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REVIEW: One Small Victory by Maryann Miller

REVIEW: One Small Victory by Maryann Miller

Dear Ms Miller,

Thank you for submitting this novel to us for possible review. And for including an excerpt! Never underestimate that since it helps us choose what we’re going to try. And while the subject matter for the book might seem a real downer for some, the way you handled it moved it to a different level from a lot of the books that come our way.

One Small Victory by Maryann Miller“Life can change in just an instant. That’s the harsh reality that Jenny Jasik faces when her son is killed in an automobile accident, but never in her wildest dreams did she ever expect to be working undercover as a member of a drug task force. She is, after all, just a Mom. In the course of her work, she discovers that she is capable of much more than running a household and managing her floral shop.”

Until I went to your website to snag this synopsis, I didn’t realize that you had based this on a real life incident. Which makes the whole book even more interesting to me. My hat is off to the real woman who stepped up and decided to make a difference.

What Jenny endures with the loss of Michael is heart wrenching. I’ve known friends who have lost children and I can’t imagine the pain. Yet you’ve portrayed it exactly as some of them have described to me including the anger, pain, and betrayal. Also how it lasts, can sideswipe you at any time and how hard it is on siblings. I hope you haven’t written this from personal experience as it’s something I would never wish on a parent. One of my friends relies on butterflies too.

The task force is never made to seem glamorous nor exciting. Instead, Jenny has to talk herself into continuing with it and steel her nerves for each new step deeper into the sting. I like how you also show how it affects those around her who have to watch her change and listen to the lies she’s forced to tell for safety reasons. I do wonder what’s going to happen with the person Jenny discovers something about during the operation. At least she’s scared of the gun she has to use and doesn’t seem like she’s going to take to being a gun totin’ mama even though she rose to the occasion and worked to save herself as the deal went down.

I mentioned above how realistically Michael’s death is portrayed and the circumstances surrounding Jenny’s actions for the police affect her children but I also want to commend how you portray their relationship with their mother and their long absent father. Scott has that “pushing his boundaries” and “going from teenager to man” stuff going while younger Alicia is scared by the arguments around her and so desperate for her father’s attention. Thank you for mentioning counseling for the children. A friend of mine said this probably saved her son’s life after her oldest child died.

There’s a nice mix of Jenny’s social and work life along with being a mom to go with her undercover actions. I do like to see this worked into stories as it grounds the characters in reality for me.

Some of the minor characters have quite a few POV scenes that I wondered about but then some scenes Jenny couldn’t have been at for us to see them through her perspective. I hope after the trial and conviction of the drug dealers, the local PD gets to keep a lot of the money from those lovely works of art at the ranch house. One question though, since all this takes place in a small-ish town, what would be the risk to Jenny and her family of the dealers getting someone to find out who she is?

Another good quality in the story is the attention paid to Steve’s professional life. He’s not turned into some tough, macho, ex-SEAL guy who Must Protect at all costs. He initially doubts Jenny’s commitment yet comes to be her main champion in the police department when he sees how determined she is. But there are also the nice little touches like how accident scenes affect him and when he tries to help Jenny through the initial aftermath of the sting take down.

This is more women’s fiction with the possibility, still unrealized, of a romance than a romance or even romantic suspense. These two have a rocky start as Jenny is still dealing with the fresh grief of losing her son then having to hear of the – unfounded – police suspicions about him. I like the slow way these two start to reach out to each other – very tentatively, very unsure of what the other wants or has in mind and the way that Jenny is honest about wanting to try a relationship but only after the trial when her life will be more back to normal.

I hope that the seriousness of the subject and the focus on Jenny’s activities instead of on a romance don’t deter people from giving this one a try. It’s well written, emotionally intense and hopefully will find a wide audience. B


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REVIEW: Shades of Gray by Brooke McKinley

REVIEW: Shades of Gray by Brooke McKinley

Dear Ms. McKinley.

Shades of Gray by Brooke McKinleyYour book was another one recommended to me by Denise Rossetti. Because I loved the first one she recommended so much, I thought I’d try this one too. And boy, I’m glad I did.

This book has a very similar storyline to Zero at the Bone: two men navigate protective custody because one has witnessed something that could put away a very bad man for a very long time. As they spend time together, they fall in love. Despite the surface similarities, however, the stories are very different. In Shades of Gray, Danny Butler is a drug runner, working for a drug kingpin. He’s finally been caught by the cops on a weapons charge and Miller Sutton, FBI agent, manipulates Danny into witnessing against his boss. While in protective custody with Miller acting as Danny’s babysitter, they fall in love.

Unlike Zero at the Bone, this book isn’t a suspense book. There’s a couple of twists at the end that are brilliantly done, but almost all of the page space is given over to the relationship between the two men. The plot is there, it’s important, it’s beautifully written and pretty-much hole-less, as far as I can tell, but it’s secondary to the relationship. But the problem with this review is that I really can’t talk about that relationship without giving away unacceptable amounts of the plot. That said, however, you don’t hold back on how much these two men each have to compromise their own deeply held beliefs in order to save each other and be together. Miller has to overcome 30 years of denial over being gay and has to either lose or overcome (depending on how you look at it) his FBI “everything is black or white” mindset:

As a novice, Miller had assumed criminals were different in all ways from the average law-abiding citizen. But over time he had come to realize that drug dealers, murderers, and gang leaders all had people they loved, people they would do almost anything to protect, the same way the successful business man or suburban mom next door looked after their own. Involvement in the criminal world didn't necessarily erase those basic emotions of loyalty and love. It sometimes made Miller uneasy, the knowledge that in fundamental ways men like Danny were more similar to him than they were different. For Miller,
life worked better when the lines didn't blur.

Danny has to cut himself some slack, and see the good in himself. These are equally hard things for these men to do.

I also love how the narrative itself is all about the “shades of gray” that Miller has to embrace. Danny is terrified of his boss, but loves him, fears him, but is always looking for his approval, recognizes that he’s a Bad Man but doesn’t want to testify against him because of his deeply-felt loyalty to him. The justice system Miller believes in fails him at the end, as he himself does, too, and he has to figure out how to live with himself after that.

Not only are these characters perfectly consistent in their characterization throughout the novel, their changes are also consistent. That is, the narrative consistency of their characters is upheld even through the character growth and maturation they undergo, something that can be extremely difficult to pull off. And as this book was mostly about the characters figuring out how to be better people, both together and apart, in order to deserve each other, this consistency of characterization was vital to the quality of the book.

I think I’m failing miserably to say how damn GOOD this book was. I love romances that are primarily character driven and this one is so — I’m sorry, but I have to swear — abso-fucking-lutely perfect. These men have been through hell before their story starts, they go through hell during the book, they put *each other* through hell emotionally, and find themselves irrevocably different at the end of the book, wiser, all illusions shattered, all emotional disguises stripped, unable to be other than perfectly honest with themselves and with each other. I also like a lot of angst in my romance and you deliver perfectly. I like some grovel to my ending as well, and the Affair to Remember quality to the ending is perfect for drawn-out grovel from both characters.

Your writing never once tripped me up. The sex scenes are perfect. I liked the flashbacks, although occasionally they were slightly repetitious. I really can’t find anything wrong with this book at all. Angsty, romantic, hot, brilliant, and just plain GOOD. Thank you.

Grade: A

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

P.S. You really need a webpage. Like, really. How can an author today not have any sort of webpage at all?

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