30 January 2016

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming...

I'm 146 pages into Voyager by Diana Gabaldon, and loving it of course, but this called to me from NetGalley, and I have read Voyager before (twice), so Claire and Jamie are now on hold for a short time.

25 January 2016

The Flame and the Flower (Birmingham Family, Book 1)



Synopsis from back cover: Fearing for her innocence, doomed to a life of unending toil, Heather Simmons commits a shocking and desperate act. Now she must flee – and seek refuge in the arms of a virile and dangerous stranger.

Captain Brandon Birmingham is a lusty adventurer married to the sea. Though courting scorn and peril through his actions, he abducts the beautiful fugitive from the tumultuous London dockside. For it is destiny that has brought Heather to Brandon's side, and no power on Earth will force him to relinquish his exquisite prize. Only she can unlock the tenderness in his heart; and Brandon vows she will be his – to love, to cherish, to desire, and to carry off to uncharted realms of sensuous passion.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Avon Books, 2003

How acquired: Bought.

First line: Somewhere in the world, time no doubt whistled by on taut and widespread wings, but here in the English countryside it plodded slowly, painfully, as if it trod the rutted road that stretched across the moors on blistered feet.

My thoughts: This book got off to a slow start, as we meet the orphaned Heather, living in servitude to her horrible aunt and meek, brow beaten uncle. She is literally a slave, wearing her aunt's cast off dresses that are like twenty-three sizes too large, working from sunup to sundown, with no hope of any kind of future.

Then her aunt's brother comes along, and whisks her off to London, where he's claimed he can get her a job at a nice school. Of course his real intentions are completely unhonorable, and when Heather stabs him with a fruit knife in a desperate attempt to get him off her, she sets herself on a new path, fleeing his home and terrified of being caught and hung for murder.

Then she finds herself aboard Brandon Birmingham's ship, and I won't go into how she ends up there. But this part of the book was discussed a bit in a Facebook group I'm part of, due to our hero devirginizing our heroine by brute force. It's not romanticized - it's rape and it's never called anything else. In fact, much later, after they've professed their love for each other and are having a wonderful life together, Heather reminds Brandon that he once raped her. Laughingly, because she's gotten over it. But at least neither of them pretend it didn't happen.

And regarding the rape...the whole situation of how she came to be in his cabin on the ship was a little ridiculous. I know she was in shock and she's young and innocent of the ways of the world, but still. Rape, in and of itself, does not always bother me in a book. In the world of romance novels, rape can even be a little subjective at times. Brandon didn't intentionally rape her out of malice. The first time, anyway. It was due to a Big Misunderstanding. Bit having realized he'd just deflowered the girl, taking her again, and again against her will, was a bit much. At this point in the book I was disgusted with him, and thought he was going to have to really work hard and grovel to redeem himself. It would've all been a little more palatable if, say, he'd had too much to drink and wasn't in total control of his faculties. Still wrong, still disgusting, but easier for him to come back from and convince Heather that he's not a monster.

So now their lives are intertwined, and I'm not completely taken by the story, or the characters, just yet. Fortunately Brandon vows to himself that he will never take her by force again, and he keeps that vow. And Heather vows that she will never submit to him, and then in the same breath tells herself that since he's now her husband she will have no choice but to submit to him if he so demands. And from this point on for many months (the length of a pregnancy and then some) they both run hot and cold, lusting after each other, yet both believing the other has no desire to share a bed, having little tender moments amid exasperated all out yelling at each other moments. All very will they or won't they.

And at some point during all this, I became very engrossed. Knowing that deep down inside Brandon was head over heels about his “young wife” as she was often referred to, I could realize that a lot of his cruel jibes and frosty behavior was a defense mechanism. He wanted her, he would not rape her again, and he'd be damned if he begged her, or for that matter even asked her politely, to make love with him, so all that frustration was poured out on her in mean words and slammed doors. Heather, being only seventeen and having lived a sheltered life, is too young and naive to realize the power she holds over him.

An interesting aspect to the story that I really liked was Louisa, who was engaged to Brandon before he sailed off to London and debauched Heather. Her first meeting with Heather set the tone for that relationship – Louisa was rude, condescending and cruel to Heather, and shamelessly tried to win Brandon's favors back to herself. I was looking forward to more meetings between the two women, expecting some outrageous scenes to occur, and while they did have a few run ins, Louisa was not around nearly as much as I had hoped.

In the end of course love conquers all. I teetered between giving this book three or four stars on Goodreads. It took awhile for me to get past the slow, undignified beginning, yet towards the end I was eager to crawl into bed at night and lose myself in the pages, not wanting to set the book down and go to sleep. Brandon managed to charm Heather and make her fall in love with him, and I fell right along with her. 

13 January 2016

As You Breathe Again (A Walker Boys Novel)

Synopsis from Goodreads: She's never had the courage to hold on to anyone. He never learned how to let go of what he wants.

Delaney Shaw isn't looking for anything complicated. After her teaching career is put on hold, she decides to spend the summer in Georgia with her best friend. Lanie lives for the here and now, and she isn't thinking past the end of the summer. She's never had any problem being unattached, because she learned a long time ago that life is safer that way.

Until Reece Walker decides to change her mind.

Almost a year after his ex-wife's death, Reece is still reeling from her passing. He's devoted himself to raising their son and working his family's farm to keep himself grounded. Reece feels like he's lost sight of the man he used to be, and he's not sure how to find his way back.

Everything changes when the woman he's unsuccessfully tried to forget walks back into his life.

Even though she's fighting their sizzling chemistry, Lanie is losing the war. But love isn't always like it is in the movies, and they have real issues. Lanie is terrified Reece's small town won't accept their interracial relationship, and she doesn't know how to let him in.

Lanie has had years to build her defenses, but Reece isn't the sort to give up without a fight. If he can counter Lanie's fears with the future only he can offer her, maybe they can both learn to breathe again.

This book is considered New Adult and/or adult contemporary romance due to age range, subject matter, and tone.

Stats for my copy: e-book, pub. 2016.

How acquired: NetGalley.

First line: “This always looks a lot easier in the movies.”

My thoughts: I've avoided New Adult, because I got a little tired of Young Adult and more interested in reading about characters a little closer to my own age, and New Adult just didn't seem that far removed from Young Adult, and frankly, the phrase “New Adult” just sounded stupid to me. So this is the first book I've read with the New Adult label. And I realize now that I shouldn't look down my nose at a whole category of books just because I haven't deigned to try it. (I'm still not quite prepared to read that fifty shades book, but someday I will. Probably.)

It took me a little while to really get into the story, though I'm not sure why. The writing is smooth, and the characters interesting and likable. We meet Lanie first, on the day she learns she is being let go from her teaching position in New York. Devastated, she decides to visit her best friend, Quinn, in the small town of Baylor, Georgia.

In Baylor we meet Reece. He's a little different than the cowboy heroes I'm used to, with his motorcycle and his eyebrow piercing. He's still mourning the death of his ex-wife, who he had stayed close to and friendly with after their divorce. He lives in an apartment with one of his brothers and his young son, Jamie. There were some times when Reece was out and about or with Lanie and I would wonder where Jamie is and who's taking care of him. I would've liked Jamie to get more page time and be more involved in the story. But the scenes between Reece and Jamie were wonderful. Reece was a very loving father and you could tell Jamie was a huge priority to him, and some of their exchanges were very poignant.

And actually, a lot of the book was poignant. There were so many feels, and I teared up a few times while reading a scene. And there were also many, many scenes that made me grin like an idiot.

For the most part, the book is a light, at times sappy romance, but there's also some seriousness. In addition to Reece coming to terms with the loss of his ex-wife and putting his life back together, and Lanie dealing with trust and commitment issues and bitterness towards a father who left the family when she was young, the characters also deal with racism. Lanie has been surrounded by it all her life, but that doesn't make it any less painful for her. And Reece is appalled when he witnesses it happening to her, and when it's aimed at the two of them as an interracial couple.

A very enjoyable book. 

06 January 2016

The Bell Jar


Synopsis from back cover: A vulnerable young girl wins a dream assignment on a big-time New York fashion magazine and finds herself plunged into a nightmare. An autobiographical account of Sylvia Plath's own mental breakdown and suicide attempt, THE BELL JAR is more than a confessional novel, it is a comic but painful statement of what happens to a woman's aspirations in a society that refuses to take them seriously...a society that expects electroshock to cure the despair of a sensitive, questioning young artist whose search for identity becomes a terrifying descent toward madness.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Bantam Windstone, 1981.

How acquired: From a BookCrossing member.

First line: It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York.

My thoughts: I've never been interested in poetry (except when I was a melodramatic teenager/young adult writing my own mournful and depressing poems), so I hadn't read any of Sylvia Plath's work before now. I'm still not particularly interested in her poetry, but this book was beautifully written. Approximately the first half of the book is about Esther and her experiences while spending a month in New York, and the story was captivating. Then the second half of the book begins when it's time for Esther to return home, and suddenly she seems completely lost and sinking into depression. I thought the first half was more interesting, but knowing the book is autobiographical made the second half more poignant. Ms. Plath definitely had a gift with words, and this is a wonderful little book. 

03 January 2016

Wild Cowboy Ways (Lucky Penny Ranch, Book 1)

Synopsis from back cover: 


Allie Logan isn't the type to land a hot hunk of cowboy. Truth is, she's given up on dating since shedding her no-good ex. But the new owner of the most ramshackle ranch in Texas might just change her mind about that. He's six-foot-plus of tall, dark, and charming—the kind of guy who could make a girl throw caution to the wind . . . or the kind of guy who could break her heart. 

Blake Dawson hopes he can make Lucky Penny Ranch finally live up to its name, but the property needs a ton of work. Allie and her carpentry skills are his best shot at getting things in order. Besides the fact that her brown eyes and dangerous curves have him roped and tied. Now Blake only needs to convince her that a wild cowboy can be tamed by love—and she's just the one to do it

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Forever, 2015.

How acquired: Christmas gift

First line: The Lucky Penny had never lived up to its name and everyone in Texas knew it.

My thoughts: Fun fun fun! I'm coming to associate that word with Carolyn Brown. Fun characters, fun situations, fun reading! Blake Dawson moves onto the Lucky Penny Ranch to start clearing land and get the placed fixed up before his brother arrives in the summer with the first herd of cattle. The only issue I had with Blake was his name. What with him being a cowboy and all the country songs referenced, I kept picturing Blake Shelton, and I think I flipped the book closed several times to look at the cover picture, trying to get Shelton out of my head.

Blake has a reputation for being wild. Here in Dry Creek he hopes to shed that reputation and become a respected and welcome member of the community. But with every pretty woman who shows up at his door (and half the town shows up with food to welcome him), he automatically slips into his old persona of the flirty dirty cowboy, and has to keep reminding himself he doesn't want to be that person.

When Blake first meets Allie, driving a van with a carpentry company's name on the side, he asks her to look into fixing up his house. He assumes that some male member of her family is the carpenter, but once he realizes it is Allie herself I liked how he just took it in stride and didn't act surprised or amazed.

Allie and Blake were great together. Neither is looking for a relationship, and I loved watching them banter together, lust after each other and slowly realize and come to accept their true feelings for each other. I like characterization over plot, and Ms. Brown is good at creating multiple characters who are all individual and unique. Well, most of them – the three gossips were pretty much all the same but they added lots of color to the story!

I grew up in Texas, and when I read a book like this it makes me wonder what the hell I was thinking to shun the cowboys back in the day!