Reader’s Edyn

I always felt like I could do something more than just read. Finally, I have found both a creative outlet and a chance to do something meaningful with my reading. This blog was created in appreciation of and tribute to all of the authors who have brought me joy through their books. These reviews are my way of giving back to authors and providing recognition for the hard work that each one completes every day!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Review: The Tarnished Jewel of Jazaar by Susanna Carr

       Title: The Tarnished Jewel of Jazaar
                  Beasts of the Desert
       Author: Susanna Carr
       Release Date: August 7, 2012
       Publisher: Harlequin Presents EXTRA
       Category: Contemporary Romance
       Type: Kindle/Paperback/Hardcover/
       Ms. Carr’s Website

Jeweled veil weighing heavily on her head, Zoe Martin waits for her sheikh husband-to-be. The shame of her adoptive family, orphan Zoe has endured six years of being kept as a slave—now she's been sold into marriage…to a man known as The Beast!

Being discarded to the sheikh has one bonus—this could mean freedom! Zoe must play along with the three-day—and three-night—ceremony, but she isn't expecting the blazing attraction from just one stolen glance at playboy sheikh Nadir.…

       Darkness descended on the desert as the black SUV came to a halt in front of the village's inn, a large but plain building. The arches and columns that guarded the courtyard were decorated with flower garlands. Strands of lights were wrapped around thick palm trees. Sheikh Nadir ibn Shihab heard the native music beyond the columns. In the distance, fireworks shot off and sprayed into the night sky, announcing his arrival.
       It was time to meet his bride.
       Nadir felt no excitement. There was no curiosity and no dread. Having a wife was a means to an end. It was not an emotional choice but a civilized arrangement. An arrangement he was making because of one rash, emotional reaction two years ago.
       He pushed his thoughts aside. He wasn't going to think about the injustice now. With this marriage he would repair his reputation and no one would question his commitment to the traditional way of life in the kingdom of Jazaar.
       Nadir stepped out of the car and his dishdasha was plastered against his muscular body as his black cloak whipped in the strong wind. The white headdress billowed behind him. Nadir found the traditional clothes confining, but today he wore them out of respect to custom.
       He saw his younger brother approach. Nadir smiled at the unusual sight of Rashid wearing traditional garb. They greeted each other with an embrace.
       "You are very late for your wedding," Rashid said in a low and confidential tone.
       "It doesn't start until I arrive," Nadir replied as he pulled back.
       Rashid shook his head at his brother's arrogance. "I mean it, Nadir. This is not the way to make amends with the tribe."
       "I'm aware of it. I got here as quickly as I could." He had spent most of his wedding day negotiating with two warring tribes over a sacred spot of land. It was more important than a wedding feast. Even if it was his own wedding.
       "That's not good enough for the elders," Rashid said as they walked toward the hotel. "In their eyes you showed them the ultimate disrespect two years ago. They won't forgive your tardiness."
       Nadir was not in the mood to be lectured by his younger brother. "I'm marrying the woman of their choice, aren't I?"
       The marriage was a political alliance with an influential tribe who both respected and feared him. Nadir had heard that his nickname in this part of the desert was The Beast. And, like mere mortals who knew they had angered a demon god, the elders were willing to sacrifice a young virgin as his bride.
       Nadir approached the row of elders, who were dressed in their finest. Glimpsing the solemn faces of the older men, Nadir knew Rashid was right. They were not happy with him. If this tribe wasn't so important for his plans to modernize the country, Nadir would ignore their existence.
       "My humblest apologies." Nadir greeted the elders, bowing low and offering his deepest regrets for his tardiness. He didn't care if these men felt slighted by his delay, but he went through the motions.
       He had no use for the prolonged greeting ritual, but he had to be diplomatic. He was already battling political retribution from the elders, and had countered it by showing a willingness to marry a woman from their tribe. That maneuver should have improved relations with the tribal leaders, but Nadir sensed they were anything but honored.
       The elders politely ushered him into the courtyard as the ancient chant accompanied by drums pulsed in the air. It tugged at something deep in Nadir, but he wasn't going to join in. While the guests were happy that the Sheikh was marrying one of their own, he wasn't pleased about the turn of events.
       "Do you know anything about the bride?" Rashid whispered into Nadir's ear. "What if she's unsuitable?"
       "It's not important," Nadir quietly informed his brother. "I have no plans to live as husband and wife. I will marry her and take her to bed, but once the wedding ceremonies are over she will live in the harem at the Sultan's palace. She will have everything she needs and I'll have my freedom. If all goes well we will never set eyes on each other again."
       Nadir surveyed the crowd. Men were on one side of the aisle, dressed in white, chanting and clapping as they provoked the women on the other side to dance faster. The women's side was a riot of color liberally streaked with gold. The women silently taunted the men, their hips undulating to the edge of propriety. Their loose-fitting garments stretched and strained over voluptuous curves.
       His presence was suddenly felt. He felt the ripple of awareness through the crowd. The music ended abruptly as everyone froze, staring at him. He felt like an unwelcome guest at his own wedding.
       Nadir was used to seeing wariness in the eyes of everyone from statesmen to servants. International businesses accused him of being as devious as a jackal when he thwarted their attempts to steal Jazaar's resources. Journalists declared that he enforced the Sultan's law with the ruthless sting of a scorpion's tail. He had even been compared to a viper when he'd protected Jazaar with unwavering aggression from bloodthirsty rebels. His countrymen might be afraid to look him in the eye, but they knew he would take care of them by any means necessary.
       Nadir strode down the aisle with Rashid one step behind him. The guests slowly regained their festive spirits, singing loudly as they showered him with rose petals. They seemed indecently relieved that his three-day marriage ceremony had commenced. He frowned at the men's wide smiles and the women's high-pitched trills. It was as if they believed they had appeased The Beast's hunger.
       He kept his gaze straight ahead on the end of the courtyard. A dais sat in the center. A couple of divans flanked two golden throne-like chairs. His bride sat in one, waiting for him with her head tucked low and her hands in her lap.
       Nadir slowed down when he saw that his bride wore an ethnic wedding dress in deep crimson. A heavy veil concealed her hair and framed her face before cascading down her shoulders and arms. Her fitted bodice was encrusted with gold beads, hinting at the small breasts and slender waist underneath. Her delicate hands, decorated with an ornate henna design, lay against the voluminous brocade skirt.
       He frowned as he studied the woman. There was something different, something wrong about the bride. He halted in the middle of the aisle as the realization hit him like a clap of thunder.
       "Nadir!" Rashid whispered harshly.
       "I see." His tone was low and fierce as the shock reverberated inside him.
       The woman before him was no Jazaari bride, fit for a sheikh.
       She was an outcast. A woman no man would marry.
       The tribal leaders had tricked him. Nadir stood very still as his anger flared. He had agreed to marry a woman of the tribe's choosing in a gesture of good faith. In return they had given him the American orphaned niece of one of their families.
       It was an insult, he thought grimly as he ruthlessly reined in his emotions. It was also a message. The tribe thought that Nadir was too Western and modern to appreciate a traditional Jazaari bride.
       "How dare they?" Rashid said in growl. "We're leaving now. Once the Sultan hears about this we will formally shun this tribe and—"
       "No." Nadir's decision was swift and certain. He didn't like it, but all his instincts told him it was for the greater good. "I accepted their choice."
       "Nadir, you don't have to."
       "Yes, I do."
       The tribe expected him to refuse this woman as his bride. They wanted him to defy tradition and prove that he didn't appreciate the Jazaari way of life.
       He couldn't do that. Not again.
       And the elders knew it.
       Nadir's eyes narrowed into slits. He would accept this unworthy woman as his bride. And once the wedding was over he would destroy the elders in this tribe one by one.
       "I must protest," Rashid said. "A sheikh does not marry an outcast."
       "I agree, but I need a bride, and any woman from this tribe will do. One woman is just as much trouble as the next."

Dialogue Highlight:
Zoe Martin’s blood raced painfully through her veins as she stared into dark, hypnotic eyes. As much as she wanted to, she couldn’t look away. The eyes darkened. She felt as if she was caught in a swirling storm.
Please don’t let this be the man I am marrying! She needed to trick and manipulate her husband throughout the honeymoon, but she could tell immediately this man was too dangerous for her plans.
Sheikh Nadir ibn Shihab wasn’t handsome. His features were too hard, too primitive. His face was all lines and angles from his Bedouin nose to the forceful thrust of his jaw. His cheekbones slashed down his face and a cleft scored his chin. There was a hint of softness in his full lips, but the cynical curl at the edge of his mouth warned of his impatience. She had no doubt that everyone kept a distance from him or suffered the brunt of his venomous barbs.
The pearl-white of the Sheikh’s dishdasha contrasted with his golden-brown skin and it couldn’t conceal his long, tapered body. Every move he made drew her attention to his lean and compact muscles. Zoe decided that his elegant appearance was deceiving. She had no doubt that he had been brought up in a world of wealth and privilege, but this man belonged to the harsh and unforgiving desert. He had the desert’s stark beauty and its cruelty.
The Sheikh showed no expression, no emotion, but she felt a biting hot energy slamming against her. Zoe flinched, her skin stinging from his bold gaze. She wanted to rub her arms and wrap them protectively around her. She felt the inexplicable need to slough off his claim.
Claim? A flash of fear gripped Zoe as her chest tightened. Why did it feel like that? The Sheikh hadn’t touched her yet.
She had the sudden, overwhelming need to turn and run as fast as she could to escape. Her heart pounded in her ears, her breath rasped in her constricted throat, and although every self-preservation instinct told her to flee she couldn’t move.
As-Salamu Alaykum,” Nadir greeted as he sat down next to her.
Zoe shivered at the rough, masculine sound. His voice was soft, but the commanding tone coiled around her body, tugging at something dark and unknown inside her. The muscles low in her abdomen tingled with awareness.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he said with cool politeness.
Zoe gave a start, her excess of gold jewelry chiming from her sudden move. He’d spoken to her in English. It had been so long since she’d heard her mother tongue. Unshed tears suddenly stung her eyes and she struggled to regain her composure.
She shouldn’t have been surprised that the Sheikh spoke English. He’d been educated in the United States, traveled frequently and knew several languages as well as all the dialects spoken in Jazaar. His need to travel internationally was one of the reasons why she had agreed to marry him.
But curiosity got the better of her. She couldn’t imagine this man doing something thoughtful without getting something in return. Her voice wavered as she asked, “Why are you speaking to me in English?”
“You are American. It’s your language.”
She gave a curt nod and kept her head down, her gaze focused on her clenched hands. It had been her language once. Until her uncle had forbidden it. “It isn’t spoken here,” she whispered.
“That’s why I’m using it,” Nadir said in an uninterested tone as he surveyed the courtyard. “English will be just our language and no one will know what we’re saying.”
Ah, now she understood. He wanted to create an immediate bond between them. Or at least the illusion of one. It was a clever strategy, but she wasn’t going to fall for it.
“I’m not supposed to talk during the ceremony,” she reminded him.
She sensed his attention back on her. The energy crackling between them grew sharper. “But I want you to talk.”
Right. Was this some sort of test to see if she was a good Jazaari bride? “My aunts gave me strict orders to keep my head down and my mouth shut.”
“Whose opinions are more important to you?” She heard the arrogance in his voice. “Your aunts’ or your husband’s?”
Neither, she wanted to say. It was tempting, but she knew she had to play the game. “I will do as you wish.” She nearly choked on the words.
His chuckle was rough and masculine. “Keep saying that and we’ll get along just fine.”
Zoe clenched her teeth, preventing herself from giving a sharp reply. She swallowed her retort just in time as the first elder came onto the dais. As she expected, the older man ignored her and spoke only to the Sheikh.
She stared at her hands in her lap and slowly squeezed her fingers together. The bite of pain didn’t distract her from her troubled thoughts. She was never going to pull of the demure look. It was just a matter of time before she messed up. Her family knew it, too. The disapproving glares from her aunts were hot enough to burn a sizzling hole in her veil.
Zoe knew her appearance and manners didn’t meet family expectations. They never had. Her face was much too pale and she lacked refinement and feminine charm. It didn’t matter if the veil concealed her features, or if her bent head hid her big, bold eyes. They knew she wasn’t a proper young woman. She talked louder than a whisper, walked faster than she should, and no matter how often she was told she never knew her place.
She was too American. Too much trouble. Simply too much.
Her relatives thought she should be timid and subservient, and they had tried to transform her using every barbaric punishment they knew. Starvation. Sleep deprivation. Beatings. Nothing had worked. It had only made Zoe more rebellious and determined to get out of this hell. If only she had a better escape plan. If only her freedom didn’t rely on pretending to be the perfect woman.
As the last elder left the dais, Zoe felt the Sheikh’s intent gaze on her. She tensed but kept her focus on her hands. Did he find her lacking or did she pass inspection?
“What is your name?” the Sheikh asked her.
Zoe’s eyes widened. Seriously? This was not something a woman wanted to hear from her husband on her wedding day. Zoe held back the urge to give him a false name. A stripper name, she thought with a sly smile. If only she could. But it wouldn’t be worth the punishment.
“Zoe Martin,” she answered.
“And how old are you?”
Old enough. She bit the tip of her tongue before she blurted out that reply. “I’m twenty-one years old.”
How was it possible the Sheikh didn’t know anything about her? Wasn’t he curious about the woman he married? Didn’t he care?
“Did I detect a Texan accent?” he asked.
Zoe bit her bottom lip as a memory of her home in Texas bloomed. The last time she had felt as if she belonged to a family. Once she had been loved and protected; now she was chattel for her uncle.
“You have a very good ear,” she answered huskily. “I thought I had lost the twang.”
 Along with everything else.
“Texas is a long way from here.”
No kidding. But she knew what he was really asking. How the hell had she wound up in Jazaar? She’d wonder that many times herself. “My father was a doctor for a humanitarian medical organization and he met my mother when he visited Jazaar. Didn’t anyone tell you about me?”
“I was told everything I needed to know.”
That made her curious. What had been said about her? She wasn’t sure if she wanted to know. “Such as?” she asked as she watched the servants bringing plates of food to the dais.
He shrugged. “You are part of this tribe and you are of marriageable age.”
She waited a beat. “Anything else?”
“What else do I need to know?”

This was my first Susanna Carr book and I can honestly say that I enjoyed it. I have a bit of a soft spot for sheik stories anyway. They seem to always have the coolest things and everything at their disposal. Makes them very hard to resist and when waging a battle of love and war, how can they not come out the victor? So obviously this is a story involving a sheik, but it has a little more to it than that.
Nadir needs a wife, fast. He was married once before, but rejected his “wife” before the ceremony festivities ended. His youth and anger caused him to handle the situation in a bad way, saddling him with the nickname The Beast. But time has passed and he still needs to marry. Negotiations are bad with this tribe so he agrees to marry a woman of their choosing in the hopes of strengthening ties. But the tribe has another plan and sends him a bride that is less than suitable … especially for a sheik.
Zoe is an outcast. Raised by her parents in Texas, one American, the other from Jazaar, she is returned to the tribe following their deaths with nowhere else to go. Her American ways are unacceptable and she is constantly abused, humiliated, and punished in an effort to purge the American out of her. Years of broken promises and beatings have caused her to mistrust men. Her only chance of escape back to the states is to marry a man and sneak away from him as fast as she can, so she agrees to the marriage with Nadir. But she has another secret to hold on to – at least until there is no chance Nadir can throw her back to the wolves.
Short of explaining the whole book, I had better stop there. I enjoyed that these two were kind of outcasts in their own way. Zoe being raised American with independent tendencies and ideals. Nadir with his Westernized ways of thinking and plans to bring Jazaar into the new world. Although the two think they couldn’t be more ill-suited for one another, they end up complimenting each other in many ways and soon love blossoms. But the two still have a long way to go. Zoe, with her mistrust of men, struggles to let go of her plans to escape to America and constantly second guesses Nadir’s intentions. And Nadir is not perfect either. He believes himself to be modernized in his way of thinking, but really is stuck in the ways of his ancestors with a lot of issues still. And he thinks he knows exactly whom Zoe is running away too as well. Both have several misconceptions about the other and only blatant honesty will allow their love a chance.
I enjoyed my time spent with these characters because they each had a lot of growing to do. Nadir, with his ideal of self, has to come to grips that he is not quite as modernized as he had thought and it takes Zoe for him to realize it. And Zoe who believes that her chance at what her life should have been was ripped away with her parents’ death. She has to find a way to open up to Nadir to see that her dreams can still come true and Texas doesn’t necessarily have to be a part of the equation for that to happen. The key to the character growth was that even though they both made a lot of changes, they both remained true to self, who they were, and what they stood for. That is a huge deal for me when reading. I have read some pretty hard core sex scenes lately, so this one to me was tame, but still descriptive enough to be sexy and tasteful. For those of you who enjoy romance with a bit of spice and characters who realize that happiness isn’t always found where you thought it would be, you are sure to enjoy this read. At less than 200 pages you will fly through it and enjoy the time you spent reading it. I can honestly say that I will be reading Susanna Carr again.
 (print copy provided by author in exchange for an honest review.)

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