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Bella Books

REVIEW:  Broken Trails by D. Jordan Redhawk

REVIEW: Broken Trails by D. Jordan Redhawk

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Scotch Fuller has already run the Iditarod three times and is preparing for a fourth attempt. Her single-minded focus on the rigors of training allows her to forget the shocking loss of her lover in a tragedy for which she blames herself.

The only race Lainey Hughes runs is away from her past and into the bottom of a bottle. After a devastating injury in a war zone, she’s continued her photojournalist career in the natural beauty and warmth of Uganda. A trip to Alaska to cover dog sledding is not what she wants, but the lure of a paying gig proves too tempting.

Lainey trusts her camera and Scotch trusts her dogs—and neither cares much what the other thinks…not at first.

Dear Ms. Redhawk,

The description of your latest book had already caught my attention before I read the glowing review at Ladylike Book Club. Since I have a long time fascination with the Iditarod – ever since reading “Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod by Gary Paulson and “My Lead Dog was a Lesbian” (no, I’m not trying to be funny, that really is the title) by Brian Patrick O’Donaghue – I probably would have read it anyway but the other review sealed the deal.

From the blurb, I hadn’t realized that Lainey would end up running the race as a rookie or that so much time would be spend in months long preparation for the March race but this allowed for some in depth, behind the scenes insight into just how much effort goes into sled dog racing – tons – and how grueling it is for the mushers – unbelievable. By the time the race arrives, I was mentally exhausted.

But I was loving all the information. I enjoy a book where the characters are given unusual occupations or a unique event takes place and this book has both. Better still, instead of being mere window dressing, they are integral to the plot, well researched, and seamlessly integrated into the whole.

When the mushers and their dogs set off from Anchorage, the real endurance begins. Reading about Scotch’s efforts to win the race and Lainey’s to merely finish it, I truly understood that this race ain’t for sissies. If you’re not prepared, you could die. If you don’t take proper care of your team, you all could die. Worst of all, even if you do everything right, the conditions could still be enough to cause you to scratch after all that hard work. Or die. Being in Lainey’s head as she navigated and experienced the race was almost like being there but it also convinces me as nothing else could that following from home via the official race website is the way to go for me.

Ah, but where’s the romance? For the first third of the book, both Scotch and Lainey play the is-she-isn’t-she guessing game and lust a little as they’re dishing out dog chow and taking the dogs out on trail runs. The mental lusting never becomes as bad as some books I’ve read wherein the characters practically stand in a daze of drool. I do think readers should anticipate that the sexuality is low key for a good long time. When Scotch and Lainey do finally get a chance to jump each other’s bones, the jumping is delicious, sexy and nicely done but it takes a while to get there.

Scotch and Lainey also have other issues to deal with namely a disastrous past romance for Scotch and Lainey’s alcoholism. Of the two I felt the alcohol issue got more page time and attention. You don’t hesitate to show how addicted Lainey truly is, how it runs her life and how hard she denies it. As the book ends, each woman is coming to terms with her issue and things are looking up but I would like to have gotten more insight into the demon of Scotch’s past.

As an exploration of what goes into the training for the Iditarod – both for mushers and dogs – I think the book is great. As for the romance, I’m afraid that takes a back seat to the race so readers looking for a more even balance or a book heavy on the relationship will probably be disappointed. I like that not all the loose ends are tied up, that Lainey and Scotch both know there will be more work needed for their past and present issues but also that they’re committed to solving their problems and building a life together. B

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  Love by the Numbers by Karin Kallmaker

REVIEW: Love by the Numbers by Karin Kallmaker

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“As a behavioral scientist, Professor Nicole Hathaway’s work strips away the foolish mystique that surrounds the human mating dance. When her academic tome is treated as a viral “love manual” her ecstatic publisher books her to appear all over the U.S. and Europe. Worse yet, her quiet, managed life has been shattered by a series of incompetent assistants. And she’s certain this Lily Smith creature isn’t going to be any less a burden than the last assistant they sent her. Or the one before that. Or before that…

Lillian Linden-Smith needs this job. With a relentless TV lawyer and public mob still out for her blood for crimes committed by her “American royalty” parents, getting out of the country is her only hope for anonymity. If that means cleaning up and presenting an antisocial know-it-all Ph.D. for bookstores, clubs and lectures, fine. Dr. Hathaway may have succeeded in driving away all the others, but not this time.

From their first meeting the sparks fly, and each is thinking: She has no idea who she’s dealing with.”

Dear Ms. Kallmaker,

After reading your novella “Comfort and Joy,” I wanted to see more of what you had published. The blurb for “Love by the Numbers” sounded interesting with a scientist and socialite finding love where they least expect it. I usually enjoy watching adversaries become lovers and these two were no exception.

Nicole and Lily are both constrained – Nicole by her Indian family expectations and her position at the University while Lily is being hounded by a Nancy Grace type character because of her parents Bernie Madhoff actions.

The plot set up is sound – Nicole is an introverted, reclusive person who needs an assistant on her worldwide book tour for her Oprah propelled smash hit that was never intended to be commercial – only scientific. Lily needs a way out of the limelight and from being holed up to escape tabloids and accusations. Plus she needs some source of money now that all her assets have been seized by the law. The two are forced into close contact as Nicole’s European book tour begins and it’s sink or swim together to get through the grueling schedule.

The romance takes its time developing as these annoyed acquaintances slowly become lovers. But there is some sex as both women take the opportunities presented by the tour to look for some quickies in the local lesbian scenes. Their wanting, however, is all over the place. Nicole is an analytical scientist, used to viewing the world “by numbers” and thinking of human responses as neurological chemical changes in the brain. it makes sense that she is more emotionally reserved given that and her background fending off her Indian uncles trying to marry her off and her mother trying to manage how far her education would be allowed to continue. Lily is used to emotionally fending for herself and not getting a whole lot of demonstrative love from her parents or relations. Both have used quick hook-ups as the way to sate their sexual needs without contemplating anything deeper.

I did wonder how realistic it would be that both of them would misread the other’s sexuality signals. I can believe that one of them wouldn’t broadcast any signals but both of them not doing so and both don’t catch onto the other’s sexual preference? There is one telling part where Nicole is explaining how we can circumvent our brains into changing “won’t” behavior into “can’t” which thus masks how we truly feel that could explain it. The moment of revelation is taken in stride at the bar in New Orleans leading to the night of passion that Lily’s Libido likes to replay with the volume on Dolby Stereo. Still I felt this aspect was rushed a little.

The discussion of how the scientific results of her book applies in a broader sense to women everywhere – and how Nicole can spice up her presentations to the average reader – actually highlight how Nicole and Lily – despite being from different backgrounds – can be compatible and find love together. Nicole and Lily do have telling insights into the other’s background and life make-up – Nicole explains how Lily’s self-centered parents never loved her and Lily cottons on to the fact that Nicole and her sister are remarkably same in spite of what Nicole has always thought.

The aspect of Nicole’s Indian heritage affecting her coming out was not explored as much as I would have liked. True she has been raised in the US but her mother and many relatives were raised in India and my understanding – though I could be wrong – is that GLBTQ sexuality is still more of an issue there. Nicole’s mother sure got on board quickly as did sister Kate but then maybe they’ve known about Nicole’s rainbow for a while and come to terms with it.

I laughed at Lily’s triplet mental advisors Libido, Common Sense, and Circumspect and how they whisper in her ear, encourage and edit her actions over the course of the book.

The ending and rush to marriage is quick but Lily and Nicole know that and the whole book has been about Nicole promoting her book that explains how a HEA is more likely due to DNA which can lead to higher probability of a long lasting relationship. That the proper mix of brain chemicals can lead to people falling in love for a lifetime and that this soup of the Love Drug can cause love madness and strange behaviors. Plus these two have gotten to know each other under very trying circumstances – endless, rushed travel, Lily’s encounter with Boone and Nicole’s sister’s pregnancy emergency so I’d say they’ve survived trials by fire.

It’s a quieter book without a lot of sexual fireworks but I like to see a couple fall in love outside of the bedroom as well as in it and it works for me. By the end of the story, Nicole and Lily have accepted themselves – in no small part due to the help and actions of the other – as much as they’ve accepted love in their lives and I can believe in their happy ever after. B

~Jayne

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