31 August 2013

Virgin River (A Virgin River Novel, Book 1)


When the recently widowed Melinda Monroe sees this ad she quickly decides that the remote mountain town of Virgin River might be the perfect place to escape her heartache, and to reenergize the nursing career she loves. But her high hopes are dashed within an hour of arriving: the cabin is a dump, the roads are treacherous and the local doctor wants nothing to do with her. Realizing she's made a huge mistake, Mel decides to leave town the following morning.

But a tiny baby, abandoned on a front porch, changes her plans...and a former marine cements them into place.

Melinda Monroe may have come to Virgin River looking for escape, but instead she finds her home.

First line: Mel squinted into the rain and darkness, creeping along the narrow, twisting, muddy, tree-enshrouded road and for the hundredth time thought, am I out of my mind?

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, published by MIRA Books, 2007; 386 pages; purchased at a library sale.

My thoughts: This is a series and author who I see a lot of buzz about. On different blogs, on Twitter, and I see the books everywhere. So when I came across this book at a library sale I snatched it up. One thing I love about library sales is the chance to discover a multitude of new authors without spending a fortune. The spending comes later, when you then need to accumulate every other book that author has written.

Mel was married to a doctor and was happy with her life, working together in the ER, living in the big city, shopping at fancy stores and living the fast life. The only thing missing was a baby, which she and husband had been unable to conceive. And then an armed robbery at a convenience store took her husband away from her. Nearly a year later she is still deep in grief, and burned out on the trauma and adrenaline that accompanies medical care in a high turnover city emergency room. The midwife job in a small quiet town sounds like a perfect opportunity to get away, to go where nobody will know about her loss and look at her with pitying eyes. Her friends and family all think she's crazy, and her sister desperately wants her to come to her home in Colorado instead. But Mel sells her home, packs up and heads out.

She regrets it immediately. The woman who placed the ad was not quite truthful in her representations of the job or the accommodations, and before Mel has been in town a few hours she's made the decision to leave. Then she finds that baby mentioned in the blurb. Now, at this point, I assumed that Mel would end up taking in the baby, set down roots in town, marry a local and they would live happily ever after as a little family unit. I mean, how many romances have you read with an abandoned baby that did not play out that way? So I was pleased as the story progressed to have Mel, despite getting attached to the baby, not end up being the one to keep it, and the story not revolving around it but moving on to other facets of Mel's new life. Score one for the author for avoiding that plot cliche.

Jack owns the local bar/restaurant, lives on the premises, spends his free time fishing, and occasionally goes to another town where he has a lady friend. He's never been interested in a serious or long term relationship, but he's not a playboy. He's a good guy who was in the military for a long time, mentors a young teen who lives with his grandmother, and willingly pitches in to help out anybody and everybody in Virgin River.

None of the characters in this book are one dimensional. They are all very real and it was easy to connect with both Mel and Jack. The author gives us very good insight into their psyches and what makes them think and act the way they do. This is Mel and Jack's story of course, but the secondary characters are anything but just secondary. In fact, there was one character who we probably are not supposed to like, and this could be considered a spoiler, so I'll say more about that at the end of this post and don't go down there if you avoid spoilers.

The romance between Mel and Jack builds up slowly and naturally, with the characters cementing a firm friendship first. Jack is patient, knowing that Mel has to come to terms with the loss of her husband and the idea of moving on, and when Jack and Mel first make love I wasn't entirely convinced that the timing was right. And it's still not a smooth road to happiness after that. Issues don't just vanish with the joining of two bodies, and the author handled that fact well.

By the end of the book, I had laughed and I had literally cried. Lots of books make me laugh, but not many bring real tears. Before I'd even turned the last page, I was anxious to revisit the town of Virgin River, and I picked up books 3, 9, 10, 17 and 18 on a shopping trip yesterday, and I already had 15 and 19 in my TBR pile, but being anal about reading series in order I still have to find a copy of the second book before I can continue.

SPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILER (I'm still trying to work out how to do the show/hide thing but after twenty minutes of either IE or blogger not cooperating I've given up for today)

There are lots of marijuana growers hidden in the countryside in the outlying areas, and one of these men comes to Mel's cabin late at night and insists she accompany him to deliver a baby. She's afraid to go with him and rightfully so, but he won't let her call anyone else, won't let her follow him in her own car, just insists she must come because the baby and mother need her. He doesn't pull a weapon on her, doesn't force her but doesn't really give her a choice, just keeps talking, cajoling, insisting...politely yet still firmly...until she finally gives in and goes. Now, maybe it's just me, but I think this scene was my favorite in the book, and I would have loved to learn more about this man, get to know him...I was drawn to him, attracted to him. I don't know if the author intended that, or if it's just because I'm not right in the head.

27 August 2013

The Big Bad Wolf Tells All

Synopsis: In this fast-paced, sexy romp from Donna Kauffman, a woman who’s a self-avowed lone wolf – with a trail of broken hearts behind her – finds herself face-to-face with love…

Tanzy Harrington is the Bay Area’s most-read romance columnist and self-proclaimed love-‘em-and-leave-‘em artist – and she’s not quite ready to tie herself down to one man. That is, until Riley Parrish lands on the scene.

When Tanzy agrees to house-sit for her eccentric great-aunt, she finds herself sharing close quarters with Riley. At first he seems a bit too much like the “sheep” Tanzy derides in her column – too polite, the classic boring good provider. But when she catches a glimpse of the “wolf” lurking in his eyes, the ultimate alpha female is about to take a fall…

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, published by Bantam Dell, a Division of Random House, Inc., 2004; 409 pages; I don’t remember when, where or how I got this book!

My thoughts: It took me a little bit to get into this book. Right off the bat we meet not only our heroine, Tanzy, but her whole group of zany friends, which for me was confusing and too much at one time.

Tanzy writes a very popular romance column wherein she amusingly spouts her opinions and compares men to wolves or sheep. It’s her latest theory, that men all fall into one or the other category. Women date wolves, but marry sheep, and she does not understand the attraction to the sheep and is trying to figure it out. I personally thought it was kind of a dumb theory, and I think that’s part of what made it hard for me to get vested in the story too quickly.

When her great-aunt Millicent needs to go out of town just before the Christmas holidays, she asks Tanzy to house sit for her. All the staff will be on vacation, except her new personal assistant, Riley. Tanzy can write her column from anywhere she has computer access, so she grudgingly packs a bag and moves into her aunt’s huge home.

Tanzy is a serial dater, proclaiming to the world that women think about sex just as much as men, and as long as a woman uses safety precautions, there’s nothing wrong with her having a healthy sex life. And she practices what she preaches. Love? No, thank you. She’s not interested in that, or marriage or kids. And she is very unimpressed with Riley, noting that when he shakes her hand at their first meeting his grip is limp. That’s how she describes it. He’s a dull, boring sheep and she avoids dinner with him in her aunt’s kitchen every night by eating in her room while she works.

Tanzy has been getting emails from an obsessed fan who goes by the name SoulM8. She’s had crazy fans before, but this one is starting to worry her a little. Not enough to do anything about it though or let it interfere with her life and her fun. Besides, she now has something new on her mind. For some odd reason, she finds herself intrigued by the resident Riley sheep, and even wondering what it would be like to kiss him. What the heck is wrong with her?

Riley of course is not who or what she thinks he is. He’s got a job to do, and is determined to be professional and detached while maintaining a low profile.

There’s a lot going on in this book, but the best parts of the book are when the huge cast of supporting characters fade into the background and we’re with just Tanzy and Riley, watching them get to know each other. I loved the banter between them, with many exchanges that made me not just smile, but grin or even laugh out loud.

Finding out who SoulM8 is becomes a large plot point, and while I certainly didn’t figure out the stalker’s identity, I did figure out more than either Riley or Tanzy did long before they did, which was disappointing and made the big reveal a bit of a let down for me. When SoulM8 finally made a personal appearance, our hero and heroine were both shocked to their cores, while I was asking them how they could be so stupid.

But the journey to that point was fun and well worth my time.

18 August 2013

Checkmate (Noughts and Crosses, Book 4)

Synopsis: Callie Rose has a Cross mother and a nought father in a society where the pale-skinned noughts are treated as inferiors and those with dual heritage face a life-long battle against deep-rooted prejudices.

Sephy, her mother, has told Rose virtually nothing about her father, but when Rose unexpectedly discovers the truth about her parentage, she finds herself drawn into a dangerous, deadly game – a game of very high stakes than can have only one winner.

Stats for my copy: Trade paperback, Corgi Books, Random House Children's Books, 2007; 511 pages; purchased from Amazon.

My thoughts: This is the fourth book in a series of six, and before you read this book, you must start with the first book and read them in order. I read the first book, NOUGHTS AND CROSSES, in October 2006, long before I began this blog. It was a gripping and mesmerizing book, which should be required reading for all students. Then I read AN EYE FOR AN EYE, a much shorter novella, and KNIFE EDGE, both in May 2011. As I started the second book, I had to look up a synopsis of the first book to familiarize myself with the story. As with the first book, I loved the second and third books.

I definitely should not have waited so long to read CHECKMATE. I often had to pause and remember what had happened in previous books in order to not be confused. And while I liked the book, I did not love it as much as the previous books, but I think if I'd read it while the others were still fresh in my mind I would have gotten a lot more out of it.

This books takes us through Callie Rose's life from age seven to age sixteen. As in the previous books, the short chapters are all told in first person, alternating between characters – Callie Rose, her mother, Sephy, her grandmothers, Jasmine and Meggie, and her father's brother, Jude. In the early years, all Callie Rose knows about her father is that he was a gardener and died in a car accident while her mum was pregnant with her. But as she grows older, and particularly after Jude first makes contact with her, she begins to learn more about who her father really was, and finds herself drawn into the Liberation Militia and training to be a soldier under her uncle's command.

I think my biggest issue was that I found Sephy to now be a very unsympathetic character. She loves her daughter, but she cannot bring herself to show her daughter real affection. For example:

I was about to give Callie a hug, but I caught myself in time. I gave her a pat on the head and a kiss on the forehead instead.
'Mum, I'm not a dog who just retrieved a bone, thank you very much,” Callie complained. (pg 237)
And she constantly thinks to herself that now is the time to tell her daughter the truth about her father, and then she lets the moment pass and doesn't do so. Of course, she has her reasons for both of these issues, misguided though they may be, but for most of the book I was angry and disappointed at her.

The last third of the book took me back into that mesmerized didn’t want to put it down state, but for a 500 page book it took a while to get that drawn in.

11 August 2013

Comanche Heart (Comanche, Book 2)

Synopsis: Years ago, Amy Masters escaped the fury of the Texas plains for a new life as a teacher in the golden hills of Oregon, where she has found contentment – if not happiness. Then, out of the shadows, comes Swift Antelope, the Comanche warrior to whom she once pledged her heart when she was no more than a girl.

Claiming that he has given up his violent ways as a gunslinger, Swift has arrived to take the woman he feels is rightfully his – the woman who once swore to honor a sacred and unbreakable pact. But Amy's brutal past has made it impossible for her to trust any man – even if it's the bold warrior who has haunted her dreams, the only man she ever loved, the Comanche heart she can't live without.

First line: Like a forlorn soul, the wind whistled and moaned as it funneled around Swift Antelope, whipping his hair across his face so that he saw the lonely grave through a shifting veil of black.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2009; 419 pages; borrowed from the library.

My thoughts: As much as I loved COMANCHE MOON practically from the first page, this sequel took a little longer to draw me in and captivate me. Nearly a month later, I still vividly remember the first book, and Hunter and Loretta still resonate with me, so this second book had a lot to live up to.

Swift Antelope spent many years fighting in the war between the white men and his People, while Amy waited at home with her mother and stepfather for him to come for her. At 19, she left Texas and traveled to Oregon, to settle in Wolf's Landing with Loretta, Hunter, and their two children. Here, she has her own home, and a job she loves as a schoolteacher. When she's not at school or with her family, she is safely inside her little house, with the bolts drawn. She rarely socializes, and politely spurns the attention of any man who shows an interest in her. And she still has nightmares about the two weeks with the comancheros who kidnapped her when she was twelve.

After the fighting ended, Swift went to the farm for Amy, only to be told by her stepfather that she had died. Swift spent the next three years riding with Mexican bandits, going by the surname of Lopez, and earning a reputation as a notorious gunslinger. Weary of this life, he travels to Oregon to reconnect with Hunter and try to find a peaceful life, to the shocking realization that Amy is still alive, and is terrified of him and wants nothing to do with him. But they were betrothed under Comanche custom, and he is determined to hold her to that promise.

There is not nearly as much violence and heartbreak in this book as in the first one. Swift has to find a way past Amy's mental barriers, and that is in essence what the story. There were times when I did not agree with his methods and mentally smacked him on the arm and told him to leave her be, and then his reasoning would be revealed and I would have to apologize for doubting him and say carry on.

The angst is sky high as the emotional battle lines are drawn and crossed and erased and drawn again. There is a hilarious scene with Amy and Swift trying to catch a chicken, Loretta finally intervening and showing them how it's done, and then none of them having the heart to wring it’s neck. After which Amy asks Swift:
I – do you – if you were a fellow, what would you like? Chicken or ham?”
Swift arched an eyebrow. “If I were a fellow?”
She blushed. “Well, of course, you're a fellow, Swift. I meant a fellow eating dinner at a social. Would you want chicken or ham?”
Either one, I guess. Unless, of course, I had to kill the chicken. Then I'd lean real heavy toward ham.” (pg 191)
And while I'm quoting passages, another I liked:
If you get the boot, I'll bring you more bread and butter than you can eat. You'll get fat eating it all. And I won't tell you what to do and when to do it, I promise. Now, sit down. I didn't buy your basket to fight. Do you like my shirt?”
She studied him for a moment, unhappily aware that he vowed not to order her around, then commanded her to sit, all in the same breath. (pg 200)
While COMANCHE HEART isn't as exciting as COMANCHE MOON, once I got pulled in there were some edge of my seat turning the pages can't put it down nights where I stayed up past my bedtime to read. And that's always the mark of a good book.

07 August 2013

Love Drunk Cowboy (Spikes & Spurs, Book 1)


Synopsis: High-powered career woman Austin Lanier suddenly finds herself saddled with an inherited watermelon farm deep in the countryside. She’s determined to sell the farm, until her new, drop-dead sexy neighbor Rye O’Donnell shows up…

Rancher Rye O’Donnell thinks he’s going to get a good deal on his dream property – until he meets the fiery new owner. Rye is knocked sideways when he realizes that not only is Granny Lanier’s city-slicker granddaughter a savvy businesswoman, she’s also sexy as hell…

Suddenly Rye is a whole lot less interested in real estate and a whole lot more focused on getting Austin to set aside her stiletto heels…

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc., 2011; 391 pages; borrowed from the library.

My thoughts: My daughter and I went to the library last weekend as I needed to find a book my boss assigned as mandatory reading. After I located that book, my daughter was still browsing, so I began wandering around gazing at the shelves, and the title LOVE DRUNK COWBOY just jumped out at me. After reading the back cover, I decided to check it out. And am I glad I did. If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be “fun”.

Austin Lanier’s grandmother passed away six months ago, and left everything she owned to Austin, with very specific instructions on how to dispose of her body. No funeral – she wanted to be cremated and her ashes dropped in the Red River on Good Friday. So while Granny Lanier’s friend Pearlita held on to the ashes, Austin had a phone call every Thursday with Granny’s neighbor, Rye O’Donnell, who was taking care of Granny’s property. Granny and Rye had been good friends, and since Granny only described Rye has being younger than her, Austin pictured a man in his 70s with gray hair and a cane.

Rye expected this city slicker granddaughter to come town, do Granny’s bidding regarding her last wishes, sell the property and go back to Tulsa. While he had seen many pictures of Austin – every time Granny got a new one she had to show it off – he was still shocked to see her in person for the first time. Instant attraction and we knew he was already a goner. And Austin was pretty shocked herself to discover that Rye was not the old man she pictured, but a young hot cowboy.

Austin and Rye dance around each other for quite awhile. Austin originally did plan to sell off the farm, but the business of raising watermelons and running the farm quickly got under her skin, not to mention she didn’t want to put the hired hands out of a job. She had taken two weeks vacation from her own job with an oil company in Tulsa, but as the end of her vacation neared and she learned more about the everyday running of the farm, she was more and more loathe to leave.

There’s a lot of humor, a lot of aw-shucks-honky-tonk-country-boy lingo, a mother who is determined her daughter get back to her fancy Tulsa apartment and continue to advance in her career, a sister who thinks the city girl is gonna break her brother’s heart, and then there’s Granny who seems to be guiding Austin’s life from the great beyond.

I’m excited to have discovered a new to me author, and doubly excited to realize that I have two of her other books in my TBR pile – RED’S HOT COWBOY, which is the second book in this series, and MY GIVE A DAMN’S BUSTED, the third book in her “Honky Tonk” series.

03 August 2013

Safe Haven


Back cover copy: When a mysterious young woman named Katie appears in the small North Carolina town of Southport, her sudden arrival raises questions about her past. Beautiful yet self-effacing, Katie seems determined to avoid forming personal ties until a series of events draws her into two reluctant relationships: one with her plainspoken neighbor, Jo; and another with Alex, a widowed store owner with two young children. Katie slowly begins to relax her guard, putting down roots in the community and becoming increasingly attached to Alex and his family.

But even as Katie begins to fall in love, she struggles with the dark secret that still haunts her. With Jo's support, Katie eventually realizes that she must choose between a life of transient safety and one of riskier rewards...and that in the darkest hour, love is the only true safe haven.

First line: As Katie wound her way among the tables, a breeze from the Atlantic rippled through her hair.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, published by Grand Central Publishing, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2012; 382 pages (not counting reading guide and excerpt); purchased new.

My thoughts: So I've never been a particularly huge Sparks fan. I've always thought of him as a competent but not great writer, but a wonderful storyteller. And I went a little off him when he denied that he writes romance novels. On his own website, under the FAQ section, one question is “Why do you write love stories?” His answer:
I chose that genre because there was little to no competition.
Another question is “As a man, how do you feel about writing love stories?” He has a pretty long answer, but the interesting part says:
I enjoy the challenge this genre presents. It’s also interesting to note that in recent history, men tend to have written more successfully in this genre than women. (Women, on the other hand, dominate the romance novel genre.)
So apparently there is a difference between "love stories" and "romances". There's also a difference between "novels" and "literature", and Mr. Sparks' books are novels, but they are not literature. They are, however, in my opinion, romances.

Once you get past the author's arrogance and obvious disdain for romances, SAFE HAVEN is actually a good book. I enjoyed it much more than I anticipated I would. I loved the movie version, which is why I bought the book on impulse when I came across it while out shopping one day. I've read five of Mr. Sparks' books in the past, and thought I knew what to expect, but I do believe his writing has improved over the years.

SAFE HAVEN is a good character study. We are taken deep inside the minds of Katie and Alex, and later Kevin, Katie's abusive husband. We are privy to their thoughts, their emotions, their fears. For pages at a time nothing really happens, which doesn't bother me at all as I prefer books that are character driven over plot driven. If you don't know what the book is about, in a nutshell:

Katie takes up residence in a small town, where she keeps to herself as much as possible. Her neighbor, Jo, however, draws her out, and the two women become friends. Alex, the owner of the local store, is drawn to Katie, and over time they form a solid friendship. Katie avoids talking about herself or her past, but as she and Alex grow closer she begins to let him in on her secret.

There was just one passage that nagged at me and irritated me:
Then she got in the shower and wet her hair. She tilted the bottle and began massaging the dye into her hair. She stood at the mirror and sobbed uncontrollably while it set. When it was done, she climbed into the shower again and rinsed it out. She shampooed and conditioned and stood before the mirror. (p 201)
I've been coloring my own hair for over twenty years, and I have yet to buy a dye that you put on wet hair. Every box of dye I've bought says to put it on dry hair, and you wear plastic gloves to apply the dye to your hair. And you don't shampoo afterwards - you rinse thoroughly and then use the conditioner that came with the hair dye. Considering all the detailed descriptions of the character's day to day lives, a little research into how to dye hair would not have been amiss.
Regardless, SAFE HAVEN is a descriptive meandering read that will suck you in. If you haven't seen the movie, there's a nice plot twist that may surprise you. And if you have seen the movie and think you know how the story ends, be prepared to be thrown a little off course and on the edge of your seat as you turn those last few pages.

I'm pretty sure I've read A WALK TO REMEMBER, but apparently did not make any notes about it. But here's what I thought of the other Sparks books I've read:

         Medium                                        Medium

I enjoyed it, and I want to see the movie again now! I was a little surprised by the ending, I hadn't seen the movie in such a long time I didn't remember it ending the way it did! While Nicholas Sparks isn't a writer of the finest caliber, he does know how to create a good storyline. At one point though, I did think, imagine if Anita Shreve or Alice Hoffman had taken this plot and weaved a story around it! But all in all, it was a good, quick, read that definitely stirs the emotions. (March 2005)

I read this about a month ago and really enjoyed it. I've only read three of Sparks' books so far and they are all kind of sappy, but in a good way! Yes, it was a little predictable, and it wasn't too hard to figure out who the mystery narrator was, but overall a good read. (August 2006)

         Medium                                        Medium

Yep, a little sappy! But then, all of Sparks' books are! He's not the most literary writer out there, but he has a way with a story and his books are generally really enjoyable. Even so, I think this is my least favorite (so far)of his books. I liked the story itself and that part of the book went quickly, but that last chapter just seemed to be endless! (February 2007)

I enjoy Sparks' books, though I don't think of him as a great writer, just a great storyteller (not that I could do any better, mind you!). I never connected with the main characters in this one, and didn't really believe in their great love either, though I did believe it a little more on Jeremy's side than on Lexie's, if that makes any sense! I didn't really feel that any of the characters were very fleshed out. The ending was very pat and predictable. Frankly, I would have preferred that the mystery of the lights not be solved! Regardless, as I reached the end of the book, I was caught up in it, and it was still an enjoyable read. (August 2007)