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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:  The Fourth World by Rose Christo

REVIEW: The Fourth World by Rose Christo

Dear Rose Christo:

“This is the Fourth World,” Grandpa Many Feathers says.

His voice is scratchy, low, like tires over gravel, it takes me by surprise.

“What,” I start, nervous. “What do you mean?”

He turns his head away, a tinge of sadness in his eyes. I get a good look at the scar marring his profile. It’s jagged, like somebody took broken glass to his face.

“Humans,” Grandpa says. “We keep screwing up. So the gods keep destroying reality. Starting over from scratch. This is the Fourth World,” Grandpa says. “It won’t be the last”.

The story opens with fifteen-year-old Maya Many Feathers coming to live at a Hopi reservation of with her mother. The reservation is her mother’s former home, but they left when Maya was far too young to remember. When her mother decides to go back to school, she returns with Maya – supposedly it is to help them financially, but as we will learn, coming back and reconnecting with their culture will help them both emotionally as well.

The Fourth World by Rose ChristoThe theme of coming back to your Native American roots is the main theme in many works by this writer and it is certainly very important in this book. Maya does not know much about her culture, but when she comes back and reconnects with her people, with her family, she also reconnects with her heritage. The more she learns about what it meant to be one of Hopi Tribe, the more it makes her feel happy and secure. Maya reconnects with her grandfather and her cousins, learns to appreciate her friends in school, and learns what their common heritage means for her and other members of the tribe.

Maya is a flawed character, but the more the story progressed, the more I liked her; she had ability to engage in self-reflection and to recognize and acknowledge her mistakes. For example, Maya acknowledged that she was being a bully in her former school and seemed to genuinely regret it.

Until I was about 70% of the way through the story on my Kindle I thought that the other main theme in this story was about teenage friendship, but eventually it turned out to be a story of first love between two teenage girls. In a way I was delighted, because the writer created such a beautiful and delicate connection between the girls, but I was also surprised because I completely missed the signs that anything more than friendship was developing between them. If Maya had been struggling with her sexuality, finding out along the way that she is attracted to women, I could understand how it was done – she thinks that she wants to be best friends with Torie, and then suddenly the reader realizes at the same time as the character realizes that she wants to be more than friends.

“She’s got a new headband, pink, with silver stripes. I try and ignore the way, it pushes her blond hair off her forehead. I try not to think that her face looks like it was made to be kissed. I can see it in the softness of her sharp cheeks, in the smallness of her nose and chin. Her mouth reminds me of carnation, especially when she scrunches it off with displeasure.

I think I’m screwed.”

However, we learn in the last quarter of the story that Maya knew she was attracted to girls for quite some time. Therefore I was a little confused, but I decided that I was going to go with an “I just missed the signs” interpretation and what read as developing friendship to me was in actuality a developing love story.

Because I have read several other books by this author by now, I spotted recurring threads in her writing, in particular the love between parents and children, and how parental sacrifices and parental abandonment shape the children’s development. But in no way did these common themes make this story feel repetitious or less appealing to me. I like the secondary characters in her stories, and in this book I also fell in love with Maya’s cousins and siblings, with her mother, who would do anything for her child, but who at the same time is portrayed as a flawed character and somebody who still has her inner child pretty much alive inside of her. I did wish for better development of some secondary characters – most of them were interesting, and I  wanted to see and get to know them better than I did.

Overall this is a quiet, gentle story where the main characters drive the story forward and not much else happens plot-wise. I recommend it. B-

~Sirius

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