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REVIEW:  Glorious Sunset by Ava Bleu

REVIEW: Glorious Sunset by Ava Bleu

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African King Taka Olufemi has traveled over four hundred years to find the woman who holds the soul of his murdered queen and he’s a little cranky. With a ruby brooch as his vessel, the former king is forced to grant wishes to ungrateful mortals hoping to one day find, and win, the heart of his lost love. But it will take more than good looks, superior intelligence and an impressive pedigree to earn the love of Violet Jackson.

The ambitious interior designer doesn’t remember Taka or their history. Love—with its inevitable heartbreak chaser—has no place in Violet’s immediate life plan. All the handsome “genie” can do for her is pony up on the three wishes he’s promised and try not to be a pain while he’s at it.

While the arrogant king is praying for his submissive queen and the faithless object of his affection isn’t praying at all, guardian angel, Aniweto, is praying for them both. With Ani’s help, Taka and Violet’s epic love will be rekindled and this royal couple-behaving-badly will finally earn their happily-ever-after through the grace of the Almighty.

Dear Ms. Bleu,

Reading the first sentence of the blurb at our submissions site was what reeled me in and made me want to try this book. In fact, I don’t think I even waited to read the excerpt but went straight to download from there. However, soon after I started it, I almost put it down. In the prologue, Taka’s pain from his loss is enough to cause him to take a pretty harsh stance against the Almighty and in the opening chapter, Violet comes off as a woman who, as another character later says, is as mean as the day is long. But I decided to keep at it – at least for a little while longer – and see where it took me. Well the grade should show that you took these two and turned them around.

At the beginning, Violet is not an easy person to love or even like. The lady has some hard edges but she’s achieved on her own and seems to have clawed her way up to where she wants to be on her own power. I had to admire that even if there were times I was appalled at her actions and speech. At times Taka isn’t much better though he certainly thinks he is. He’s got a lot to learn for someone who has been made to live in a brooch for 400 years and only gets out occasionally. Modern mores for women to start with and how to pull his sulky lip back in when he gets thwarted for another.

Both have troubles, issues and aren’t perfect. But hey, they’re real which means at times they come across as PITAs. We none of us are perfect. Sulky as they can be, and they are, they’re also learning. Through the whole book, in fits and starts and at times false starts, they are making progress. Slowly at first but it’s coming. I would hope that this scene or chapter would be when the light bulb went off and when it didn’t, I’d be disappointed rather than annoyed – which I think is telling. I was invested in these two and really wanted them to overcome the things standing in their way to discovering themselves and each other.

Violet does an honest evaluation of her life, friends, boyfriend and job and what she’s been willing to settle for to avoid pain and disappointment. Taka is realizing that he took his wife for granted and has an overweening arrogance that sees only what he wishes rather than what’s there.

The steps towards self realization are at times painful for Taka and Violet. Humans have an infinite ability to rationalize and dismiss what we don’t want to face about ourselves and these two are no exception. You make them work for it and at times suffer for it – after all, they’ve got 400 years of pain, grief and guilt to work out – but since they’re both strong willed and more than a touch stubborn, that makes sense and in the end, the lessons learned are hard won but theirs.

After the prologue, the religious element of the story took a backseat for most of the rest of the book. But when it surfaced again, it came gushing up. Okay let me confess that Taka’s and Violet’s separate conversations and experiences with the guardian angel Aniweto and, through him/her, with God had me sniffling by the end. It’s hard for me to recall reading a more powerful representation of God’s infinite love for his children – even in the face of them acting stupid – and wish for them to choose wisely of their free will than this book. It’s not preachy at all but full of such acceptance and love that I felt deeply moved even after finishing the book.

To present two such flawed characters and yet manage to also show their fears and frailties while still getting me on their side to root for them is quite a feat. I love that in the end, Violet still has her sass – which Taka adores – and her curves – which he also loves, while Taka still has his pride and intelligence but without a bit of the arrogance. Yes, I had my doubts but in the end they won me over. B

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart

REVIEW: The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart

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It’s all a grand adventure when Christy Mansel unexpectedly runs into her cousin Charles in Damascus. And being young, rich, impetuous, and used to doing whatever they please, they decide to barge in uninvited on their eccentric Great-Aunt Harriet—despite a long-standing family rule strictly forbidding unannounced visits. A strange new world awaits Charles and Christy beyond the gates of Dar Ibrahim—”Lady Harriet’s” ancient, crumbling palace in High Lebanon—where a physician is always in residence and a handful of Arab servants attends to the odd old woman’s every need.

But there is a very good—very sinister—reason why guests are not welcome at Dar Ibrahim. And the young cousins are about to discover that, as difficult as it is to break into the dark, imposing edifice, it may prove even harder still to escape . . .

Dear Readers,

I’ve been trying to think back over my Mary Stewart reading history and remember which was the book of hers I started with. There was a wire paperback book rack in my high school library with almost all of her (then) books on it and I think it was this groovy cover that caught my eye. I mean really, that dress. But it does show that this is a 1967 book which turns out to be important to the story.

It might be nostalgia coloring my view but this is another darn good effort from Stewart which plunks the reader down in the (then) exotic locals of Syria and Lebanon back in the days before the Lebanese Civil War turned Beirut from the “Paris of the Middle East” into a battleground. The detailed descriptions of the settings are enough to put you right there though this time around I felt that perhaps Stewart did go on a bit in cataloging the flora and geological scenery. How many ways do you need to describe scrub bushes, barren rocks and the heat?

Having said that, other descriptions in the book are magical. The run-in Christy and Charles have on a narrow souk street involving a taxi, a donkey, several small children and some bolts of garish silk tells you exactly where in the world the book opens. I loved Christy’s view of Charles’s Porsche pride and joy “blah blah, McPherson Struts, blah blah, dampers. blah blah blah.” The truly over-the-top Seraglio gardens would probably have dazzled even Cecil B DeMille and the scenery directors at Warner Bros.

I don’t want to give away the ultimate reason for the elaborate plot conflict but suffice it to say that the location, age old practices and the mores of the 1960s ought to give you a pretty good idea. As is usual with Stewart books, clues are laid out along the way but the whole is needed before they all slot into place and form the complete picture.

Christy is a bit more cosmopolitan than past Stewart heroines but still retains some veddy, veddy British characteristics such as her “but I shouldn’t be stopped at the border” superior attitude when the Syrian guards won’t let her back into the country from Lebanon despite lots of (slightly self important) arguing. She does have moments of the usual Stewart heroine naiveté at times yet is also more “pushy” due to being raised with all that lovely family lucre. But without this moneyed attitude, she would never have set the plot ball rolling nor would Charles have insisted on his due visit with Auntie.

the gabriel houndsHow this book is different, I think, is that Charles and Christy perceive they’re up against obstacles early on and plunge on anyway in the face of them just because they can and they aren’t used to being told no. Christy even gets a touch sulky at times and (almost) earns the sobriquet one villain gives her of “silly bitch.”

Charles and Christy soldier on in the face of all opposition because at heart they’re concerned for their aunt and determined to do the right thing. Christy does make mistakes but to me they’re forgivable due to the way Stewart arranges what Christy is allowed to see and gives her plausible interpretations of those things.

Since the book is told in first person, we know all about Christy and since she’s a bit obsessed with cousin Charles, we learn a lot about him too. However I think the character I enjoyed the most is their Great Aunt Harriet. The Mansel family is eccentric as a whole but Great Aunt H has set the bar to stratospheric levels. For years she’s roundly told off the family in her annual Will letters in addition to complaining about the flimsiness of the paper used in the overseas editions of The Times. And let’s face it, you’ve got to have some chutzpah to model yourself on Lady Hester Stanhope and get away with it.

As I mentioned earlier, once the plot is all laid out and tied together, it makes perfect sense. The book ends in a blaze of glory with each person getting his or her due and in a way that will burnish the legend of Great Aunt H for years to come. One of the most comedic noir scenes, and the one that has stuck with me for years, occurs near the end as Christy and Charles “mind the pigeons” in the Seraglio – though not, perhaps the mice and rats, and then get mistaken by some (snooty) British tourists for locals. The feather in the cap of the book, however, is Great Aunt H’s final present to Charles and Christy. Yeah, it’s not quite as good as some other books in the Stewart oeuvre but I still enjoyed it again. B

~Jayne

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