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forbidden-love

REVIEW:  A Forbidden Rumspringa by Keira Andrews

REVIEW: A Forbidden Rumspringa by Keira Andrews

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Dear Ms. Andrews:

Ah, star-crossed love. I adore romances in which “forbidden” isn’t just a buzzword in the title.

After rumspringa rebelliousness left three teenagers dead, Issac’s family left their Amish community in Ohio to begin a new one with a much stricter Ordnung. (Regulations about every aspect of life, down to the exact size of bands on hats.) In his previous life Isaac could use a mirror, take a shower, and occasionally get to eat at MacDonalds. (There was even buggy parking.) But in the new Minnesota community, anything with the slightest tinge of “worldliness” is frowned upon. The atmosphere reminded me of the movie “Office Space,” in which a restaurant employee was chided for wearing no more than the required amount of decoration — even just abiding by the actual rules isn’t enough, you have to go above and beyond.

For most youngies — young adults who have yet to officially join the church — having a chance to enjoy some free time with the opposite sex is a bright spot in their hard-working lives. But at 18, even with pressure from his family to settle down, Isaac can’t seem to get interested in courting.

Isaac glanced at Mary Lantz again. She was pretty enough–more than enough, with her kind smile and her big blue eyes that were darker than her brother’s. There was nothing wrong with Mary. But Isaac was beginning to think there was something very wrong with him.

The problem is, Isaac is far, far more interested in Mary’s brother David, who’s teaching him woodworking. The growth of this unspeakable attraction is shown deliciously in many small touches and glances. At one point, David sneaks Isaac into the “English” world to watch a movie, and gives him jeans to wear, with an unfamiliar and forbidden zipper.

‘Do you want me to do it for you?’ David asked.
Isaac could only jerk his head in a nod. He held his breath as David reached down and ever so gently zipped the fly of Isaac’s English jeans. He did up the button at the top, his knuckles brushing against Isaac’s trembling belly. They were standing so close that Isaac could see the flecks of grey in Davids eyes…

But once the first move is made, they quickly move past kisses into an explicit sexual relationship. I found this a little unconvincing; David seems awfully sophisticated and commanding for a virgin, even one four years older than his lover, and with some experience in the outside world. (And he better not be lying, since they know nothing about safe sex!) The emotionalism of the sex scenes sometimes felt overdone, but the tenderness is palpable, focusing on their blissful freedom to be themselves and to adore each other’s bodies. The worry about discovery and hellfire taints everything, of course, as does the increasing yearning for the ability to share their lives completely. Suspense mounts as David insists that once he joins the church, he’ll be able to put these feelings aside and be at peace.

The story is rich with descriptive details that immerse the reader in the unfamiliar environment, and also with moments that highlight the emotional realities of this kind of life — for example, when Isaac inadvertently mentions his excommunicated older brother’s name at the dinner table, and his youngest brother asks, “Who’s Aaron?”

It was like a physical blow to to Isaac’s gut, the realization that of course Joseph didn’t even know of Aaron’s existence. Katie watched them all with big eyes brimming with tears. She’d only been a baby. Had Isaac and Ephraim really never talked about Aaron with them? He wasn’t even sure if Nathan knew his name, but judging by the tension in his frame, Isaac thought he did.

‘No one,’ Father answered.

And that was that.

I’ve never read an Amish romance before, unless you count Sunshine and Shadow, but I have the impression they tend to be idealized portraits. This is very much the opposite, which made me slightly uncomfortable; I felt there should be a little more balance when describing a religious community. The acknowledgments thank “the ex-Amish who so generously shared their stories” but it would have seemed respectful to have a little insight into why some people would want to stay, other than fear of the modern world and the pain of losing their families.

There were parts of the narrative that feel a little too pat, particularly towards the end, but they’re always well set-up. For example, a early scene in which Isaac describes Amish life to a conveniently curious quilt-buyer is interspersed with his uncomfortable realizations about how attractive the man is. Overall this is a very well-realized, touching story, with plenty of heat. (It is also well produced, with nothing that screams “self-published.”) As with many New Adult books, the end leaves plenty of unanswered questions and there will be a sequel, but there’s no relationship cliffhanger, thank goodness. B

Sincerely,
Willaful

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REVIEW:  The King’s Viper by Janine Ashbless

REVIEW: The King’s Viper by Janine Ashbless

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“When Lady Eloise of the Isle of Venn becomes betrothed to the King of Ystria, she looks forward to a life of luxury and status at the royal court. She certainly doesn’t anticipate being shipwrecked on the way to her wedding, escorted by the Kings assassin, Severin de Meynard, the most hated man in the kingdom. Nor does she anticipate them having to make their way back home to Ystria on foot, through hundreds of miles of enemy territory. Above all, she doesn’t expect to fall in love with the cynical, ruthless Severin. Eloise and Severin struggle to control their growing attraction to each other because if they do not if she returns to the King no longer a virgin then they will both be executed. Yet their passion threatens to be far stronger than their self-control, leading them to other ways to satisfy their desires. Severin and Eloise are torn between duty and their burning need for one another, and both will face bitter sacrifice before the end.”

Dear Ms. Ashbless,

Ever since I fell in love with “Heart of Flame,” I’ve been meaning to try another one of your books. After reading blurbs and hemming and hawing, I finally took the plunge and got “The King’s Viper” since I couldn’t resist the image of the title – that of a deadly man willing to do anything for his King.

The opening of the story threw me off a little. Told from Eloise’s POV, we learn almost nothing about the ruthless Severin beyond the fact that he truly does come across as silent and deadly. He’s a man who could and probably has done just about anything and I wondered why she’d agreed to marry him when she was already miserable from something he’d probably done. The reason is in the story and the story is compelling.

Severin shows his steely nature from the start. When Eloise asks him why the King, his best friend, asked her, a quiet woman of few worldly accomplishments, to marry him, he’s blunt and honest. The King thinks Eloise will be pliable and on her father’s death, his land will revert to the crown. How’s that for plain speaking?

But the festivities are already planned and so off the bridal party goes via ship to the mainland. When disaster strikes, the King’s Viper lives up to his name and reputation. All he does is for his King and since Eloise is to be his Queen, he’ll kill, lie and do whatever is needed to see that she gets where she’s supposed to go Virgo Intacta since anything less will be seen as treason against the man who raised Severin from nothing.

Most of the book is thus spent on an extended road trip across enemy territory with Severin and Eloise watching every step they take and word they utter. Severin sets Eloise straight on their likely fate should they be discovered and later he fesses up what their likely fate will be if they make it home. Along the way, they fall in love.

What does this cold man see in Eloise that not even her betrothed has noticed? Eloise starts the journey as a naïve, young woman. She’s been sheltered but to Severin’s relief, she’s practical and willing to go along with the lies he invents to save their lives. She’s a hard worker, doesn’t complain and impresses him by her ability to improvise. Yet this isn’t what finally cracks his heart.

Eloise is honest above all things. Severin has warned her to guard her emotions and thoughts at court and to beware of those who would use her for their advantage. He’s used to lies, treachery, and flattery as a way of life among the mice and the snakes of court. Eloise’s innocence and truthfulness calls to something deep in him. Yes, she’s a touch teeth clenchingly naïve during their “everything but vaginal intercourse” sex but she’s refreshingly open – and I don’t mean that in only a sexual manner.

So what can the future be for Severin and Eloise who have to prove their loyalty to the King or die? Well, it’s here that the book faltered a bit for me. Severin has laid it out to Eloise – the reasons she will need to be proven a virgin, the ways he’ll be tortured to prove he didn’t despoil the King’s intended and how it’s all going to go downhill from there. After the intimacy of their extended road trip and period of falling in such deep emotional love, this felt like a let down in intensity. Things started coasting along and slowing down. But from the opening events in the story, I knew there was more to come.

The ultimate scene when these two were finally back together and could express their emotions is cathartic. It’s also slightly sad since, as no one has to point out, they still have roles to play in order to keep from losing their heads. As I finished the book, I hoped that there was a sequel since Severin and Eloise aren’t currently faced with a lot of options for a conventional HEA. And this, along with the coasty part above, is why the grade dips. I loved how dark Severin could be, I loved seeing him fall so hard, I loved watching Eloise find a man who would steal the moon for her but, damn it!, I want some payoff for the emotional ride I’ve been taken on and the bitter sacrifices these two have made. I want some rainbows and happy bunnies for these two and right now, I don’t have them. B-

~Jayne

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