after the murder of its curator (a man with past Nazi connections), The Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense sends small teams in various directions to investigate and eliminate this threat, with tragic results.

Mignola mixes in a surprising amount of folklore and mythological traditions, from Eastern European vampire lore, to the Greek mythology of Hecate, not to mention some Russian origin Baga Yaga elements. It works very well. Let's not forget a bit of Lovecraft thrown in. I can tell you my stomach was fluttering as I read this story. There is something deeply creepy about the characters who truly believe in their dark plans for humanity and the world, that they would have so many followers who fully ascribed to such perverse beliefs. While intellectually we know that Hellboy is practically invincible, the triumph of good does not feel like a guarantee.

The artwork is beautiful as always, the colors mainly confined to a mix of red, tan, black, and gray. It might seem monochromatic, but it works very well for this book. There is an appreciated harmony between the script and dialogue and the artwork, making for excellent storytelling.

While I found this graphic novel very unnerving, I can't deny its brilliance. Dark folklore with a good dose of horror, classic and cosmic in a congruous final product makes for an appealing graphic novel for fans of these genres.

If you've watched the Hellboy movies, I highly recommend checking out the graphic novels.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Pretender to the Throne by Maisey Yates

Pretender to the Throne (Call of Duty, #3)Pretender to the Throne by Maisey Yates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maisey Yates takes the Beauty and the Beast story and twists it on its side with this book. Is the heroine the beast due to her unsightly scars, or is the gorgeous prince with his decadent lifestyle really the beast?

Disclaimer: I didn't put this review in spoiler tags, although there might be some borderline spoilerish elements. I endeavored not to give too much away, that wasn't necessary to expressing my thoughts of the book.

As I read this novel, it struck me that this is a very serious book. I didn't feel much levity, not that I always expect it, but it was noticeably lacking. Layna and Xander have some serious hurts in their past and their present situations. Xander went off the rails big time and the author wasn't afraid to keep it real in describing Xander's depredations. No Xander did it all in his checkered past (recent and distant). He was notoriously promiscuous to the degree that he doesn't even know how many women he's slept with (and doesn't even remember some of them), abused drugs, and was a hard drinker. In my mind I couldn't help wonder how healthy his liver is. I have alcoholics in my family on both sides, and through them I have seen the effects of long-term alcohol abuse on a person. I was glad that Layna doesn't let him off the hook when she agrees to marry him. She demands fidelity from him, and I was so glad that she required that he get STD tested. It was judicious, considering the circumstances. As for Layna's scarring, it's not just confined to a thin line that barely disfigures her face. She has significant scarring and the tabloids/newspapers say some truly awful things about her. That part was heartbreaking. I could completely understand her fears about going back to the public life she escaped from ten years ago. Going from a shallow, spoiled socialite with impeccable looks to a scarred woman in her near to mid-thirties who is marrying a good-looking future king would be heart-wrenching for any woman. Even with her training that vanity has no place in her life from the convent, that was difficult to weather. Although Xander is clearly the worse bargain, they make it seem like Xander is being altruistic in honoring his promises and marrying Layna.

Yates definitely brings the reality to what seems like a storyline straight out of the fairy tales. I can't say I would be eager to marry Xander with his abuses on his body (and it's not out of judgmentalism, but because you can't just click a finger and erase the effects of such a lifestyle from his body). And I think that it's clear that Xander has a ways to go before he breaks fifteen years of bad habits. I think this is evident when they are first intimate. Xander's lovemaking style while accomplished, does show a certain degree of selfishness and callousness about sex. He doesn't understand why Layna is conflicted about the experience, even though she enjoyed it. This is telling and I think realistic for a man who has spent fifteen years sleeping around with random women he meets as he frequents the casinos where he parties and makes his living gambling. I also liked how Xander's perception of Layna changes. He never thinks she's ugly, but he sees the scars through a harsher lens initially. As he falls in love with her, the scars become a part of her, and he loves the character of her features, because that's who she is. They cease to stand out to him.

Layna isn't portrayed as a perfectly good, pure woman either (other than what she appears to be on the surface). While she retired to a convent for ten years, her actions did have a certain degree of self-motivation. The convent was an escape, although she does realize how much she loves helping others and that her faith in God is real to her, in the process. At the root, it is running away, from the exposure she suffered as Xander's rejected fiance who was horribly scarred by an angry protestor, and also from her own emotional breakdown.

Yes, as I wrote earlier, this is a very serious book. Despite the fact that one would consider this storyline fertile ground for a dramatic, glossy style Harlequin Presents, there is a deep emotional core to this book that refuses to allow the reader to dismiss this book as a light read.

I gave this four stars because it was a intense, layered, well-written, and emotional novel, and I think that Yates handled this dicey subject matter very well.

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Once a Ferrara Wife by Sarah Morgan

Once a Ferrara Wife...Once a Ferrara Wife... by Sarah Morgan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book packs an emotional punch.  From page one, I was fiercely involved with the story. I have been an admirer of Sarah Morgan for several years, and she continues to meet my expectations. In this case, she's exceeded them. Sarah has created a story of a marriage that self-destructed, and the aftermath when this couple gets reunited by a family wedding.

I really liked the fact that the characters' emotional problems aren't solved by their love for each other. In fact, they have to work them them and communicate. Honestly though, that's one of the things I love the most about Sarah's writing. Her consistently strong use of dialogue and communication between the main characters.  Communication (or lack of it) was a huge factor in the breakdown of Laurel and Cristiano's marriage, and the only way they could save that marriage. Neither of them is the bad guy.  The 'bad guy' is that they hadn't developed a strong bond of communication the first time around.

Cristiano really does let down Laurel, but she could have handled the situation better. And both characters realize their faults and own up to them. But it takes some hard emotional moments and confrontations. Not to mention putting oneself out there for possible hurt, and a willingness to trust someone else.

I loved Cristiano. At first I did think he was being mean to Laurel. However, I could see his meanness was out of a broken heart.  Similarly, I really felt for and admired Laurel. My heart was aching for the pain she suffered as a child and the way it had caused her to erect thick emotional walls and self-defense mechanisms that eventually lead to unhealthy emotional behavior as an adult.  I tend to be self-protective like she is, so I could see the hallmarks of her behavior. I was so glad that Cristiano was willing to be a man and take her harsh but deserved criticisms on the chin. My respect of him went up a thousand notches just seeing how he truly makes amends to Laurel and is willing to move mountains to win her back.  At the same time, I didn't feel like Laurel was being deliberately cruel. She was hurting bad and what Cristiano did (even through ignorance) was devastating to her. In some ways, Laurel had not developed as a mature woman emotionally, and that was a huge part of the reason their marriage self-destructed. 

While I don't feel I am qualified as a marriage expert, I stand by the belief that commitment to honest and communication in a marriage is crucial, and I was very appreciative about how the author wrote this book. It's a very meaningful romantic story about an emotional journey between a married couple who loved each other deeply, but didn't understand each other well enough to keep it together the first time.  While reunited estranged married couple romance will never be my favorite, I think that Sarah knocked it out of the park with this book. I am growing more stingy about five stars lately, but I can't help but give this book that rating. It's well-deserved. Bravo!

PS:  I am glad to say that neither character was unfaithful to each other while they were apart. I absolutely hate that!!!

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Bargain with the Wind by Kathleen O'Brien

Bargain with the WindBargain with the Wind by Kathleen O'Brien

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I pulled this out of my HP pile because I needed an O for a challenge.  It was a good read.  The hero is a jerk to the heroine for a significant part of the book.  However, I could tell he had feelings for her.  It's one of those scenarios where the 'boy' pulls the 'girl's' hair and teases her because he likes her and he doesn't want to deal with this feelings.  Miles is determined to think the worst of Darcy because she wasn't in love with his brother, who was her college friend and who continually asked her to get married. He think she's just scheming for Evan to marry her out of greed.  Little does he know that for Darcy getting married is almost literally a matter of life and death.

In this situation, the wicked step-parent is a father. George is really quite evil.  He has malicious feelings towards Darcy and his intentions towards Darcy's nubile sister are far from fatherly.  Darcy has past experience with her father's lechery and is determined to protect her sister, even if it means marrying a friend who she doesn't love in that passionate way you should love your spouse. One huge obstacle in the way is Miles, Evan's older brother. He's cynical and sardonic, and continually hurts Darcy's feelings. So why is she attracted to him in a way that she never was to Evan?

While Miles wasn't very nice to Darcy, the chemistry between them is very palpable. I do feel that the author conveyed his feelings for Darcy as the story progressed, and so I wasn't too unbelieving when he declares he fell for her at first sight but didn't recognize it.  Although this book is not graphic sexually, I think it has some very sensuous love scenes that work very well for the story.

I also liked how the author uses the ocean and the hurricane that happens near the end as a metaphor for the growing and powerful feelings between Darcy and Miles.  Those feelings and the conflict that occurs with George (who Miles has his own reasons to hate) come to a head like the hurricane, and the calm aftermath shows the resolution of the acknowledged love that Darcy and Miles share.

Bargain with the Wind was a good read. Quick and enjoyable.  I got involved with the story and the characters. I felt Darcy's pain and Miles' confusion over his uncontrollable feelings for her.  I liked the manner in which O'Brien uses the familial bonds that Miles and Darcy share with their siblings as an active backdrop to this story. I recommend this to fans of short contemporary romance if you can get a copy of Bargain with the Wind.

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