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C+ Reviews

REVIEW:  Taken by Storm by Kim Baldwin

REVIEW: Taken by Storm by Kim Baldwin

taken-by-storm

Lives depend on two women when a train derails high in the remote Alps, but an unforgiving mountain, avalanches, crevasses, and other perils stand between them and safety.

Associated Press reporter Hudson Mead is an extreme skiing enthusiast who has covered war zones and natural disasters during her long and distinguished career, but nothing could have prepared her for the challenges she’ll face when the snow train she’s riding is decimated by a massive avalanche.

Librarian Steffi Graham, on her first trip abroad, is anxious to hone her rock-climbing skills in a new and unfamiliar terrain of ice and snow. She gets much more than she bargained for when her talents put her on the team that goes for help.

As the two strangers struggle to reach civilization, they must compromise and learn to trust each other, a task that may be nearly as difficult as the journey itself.

Dear Ms. Baldwin,

When I read the blurb for this, I didn’t have any idea what I was actually getting into. Sure I thought I’d get an action, adventure book – avalanches, rock climbing, a bit of hiking out to safety and we’re done here. Oh no, it’s much more than that. It’s a disaster movie in print with life or death on the line for far more people than just Steffi and Hudson.

Like a good 1970s disaster film, it starts with introductions to the leading characters and their secondary backups. Steffi the cute and sexy librarian likes rock climbing while mature and sexy Hudson lives for those moments she can escape from her hard hitting reporting for some extreme skiing. We can see that their paths will cross on an Alpine train while with groups headed into the Swiss mountains for winter sports in a time of unseasonable snow. Cue ominous music.

After an airport meet-cute and some transatlantic flirting while shoe-horned into economy seats, all arrive in St. Moritz and a few new secondary characters appear on scene for a lot of pages of touristy stuff. I’d be interested in this if I had an imminent trip planned there but as it was, frankly I was getting antsy for the avalanche. When all were aboard the scenic train trip to destiny – with lots more photo ops and background information on the train – I could finally sense the danger ahead as some of the characters noticed and worried about the amount of snow coming down and building up. The ominous music in my head intensified.

The ginormous amount of snow finally came crashing down on the train and all hell breaks loose. Props for not soft peddling the extent of the damage to the train or people. Not everyone initially survives the wrenching impact and there are traumatic injuries galore. Added to this, the train is now mainly buried under feet of concrete snow, there’s no heat, little water or food, lots of blood and broken bones, no contact with the outside world which is struggling with country wide disasters. It’s time to see what these characters are made of.

Life or death situations show up a lot in romances to move emotional or physical intimacy along. Here it serves to give Hudson and Steffi a fast tract view of each other. Nothing like a disaster to strip away the layers and reveal a core identity. Hudson has dealt with this sudden, wrenching trauma during her war and disaster reporting and though most passengers step up with her, not everyone does which seems pretty true to life.

I did get annoyed that it’s mainly the Americans who end up doing the heavy lifting of saving the day both on the train and in the outside hunt for them. With an international group of people traveling in Switzerland, does this really have to be? Okay one German guy acts as a translator for what they hear on the radio but for the most part the other nationalities are cardboard. And what’s with the lack of English language skills? Not that I’m saying everyone there ought to speak English, I’m just saying most Europeans have far greater fluency in foreign languages so the pigeon language and pantomime communication seemed “off.” Plus with the action taking place where the Rega Swiss mountain rescue as well as the Swiss Air Force are located, it was ludicrous to me that an outside agency was needed to find the stranded people.

I wondered how with a bunch of people also trained in mountain sports, it would be Steffi and Hudson who end up hiking for help especially as Steffi is one of the least experienced rock climbers there. By the end it made sense as one by one the other able bodied passengers were put out of commission. It was getting to be like “Ten Little Indians” there. But believe it or not, I was actually enjoying watching everyone pull together and contribute their bit of Boy Scouts or MacGyver knowledge to the pot for the group survival.

That hike was a trip through hell finally ending after a lot of “what else could possibly go wrong” stuff. I like how Steffi and Hudson find reserves of strength and courage with each contributing what she does and knows best in order for them to survive. Each gets moments to shine and it’s a team effort all the way thus allowing them to bond, talk and quickly develop trust and an emotional base for their HEA.

Since so much time is spent on actual survival, physical intimacy doesn’t arrive until almost the end of the book where it felt almost tacked on along with the end wrap-ups that, IMO, dragged too much. This is actually one book that I would have felt fine with a vision of a bright, happy, hopeful future then a fade to black. I felt the book has good points as well as things that irritated and baffled me. The reality of the disaster is good while the emphasis on Americans is weak. Watching Steffi and Hudson get to know each other outside of sex is good while the ultimate lack of much intimacy, emotional as well as physical, until almost the end of the story was a letdown. Just a kiss or three here and there would have made the difference. I’m left scrambling for a grade that sort of evens out at a C+

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  Talk Sweetly to Me by Courtney Milan

REVIEW: Talk Sweetly to Me by Courtney Milan

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Dear Ms. Milan:

I’ve had an odd pattern with the “Brothers Sinister” series — I’ve loved every other book. Which means three books I loved in one series — not a bad record at all. This novella falls in the “like” zone. Parts of it are delightful, but it never fully jelled for me.

It’s quite common for heroes of romance novels to declare that they like women, but Women’s Free Press columnist and Victorian feminist Stephen Shaugnessy — know for his “Ask a Man” column — means it more literally than most; he likes women for their minds and souls as well as their bodies. And he’s found a woman he likes very, very much indeed — his neighbor, Miss Rose Sweetly, who works as a computer. (Literally, someone who does computations.) Enchanted by her enthusiasm for mathematics and astronomy, Stephen arranges for Rose to tutor him as a means of spending private time with her. His motives aren’t fully formed, but they’re certainly not evil:

He wasn’t planning to seduce her, not really. It would be a terrible thing for a man like him to do to a woman in Miss Sweetly’s position, and he had a very firm rule that he did not do terrible things to people in general, and to women in particular. Liking a woman–even liking her very well–was more reason to adhere to the rule, not less.

Rose may be young and a genius, but she’s no fool. She knows Stephen’s reputation as a rake, and she knows the likely outcome for a black woman and shopkeeper’s daughter if she falls for his charm. And so she resists all of Stephen’s honest efforts to tell her how he feels.

‘If I ever have you in my bed, I want you to remember yourself. I like you. There’s no point having your body if you’re not included.’

‘This–talking to you, just like this–is already the point. I like you. I like talking to you. If you don’t like me, send me off.’

That is, she tries to resist it. But it’s hard to feel nothing for a very attractive man whose interest is so genuine.

He liked people. He liked her. She suspected he’d told her the simple truth: He wasn’t trying to seduce her.

He was just succeeding at it.

The novella is short, about 90 pages in epub, but there’s room for an important subplot about Rose’s sister, who’s close to giving birth and is being treated very badly by the racist white doctor attending her. This experience is pivotal for both Rose and Stephen.

Spoiler (spoiler): Show

It shows her how dependable he is, and shows him the validity of her fears. I’m a little dubious about the end of this episode; Rose reacts to the doctor with violence, which seems both out of character and dangerous. It failed for me as an empowering moment, because I thought she only get away with it because Stephen was there to back her up, and it made me frightened for her.

I enjoyed this story most at its serious points: when Stephen feels hurt and rejected — but never fails to be eloquent — and when Rose is struggling to help her sister, and to decide what’s right for her future. The parts that failed for me were the more light-hearted courtship scenes: for example, one in which Rose has Stephen calculate the odds that he would be able to seduce her, using factors like the probability that she would be hit on the head with an anvil. It’s clever and it’s cute, and I’m damming with faint praise there…. cute rarely works for me, especially in historicals, and the cleverness feels unnatural.

I also didn’t feel the love quite as much as I wanted to, perhaps because I’m not as enamored by discussions of math and astronomy as Stephen is. Or rather, the idea is that Stephen is generally entranced by Rose’s enthusiasm and brilliance, which is certainly believable… but I didn’t connect with his feelings. This is the same issue I had with The Countess Conspiracy: I’m supposed to love the hero for loving the heroine’s brains, but somehow I just didn’t.

But though it wasn’t a perfect book for me, there was much to enjoy. Both characters have interesting backgrounds, which leads to some powerful conversations as they really get to know each other. And there is definitely a sweetness to them. C+

Sincerely,

Willaful

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