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REVIEW:  Jagged by Kristen Ashley

REVIEW: Jagged by Kristen Ashley

Kristen Ashley Jagged

Dear Kristen Ashley:

We rock, paper, scissored it to see who would write this review because neither and Kati nor I wanted to. We love your books. We both lost weeks this year reading your extensive, wonderful backlist. But while written in the same spirit as the other Colorado Mountain Man series Jagged was disappointing for both of us. Given that Kati wrote the last two, I shouldered this task.

Graham Reece or Ham, as he is called throughout the book much to my dismay, isn’t ready to settle down. He’s had a difficult past with women and resolved to love them and leave them. A harrowing experience with an ax wielding madman sends Ham back to Zara Cinders, a woman who has loved him in the past and to whom he has regularly returned. There is really one emotional conflict in this story and that is whether you should settle for someone even if you might love another.

As I ruminated about this book for a few weeks, I wondered if part of the challenge I had with this book is that the primary premise of previous Ashley novels is the existence of untameable men who are collared, in some sense, by a woman who they fall in love with. Ham is cut from the standard Kristen Ashley cloth but it seemed he longed for February Owens (heroine of For You). When she was reunited with her high school sweetheart, Ham was cut loose.

Zara loved Ham since she first met him and accepted his itinerant movement in and out of her life but she wanted a family and a permanent partner. Knowing that wasn’t Ham’s thing, Zara decided to marry someone else. Ham admitted he didn’t do relationships, couldn’t give her a happy ending, and wished her luck. When her relationship with her husband deteriorated to the point of divorce, Ham returned.  Conveniently that was about the same time that Feb gave him the boot.

The moral of Zara’s story was that she waited it out and got the love of her life. Don’t settle, seemed to be her storyline. But Ham’s story was that if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with. Even though I was supposed to see that Zara was Ham’s choice, it seemed like he was settling. He called February “beautiful” and Zara “cookie”.  Maybe we were supposed to see that a guy called Ham preferred edibles over all else, but him whispering to Feb and calling her and making sure she was okay even when she, oh, had a new husband and all just didn’t fit.

And Greg, Zara’s ex, seemed to really love her so no one really got what they wanted. Zara got Ham but not his whole person. Ham got Zara but he seemed to want Feb. In the heat of anger said to Zara “Only one woman I know not filled with poison, knew her own goddamned mind, her shit was fucked up but she didn’t make it anyone’s problem but her own, and I let her walk away from me, too. The difference with her and you, babe, is that I regret lettin’ her do it.”

Worse, Ham had a type.  Feb was “older than me, probably closer to Ham’s age. But she looked a little like me. Blonde hair.  Brown eyes.” And he flirted up a small busty blonde one night at the bar where he and Zara worked together. So it seemed like the women were interchangeable to Ham and if he couldn’t have Feb, at least he had a younger lookalike.

The story is told primarily from Zara’s point of view and I liked her quite a bit. She suffered a lot in her life, including an abusive childhood. She tried hard to stand up for herself, provide for herself but often ended up making poor decisions. I felt like Graham Reece was one of those poor decisions.

Also, I got the jagged reference the first couple of times, but it was used far far far too much in the story.  According to my Kindle search, it was used twenty four times to describe his voice and because it is such an evocative term about the fourth or fifth time, it became redundant and every time thereafter it lost any emotional impact. Redundancy in characters was also a slight problem. You’d be hard pressed to distinguish Graham from several other Ashley heroes.

There was a lack of urgency in the story. I remember reading one Kristen Ashley after the other. I literally could not stop reading them but this one I found it easy to abandon, in part because I really found the romance lackluster.

I wanted to like this more but Graham was both too similar a character to other Kristen Ashley heroes but without the devotion that makes up for his sometimes hurtful comments. While I liked Zara, I wanted her to have a different romance, one with someone who put her first in his heart, not just with his words.  C

Best regards,

Jane

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REVIEW:  A Prior Engagement by Karina Bliss

REVIEW: A Prior Engagement by Karina Bliss

Dear Ms. Bliss:

This was such an interesting plotline.  Juliet Browne has been playing the mournful fiancee to presumed dead SAS soldier Lee Davis.  But Davis comes back to life and confronts Browne because not only is she not his fiancee, she turned him down when he asked her.  And now she is living in his house, driving his car, inheriting his money (he had left half to her and didn’t have time to change his will before he deployed again).  Even worse, all his friends have taken to her and enfolded her into his group.  In another book, Juliet would be the villain and to Lee, she kind of is.

A Prior Engagement by Karina BlissWhen I started this book I wondered how Juliet was going to explain all of this and whether a believable romance could be pulled off.  Because of the talented writing, it’s a yes to all of these things.  When Lee is reported dead, Juliet becomes absorbed into the family of survivors, particularly Lee’s own family and his close knit set of friends.  When his best friends were going through his effects, they found the $10,000 engagement ring Lee had bought Juliet and gave it to her.  Juliet didn’t refuse it; she was too busy comforting her best friend Claire who had lost her own husband and mourning the loss of Lee.   And then one thing happened after the other and it was a lie too big for Juliet to clear up.

Lee’s friends and family have hugged her so close to their bosom that they set up Juliet with another man, Mark.  The book opens with Juliet’s consummation in this newly budding relationship only for Juliet’s phone to blow up with text messages from all of her friends demanding her she call them back RIGHT NOW.

Lee had been captured and imprisoned by the Taliban and found in a hole by some American soldiers.  Lee had spent his time in captivity dreaming of how he would win Juliet back but his feelings are turned bitter when he discovers her deception.  Upon his return to New Zealand, he pretends to have amnesia about his proposal and pretends like they are engaged.

Everyone’s actions are so authentic and genuine in this book. Of course Juliet’s lie becomes so big it is unmanageable.  Of course Lee comes back angry.  Of course he feels resentful toward his family embracing Juliet. And, of course, what led them to fall in love during a six week whirlwind relationship that was shuttered by Lee’s supposed death only smouldered, banked until they were together once again.

This book is the last in a series of four SAS soldiers, closer than brothers.  The previous books in the series are all good but you don’t need to have read them to enjoy this one.  However, for long time readers of the series, we are rewarded with seamless integration of the prior characters as Lee struggles with the changes around them including the marriage of Claire, his best friend’s widow, to another friend in the unit.

“No.” The first bite of steak caught in his throat and he washed it down with the rest of her champagne. “You dating another guy doesn’t matter in the scheme of things, honey. Not after I’ve spent nineteen months dicing daily with the big issues like mortality, whether there’s a God and what the hell I was going to use for toilet paper.”

“You are angry.”

He stopped sawing at his steak. Stupid to think he could handle a lump of fried meat anyway on his stomach. “You thought I was dead. Really, this is no different than Claire falling for Nate, right? And everyone’s cool with that.”

Lee painted a reassuring smile over his resentment. “And yesterday you said yes to marrying me, so clearly I’m the winner here.”

Jules started to speak, but he laid a finger on her lips. Such warm, soft lips. Reunion fantasies with this woman had kept him alive. And he kept caring, he kept damn well caring. “We agreed on the way home yesterday that neither of us wants to revisit the past.” This explained why Jules didn’t want to talk about what—or who—she’d been doing.

“All that matters is the future.”

And a little frontier justice. For his own sake he had to speed this up, tighten the screws on her conscience. And he knew just the way to do it. – pg. 59

Lee’s return home isn’t just fraught with terrible memories.  It’s that he’s no longer the gorgeous man who stopped ladies in their tracks. His friends and family have gone on without him.  Even acquaintances don’t remember him.  He hates being pitied as the rescued soldier and he hates that he still loves Juliet.  And Juliet?  Her reasons for turning him down were valid.  She worried about his commitment and when he returns, she feels justified in it.

In the initial months after his death, she’d wished she’d said yes, with all her heart she wished she’d said yes. But when the initial shock lessened she accepted it wouldn’t have worked. And as it turned out, she’d been right to have concerns about his commitment.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in this book is that while the emotions are deep in this story, sometimes I felt too detached.  Juliet, in particular, didn’t draw me in as much as I wanted to be drawn in.  Perhaps it was just a function of who Juliet was. She is scared of commitment and of feeling and held herself somewhat aloof, even from the reader.  However, I loved this series and was thoroughly entertained by this latest Blissful entry.  B

Best regards,

Jane

 

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