Friday, July 29, 2011

Highland Arms by Cathie Dunn

TITLE: Highland Arms
AUTHOR: Cathie Dunn
PUBLISHER: Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 63k)
GENRE: Historical romance
COST: $5.50

After her reputation has been sullied in Edinburgh, Catriona MacKenzie has been exiled to her godmother’s estate in the Highlands, an escape she is desperate for since she was falsely accused of promiscuous behaviors. There, she meets Rory Cameron, a man she wants to hate but finds herself attracted to even when he treats her appallingly. A Jacobite, Rory is determined to keep love and relationships far, far away, unwilling to have someone mourn or hurt for him, but from the moment he meets Catriona, his senses are cast awhirl. She is clearly in need of help, fragile and dependent on their good will. His political beliefs run deep, but just maybe, she is the woman who can change his mind about the future…

Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how much I love the history. If I don’t like the main characters, nothing is going to save the story.

Catriona is traveling with her awful brother Angus through Scotland, on their way to her godmother’s. She’s been banished from Edinburgh after her fiancé made false accusations regarding her promiscuity, claims her brother backed up as part of a deal. Catriona is glad to be rid of the city and her terrible fiancé, especially since the Highlands appeal to her. So does Rory Cameron, a not-by-blood cousin she meets along the way. She’s shocked to realize he lives with her godmother, mostly because he’s the most attractive man she’s ever seen and her senses go haywire whenever he’s around. Rory is deeply involved with the Jacobites and refuses to have any emotional connections to people, as a means of keeping them safe should something happen to him. And considering he’s stashing arms for an upcoming conflict, something most likely will. The problem is, Catriona figures out very quickly what he’s up to. Toss in the fact that he’s just as attracted to her, and it’s disaster waiting to happen.

My biggest problem with this story? Catriona. Hands down. She’s emotionally fragile and cries at the drop of a hat. Her tears are referenced more than thirty different times in this novel. By the halfway point, I was ready to shove her into the loch and hold her down just to put her out of my misery. Her moments of backbone offer hints of the character she could’ve been, but any hope for liking her is destroyed when she starts to cry or tear up again paragraphs later. How am I expected to believe that a man like Rory would fall for her?

To be honest, though, he’s not much better. He assumes the worst of Catriona almost from the start, and his constant pulling her close/pushing her away grows tiresome early on. His behavior turns at the drop of a hat, affording little continuity and almost no explanations that actually make sense. I liked that he was so politically involved and seemingly capable, but that was about it. Oh, and he didn’t cry as much as Catriona. In this story, that’s a point in his favor.

The suspense and action of his involvement in the approaching uprising could have been taut if it wasn’t ruined by Catriona’s presence. She dampens every scene she’s in, usually by crying, and shatters any sense of tension that might have been generated. There are some better personalities in the supporting cast, but their doting on her baffled me to the point of losing respect for them. As much as I love Scottish history, this might have turned me off to reading anything about it in the near future. I need time to forget about this one first.


7/10 – Repetition in description and actions gave it a ho-hum factor, though it was mostly clean


5/10 – His push/pull of the heroine grated


3/10 – Weak and too tearful for my tastes

Entertainment value

4/10 – As much as I love Scottish history, disliking the primaries really dragged this down

World building

6/10 – Though it’s obvious the author knows the setting, the repetition in the prose ends up stunting its vividness



Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Letter of the Law by C.K. Crigger

TITLE: Letter of the Law
AUTHOR: C.K. Crigger
PUBLISHER: Amber Quill Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 71k)
GENRE: Western
COST: $7.00

When gunslingers decide they want to take over Endurance, only one man seems to be standing in their way. They do their best to take down Sheriff Pelham Birdsall, but through the sheer tenacity of his wife Delight, he survives the attack. It lays him up, however, leaving the town wide open. His deputy is lazy and a drunk, and the only man Delight seems to have any confidence in helping is the ex-gunslinger who’s currently housed in one of the jail cells. Tuck Moon doesn’t want to get involved, but Delight isn’t a woman who takes no for an answer, and together with a recovering Pel, the trio do everything in their power to take care of the gunslingers, once and for all…

It saddens me to think that westerns might be a dying genre. There’s something about the grittiness of the Old West and the kind of people it generates that fascinates me. So when I find one I really like, I want to shout it to the world.

This was one of those books. On the surface, it’s not really that original. The story is about the Birdsalls, Pelham (the Sheriff) and his wife Delight. A new gang has rolled into town, and while he’s out doing his duty, Pel gets shot in the chest. It’s touch and go there for a while, since the town doctor is a drunk, but Delight is determined not to let Pel die. She’s left somewhat watching over things, since Pel’s deputy is lazy and spends more of his time drunk as well. Currently housed in one of the cells is Tuck Moon, an ex-gunslinger who was arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct. He’s respectful and helpful to Delight, and she learns to trust him very early on. With her husband out of commission, it’s up to Delight to try and keep everyone believing that he’ll be back on the job as soon as possible to take care of the latest threat, knowing full well that he’s lucky just to be alive. Through a series of incidents, Tuck ends up becoming a deputy as soon as his sentence is up, and together the three of them do what they can to stop Endurance from becoming another ghost town.

What sets this story apart is the rich cast of characters. Each of the three primaries are strong yet flawed individuals. Pel has a sense of honor and code that goes all the way to his core, Delight was a sheriff’s daughter before getting married and finds newfound strength in the face of her husband’s adversity, and Tuck is a drifter who gets a new lease on life when someone completely unexpected trusts him. They make mistakes, but the best thing is, they learn from them and bounce back. Sometimes, they get knocked over again. They might even make the same mistake more than once. But their tenacity and force of character drives the story forward, making me care with everything I have that it all works out, even when it looks like there’s no way it possibly can. There are no cheats when it comes to the consequences of their actions. When Tuck takes a beating, it flattens him for real. He has to heal up. He doesn’t miraculously jump back to his feet to beat the bad guys down. And for all her determination to see things through, Delight doubts herself all the time. She questions her strength. She acts, oh my god, like a real person. What an absolute joy, especially since she’s not the only one.

The villains of the piece don’t have the same textures the protagonists do, but that’s a flaw of the genre in general. I also felt that some of the townspeople blended together a little too much, since so many of them weren’t willing to do anything to stand up against the bad guys (understandably so, but to the detriment of their uniqueness). Other weaknesses of the story are harder to pinpoint. For instance, I can’t tell if there’s actual headhopping going on, or if it’s just faulty formatting on the ebook side. Plus, some of the language used borders on trite and stereotypical. Considering how gritty and vivid the setting and primary characters were, that was disappointing.

Overall, though, this stands proudly with other excellent stories in its genre. With characters to care about and root for, plot twists that keep it racing forward to its conclusion, and a setting that makes the reader practically feel the dust beneath the sole of his shoe, this cements my opinion on this writer. This is the second of her westerns that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. I’m confident it won’t be the last.


7/10 – It’s hard to tell if it’s headhopping or the formatting, and some of the stereotypical language grated after a while, but otherwise engrossing


9/10 – Loved the main characters. Gritty and flawed and completely believable


8/10 – It’s not the most innovative of ideas, but the twists that came along to get where they were going made up for it

Entertainment value

8/10 – Thoroughly entertaining, with a memorable cast

World building

9/10 – Gritty and grimy without sacrificing the newness of being in the Old West



Monday, July 25, 2011

Ice Around the Edges by Mary Calmes

TITLE: Ice Around the Edges
AUTHOR: Mary Calmes
PUBLISHER: Dreamspinner
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 13k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary erotic romance
COST: $2.99

While working at the shelter he runs, Evan gets shot, but the biggest surprise of all comes after the doctors have stitched him up. His ex, the very first man he ever loved, has shown up at the hospital, wanting to try again. But Evan hasn’t forgotten how or why they broke up the first time, and no amount of Christmas spirit is going to change his mind…

Color me silly, but I kind of like reading Christmas stories in July. It’s easier to get an objective opinion about them without being subjected to all the nostalgia of the season. A lot of times, they don’t hold up beyond being holiday fare, and while this one lacks any kind of depth or sense of character to make it truly memorable, I still found myself enjoying it.

The plot is a simple one. After good guy Evan gets shot, his ex Dixon shows up at the hospital. The pretense is to see how Evan is doing, but since they haven’t seen each other in almost a decade, Evan doesn’t buy it. Dixon soon confesses he wants another chance, that he’s never stopped loving Evan, but Evan isn’t buying it. Dixon is determined to take him home for Christmas, however, and how he goes about convincing Evan drives the rest of the story.

Though I’ve seen this author recommended all over the place, I’ve never been interested enough in any of the blurbs or excerpts I’ve seen to give her a go. This one, while predictable and somewhat trite, seemed like a safer bet. It’s short, I reasoned, so if I hate it, it’s not much lost. Well, I didn’t hate it, but I wonder if there would be enough for me in one of her longer works. The voice in this is highly simplistic and primarily dialogue-driven. While I don’t have anything against it – I certainly had a smile on my face when I finished this – I also know that in longer works, it tends to work in reverse for me. I need a little more meat to what I read, and stories with plots and prose as thin as this rarely cut it.

The characters are nice enough guys, though Evan seems more three-dimensional than Dixon. He often describes Dixon in ways that don’t seem like the character I’m seeing at all. That’s another drawback to this particular voice. I’m told a lot of what I’m supposed to know about the characters rather than shown it. It’s shorthand for actual character development, and mildly frustrating in the long run. However, Evan behaves in what I would consider a mature, realistic way, not initially believing Dixon in spite of the support he brings in to back him up. He put up just enough of a fuss for me to buy his eventual switch, which ultimately makes the ending sweeter. It might not be the most original or memorable story, but I did end it feeling emotionally satisfied. For a holiday short story, that’s pretty much all anybody can ask for.


7/10 – Dialogue driven and very simple, but relatively clean

Hero #1

7/10 – Shows reasonable reluctance in allowing ex back into life

Hero #2

6/10 – Sweet, but I didn’t see much of the personality Evan described

Entertainment value

7/10 – For what it is, a sweet, unchallenging holiday romance

World building

3/10 – It’s dialogue and character driven. Other than knowing it was supposed to be Chicago, I knew nothing.



Friday, July 22, 2011

Nephilim by Mary Ann Loesch

TITLE: Nephilim
AUTHOR: Mary Ann Loesch
PUBLISHER: Lyrical Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 70k)
GENRE: Urban fantasy
COST: $5.50

As a nephilim – the child of an angel father and a mortal mother – Faye has certain talents, like being able to heal and encourage life. She’s also sensitive to a lot of other aspects of the angelic realm, but ever since her family and fiancé were killed, she’s turned her back on any kind of heavenly creature, even her guardian angel Azal. When he comes to her with a request to investigate another angel, she doesn’t want to take the task. But the description of Nathan Ink, a tattoo artist who puts the personification of a human’s sin directly into his skin, intrigues her enough to at least check him out. It’s the question he raises, as well as the fact that the people he tattoos keep dying, that intrigue her enough to continue…

Finally, something compulsive and surprising. I was beginning to wonder if these books existed anymore.

Faye is a nephilim, the child of an angel father and a mortal mother. She owns a nursery, where her talents for encouraging life and healing are well utilized, as well as sings part-time at a club. She doesn’t have many friends. Touching people shows them too much most times for her to be comfortable. She’s also cut herself off from everything heavenly, since she blames God for the death of her parents and fiancé. A visit from her guardian angel Azal, however, sends her into a tailspin. He wants her to look into a potential rogue angel called Nathan Ink. Nathan tattoos sins onto people’s skin for the world to see and for the bearer to survive, but the mortality rate of his clients is unnaturally high. Faye doesn’t want anything to do with it, but she’s curious enough to at least go check him out. What she doesn’t know is that it’s a ruse. Azal has set her in Nathan’s path for a reason, though he isn’t telling anybody yet what that reason is. The more Faye learns about Nathan, however, the more concerned she gets about his methodology.

There’s more. So, so, so much more. You can read the blurb at the publisher’s site if you want to be spoiled for it, but honestly, I wouldn’t recommend it if you want to be surprised. Because this book offers that in spades. It is twist after twist after twist, some of which left me gasping out loud, almost all of which had me compulsively turning the pages until I was done. It’s not an easy read. The prose is dense, the explanations not always clear, the characters sometimes frustrating. But I couldn’t put the damn thing down, getting increasingly invested in how it was all going to turn out. It doesn’t shy away from the violence that accompanies the darker side of humanity, but at the same time, there’s a certain hope that permeates Faye, brightening the path of the story more than once. I felt much as she did for a good part of the story, especially in regards to her contradictory feelings for Nathan in the first half. He is not your typical angel. His methods are twisted and dark, incredibly nihilistic in tone and deed. Whenever he’s on the page in that first half, the story becomes almost bleak, slowing my reading down even further. I didn’t stop, though. I couldn’t. I needed to know what happened next.

Bear in mind that this is not a romance. It’s not sold as one at Lyrical, and it doesn’t fall within the genre parameters. Expect a romance, and you’ll be disappointed. I knew all this, but the last chapter still managed to upset me, mostly because I’d become so emotionally involved with everyone. As a result, it’s a mild detraction in my overall enjoyment.

Due to the level of violence in this, it’s probably not for those who are bothered by it. And I do wish the editors and the author had taken better care with the use of apostrophes. Their misuse was starting to annoy me about halfway through (you’re for your, possessive apostrophes in the wrong place, apostrophes used on a plural word that wasn’t possessive, etc.). It complicated an already dense read, no matter how compulsive it was. In spite of that and my other minor concerns, however, this remains one of the more memorable, intense reads I’ve had in a very long time.


8/10 – Dense and compulsive, though the author and editors need a crash course on how to use apostrophes


8/10 – The bad guy was a stereotype, and I felt the heroine flipflopped a little too much at the beginning, but by the end, I felt like I knew all of these people


8/10 – Twisty and turny, just like the way I like it

Entertainment value

8/10 – When story developments make me gasp out loud, I know it’s working

World building

8/10 – Some aspects weren’t as well explained as I needed, but overall, I was impressed with how rich the world was.



Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Ghost Unlaid by Marie Treanor

TITLE: Ghost Unlaid
AUTHOR: Marie Treanor
PUBLISHER: Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 28k)
GENRE: Paranormal romance
COST: $3.50

Julie Macbeth works for the Scottish National Library, but her latest assignment has her more excited than ever. It’s one of the largest personal collections she has ever seen, and her job is to catalog it. It’s not just comprised of books, however. The library in which it’s housed is haunted by the ghost of a man who claims to be a Scottish king, killed over a thousand years ago. Julie doesn’t see him as a ghost, but as a man who’s reminded her what it’s like to love again…

Since I’ve been having less than great luck lately, I decided to go with an author I usually enjoy. I wasn’t disappointed, though I didn’t love this as much as I’ve loved other work by her.

Julie Macbeth works with rare books for the National Library in Edinburgh. Her new boss, a man she resents for taking the job she wanted, punishes her for a minor indiscretion by assigning her to catalog a new collection that’s become available to them. The owner is eager to sell as he’s convinced the house he’s inherited is haunted. She goes to work on it, and in the library meets a man who spends most of his day reading. She assumes it’s the owner, but speaking with the housekeeper later proves that wrong. The lack of information on who he really is doesn’t bother her that much, since he’s funny and gorgeous, thoroughly charming her very quickly. It’s not until she starts to suspect that he’s crazy because he thinks he’s a ghost that problems arise.

Ghost stories always require a measure of suspending disbelief in order to work. They’re helped when characters act and react in what I consider intelligent ways. This novella benefits from having a heroine with just the right amount of skepticism about what she’s being told. She doesn’t accept it blindly, but at the same time, there’s not a ton of time wasted over her agonizing about it all. It’s a delicate balance, and works extremely well here, primarily because the chemistry between the hero and heroine was already off the charts by the time the truth is exposed. I really liked Julie, for her go-getter attitude and her refusal to be played a fool. She’s highly relatable, and if I didn’t buy the ending, that’s through no fault of her character.

Lulach, the hero, isn’t quite as well-rounded, but that’s mostly because we only get to see him through Julie’s eyes (barring the very brief prologue). He carries a vibe of too good to be true, but I guess if I was a king in a previous life, I might give that off, too. Still, in contrast with how real Julie seemed, it was a little jarring. In spite of that mild disconnect, though, I was still able to fall for their chemistry.

What wasn’t as easy to accept was the slightly odd ending. It’s an inherent flaw in ghost stories that attempt to be romantic, however, and at least the characters acted intelligently to get to that place. I probably held too high of expectations and was disappointed as a result of that. This is an early work by this author, and I know for a fact she’s grown a lot since this was originally published. Still, it was more enjoyable than a lot of what I’d tried to read lately, with a surprising heat level considering it’s not an erotic romance. That’s down to the characters, and for getting to share that with them, I’m highly grateful.


8/10 – Dialogue that snaps along, enough description to make it visual…yep, it works for me.


6/10 – Hunky and adorable if a little too good to be true


7/10 – A go-getter with just enough skepticism to make her palatable

Entertainment value

7/10 – I can’t say I really cared for the way it all worked out, but I was wrapped up in the romance of it throughout the entire story

World building

6/10 – The paranormal explanations left a lot to be desired, but the Scottish setting is more than real



Monday, July 18, 2011

Soul Bond by Christine Price

TITLE: Soul Bond
AUTHOR: Christine Price
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 30k)
GENRE: Gay sci-fi erotic romance
COST: $3.50

Captain Julian Gaspar had a bounty out on a certain man for many years before he was brought to him. But when he finally gets his ex-lover Ellis in his bed again, Ellis is already dying, attached to a corpse-feeler that is slowly stealing his soul…

It always amazes me how some novellas can fly by in the blink of an eye and others are a chore to slog through. I knew when I started this story it wasn’t that long, but I triple-checked the word count when I was done because I couldn’t believe it had taken me so long to make my way through it.

It starts out with an opportunist on an alien planet finding a man in an alley he recognizes from a bounty poster. Hoping there might still be a reward, he hauls this obviously dying man to the ship in question, where he is paid an exorbitant amount of money to keep his mouth shut about what he found. We discover that the ship’s captain, Julian, had put a bounty out on the dying man years before. The dying man is Ellis, and he was Julian’s lover until he sacrificed himself to save Julian. The story jumps to flashback, to tell how Julian and Ellis met and what led to their eventual parting. Then it’s back to the present, and Julian’s quest to try and find a way to keep Ellis alive. Ellis is wearing a ring that is slowly stealing his soul. According to the ship’s medic, he has less than a week to live.

A lot of potential for drama, right? I thought so, too. The concept of the soul ring was an interesting one, with a parasitic race that uses the ring as a means to prolong their own longevity. But it’s never really given a chance to soar, mostly due to the dull characters and even duller prose. The story is far more tell than show, and the initial interactions with Ellis and Julian are uninspiring. Ellis is a stowaway on a ship Julian captures during the war. He bargains sex for not getting throw out an airlock. Everything about him screams shallow and opportunistic. Yet, Julian is fascinated by him from the start. They fall into bed quickly, and for several chapters afterward, it’s sex (not nearly hot or long enough to counter the weak characterizations) with a minor problem either solved or brought up. It’s predictable and boring very quickly. But then, it turns on a dime. Julian, in an act that seems ridiculously dumb for someone who’s supposedly such a brilliant man, almost kills himself and sets his ship on fire, at which point Ellis jumps in and saves him at the expense of his own safety. I’m expected to believe at this point that there might be more between these men, but everything I’ve been shown up to this point is not-very-inspiring sex. I never see what Ellis’s appeal is other than the fact that he’s pretty and supposedly good in bed.

Without being able to care or invest in either of the two leads, I was left hoping to get involved in the drama. I didn’t. A character gets introduced after the flashbacks, who, while interesting, provides a whole deus ex machina feel to the entire latter half of the story. That doesn’t end up being the case, but by the time I found that out, the damage had already been done. Add in the rather dreary and terse prose, and the drama that should have crackled throughout the climax fell flat on its face. I never felt the intensity that should have come from such a life or death choice, and then it was over almost before it began.

Stories need more than an interesting gimmick to keep me invested. They need people I can feel for, and drama I care about. I would have settled for even one of those here, and I just didn’t get it.


6/10 – Lots of telling and not enough depth made this more of a chore than it had to be

Hero #1

4/10 – Shallow and uninteresting

Hero #2

4/10 – Seemed more of an opportunist than what I was told he should be

Entertainment value

3/10 – With no character depth and trite ideas, this felt like a longer book than it was

World building

6/10 – Some attempts are made at bringing the setting to life, but some lack common sense while others are incomplete



Friday, July 15, 2011

Quarter Square by David Bridger

TITLE: Quarter Square
AUTHOR: David Bridger
PUBLISHER: Carina Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 47k)
GENRE: Urban fantasy
COST: $3.59

Carpenter Joe Walker walks in on his wife and best friend having sex, and finds his life thrown into chaos. He makes a deal with them. In exchange for not giving them a hard time by being together, he’ll take a rundown theater his friend owns and keep it as his own. His motives are selfish. The night he discovered the affair, he also discovered a secret magical door within the theater that leads to an idyllic place where magic reigns. But finding Quarter Square will change his life far more than losing the two people he trusted most…

I was fascinated by the blurb for this story on the publisher’s website. I have a soft spot for alternate worlds and an even softer spot for theatrical settings, so this seemed right up my alley. Unfortunately, the execution left quite a lot to be desired.

When Joe Walker discovers that his wife and best friend are sleeping together – by walking in on them – he runs off to lick his wounds by spending the night in the rundown theater his friend has recently acquired. There, he sees three young men go through a magical door. He follows, convinced he’s dreaming, and meets a group of street performers who live in an idyllic world cut off from the rest of Plymouth called Quarter Square. After confronting his wife and friend the next day, he agrees to let them go off and be together without a fuss if the friend gives Joe the theater. A deal is made, and Joe returns, hoping to find Quarter Square again. He soon realizes that it’s actually a real place, kind of a halfway house between the mortal world and the wild magical one. It’s populated by a vast variety of people, most of them street performers. One in particular, a singer named Min, enchants him, and when he discovers that their hideaway is in danger of disappearing forever because it’s losing its anchors to the real world, he decides to rebuild the theater and make it more permanent in order to save the square.

This is only the beginning of what turns out to be a very convoluted, almost schizophrenic fantasy tale. I call it schizophrenic because I could never figure out what exactly it was trying to be. Every time I thought I had it, something would twist the story off into a new direction, and I was left floundering all over again. At turns, it’s magical realism, pure fantasy, shapeshifter horror, and romance, and while I admire writers who try to blend genres, it’s just not done very well here. Each time the story shifted gears, the voice itself changes, with the pace and style changing with it, so that there was no sense of flow or build. The most interesting section occurs just about the middle of the story, but then it veers off again into a whole new direction that left it scattered in its dust.

As a result of trying to put too much into the story, characterizations falter. The story is told in 1st POV from Joe’s perspective, and because he has no idea what’s going on – and because other characters are actively keeping him in the dark a good part of the time – neither does the reader. Min is presented as this feminine ideal almost from the start, but she lacks any kind of personality for the first half, instead becoming this icon for Joe to admire. He tells us he’s falling in love with her, but I never understood why or what the real appeal was. Then, when she does start getting a personality, it’s not even a likable one. She’s manipulative and bossy, withholding information that would make their situation better and treating Joe like a child. Since so much hinges on her, both the action and caring about what’s going on, I was distanced from what was going on for almost the entire story. I mostly just finished it because I was curious about what else could get stirred into the pot, and I can honestly say I have no desire to keep on reading with the series, especially with how unresolved everything was at the end. There’s some sense of inner closure for Joe as he reaches a better and more true understanding of his self and purpose (and makes choices based on that), but in light of the emphasis placed on the action, the fact that it remains unresolved is frustrating enough to deter me from investing more time in the series.


6/10 – Technically clean, but with so much packed into it, it never flowed well or really engaged me


6/10 – Characters blend into each other for too much of the story, and motivations given little depth


7/10 – A lot of original ideas going on in this, but it’s too much for the size of the story and none of them get developed well enough

Entertainment value

5/10 – I only finished it because I was curious about what else could get thrown into it, not because I cared/liked about any of the characters

World building

6/10 – Some great ideas that never get the space to bring them to life



Wednesday, July 13, 2011

No Matter What by Erin Nicholas

TITLE: No Matter What
AUTHOR: Erin Nicholas
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 64k)
GENRE: Contemporary romance
COST: $5.50

Millionaire Adam Steele is determined to hire the best pediatric physical therapist money can buy to help his daughter walk again. Jaden Monroe needs a million dollars to see her dream of a rehab center come true. It should be a match made in heaven, but two stubborn personalities might just short-circuit what’s truly important for both of them…

Sometimes, a simple contemporary is exactly what the doctor ordered. In the wake of a rather stressful month, I decided to get back onto the reading wagon with something relatively unchallenging and ended up being pleasantly entertained as a result.

Though she’s a physical therapist by trade, Jaden Monroe is working as a bartender when the story opens. She lost her job five months earlier, in a rather scandalous fashion, and has been struggling to get her life back in order ever since. In walks Adam Steele. She’s attracted to him before they’re introduced, but then he offers her a million dollars to become the private therapist for his fourteen-year-old daughter. He’s determined his daughter will have the life she had before cancer took away one of her legs, and he’s convinced Jaden is the one who can make that happen. In spite of her misgivings about working in such close quarters with a man she’s attracted to, Jaden accepts the challenge. She needs the money to finish paying for the rehab wing on the hospital she worked for, a promise she made to a lot of people before real life circumstances changed everything. Adam’s daughter Emily is resistant to therapy, but once she meets her, Jaden is just as determined as Adam is to do what has to be done.

The story starts out strong, with a crackling attraction between the two leads. Adam is compelling and sexy, while Jaden has a relatability even when she’s down on her luck. Her inner strength and determination to rise above her privileged background go a long way in humanizing her, especially in light of Adam’s abundance of riches. He’s a lot like a Harlequin hero, too handsome, too rich, too good to be true. Still, in spite of that, I found myself falling him as much as Jaden did. Much of that stems from his devotion to his daughter. There’s definitely something appealing about a strong man being such a loving father. That luster fades a little as the story progresses and his fears begin to turn his behavior erratic. It’s understandable why he reacts the way he does, but for the last fourth of the story, his emotions seemed to swivel on a dime. I might not have cared as much about the shift if he wasn’t such a control freak for much of the book. Even when he claims to be overwhelmed or lose control in front of Jaden, it’s nothing like his extreme overreactions in those last few pages.

Jaden remains more consistent throughout the story. She’s strong, intelligent, and insecure enough to be believable. The only aspect of her that I found stretching credibility was her five-year asexual relationship prior to meeting Adam, but that’s a minor blip in an otherwise strong heroine.

The story is paced well, and the details surrounding the physical therapy and dealing with Emily’s problems crisp and genuine. They help to bring to life an otherwise bland contemporary setting and give the characters a sense of verisimilitude to round them out further. Emily’s progression is not only realistic, but the attitudes she presents scream authentic for a teenaged girl. In a lot of ways, she’s the glue that holds the story together, both in providing fodder for the plot to progress as well as the emotional core to bring the two protagonists together. At story’s end, while I was satisfied with the HEA, Emily was the one I was curious about following further. I was invested in her, just as much as Jaden and Adam were.

In fact, it’s when her part of the plot gets resolved that things start unraveling. For the last fourth of the story, events seem to occur too easily and too swiftly, out of proportion with the plot points of the rest of the book. I was disappointed with the sudden switching of emotions and thought too much of what was important for me as a reader played off the page instead of on it. It came together for the last chapter, but it lets down what could’ve been a really good piece of escapism.


8/10 – Compulsively readable until the last quarter where it got too easy


7/10 – It’s hard not to fall for a caring father, but his sudden switches in mood to create conflict in the last third wore thin


8/10 – Strong, relatable, without being too unrealistic

Entertainment value

7/10 – I was really enjoying this until the too-fast turnarounds and what felt like contrived conflicts of the end

World building

8/10 – For a contemporary, surprisingly realistic. The aspects of all the physical therapy and disabilities were well thought out and genuine



Friday, July 8, 2011

Back in the saddle

Well, that was unexpected.

Apologies to those who pop in to take a look at my reviews. I never meant to go missing for a month, but due to circumstances beyond my control, that's unfortunately what happened. I'm back, however, and plan on starting to post again next week. I've missed a month's worth of new releases at the twenty e-publishers I haunt, which will take some catching up. But if you've read something new in the past month that you loved and would whole-heartedly recommend, I'd love to hear about it. It kills me to think I might miss something great.