25 January 2015

Against the Wind (Against Series/Raines of Wind Canyon, Book 1)

Synopsis from Goodreads: They were known as the "no-account Raines boys," but they've grown into successful, honorable men and everything they have, they've fought for tooth and nail. Now each of the three brothers has one last obstacle to overcome to claim what's eluding them: love.

Secrets don't stay buried long in cattle country. Sarah Allen, the beautiful girl who humiliated Jackson Raines in high school, is back in town. Not so long ago, she couldn't wait to leave Wind Canyon, Wyoming, in her dust. But, recently widowed, she has nowhere else to go and finds herself on Jackson's ranch. And despite everything, Jackson's finding himself reluctant to get rid of her.

Sarah brings her own kind of trouble, and he can't resist trouble. Enemies of her dead husband show up making threats, thinking she has something they're owed. They're not taking no for an answer, but what they will take is the one thing she has left—her daughter. Jackson's the only one who might be able to save little Holly and bring her home.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, published by Mira Books, 2010.

My thoughts: I see/read/hear about Kat Martin's books all the time and everywhere. I've even bought some of her books, both new and used (I have eight other titles in my TBR pile), because the covers are so appealing. But this is the first one I've actually gotten around to reading.

Sarah Allen is a widow, who's husband was abusive and racked up so much debt, and failed to keep up payments on his life insurance policy, he managed to leave her pretty much penniless. He was found shot to death one morning. Now that probate is just about wrapped up Sarah has packed up her six year old daughter and moved from California back to her home town of Wind Canyon, Wyoming. She got a job at the local paper, and found a small cottage for rent. She doesn't realize until she's moved int the cottage that it, and the ranch it sits on, belong to Jackson Raines, who she humiliated in front of half the school one day when they were teenagers.

Jackson returns home from a trip to discover that his housekeeper has rented out the empty cottage that sits on his ranch to the girl he had a crush on in high school. When he had asked her to prom, she laughed in his face. He'd heard that she'd ended up marrying rich, which was apparently what mattered to her.

Jackson was a great character. He's pulled himself up from an impoverished childhood, made a lot of money working as a geologist, and now is living out his dream of running his own ranch. I like ranchers. He's also ex-military, and I like ex-military. He's not brooding or angtsy or arrogant (though he does tell Sarah he's a demanding lover, but that was not ever really backed up on the page). Which is ok,as he's got enough other stuff going for him.

He's hugely attracted to Sarah, though a little gun shy at first, still smarting from her rejection of him way back when. Like so many heroes in these romances, he thinks he has a good life and isn't necessarily looking for a wife, or a relationship even, or worrying about having a family just yet.

Enter Sarah. I liked her, though she didn't stand out too much over any other romance heroine. In high school she did care about money and her social status, and even though she had a bit of a crush on Jackson she rejected him out of fear of what her friends would think. In California Andrew sweep her off her feet, but the only good that ended up coming out of their her marriage was her daughter, Holly. Who I also liked – she's a cute kid, without being a precocious and too precious plot moppet. Now Sarah is just desperate to create a stable home for herself and her daughter, but an associate of her late husband has been hassling and threatening her about some disc he thinks she has. But she keeps all that a secret from Jackson at first, until the cottage is broken into and trashed. Andrew was involved in a lot of shady illegal business, which Sarah was well aware of, even if she didn't know the actual details. So I thought she was a little naive to think that she could just move away and the harassing business associate wouldn't find her or continue to harass her.

At the same time, I understood her need to establish independence for herself and not just rely on Jackson to take care of everything for her. And after the abuse she went through at Andrew's hands, the last thing she wants is another man in her life. Even so, it was a little frustrating the way she kept getting close to Jackson, and then pushing him away. Luckily he's a patient man.

Some of the plot,with the criminals after Sarah and the search for the disc, and Sarah refusing to involve any type of law enforcement even though it becomes apparent she and Holly are both in danger, seemed a little far fetched. But overall the story and the writing were enjoyable and I probably would whizzed through the whole book in just a couple of days if I hadn't been reading another book on my Kindle app during the day, and this one at night. Jackson's brothers both come in and out of the story, and they get their own stories in the next two books, and I'm already 66 pages into Gabe's book, AGAINST THE FIRE, and looking forward to Dev's book, AGAINST THE LAW. 

17 January 2015

Seeds of Yesterday (Dollanganger, Book 4)

V.C. Andrews

Synopsis from Goodreads: The final, haunting novel in the extraordinary story that has enthralled millions!

The horror began with
Flowers in the Attic, the terrifying tale of four innocent children locked away from the world by a cruel mother.

The shocking fury continued with
Petals on the Wind and If There Be Thorns. Now V.C. Andrews has created the last dark chapter in the strange, chilling tale of passion and peril that has captivated millions of readers around the world.

Cathy and Chris, entwined with the evil that haunts their children, living with the fearful spectre of Foxworth Hall, are awaiting the final, shuddering climax... prisoners of a past they cannot escape.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, published by Pocket Books, 1984.

How acquired: Through BookCrossing.

First line: And so it came to pass the summer when I was fifty-two and Chris was fifty-four that our mother's promise of riches, made long ago when I was twelve and Chris was fourteen, was at last realized.

My thoughts: And so it came to pass, the winter when I was mesmerized by the two previous books in this series, the back cover copy's promise of a last dark chapter in a strange, chilling tale of passion and peril was delivered, but it was neither strange or chilling, being instead a bad convoluted mess.

Bart has reached the age of twenty-five and gotten his inheritance from his grandmother, or rather part of it, because unbeknownst to him her will only gave him a paltry five hundred thousand dollars annually, with the bulk left in trust under Chris' guidance until Bart turns thirty-five. So now the family, joined by Uncle Joel who had been presumed long dead, have all moved to Foxworth Hall, where Bart reigns as master of hearth and home, letting Joel influence him with talk of God and sinners, constantly berating Cathy for her incestuous relationship with with her brother that ruined his childhood, doing his best to ignore Chris, lusting after his brother's wife, possibly causing Jory's career ending injury, and tormenting Cindy so she keeps flying away in a huff.

And none of the other characters are any better. Except Jory, who maintains dignity and grace throughout. Chris is away working much of the time and oblivious to what's going on around him. Cindy is a spoiled selfish wanton brat who desperately needs a good spanking. Melodie is a weak spineless wet noodle. And Cathy – god, Cathy has turned into a self-righteous wimp, judging everyone around her then leaping to their defense, sneaking around spying on others, cowing down constantly trying to appease Bart and make him happy when she should've just given up on this son and gone to Hawaii with Chris.

It didn't take long for me to know how the book would end. Not the Epilogue, but the last chapter. It was truly the only way this book could possibly end.

And...don't scroll down if you don't want to see a small spoiler...

I totally could not buy Bart's sudden redemption. At all. 

13 January 2015

All Night Long

Synopsis from Goodreads: Shy, studious Irene Stenson and wild, privileged Pamela Webb had been the best of friends for one short high school summer. Their friendship ended the night Pamela dropped Irene off at home-and Irene walked in to discover her parents' bodies on the kitchen floor. It was ruled a murder-suicide, and Irene fled the northern California town of Dunsley. But seventeen years later, when Pamela sends a cryptic e-mail asking for help, Irene returns to her hometown to find her old friend has died suddenly, leaving behind a lot of ugly, unanswered questions.

Caught up in a firestorm of desperate deceit and long-buried secrets, Irene knows it would probably be smarter to just pack up and leave Dunsley behind again, but her reporter's instinct-and her own hunger to know the truth-compel her to extend her stay at the local lodge. Even more compelling is the man who runs the place-a hazel-eyed ex-Marine who's as used to giving orders as Irene is to ignoring them. Luke Danner can see the terror beneath Irene Stenson's confident exterior-and he is intent on protecting her. But he is also driven by passions of his own, and together they will risk far more than local gossip to sort out what happened to Pamela Webb, and what really happened on that long-ago summer night.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, published by Jove Books, 2007.

How acquired: Through BookCrossing.  

My thoughts: I've never read anything by Jayne Ann Krentz before, which is surprising considering how popular and prolific she is, and that my mom has been talking her up to me for ages. Or maybe that's why. I have read one of her Amanda Quick books, WITH THIS RING, back in 2002, which at the time I simply noted was “pretty good”, though I don't remember anything about it now.

Anyway, moving along. I was quite engaged with the story and the heroine from the very beginning. The prologue opens with teenage Irene coming home late one night to find her parents both dead. Now, seventeen years later, Irene has received a cryptic email from the girl who was her best friend that fateful summer, asking her to come back to Dunsley and meet with her. She checks into Sunrise on the Lake Lodge to await her meeting with Pamela.

Luke is the new owner of the lodge. If you went through a list of the traits I love in a hero, you'd definitely tick off boxes for Luke. He's an ex-Marine. He's closed off. He's emotionally wounded. He's intimidating. He's witty. He's a little arrogant, barking out instructions to his guests as if they were attending drill camp rather than patronizing his business. He gets annoyed whenever a new guest shows up. I loved his interactions with the guests, and with Irene, who looks askance at him quite often.
“You know, I'm starting to think that's the biggest problem with the innkeeping business.”
“The clientele. They're undisciplined, untrained and unpredictable.” He watched the Addisons climb into an aging Ford pickup and drive off toward Cabin Number Ten. “Yeah, gotta say, if it weren't for the paying guests, this wouldn't be a bad line of work.”
When Irene can't get ahold of Pamela, she drives to her old friend's home, only to find her dead. She quickly becomes caught up in investigating her friend's death, partly due to her reporter's instincts, but also because she almost desperately wants to know what her friend had planned to tell her, suspecting it might have been something about her parents' deaths. While their deaths were ruled a murder-suicide, she's never believed that, and she becomes determined to find out the truth – about their deaths, and about Pamela's.

The dialogue between Luke and Irene flows naturally and realistically, not to mention humorously.
“Something wrong?” she asked politely.
“Where are you headed?”
She reached up and removed the glasses with a slow, thoughtful air.
“You know, I've stayed in a wide variety of lodging establishments in my life, but this is the first time I've had to account for my comings and goings to the proprietor.”
“We do things a little differently here at the Sunrise on the Lake Lodge.”
Luke feels protective of Irene even before he gets to know her, sticking his nose in her business, following her unobtrusively, and fortunately showing up just in time to be there when she needs him. Irene is very independent. She's a journalist for a small paper, and has no family left. She's used to being on her own and taking care of herself. But when Luke steps up and offers a shoulder, she leans on it gratefully, and I liked that she didn't go overboard with butt-out-I-don’t-need-your-manly-help protestations.

I loved the characters of both Luke and Irene. She has nightmares and many other PTSD symptoms, such as fear of the dark. Luke also has PTSD symptoms, from his time in combat, and relatives who are pressuring him to come back to the family's wine making business, which he has no interest in, and to see a therapist, which he also has no interest in. While it felt like their relationship was set up slowly, when you look at the time frame of the story it was actually fairly quick, but it felt right and not rushed, which is a testament to the author's writing and character building. There are lots of supporting players, some quirky, some not, but all with their own distinct personalities.

As Irene and Luke become more and more embroiled in the mystery surrounding the deaths, it's clear there is a huge story – and scoop for Irene -- involved. It's also clear to the reader that Irene's own life is in danger, though she doesn't always seem to realize that, despite her constant fear. The plot is fairly twisty and turny, and I was kept guessing about what direction it would take next.

A good mystery/suspense with some gentle romance thrown in. I’m glad now to know that I have several other Krentz books in my TBR pile as I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

07 January 2015

If There Be Thorns (Dollanganger, Book 3)


Synopsis from back cover: Fourteen-year-old Jory was so handsome, so gentle. And Bart had such a dazzling imagination for a nine year old.

Then the lights came on in the abandoned house next door. Soon the Old Lady in Black was there, watching their home with prying eyes, guarded by her strange old butler. Soon the shrouded woman had Bart over for cookies and ice cream and asked him to call her "Grandmother."

And soon Bart's transformation began...

A transformation that sprang from "the book of secrets" the gaunt old butler had given him... a transformation fed by the hint of terrible things about his mother and father... a transformation that led him into shocking acts of violence, self-destruction and perversity.

And now while this little boy trembles on the edge of madness, his anguished parents, his helpless brother, an obsessed old woman and the vengeful, powerful butler await the climax to a horror that flowered in an attic long ago, a horror whose thorns are still wet with blood, still tipped with fire....

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, published by Pocket Book, 1981.

How acquired: I've had this book in my personal collection for about twenty years. No idea how I acquired it.

First line: In the late evening when the shadows were long, I sat quiet and unmoving near one of Paul's marble statues.

My thoughts: My only real complaints about PETALS ON THE WIND were:
...the dialogue is clunky and unrealistic, and I can't imagine a world where people cry out the (sometimes lengthy) speeches these characters are saddled with. And there is much overuse of exclamation points...

So I'm pleased to report that neither of those problems assailed me while reading IF THERE BE THORNS. The one page prologue is narrated by Cathy, wherein she tells us this is her sons' stories. After that the chapters alternate between fourteen year old Jory, Cathy's sensitive ballet loving son with first husband Julian, and ten year old Bart, her clumsy awkward son with her mother's second husband, also called Bart. Cathy and Chris are now living together as husband and wife, and the boys believe their step-father is the younger brother of Cathy's second husband, Paul.

When an old lady, always shrouded head to toe in black, moves into the mansion next door with her elderly butler, Jory and Bart are disappointed to lose their playground, especially since no children move in. But she and her butler soon weave a spell over Bart – the old lady encourages him to call her Grandma and plies him with sweets and toys and a dog and much love and attention, while the butler tells him stories about his real father and his great-grandfather. At first Bart thinks the stories are just that, made up lies, but as he reads Malcolm Foxworth's journal, he seems turn into an old man himself, convinced that his mother is a sinner and must be saved from hell fire.

After the first two chapters, which are titled “Jory” and “Bart”, you can tell almost immediately which brother is narrating as the author gives them distinctive voices.

As Cathy and Chris helplessly watch their secret life start to unravel and the repercussions visited on their sons, the tension amps up and up, so that during the last third of the book I was almost holding my breath at times. With the focus on the boys rather than Chris and Cathy, this entry in the series feels less like a “guilty pleasure”, and not quite as trashy as the first two books. A mesmerizing read that I raced through.

Here's my review of Book 1 in the series, FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC.

01 January 2015

Petals On The Wind (Dollanganger, Book 2)


Synopsis from inside jacket flap: Chris, Cathy and Carrie have escaped the attic prison and set off with money scavenged from the Grandmother's mansion. Two teenagers and an eight-year-old who haven't seen the outdoors for over three years, determined to stay together, determined to survive.

And they are fortunate. They are taken in by a lonely, kindly doctor, who readily shares with them his home, his love, his fortune. But even as the three children build bright new lives, the dark horrors of the attic haunt them. Cathy is reminded daily by the way her brother watches her, by the way Carrie's tiny, tiny body does not grow. And Cathy is also reminded of the other child, who didn't survive the long years in the attic. Then she thinks of her mother, of her mother's brutal betrayal of those who loved and needed her most. And she vows vengeance.

While Chris pursues his dream of becoming a doctor, even while Cathy becomes a successful ballerina, she dedicates herself to her plans for revenge. And as her plans become obsession, Cathy risks everything to pay her mother back, and to show her what it's like to suffer at the hands of the one you love most.

Stats for my copy: Hardback, published by Simon and Schuster, 1980.

How acquired: Through Book Mooch.

First line: How young we were the day we escaped.

My thoughts: I reread FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC a couple of years ago, and enjoyed it more than I anticipated, so I don't know why I waited so long to continue the series, other than that I just have so many series to catch up on and so many books to read.

PETALS ON THE WIND picks up immediately after Cathy, Chris and Carrie escape from the Grandmother's mansion, where they board a bus headed to Florida. But Carrie is unwell, complaining of a stomach ache and throwing up. They meet Henny on the bus, who takes them home with her and introduces them to the doctor who she keeps house for. Paul takes the siblings into his home and into his heart, giving them a stable place to live and the semblance of a normal life.

But Cathy aches for revenge. Chris goes off to medical school, and Carrie is enrolled at a private school nearby. Cathy is accepted as a student at a ballet studio while also attending high school. And while Julian, the son of the instructors, falls madly in love with her, as does Paul, despite the many years that separate them in age, she makes plans to move near her mother and seduce her husband.

Despite the melodrama, some (but not all) of the narration is beautifully written, descriptive and evocative, yet the dialogue is clunky and unrealistic, and I can't imagine a world where people cry out the (sometimes lengthy) speeches these characters are saddled with. And there is much overuse of exclamation points, as in this paragraph:
Right! You bet I'll take you home!” he spat at me as I crouched near the passenger door he had locked. He shot me a fierce, distraught look then bore down hard on the gas pedal! We sped down all those rain-slick streets, and every so often he'd glance my way to see how I was enjoying the terrifying ride! He laughed, wild and crazy, then braked so fast I was flung forward so my forehead struck the windshield! Blood trickled from the cut. Next he snatched the purse from my lap, leaned to unlock my door, then he shoved me out into the pouring rain!

Seriously! Way too many!

Cathy is not a particularly likable character, despite the fact that all the males of the species seem to fall all over themselves around her. And the love Chris harbors for her should've been mega creepy, but I just felt sorry for him and half the time was rooting for him over Paul (a kind and compassionate man) and Julian (a selfish arrogant prick).

In the end, while it's not great literature, it is very compelling, and as soon as I'd read the last page I immediately started the next book, IF THERE BE THORNS.