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CLASSIC REVIEWS: Born in Fire, Born in Ice, Born in Shame by Nora Roberts

CLASSIC REVIEWS: Born in Fire, Born in Ice, Born in Shame...

Dear Ms. Roberts:

BIFYour book Irish Thoroughbred began my deep and abiding love of romance. In the mid-90′s, I began buying every single book I could put my hands on that you’d written. My keeper shelves are full of your work. So much so, that it’s difficult for me to choose a favorite series or work. But time and again, when I’m jonesing for a re-read, I go back to your “Born In Trilogy”. Your Irish set novels are some of my favorites, as I think you have such an amazing hand at creating a sense of place. Not to mention your Irish heroes are among my favorites. And the heroines in this trilogy epitomize what Sarah from SmartBitches calls “competence porn”.  This weekend, I was casting about for something to read and happened upon an omnibus version of your Born In trilogy and decided, why the heck not? These mini-reviews are intended to entice readers who perhaps haven’t given this trilogy a shot to try them.

In Born in Fire, we meet Margaret Mary Concannon, daughter of perpetual dreamer, Tom Concannon. Maggie is an artist, a Venice trained glass blower who creates quite literally from sand beautiful work that is gaining a small bit of traction beyond County Clare in Ireland where she lives. Fiery and passionate, moody and difficult, Maggie spends her days in her glass house working the glass, and her evenings with her sister, Brianna, who owns a small B&B nearby. At the beginning of the book, Tom suddenly dies while with Maggie on the cliffs looking over the sea. Tom’s loss is devastating and leaves behind Maggie and Bri’s mother, Maeve, a bitter, cold woman who was always very clear with her daughters that one was born of sin (she was pregnant with Maggie when she got married) and one of duty. She’s never let them forget that she threw away all of her hopes and dreams due to the religious beliefs that “forced” her to remain married to Tom, a man who was always cooking up another money-making scheme and generally losing money in the process. Maggie barely tolerates her mother, but it’s Bri who has the care of her. Tom supported both of his daughters and paid for Maggie to go to Venice to follow her dream of becoming a glass blower.

Unbeknownst to Maggie, her work has come to the attention of Rogan Sweeney, owner of WorldWide Galleries, a renowned gallery that has launched the careers of some of the most talented artists in the world. His grandmother bought the first piece of Maggie’s glass, and once he’s seen it, nothing will do but to sign her to WorldWide. Maggie wants absolutely nothing to do with Rogan. She won’t take his calls, hanging up each time he contacts her. She’s hostile to all overtures from him – she won’t be handled. Finally, Rogan decides to travel to County Clare to beard the lion in her den. From the moment he meets her, they clash, despite their very obvious attraction. Rogan is proper and uptight, conscious of decorum and an accomplished and tactful businessman. Maggie is rude and temperamental, and has absolutely no interest in selling her art. Rogan cajoles, argues and finally convinces Maggie to sign with WorldWide. He knows that he can never act on their attraction. She’s now a client. But the more time they spend together, the more he wants her.

Rogan is a traditionalist down to his core, and Maggie is impulsive and wild. She’s decided that at some point, she’s going to have Rogan, if for no other reason than to mess up his hair and his sense of propriety. Rogan informs her that traditionally, the man makes the first move, leading to this exchange, among my favorites in the book:

“And what of it? Oh, I know your type.” Contempt colored her tone. “You like a woman to sit quietly by, mooning a bit, catering to your whims, to be sure, and hoping, while her romantic heart beat desperately in her breast, that you’ll look twice in her direction. She’ll be proper as a saint in public, never a sour word slipping through her rosy lips. Then, of course, when you’ve decided on what time and that place, she’s to transform herself into a veritable tiger, indulging your most prurient fantasies until the light switches on again and she turns into a door-stop.”

Rogan waited to be sure she’d run down, then hid a smile in his brandy. “That sums it up amazingly well.”

“Jackass.”

“Shrew,” he said pleasantly.

Oh, I love them. They have such wonderful chemistry and are so much more nuanced than you expect when you start reading. Rogan is not just a sexist, traditional pig. He truly admires Maggie’s talent, her fire and her passion. And Maggie has deep depths of fear and love and affection that she can’t recognize until Rogan begins to woo her. Their romance is volatile and flat out entertaining as hell.

In Born in Ice, Brianna Concannon has achieved her dream. She operates a small, well respected B&B, made from her childhood home. She’s known for a graciousness and the BIIattention and care she showers upon each of her guests. She lives in solitude, now that Maggie has moved their difficult mother to a home of her own, with her wolfhound, Concobar. It is there that she meets Grayson Thane, a paying guest who will be staying for an extended period with her while he writes a book. Gray is American and writes bestselling mysteries which are often made into movies. He’s easy going and kind and immediately attracted to the beautiful yet reserved Brianna.

Brianna is discombobulated by the handsome and nosy American. He asks all sorts of rude questions and due to the fact that he’s in the house for an extended period is witness to a number of family dramas that she wishes no one would know about. He has no boundaries whatsoever, making himself completely at home in her inn. Brianna is torn between dismay and delight that this handsome man has shown such an interest in her. She’s had only one love in her life, Rory, who left her quite publicly, practically at the altar. She feels that she’s known as “Poor Brianna Concannon”  most of the time, and is tired of the pity and sad looks people get when they speak about her. All she’s ever wanted is to get married and have children, but after Rory’s betrayal, she’s not found the right person, and is unlikely to in the tiny village where they live. That is, until Grayson.

In the midst of all of this, Brianna cleans out the attic in her home and finds love letters written to her father that have been secreted away. Brianna is shocked to find that her father experienced great love, but that he stayed with her mother out of loyalty to vows he never should have taken and to his children. She’s blown away to discover that his love, Amanda’s last letter discloses that she became pregnant during their affair. Maggie and Brianna have a sibling somewhere. She asks Rogan to initiate a search, which he does.

This is one of my very favorite Nora’s, and if I’m being honest, the one I flipped to first within the omnibus that I read. I love Brianna’s reserve, and admire her extreme competence. I love how Grayson continues to get in her way, nudging, nudging, until she finally falls in love with him. It’s a wonderful fantasy, he sweeps her away to the United States for a movie premier. He buys her gifts, and as he woos her, he woos the reader. But they both know that he’s leaving. He’s a nomad, staying in one place long enough to write a book and then moving on to where the wind takes him. They both know that their time together is short. Brianna resigns herself to the idea that that time is all that she deserves, and refuses to ask Gray to stay. Gray is leaving because it’s what he does. And so he goes:

The pain came so quickly, so fiercely, she nearly staggered under it. Blindly she stumbled back into the bedroom, sat on the bed, and burying her face in the towels, wept.

Gray could hear her crying as he came up the stairs. It was a wild sound of grieving that stunned him, made him slow his pace before he faced it.

From the doorway he saw her, rocking herself for comfort, with her face pressed into towels.

Not cool, he thought, or controlled. Not levelheaded.

He rubbed his hands over his own face, scraping away some of the travel fatigue and guilt.

“Well,” he said in an easy voice, “you sure as hell had me fooled.”

As I said, this is among my very favorite Nora’s ever. Grayson and Brianna are a beautiful couple and one that you root for from the beginning.

BISIn Born in Shame, the Concannon sisters have finally located Amanda Bodine, the woman Tom Concannon had his ill-fated affair with – the mother of their sister, Shannon. When their letter finally reaches Shannon, she’s just buried her mother, who died shortly after the man she believed to be her father for her entire life. Shannon is betrayed and devastated by the news that her father is, in fact, not her father. When she receives Brianna’s letter extending an invitation to County Clare, she immediately resolves that she won’t go. But after ruminating on it, she finds that she can’t stay away. She’ll leave her very successful job as a Creative Director at a top PR firm and  go for a two week holiday, meet the women who are her blood sisters and leave. She arrives in Ireland with a huge chip on her shoulder, which is aggravated by Maggie’s brash personality. But she’s agreed to be there for two weeks and even her snotty older sister isn’t going to run her off. Among the first people meet is Murphy Muldoon, neighbor to Brianna and Maggie. He grew up as practically a sibling to both girls and is for all intents and purposes family. He is bowled over when he meets Shannon:

The vision stood in the doorway, watching through cool and glorious green eyes. Her skin was like the alabaster he’d read of, and looked as soft as fresh milk. Her hair shone as it followed the lines of her face to sweep the chin that was lifted high.

The fairy queen, was all he could think. And the spell was on him.

“Oh, Shannon.” A flush heated Brianna’s cheeks as she spotted her half sister. How much had she heard? Brianna wondered. And how to handle it? “Tea’s nearly ready. I thought we’d have it in here. I’ll serve the guests in the parlor.”

“The kitchen’s fine.” She’d heard plenty, and would take time to decide just how to handle it herself. Just now her attention was focused on the man who was gaping at her as though he’d never seen a female before.

“Shannon Bodine, this is our good friend and neighbor Murphy Muldoon.”

“How do you do?

Coherent speech seemed to have deserted him. He nodded, only dimly aware that he probably resembled a slow-witted fool.

“Murphy, would you tell the others tea’s ready?” When she received no response, Brianna glanced up at him. “Murphy?”

“What?” He blinked, cleared his throat, shuffled. “Aye. I’ll tell them.” He tore his eyes from the vision and stared blankly at Brianna. “Tell who what?”

You see, Murphy has been dreaming of Shannon for years. He’s dreamed of her in The Dance, the local standing stones, crying as he rode away from her on a horse. She’s the one he’s been waiting for. He’d told his mother years before that he was awaiting his woman, and he’d know her when he saw her. And there she is, standing in Brianna’s kitchen discussing tea. He immediately begins a pursuit of Shannon. Shannon is attracted, but only in Ireland for two weeks. She’s just left a relationship by mutual consent and she has no interest in getting involved with anyone, let alone having a holiday fling. But Murphy persists. He knows not just that he’s attracted, but he knows this is the woman he’s to spend his entire life with.

While Shannon is fighting her attraction to Murphy, she decides to paint some of the local flavor. She’s always been an artist, but puts that creativity to work mostly in her career. But this vacation allows her the chance to indulge her creative side even more. She first paints the Dance, where Murphy tells her they’ve met before. As soon as Rogan lays eyes on the painting, he knows that Shannon is a special talent and nothing will do but he sign her to WorldWide Galleries. All of a sudden, Shannon has family in Ireland, a romance in Ireland, and a budding career in Ireland. She’s overwhelmed and trying desperately to control a situation that seems to be spinning out of her control. As her romance with Murphy intensifies and her creative juices continue to flow, will she be able to let go of her tightly controlled life and make a leap of faith and of love?

I love this book so, so much! Shannon is so cool and calm at first, but as the reader gets to know her, they realize the deep wells of emotion that she feels and her very real fear about all that is happening to her. Murphy on the other hand is this wonderful beta hero. He’s a seemingly simple man, but one who knows just exactly what he wants. And while he respects Shannon’s talent and her drive, he has absolutely no plans to give up the woman he loves. It’s a charming tale, with a tiny bit of paranormal thrown in to sweeten the tale.

The entire trilogy is a really fabulous read. Full of interesting characters and a charming locale. It is one of my all time favorite contemporary series and stands up pretty well, though it was originally published in the mid-90′s. I can’t recommend it enough. It should be widely available either in e-Book format or at used book stores. If you’re looking for great beach reading, this is just the ticket!

Sincerely,

Kati

 

 

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REVIEW:  Almost like being in love by Steve Kluger

REVIEW: Almost like being in love by Steve Kluger

9780060595838

A high school jock and nerd fall in love senior year, only to part after an amazing summer of discovery to attend their respective colleges. They keep in touch at first, but then slowly drift apart.
Flash forward twenty years.

Travis and Craig both have great lives, careers, and loves. But something is missing …. Travis is the first to figure it out. He’s still in love with Craig, and come what may, he’s going after the boy who captured his heart, even if it means forsaking his job, making a fool of himself, and entering the great unknown. Told in narrative, letters, checklists, and more, this is the must-read novel for anyone who’s wondered what ever happened to that first great love.

Review:

Dear Steve Kluger,

I first read this book three or four years ago and ever since it has remained on my top ten lists of favorite m/m/gay romances. Not all books manage to stay on my favorites list because new and better ones come along, but your book is still there.

The blurb states it but I want to say it again – the story is not told in a regular narrative style. I am not sure if it can be called an epistolary novel, because it does not only consist of letters. It has clips from imaginary newspaper articles, diary entries, memos that characters would write to their employees and letters to friends. This is how the story is told, and if such a style does not work for you, you will not like this book. Otherwise I highly recommend buying this one the moment you finish reading this review.

The first chapter introduces us to your seemingly standard characters from YA gay romance – jock and nerd. Despite the way story is written, I thought the book managed to convey both guys’ thoughts extremely well and from the very beginning I was intrigued by both of them. They become friends who want to know more about each other and learn more and more about each other, until they realize that they are in love with each other. They get to their first kiss as Craig describes it to us:

“I kissed him, I fucking kissed him. First our noses touched and then I kissed him.
I shouldn’t have smoked the joint. I knew that was a mistake! But what else can you do when you’re playing catch and it starts to pour? If there hadn’t been one of those metal arch things with the benches underneath, it never would have happened – we’d have jogged back to school, wet and unkissed. This was a conspiracy!”

We learn that the guys had an amazing summer together after they graduated high school but eventually drifted apart because they went to different colleges.
However, instead of continuing the story chronologically, the second chapter flashes forward twenty years to 1998 and we are now introduced to Travis as a college professor. I hope this can give you a little glimpse of Travis as a history college professor.

“ BOOK PROPOSAL.
“Alexander Hamilton and the Designated Hitter”.
Issue: Once we’d won our independence from the Crown, how were we going to set up the House?
Objective: proving that the baseball and the United States Constitution were founded on the same set of rules, as outlined in the Federal papers by Alexander Hamilton”

The whole book proposal is a bit more detailed, so if you end up reading a book, you will get to read it in the longer form, but I think the topic alone gives a good glimpse at Travis’ personality.

After that chapter we meet Craig, who in the year 1998 is an attorney in a small private practice and who seems to have a passion for changing the world around him. Craig also seems to credit Travis for instilling in him the desire to change the world. Craig is also with Clayton, who I fell for probably faster than I fell for both Craig and Travis. Clayton is just such a nice guy, someone who suffered an abusive childhood and is scared now that people whom he loves will leave him. As an aside, I have read so many m/m romances where the heroes had abusive childhoods and I am yet to see many stories where the writer spends so few words describing it and invoking the sympathy for Clayton right away as opposed to writing many pages full of angsty storytelling.

“But nobody needed to be loved more than my boyfriend did. When the father he’d idolized had found out his kid liked men, he’d thrown him out of the house bodily. (“You make me sick,” he’d said, slamming the door on his only son.). Clayton never sufficiently recovered, especially after old man died. Instead, he inherited a legacy that became his trademark: If it looks like they’re going to dump you, beat them to it. It saves a lot of wear and tear on the heart. So I never allowed our skirmishes to get in the way for too long”

As much as the style allows, the chapters switch between Craig and Travis (and those characters who they communicate with, like Craig’s boyfriend Clayton, Travis’ friend Gordon, and so on).

We learn that Travis cannot find a boyfriend who will satisfy his “Boyfriend checklist” (a hilarious one, but it is really hard to quote stuff from this book because so much of it is not in a regular format and this checklist alone takes three pages in the book). He eventually realizes that he never forgot Craig and starts a crazy adventure of trying to find Craig and see if the love they shared can be rekindled twenty years later.

“Okay, maybe he doesn’t need a psychopathic history professor showing up from the Twilight Zone, and maybe he won’t even like me anymore. But he still has my heart – and if he is not using it, I want it back. Otherwise I’m going to go on loving him for the rest of my life. And there’s not a damned thing either of us can do about it.
Somehow I never got around telling him that.”

Travis eventually finds Craig, I do not think I will spoil anything by telling you this, but the little complication is that Craig, while not being able to forget Travis altogether is also genuinely in love with Clayton, who as I said before is a kind, generous soul. I will not tell you what happens, but there is a happy ending for everybody. I can tell you that amongst many other things that I think Steve Kluger did so well, this book completely spoiled me for the resolution of the love triangle. I hate love triangles in most stories, especially if everybody is good people, because I do not want to see anybody broken hearted. I sigh happily every time I reread the ending of this book.

I also think that this story mixed humor and serious things really well – as the reader learns about the lives Craig and Travis lived apart for twenty years we of course hear about the AIDS epidemic for example. How could we not hear about it, since it affected them and their friends so much? But I never felt that the writer used a heavier touch describing it than the rest of the book and for me it worked perfectly.

I have to admit, I think everything worked perfectly for me in this book. The characters I can never forget and want to imagine that they are living their lives helping people around them. The writing style, the humor, I liked it all.

Grade : A

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