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Category Archives: Romance

Hard to Die

Hard to Dieunknown

by: Andra Watkins

Word Hermit Press LLC   Charleston, SC

ISBN:13978-0-9908593-7-6

 

I tagged this book with “historical fiction” because the characters are certainly historical.   The primary character is Theodosia Burr Alston, daughter of Aaron Burr (remembered primarily for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel).   Theodosia died under “mysterious circumstances” and therefore has found herself in Andra Watkins Afterlife series.

Those whose deaths are unresolved find themselves in Nowhere.  They have limited memories of the circumstances of their deaths, and no memories of their time in Nowhere.  Each has a “conductor” who charges them to help a living person make a better choice in their lives.  The dead have 13 chances to find resolution or they will be trapped forever in this in between place.

Theodosia’s life was filled with political intrigue.  Her father was tried for treason.  Her godfather was probably a spy.  She herself was highly educated and involved with many of the movers and shakers of her time.  (She makes an appearance in the musical Hamilton.)  It is not a surprise that her Afterlife story would also be filled with spies, treason, and political intrigue.

Set in the Hudson River Valley near West Point, the geography and legendary history of the area also play a role in the story.  The scenes in New York City revolve around Grand Central Station and its starry skied ceiling.  Theodosia is having her past life in 1950.  Her mission is to help one of the West Point cadets make a good choice towards a better life.

Unfortunately for Theo,  Nowhere is hardly a solitary place.  There are several other characters from Theodosia’s life who are also struggling with resolving their deaths.  The interplay between what has past and what is happening in the story, still our history, adds to the intrigue and suspense.

Andra’s novels bring historical characters into three dimensions. She makes her characters come to life and places them in settings that contribute to the story telling. Hard to Die grabs the reader from the start and hangs on tightly through all the twists and turns. I’m not sure I like Andra’s Theodosia, but I found her fascinating. Looking forward to more Nowhere novels.

 

Also by Andra Watkins:

toliveforever

 

 

 

 

To Life Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis   This is Andra’s first novel and the first in the Afterlife series.  Meriwether Lewis is quite the character and the harrowing run towards the place of his death along the Natchez Trace adds color and history to the story.

notwithoutmyfather

Not Without My Father   A memoir of her journey as she walked the Natchez Trace, her father along as her back-up and support.

natcheztrace

Natchez Trace: Tracks in Time   The photo journal of Andra’s walk

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If You Could See What I See

If You Could See What I SeeUnknown-1

by: Cathy Lamb

Kensington Books New York, NY 2013

ISBN:978-0758259400

Cathy Lamb writes novels about women who have been in abusive relationships.  Their stories are told as they overcome the odds, struggling to find their strength and build new lives.  This novel is not an exception to the rule.

The center of the story is a lingerie company Lace, Satin and Baubles.  The main character Meggie O’Rourke is returning home at the request of her grandmother and sisters because the business is in trouble.  So is Meggie.

She left the family business, started by her immigrant grandmother, to pursue film making.  She became a noted documentary film maker.  She also met another filmmaker and they became involved.  The twist on many of Lamb’s novels is that Meggie’s new husband is struggling with manic depression.  He’s been fighting his mental illness since childhood, but neglected to mention the problem to Meggie before their wedding.

We learn about that relationship in bits and pieces as Meggie works to rebuild herself and the business.  She is inspired to use her documentary film making skills to tell the stories of the employees of the company.  Many of these women have been with Lace, Satin and Baubles since their 20’s and continue to work into their 60’s and 70’s.  They all have stories, many of them expressing gratitude to Meggie’s grandmother for helping them get out of difficult relationship circumstances themselves.

We all know the fashion industry hires overseas workers and this lingerie company is no exception.  Still the theme of providing a safe place for women to become independent carries through even in the third world.  The manager of the oversea’s plant is a spitfire.  She’s clearly proud of the fact that she left her abusive husband and is happy to show off her “war wounds” across the Skype.

Even Grandma has a story to tell.  She’s kept her secrets all these years.  In its final scenes Meggie’s work brings this story full circle.  This novel is a tear jerker, but you are never sure if you are crying in sorrow or in joy for what these women accomplish.

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2013 in Fiction, Romance

 

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Whiskey Beach

Whiskey BeachUnknown-1

by Nora Roberts

Penguin Group New York, NY  2013

ISBN: 978-0-399-15989-3

Nora Roberts is one of my guilty pleasures.  She’s a prolific writer both in the romance genre and also as mystery writer J. D. Robb.  I like her writing because she has a strong sense of place.  She paints vivid, but not tedious, images of the houses and the towns her characters move through.  She also tends to write characters with interesting careers, and whose jobs (or at least job skills) actually play into the story line.

Her recent works seem to be drawing the two genres closer together and Whiskey Beach is no exception.  This is a story that opens on a murder.  We don’t see the scene (which we would in the mystery genre).  Instead we have the poor man, widower of the victim, who after a year is finally ready to start putting his life back together.  His career arc, from lawyer to writer, mirrors Robert’s own.

According to her bio, she started work as a legal secretary.  Her time in the legal system clearly informs her materials as she writes about lawyers, policemen, and private detectives.  She gives most of her characters a moment in the first person, so we get a feel for not only how they come off to the world, but what motivates them.  In this novel even her least sympathetic character has strong reasons for behaving as badly as he does.

I will admit to also appreciating the fact that Roberts writes with a “witchy” point of view.  She has done works bordering on fantasy where magic is real and dramatic.  She’s also done thematically works where magic is a family sense of knowing and a way of worshiping the Earth from where we come.  Mostly though, her female characters tend to be a little “new age”, interested in the properties of crystals and herbs, and into funky jewelry.  The woman in this story, a part time massage therapist, yoga instructor, house keeper and waitress, is very much in this vein.

Romance novels as a rule are simply escapist fiction.  They are perfect for long plane rides and rainy days.  Memorial Day weekend was a great excuse to indulge and Whiskey Beach definitely satisfied.  The sex scenes are there (they moved the bed!) but I was neither paging through the bad story to get to them or avoiding them entirely to get back to the story.  Writing well in this genre is truly a craft and Nora Roberts is a master.

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2013 in Fiction, Romance

 

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The House at 844 1/2

The House at 844 1/2Unknown

by: Elizabeth Johnson Lee

self published

ISBN:1477542159

I enjoyed the House at 844 1/2.  It is a story about a woman approaching middle age who suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome.  Most of the world is familiar with Tourette’s from the commercials on television.  This is an in-depth fictional account of life with the Tourette’s as it manifests slightly differently for the female protagonist and her son who has inherited the syndrome.

This book is an example of what I call Mythic Memoir.  By that I mean that this is the mythologized story of the writers life, what they would wish it to be.  I understand that much fiction is based in some sense of the author putting themselves into the protagonist role in their imagined universe.  Mythic memoir is evidenced by being just a little too close to the author’s real life.

We as writers are told repeatedly to write what we know, and we do.  But when we are too close to our subject matter we tend to make false assumptions about our readers.  Mythic memoir is at it’s most obvious when the writer is trying to make a point they are certain their audience will not understand.  Rather than allowing the reader to experience the definitive scene we are bombarded with multiple variations along with explanations to be sure we “get it.”

This does not imply bad writing or a bad story.  In fact it’s common to find this is with well established highly popular authors.  The problem is bad content editing. With highly successful writers, publishers “skip” this step deeming it unnecessary for sales.  With self published authors it’s a step that’s rarely considered.  Even when self published authors look for this kind of critique they are under no obligation to accept it.

Back to Elizabeth Johnson Lee and her book specifically it’s an easy read and she has a lot to say.  I think this could be better told in two or even three distinct stories in distinct genres.  There is the classic romance novel aspect to this story.  Even if we include the fantastical elements the story works much better without the issues her son is facing with Tourette’s.   The sex scenes are vivid but not compelling as romance.  They do point out the core relationship issues, but don’t need to be rehashed for the reader as our protagonist confides to her friend.

The women’s relationships and confidences are more in keeping with memoir.  Given more focus on those elements and the job history this could have been a very woman sympathetic piece.  The memoir element and living with Tourette’s syndrome would play better either without the fantasy element or entirely embodied in the fantasy element.  Elizabeth Moon does this brilliantly creating a fantasy world where she explores the real issues of living with autism in The Speed of Dark.

As a teen fiction novel, the story of the son and his struggle coping with Tourette’s would be fantastic if we remove any hint about his Mom having sex – with anybody!   The story line of his teenaged friend being under so much pressure to succeed was poignant.  I would have liked it more fully developed in a second book as devoted to exploring depression and teen suicide as this one is to living with Tourette’s.

In the case of 844 1/2 there are points at which I struggled with the story overall.  There is a spot where it appears it is the Tourette’s that allows the entry into the alternative world.  There is a spot where it seems that curing the Tourette’s is the only way to achieve a persons full potential.  There is a great deal of “preachiness” about the virtues of a vegetarian diet.  Aside from the vegetarianism, these issues resolve themselves as the story progresses.

Overall I find this to be a fun read.  There are some serious typos and other editorial errors, common in self published books, but not enough to become irritating.  I also would recommend this book to any adult dealing with Tourette’s Syndrome either in themselves, a spouse, a friend or with their children.  It’s always nice to know you are not alone.  It is also important that literature like this is out in the world expanding our awareness of both what is possible and what we take for granted in our own lives.

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2013 in Fantasy, Fiction, Romance

 

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Gottcha!

Gottcha!Gottcha

by: Fern Michaels

Kensington Publishing Corp. New York, NY  2013

ISBN: 978-0-7582-6602-6

I find Fern Michaels to be an uneven writer.  Much of her early work is about battered women getting away from their abusive relationships and those themes continue in her current work.  What I appreciate most about her later writing is that her heroines don’t need to be 22.  Many of her Vigilantes (from the Sisterhood series) are in their late 60’s and 70’s.  She writes a strong grandmother figure.

I enjoy her Vigilantes the same way I enjoy the Punisher and for much the same reasons.  I am very much aware that our legal system is occasionally unfair and unjust.  Sometimes we have all fantasized that the true culprits get the comeuppance they deserve.  Just like the Punisher, the Vigilantes are graphically violent when meeting out that justice.  More like Batman than the Punisher, the Vigilantes get away with it because they are filthy rich, well respected in the community, and ultimately little old ladies.

This book is framed by the Vigilantes and so it is a part of that series.  I was rather confused though when the focus immediately shifted to our heroine (in her 50’s).  The plot centered on the heroine moves along much like a typical romance novel.  The allusions to the “hardship” which drew the Vigilantes attention are minimal and undefined.

A freak accident changes everything and again the focus is back with the Vigilantes finally showing up at our heroine’s door.  In the end this is indeed a Vigilante novel with the potential of romance rather than the romance novel it appeared to be.

The other interesting thing about this piece is the way the abuse figures into the story.  For once the abusive relationship is very mutual.  There is no interest in separating the woman from her abusive spouse or visa versa.  They’re both villains and come up against the Vigilante’s in full form.  This time the true victim redeemed is a child.  This minor character has a resilience and in spite of her exposure to the abuse seems to come through it all without a scratch to her psyche.

Fern Michaels also writes about dogs.  It’s clear she knows them and loves them.  It’s the dogs in the story, rescued from the pound, who have apparently suffered the trauma of abuse.  The secondary story allows us to watch the dogs find their way past their anxieties.  They also seem to find a purpose for themselves in their new and loving homes.

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2013 in Romance

 

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Heartwishes

HeartwishesUnknown

Jude Deveraux

Pocket Books  NY, NY  2011

ISBN: 978-1-4391-0800-0

I like to read romance novels when I travel.  They don’t usually require a lot of attention.  They tend to be a quick read.  When I’m done I can leave the paperback behind and be sure someone will find some use for it.  Even so I tend to be picky about my romance novelists.  I like writers who are more interested in characters than in sex scenes.  I like writers who fill in the details around the story.

This story is set in a small town outside of Richmond Virginia.  There are 7 founding families and one of them is looking for a student to move in and write a family history.  The matriarch, Mrs. Frazier, has purchased a huge number of papers from the old family home in England which was being sold.  Although we are presented with the idea she’s researching to support her claim to a title (the ancestor was an Earl) she has an ulterior motive.  She’s looking for a wife for her oldest son because all her peers have grandchildren.

Gemma, our heroine, is intimidated by Mrs. Frazier and out of her class.  But she also is in love with history and this would be her dream job.  While her fellow students and competition woo Mrs. Frazier, Gemma finds herself wrapped up in a stack of old letters.   Of course she lands the job and is intrigued by the family mythology of a heartstone.  This stone, said to be given to the Frazier by a witch in thanks for using his strength to rescue some villagers, is supposed to grant a heart’s wish to any Frazier.

As the coincidences of wishes coming true increases, so does Gemma’s understanding that writing her dissertation about the heartstone will wreak havoc on the town and the family she’s come to love.  There are all the elements of a classic romance novel, gossip, jealousy, intrigue and hot sex.  The story, although fantastical, remains in the realm of possible.  There is always a “logical” reason for the wishes to have come true.

What drew me the most to this novel was the fact that Gemma, to help support herself in school, was the tutor for the football team.  She came to understand that brains and brawn are not exclusive.  When meeting the Frazier boys she recognized them as very much akin to her students.  She also, because she was training with the athletes, is quite able to hold her own with the physical challenges in the book.  The secondary characters, particularly the younger brother who is an artist, were also intriguing.  I’m actually hoping Jude Deveraux will write a series with a story for each of the 5 boys.

This is the first novel I’ve read by Jude Deveraux.  I think I’ll add her to my list of readable romance.

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2013 in Romance

 

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