BLOG REVIEW: Do or Die by Suzanne Brockmann

30-something former Navy SEAL-turned-jewel-thief Hero has been serving time in prison for the past 18 months for willful destruction of property. 
He's waiting out his prison term patiently for a good reason. When 20-something junior lawyer replaces his recently-injured lawyer on her first week at the firm, he doesn't take her seriously.
So when he's prematurely let out of prison by her government-agent co-visitor for a trade-in that same day, he abducts heroine with her car. He's surprised that he's not able to scare her off easily nor does he scare easily.
Getting in contact with his younger brother is his immediate priority, despite his brother's anger towards him.
His brother doesn't know that Hero's been in prison all this time for his & his young family's sake.
It doesn't take long for the mafia family Hero made the prison deal with to find them. Hero has to juggle all the various players involved, including the US government which let him out in exchange for his security knowledge of a Middle Eastern consulate where 2 kids are being held hostage. And heroine wants to be part of the solution.
Working together so closely increases their attraction to one another,
pushing them to further intimacy
with a future neither want to consider too much at the moment.  However, when their well-made rescue plans don't go as planned
and puts heroine in the line of danger,
Hero is afraid that the future may be bleak indeed.

There was no need for this book to be 400+ pages long. It could've been at least 150 pages shorter and still get the same points across. It wasn't so much that there was sub-plots, secondary romances, and secondary characters all throughout the story. It was the nitty-gritty details of what the characters (yes, minor secondary characters included!) were thinking, doing, and planned on doing that made this book much longer than necessary. For example, the secondary characters who were driving towards another character's house counted down the address of the street they were looking for. As in, "We're looking for (blah street #). There's house (blah blah street #). And now we're passing (blah blah blah  #). We're getting closer. Oh, there it is! There's (blah street #)!". I mean, really? Do we need these boring fillers to get the point that "(Secondary characters) were looking for (another character's) house."?

This book read more like an actor's tv-series script, except we also got descriptions that watching the show would've spared us (i.e., room descriptions, vehicle decriptions, Navy SEALS training program).  These descriptions would be ordinarily fine in order to bring us into the characters' world. But all it did was add to the length and details of the book.  There was just so much going on in this book. And it lacked the emotional pull that Brockmann's older books had. I became so bored out of my mind. I actually rather do laundry and clean my house than go on reading this book. I skimmed so many pages just because I wanted to get to the end already. As the characters repeated in the book, the "devil was in the details". It sure was. And I had a devil of a time plodding through this book. 

The overall plot was decent and not altogether predictable though. And that's why I persisted through this book and didn't DNF it at 30%. I was hoping maybe the romance between Hero and heroine would become more exciting and something shocking/unique would happen later. Alas, no. The main romance (there were at least a couple secondary romances) and the action-suspense were average at best. No big sparks, surprise, or shock towards the end. Hero and heroine liked each other but it wasn't awe-inspiring or touching. They were strong, intelligent, and caring people who found that they worked well, especially under stress, together. Their romance gradually developed and there was no real angst. I think Brockmann tried to introduce some angst-inducing plotlines in their romance:

     ---------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details-------

1. heroine seeming to be more into Hero than vice versa for about 2/3 of the book & the temporal nature of their affair-during-high-stress made it seem like heroine's feelings for him were unrequited and their romance limited
2.  Hero was vocal about never having an interest in a committed relationship due to his way of life and career
3. there were also big hints about Hero not being able to commit to heroine, even though he wanted to. And this was due to the potential of him going back to prison to trade himself again for his brother's life.

     ---------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS---------------------------------

Unfortunately, none of them felt angsty to me. They may have been described as such  words but I couldn't connect with them. The overall emotional tone of the book was mild, except for Hero's brother & his lover where the book plot centered on. There was more emotional engagement, pulling the reader to sympathize with their romance difficulties, than with Hero and heroine's romance. Hero and heroine barely took second place, emotionally-speaking, in this book. The pull to engage in and root for their relationship was really not that much more than the other secondary romances and other secondary characters. 

The book's center focus on the romance of Hero's younger brother and his partner was shrewdly done. Hero and heroine's romance and Hero's attempt to ensure his brother's safety were the main concerns of the first parts of the book. When we finally meet Hero's brother, a subtle shift began. When the husband of Hero's brother physically shows up, a bigger shift in the emotional engagement of the book took place. There was a detailed account of when they met, fell in love, and separated when they were teens. 

     ---------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details-------

Hero's brother and his partner met and fell in love during their senior high-school years. Their romance was a secret due to the anti-gay sentiments in their community and especially from his partner's mafia family. During one of their secret trysts, somebody filmed them and distributed it to people in their school. To protect him from his violent family members, his partner agreed to write him a terse note to end their relationship. A misunderstanding between them about it and Hero's brother's immediately leaving their town for the Marines caused years-long separation between them. A later reunion with both of them clearing their misunderstandings and pledging their love and life together ensued. 

     ---------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS---------------------------------

The book goes back and forth with their past and the present to convey how far they've come to be together and how important it was that they continue being so. By 50% of the book, Hero and heroine's romance were clearly 2nd place to his brother's romance. The whole action-suspense plot was about protecting Hero's brother's romance.  As much as I appreciate Brockmann's writing skill and how she could cleverly shift the romance focus from one romance to another, I felt deceived and short-changed. I like plot twists. But the way she changed the main romance for another in this book felt more like emotional manipulation than a plot twist. And I didn't like that. I wouldn't have chosen to read this book if I knew that Hero and heroine's romance wasn't going to be the true main romance of the story. What was interesting was how it was done. Hero and heroine became sexually intimate & even became open to a longer term relationship with each other. But their emotional connection was flat &, quite frankly, boring. On the other hand, the emotional connection between Hero's brother and his partner kept developing and there weren't even any sex scenes between them. Unlike Hero and heroine, I could feel their love for each other and the poignancy from their separation in their teens & their reunion later. Moreover, the emotional pull for Hero's brother's romance was present in the whole book, while Hero-heroine's romance was limited to their intimate time together. The rest of the time Hero and heroine were pulling for his brother & his family's welfare. Like I said, shrewdly done. But the book blurb gives no indication of another primary romance other than Hero and heroine's:

Suzanne Brockmann’s seamless blend of heroic military action and intense passion inspired USA Today to call her “a superstar of romantic suspense”—and for years her award-winning Troubleshooters books have been must-reads for fans of sizzling stories of action and adventure. Now the New York Times bestselling author shoots to thrill again with Do or Die, an electrifying new novel that is certain to win Brockmann new readers and delight devotees. 

Navy SEAL Ian Dunn went rogue in a big way when he turned his talents to a lawless life of jewel heists and con jobs. Or so the world has been led to believe. In reality, the former Special Ops warrior is still fighting for good, leading a small band of freelance covert operatives who take care of high-stakes business in highly unofficial ways. That makes Ian the hands-down choice when the U.S. government must breach a heavily guarded embassy and rescue a pair of children kidnapped by their own father, a sinister foreign national willing to turn his kids into casualties. Shockingly, Ian passes on the mission for reasons he will not—or cannot—reveal.
But saying no is not an option. Especially not for Phoebe Kruger, Ian’s beautiful and unexpectedly brash new attorney. Determined to see the abducted children set free, Phoebe not only gets Ian on board but insists on riding shotgun on his Mission: Impossible–style operation, whether he likes it or not.

Though Phoebe has a valuable knack for getting out of tight spots, there’s no denying the intensely intimate feelings growing between Ian and Phoebe as the team gears up for combat. But these are feelings they both must fight to control as they face an array of cold-blooded adversaries, including a vindictive mob boss who’s got Ian at the top of his hit list and a wealthy psychopath who loves murder as much as he loves money. As they dodge death squads and play lethal games of deception, Ian and Phoebe will do whatever it takes to save the innocent and vanquish the guilty—or die trying.

If I wanted to read a side romance with Hero and heroine or have it be equally important with another romance, then it should be made apparent in the book blurb. Or label as women's fiction or a mystery-thriller because it ended up reading more like an action-suspense women's fiction. Because it wasn't, I felt deceived.  And I'm really disappointed.

I scarcely recommend this book.

RECIPE: Sauteed Garlic Almonds

I've been eating lots of nuts lately. To try to cut down on my sweets (guilty of over-indulging on sweets...especially chocolates...over the Christmas holidays)  but not sacrifice its nutty crunchiness. At least I still get my nuts.

Spicing it up with salt and garlic give it an exciting and different flavor from the Roasted Almonds recipe I previously posted here. It's reminiscent of stir-fry meals in the way its prepared. Sauteing the garlic in a bit of vegetable oil until it turns crispy & lightly brown. Then adding salt to taste. A very easy & meal-y snack.

Sauted Garlic Almonds

2 cups raw almonds
1 tablespoon oil (I used canola oil)
2 medium-sized cloves, chopped in small pieces
1/2 teaspoon (or more, if you want it saltier) salt

1. Pour oil in a pan over medium heat.
2. Add the chopped garlic and saute it for about 30 seconds or until it becomes slightly brownish per the above photo. If it turns dark brown, you've likely burnt the garlic.
3. Toss in the almonds & sprinkle salt.
4. Keep tossing the almonds frequently. Some may turn brownish but color is not a good enough indicator of its doneness. You'll know it's cooked when you smell it's nutty aroma. 
5. Remove from heat. 
6. Pour nuts into non-plastic container to cool for about 1 hour before eating.


BLOG REVIEW: The Virgin: Redemption by J. Dallas

For the first time since her father died, 27y.o. heroine is not so sure about who to blame for his death.
And the terror she and her parents went through 10 years ago with the men who held them up for days
and killed her father for the millions he received for selling their hotel.
The hotel that 34y.o. Hero's family bought. 
Adding Hero's cruel rejection of their blossoming romance at that time resulted in her purposeful plans of revenge towards him. 
So Hero doesn't understand why she suddenly quit her job as his assistant and left him without answers, when they were just rekindling their romance. 
This time, however, he's not letting her get away and he hunts her down for the truth.
Heroine has to choose between hiding behind the truth and risking vulnerability that comes with love.
What does she choose? What are the consequences?

I read this book not knowing that this was the 2nd book in series. Thinking it was a stand-alone book, I thought it was suspensefully written with intense emotional moments and a fast pace. The focus was on heroine's decision to change the way her life has been going and coming clean with Hero. I didn't know what precipitated the change and why she recently left Hero. I also had no clue what her romance with him was like 10 years ago and just recently. All I knew was that she was in love with him and felt bad for blaming him for something and trying to bring him down as as result. She did eventually tell him the truth and things went well with them after that. I don't know what her character was like before this change nor what Hero's character was like. All we really got was the conflict she felt about the truth about Hero she now knew and her determination to be different from now on. With Hero, we got a sense that he was determined to not let her go and has shown that he's continued to care for her the past 10 years.  It's a short book (66 pages) and I thought another 5 to 10 pages giving us more details of their past romance and the current one would've given me enough knowledge to understand and connect with them more. Without it, I felt shortchanged. 

Knowing now that there was a book 1(The Virgin: Revenge), the missing details about their first and current romance made some sense. However, I still stand by my suggestion that adding about 5 additional pages giving us some important info of their romance and their subsequent problems would've made it a stronger and more sufficient read. Giving us more details of the emotional condition of their past romance would've made Hero's confession of why he cruelly rejected more impacting.

     ---------------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details-----------

Hero confessed that the reasons why he rejected heroine were because:
1. she was still 17 to his 24 and she was still too young legally and emotionally to have sex with him.
2. he was still a virgin himself and he had some conflicting issues about his sexuality due to the sexual manipulation of another woman and his heavy porn use
3. he was about to buy out her father's hotel and he couldn't tell her yet. Most of all, he didn't want her to think that his romantic involvement with her was due to his using her to further his business transaction.

     -----------------------------------------------END SPOILERS-------------------------------------------------------

It would've made heroine's misunderstanding of his rejection more poignant because it pointed to the wasted years and emotion from his decision to not tell her the truth then so it could've allowed them the chance to find a solution together. It would've also have brought some relief, knowing that Hero's reasons for cruelly rejecting her was borne out of caring and protection and not meanness. Without the added details or reading book 1, I felt some angst and their deep caring but I didn't fully understand why.

I moderately recommend this book.

BLOG REVIEW: Forty 2 Days (The Billionaire Banker Book 2) by Georgia Le Carre

20y.o. heroine is shocked to see her ex-lover 30y.o. Hero again, after leaving him a year ago.
He's in charge of the bank loan she and her best friend direly need to start their business. He'll only approve it if she finishes the 42 days she reneged from their 3-month contract a year ago. She agreed for her friend's sake and her own unquenchable need to be with him regardless of why.
She's not sure how he'll react when he notices the changes in her body due to the traumatic year she had apart from him.
But his hunger for her couldn't be swayed.
Nor his need for revenge against her for leaving him for money.
She understands his anger and cannot tell him the truth. Her decision to relish her 42 days with him brings her back to the high life she had with him.
And eventually produces the intimacy he's been resisting.
But, when her wealthy but nefarious family threatens the son he doesn't know he has with her, she's forced to make a difficult decision once again.
What choice does she make? What happens to the trust she built with Hero?

I was wowed at the progress this book made from book 1, The Billionaire Banker (click here for my review).  This book was much more emotionally impacting, suspenseful, and well put together than the previous book in the series. I still think this book series are like HPs(Harlequin Presents) but with more oomph. If HPs are the adult Disney version of classic fairy tales, then this book is more like Tim Burton's version. May look romantic and sweet but it's also cryptic, steamy, sometimes irreverent, and has dark undertones. We get the touching romance with irreverent topics of poverty (i.e., urine-smelling elevators in the low-income housing heroine and her baby lived), politics (i.e., the powerful rich controlling social media information), fidelity(i.e., the sniffing business), and family (i.e., child abuse as a generational inheritance and way of instilling self-control). The mixture of the two was written so seamlessly. It shocked and titillated me as it endeared me to the romance and the overall story. It made for an unpredictable and captivating read. I read this book speedily. Even at the end, I wasn't quite sure if this was the end of the series or not. It wasn't a cliffhanger. But not everything was resolved and answered perfectly. I'm curious what happens next to Hero and heroine. 

We also got to know heroine more from her 1st-person POV(point of view) in this book. She's still a caring and self-sacrificing person. But she's grown up some. She's much more accepting of her sexuality and embraced it when she got another chance to be with Hero again. She may be new to Hero's rougher and sometimes shocking sexual repertoire but she reframed them as memories to keep of him in their limited time together. She no longer holds herself as a victim of circumstance like in book 1. Heroine chose to take the 42 days with Hero because she just wanted to be with him again. The business loan was just a bonus. Her choosing to be with him was her assertion to do something for herself for once. I liked her change of power position in heroine in this book. Although Hero tried to degrade her with sex & his cold manner towards her, he didn't succeed because she didn't accept them as degrading and that in itself chipped at Hero's self-imposed barriers against caring for her again.

What was the biggest improvement in this book from book 1 was that we finally got to know Hero. He seemed remote & hard to connect with in book 1. In this one, we find out his motives and connected with his character. Although he's still portrayed as a very controlled and guarded man, we sensed his inner conflicts and felt his emotional intensity. He's the quietly controlled alpha male who is a seething cauldron of restrained emotions that I love to read about. When something about heroine pushed his buttons enough, he became a wild and sexy possessive beast obsessed with heroine. And I loved it! I loved seeing him unhinged because of her. It showed his hidden vulnerabilities and not all of it is positive. We found out that he's quite emotionally damaged from his past.

     ---------------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details-----------

His father was a big believer and follower of a very old secret tradition among certain powerful families. He instilled this tradition resolutely among his family, especially his sons, just as it was instilled in him from his forefathers. One of the rituals his father followed to teach self-control and absolute power was to rape his potential heirs to his business when they're still kids. What was truly sad was that Hero rationalized his father's rape of him as education, as if his father cared enough about him to teach him self-control this way. This all came out when Hero felt pushed by heroine to prove to him that she was different than other women he's been with. The oral-anal (through vibrator) sex from heroine seemed to him brought back his suppressed childhood experiences and it became clear to heroine that his father molested him.  

His promiscuous sexual history made sense as well as his emotional disconnection with his lovers. Until heroine, that is.  He went through many women during the year he and heroine were apart. He was trying to exorcise her emotional hold over him. But he realized that he was looking for her through these random women. And they didn't sate his need for her at all. Thus, driving him to search for her and, once he found her, demanding she follow through the 42 days she owed him. He was mixing his emotional need for her with something he was used to from childhood: sex. She had power over his heart just as his father had over him as as child. But, with her, it was healing while with her father it was destroying the good in him.

     -----------------------------------------------END SPOILERS-------------------------------------------------------

I enjoyed the mystery aspect of the book. The conspiracy theory linked to the secret cult was a nice touch. It produced a believable reason for Hero's family's conspiracy against heroine. It made her later decision about whether to stay with Hero or not the full 42 days poignant. I didn't expect the ending and how it resolved his family's conspiracy against her. And that's a good thing. I like being surprised. More like shocked, really. 

My only minor quibble was we don't know what happened to Hero's fiance. She supposedly consented to Hero's getting heroine out of his system. But we never hear anything more from her after heroine accidentally saw her at a store and scampered away. His fiance played a big part in separating Hero and heroine in book 1. Did Hero officially end their engagement? What machinations did his fiance have for keeping him if he did? She was a wily one and I'd have liked to have heard more about how she reacted to Hero choosing heroine over her.

I highly recommend this book.

BLOG REVIEW: Kiss and Tell by Sharon Kendrick

It's been 14 months since 24y.o. model last saw well-known Hollywood scriptwriter Hero
and a lot has changed since. She put her successful modeling career on hold.
Her looks and priorities have changed because, unbeknownst to him, she had his baby 5 months ago. 
She's about to tell him but their strong passion gets in the way. 
Just as it always had before, during the year they lived together. 
But their love then couldn't stand the insecurities she had due to his fame
and his Irish charm.
Her revenge didn't seem so sweet now that time has passed. She believes that he may never want to touch her again after she breaks the news of their son to him. 
And she's right.
Is their romance doomed? How can he trust her again?

I'm surprised at how realistic the romance was of this Kendrick book. It didn't leave me with fluttery happy feelings but it did emotionally provoke me. And that's a good thing in my book. Aside from their superb physical attributes and fabulous careers, Hero and heroine had ordinary issues in their relationship and reacted likewise. Except maybe for the secret pregnancy/baby part. They had an instant connection and started living together, only having spent a handful of hours getting to know each other. Although their love was certain and mutual, they couldn't reconcile their individual issues enough to be able to sustain a harmonious relationship.

     -------------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details--------

1.) Heroine's jealous reactions to the women fawning over popular Hero was rooted in her upbringing (i.e.,  her mother had a constant parade of men in their lives, her mother putting herself and her romance before heroine's welfare, her mother's encouraging her belief in the unfaithfulness of men). 
2.) Hero aggravated her insecurity with his need to party & be in the social scene.
3.) Hero also tended to flirt back with other women, even accepting their written phone numbers. His reassurances that it was only part of his celebrity status and that heroine was the only one he was interested in did not reassure her. 
4.) Heroine took a break from her modeling career to be with Hero, which he approved of. So, Hero became her only world during the year they lived together. His being busy with his career, including attending parties & social events, made her feel lonely and left out.
5.) The time they spent together they utilized having sex. They didn't spend much time talking and sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings with each other. Or resolving their relationship problems. 

     -----------------------------------------------END SPOILERS--------------------------------------------

It was, therefore, no surprise that they gradually drifted apart. Heroine's going back to modeling against Hero's wishes and her subsequent work trips overseas contributed to their growing physical and emotional distance. Their breakup eventually occurred and they went 2 years before they saw each other again. It wasn't so much their breakup that troubled me. It was their indifference to it, especially on Hero's part. Heroine was playing her immature passive-aggressive games and really wanted him to fight for their romance. But he didn't. So she didn't either. Their differences seemed irreconcilable to them and they were in a place in their lives where they chose other priorities. 

What I really liked about this book was the insight both had with what went wrong before and their responsibility in what happened. We only get heroine's 3rd-person POV(point of view) so we hear more of her acceptance of responsibility. She was matter of fact about her past insecurities, her immaturity, the mental games she was playing with him, her wish that he'd read her mind instead of telling him what she thought/felt, her passive-aggressive responses to him, and, most of all, taking revenge on him by keeping the knowledge of their son from him. She felt guilty but was willing to right the wrong now.  Being a mother opened her eyes to many things about how she was living her life. She had changed some and was still in the process of changing.

What we know about Hero was based on what he told heroine. We don't ever know if he fell out of love with heroine before or just thought their differences too much to live with. We do know that time and seeing her again 2 years after their breakup solidified his feelings for her. He even confessed it to her right away but what happened after they made love changed things:

     -------------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details--------

The phone rang after their sexual aftermath and it was Hero's current girlfriend(GF). Heroine had no clue he had a girlfriend and he hadn't told her. Hero's explanation that he and his GF were technically over but not "officially" didn't change heroine's feelings of betrayal. This was the event that led her to her secret-pregnancy/baby revenge. She couldn't stomach the thought of Hero moving on with his life romantically, even though she didn't make any effort to amend their broken relationship in the 2 years they were apart. When she found out she was pregnant from their 1 time together, leaving him out of their baby's life made her feel some justice for her pain. This is 1 of her wrongs she now regrets and tries to amend. 

That event changed Hero enough that he became celibate until he saw heroine again in the present time, 18 months later. I would've liked to have known if he went through an emotional crisis, felt guilt over not telling her about his GF and/or not breaking off with his GF officially before he had sex with heroine, and why he became celibate when he wasn't doing much to pursue heroine.

     -----------------------------------------------END SPOILERS-------------------------------------------------------    
I liked his present bluntness and not letting heroine get away with her wishful or unrealistic thinking. He sensibly confronted her on her mistrust in him and the choices she made then. He was understandably shaken by her betrayal re: keeping their son a secret from him but his love for her did shine through their current troubles. It helped that he saw the changes she made. He himself was in the process of changing, trying to reconcile his anger with her with his love for her and practicality of having a family now.

What made this book unique was that both main characters were in the process of change throughout the book. I liked it.  But the reality of their relationship being still in-process and we didn't get a perfected Hero and heroine and their romance wrapped in pretty HEA(happy ever after) bow at the end made me uncomfortable. It wasn't the usual HP(Harlequin Presents) ending I'm used to. I appreciate it for its real-ness nonetheless. But I still prefer getting a HEA bow at the end so I would've liked a 1-page (even half a page) epilogue showing them contentedly together 3 or 5 years later. The ending with their love confessions and passionate reconciliation came and went too quickly. It reminded me of how they first got together, driven by attraction and emotion. An epilogue would've shown that this time around Hero and heroine have matured and built a solid romance together, defying their past problems. That would've settled everything for me.

I sufficiently recommend this book.

BLOG REVIEW: Bought for the Greek's Bed by Julia James

26y.o. heroine has gone back to her simpler life in England, after her bitter separation from her husband Hero 18 months prior.
But she must now demand the money that is rightfully hers from him. And, just as she expected, successful Greek businessman Hero doesn't make it easy.
He wants her in his bed in exchange for the money. It appalls her and brings up memories she's tried hard to forget. Of her discomforting meeting with Hero, which was encouraged by her beloved uncle who pampered her to live the high life while visiting him in Greece.
Of her marriage of convenience to Hero that began as social posturing.
That became more that one fateful day.
She's pressured to accept his demands now just as she was to marrying him then. And her time with him now is as overpowering as she feared.
She pays him back with the same recourse as before.
And Hero turns the tables on her. As before. How do they avoid the same acrimonious end?

Unlike Dark Side of Desire and Purchased For Revenge, I didn't have a change of heart regarding the main characters in this book. James usual trademark, of intensifying the cruelty of Hero towards heroine and turning it around as intensely the other way when he realizes the truth about her, was lacking in this one.  We saw a lot of cruelty and barely any redemption. The other 2 books have the same formula as this one: 1.) spiteful Hero yielding his power to avenge the wrong he thinks heroine is involved in, 2.) heroine's quiet suffering due to sacrificing for others' sake, 3.) both battling between their secret longing for each other and justice for perceived wrong, and 4.) Hero atoning for his appalling misdeeds against her after realizing the truth of her sacrifice. But this book needed more of #3 and lacked #4.  I also didn't like Hero and especially heroine much and it stayed that way.

We got primarily heroine's POV(point of view) in this book so we didn't get a sense of Hero's secret longing for her. We didn't really get a good sense about hers either. She was so busy denying and avoiding any positive thoughts about him, including her desire for him. Most of all, she did not stop her whining & blaming until the very end. She mainly whined about and blamed Hero for her circumstances. This changed at about 90% when she began blaming herself for wanting him despite herself, when Hero made her face her desire for him. Heroine also ended up sounding like a money-grubbing biotch with her repeated "That money is mine!". There was something in how she was presented that made her progressively unlikeable. I stopped feeling sorry for her around mid-point, when she started complaining about fairness. And when I could see holes in her reason for self-sacrifice, which was about her getting needed money to fund the charitable organization for poor kids that her family has run. Did she try to get a business loan? Did she apply for grants/loans specific to non-profit organization? How about doing fundraisers or seeking donations from others in England or elsewhere? Why couldn't they use another facility in the time being until they had the money to fix the repairs of the house? Why didn't she ask her parents for help about funding ideas since they used to manage the charity previously? Was her pride worth more than the charity that she couldn't seek financial help from her wealthy albeit estranged uncle? This pride question would likely be a 'no' since she lowered herself to have sex with Hero for the money. So why couldn't she lower herself to ask her uncle for financial help for her charitable cause?  I couldn't feel empathy for her when she foolishly chose sex for money without fully exploring other less demeaning options. 

Heroine's big secret from Hero seemed unnecessary. 

     ---------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details-----------------

Heroine led Hero to believe that the man she was photographed with, the day after the first time she and Hero had sex, was her lover instead of her stepbrother. She did that to sabotage her marriage. She got scared of the intimacy she just experienced with Hero and the unwanted feelings she had for him. As a result, he eviscerated her verbally and socially by kicking her out of his life in Greece, sending her back to England, and informing her uncle of her adultery. It didn't make sense that she didn't divorce him during their 18 months apart. They both wanted nothing to do with each other, except for the money that was promised to her by Hero. A divorce could've settled all that. 

   ------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS-------------------------------------------------------

I also didn't understand why she had to lie to Hero and not just tell him that she no longer wanted to be married to him. It would've caused less disharmony between them. I didn't understand why she didn't tell him that she didn't want to be sexually intimate with him either. If she didn't want it to happen and she was sensing something different from him, why not just set clear limits and remind him of the marriage of convenience agreement they made? Her passive aggression was irritating! She didn't want to take the lead in their marital decisions yet she was angry about it. 

Hero was a cold and vengeful man. He went into the marriage of convenience with heroine coldly, liking the dynastic potential of his family business merging with her uncle's. His plans to be sexually intimate with her eventually during their marriage was done in a coldly precise manner. I didn't get any feeling of longing, desire, warmth, or caring from him for her. He did feel jealous and possessive about her but those are more aggressive feelings. Revenge and power plays came part and parcel with him. So his love confession at the very end was the first time I got any semblance of warmth from him. And it was so brief that I wasn't totally convinced of how lasting it was. There was not enough redemption effort from him to make me believe that he won't treat her cruelly again if he believed she did something he didn't like. I also don't discount heroine using the same passive-aggressive strategies if things don't go her way in the future. There was no character change evidenced in either during the story. 

I slightly recommend this book.

BLOG REVIEW: Seen by Candlelight by Anne Mather

25y.o. textile designer is forced to talk to her ex-husband  of 2 years Hero again, regarding her sister’s scandalous affair with his married brother.
 Or else be alienated by her mother. 
The last time heroine talked to textile-company owner Hero was 4 years ago, when she moved out of their home because she defied his demand that she not work. 
Seeing him again arouses old feelings and it seems mutual. 
But he’s engaged to be married in a few months to another woman. And her boss and friend is once again reminding her of her need to keep moving on from Hero. 
Their respective siblings’ troubled affair, however, places them in continued contact with each other.  
How much will they yield to temptation? How does it affect their relationship with their significant others?

This Mather book was written in the early 70s. The sociocultural factors of that time made Hero's demand that heroine be a pampered housewife and not continue her career as a designer the norm. Yet her desire to have a career and not just be a bored housewife was also becoming a hot marital issue in the 70s. The juxtaposition of these 2 sociocultural factors was probably the most interesting thing in this book. Everything else was mediocre. The cheating potential by engaged Hero and the subversive maneuvers of heroine's boss-friend should've made this book more intriguing. But the writing failed to stimulate my emotions. Mather seemed to cushion these volatile topics with careful wording. And it disappointingly resulted in taking away any intensity or excitement in the book. For example, heroine's boss-friend had some stalkerish thoughts about heroine. I felt a little creepiness just from his obsessive thoughts but heroine's dismissive response to his growing obsession with her dumbed it down to a non-issue.

Heroine wasn't the wisest person. She made some really dumb decisions due to her spitefulness and voluntary ignorance. Her ignoring her boss-friend's obvious romantic interests in her was dumb. It suited her needs for independence yet still being cossetted by a man. She followed her boss-friend's advice regarding her marriage, even about matters that wasn't true about her marriage to Hero. She didn't think twice about why he may have done so but just dismissed it and carried on with her painting and other interests. She allowed her boss-friend to effectively run her life, moving in to the apartment he owned and letting him blur their working relationship. Even when he asked her to marry him a few times, she ignored its obvious implications and was later 'surprised' that he had more than friendship and work-related interests with her. Denial or stupidity? Whatever it was, she used her boss-friend at her convenience and pushed him away when she didn't want him anymore. The pathetic thing was that he allowed it because he wanted whatever she'd give him. When he finally asserted himself later, it was with criminal intent but Hero got there in time to stop him.

Hero wasn't a pushover like heroine's boss-friend. And that's why heroine did her power-play against him. She not only went back to work against his wishes but she got a job from his rival company. It was an 'in your face' move. And then she left him, when he wouldn't accept her wishes to work. We saw her doing this to make a stand about her power in their relationship and not to end their marriage. She was actually just biding time before she went back home to him but her boss-friend planted ideas in her head about why being without Hero was the best thing for her. And it suited her to believe it. Hero was a dominant and, lately, neglectful husband. And he wasn't willing to give her what she wanted (i.e., independence, freedom to pursue her interests, her idea of fun) so she fought back. We don't really know much about Hero  as much as heroine but we later briefly find out that he was broken-hearted by her leaving him and avoiding his attempts to talk to her, driving him to depression and drinking. Too bad it was only briefly mentioned. It could've added to the needed emotional pull to this book. 

What I didn't like about their romance was the convenience aspect of it. Hero and heroine would've continued on happily separated from each other and having forgotten each other, if it wasn't for heroine having to talk to him in person again. Their love for each other was passable and not the intense "I gotta have you" kind that I like. Seeing each other again reminded them of their sex life. It was more physical attraction than anything else. They kissed passionately and Hero didn't feel that bad about having done it, even though he was engaged to another woman. It was only heroine's potentially using it against him that riled him up about it.  Again, this cheating incident was dumbed-down by the tepid way it was written. The ending didn't improve their intensity of their love for each other. It was only middling but this time they both are of the same mind in wanting another shot at their marriage.

I mildly recommend this book.

BLOG REVIEW: Playing For Love at Deep Haven by Katy Regnery

28y.o. writer can't believe that fate would get her stuck in the Maine vacation house she's leasing to do some needed writing with the fellow Yale student who broke her heart 9 years ago.
She looks almost unrecognizable to 28y.o. songwriter & part-time heavy-metal guitarist Hero,
with her conservative & chic appearance. She looks nothing like the carefree Bohemian poet he knew her to be that college summer.
As much as he'd changed himself, the one thing that has not is her love for her. And he's determined to unmake the one big mistake he made in the past and convince her to give him a 2nd chance.
Getting involved with him again may be easy.
But trusting him with her love is not. 
He understands this but is running out of time on what he promised her. Will he ever gain her trust back if she finds out what he did?

Reading this book was like drinking tea. You go through a slow steeping process first. Then you seep it to get the full benefit of its flavor and effect. You won't get the intensity at the start but it gradually builds up to it in a strong and effective manner. The first 45 pages of the book was a slow and tepid start, with Hero and heroine getting to the vacation house and trying to negotiate who got to stay. But, once heroine agreed to shared the house with Hero for 2 weeks and they started touching on their past, my interest was captivated as their romance became focused and more emotionally engaging. It's a mature romance between two 20-somethings. We saw how the 9 years of separation made them grow up.

This was also an extended grovel book. Hero tried to atone for the huge mistake he made 9 years before, letting her go like he did. He paid for it with an empty albeit successful & busy life of a musician. He not only wanted another chance with her. He wanted to convince her of his love for her and that it's always been her, even when he denied it 9 years ago. He went all out in word and deed to show her how much he meant to her. He was not a perfect guy. We saw him making mistakes but he had heroine's best interest at the forefront of his choices. He made secret and costly sacrifices for her that may jeopardize her trust in him.

     ----------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details----------------

Hero told her he'd share half of the $40K he was promised for 4 songs he had to write if she helped him write the 4 songs. Heroine had to finish her book in a few weeks or else lose the book contract and give back the money advance the publisher gave her, which she'd been living on since her live-in boyfriend died a year and a half ago. When his song contract fell through, his first thought was how he was going to make it up to her. Even though he no longer wanted to go on concert tours especially since it meant being separated from her, he accepted it because it would get him the money she needed. But, knowing she won't accept it handed to her that way, he made it 1 of his conditions to go on tour for his manager to call his publishing contact and give heroine to get her poetry book published and use Hero's $40K to pay her.   

     ------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS-------------------------------------------------------

He made those sacrifices for the sake of her wants and needs, even it meant her ultimately not choosing him due to his deception.  He had enough of his selfishness that made him lose her in the first place. Her happiness mattered more. 

I love the mixture of music and poetry in conveying their feelings then and now as well as their individual characters. I could feel the pain, regret, and longing both Hero and heroine revealed in the lyrics. Heroine's pain resounded through her words. It's appropriate that her verbally confessing her love for him again would be the 1 difficult task she had to do. Words showed her soul. She didn't want to be broken again like she was 9 years ago, after she told Hero she loved him. Her carefree and trusting self died that day and she'd buried it under the safety of a dull and closed-in existence ever since. I understood her pain & brokenness. But, as much as the fault lay on Hero's feet for not having the courage to embrace love then, heroine was also to blame for being cowardly and selfish herself. For seeking comfort in the arms of another man (OM) in a matter of days and who she used for 8 years as her safety net. She knew OM loved her but she didn't reciprocate it. She remade herself to conform to OM's life so she never had to risk being open to pain & heartbreak. So her ongoing guilt after OM's death over stringing him along for her own needs was warranted. As much as Hero steeped himself in self-absorption (i.e., 1-night stands, partying, impulsive buying) in the intervening years to fix his empty & solitary existence, heroine did the same but in her predictable & safe but posh life with trust-fund-baby OM. 

Both Hero and heroine made regrettable mistakes in the past. There were some gross misunderstandings that prevented them from reuniting much earlier. It was angsty to hear from both perspectives events that they misunderstood and could've cleared up if only one of them had courage enough to risk their hearts again. But both were 19, virgins with each other, and understandably inexperienced with strong emotions and handling such difficult emotional situations. I liked the contrast and the challenge of the present time with the past. Both of them were presented with a another chance for a reunion now and the same messy and difficult emotions come along with it. Hero was willing to tackle it but heroine was not as brave. I loved Hero's patience and sensitivity with her. He pushed just enough while constantly showing her that he was her support and that he didn't ever want to be without her. His constant love healed her mistrust and fears.This guy was 100% into her. Just in case we had any doubts, the writer did something towards the end that made it undeniable how much she affected him. It was sigh-worthy. 

I loved the texting between the 2 of them. It was sweet, exciting, and sizzled with sexual chemistry. It led up to a highly-charged emotional and sexual reunion. The epilogue nailed it.

I assuredly recommend this book.