Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Hell Bent Kid

CHARLES O. LOCKE

Synopsis from Goodreads: Hailed by the Western Writers of America as one of the top twenty-five Westerns ever written: The harrowing story of an innocent young man pursued across west Texas by a relentless posse.

A crack shot more skilled with a rifle than are men twice his age, eighteen-year-old Tot Lohman has no intention of using his genius for evil. But when a fight erupts at a schoolhouse dance, Lohman is forced to defend himself, and a young rancher named Shorty Boyd winds up dead. The Boyds are numerous, powerful, and vicious, and they want revenge. With no one else to turn to, Lohman sets out across canyon country to reunite with his ailing father in New Mexico Territory. The journey will be long, hot, and perilous, and to survive it, this mild-mannered boy must become the cold-blooded killer he never wanted to be.

Based on real events, The Hell Bent Kid is a tale of pursuit as stark and mesmerizing as the Southwestern landscape in which it is set. Unrelenting from first page to last, it ranks alongside The Ox-Bow Incident, True Grit, and The Searchers as one of the most unique and artful stories of the West ever told. In 1958 it was adapted into the film From Hell to Texas, directed by the famed Henry Hathaway and starring Don Murray, Diane Varsi, Chill Wills, and Dennis Hopper.

Stats for my copy: Kindle edition, Open Road Media, 2015.

How acquired: NetGalley.

First line: After the first Indian fighting quieted down, and the hard-pan camps and towns moved west, killings were less common in northwest Texas than people were led to think.


My thoughts: Tot Lohman killed a Boyd in self-defense, and now the Boyd family is out for revenge, chasing Tot across Texas. This is Tot's painstaking accounting of his long ride, the people he meets along the way, the constant stream of Boyds or men hired by the Boyds to hunt him down. At times it was quite mesmerizing, but those times were outnumbered by the times it wasn't. Since the majority of the story is from Tot's POV, we don't get to know any of the characters. And since Tot is relating the events more like a log of this happened and then this happened, and not like an actual journal of his thoughts and feelings, we don't really get to know him either. It made for a slow read that slogged along at times, but did lead up to an exciting and climatic ending. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Prince's Tawse (Saga of the Eastern Crown, Book 2)

LAUREN KESS

Publisher's Synopsis: In the Court of the Empress Regina in London, the child of Princess Consort Daniella and Imperial Prince Nikolai has been born, and Daniella's long-time servant Kiana is the child's beloved nursemaid. Dark forces, however, are at work and tragedy strikes: Kiana's father is killed saving Daniella from an assassin, leaving Kiana alone at the Court, at the mercy of the dark rulers. Worse, Kiana's brother Galen is alone, still in Persia, in the clutches of evil Queen Anca.

Kiana realizes she must save her brother, no matter what the cost, but her attempts at leaving the court are ill-fated; she is caught both trying to steal jewels to finance the escape, and then caught in the escape attempt itself. Yet, against all expectation, the Prince helps Kiana. He could have turned her over to the dark discipline of the priests of the Order Sangre, or even have had her executed; instead, he leaves all behind to make her a devil's bargain: submit to him in every way, and he himself will take her back to Persia himself.

Kiana has no choice but to agree, even though it means putting herself at the mercy of Imperial Prince Andrew. And soon, Kiana finds herself no different than her mistress: an agonie aperitiv - an "appetizer" of pain - to a dark vampire Prince.

But unlike her mistress, she could never learn to love one such as he. Could she?

Publisher's note: The Prince's Tawse is an erotic romance of love and loss in a future world gone mad, a world in which vampires and humans co-exist. It contains erotic BDSM themes, including spanking and anal punishment.

Stats for my copy: E-book, Blushing Books, 2013.

How acquired: Bought.

First line: I knew the dead man hanging in the square: Liam was his name.

My thoughts: The story picks up right where THE PRINCE'S LASH ended, but now we're following Kiana's story rather than Daniella's. Kiana is Daniella's servant, and now that her father is dead, she is determined to travel to Persia to get her younger brother away from Queen Anca. But Kiana has caught the eye of the vampire Prince Andrew, and when she steals a horse and escapes from the Empress Regina's court, he quickly catches up with her. Branded not only a thief, but a horse thief, Kiana has no doubt the Empress will have her hung. But Andrew offers her a bargain: he'll accompany her to Perth to find her brother. In exchange, she must give him complete obedience.

Unlike Daniella, Kiana is not an “agonie apertiv” - she does not enjoy and crave being whipped. She has no desire to be spanked, but Prince Andrew spanks her just about every time she turns around. In other words, there is a LOT of punishment spanking. Which is preferable to whipping, but that too is eventually introduced to Kiana (hence the title of the book).

I had anticipated enjoying this story more than Daniella's, but as I turns out I never really connected with Kiana or Prince Andrew. I could understand Kiana's single-mindedness in getting to her younger brother, and I didn't find any fault with her or her character, so I'm not sure why she didn't appeal to me more. My issue with Andrew was a little clearer. It didn't bother me that he constantly wanted to spank Kiana, but it did bother me that he constantly told her he wanted her to cry, he wanted to make her cry. I get that breaking through her barriers and making her sob her heart out once was good for her, cathartic. But I can't believe it's cathartic over and over.

The story is narrated by Kiana, so we never know what's actually going on in Andrew's head. He purports to love Kiana, but he must still obey the Empress, which means he often abandons Kiana when she needs him. If some of the story had been told from his point of view, he might have been a more sympathetic character and easier to like.

The ending surprised me. Mere pages from being over I couldn't see how things were possibly going to work out for Kiana. And while they did, they also didn't.


I didn't love it, I didn't hate it. And I do like the author's writing style, so I would like to read more of her work. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

To Love a Texas Cowboy (Wishing, Texas, Book 1)


Synopsis from back cover: New York artist Cassie Reynolds moves to Wishing, Texas to raise her orphaned niece, and discovers she’s in way over her head. Then she meets Ella’s financial guardian, Ty Barnett, a handsome hardworking rancher, with his own ideas on child rearing.

Ty and Cassie clash over almost everything, especially Ella, but when two people have the welfare of one child at heart, suddenly they find themselves looking at each other in a whole new light…

Will Ty make room for another lady in his life? And will Cassie allow herself to love a Texas cowboy?

Stats for my copy: Kindle edition, Tule Publishing, 2015.

How acquired: NetGalley

My thoughts: I like stories where a character who has no experience with kids is suddenly thrown headfirst into instant parenthood. And I like stories where a city girl who has no experience with cowboys is suddenly thrown headfirst into…well, to continue the metaphor, into a cowboy!

When Cassie’s sister and her husband, Chloe and Jack, are killed in a plane crash, Cassie relocates from New York to her sister’s bed and breakfast in the small town of Wishing, Texas, to take custody of her young niece. Ella of course is emotionally scarred from losing both of her parents, and refuses to talk, or participate in anything at school. When we meet Cassie, she is struggling to deal with her own grief, and to relate to Ella and get through to her.

Ty was good friends with Chloe and Jack, and he and Chloe were in business together. Chloe had the bed and breakfast, and Ty provided dude ranch services to her guests at his ranch – trail rides and sightseeing tours on horseback. He didn’t love it, but the money helped support his ranch and his family, which included his widowed mother and his younger sister, Aubrey. Ella’s parents had also appointed Ty to be Ella’s financial guardian, so while Cassie now has custody of Ella, Ty has custody of Ella’s money and makes the financial decisions.

I loved Ty. He adored Ella, and even when being his gruff stoic self, when Ella came into a scene he softened. He was good with her, and she obviously felt very close to him. With her father gone, Ty was now the predominant male role model in her life, and he was determined do not only guard her finances, but also to be sure she was properly cared for, even if that meant butting in, whether or not Cassie felt he had a right to.

Cassie is a pretty successful artist in New York, and suddenly being in charge of an inn leaves her floundering. She considers selling it and taking Ella back to New York with her, but since Ty holds the purse strings, he would have to approve of any sale. And he thinks it’s better for Ella to remain in her own home. So of course Ty and Cassie are going to constantly clash with each other. And of course they are going to be attracted to each other, hard as they try to fight it. Ty has been burned in love, and has no desire to be burned again.

I truly loved those Cassie and Ty clashing scenes, and the banter that flew back and forth between them often made me laugh. I could understand the reasoning behind each character's hesitance to become involved with the other, and considering that having Ella in common would keep them tethered to each other for several years, I could easily agree that caution should be taken. I do wish that Ella had actually been involved in the story more than she was. The developing relationship between Ty and Cassie was very dependent on her, as was much of the plot. But even in the end, as much as I felt I knew both adults, Ella was still more of a little plot moppet than a fleshed out person.


I'm looking forward to the rest of this series, featuring other members of Ty's group of college friends,and here's hoping his sister Aubrey will hook up with one of them and get her own HEA! 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Heaven is Here

LUCY WALKER

Synopsis from Goodreads: Spinster aunts and uncles, bachelor sons -- no wonder they were called the "non-marrying" Wilstacks. When Jean Bedford became the family's music teacher, she watched Hugh and Anthony Wilstack, the most eligible bachelors within hundreds of miles, fend off determined girls far more beautiful than she. Jean vowed she would not join the husband-hunting crowd that pursued them -- but she could not stop herself from falling in love... 

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback; Beagle Books, 1972.

How acquired: From my mother. 

First line: Jean stepped from the train, holding her case and handbag and hoping her face did not show the mixture of temerity and curiosity that burgeoned inside her. 

My thoughts: Jean Bedford has traveled from Perth to the middle of nowhere to give violin lessons to young Matt Wilstack. Matt’s mother and older brother, Hugh, are both musically inclined, often playing at gatherings and parties, and Mrs. Wilstack hopes that with Jean’s help, Matt will begin to take an interest in his own musical studies. 

Jean is just the violin teacher, and not meant to be household help, but she is unable to just lounge around and do nothing when not working with Matt. Good thing since, on the page at least, we rarely see any music lessons actually happening. Jean’s father is always traveling, and she has no mother, and the one thing she longs for more than anything else is a home full of people to love and be loved by. So she happily throws herself into the Wilstacks’ daily routines and helps out wherever she can. 

The other two occupants of the home are the area’s most eligible bachelors, the self-proclaimed non-marrying Wilstacks, Hugh and Anthony. Hugh, as the oldest brother, runs the homestead, often barking out orders that everyone instantly follows with no hesitation. In fact Jean often fumes to herself that he never says please or thank you, and that everyone waits on him hand and foot, which he seems to accept as his right. For instance, he leaves his clothes on the bathroom floor, and she resolutely tells herself she will not pick them up, she’ll leave them until he picks them up himself, but then, realizing that Mrs. Wilstack will end up picking them up instead, she gives in and picks them up because she wants to do everything she can to make life easier for his mother. 

Lucy Walker’s books are always delightful (except Girl Alone, which I found somewhat boring and disappointing). They are always quaint, sweet romances, and I quite love her writing. They’re a bit old-fashioned (this one was first published in 1957), with passages like this:
So contrary is the heart of woman that now that Hugh had offered to help, Jean no longer wanted him to do it. It was true…the men worked terribly hard outside in the paddocks all day and at night Hugh came in and sat all hours doing the book management of the estate. Perhaps after all it had only been the “willingness” that she had wanted and not the actual “doing”. 
Moreover, she had the woman’s natural instinct to help the man. She understood Mrs. Wilstack’s anxiety to do all for her sons. It satisfied a need within herself. 
Despite that, Jean is a strong and modern feeling heroine, and I don’t think Lucy Walker’s books will ever get old. 


For another good Walker book, I recommend Follow Your Star

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Garden of Shadows (Dollanganger, Book 5)

V.C. ANDREWS

Synopsis from back cover: Long before terror flowered in the attic, thin, spinsterish Olivia came to Virginia as Malcolm Foxworth's bride. At last, with her tall handsome husband, she would find the joy she had waited for, longed for. But in the gloomy mansion filed with hidden rooms and festering desires, a stain of jealous obsession begins to spread...an evil that will threaten her children, two lovely boys and one very special, beautiful girl. For within one innocent child, a shocking secret lives...a secret that will taint the proud Foxworth name, and haunt all their lives forever!

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Pocket Books, 1987.

How acquired: Acquired through BookCrossing.

My thoughts: After having read all the books in the Dollanganger saga, some enjoyable, some forgettable, I looked forward to going back in time with this prequel to see how the Grandmother came to be the cold formidable woman who would hide her grandchildren away in an attic. And while it's certainly not great literature, it is a quick and engrossing story.

We meet Olivia just prior to her first meeting with Malcolm, living with her father and taking care of his accounts, longing for love but despairing of her plain looks and tall stature that turns off would be suitors. Malcolm coming into her life seems like a dream come true, as he looks past all the outside trappings and is interested in the real Olivia. After a very quick courtship, they marry and he takes her to Foxworth Hall. Little does she know – though she quickly finds out-- he has no actual interest in her as a person, but just wanted a wife to run his home and give him lots of children.

V.C. Andrews apparently only had one voice to write in, as Olivia's narration is just like Cathy's in FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC. Olivia and Cathy are very different characters of course, as Cathy was beautiful and beloved and well aware of it. But it still felt like reading Cathy again at times. And teenage Corrine is very reminiscent of Cathy's adopted daughter Cindy in later books.


But if you just go with everything that happens, it's quite an adequate story to while away an afternoon with. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Midsummer Dreams


Synopsis from Goodreads: Four people. Four messy lives. One night that changes everything. Emily is obsessed with ending her father’s new relationship – but is blind to the fact that her own is far from perfect. Dominic has spent so long making other people happy that he’s hardly noticed he’s not happy himself. Helen has loved the same man, unrequitedly, for ten years. Now she may have to face up to the fact that he will never be hers. Alex has always played the field. But when he finally meets a girl he wants to commit to, she is just out of his reach. At a midsummer wedding party, the bonds that tie the four friends together begin to unravel and show them that, sometimes, the sensible choice is not always the right one. A modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Stats for my copy: Kindle edition, published by Choc Lit, 2015.

How acquired: NetGalley.

First line: I’m alone again. 

My thoughts: Emily’s father is in Verona, attending a conference, and when he comes home he brings a surprise – a fiancĂ©. A younger, free-spirited woman who Emily instantly dislikes. She’s all wrong for her dad, a professor, and is determined to make her dad see that, and to prevent the wedding from ever happening. Meanwhile, Emily has been dating Dom for quite some time, and while she thinks everything is good, she finds herself attracted to Alex, her friend Helen’s new boarder. Alex is the master of one night stands, but he is also drawn to Emily. And Helen has been in love with Dom for ten years, so Alex tells himself that by pursing Emily, he’s helping Helen. 

The short chapters alternate among the four characters, with Emily’s chapters in first person POV. Helen especially resonated with me more than the others, though partly I think because she’s a little older and more mature than Emily. Emily lives with her dad, works for her dad, and takes endless driving lessons without ever having the confidence to actually get her license. She has a lot of growing up to do. But of the four, Helen also reminded me the most of myself, such as with this passage:
“They need volunteers to help. It’ll show that you’re a team player.”
“It’ll be outside,” Helen pulled a face. “With mud, and weather, and outside things.”
And this one, when she and Alex are discussing her need to get over her infatuation with Dom and start dating:
Helen wasn’t sure. The whole notion sounded horrendous. She liked familiar people. She liked people she already knew. Meeting new ones was traumatic. 
None of the four friends are particularly happy with their lives, though they all seem to be constantly convincing themselves (and each other) that everything is great and nothing needs to change. And while I decided along the way who should be with who, the author left me hanging practically until the very end. 

Overall, I enjoyed the story and the writing. There’s plenty of humor, and each character’s personality is distinct and well drawn out. I sometimes wanted to smack a character and tell him or her to chill out or grow up, especially Emily, but I liked all of them, and I was quite satisfied with how everyone’s story was resolved. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Ransom

 LOIS DUNCAN 

Synopsis from back cover: The lives of five captives hang in the balance while their families gather the ransom.

Two brothers, their family frantic to find their sons. A loner whose uncle doesn't even know he’s missing. An army brat whose family will never be able to raise enough money. A cheerleader who can’t count on her stepdad but knows her father will come through.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers, 1990. Previously published under the title “Five Were Missing”.

How acquired: Bought at a library sale in 2012.

First line: The kidnapping took place on a Thursday.

My thoughts: School lets out one afternoon and kids board the bus. A substitute driver is at the wheel, and he misses the first stop, making the boy who gets off there walk back an extra block. The driver apologizes and tells the kids he was called in at the last minute and didn’t get a copy of the route, so Bruce moves to the front to point out the stops. When they’re approaching the last stop, in one of the better neighborhoods, there are just five kids left. But the bus keeps going, picking up another man with a gun.

It’s a disparate group of kids. Bruce, a freshman, a little awkward, living in his brother’s shadow, who he looks up to and admires. His brother, Glenn, the golden boy, jock and all around high school star. Normally he drives to school, but his car is in the shop. Marianne, popular cheerleader who goes out with Glenn. Her stepfather tried to pick her up from school, but she rejected him, as she always does. She resents his presence in her family and thinks the her father hung the moon. Jesse, a quiet loner. Her family are military, and the only family who rent a house in their upscale neighborhood. Her mother thought living off base would be good for Jesse, that she’d have a better chance at a normal life and would make friends. Dexter, another loner who hides his disease misshapen body under long sleeved shirts. He moved from New York to live with his uncle after his parents died, but his uncle continues to live the single bachelor life as if Dexter weren’t there.

The plot felt realistic and the tension came through from beginning to end. The writing was descriptive, although some of the dialogue felt a little stilted. I enjoyed the story, and the way Marianne and her stepfather bonded and arrive a new place in their relationship. As the kids wait out their captivity in a remote cabin with one of the kidnappers and his wife, they get to know each other, and their strengths come out. Bruce and Glenn have some tense moments alone that open Bruce’s eyes to who his brother really is.

I did have one issue, and I guess this might be considered a spoiler by some so be warned -

















The only parent reunited with one of the kids on the page was Marianne's stepfather, and I would have like to witness the reunions between the other kids and their families. The narrative occasionally left the kids to focus briefly on one or more of their families, including a passage about Dexter’s uncle, who was out of town and unaware of the kidnapping. There were hints that the uncle’s conscience over his lifestyle and his non-relationship with Dexter was getting to him, and I thought in the end this experience would draw them closer together, make them start to feel like family. But once the narrative left the uncle, it never went back to him, and I was very disappointed that Dexter and his uncle did not have any resolution to their relationship.