Saturday, February 25, 2017

Book Review: Anywhere by Jen Meyers

Anywhere Cover Appealing, New Adult Romance

Anywhere by Jen Meyers

Reading Level: New Adult Romance
Release Date: August 24, 2013
Publisher: Turning Leaves Press
Pages: 267 pages
Source: Purchase
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

Skye is a 22-year-old recent college graduate who has been involved for the past two years with a young man her own age, Blaine, who is from a wealthy, New York City family. A year ago, she became engaged to Blaine, whom her mother adores, not because she had any desire to marry so young, but because Blaine put her on the spot by dramatically and publicly proposing to her at a family barbecue in front of his entire extended family. Skye accepted because she didn't want to embarrass him or disappoint her mother, and from then on, Blaine and her mother, who is even more of a control freak than Blaine, have been planning out Skye's entire future, utterly taking over her whole life. Finally, mere days before her wedding, Skye's pain at the relentless, smothering pressure from her mother and her fiancé exceeds enough the discomfort she feels at standing up for herself against them to provide her with the courage to break off her unwanted engagement. Well aware of her extremely low resistance to the inevitable emotional battering Blaine and her mother will launch against her to shove her back in line, she flees to France with her best friend, Paige, to remove herself from their toxic influence.

Skye is determined to establish her own identity and independence by fulfilling a longtime dream--which Blaine has patronizingly insisted she couldn't possibly truly want--spending the summer backpacking around Europe. Unfortunately, soon after they arrive in Paris, Paige discovers she is pregnant and states she must return home to make plans with her boyfriend. Skye agonizes over the dilemma of choosing to return with Paige and support her in her hour of crisis or staying behind to avoid an avalanche of dual pressure from her mother and Blaine to go through with the wedding. Luckily Skye has done well in choosing an accepting friend like Paige, who insists that Skye stay in Europe and continue with her travel plans. Little does Skye realize that within 24 hours of deciding to attempt traveling alone, she will meet Asher in the Paris train station, a young American about her own age who is on a mission of self-discovery as well.

As a long-time romance-fiction fan, I'm on a roll with my reading experiences this week. This is my second New Adult (NA), contemporary romance novel in a row with a metrosexual, Beta, romantic hero with nary a tattoo or piercing in sight. There is no mention of "rock hard abs," and no glorification of alpha-male promiscuity as a sign of the NA hero's social superiority. Asher is unabashedly portrayed as sensitive, compassionate, intelligent, and basically the complete opposite of Blaine and Mommy Dearest. In most NA romances, the alpha, macho, male romantic lead is, as such, inevitably, the complete opposite in personality to the heroine, or very close to it. In a very refreshing change to that increasingly hackneyed trope (which, let's face it, is a frequent occurrence in many "by the numbers," adult romance novels as well), Asher and Skye are quite similar in temperament. They are both sensitive souls who are very caring and compassionate, but who have had the unfortunate tendency in their love lives to be glommed onto by narcissistic control freaks--a reality all too common in the real world. Nice people far too infrequently end up with other nice people. It is therefore a delightful case of wish fulfillment to see two such sympathetic, decent individuals find each other rather than one of the romantic protagonists (usually the heroine) becoming obsessed with a domineering "bad boy" NA protagonist who, until meeting the heroine, has basically been a callous, uncaring narcissist in his one-night-stand relationships with girls and women. In this regard, the author does a truly excellent job of showing how inconsiderate, selfish, emotional vampires like Skye's mother and fiancé--and Asher's ex-girlfriend--have zero hesitation about walking all over people with a heart, conscience and compassion, but at the least whiff of opposition to their entirely self-centered goals for said kind people, hurl onto their supposed loved one a barrage of vituperative guilt-tripping. It is a case of a conscienceless, dishonorable person manipulating and controlling by appealing to the conscience of the honorable, something we witness Skye's mother doing incessantly throughout the story.

I particularly like romance plots such as this one where the Chief Virtue of the romantic protagonists is also their Chief Flaw. In this case, it is a strongly intertwined sense of loyalty and compassion, which creates a powerful desire to avoid hurting people they deeply care about and are loyal to. This particular Virtue/Flaw is very hard to pull off successfully in popular fiction, which demands a strong, active protagonist, because a personality like this can too easily come off in a story as a passive doormat. However, since the inciting incident of this story is Skye taking strong, assertive action in traveling to Europe, and the chief Antagonist for Skye is her mother, this story very much avoids the passive-doormat issue. In particular, every girl and woman who might read this book can relate to how primordial the mother-daughter relationship is, and given that Skye is still quite young, it is understandable and relatable that she could just now be breaking free of her mother's oppressive domination.

In short, this is an excellent story of "coming of age" as well as a romance.

The setting of this novel is also new and exciting for a NA romance. Rather than the usual university setting, we get to experience with Skye various fascinating locations throughout Europe. Anyone who has traveled in Europe or has wished to do so will enjoy the lively interplay of setting and story in this enjoyable novel.

I rate this book as follows:

Heroine: 4

Hero: 4

Subcharacters: 4

Romance Plot: 4

Coming of Age Plot: 4

Setting: 5

Writing: 4

Overall: 4

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Book Review: Breakaway by Catherine Gayle

Breakaway Cover A tender, well developed romance with a popular plot line, friends become lovers

Breakaway (Portland Storm #1) by Catherine Gayle

Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: December 11, 2013
Publisher: Night Shift Publishing
Pages: 322 pages
Source: Purchase
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

Dana Campbell was gang raped as a virgin by three men at age 19, and the past seven years she has been unable to be around men, especially big men, without having severe panic attacks. She has been treated by a rape counselor for the whole of the past seven years, but she has not made any progress in regaining normal sexuality. Mainly because the recommended treatment for panic attacks, desensitization to the trigger for the attacks, is not possible without using a professional sex surrogate, something she just can't face doing. Then suddenly it occurs to her that maybe she can in fact utilize a sex surrogate, if she can rely on the one person in the world she would trust for such an intimate task: a long-time family friend, Eric Zellinger.

Eric is several years older than Dana and has known her since childhood as her older brother's best friend. Unknown to Dana, Eric has been in love with her for over a decade, but tragically, just when he at last believed her to be grown up enough and was about to approach her romantically, she was raped, and all chance of a normal romantic relationship with her was at an end. Even though he has tried to forget her as a potential mate over the years, he has never been able to, and he is shocked to his core when out of the blue she presents him with her surrogate plan for personal salvation.

Eric is very afraid to go through with the plan, for fear he will, out of well-meaning ignorance, inadvertently make her situation worse. But he cares for her so deeply, he would do anything for her, and he ultimately says, yes, when she begs him to help her and tearfully assures him he is her only hope to regain a normal life.

Unfortunately, Eric is also going through a personal crisis in his professional life at the same time as Dana has come to him, which greatly complicates matters between him and Dana that are already very complex. He is captain of the National Hockey League team, Portland Storm, formerly an elite team which is currently desperate to regain its former glory. Eric is struggling, as team captain, to lead his team to the playoffs. If he fails, beyond the potential pain of defeat is the very real threat that he may be traded away from his beloved team as a failed captain.

As if all that weren't stressful enough, Dana's highly protective brother discovers that Dana has moved in with Eric and pushes her to a confession of her unorthodox plan. He is rabidly against it, and frequently and loudly protests directly to Eric when he is suddenly transferred to Eric's team as a replacement hockey player.

Can Eric simultaneously help Dana, help his team and avoid having his best friend's angry protectiveness sabotage everything he and Dana might accomplish to free her from her emotional prison? Read this terrific book and find out.

This is a very well written, tender romance. One of my favorite romance plots is "friends become lovers," and this is one of the better ones I've ever read.

Eric is a marvelous hero. Unlike the vast majority of romance heroes, he is not a womanizer! He is very loving and gentle with Dana, and due to the nature of Dana's emotional problems, the sex scenes are of necessity very sensitive and slow moving, which is an excellent change of pace among the current crop of raunchy hockey romances.

Dana is an excellent heroine, and I especially liked that prior to the rape, she was an outstanding hockey star herself. It gives her a great many meaningful common bases with Eric besides hot sex. Not that I'm discounting the palpable sexual chemistry between them, a crucial component of a romance novel, of course. But it is great to have something more than that which convinces me as a reader that this couple could truly achieve real and lasting love.

Finally, I liked this romance so much, I've purchased and read several other novels in this series by this author and they are all excellent.

I rate this book as follows:

Heroine: 4

Hero: 5

Romance Plot: 5

Hockey Plot: 4

Subcharacters: 5

Writing: 5

Overall: 5