L.A. Caveman by Christina Crooks. $2.99 from Smashwords or Amazon. From the cover: When corporate reorganization strikes, spirited journalist Stanna keeps her job but discovers her struggle has only begun. The workplace becomes a sizzling environment as she battles her macho, hard-bodied new boss for control of the Men’s Weekly column. She’s determined to reform him. He’s determined to train her. Neither wants to acknowledge the electrifying attraction that pulls at them both. Approx. 56K words. This past week, I read L.A. Caveman from author Christina Crooks. Ms. Crooks has four romance novels to her credit, of which, L.A. Caveman is the third, and the fourth is due out soon. L.A. Caveman could’ve been my kind of book, as it spins a tale of romance and suspense in the modern corporate world, wherein the hero and heroine are continuously at odds over business decisions for the magazine that he owns and she writes a column for. Throw in a sleazy, conniving former editor who intends payback for having been relieved of duty, and you have all the ingredients for a saucy, sexy story that should tickle the brain and tug at the heartstrings. Unfortunately, for me, it didn’t turn out that way. The novel begins by pitting two strong-willed characters against each other in an emotionally charged situation. Jake Tremere has recently traded his nest egg for the floundering Men’s Weekly magazine, believing that he can breathe life into it by steering it in a more macho direction. One of his first acts toward that end is to fire Stanna Whitland, a spunky writer who presents the feminine point of view in her regular weekly column. When Jake discovers that he can’t fire Stanna, because she has a three-year contract, the sparks begin to fly. Within the first few pages, I was captivated by the author’s elegant writing style, which makes use of crisp, natural language, rich vocabulary, and varied constructs. Between the writing and the strong premise, I expected to really be taken in by this romantic tale, however, the book’s path from there on was not the one I would have chosen. While the plot had the potential for a number of interesting interactions among the major characters, I felt the best scenes were almost always “off-screen”, referred to in passing or summarized after-the-fact, while all the scenes presented to the reader were the ones where Jake and Stanna were either at each other’s throats or rolling around in the hay; I never saw the positive interactions and bond-building scenes that would make me believe these two people had any real feelings for each other, other than animosity and lust. Even at the climax of the story, I felt as though I had missed something–where was the resolution to the enormous issue which had separated the two? They never spoke one word to each other about what had come between them before skipping to the HEA. I would recommend L.A. Caveman to any reader who appreciates a rich writing style and has a taste for pure romance and steamy sex scenes. If you can look past the egregiously inappropriate nature of this owner-employee relationship, you will lose yourself in the crazy ups and downs of their love affair. If, like me, you prefer your romance couched in action, adventure, and mystery, this book will leave you wanting.
The Kissing Room by Cheryl Anne Gardner. $1.99 from Smashwords or $1.99 from Amazon. From the cover: Merle tells us her tale of love, longing, and desperation. As she struggles with the guilt over her husband’s suicide, Merle’s gut wrenching quest for redemption takes her on a downward spiral into a hell of her own making. Resigned to a life of self-mutilation, abuse, and despair, will she find hope in a mysterious stranger, or will she die? Approx. 16K words. I recently had the pleasure of reading Cheryl Anne Gardner’s The Kissing Room, a novella of only 16K words. The Kissing Room is not a light, cheery romance for a Sunday afternoon; rather, it’s a dark, disturbing story that threatens to repel the reader with its brutal honesty, but compels him to read on, anxious for resolution. Consider yourself warned—if you dare to sample the first page, make sure you’re in a comfortable chair. This fast-paced story is hardly a chronological one, beginning in the middle of the action, and then alternating between what happens next and what happened before. The story also fluctuates frequently between gentle, romantic, or bittersweet moments and truly ugly, stomach-churning scenes of violence and despair. I would add, however, that even the nastiest situations are not described graphically or in lengthy detail, though neither are they for the faint of heart. The Kissing Room is told in the engaging, first person voice of Merle, a woman whose short life has already seen too much tragedy, making her wizened and weary beyond her years. While the reader may not agree with her choices or even understand her reasons for making them, it is impossible not to sympathize with this character and want to see her prevail. The character of Lain was less clear to me, and I wasn’t always sure I liked him, but that did not seem important; I was rooting for Merle, and if he made her happy, that was all that mattered. The Irish pub setting of the story is unique and authentic, with both the language and the details bringing it to life. I could always see and feel the story happening as though I was a participant, rather than some disconnected voyeur. The only time I felt thrown out of the story was when the point-of-view suddenly shifted from Merle to Lain for a brief passage near the end. I understand why the author did this, but for me, it broke the spell. Fortunately, I was so caught up in wanting to know what would happen, I just ignored it and went on. I think I’ve made the point that The Kissing Room is not exactly a “beach read” with its violence and macabre themes, but I don’t mean to imply that you will not enjoy it. I read the book nearly straight through, and only stopped because of an unavoidable interruption. I was annoyed to have to pause the action going on in my head, and went back to it as soon as I could—I just had to see how it would end. When it is all said and done, Cheryl Anne Gardner’s The Kissing Room is a deeply touching love story; you just won’t know it til it’s over.
Rogue Wave by Maureen A. Miller. $.99 from Smashwords or $.99 from Amazon. From the cover: U.S. Geological Survey expert, Nick McCord cannot account for the destructive waves assaulting the Windward coast of Oahu. The only viable culprit is the new housing development, Manale Palms and its attractive contractor, Briana Holt. Try as he might to find blame with Briana and her site, the truth remains a mystery as yet another threatening wave attacks the coast. Now allies, Nick and Briana narrow in on the source of these anomalies and find themselves in a struggle to save the island coast and their very lives. Approx. 70K words. Maureen Miller’s Rogue Wave is a romantic suspense that takes place against the lush, exotic backdrop of the Hawaiian Islands. Ms. Miller’s style reflects that beautiful background, bringing an almost lyrical feel to the narrative, despite the harsher realities of the storyline, which includes conflict between modern beachfront developers and conservationists, along with some present-day pirating. Ms. Miller presents her setting with a deft hand, describing scenery pithily, yet poetically: “Beyond Aloha Tower, the ocean was turning dusky rose under a violet twilight. The lights of the marketplace flickered on, and further beyond, a freighter moored at Sand Island became an illuminated hulk on the dark horizon.” With characters, she is equally clever, breathing life into not only the traditional good-looking, intelligent hero and heroine, but also the quirky side-kicks and troublesome family members. The central conflict in Rogue Wave is a series of unexplained mini tidal waves that are threatening the coast of Hawaii. As the story unfolded, I was intrigued by the underlying mystery, and would have liked more of that. It seemed that the focus was more on the relationship between the hero and heroine and less on the bad guys’ shenanigans, which I wanted to know more about. In other words, the plot was more like that of a traditional romance than I personally would have liked, but for traditional romance fans, it would be spot-on. From a technical standpoint, the story was well done, with no clunky transitions or shoddy plot holes, and no more than one or two typos. My one complaint was the frequency of point-of-view switches in the scenes between the hero and heroine. While I am a huge fan of multi-character POV, I prefer to spend more than a couple paragraphs at a time in any one character’s head, else I begin to suffer the onset of multiple personality disorder. That little detail aside, if you are in the market for an elegantly written romance mixed with an intriguing mystery, Maureen Miller’s Rogue Wave will not disappoint.
Not What She Seems by Victorine Lieske. $.99 from Amazon. Not What She Seems is a sweet romantic suspense, appropriate for all ages. Back blurb: Steven Ashton, a billionaire from New York, and Emily Grant, on the run from the law…and when they meet he can’t help falling for her. What he doesn’t know is that interfering in her life will put his own life in danger. Contemporary romantic suspense is probably my favorite type of book, but only if the plot is complex and unpredictable, and the tension is balanced with some lighter scenes and/or humorous moments. Victorine Lieske’s Not What She Seems gets high marks from me in both of these categories. Now, for about the first quarter of the book, I was not impressed. There were only a few important characters, and I thought I had the whole plotline figured out lickety-split. I was wrong. At about that point, the story underwent the proverbial “plot thickening”, like a well-made holiday gravy. Many more locations, characters, and twists and turns began to unfold, and the initially simple plot turned into a roller coaster ride with no easy exit (I actually read everything beyond the first chapter in one 24 hour span). A plethora of potential suspects presented themselves, all with reasonable motives and opportunity, such that I was reminded of a lively round of “Clue”, where everyone from Miss Scarlett to Colonel Mustard was looking good for the deed. With all of those characters and locations, however, I would have liked to have seen a little more development of personalities, interrelationships, and time spent on setting. But I may be alone in this; many readers prefer the fast-paced, plot-focused novel and find the other elements merely a slow down. As this is an indie published work, I was prepared for formatting and technical difficulties in this book, but instead, it was as free of those problems as any traditionally published novel I’ve seen. I only spotted two or three spelling/grammatical errors and no noticeable point-of-view gaffes. There were a couple of minor plot elements that struck me oddly (why did Emily go to the trouble of getting a fake SS number, but continue to use her real name?), and I found the action at the climax scene at Vincent’s house a little confusing, but these were minor flaws that didn’t detract from the overall effect. Finally, as mentioned, I appreciated Ms. Lieske’s moments of humor that broke up the otherwise breakneck pace. She made me laugh out loud more than once, notably at the “Spiderman sheets” comment. If you are a reader who enjoys steady action, a complex plot that keeps you guessing, and prefer to go easy on the life histories and weather reports, your money will be well-spent on Victorine Lieske’s Not What She Seems.
Color Me Grey by J.C. Phelps. $2.99 from Smashwords or $.99 from Amazon. From the cover: Meet Alexis Stanton, a 5′ 4″ petite young woman with a yen for adventure. She grew up as a tomboy wishing she could have all the adventures boys could have. She has since decided that being a boy instead of a girl has its advantages, but being a woman is much better. She finds that job she could “just die for”… and it looks like she just might! Approx. 80K words. J.C. Phelps’ Color Me Grey is the first of a three-book series about Alexis Stanton, a spoiled rich girl who decides to trade in her easy life as a data processor living off Mom & Dad for one of action and adventure, by embarking on a new career with a mysterious company where everyone is code-named a color–Mr. Black, Mr. White, Mr. Red. Alexis, code-named Ms. Grey, is the first woman to join this team of highly trained professionals and quickly shows up the men with her skill, daring, and never-quit attitude. Much of the book is devoted to the details of Alexis’ training as a fighter, scuba-diver, and survivalist, and only becomes a true action/adventure novel near the end when she joins the team on a rescue mission that hits close to home. The novel is strongly pro-female in that Alexis is continually shown as being at least as capable, if not more so, than her male colleagues, which for me, was a bit unbelievable. That a petite woman could take down a trained male opponent twice her size, while intoxicated no less, was one of several points I had to take on faith, but for younger female readers, Alexis would likely be inspirational. The book also includes hints of romance, but in this volume at least, nothing that comes to fruition. Color Me Grey is written in the first-person, past tense point-of-view, and at times, a bit stream of consciousness. I’ve said before I’m not a huge fan of first-person POV, but it does lend a youthful, up-to-the-minute air to this novel. The writing itself would benefit from some additional editing, as it suffers from occasional bouts of over-explaining, a few spelling errors, and some misused phrases. I would also prescribe a healthy dose of commas for the longer sentences. Editing issues aside, however, if one enjoys adventure novels where the focus is more on action and less on character and relationship development, Color Me Grey will be just what the doctor ordered.
Reunion by J.L. Penn. $2.99 from Smashwords or $2.99 from Amazon. From the cover: Reunion is a lighthearted and witty yet suspenseful story about how an innocent Facebook reunion with an old high school crush turns one woman’s life upside down. Will she remain faithful to her steadfast husband, or will she succumb to nostalgic desire for the one that got away? Approx 82K words. J.L. Penn’s Reunion is longer than a typical romance or “Chick Lit” read at 82,000 words, yet never feels so, due to the smooth pacing throughout most of the book. Only the first couple chapters seemed bumpy and unpredictable to me; after that, the scenes and the plot unfolded quickly and held my interest throughout. The book is written in first-person, present-tense, which I personally dislike, but must admit, gives the story an ultra-modern polish, entirely appropriate for this tale of virtual flirtation and temptation and where they may lead. While the content is not appropriate for young audiences, neither is it overtly sexually graphic, and handles the necessary sexuality gracefully. The one bone I would pick with this author is with her consistent failure to use commas before conjunctions that join complete phrases. While I firmly believe a fiction author can and should bend grammatical rules to suit his story, his characters, and his voice, this particular omission makes it difficult to read the longer sentences and seems like more of an oversight than an intentional stylistic choice. That one minor flaw probably only caught my eye, however, because the book is otherwise so well edited. Overall, Reunion really hit the spot for me with its delicate balance of drama and humor. It is not laugh-out-loud funny from start to finish, but I did find myself chuckling, giggling, and grinning throughout the story, while simultaneously feeling pensive, thoughtful, and at times, even a bit misty-eyed. I eagerly await the next production from J.L. Penn.
Healing Touch by Jenna Anderson. $0.99 from Smashwords or $.89 from Amazon. From the cover: Divorced mother of one, Tracy Campbell is trying her best to stay out of small town gossip. A mysterious lump on her throat is making it hard. Handsome Dr. Jeremy Nelson is making it harder. Approx. 23K words. Healing Touch is a light, quick read that should probably be classified as a novella. It is a sweet romance dealing with the heroine’s inner conflict about her own lovability and her fear of being the subject of gossip and derision in a small town. The book moves along at a nice clip, without getting bogged down in backstory before pulling the reader into the current action. Told in the first person, the tale clearly presents the heroine’s point of view, but fails to do the same for the hero. I found myself not entirely convinced that the relationship would endure, as I wondered, just as the heroine did, exactly what she and the good doctor had in common. I was also a bit frustrated with the lack of final editing, which left a number of minor typos in the text and a bout or two of rapid summarizing, which should have been expanded into full scenes. Those particular flaws notwithstanding, however, the book’s ending still left me smiling and glad to have invested the time.