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23 September 2010

Love and Respect For A Lifetime-Dr. Emerson Eggerichs

Love And Respect For A Lifetime, Dr. Emerson Eggerichs' newly published book on marriage offers little more than the redundant restating of the Golden Rule.  While admittedly wise phrases and tidbits grace the pages of Eggerichs' book, it does not offer couples any real advice on how to deal with issues it recognizes as areas of conflict in marriage such as money, child rearing, sex, or communication.

Eggerichs' book also suffers from what I refer to as ADHD publishing.  Many of the 153 pages have only one sentence centered on an otherwise empty space, reminding this avid reader of a child's book.  Boasting more than thirty years of counseling and research, Eggerichs states in his introduction, "Using these powerful tools, you can save a struggling marriage from the divorce court or a 'ho-hum' marriage from boredom and concealed bitterness."   Unfortunately, no tools are discovered in the six separate sections of the book beyond vague statements such as this one from section 1, entitled The Wisdom of Love & Respect, "Here is the secret to marriage that every couple seeks, yet few couples ever find...Unconditional respect is as powerful for him as unconditional love is for her.  It's the secret that will help you achieve a brand new level of intimacy."

In the end, Eggerichs' 153 pages do state one obvious truth that is powerful marital advice.  Love your neighbor (treat your spouse) as you wish to be treated.  Practice this second most important commandment and save the $15.99 you would have spent on Eggerichs' book.

Recommendation:  * _ _ _ _
(one out of five stars)

Do not confuse this book with Dr. Eggerichs' Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires, The Respect He Desperately Needs, which is a much larger book.  The covers of these books are almost identical.  I read this complimentary copy of Love & Respect For A Lifetime courtesy of Booksneeze.  The opinions in my review are solely my own.

17 September 2010

Master-Colette Gale

Revenge Is A Dish Best Served Cold--With A Side Of Kinky Sex
Master is Colette Gale's erotic retelling of the Count of Monte Cristo. The original idea of the story, the revenge Edmond Dantes carries out on the men who falsely imprisoned him for years, and the characters are kept in this retelling (including the many disguises Edmond wears after he leaves prison), but those are really all that are similar to Alexandre Dumas' original story. What Gale adds to his tale is a whole lot of erotic sex and a happy ending.

Gale's story isn't a bad one, and this piece of erotica is far better than the last one we read by this author, Bound By Honor, the erotic retelling of Robin Hood's story.  Master doesn't go off the rails into a vortex of freaky perversion like Bound did, although there are some wild parts in this one too.  The scene in which Dantes, disguised as Sinbad the Sailor, and Mercedes, his love he lost when he was imprisoned, watch two servants of his put on a sexual show is scorchingly hot.

Quite interesting to me was the fact that most of the characters are all in their forties when the erotica really begins in this book.  Gale is forced to work within the age parameters Dumas originally designed, but you don't find many romance books about women in their forties being such sexual creatures.  If the reader can get past the fact that in the time period in which this story is set, a forty year old woman was basically what a sixty year old women is like today and think about what women in their forties are like now, then all is well.  If not, then thinking of Mercedes doing what she's doing for most of the book is a bit of a stretch (and not a pleasant one, I guess).

In addition to the main love story between Dantes and Mercedes, Gale includes another love story between the Count of Monte Cristo's slave Haydee and another of his slaves, a mute named Ali.  Haydee is in love with Ali.  Even though Monte Cristo has saved her from a life of horror as a slave in an Arab harem, he does not want Haydee sexually and treats her like a ward.  However, Ali won't reciprocate Haydee's affections because he sees her as his master's. It is up to Haydee to seduce Ali, which results in some pretty sexy parts of the story.  Gale's telling of this love affair is a little ham handed, but in some ways it's quite nice.  It's interesting that in the original book, Monte Cristo ends up with Haydee, not Mercedes, and Gale includes a  statement in the beginning of the book to the effect that this book is for anyone who knew that Haydee was more a midlife crisis than a real love.

Overall, Master includes a lot of story and a lot of disguises for Edmond Dantes, in addition to a lot of sex, but it's not a bad way to spend an evening if you're looking for some erotica based in post Napoleonic France.  Gale knows how to write a sex scene, no doubt.  I just could do without the word quim so much.

Mercedes Hererra & Edmond Dantes are resurrected in Gale's retelling and embellishment of the classic The Count of Monte Cristo, now entitled Master.

Master follows the original novel with Dantes' false accusation and imprisonment of fourteen years before he makes his escape and calculates the revenge on his enemies, which he carefully executes with ruthless cunning.  Added to the original is Mercedes' story of devastation in believing him dead, subsequent suffering, and sacrifice over the years.  As Edmond carries out his vengeance, he struggles with his long buried yet resurfacing feelings for Mercedes even though he believes she has betrayed him.  Their journey toward redemption and long sought after peace spans more than two decades.  Ultimately, they must choose whether forgiveness or bitterness will be their legacy.

Colette Gale does earn a commendation for writing an erotic novel that is, in fact, a novel.  Along with very steamy intimate scenes, the author delivered a story worth reading.  The main characters are written with satisfactory depth and the supporting characters are developed nicely to create interesting layers within the story.  Perhaps most surprising was the likability of Mercedes, as heroines in erotica are often (in this broad's opinion) lacking in personality beyond ridiculous feistiness.  This was not the case with Mercedes.  Gale's character showed a quiet patience as confusing events enfolded around her as well as a reasonable boldness and strength of will when necessary.  This was no petulant, whiny girl, but instead a woman comfortable with her sexuality, who played the hand life had dealt her, and proved herself a formidable opponent in the battle of wills with the resurrected Edmond.

Obviously, when reading erotica one encounters an abundance of sex and  Master is no exception to that rule.  Gale's love scenes are not for the faint of heart.  This author allows the characters to let their freak hair fly on more than one occasion, which at times is a bit much.  Overall, Master, is ....well, masterful.

*** + _  (three and one-half stars)

10 September 2010

The Cobra and The Concubine-Bonnie Vanak

Vanak sets sail on a fabulous adventure  in & of the Near East only to drift back into all too familiar waters.
Badra had been sold into slavery by her parents when she was very young.  Now, years later, she is a young woman living a nightmare.  When the Khamsin tribe attacks the Al-Hajid tribe, Farrah, another unfortunate girl, acts immediately and takes Badra with her to escape Sheikh Fareeq and his clan.  Fareeq realizes the girls are gone, and Farrah knows that their only hope of escape is to turn themselves over to the Khamsin, the opposing Egyptian tribe and ask their leader, Jabari, for protection, which he offers.  Farrah becomes one of the women in Jabari's harem, but Badra, young and traumatized is shown compassion by Sheikh Jabari and put under the care of a most trusted brother within the tribe, Kephri, the blue eyed Falcon Warrior, who is also known as the Cobra.  Kephri vows to protect Badra from all harm, even from himself, and therefore swears an oath not to touch her.  Over the course of five years, Kephri fulfills his vow.....and falls in love with Badra.  She, likewise, adores Kephri.  Jabari frees Kephri from his promise as he realizes that love has developed between the two, and Kephri proposes to Badra.  Upon her refusal, based on her fear due to her abusive past, Kephri determines to win her trust over time, however long it may take, but when two Englishmen appear claiming that Kephri is in actuality "Kenneth", heir to a dukedom, newly found after years of searching, Kephri is caught up in events larger than life and whisked away to England to be trained to assume his rightful place in society.

Brokenhearted and alone, Kenneth struggles to adapt to English life and longs for his home in the desert, his Egyptian brothers, and Badra.  She, in return, lives each day wondering what may have been if she had faced her fears to give herself to the man she loves.  Fate conspires to reunite the two, but deception, intrigue, and past wounds all converge in an attempt to keep them apart.

Vanak wrote an absolutely wonderful first third of this story.  The Egyptian characters are very well done, and Kephri begins as one of the best male heroes I've encountered in romance.  Troubling to me, however, was Vanak's banishment of Kephri once "Kenneth" is found.  It is as if the Egyptian warrior is shelved in favor of a stiff, cold Englishman.  Vanak discards everything that  made this man attractive in the beginning of this story.  Frankly, I'm not sure Badra would have wanted this "Kenneth" after having known Kephri.  Also bothersome was the infiltration of English wives into the Egyptian tribe.  It was just too much English influence upon the story.  ....And we all know there are already an ample number of English romances.  A further problem involved the disappearance of Farrah - replaced without a word by an English wife to Sheikh reasons, no notice...she just vanished from the story.   Even with these problems, the story was enjoyable and entertaining, and I give it three out of five stars.

Recommendation:  ***_ _

The Cobra & The Concubine is worth reading, although it does disappoint at the end with an overabundance of English drama.
~ Moira

How Not To Write A Sexy Sheik Romance

Bonnie Vanak's The Cobra and The Concubine starts out great.  The reader is transported to the deserts of Egypt and into the Khamsin, the Warriors of the Wind.  The Khamsin are led by a sheik named Jabari, who Vanak writes as a just leader who although he is young, has wisdom and courage.  However, it is his brother, Khepri, who is the hero of the story--the Cobra.  He isn't the sheik's blood brother but a man who has grown up with him after the sheik's father rescued him when his family was murdered when he was just a child.  Khepri is an Englishman who has spent his lifetime in the desert and has shown himself to be a fine warrior.  He meets Badra--the Concubine--when his brother rescues her and another woman from a rival sheik's control.  She is just 15 when he meets her (he's 19), and she's been beaten by her former master.  She is to be his brother's concubine, but Khepri immediately is drawn to her.  But his brother does not take her as his concubine because she is too frail and frightened, and instead makes Khepri her falcon guard, charged with guarding her life.

For the next five years, he does just that and falls in love with her.  She falls in love with him too, but she is too scarred emotionally to give in to her feelings, and when Khepri's English family finds him and he must go back to England to be the Duke of Caldwell, she refuses to marry him and they part, both heartbroken. From that point on Khepri is an Englishman named Kenneth and Badra is left back in Egypt.

One year later, they meet again, this time in England.  He still feels the same for her, but she continues to deny her feelings.  This goes on and then Kenneth must return to Egypt because he believes one of Jabari's men has stolen an artifact from an archeological dig of his. He finds out it was Badra, and then finds out that she's being blackmailed by a man who has her child, Jasmine, who she had with the first bad sheik and believed had died but had been sold by him.  Chaos ensues and in the end, the Cobra and the Concubine return to England to be wonderfully proper late 19th century aristocracy.

The Cobra and the Concubine
is a good story for the first 50 pages.  When it is Khepri and Badra, the romantic hero is wonderful.  He's sexy as all hell, brave, strong, and wonderfully sheiky, even though he's English.  However, after that, the story becomes very Anglicized, and everyone, even Jabari and the rest of the Egyptians, become very English.  All the Khamsin warriors marry English women with names like Elizabeth and Katherine, and everyone begins to sound like late 19th century English men and women.  Khepri as Kenneth is an English bore.  Badra alone seems to retain her Egyptian feel, but that is little consolation since she is a flat character who spends the vast majority of the book acting frail or sad because of her life before Khepri.

Maybe it's just me, but I think there is fertile ground for a story with any kind of sheik in it.  I've been all about that idea since I saw the film Sahara back in the 80s when I was just a teenager.  I didn't care a fig about Brooke Shield's character, but the sheik she becomes involved with was incredibly interesting.  Why writers often feel the need to Anglicize Arabs is beyond me.  Foreign is sexy in romance books.  Just as vampires, shapeshifters, and werewolves are sexy because they are "other", so are people from faraway places.  If Vanak had chosen to keep Khepri as that sexy character for the entire book, while Badra still would have been an uninteresting character, at least the scenes with them together would have been sexy.  As it was, The Cobra and the Concubine turned into The Boring English Guy and The Broken Egyptian Girl.

04 September 2010

The Trouble With Boys- Peg Tyre

A Surprising Report Card On Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do.
Peg Tyre, a former staff writer for Newsweek magazine who covered social trends and education, has come to understand after much research and countless interviews with boys, parents of boys, teachers, and experts that boys are falling behind academically at an alarming rate.  Tyre's research reveals that boys are expelled from preschool nearly five times more often than girls.  The elementary years leave boys diagnosed as having attention problems and learning disorders four times as often as girls.  Boys are twice as likely to be held back, too.  Our boys are seriously behind girls in reading and writing, and falling further behind each year.  The cheer rises for our achieving girls, but what about our boys?

From the preschool years onward, Tyre chronologically examines the issues parents of boys face (or will face), from misinformed individuals who claim boys are doing "just fine" to schools or teachers promoting the medication of  boys for a disease largely unheard of before the 1950's.  In both affluent and poor schools in a sampling study, close to 20% of white elementary aged boys line up to take stimulants to get through their school days.  In the words of the author, "Either we are witnessing the largest pandemic in our country since influenza struck in the United States in 1918, or school aged boys are being over-identified and overdiagnosed."  (Tyre does not deny that treatment and/or medications help some boys.  She only notes the obvious conclusion when viewing the numbers.)

The Trouble With Boys does not stop at pointing out the problem.  It offers many possible solutions, some currently being employed in a few schools, and many more being researched and considered, realizing that the trouble may not be with boys, but with the way the educational system deals with boys.   The conclusion is clear from the data presented.  If we are to stop the educational system from failing boys (both literally and figuratively), we must act quickly.

Recommendation:  ****_ 
Very informative without reading like stereo instructions, an easy read.  I would encourage parents of boys, whether they are struggling in school or high achievers, to educate themselves on the state of affairs in the educational world and its effects on our sons.

03 September 2010

Lover Unbound-J.R. Ward

Vampire Dom Morphs Into Vampire Teddy Bear In Love
Lover Unbound is the fifth book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J.R. Ward and this time the Brother involved is Vishous. V, as he's called, has some serious issues.  He was abused as a young boy, cursed by his mother with a hand that can kill people, in addition to his raping and killing other young boys in his father's war camp.  Oh, and his father is named the Bloodletter, and he had Vishous partially castrated while he was in his care.  This guy has had a bad life. Fast forward to adulthood, V is in his early 30s and is in the Brotherhood, where at least he can put some of his rage to good use killing Lessers. When he's not enjoying himself that way, V likes to have sex in which he dominates his anonymous partner, and when I say dominate, I mean candle wax, metal clips, masks, ball gags, and whips.  The Brother likes to get his freak on.

He's shot in the chest one night as he's trolling for Lessers and ends up in the local hospital emergency room under the care of Dr. Jane Whitcomb.  Dr. Jane has her own troubled past, which includes a sister dying when Jane was just a child and repressive parents.

Vishous experiences vaticinal dreams, and he's seen her in one of his dreams.  He's  immediately drawn to Jane and when his Brothers come to the hospital to rescue him, he demands she be taken with them. So they kidnap her.  This is the beginning to the romance between them. As with other Black Dagger Brotherhood books, there is the required Brother falling before the lady (which is a nice feminist touch) and the lady being independent and feisty, which of course excites these vampires.

I have to admit I'm torn about this installment in the series.  On the one hand, the problems with the series remain.  The dialogue is as always, cringeworthy.  This Brother has the unfortunate tendency to end his sentences with the word true, which becomes irritating after just a few instances. In addition, once again, it must be said:  men, no matter what age or how long they've been on this planet, would not speak the way she has them speak. Also, the female Ward gives Vishous seems far too masculine compared to the other Brothers' mates.  I have to fight the urge to describe her as butch since that would just be confusing. You see, V has been in love with his roommate named Butch for months before meeting Jane.  So Ward is working within the characterization she's already established in earlier books with V in giving him such a tough female.  It just seems that she is so much less than the brightest Brother should have.  Also, it seems like Ward hasn't remembered the cardinal rule of storytelling in a series: rules set up previously must be followed. Rhage had to suffer severe punishment for bringing Mary to the house, but Vishous can have Jane come to live with them with impunity. Finally, the ending is just dreadful and unbelievable. The Brother with all the gifts (good and bad) and he ends up with that?

However, there are parts of the story that I do like. It is written with much more pathos than the other Brothers' stories. Part of that pathos is seen in V's pining over Butch. He loves him, but the reader doesn't get the sense that it's physical love, per se. Ward does an admirable job walking a very fine line with V's feelings for Butch. In one sense, they are unrequited because Butch is mated to Marissa, but in another sense they are absolutely returned as Butch cares for V more than any other Brother.  Some readers may be turned off by the homoeroticism Ward offers in V's story, but it isn't graphic and shows his painful need to reach out to others despite his outward behavior that indicates he wants to be alone. Unlike his fellow Brother, Zsadist, who survived his painful life before entering the Brotherhood but in a ruined state, Vishous doesn't lurk around the mansion looking all gaunt and demonic.  He's the opposite of Zsadist: while Z withdraws, V reaches out.  He wants  interaction.  It's the reason why Butch, a human, was invited to live at the mansion.  And it's the reason why he has his Brothers kidnap Jane. No matter how much he retreats into his domination world or the world of technology (he's the Brother the others call on when they need something hacked into, rewired, etc.), he craves a connection to other beings.

Lover Unbound
isn't a bad entry into Ward's series, and the added depth she gives this Brother does make him more interesting than the other Brothers.  However, his metamorphosis  from a tortured soul to a man so madly in love he sounds at times like an enthusiastic child is too complete.  Yes, love does change a man, but what's existed in him for 300 years doesn't go away completely and doesn't change in a matter of days.  Once again, Ward has turned a junkyard dog, on some levels the best one in the series, into a teddy bear.  But this is the dilemma she put herself in from the first book because her vampires are born instead of made.  Because V can't change Jane into a vampire, he has to change to fit her--he becomes almost human, and in doing so, he ends up as just a shadow of the badass he was at the beginning of the story.

In the end, as with all romance novels, everything is wrapped up nicely.  Is it real?  No, but it's not supposed to be entirely real.  It's romance. All romance readers ask, though, is that writers treat their characters well.  I don't know if I can say Ward did for V.  Considering how much there was to work with with V, she seems to have missed the mark a bit. This reader thinks Vishous deserved better.

Ward, Like Countless Women,  Ignores The Old Proverb, "A Leopard Doesn't Change It's Spots." (And Sometimes,  We Don't Want It To.)

Vishous is the Brother of Ward's interest in this installment of the Brotherhood Series.  This is also the heftiest novel in the series thus far.

Of course, the battle against the Omega and his minions, called Lessers, is ongoing, however that storyline takes somewhat of a back seat in Lover Unbound, as Ward focuses primarily on the character Vishous, his origins, his history, and his awkward present, which she develops nicely.  This brother is given more of a "soul" than any other warrior in the Brotherhood series.  Vishous' character offers a fair portion of substance, which is often lacking in romances.  As in most areas of life, when we finally get something of substance, we get the good and the bad.

Vishous is intelligent; he develops and implements communication and security systems amongst the Brotherhood personnel and grounds, and throughout the entire series - Vishous is the "go to" guy when problems arise.  I liked this aspect of the character.  A man should be good at what he does;  it's an attractive quality, but a man who is "damn good" at what he does....Ahh, that's where attractive gets a boost to become sexy.  His character also came across to this broad as quiet, self-contemplative, and giving.  The old adage is usually true, "Still waters run deep."  Added to the fact that he is attractive and well and powerfully built, and you have a winning combination.

Ward wrote a brutal upbringing for Vishous, which actually helps the reader feel for this guy.  Where Ward made a wrong turn wasn't in creating this character to have homosexual tendencies, a secret (or not so secret) love for another warrior, nor in his sadism, but in making each of these stem directly from that brutal upbringing at the hands of his father (otherwise known as the Bloodletter), and writing none as preferences, but instead writing them as symptoms.  Of course, Ward seeks to neatly tie up all these issues by introducing a female character, Jane, who makes him forget everything but her.

Jane was one of the least appealing female characters I've encountered in romance novels.  Vishous longs for someone to spend his life with - he gets, from Jane, a commitment for booty calls that fit around her work schedule.  Vishous is an incredibly attractive vampire/warrior - he gets a plain jane...(sometimes I crack myself up....) with a man-ish face and figure.  Vishous is portrayed as terribly smart and emotionally deep - he does get a doctor, which implies intelligence, but this isn't conveyed in the character other than in an attempt involving her childhood lived as the "less-loved" sister.  Ward even has Vishous cash in his chips as a sadist to give masochism a try with his woman.  This all works to write a wild love scene or two, but leaves me wondering where the romance was.

Ward takes a great character (a character with problems, but a great character) and in my opinion, tries to emasculate him.  What we are left with at the end of Lover Unbound is a technological genius and large, eternal vampire/warrior who offers to accept the life of a part-time lover waiting patiently with hot chocolate for his woman....when she has time.  That Ward then gives Vishous an entirely different ending didn't help, as it was even worse.

Recommendation:  * * * _ _

Vishous was a great character.  Suffer through the rest.
~  Moira


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