Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Dollface: A Novel of the Roaring Twenties by Renee Rosen

Dollface: A Novel of the Roaring Twenties.  Renee Rosen. Penguin Group USA.  November 2013. 416 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780451419200.

“Dollface” was the name frequently given to girlfriends of mobsters during the “Flapper” years of the Roaring Twenties.  To be so labeled was an honor, indicating the woman was highly protected and fawned on, but at a very great cost. Vera Abramowitz appears initially as a girl who thought she was escaping a world of drudgery by fleeing to Chicago.  Her father had been killed by the Black Hand Gang and she wanted nothing of that life or of the meat packing plant her mother was now running, an amazing feat in itself in this era when women were only just starting to work in offices and factories but certainly not in management.   Vera doesn’t quite see it that way and is barely making her meager bills with her typist’s salary. But two men are about to change Vera’s entire world and introduce her to the world of flashy living, guns, mobster hits, illegal booze running, and more toughness than any sane woman would ever want!

Tony, an Al Capone hood, first dazzles Vera with his fancy lifestyle to which he introduces her.  Their world is filled with unbelievable passion but without commitment and the latter is the only part that leaves Vera feeling somewhat unsure of the future. Still she hangs on as her life has become somewhat easier since Tony treats her well with occasional gifts and even money.  All of this changes when she meets a man named Shep Green, who owns a nightclub and is deeply involved with Capone’s rival gang, the North Side Gang.  Tony knows Vera is attracted to Shep, but Shep knows nothing of his serious rival.  It is Shep to whom Vera pivots because he actually shows that he really cares about her, a novelty for this love-starved gal who is so dazzled with the luxurious lifestyle around her new friends.  Questions arise, though, that are extremely disquieting at times but which Vera shoves away in denial, literally questions of life and death!

Hints are dropped by Shep’s friends that seem to indicate shady business deals and rivalries that wind up in “hits.”  These increase in frequency throughout the novel as vengeance and fury rule the day with the grief of losing each member.  Vera is lost in her new home and eventually a gorgeous baby girl after a very quick wedding to Shep, but her denial phase is about to end with a bang when more murders occur and Shep seems slated to go to jail.  Her fortunes, it seems, are as fickle as fate since they rely on something that is totally falling apart at the seams.

There is enough partying, gaiety, intimate sharings with guys and gals, dancing, drinking, shopping for the latest flapper styles and hairdos, tension, unexplained dangers, and so much more that keep the reader riveted to every page and flipping them rapidly to find out more.  It’s an attractive and glamorous lifestyle these characters lived, a post-WWI revel that couldn’t possibly last but which was relished by participants and observers (readers as well) while it reigned supreme in the streets of major cities around America in the 1920’s. The end is stunning and can be visualized as a fierce and heart-rending mobster movie scene! Renee Rosen has captured not only the essence of it all but the fierce passion in which mobsters and their gals moved with elegance and gusto! This is a terrific read about a volatile and exciting time and is highly recommended to all!

Barefoot by the Sea by Roxanne St. Claire

Barefoot by the Sea.  Roxanne St. Claire. Grand Central Publishing. October 2013. 448 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9781455508235.

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Roxanne St. Claire will be doing a FB chat tonight, October 30, 2013 at http://on.fb.me/1cndEGo.

Tessa Galloway has a great challenge, starting up a new resort in Bayport Bay with her friends.  There’s competition but also over-crowding in those other well-known places.  So Tessa and her peers/friends know that if they can create a beautiful place with a great restaurant menu as well, they will do great!  Right now they are in need of a phenomenal chef to make that latter part of the resort become a reality.  Oh, is Tessa about to get one ultra-HOT chef! 

Tessa initially meets John Brown and wonders if he’s the one to contribute to her dream plan – as a sperm donor for the child she wants desperately.  She’s not interested in a relationship but just wants an objective sperm donor and a surrogate mother.  Not too large a plan, right? But John Brown is quite a sexy guy who is totally put off by Tessa’s attitude and she feels the same way about him.  Not once but three times, the two who are highly attracted to the charge between them wind up being supremely harsh which revolts them both even more.  But they can’t deny that charge, like a dehydrated tourist desperately in need of water when he or she finds it.

Tessa certainly has no idea that John Brown is a member of a Witness Protection Program.  As the plot progresses and she decides he’s the one to fulfill her dream and he decides that an “on paper” marriage to her will enable him to pick up his life where it left off after a supreme act of violence that stole his wife and separated him from his children.  Interestingly, Tessa starts to trust him more once he applies for that chef position – and wow can he cook – in more ways than one – and reveals secrets about her life but is put off by the fact he will tell her nothing about his own past.

The romance sprouts and blossoms but not without many scenes that seem to degenerate to super-spats, intermingled with some very steamy sex scenes!  One wonders how it will all turn out; even though we know something will be resolved, the reader will be grandly surprised by the eventual outcome and the tough, threatening journey to get there! Honesty is called for on all sides!

Roxanne St. Claire is a natural romance writer who also knows enough to add an interesting mystery into the mix, with all the flaming hormones rising and falling like an uncontrolled volcanic explosion!  Terrific romance with great plot and characters as well! Very nice job, Ms. St. Claire!

Bound to the Highlander: The Highland Chief Series - MacIntosh

Bound to the Highlander (The Highland Chief Series: Book One).  Kate Robbins. Tirgearr Publishing.  October 2013. 254 pp., 422 KB. ASIN No.: B00FQQC13C.

Aileanna Chattan watches as her Uncle and guardian’s body draped over a horse rides into the courtyard of her home.  Once the initial shock and grief sets in, she’s stunned to discovery has betrothed her in secret to Jamie MacIntosh, the chief of Clan MacIntosh.  Aileanna’s family follow the old ways, although they are Christian, and a bond with the MacIntosh family means they would be united with King James Stuart, a progressive reformer who is not popular with many in Scotland.  Aileanna had thought she was to be betrothed to someone else, Gawain. Something is odd about this relationship, however; Gawain has never really been kind but only sarcastic and harsh to her.  Yet she thinks once they are betrothed, a kinder side will appear.  What happens instead is just the opposite; he believes Aileanna knew about the future union with the MacIntosh clan and is now furious about it.   In fact, he has a secret in his own past that explains the perversely cruel streak in his personality that enjoys seeing others suffer.

Add to that the fact that Jamie thinks Aileanna has been lusting after another man and one gets the whole distorted picture fused with the obvious sparks flying between Jamie and Aileanna.  Jamie is in denial about wanting her yet he needs the King to break off their betrothal for unspoken reasons. However, their thoughts about each other are broken off at a point where both are kidnapped, a mystery that quickly unravels to the astonishment of all but which confuses matters somewhat.

Aileanna loves the tales of brave Scots who protected their families from ancient Norse attacks; she has yet to realize there are brave Scotsmen who would do nothing less.  They are truly motivated by love of country although there are often wars between the clans over the best ways and means to insure that protection and quality of life for their people.   This involves problems with the Mackay Clan and it seems that only King James holds the key to solving all of these problems. Add to that the King needs to learn that all Scottish Highlanders are not to be mistrusted and not all Lowlanders are to be trusted.

This is no stereotypical romance but a hot, hot, hot romance mixed in with fascinating Scottish history.  The story is obviously well-researched and no one character remains simply characterized; add to that some interesting facts beyond the history books that explains much about the love-hate relationship between the clansmen and their King.  This is a fine debut romance and historical fiction novel that makes this reader look forward to more installments of the Highlander Chief series.  Well done, indeed, Kate Robbins!

When Will Heaven Begin? This is Ben Breedlove's Story by Ally Breedlove

When Will The Heaven Begin?: This is Ben Breedlove’s Story.  Penguin Group (USA). October 2013. 320 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780451239648.

Ben Breedlove just wanted to be an ordinary person but that was impossible as he was born with HCM or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.  This condition meant that Ben’s heart could stop at any moment.  While certain strenuous activities or foods could send Ben into atrial fibrillation and eventual HCM, heart failure could also happen at any time, including while he was sleeping.  This was an amazing burden for his parents to bear; yet like so many parents with children with special physical needs, they lived with this reality, in fact lived as normal life as one could live under their unique circumstances.  The story of Ben is not about illness but about living with the knowledge that one is blessed with what one has and that eventually passing to another life is okay, in fact, more than okay.  For Ben that faithful knowledge was a product of experience.

Before that special event occurred, however, Ben had to deal with numerous medical tests and curtailment of his eating and play habits as a child.  His parents were shocked to learn of this condition, a thickening of the heart muscle which would worsen over time, and the fact that there was no surgery or medicine that could cure it or even ease.  While he was given medications which could ease the symptoms, he had to learn to live with it.  Ben is depicted as a pleasant child and teen who loved to play tricks on his family, enjoy his friends, and developed a special love for making videos.  Close to his parents and sisters, he was a normal person whose condition kept everyone on alert as to the slightest changes in his physical appearance.  He even tried some less strenuous sports such as wake surfing but after one particular experience of a fractured ankle was unable to continue what he loved. 

As Ben grew older, he began making videos for YouTube on just about every topic of interest to teens such as dating, spirituality, etc.  Eventually he made a video about his own heart condition and the experience he had in which he clearly knew he was on his way to heaven.  He knew from that point on that death wasn’t to be feared; instead he actually welcomed it, very aware that he even longed for it as he knew his heart couldn’t hold out much longer.  The video was called, “This is My Story,” Ben’s account of his near death experience told through the use of flash cards.  The questions he ultimately asked on these flash cards, before his untimely death at the age of 18 years old, concerned whether the reader believed in God, as well as asking what “you” are doing with the life you are living.  Potent words from a teen in a poignant condition. 

When it comes to a person’s demise coming at a young age, with the consciousness of its looming presence, each person almost always concentrates on the special qualities of everyday living in this earthly environment.  But Ben’s life laced with compassion and humor is about what each person is doing in this life that has value and purpose and how important it is to consider the afterlife of heaven. No, there’s no fear here at all.  Heaven is described in a highly appealing way and depicted as an appealing experience that should be welcome.  It seems that it can’t be anything other than ‘heavenly.” 

Words cannot fully capture the unique quality of this story about Ben Breedlove.  Only the hardest of hearts could read this book and not be deeply moved.  It is a tribute to the passionate love of life and God that was Ben’s primary concern and his legacy to the world he left, which is awaiting a reunion with Ben in the heaven he so lovingly describes!  Ally Breedlove has written a fitting tribute that is more about her brother’s message of love to a hopefully wide audience! Nicely done, indeed, Ally Breedlove!