Thursday, May 9, 2013

To Have and To Hold by Charlene Raddon

To Have and To Hold.  Charlene Raddon. Tirgearr Publishing.  January 2013. 448 pp. pbk. 630 KB. ISBN #: B00B5GWFCY.

Tempest Whitney, with two small children, is about to lose her home in the craggiest part of Utah near its canyons.  Her husband’s dead, the mortgage is due and she has no money.  She’s a gritty, tough lady who appears in the beginning of the novel standing at her front door with a shotgun as Buck Maddux, a former friend of her husband, rides his horse up to her home to give her a message from her dead husband, Skeet.  But she’s having no part of him and threatens Buck, believing he was responsible for Skeet’s death, which is how the rumors have spread in this locale.  Buck initially puts up with it but then backs her up against the wall and they are both startled by the heat rising between them.  In true stubbornness, they both refuse to acknowledge that moment and proceed to blister each other with nasty comments!  What a feisty couple, ha!

Now the story gets a bit ugly as we meet a rancher who has bought all Tempest’s debts and is about to not only take over her home but force her to marry him.  In fact, he comes pretty darn close to doing just that until Buck saves her in a swashbuckling, violent scene.  He pretends to marry her instead but they both know it’s just a matter of convenience and something to do with what he believes he owes her for Skeet.  Both have their secrets and aren’t about to tell until they can overcome their alternating kindness-animosity pattern that increases in intensity the more they are sexually attracted to each other.  They’re passionate people whose passion gets fueled by being near each other.

Not limited to a singular plot line, the story gets complex with the arrival of Buck’s brother who indicates the family is furious at him for abandoning them, not for whatever secret Buck is torturing himself about, something to do with a former wife who is now dead.  They don’t really have much time to ponder it all as the creepy schemer Creedy is planning to get rid of Buck and have his way with Tempest, especially when he accidentally discovers there is money to be had that’s a surprise for all.

The story unfolds as Tempest and Buck finally give in to their passion which is now really true love forged by the ups and downs of what other events fill their lives in these pages and some poignant revelations.  Charlene Raddon writes great romance fiction that isn’t empty-headed nonsense.  To Have and To Hold is an old-fashioned Western romance that will thrill lovers of the romance genre!  Very nicely fashioned, Ms. Raddon!

Machine of God by D. A. Metrov

Machine of God: A Steampunk Fantasy Adventure Novel.  D. A. Metrov. Create Space Independent Publishing Platform.  March 2013. 254 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9781482773378.

Leonardo da Vinci is a world-renowned artist, inventor and scientist.  Here we find the somewhat “crazy” (genius-crazy) living in a dirty room full of books, sketches, animals in cages and pinned on boards after death, and journals.  He has no money and now is in trouble with the police because he’s the first to discover one of his great friends dead, murdered in Leonardo’s small, very messy apartment.  At first he is blamed for the murder and is actually arrested but is soon saved from a very harsh punishment by the also famous Lord Medici.  He also discovers that the journal of all his ideas and sketches regarding art and science has been stolen.  Is it the infamous Savanarola who constantly seems to be watching the artist to see if he sins?  For while Savanarola is not yet in his Inquisition role, he’s an ascetic, narrow-minded man who sees sin everywhere – and what Leonardo does with his life seems to the sniffing priest to be the epitome of sin – in which Leonardo delights!

But no, we can’t tell the whole tale – no spoilers here – of this genius man who is about to embark on the commission of a lifetime – to create a combination boat, carriage, and plane that will enable the French King Louis XI in 1538 to carry gold across countries in one trip without unloading and reloading as was the norm for trade commerce in that era.  Leonardo and his best friend, the monk Lucas Fluck, as well as a staff sent by the King himself, set off to invent and test this innovative idea for quick, easier travel. 

But no one can predict how difficult the creation is and whether it will do all it should when the time comes to show it to King Louis XI.  What follows is marvelous adventure, audacious and practical creation, and testing by those who have been sent from the Pope and the Medici family to destroy Leonardo’s work and to humble him in the post-destruction aftermath.  Fire, almost drowning, pirate attack, political scheming, and the haunting presence of his girlfriend, as well as many other thrills, compel the reader to flip those pages and allow the wings of brilliance to fly overhead in praise of Leonardo’s creation.  But that’s about to change as well! There’s something for everyone in these pages – spirituality, religion, metaphysics, science, magic or mystery, and more!

The one thing writers tell each other is that they strongly support each other and vow to stay confined and not yield any further to mercenary temptations in food, drink and song.  Machine of God…is a rocking, rollicking, read with unique twists and turns that keep the mystery intensifying, the temptations and trials flowing, and the zaniness hopping page after page after page.  Fine, far-out spunkmaster fiction!!!  It’s not so far from fiction when we look around us today after reading this novel tale!

Call Me Zelda: A Novel by Erika Robuck

Call Me Zelda: A Novel.  Erika Robuck. NAL Trade.  May 2013. 352 pp. hbk. ISBN #: 978045123992X.

Who is helping Zelda and who is using her?  That’s the quandary in this poignant, complex story about the famous wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda.  The plot is not what’s complex; it’s the unbalanced characters whom one can never predict to act in a certain way at any moment in time.

The story begins with Zelda being admitted to a hospital for psychiatric treatment of her acute depression, although she certainly comes across as one suffering from manic depression or bipolar disease.  She moves from excessive crying to rage to an almost catatonic state to normalcy in the matter of ten minutes.  What is more amazing is the healing presence of Anna, the nurse assigned to Zelda’s case.  Anna seems to have a super-sensitive wisdom about what Zelda needs.  Unfortunately, there are some quick stereotypical conclusions that hold true throughout the entire novel; Scotty, Zelda’s husband, is the “bad” guy who cannot write without Zelda’s presence and yet who drives him increasingly to drinking more and more and more.  Zelda accuses him of sucking the air out of her life and it certainly seems that way from the point of view of Anna who closely observes and interprets the couple’s interactions.

Anna has her own issues surrounding the loss of her husband and daughter, although that doesn’t really clarify until the end of the story.  Her family is against her taking care of Zelda constantly and even more so when Scott hires her as a personal nurse when she eventually leaves the hospital.

Anna’s greatest gift to Zelda is the writing down of her thoughts about past years in story form which indeed does seem to help in her healing process.  Yet the expression of those thoughts and feelings, beautiful as they are to the reader, actually seem to be causing a regression in Zelda’s unstable condition.  The Fitzgeralds have a daughter who matters little other than to serve as the reason Zelda is hanging on, although she actually spends almost no time at all with her child, fearful of harming her daughter with her own illness.

Call Me Zelda: A Novel is an interesting story, rather overstretched with repetition, but fascinating at the mental and emotional world of this rich, spoiled, self-driven, jealous, paranoid, and sometimes tender couple.  Zelda is eliciting much public attention with the upcoming Great Gatsby” shortly coming to the movies, but this is a personality that fascinates and confuses at the same time! Interesting and potent historical fiction!

The Mango Bride by Marivi Soliven

The Mango Bride. Marivi Soliven. Penguin Group (USA). April 2013. 368 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780451239846.

What is it about emigration and immigration that allows one person to maintain love for one’s heritage and adapt to one’s new environment while another is unable to let go of the past and finds the experience of a new country to be so harsh, even abominable?  This is the central issue in The Mango Bride which is the story of several characters forced to leave the Philippines and live in Oakland, California in 1995.  But the story is so, so much more.  It begins with Marcela the cook/maid stabbing Senora Concha, the mother of Ampara and her brothers. There’s a sense of magical realism in the initial scene, with few clues to indicate why Marcela has snapped.  But everyone in the family is cautious and careful and won’t even consider calling the police.  She gets medical attention from her son, the dermatologist, and all seems forgotten as the story switches to Ampara whose mother made her emigrate to America for a shameful secret that no one is supposed to know but everyone does.

Ampara’s point of view appears as she is a translator, taking care of her home and answering the telephone to do her job translating for police and social workers in Oakland.  Chapters follow with Filipinos living in California, a viciously abused woman, a women who is carrying an unwanted pregnancy, and so many more tales.  What is most striking about these suffering women is the loneliness of American life for them and their painfully raw nostalgia for their native home.  Ampara tries to stay neutral but one story in particular sets off her own painfully poignant memories.  When she meets her Uncle several times, a recovering alcohol holding his own secrets, he is reluctant to address the issues and secrets Ampara knows he is harboring.  She has a solid relationship with a new boyfriend and wouldn’t consider leaving but her heart aches for her mother, no not Senora Concha but Marcela who acted as her “real” mother for some odd reason most of Ampara’s life.  Marcela realizes she needs to catch up with connecting with her children but her fear of scandal is larger than her maternal instincts. We will later know why and the immense consequences of that secret.

We also meet Beverly, a maid who is cousin to Ampara, who has her own awful story regarding her deceased mother and her present issues as the wife of a white man who treats her like a dog and will even try to ship her back home – for good!  She is actually more of a central character than Ampara because Beverly’s story parallels the story of so many young Filipino woman in America.

This notable novel almost defies description.  Loyalty, family, gender roles, gender abuse, betrayal, revelation, repentance are just a few of the topics that these potent scenes address and which one appreciates as a sign of the immigrant and cultural experiences herein that one has never previously realized.  If you, the reader, are not there, this book will amaze you; if you, the reader relate, there is comfort, truth and healing herein.  Finely crafted novel and superb contemporary fiction, Marivi Soliven! Great read!

Pastors' Wives: A Novel by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen

Pastors’ Wives: A Novel.  Lisa Takeuchi Cullen. Plume Books: Penguin Group (USA).  April 2013. 368 pp. hbk. ISBN #: 9780452298828.

Ruthie is a non-believer whose husband hears “the call” to service for God.  Imagine her dismay when he asks her to share his mission in a megachurch in Atlanta, Georgia called Greenleaf.  Her background is publicity and she is quickly upon their arrival put in charge of a journalist who wants to follow the pastor and write a series of articles on this famous beloved man of God, Aaron.  Candace is his “perfect” wife, a woman who dresses stylishly, always has a smile on her face, and who is really the super-manager of Greenleaf Church.  Her faith is real but her job is so stressful that she pops Imitrex for migraines on a daily basis.  The tension never leaves as there are constant problems from parishioners as well as the elders who mercilessly oppose the couple’s innovative programs like pop Christian music, a coffee bar, bookstore, and yoga center. The more appealing it seems to the reader, the more trouble it brings!

Once Ruthie and hubby Jerry get to work, Jerry becomes the favorite of Aaron, a relationship like that of a father and son who grow very close.  Candace is carefully watching Ruthie and likes what she sees, something that doesn’t happen much with her son Timothy’s wife, Ginger, a woman who is hiding such a horrific secret that could totally destroy the church if known to the public.  Apart from that, Ginger is a great Mom but has no special gifts to contribute to the church, at least that’s how she thinks and feels as she’s constantly exposed to Candace’s pattern of scrutiny followed by disgust.  Not a very healthy scenario and the reader sees it all foreshadowing something disastrous.

Candace’s pride and joy, however, are her grandchildren.  She’ll do anything and everything for them; indeed aside from her passionate love of her husband, the children are the true joy of her life.  She makes sure they are dressed well, eat only healthy food, and have excellent books and education.  Yet why is she always asking God, “How can I serve You?”  Her prayers seem quite formal and repetitive but they are the most honest part of her personality and she will soon enough discover what true faith is!
For several potentially destructive challenges lie ahead that will change this group of three so very different women to unite and become truly pastors’ wives in the most literal sense of the phrase. Why must faith, marriage, loyalty to family, and so much more be tested? And how does one know if one’s faith is real, strong, and/or weak?
Pastors’ Wives is quite refreshing.  These women are so very human and their dilemmas parallel the problems of their parishioners.  It is a delight to share the journey of each person.  The tension never lessens and how each handles that atmosphere is the “key” in this novel to stabilizing and strengthening each of them, to discover the hidden strength that faith in God and each other provide in every moment, through the most challenging and joyful of times!

Insecurities, mistakes, mis-communication, and so many more problems leave this group of three woman in constant flux.  Each learns to shed the useless garbage of the past and embrace the identity that each discovers as the story progresses into almost unbelievably killing stress.  Fine, fine fiction, Ms. Cullen. Compromise? Submission?  Rebellion? Lies or Honesty? Always the conflict evolves to form a fine secondary revelation for each of these three women who are so much stronger than they think

Finely written, Ms. Cullen – finely indeed!

A Passion for Pleasure: A Daring Hearts Novel by Nina Rowan

A Passion for Pleasure: A Daring Hearts Novel.  Nina Rowan. Grand Central Publishing.  April 2013. 384 pp. hbk. ISBN #: 97814555509560.

Clara Winter’s husband is dead and she has lost her son the wiles and whims of her father-in-law who sees her as an unfit mother.  Clara would do anything to have her son live with her as a mother and son should; but the law favors her father-in-law. The problems around her authority have to do with Wakefield Hall, property which is rightfully Clara’s but isn’t thanks to a legal decision binding in 1854 and favoring males rather than females. For now, she works with her Uncle Granville who makes musical dolls, jewelry boxes and other musical paraphernalia. 

The situation seems impossible to solve until she meets Sebastian, her former music teacher, who no longer plays or composes music because of a mysterious ailment in one of his hands and arm.  Whatever has caused this malady has him feeling bitter and extremely disillusioned with life.  Why then does he manifest such an interest in her Uncle’s musical models?  He is searching for papers about a cipher machine that could have numerous uses during war.  Is it in Uncle Granville’s possession and is it effective?  That is Sebastian’s mission, now complicated by the draw he feels toward Clara.

As the story progresses, Sebastian will become involved in Clara’s conundrum and that actually increases the tension and excitement of this meaty story.  Yes, it’s a romance that has plenty of tender and sexy moments to thrill every romance lover, but it also involves a thrilling mystery seemingly beyond the knowledge and skills of everyone involved.

A Passion for Pleasure: A Daring Hearts Novel is fun and fascinating to read.  Romances are always thrilling but this one moves away from stereotypical plotting to reveal secrets and complex plans for solutions to readers who love to try to solve a riddle before the characters do – and no you can’t predict how this one will end!
Very well done, Nina Rowan!  This reviewer looks forward to reading more of the Daring Hearts series!

Against the Edge by Kat Martin

Against the Edge.  Kat Martin. Harlequin. April 2013. 400 pp. hbk. ISBN #: 9780778314431.

Ben Slocum is a very popular lady’s man.  He’s good-looking and women are automatically attracted to him, but he’s of the “love ‘em and leave ‘em” variety.  Except now he’s in for the shock of his life when a Social Worker, Claire Chastain, shows up at his door and informs him he has a son, Sam.  Ben’s in shock and even more so as he can’t figure out why his ex-girlfriend never told him about Sam but he can’t spend too much time right now as he also finds out that Sam has been kidnapped by the ex-boyfriend of an ex-girlfriend. Confusing, right?  Ben’s shock is immediately transformed to determination to find his son.  The hunt begins!

Laura Thompson, his ex-girlfriend, actually his fiance, cheated on Ben; this is the reason Ben is a one-night stand man with the ladies now.  So he initially has very little attraction to Claire, but that will change throughout the story. Even more worrisome is the question they both worry about, how the kidnapper was so hateful as to make a child suffer because he obviously wanted revenge on someone who rejected him.

The story is a simple one, yet the conversations between Ben and Claire, the added tension coming from Troy Bridger’s goon friends who are more inclined to attack rather than help.  It’s time for Ben and Claire to let go of past hurts, for Ben a huge, wounding betrayal, and consider the possibility of a very different future. 

Add to that the fact that Sam’s not getting preferential treatment, not the kind to make him feel hopeful about a new home anyway!  He basically believes he has no one to help him and so has to accept the abuse that would drive away any kid in a similar circumstance!

Against the Edge is a quick read with a pretty predictable ending but that doesn’t take away the “edge” that holds true throughout the entire story!  Nice mystery/ thriller, Ms. Martin!

Barefoot in the Sun by Roxanne St. Claire

Barefoot in the Sun.  Roxanne St. Claire. Grand Central Publishing.  April 2013. 432 pp. hbk. ISBN #: 9781455508259.

Zoe Tamarin has been on the run for years.  She believes her “Aunt Pasha” has saved her from an abusive father and knows the true reason why they must keep moving from place to place – because Aunt Pasha is wanted by the law.  Now she meets Oliver Bradbury when she shows up at his cancer clinic in Florida, a place where they are using experimental treatment protocols to save the lives of terminally ill cancer patients.
Oliver lost the one true love of his life and only has an 8 year-old son whom he seems to avoid all the time, working away his grief over his wife’s death.  Oliver’s son, Evan, is a pip of a boy who has a sharp tongue for almost everyone as he quickly picks up the “lines” all use on him with strength but without much compassion or empathy.  His Dad works himself silly and has little time for his son. 

Zoe meets Evan and they click together immediately, having the same irreverent and realistic sense of humor.  When Zoe asks Oliver’s help for Pasha who is very ill with cancer, we aren’t sure how that will turn out as Pasha wants help without any hospital involvement.  For she’s got a shocking secret that the reader will not learn for quite a while.  Meanwhile, after much back and forth hassling arguments about her medical condition, Pasha finally agrees to be treated by Dr. Oliver. Things become intensely complicated for her when the law arrives and says she’s wanted for murder!

As the story continues, so does the hesitant care and attention Dr. Oliver and Zoe begin to tentatively allow themselves to feel.  It’s definitely hair-raising for both and we are not sure if so much resistance and fear can surmount the relationship that would so obviously benefit both.  They truly are hot for each other.  Can they surmount the resistance that has them constantly thinking about immediately escaping or completely and permanently embracing each other?  Barefoot in the Sun is a very good romance worth spending pleasurable hours with.  Nice job, Roxanne St. Claire!