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REVIEW:  The First Boy I Loved by Cheryl Reavis

REVIEW: The First Boy I Loved by Cheryl Reavis

first-boy

Vietnam took her first love away from her. Now it may take her next love, too.

After her husband dies, Gillian Warner realizes how many sorrows she carries inside her, including unresolved grief over her first love, who died in Vietnam decades earlier. Haunted by his death in combat and a tangled web of guilty secrets, she books a guided trip to the battle site. The tours are led by cynical Vietnam War vet A.J. Donegan, who makes his living taking naïve Americans on what he calls Guilt Trips, Inc. If they’re looking for peace of mind, they can forget it. A prickly attraction sparks between Gillian and Donegan, with neither able to let go of the past without the other’s provocative challenge. In a test of willpower and desire, they’ll have to share much more than a journey to a place and a memory; they’ll have to travel deep inside the walls they’ve built around their hearts.

Dear Ms. Reavis,

I periodically read your website to check what books you’ve got coming out and remember reading about this one years ago. Then came lots of waiting. Many other books were released but not this one. So I waited some more and had almost given up on ever getting my hands on it when I saw it listed at netgalley. Yes, finally! – cue excited squees.

I have a soft spot for older couples finding love, especially if they’ve loved and lost before. Donegan and Gilly both qualify for that description. However since they also both came of age during the Vietnam War (or the American War as the Vietnamese know it) both also have war wounds and must hang on to each other as they veer and stagger towards healing and peace.

I laughed at the way these two interact. They are honest past superficial, time wasting manners with each other. Neither pussy foots around with bullshitting but cuts to the chase. Gilly reminds me of many no-nonsense nurses I know – they have heart, care deeply and are dedicated to their patients but they see right through any subterfuge and will call you on it in an instant. Donegan is like many veterans I have met – blunt and direct. They compliment each other despite their different professions.

While I’m not quite of this age I am close enough to remember a lot of it. The nightly news with Walter Cronkite giving the days totals of dead and wounded, the protests, the songs. The war – by whatever name – still haunts and scars people from both nations and will for their lifetimes. The vets have their stories they won’t tell and the sisterhood of grieving women still mourn, as women have always done when men go to war. The scene of the Vietnamese village women and Gillian letting the dam burst on their emotions was moving and powerful.

I enjoyed seeing Saigon and Vietnam as they are and were with the centuries side by side and overlapping. Donegan shows Gilly the real Saigon and the real Vietnam in all its beauty and ugliness. The proof of the ugliness is in what haunts him the most and the secret he finally reveals to Gilly. The beauty – it’s all around them and in the people they meet and share memories, grief and time with.

The book is filled with wonderful characters – some of whom are mere pencil sketches but what lifelike drawings they are. Madame An who made her French lover learn Vietnamese and now runs a 5 star restaurant and caters Donegan’s coffee. Dr. Nguyen who cares for orphans but still dislikes Americans because the American War killed her father, Mrs. Tran who survived the war and found and new husband and a new life on her boat, the women of Binh Duong who live their pain and the results of Agent Orange.

It’s painful. It’s funny. It’s a trip back in time and a time for healing or at least a start at it. There are things in their pasts which might not ever be resolved but part of life is accepting what can’t be changed and dealing with the grief and pain. The ending is more than HFN but not quite a HEA. Donegan and Gilly have both gone through some catharsis and are ready to commit to working out their relationship but I’m glad you didn’t force a rainbows and happy bunnies ending.

One thing I love about your books is that I feel what the characters are feeling and not because I’m told those are their emotions. Instead their actions and manner of speaking shows me and gets me to believe in their stories in a visceral way. I connect with them just as I did with Gilly and Donegan. B

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  A Reason to Breathe by C. P. Smith

REVIEW: A Reason to Breathe by C. P. Smith

Dear Ms. Smith:

I understand that this is some sort of homage and I’ll tell you I picked it up on the strength of Goodreads recommendations and Amazon message board posts because it was billed as a sexy romance featuring an older couple in the vein of Kristen Ashley.

reason to breatheThe problem is that the heroine is one of the dumbest women I’ve had the misfortune to read for a long time. KA’s women aren’t dumb.

The book starts out introducing us to Jennifer Stewart, a lifestyle reporter for a tiny Colorado town. She’s never been a reporter before but she starts insinuating herself into a serial killer crime in her new town. And apparently Jennifer is the most intellectually incurious person ever because she learns when she is researching serial killers by reading newspaper articles that serial killers like to collect trophies. Seriously, you would have to avoid all books, movies, and television shows to not know that this is a trait. Later on she learns that killers have profiles and promises to pass that two old guys (Ben and Gerry) have created. Opening then closing my mouth, it occurred to me that, that wasn’t a half bad idea. If this guy had a type, then we could figure out who in the county matched it, and feed the info to Jack.

That Jennifer thinks that Jack is so incompetent that he needs a lifestyle reporter along with two guys who have no investigative experience to create a suspect list isn’t cute or endearing; it’s insulting. Worse, it makes her look so incredibly foolish.

I don’t get why she even wants to engage in this behavior? Why does she want to make the local Sheriff mad at her? Why does she want to make her boss mad at her? Why does she think she’s a mother effing hard crime beat reporter? And does she worry at all about jeopardizing an active investigation? Of course not because her antics are supposed to be cute and charming when in fact they are stupid and irritating.

After a couple of run ins with the Sheriff (one which includes one of Sheriff Jack’s castaway women), Jennifer fears a disturbance, calls 911 and repeatedly asks for Jack to come. Why again? It’s not like she has had any positive connection with him, yet she thinks she should call up 911 in the middle of the night and beg and plead for the Sheriff of the county to come and get her?

At 9%, after two so brief encounters that you’d be barely able to call Jack and Jenn acquaitances, Sheriff busts into her house, saves her from some intruder (which I question was even there) and we get this ridiculous internal dialogue:

I took a step back as her head buried in my neck, and I’ll be damned if that didn’t wash right over me and settle warm in my gut, as the word “Mine” rang in my head. I didn’t hesitate; I wrapped my arms around her and buried my face to her ear and whispered.

I’m at 9% people.

While there weren’t any obvious misspellings, dialogue was rendered difficult to read because the action after the dialogue was often by the person NOT speaking. Frex:

“Just Jack , remember?” I smiled at that; he’d remembered this afternoon.

“So how’d it go with Naomi? You guys back on again?” He grinned slowly, and then shook his head.

Yeah, the first sentence is by the Sheriff and the second sentence is Jenn but it’s hard to tell when you are reading. I had to read it twice to make sure. This type of action after dialogue occurs a lot.

“I can be a bitch; I can eat up balls, spit them out and then trample them with my boots.” Jack’s eyebrows shot to his forehead.

Then there are the mangled sentences such as “Learning long ago that women liked to flirt and not to take offense, even though he was eating with me, it didn’t stop these women from trying to get his attention.”

Conflict was stupidly inserted because Jennifer gets  mad that the Jack the Sheriff wants her to back off her stupid investigation. She tells him that no one tells her what to do, making her look like she’s twelve instead of thirty nine.

“Jenn, research on serial killers doesn’t mean making a suspect list; that shit will get out. You and the boys back off and let me do the investigating, you hear me?”

I narrowed my eyes at Jack, and my best “excuse me” look, but of course he didn’t even flinch. I appreciated his concern , but he couldn’t dictate what I could and couldn’t do. Jack watched my reaction, and his face got hard, as well. In a staring match, Gerry chuckled and broke my concentration, saving Jack from the daggers I was spearing him with. I looked at Gerry and bugged my eyes at him; he patted me on the shoulder then turned to Jack.

But Jack seems to spend more time kissing Jenn on public sidewalks than investigating the fact that three women in his county have been killed, probably by the same man. Where’s the urgency, Jack? I mean, other than in your pants?

The whole idea that Jennifer, a newbie to the town, is fueling a serial killer’s madness and that every male over the age of eighteen is trying to engage Jack in a flesh colored sword fight renders the story farcical.

The actual relationship parts of the book aren’t bad, minus the insta-setup. It was the ridiculous romantic suspense element that undermined all the advances that were made by the emotional connection between the characters. I felt like Jenn got stupider and stupider as the book went on, placing herself in frequent situations where she needed to be saved.

The insertion of past relationships coming to haunt Jack seemed out of place as well. Dialogue like this did little to elevate the story:

“Baby, go to my office, I’ll be there in a minute.” Jenn looked at me with huge brown eyes, then nodded and headed down the hall.

“BABY! Did you call her Baby? You’ve never called me anything but Babe,” she shouted trying to pull her arm from mine, as I walked her to the front of the station.

While there were some parts of the book that were readable, a lot of the story had me cringing in a bad way. D.

Best regards,

Jane

 

 

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