Friday, March 18, 2011

Five Umbrella Friday & GIVEAWAY: Spirit of the Mountain by Paty Jager

My Friday pick of the week is a monsoon-must (my version of a desert isle keeper) that I'm thrilled to share. In fact, I loved it so much that I'm going to give away a copy. My first (but not last!) giveaway! I've loaded up my cart, and if you comment to this post by Monday at Midnight PST and tell me your favorite monsoon-must keeper, yours could be the lucky address it ships to. I'll announce the winner Tuesday morning.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been waiting for a book like this for two decades. Back in the early 90s when I began my lifelong love affair with Romance novels, I had a bit of an obsession with Native American romances. I checked Susan Donell’s Pocahontas out from our town library so many times that it became dog eared from my use alone. (And I’m sure that our straight-laced librarian thought that I was checking it out just for the lurid parts, which were pretty darn explicit for the time period). When Pocahontas was visiting other users, I checked out our library’s limited selection of other western romances. There was an explosion of category romances in the 90s that dealt with white/Native romance from both a historical standpoint as well as modern day contemporaries, usually exploiting the exotic “other” trope with a Native hero who didn’t fit into either world and a Caucasian female who filled the missing pieces of his soul. Even at the time I recognized that many of these offerings were rather ethnocentric, but they were my guilty pleasure, although I did really want to see a Native/Native romance. In my head, I always ended Pocahontas much happier with her staying with her tribe and a man who loved her there. I longed for Clan of the Cave Bear to be a real romance rather than a Saga. I daydreamed about how awesome a Lonesome Dove or Dances with Wolves would be if the white folk would just stop their darn meddling. And then suddenly ALL Native American romances dried up in the mid to late 90s. Completely. And then nearly all Western historicals dried up. Gone was my favorite genre. Linda Lael Miller went off to spend a decade writing suspense and contemporaries that were only vaguely western before finally returning to her roots. Many great writers disappeared completely. And I never did get the Native American romance I really hungered for. Until now. Spirit of the Mountain is the historical I’ve been hoping for since reading Pocahontas.

Earlier this year, I found Pamela Clare’s amazing Naked Edge, which delivered a sensitive Native American/Caucasian interracial romance that eliminated all the ethnocentric elements of those 90s category romances, but I still longed for a historical that would center around a Native American romance. Then I had a chance to review Jager’s Spirit of the Mountain, the first of her Spirit Trilogy from Wild Rose Press, and from the first chapter, I realized that I was reading something truly special. Not just a well-written romance (Eppie Winner Jager has proven her chops in that arena), but a truly original portrait of Native culture before it was Native American, before White men arrived. It’s slightly reminiscent of Clan of the Cave Bear, but more lyrical and with all the boring parts removed to showcase the love story.

Wren is a Niimiipu maiden, the daughter of the chief, and her father has just promised her to Hawk, a Blackleg Warrior, in an effort to bring peace to warring tribes. But the reputation of the Blackleg* as ruthless raiders repulses Wren. Her heart loudly rebels against her father’s actions, but her sense of duty makes the outcome seem inevitable to her. Long ago, her spirit quest revealed that she would save the tribe, so she feels she has no choice but to carry out her father’s wishes. She spends more time roaming her beloved mountain, seeking the solace only it can provide. She encounters a mysterious white wolf who reminds her of her spirit guide. She gradually realizes that it isn’t her spirit guide, and the wolf seems oddly sentient. Not surprisingly, the wolf IS sentient because he’s actually a man, Hiimin, cursed to live as the Spirit of the Mountain, watching over the people. He assumes the guise of the Wolf, although he has the ability to take other forms, including man. Hiimin is drawn to Wren. An acute sense of longing permeates the novel from their first encounter. He knows he’s not supposed to place the needs of one human over the others in the tribe, but he can’t help himself. Wren’s despair at her impending marriage eventually leads to him revealing his human form to her. Passion sizzles between the two, but it’s initially one of longing for that which can never be, and both try valiantly to distance themselves from their attraction.

This proves impossible even as Wren prepares for her inevitable marriage. In a desperate bid to have something of each other, they give into their passion on the eve of Wren’s marriage. Jager takes some big risks with what transpires next as she pushes the boundaries of some plot “taboos” that tend to pigeonhole authors, particularly historical authors, into following a formula rather than letting a certain amount of historical accuracy drive the plot. These risks pay off big time for the plot, however, as the reader is drawn into an emotional maelstrom that had me tearing up at more than one point. There are multiple black moments as hope appears lost over and over again. The lengths Hiimin goes to give Wren even a glimmer of hope is beautiful, and Wren’s resulting sacrifices and risks are poignant as she draws ever closer to taking the largest leap of all—putting herself first and fighting for a future with Hiimin. There were plenty of moments when I truly wasn’t sure if there would be a happy ending, but rest assured that I was weeping tears of a different sort in the final pages. Every last drop of emotion is wrung from the pages. The characters bleed for each other, both physically and emotionally, and it’s gut wrenching to watch, yet looking away is not an option.

Historical fans are a natural audience for this tale, but it will also resound with paranormal and contemporary fans who crave deeply emotionally stories. Fans of tear jerkers look no further, this is a must read for you. And the emotion is not gratuitous—I didn’t feel jerked around like I do with *certain* contemporary authors who play with my emotions. Each event in the plot is necessary, and the longing realistic. If you loved the Man From Stone Creek, this will resonate with you as this longing is also born of two people determined to do the right thing. Readers who enjoyed Bonnie Dee’s Captive Bride, a previous pick of the week for me and true keeper, will love this unusual historical. The paranormal elements here are subtle—this isn’t a werewolf tale and magic super powers aren’t what saves the day. I’m not a huge paranormal reader, and I felt right at home. Hiimin’s existence as a spirit is so tied to the Native culture that surrounds him that it feels almost . . . normal. I loved him even when he was a wolf because I immediately saw the missing pieces of Wren come to life.

I enjoyed Jager’s Petticoat western historical series, but this is clearly the book of her heart, and like with Dee’s Captive Bride, this only enhances the reader experience. Jager raises her craft to a new level here. With true keeper shelf novels, I *have* to re-read. Immediately. And so I did, and on the second read, I noticed more of the historical details that I missed when my heart was in my throat for Wren and Hiimin. My interest in Native culture led me to take a few anthropology courses in college, but I think I may have learned more about the Native experience pre-white man here. Readers who prefer historical heavy on the research will really love this. This book has broad appeal and deserves a wide audience. I absolutely can’t wait to read books 2 and 3 and be transported back to this unique place and moment in time.

*Jager includes a historical note that the Niimiipu, which is part of the Nez Perce tribe today, and the Blackleg, which is part of the Blackfeet tribe, had a deep seated distrust at the time of the story (1770), but that that is not the case today.



16 comments:

  1. I love Paty's books! My monsoon-keeper thought? LOL. I've bought three copies in my life due to wearing the others out. And that's _The Kadin_ by Beatrice Small. I love, love, LOVE harem romance. :)

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  2. What a fantastic review. I know Paty and have read of her preivious works, but not this story. I'll need to now. As for one of my keeper stories....To Marry an Heiress by Lorraine Heath. It's one of the books I read when I need romance satisfaction and don't want to take a chance on a new book that may not give me what I'm craving at the moment.

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  3. Great review... Can't wait to read this one...

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  4. Thank you for the wonderful review! I have so many people who get excited about this book when I talk about it. It seems the readers want Native American romances but the large publishers feel it's too small of a niche.

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  5. Fantastic review! Congratulations, Paty.

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  6. Amazing review and I can hardly wait to put this on my TBB list but it will be at the TOP! I too have been waiting for a book like this! Thank you!

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  7. Great review. Book 2 is coming in May. What I love most about this series is the setting--the Wallowa Mountain range in northeast Oregon. Paty describes it so beautifully--that is a picturesque part of our state. Readers in the Pacific Northwest should enjoy a pageant starring our native wildlife and scenery as well as its ancient peoples. I'm excited to see this book gain a wider audience!

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  8. What a lovely and well-written review. One that sparks interst in reading the book. Thank you!

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  9. Such a great review - I can really feel your enthusiasm for this book, and now I can't wait to read it, too!

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  10. I'll bite. You know I'm not a huge romance reader, but this one sounds darn tasty!

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  11. Great post! It got me thinking what would be my monsoon-keeper. I think it might be "The Great God Pan" by Arthur Machen.

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  12. Wow! So many comments! YAY!

    @Tarot by Arwen--I love Beatrice Small. Total guilty pleasure reading. Love the Harem theme through so many of her books.

    @Anna--I keep meaning to read more Heath--I'm adding that one to my TBR pile.

    @Minette--you will love it! Come back and tell us what you think after you finish it!

    @Paty--it was a pleasure! I can't wait for the next two books.

    @Layla--thanks! Please come back and tell me what you think of the book!

    @Kelly--I can't wait for book two either!

    @Vonnie, @Sophie, and @Caroline--thanks for your kind words!

    @Katie--I think you would really like this one, as while it's a romance, it's also got a lot of the elements you enjoy--lyrical prose, fantasy/paranormal elements, part of a series, great secondary characters, and the notion of destiny versus desire

    @Amber--Another book to add to my TBR pile!

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  13. This sounds like a great book. One for my TBR pile! I love the fact that both of the leads are NA.

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  14. Great review and this is a wonderful book. Congrats, Paty.

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  15. Fantastic review and well-deserved, Paty. Nice job, Wavy! Love your insight and attention to all aspects of the book.

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  16. Great review and it does not surprise me because Paty is one of my favorite authors

    Congrats Paty

    Walk in harmony,
    Melinda

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