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REVIEW:  Snow-Kissed by Laura Florand

REVIEW: Snow-Kissed by Laura Florand

Snow Kissed Laura Florand

Snow Kissed Laura Florand [Contemporary - Novella] ( A | BN | K | S | G )

Sunita

Dear Ms. Florand:

When you offered me this book for review, you warned me that it might be a bit too angsty for me, given my preferences. And Snow-Kissed was definitely an angsty read. But despite that, I found myself engaged by the characters and the story, and I read the novella in one sitting. I can’t say the book worked for me on an emotional level (with one exception), but I thought it was well executed and largely succeeded at what it was trying to do. I liked it enough to recommend it to DA’s readers, but I worried about being able to do it justice in a review given my somewhat cerebral reaction. Luckily, Willaful found that she connected with its emotions, and she suggested we do a joint review with a twist: Introducing our Head/Heart review of Snow-Kissed!

 

Willaful
Warning: I’m going to take base advantage of writing the “heart” review and let myself get as self-indulgent as I wanna be, starting with my soundtrack for the book. Although it’s set during Christmas, I could not stop thinking of Dar Williams’ “February”:

And February was so long that it lasted into March

And found us walking a path alone together.

You stopped and pointed and you said, “That’s a crocus,”

And I said, “What’s a crocus?” and you said, “It’s a flower,”

I tried to remember, but I said, “What’s a flower?”

You said, “I still love you.”

(A digression: my interpretation of this song was always that the relationship ended, but a youtube comment suggests that it was reborn instead. It turns out that’s the way my husband, the eternal optimist, has always interpreted it. Anyway, that makes it fit the story even better. )

A man paints powdered sugar snow on a woman’s body and licks it off… it sounds like a classic sexy scene from one of the charming “Amour et Chocolat” books. Except this man is in deadly earnest as he melts sugar and tries to melt the ice around his wife’s heart. Kurt and Kai have been separated for over a year, after Kai’s third miscarriage drove her into a grief too intense to be shared, and she left him. Now she’s holed up in a cabin, trying to lose herself in her work as a food stylist, only to find herself snowed in with the one person she can’t bear to be with:

She had so hoped that she had reach a point where she could — see him. Where all that long process of coming to peace with herself and her losses would be strong enough to withstand a glimpse of him. But all of her, every iota of strength and peace, had dissolved into pain and longing the instant she saw him step out of his car, a flake of snow catching on his hair.

Kai has worked hard to turn her overpowering feelings into something calm, “a slushy of grief that lay cold in her middle but no longer spilled out at every wrong movement, every careless glimpse of happy couples of children laughing in a park.” Being frozen hurts less than feeling. But it’s impossible to stay frozen around someone who whose love can cut her so deeply.

Her stomach tightened as if he had just pierced it with some long, strange, beautiful shard of ice. Kurt. Don’t take care of me. You always did that so, so — the ice shard slid slowly through her inner organs, slicing, hurting — well.

Cutting ice, a frozen heart… all clues to the inspiration for this story. The parallels are fairly subtle though (unlike Florand’s The Chocolate Rose, which I thought suffered from sticking too closely to its source.) I wasn’t even sure it was deliberate until I happened to think about Florand’s use of names in previous books — Jolie for the “Beauty” in The Chocolate Rose, Magalie, the heavily guarded Pearl of The Chocolate Kiss, and then it hit me – of course, her name is Kai. Kai, the boy with evil glass in his eye and his heart… no longer able to see what is true and beautiful… saved by the tears of the girl who loved him.

My mom telling me that story is one of my earliest memories, and I’ve always been drawn to adaptations of it (The Snow Queen by Joan Vinge is wonderful) so that might be one of the reasons I fell so hard for this. I’m also pretty much the perfect audience for it: not only do I live for emotional reads, but I’ve shared many experiences with Kai (but have some distance and closure so it’s not too raw) and know how exactly right Florand gets everything. What it’s like to not be able to have the one thing you want more than anything, what it’s like to have your body fail at its most basic task, with reminders of that failure everywhere, what it’s like to have a grief you can’t share with the person whom you love the most. I remember browsing through a book and coming across the phrase, “a miscarriage is the loneliest grief in the world,” and bursting into tears right there in the library stacks.

So I couldn’t help but love this for expressing those emotions so truly and beautifully. (I don’t have quite the same personal connection to Kurt’s point of view, but I felt it was equally honest and moving.) And it caught me in other ways as well. With the stakes so high, the sex scenes have a thrilling intensity:

Her own body didn’t know which would win, his tension or his gentleness. Such a tantalizing knife’s edge. She wanted to fall on both sides.

Oh, but that would cut her right in two. She would never get the pieces of herself back again.

And even amidst the angst there are playful and funny moments and tender sharing and — after all miss, this is Florand — wonderful food.

And most of all, there’s romance at its strongest and most powerful, as Kai discovers how intensely Kurt loves her and how real that love is. Snow-Kissed is obviously about grief and loss and their effects on the spirit, and it’s a beautifully done, insightful portrayal. But at its deepest heart it’s about love, the true, devoted, thick and thin kind of love — not uncritical, slavish adoration, which passes for it in a lot of romance, but love that is honest and clear-sighted, sometimes angry, yet unconditional.

Here’s what my head says about the book: the writing is perhaps overly lush in the first chapter or so — it loosens up as the story arc does — and gets repetitious in the middle section. I was leaning towards a lesser grade because of those issues. And then I got to the ending, the absolutely-perfect-exactly-what-I-needed-ending, and I knew this could only be an A.

Sunita

The first couple of pages, with their lush, expressive prose, told me I was in for an emotional ride, and I was pretty sure I wasn’t the right reader/reviewer. But despite my instinctive withdrawal from the intense emotional atmosphere, I kept reading, because even though I felt outside the target audience, the book was drawing me in. Kai’s voice was compelling, and when Kurt showed up, I had to read on. It’s an odd sensation to read a romance book from the outside, so to speak, because of all the genres, romance is the one where emotional engagement seems the most important. But I didn’t want to DNF the book, even though I wasn’t entirely sure why.

The food-related scenes and metaphors that set the stage were a little too plentiful for me, but I think that readers who enjoy impassioned atmosphere will find them compelling. Once Kai and Kurt started interacting, I settled into a reading groove. Kurt is very much in the style of Florand’s other heroes, not a copycat of any of his predecessors, but clearly related. The way he controlled and restrained his unhappiness made a great foil for Kai and helped provide balance for me as I read.

And the sex scenes? Oh, they are something. They were uncomfortable to read at times, because you know these two have a long, hard road to even an HFN, and sex between people who love each other but aren’t sure they can be together is so wrenching and bittersweet. I blogged a little while ago about closed-door romances and how I hope they aren’t going away, but this story is Exhibit A for what we missed when those were the norm. I’m not sure that what is communicated in these scenes, and the way the plot and relationship develop, could have been conveyed without them.

The novella is intensely focused on Kai and Kurt, which works well both in terms of the story development and the word count constraints. Kurt’s mother Anne, plays an important off-page role, and I really liked the way Florand integrated her role as mother and mother-in-law. She starts out sounding like Martha Stewart but the context in which her actions take place add an unexpectedly rich dimension to the story and remind us how often intimate tragedies extend beyond the immediate people who go through them.

I said that this was mostly a head-focused reading experience for me, but I also mentioned there was an exception, so here’s the heart part of my review: I haven’t been in either Kai or Kurt’s position, but I know what it’s like to be a couple’s only child by default and bad fortune rather than by choice. Coming at it from that history and experience, many years later, this book really rang true for me. Grade: B+

 

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REVIEW:  Ritual Magic by Eileen Wilks

REVIEW: Ritual Magic by Eileen Wilks

Dear Ms. Wilks,

It’s not often that I’m tempted to write a love letter to the author of a book. Oh, I’ve had my fair share of books that make me deliriously happy when I read them, leading to reverent petting of the book cover and a special place on the “will read again” shelf. There’ve even been a few books that have convinced me to go sample the author’s backlist, mining for a gem similar to the one I just read. But never, ever, have I read the latest book in a new-to-me series and had the urge to beg, borrow and steal to get all of the previous books.

Ritual Magic Eileen WilksFBI agent Lily Yu has been through hell and back (literally) with her mate, Rule Turner, and their small army of friends and family members. Now they face their greatest test of all – the wedding. While wedding planning is stressful for just about any bride, it’s a nightmare for Lily, made worse by her critical and overbearing mother, Julia. Unfortunately, shortly before the big day, Lily’s mother is attacked by an unknown foe and suffers a memory loss that regresses her, mentally, back to age twelve. Even worse, similar symptoms show up in dozens of others, with no discernible connection to Julia. It’s up to Rule, Lily, Cullen and their unlikely band of lupi and magical compatriots to separate fact from fiction, friend from foe and get to the bottom of the mystery while keeping their souls intact.

While an incredible read, the book didn’t quite stand by itself – there were quite a few concepts and people that popped up leaving me scratching my head and flipping back pages, trying to figure out where they fit in to the master plan. A glossary and cast of characters would have been incredibly helpful in the first quarter of the book. Though, while the questions were mildly annoying, they weren’t enough to take me out of the story, and certainly not enough to have me putting the book aside. As the plot unfolded, you did an amazing job of seamlessly integrating events from the previous books so that things started making more sense. I think, though, that going back through the other books in the series could only enhance this one – and wouldn’t detract in any way from the experience.

I’m used to romantic protagonists being plagued by all manner of drama and misunderstandings, but this story didn’t revolve around anything like that. In fact, the characters showed amazing compassion and understanding toward each other – a gentle sweetness that was a beautiful counterpoint to the chaos surrounding them. There were no questions about their love for each other – not from a reader perspective, and not from a character perspective, even when everything in the world was in question. They managed to reach that absolute balance between “I” and “We.” It’s very rare to find a couple that works so perfectly as a team, complimenting each other even when there are disagreements as to methods.

Something held tight inside him unclenched. The sudden loss of tension left a dull smear of pain in its wake. His closed eyes stung. He’d needed this. Needed her, and now she was here. They leaned into each other. He inhaled deliberately, breathing her in.

Lily was neither lupus nor Rho, but she was responsible for her own control. No one could or should attempt to usurp that, no matter how much he loved her and how certain he was that she needed to let go. To let herself fall into tears or rage or whatever lay on the other side of the walls she’d put up.

The insertion of dark humor is not only welcome, but utterly appropriate to the setting. When dealing with difficult situations, including those surrounding events the rational mind and “normal” human beings can’t fully comprehend, sometimes dark, sometimes inappropriate humor lightens the mood and provides just enough distance to keep the issues from becoming utterly overwhelming – they highlight the ridiculous as a coping mechanism. And sometimes, even paranormal humans succumb to the occasional banalities.

The floor was finished, at least—and hadn’t that been a hassle, deciding what to use! Lily had leaned toward bamboo. Rule had been torn between the beauty of a dark-stained hardwood and the practicality of carpet, which offered better traction to a wolf’s paws. In the end, they’d gone with stained and polished concrete. It looked great, was highly customizable, and wouldn’t get scratched up by anyone’s claws.

In summation, this beautiful book was filled with an ephemeral blend of spicy romance, adrenaline-pounding action sequences, and a true, deep examination of human, and parahuman, emotion done in such a way as to be balanced rather than overwhelming. Thank you for the perfect escape and a novel I’m thrilled to hug to my chest happily. My arms are going to get crowded from trying to cuddle the whole series. B+

Mary Kate

In an effort to provide more coverage of paranormal romance and historical romance, I’ve been searching for additional reviewers.  Mary Kate is one of a couple we are going to try out here at Dear Author.  From Mary Kate:

As a reader who’s old enough to know better and young enough to not care, I’ve breezed through the gamut of everything books have to offer. As a child, I used to spend summer days happily ensconced in one of the Philadelphia public libraries, reading everything and anything I could get my hands on, thanks to the love and support of my parents and aunts – teachers, mothers and/or librarians all. One aunt started me with Nancy Drew books (whose pages are worn from hundreds of re-reads) while another thought I needed introduced to C.S. Lewis’s land of Narnia. By the time I was 8, I’d read everything the library’s children’s section had to offer and had “graduated” to the adult room downstairs. Fortunately for my very supportive parents’ sanity, I didn’t discover romances until college. My days are currently spent working in law enforcement (dispatchers unite!), working with first responders, and trying to dig my writer/editor/reviewer husband out from his latest pile of books. I’m a devoted fan of all manner of romance (though I prefer my romance to have a hint of laughter and self-awareness), mysteries, and urban fantasy.

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