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Karina Bliss

REVIEW:  Bring Him Home by Karina Bliss

REVIEW: Bring Him Home by Karina Bliss

Dear Ms. Bliss:

Your last few books have had a sort of a madcap adventure feel to them and so “Bring Him Home” is a change in tone and pace. It deals with grief and recovery and discovery and relies less on external conflict and more on the internal changes that the leads experience.

bring him home karina blissNathan Wyatt found a family in his SAS brothers but when their convoy was hit in an ambush, one of the men that held the group together becomes mortally injured. Nate has the choice of staying with his best friend, Steve, and saving Ross. Steve orders him to save Ross and leave him. Nate knows that this is the only genuine choice he has. He also knows he has the choice of allowing Steve to burn to death, trapped under the flames of a burning Humvee, or to provide his best friend relief. Nate does the right thing, both times, but his actions and the war scarred him and after he is discharged, Nate abandons his friends and his makeshift family which included Steve’s wife, Claire, their son, and everyone else important to him.

Eighteen months later Claire tracks him down in Hollywood where Nate is serving as a bodyguard to a rock star (the brother of the hero in What the Librarian Did). Nate and Steve and Claire had formed a family trust and now with Steve dead and Nate unreachable halfway around the world, Claire needs Nate to sign papers to revert all the property of the trust into her name. She wants to turn the dilapidated fishing boat that Nate and she went halfsies on into a charter boat business. Claire needs Nate to pay attention to their combined business matters so she can move on with her life. Nate is too busy getting “comfortably numb.”

What makes this a different kind of friends to lovers book is that neither Nate nor Claire had feelings for each other before Steve’s death. Nate looked at Claire as a true friend, but most importantly, Steve’s wife. For Claire, Nate was Steve’s brother in arms. We get a look at Claire’s past relationship with Steve. One of my favorite scenes in the book was when Claire was sharing with Jules, the fiancé of one of the members of Nate’s team that had also died in the same ambush, that Steve and Claire had been on the brink of divorce but that a letter from Steve had saved it. Claire admitted that they both wanted the marriage to be saved but that the letter was a turning point. It turned out that the letter was written by committee of Steve’s team members. They were all single and very invested in Steve’s marriage and the success of that marriage.

Claire returned, carrying a sheet of handwritten paper in a plastic sleeve. “I cried over this so much I had to protect it.” Narrowing her eyes, she thrust it across the table at Nate. “Give me an example.”

Nervously Nate glanced again at Jules and then down at the page, cursing that he’d ever raised the subject. Would this make things better or worse? He was a guy, how the hell would he know? He cleared his throat. “Okay, Steve would start with something like, ‘Without you, my life would be crap.’ We’d workshop that into…” Nate found the quote with his finger “‘—you make my life worth living.’ Trying to put a positive spin on a neg- ative statement,” he added, risking a glance at Claire.

Her expression, as she eyeballed him over the edge of the champagne flute, gave nothing away. “Lee, being our romantic, suggested some of the poetic stuff… changing ‘wife’ to ‘soul mate,’ for example.”

Claire exchanged glances with Jules but made no comment.

Nate stared at the letter, fighting that male sense of helplessness that told him nothing he did now would be right. “Okay, this line, ‘We have so much fun, in bed and out of it.’ That’s all Steve’s…except for the ‘out of it’ part. That change was group consensus—we thought it might look like Steve was being shallow.” Nate told himself to shut up now, but the continuing stony silence only increased his verbal diarrhea. “The marriage vow thing, for better or worse. I think Steve wanted to write about things having to get much worse before he gave up….” Desperately he scanned the page. “That sorta morphed into, ‘No matter what, I’m committed to you for the rest of our lives.’”

Nate could see them all now, four bearded, dust-covered young men agonizing over this damn thing while Steve paced camp, occasionally bursting out with, “It’s not frickin’ right yet…. It’s got to be right.”

A lump in his throat stopped him. He looked up. Claire had her head bowed, so did Jules. Oh, shit. Claire’s shoulders were shaking. “You’re upset,” he said helplessly.

A hoot escaped her…a hoot? She lifted her face and there were tears in her eyes. “Th-th-that’s hilarious!” The two women collapsed in paroxysms of laughter.

Nate stared at them in amazement.

“Can’t you see them?” Claire hiccuped. “Oh, Jules, can’t you just see them?”

“Right down to licking the pencil,” Jules managed to say, sending Claire into whoops again.

“It was a pen,” Nate said stonily. “And I don’t see what the hell is so funny.”

“You’re right, it’s beautiful.” With a last giggle, Claire wiped her eyes dry with a napkin. “Steve was so hopeless at this kind of stuff, and for him to do this, to lay it on the line in front of you guys…and for you all to agonize over it…” She leaned over and hugged him. “Nate, it’s sweet and funny and, well, thank you.”

When Nate discovers that Claire holds strong resentment toward Steve for constantly signing up for new tours, he makes it his mission to show Claire how much Steve loved her. As the Nate and Claire remember Steve, they help each other get over their grief and find space in their hearts for something new. Watching them both discover that newness was engaging. Nate becomes grumpy at other men finding Claire attractive, something he tells himself is a holdover of his protectiveness toward Steve. Claire realizes what other women around her acknowledge – that Nate is one very sexy guy whose endearing gruffness masques a tender heart and whose commitment to a cause or a person is never wavering. The biggest problem I had was the ending. The last few lines caused me some confusion and I wished for an epilogue. B+

Best regards,

Jane

P.S. That cover is terrible. It looks like some teenage vagabond coming home and not a sexy former SAS now turned bodyguard to the stars.

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REVIEW: Stand In Wife by Karina Bliss

REVIEW: Stand In Wife by Karina Bliss

Dear Ms. Bliss:

Sometimes I think a reader connects to a writer in ways that can’t quite be articulated.  I’ve felt that way about your work for a while so I don’t know how reliable of a recommender of your books that I am.  What I connect with is the authenticity of the characters, the fresh take on people not only falling in love but figuring out how they fit together.

This is a story about opposites: vivacious Vivienne Jansen and taciturn, wounded soldier Ross Coltrane.

Stand In Wife Karina BlissVivienne Jansen is an identical twin but she and her sister, Merry, have never been close.  Merry has always fit in and Vivienne was just a bit too colorful for the rural New Zealand farming community where she grew up.  In fact, Vivienne hated being a twin.  She sought out her own group of friends and pursued very different activities than her sister.  In her family of three children, she was the least responsible and the most flighty.  Vivienne moved away and became a very well known costumer designer for movies.  Because she’s disconnected with her family, she rarely comes home.  But when Merry calls on her for help, Vivienne flies from New York to New Zealand.  Merry has broken her leg while interviewing for a job in a city an hour south and she is afraid that if Charlie finds out she’s thinking about moving away, he’ll sue for full custody.  Thus begins the twin swap.  Vivienne pretends to be Merry only the swap is only supposed to be for a few days.  Through a set of circumstances, Vivienne is forced to pretend to be Merry for much longer of a period of time, negotiating a reconciliation with Charlie and trying to handle the tasks of being a parent to two kids (the older daughter sussing out the fraud right away).

The only thing that matters in Ross Coltrane’s life is getting back into active service with the SAS, an elite branch of the Australian military and his brother Charlie.  Unintentionally, perhaps, Ross played a big role in Charlie and Merry’s breakup.  After Merry confessed that a man at her work had kissed her, Charlie went straight to Ross who asked him whether the two were in love in anymore and perhaps subtly encouraged Charlie to leave Merry.  You can’t blame Ross.  His father remarried a bitch of a woman who absolutely treated Ross like dirt.  Ross’ view of marriage is a dim one.

Ross susses out the twin swap in fairly short order after experiencing an erotic dream about his supposed sister in law.  He’d never felt that way about Merry before but he had been attracted to her twin.  In fact, they struck sparks off each other eight years ago at Merry and Charlie’s wedding but Ross turned Vivienne’s invitation down.

Throughout the story, Ross and Merry navigate Charlie and Merry’s problems, talking about what makes a marriage work.  They’ve picked sides, of course, but because they are outsiders, they aren’t as defensive as Charlie and Merry would be.  When Ross points out that Merry didn’t allow for any mistakes, Vivienne jumps to Merry’s defense but inwardly agrees. Vivienne, herself, has always felt that Merry has impossibly high standards.  When Vivienne says that Charlie stopped paying attention to Merry, Ross disagreed but also wondered if Charlie shouldn’t try to exert himself more.

As Vivienne and Ross take up the parts of a fueding married couple, the subtext is their mutual fear of commitment.  Ross, in particular, is driven to get revenge for the loss of two of his fellow SAS brothers who died when an IED  exploded under a Dumvee he was driving.

“How do you do it, Ross? How do you make peace with death?”

“I don’t. Grief is fuel to get me where I need to be.”

“Which is Afghanistan?”

The same accident injured Ross’ leg to the point that no one but Ross believes he can ever achieve active duty status again.  Vivienne has always had a hankering for Ross but, in general, Vivienne doesn’t commit.  Primarily because no one has ever expected Vivienne to stick but the twin swap puts Vivienne through a fiery trial of responsibility and commitment.  There is a HEA in this book but it’s not a traditional one.  But it fit the characters.   Plus, these two talk to each other.  They argue.  They disagree.  The way in which they converse is proof to me that their problems won’t be brushed under the carpet.  One  will always call bullshit on the other.

Ross took off the whistle. “Tell Til I’m sorry. Take over. I thought I could put a lid on this, but I can’t. I can’t.”

“Don’t walk away,” she said. “Only you can fix this with Tilly.”

“I can’t even fix myself,” he said harshly.

Viv took a deep breath. “You know your pity party is getting really old.”

“What?”

“Life’s chosen another path for you, so suck it up and quit blaming my brother and the unit for not letting you play out your revenge fantasies,” she said brutally. “Steve’s and Lee’s deaths were tragic, but using anger to fill the void left by their passing won’t solve anything. Deal with your grief, Ross.”

His gaze met hers. “Who am I if I’m not a soldier?”

She had to dig her hands in the pockets of her sweatpants not to touch him. “You’re still a soldier,” she said crisply. “It’s only your mission that’s changed. Quit serving the Iceman’s ego and serve where you’re needed. And right now, that’s here.”

I genuinely enjoyed reading about Ross and Vivienne.  Vivienne was colorful and fun, but she had a big heart and was willing to make herself vulnerable time and again.  Ross was dedicated but he also had  a wicked and perverse sense of humor.   My biggest complaint is that I think there was a little too much going on in this short space.  Like Here Comes the Groom, I felt like the story could have used another 10,000 or so words to give us a little more private Ross and Vivienne time.   Still, maybe that is because I like the characters so much that I am loathe to let them go.  B

Best regards,

Jane

P.S. Harlequin, you have some of the most godawful titles, covers and blurbs in this line.  If there is ever a line that is SCREAMING for a makeover, it is this line.  It really needs some help.  Plus, I wouldn’t be adverse to a little more sexiness to the stories.  After all, these are all adults.

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