It’s not very often I find two books at the same time, to which I can offer 5 Stars, especially two in such diverse categories. But today’s reviews meet the criteria I set for personal favorites. BAREFOOT IN WHITE is a beautiful romance, and LIQUID COOL is a delightful Cyber Punk novel. I can highly recommend these two reads.
Roxanne St. Claire’s evocative prose can tug at the heartstrings as well as make that same heart race with anticipation. The story puts Nick Hershey and Willow Ambrose on collision course. Willow’s the estranged daughter of a model-turned-fashion-designer and a famous rock-star. Nick, a Navy SEAL on medical leave, is bone-deep scared his career might be over. Willow, following a miserable childhood, has walked away from her unhappy past and everyone in it, finding fulfillment as a wedding planner. She and her two colleagues are accustomed to Bridezillas and are stunned by a young model who seems singularly uninterested in the details of her own wedding. She’s content to leave it all to the planners and her MOH who turns out to be a Man of Honor instead of Maid. The uncaring bride is a model in Willow’s mother’s employ and, as Willow soon learns, a favored friend of the family, perhaps even a surrogate daughter who has all the attributes Willow so lacked. Can it be mere coincidence the young friend of her mother has turned up at Barefoot Brides? Willow doubts it. It must be more interference by the mother Willow knows would like to revive their dead relationship–a relationship ruined many years ago by the older woman’s constant attempts at manipulation.
When she walks in on a gloriously naked “Man of Honor” in the bride-to-be’s villa, Willow is even more stunned. She knows this guy, but eleven years before, in college, after he showed gratifying and unexpected interest in her, Willow thought he liked her for herself, not for who and how wealthy her parents were. She asked him to take her to bed. His rejection left her emotionally bruised. Now, when Nick greets her as a stranger, she’s loath to relive her humiliation. Not surprisingly, he fails to recognize her—she’s only a shadow of the woman she used to be. In response to her mother’s trying to force her into a mold she didn’t fit, as a child and teen Willow ate for comfort and grew fat. Nick’s still being a staunch admirer and fan of her father ‘s music strengthens her desire to hide her identity from him regardless of how attractive she still finds him. He’ll only be in the area for a few days anyway. She can carry it off…
Nick is intrigued by Willow. He has a vague sense he should know her, but can’t place her. She’s beautiful, friendly, dedicated to making other women’s dreams come true, has great come-backs to the flirtatious repartee he enjoys, but remains unwilling to let their mutual attraction blossom as he’s accustomed to other women doing. He doesn’t understand why until he finally recognizes her as the fat girl he’d sent fleeing in tears when he said he didn’t like her “that way.” He still feels guilty because his supposed interest in her back then had been self-serving—he’d befriended her in hopes of an intro to her father. Now, though, they’re both adults. How can he get through to her that she’s desirable, that he wants her, and that he thinks they belong together—at least for a while. When he gets his real life back, of course, it will be different… Won’t it?
Nick and Willow were meant to be but with powerful forces like secrets, out-and-out lies, and well-meant misrepresentations working against them, it seems doubtful they can make it. This poignant, compulsive romance calls for understanding, healing, love, and forgiveness as it takes the reader on an emotional and moving roller-coaster of a tale with depths hidden on many levels as the various characters reveal to the reader, but not always to each other, what is important to them.
What a ride! Austin Dragon has found a new fan in me. LIQUID COOL tossed me into a world unlike any I’d ever imagined (and I do have a great imagination). He had me laughing all the way even while nodding my head in rueful agreement as his characters reacted to different events in just the right–though sometimes unpredictable–way. Dragon knows people. He sees us for what we are, and writes us with humor and understanding of human nature with an astuteness I can only admire and marvel at.
His primary character, Cruz, a born-to-be lazy sort-of welfare-bum—he lives in “legacy housing” so pays no rent, no mortgage, no taxes—and thus is not motivated to work any more than absolutely required. What he earns goes to put a bit of food in his mouth and maintain his primary love, his red hover-car, which he sometimes races. Following a shoot-out in which Easy Chair Charlie, a friend of his is killed, Cruz is hired to look into the incident and determine if it was murder or suicide. He’s not a detective. He doesn’t want to be a detective. He’s afraid of guns, of bad guys, of his girlfriend’s parents, and a lot of other things, but well, money’s money, and he likes the guy who hired him, a self-made millionaire who is so rich he can live above the rain and mist and dirty streets where most of the megacity’s population lurks.
As the reluctant investigator begins to dig into events surrounding the killing, we’re introduced to a wide—and wild—bunch of characters, many of who threaten his life, but he always manages to squeak out of the tough spots. From the rag-tag street-level slum-dwellers, to violent gang members wearing animal-masks, to the uber-wealthy who live “up top,” above the gray and nearly constant rain, LIQUID COOL is filled with zany, unexpected, and oddly-endearing denizens of this intriguing city.