Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Care and Handling of Roses With Thorns: A Novel by Margaret Dilloway

The Care and Handling of Roses With Thorns: A Novel.  Margaret Dilloway.  Penguin Group (USA). July 2013. 416 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780425260975.

Galilee Gartner, a private high school biology teacher, raises roses as a hobby, but she’s not the kind who mails away for different styles or breeds of these gorgeous flowers.  She breeds them, experiments with different breeds that are both already popular, specialized and loved as well as trying to breed new types.  Her dream is to create a beautiful rose that also has a magnificent fragrance.  While she calls herself an amateur and may be compared to other famous rose breeders, she knows a million times more than the average lover of roses and is so deeply passionate about her hobby. 

It brings her peace in the middle of her medical problems that require routine dialysis and avoidance of all infections in her very high risk status.  She’s not popular with students and is even described as too “tough” but she refuses to yield to mediocrity, an attitude that has come to threaten her job, even though she is tenured.
She’s got one good friend, Dara, whom she could lose because of her caustic and hurtful comments; but Dara, an art teacher, is smarter than that and a genuinely compassion person who knows when to appear to help and when to cut to live her own life.

Her life is about to change even more dramatically with the arrival of her niece, Riley, a teen who dresses in Gothic style that Gal finds appalling.  But now the surprises begin once Gal gets through her initial rage with her irresponsible sister, Becky, who is a functional drug addict and possibly alcoholic as well.  Becky knows she’s not wanted but has turned out to be quite a gal which Gal is about to discover.  The external attitude is deceiving indeed and our journey with Aunt Gal and Riley is filled with unexpected moments and growing maturity – on the part of both women!

Gal even discovers she can develop a friendly relationship with a new chemistry teacher and that it is possible to merge science with art to the benefit of both teachers and students.

Margaret Dilloway is a literate writer who has crafted a fascinating novel about the parallel of breeding relationships with roses, family and friends.  The quote is so apt in the beginning of the book, “Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns. I am thankful that thorns have roses.”  What an absolutely phenomenal read with a message that inspires, fascinates and never descends to maudlin.  

Highly recommended!

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Love Wars by L. Alison Heller

The Love Wars.  L. Alison Heller. Penguin Group (USA). May 2013. 352 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780451416230.

Molly Grant is employed as a corporate lawyer for the prestigious law firm of Bacon Payne; she’s okay with the 16 hour days because that’s the cost of earning one’s way into partner status.  One day she hears a conversation in the elevator and soon thereafter applies to work in the Divorce Department.  No, this isn’t a bleak, suffering, painful novel; Molly describes her work in a light manner that is both amusing at the foolish demands and counter-demands of couples ending a marriage; satire at the laws that dictate who gets what material goods; and poignant moments when one is on the brink of losing a child and Molly is bold enough to put on her fighting style for the sake of what is truly right and wrong and not just “billable.”

Upon entry into the marital real of legal affairs at Bacon Payne, Molly meets Lillian Starling, a high power, driven attorney who either totally loves her “girls” or fires them with the most absolutely withering phrases and insults, with no in-between moments.  When Molly meets Fern Walker and hears her story, she is reminded of another request for help from a threatened mother years ago and how cavalierly she was turned away since protecting an abused spouse was not the area of the facility where Molly was then interning.  Deciding to represent Fern Walker is risky because Fern’s husband is a very high profile customer of Bacon Payne.  Fern knows there’s a conflict of interest and yet believes she can manage it by starting her own firm.  There’s another bonus in that Molly would get the chance to represent needy clients and not the rich snobs who constantly range from cajoling, insulting and bossy ordering snobs.

How Molly can manage to do her normal work, pay off her college loans her parents assumed for her dream career, and juggle friends and dates is funny, cool, and interesting.  For there are elements of the law that aren’t dry and boring but instead specifically designed to be neutral in order to protect a wife or husband from losing a child, an event that could quite literally destroy that person forever. 

Molly also forms new relationships with colleagues that are honest, straight-forward, challenging, and more reflective of the family-like atmosphere of many law firms that succeed because of successful lawyers and a collegial team spirit, with an additional touch of spicy appeal.

The Love Wars is a fascinating look at divorce law and the lawyers and clients who pass through its gates briefly but with all the drama of a high speed roller coaster.  L. Alison Heller presents the topic and gutsy, intelligent characters with panache and an obviously personal knowledge of the subject.  This may be her first novel but it is definitely a successful endeavor and will leave readers eagerly anticipating more and better of this author with a definite, unique style!  Well done, indeed, L. Alison Heller!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Ashford Affair by Laren Willig

The Ashford Affair.  Lauren Willig. St. Martin’s Press. April 2013. 368 pp. hbk. ISBN #: 9781250014498

Addie Gillicote’s life has evolved into a series of dramatic changes, some of which fall upon her and some of which she inadvertently causes. Her granddaughter, Clementine (Clemmie), seems to be following the same journey.  It all begins with the sudden, accidental death of Addie’s parents when she is sent to live with her cousin, Bea’s family. Addie is really unwanted, the daughter of “bohemian” parents who really doesn’t fit into the aristocratic family she is now expected to call her own.  WWI looms almost immediately upon her arrival, but Bea and Addie promise from the very first day to be like “sisters.” What is to follow is far from sisterly behavior!

The story goes back and forth between the late 1920’s in England to New York in the year 2000.  Addie is old and frail but we are treated to the story of her life, which includes falling in love with what she believes is the wrong man; Bea marries the wrong man, divorces, and then is forced to marry another man, Frederick; they quickly tire of each other and even come to loathe each other.  Bea believes she saved Addie from the likes of Frederick but the story shows otherwise with a shocking series of events that doesn’t come to light until Clemmie, years later finds out the truth that is really about lie after lie after lie.

Frederick is a stereotypical character marred by the awful memories he carries from his time of service in WWI.  He is so shocked and marred that he is incapable of following his heart instead of reasoning what could possibly destroy the woman he truly loves!  He will change but not until he is so in love with a daughter that he fears to choose a lifestyle that might mean losing her and later his wife, Bea.

In a time when couples married for social standing, love arrangements seem to be satirized, especially when they are reached through rebellion and from selfish interests.  Clemmie, after losing a senior associate lawyer’s position in which she hoped to become partner after seven grueling years of work and sacrifice, is circumspect about the possibility of love and finding where to fit in for one’s own worth, a position contrary to everything she was raised to believe would guarantee happiness.  Changing times often leave behind personalities who either refuse to change or who choose the most contrary opposite of lifestyles.  It’s all about finding one’s identity as one loses the old ways; for some it works, for others it’s tragic! 

The Ashford Affair is a gripping story of love and hate gone awry and reaching out for a satisfactory union that will heal a mass of wounds almost worse than war itself!  Lauren Willig has crafted a stunning read that is quite reflective of the eighty year span of history that shaped and jettisoned generations into the twenty-first century.  Great Read!

The Scent of Roses by Charlene Raddon

The Scent of Roses.  Charlene Raddon. Tirgearr Publishing. May 2013. 331 pp. e-book. ISBN #: BOOD377012.

Whip Kincaid is about to be hit by a series of disasters that will rock his peaceful world.  First there is a mine collapse in the town of Whiskey Ridge, Arizona, perhaps caused by Whip Kincaid’s partner, Josiah Bullock.  Three men die and before Whip can question Josh more, the latter is found dead, shot by an intruder.  Whip discovers his body and also a woman who escapes before he can question her further about the murderer.  However, as Josh’s butler, Smythley, remarks, Whip is holding the gun and everyone in town already knows about their big fight right after the mine collapse.  It surely looks like Whip is the killer and the Sheriff would love to exact revenge of his own, for other reasons, by seeing Whip hung!

On the same day as all of these events occur, Rosalyn Delaney arrives in town to seek help from Josh, whom she claims is her husband.  The problem is that another woman, Lucy, is also Josh’s wife, his second one.  The reader waits with intense longing to know to whom Josh will leave his money in his will.

At the same time, Whip hasn’t left Josh’s home but is hiding out in secret passages, listening and looking through peepholes and wandering around at night through the house to try to find out who Josh’s killer really is and what this new woman is out to get.  He poses a threat to Rosalyn, who is trying to escape a religious cult leader, and yet is also secretly very, very attracted to her as well.  He initially poses as K.D. and oh how the romance swells and swirls! 

Still there are two mysteries to solve involving the murder and the two marriages.  Whip can’t see his daughter until he finds Josh’s killer and more complexities develop for all the characters.  These are basically good, good people who’ve been dealt the wrong hand, as the Tarot cards indicate in this tale, and are trying to find a way out of their quandaries in the middle of a haunted house.

This is a fine Western romance with just the right amount of tension through hot-tempered dialogue, paranormal quirks, and questionable clues as well as hot, hot, hot romance that will thrill those who love romance fiction or Western fiction.  

Charlene Raddon puts just enough unique surprises in each of her romance novels to leave the reader very satisfied and yearning for more stories from this talented writer!  Nicely done, Charlene Raddon!