Review: Forever a Hero by Linda Lael Miller + Giveaway

Review: Forever a Hero by Linda Lael Miller + GiveawayForever a Hero: A Western Romance Novel by Linda Lael Miller
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Carsons of Mustang Creek #3
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on March 21st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

For the youngest Carson brother, findingand fixingtrouble seems to be all in a day's work
Mace Carson doesn't consider himself a hero. Back in college, he came upon a woman in trouble and intervenedbut he was just one irate Wyoming cowboy with his boots planted firmly on the side of right. Now a successful vintner, Mace is shocked to be reunited with the woman he saved. But it turns out she's in Wyoming on businessa corporate executive representing the company that wants to buy his winery. Only, he's not selling.
Kelly Wright has never forgotten that horrible night ten years ago when Mace came to her rescue, has never forgotten him. The surprising success of a winery in the middle of ranch country has brought her to Mustang Creek, and she's secretly thrilled to discover Mace at the helm. Reluctant to mix business with pleasure, Kelly vows to keep things professional, until her attacker is released from prison and comes for vengeanceagainst both of them.
"

My Review:

Forever a Hero is the third, but it looks like not quite final, book in the Carsons of Mustang Creek series. The series has followed the lives and romantic adventures of the Carson brothers, beginning with Slater, who was Once a Rancher but is now a documentary filmmaker. Second up was Drake, who is Always a Cowboy, and had a difficult time finding a wife until his mother secretly fixed him up.

This is youngest brother Mace’s story. So far, the love of Mace’s life has been the Mountain View Winery. It’s his brainchild and his contribution both to the ranch and to the community. It’s his personal vision, and he has a genius for blending new wines.

But there’s a conglomerate out there who wants to change all that, and they’ve sent their best agent, Kelly Wright, to negotiate a distribution and management deal for GGI with Mountain View Winery. Her promotion to vice-president, with all the stock options and other fabulous perks, is riding on her successful completion of the deal.

On her way to Mustang Creek, her car goes hydroplaning and nearly off the road into a canyon. She’s rescued from certain death by Mace Carson. But Mace has always been Kelly’s hero. Once upon a time, ten years ago when they were both in college at UCLA, Mace rescued Kelly from an attacker. Mace testified at Lance Vreeman’s trial, and he was sent to jail for a long and much deserved sentence.

Ms. Wright may have come to Mustang Creek to negotiate with his winery, but Kelly is there to see Mace again, even if she hasn’t completely admitted that to herself. Back then was not the time for them to even think about a relationship, but now is much, much different.

The chemistry they had all those years ago is still very much there. And suddenly, so is Lance Vreeman.

Escape Rating B+: This series, and The Brides of Bliss County series that it spun off from (and the Parable, Montana series that IT spun off of), has been lovely all the way.

Each book features a hero who is a good man, but who is alone for reasons that seem right – not because he needs to be reformed or grow up. And they all come from a marvelously functional family – albeit one that gets bigger with each book!

The heroines in their turn are smart, independent and also alone for reasons that make sense. In Kelly’s case, it’s because she has spent her 20s having a career instead of a life. Whether a woman can do both is an open question, but Kelly hasn’t even tried. Her trip to Mustang Creek provides her with the time, and changes at her work give her the motivation and the opportunity, to take a step back and decide what she really wants out of life.

There’s also no misunderstandammit in this story, or the series. While both Mace and Kelly are initially reluctant to pursue a relationship, it’s for reasons that, again, make sense. Their shared history is a bit traumatic, and Kelly is there to attempt to negotiate a deal that Mace has no intention of taking. It is difficult not to get the personal and the professional mixed together, or worry that they are too mixed together.

And they have the same problem that Drake and Luce (in Always a Cowboy) also had. Mace’s life is tied to his Winery, the ranch, and his family. He can’t leave Mustang Creek, and he doesn’t want to. Kelly’s life is in LA, and a long-term relationship with Mace means a lot more change for her than it does for him.

The way they negotiate this issue is one of the strengths of the book. It’s about compromise, and two adults working out a way to be together, that makes allowances for what both of them want and need and doesn’t make one feel like they are giving up something truly important to them. I liked the way they figured things out. A lot.

Remember what I said yesterday about stalkers? This is another book that looks like it might go into stalker territory, but again, marvelously doesn’t. Lance Vreeman does get out of jail, and does come back, with, as the saying goes, a vengeance. And while he terrifies pretty much everyone, he’s not after Kelly so much as he is after Mace. And everyone acts like a sensible adult, as they did in Once a Rancher. Kelly does not act stupidly, and she doesn’t need to be rescued. She and Mace work together, along with Mace’s brothers and friends, to keep everyone safe.

In the end, Lance gets the best serving of just desserts that I have ever seen. And possibly the funniest, courtesy of a stubborn, ornery and very protective bull. It’s a perfect ending to the book.

But not to the series, we have one last trip to Mustang Creek to look forward to. There’s still A Snow Country Christmas coming just in time for the holidays.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of Forever a Hero to one lucky commenter on this tour:

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Review: In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen + Giveaway

Review: In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen + GiveawayIn Farleigh Field: A Novel of World War II by Rhys Bowen
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, World War II
Pages: 396
Published by Lake Union Publishing on March 1st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

World War II comes to Farleigh Place, the ancestral home of Lord Westerham and his five daughters, when a soldier with a failed parachute falls to his death on the estate. After his uniform and possessions raise suspicions, MI5 operative and family friend Ben Cresswell is covertly tasked with determining if the man is a German spy. The assignment also offers Ben the chance to be near Lord Westerham’s middle daughter, Pamela, whom he furtively loves. But Pamela has her own secret: she has taken a job at Bletchley Park, the British code-breaking facility.
As Ben follows a trail of spies and traitors, which may include another member of Pamela’s family, he discovers that some within the realm have an appalling, history-altering agenda. Can he, with Pamela’s help, stop them before England falls?
Inspired by the events and people of World War II, writer Rhys Bowen crafts a sweeping and riveting saga of class, family, love, and betrayal.

My Review:

I picked this up because people always rave about Rhys Bowen, but she’s in the middle of a whole bunch of series and I like to start at beginnings if I can. In Farleigh Field is a standalone, which made it a good time to try this author.

However, for those who are expecting something a bit light and frothy, like the Her Royal Spyness series, this one is neither light nor frothy. Nor should it be. This is a World War II story that deals with serious issues on the home front. It begins with the crash landing of a German spy in the middle of an aristocrat’s estate, and ends with the realization that none of us really know the people we think we do.

This one is all about the less glorious parts of modern warfare; code breaking, spying, official secrets, official lies and ultimately betrayal, both on a personal and on a political level. And it revolves around questions about the ends and what means they justify. And by whom.

The story begins as a simple mystery, but there were no simple mysteries during WWII. A uniformed parachutist crashes at Farleigh, wearing the uniform of the West Kents who are stationed in the mansion. But nothing is as it seems, starting with that dead parachutist. He may be in uniform, but the details of that uniform aren’t quite right. And no one is missing from the regiment. He has nothing on him except a parachute that refused to open, fake ID tags and a landscape photo with numbers on the back.

MI5 doesn’t really care who the man was, their interest is in who the man was supposed to contact within walking distance of Farleigh, and they have just the man for the job. Ben Cresswell, ineligible for the draft due to a tin knee, is the son of the local vicar at Farleigh. He knows everyone, and everyone knows him. In spite of his junior status and relative inexperience, he’s the perfect agent to investigate his old neighborhood.

And of course, no one knows he’s MI5. That includes the daughter of Farleigh, Pamela Westerham. Pamma has no idea that Ben is MI5, just as she has no idea that he’s been in love with her for all of their lives. But while Ben is very aware that Pamma has been in love with Jeremy Prescott, son of the local squire, all of her life, he is very much unaware that Pamma is one of the junior code breakers at Bletchley Park.

Her superiors are every bit as interested in the mystery of the dead parachutist as Ben’s are. And it will take both of them, and a lot of luck, to finally discover the truth. A truth that is much, much worse than they imagined. And every bit as deadly.

Escape Rating B+: I’ll admit that based on the author’s reputation, I was expecting something a bit lighter. There are points in this story that are very dark. This is appropriate for the period and the circumstances, but still a bit of a downer.

Albeit a fascinating one.

The story takes place during the very early years of the war, particularly around the time of the Battle of Britain. At that point in 1940, Britain stood alone against the seemingly unstoppable might of Nazi Germany. The United States was pursuing a policy of non-involvement and Lend-Lease was still on the drawing board. There was a feeling in Britain, and it was probably justified, that unless the U.S. came to their aid that it was just a matter of time until Britain fell to the Nazis. That some, particularly among the upper classes, wanted to capitulate in order to save what they could (admittedly including their own skins) was historic fact. That one of those upper-class potential collaborators was the former king, the Duke of Windsor, was well-known at the time, which is why he was packed off to the Bahamas and both out of harm’s way and out where he couldn’t cause any harm.

Churchill planned to fight to the last man, (woman and child) but there were plenty of people who believed it would come to that, sooner rather than later, if the U.S. didn’t provide support, and quickly.

One of the things that makes this story so interesting is just how insidious the fifth-column activities really were. Although we laugh now at some of the antics of the home guard and the air raid wardens, the difficulties were real at the time. And one of those difficulties was the one that Ben and Pamma face – that they simply can’t imagine that someone they know well could possibly betray their country. They assume that it must be an outsider, when it so seldom is.

Insiders always know where the weak points are and just how to exploit them. But Ben’s prejudices of both class and familiarity lead him on many a wild goose chase until the perpetrator is finally exposed.

There’s also a small element of melodrama in this story, and I’m not sure whether it helped or hurt. The resolution of the love triangle between Ben, Jeremy and Pamma plays into the ultimate solution to the puzzle. However, that triangle is Ben loves Pamma, Pamma loves Jeremy and Jeremy really only loves himself. Some of Pamma’s angst about Jeremy’s behavior made me want to shake some sense into her. I rather badly wanted Jeremy to be guilty of something – he was an absolute bounder.

All in all, In Farleigh Field is a story about people rising to the occasion, keeping the side up, and solving the mystery, no matter how much it hurts. Anyone who enjoys spy stories or stories of World War II on the homefront (or who loved Foyle’s War) will enjoy In Farleigh Field.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I am giving away a copy of In Farleigh Field to one lucky US commenter!

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Review: On Second Thought by Kristan Higgins + Giveaway

Review: On Second Thought by Kristan Higgins + GiveawayOn Second Thought by Kristan Higgins
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 480
Published by HQN Books on January 31st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Following in the footsteps of her critically acclaimed novel
If You Only Knew
, multi-bestselling author Kristan Higgins returns with a pitch-perfect look at the affection—and the acrimony—that binds sisters together 
Ainsley O'Leary is so ready to get married—she's even found the engagement ring her boyfriend has stashed away. What she doesn't anticipate is for Eric to blindside her with a tactless breakup he chronicles in a blog…which (of course) goes viral. Devastated and humiliated, Ainsley turns to her half sister, Kate, who's already struggling after the sudden loss of her new husband. 
Kate has always been so poised, so self-assured, but Nathan's death shatters everything she thought she knew—including her husband—and sometimes the people who step up aren't the ones you expect. With seven years and a murky blended-family dynamic between them, Ainsley and Kate have never been overly close, but their shared sorrow dovetails their faltering worlds into one. 
Despite the lifetime of history between them, the sisters must learn to put their differences aside and open their hearts to the inevitable imperfection of family—and the possibility of one day finding love again.

My Review:

This is a lovely story about second chances. Not just second chances at love, but also second chances at family, friendship and career fulfillment. And especially a second chance at being sisters.

The story is told from the alternating points of view of Kate and Ainsley, half-sisters who have a lifetime of almost-but-not-quite closeness between them. And a really weird family dynamic. Their father, a Major League Baseball umpire, left Kate’s mother to marry Ainsley’s mother. Three years later, with the love of his life dead and a very young daughter to raise, their father begged his first wife to take him back. And she did, but she never completely lost her resentment of the whole situation. It’s hard to blame her.

But that left Kate and Ainsley in a bit of a bind, sister-wise. Kate was ten years older than Ainsley, and Ainsley was so obviously Daddy’s favorite, that they weren’t close growing up. Mutual tragedy brings them together, and they discover in each other the sister and best friend they never had, but always wanted.

Kate’s husband dies after four months of pretty blissful marriage. Unfortunately for Ainsley, Nathan’s death sends her long-term boyfriend Eric into a complete spin into assholishness, not that he was a prince to begin with. Eric doesn’t just break up with Ainsley, he does it publicly, on the blog he posts at her magazine, and in the worst terms imaginable. While Eric was never as good as Ainsley thought he was, his behavior dives to a whole new level of low.

Ainsley arrives on Kate’s doorstep with her adorable dog and her worldly goods, which aren’t all that much. Kate, still in the seemingly endless depths of her grief, is grateful to have the upbeat and perky Ainsley move into her echoing house. Ainsley is equally happy to have a place to stay while she regroups and recovers. Ollie is always happy. Period.

They help each other. And they find each other. And eventually, when the time is mostly right, they find a way to move past their respective grief. But even though they both finally move on, what they don’t do is move past each other.

Escape Rating B+: I read this in a single evening. I fell into the story and didn’t fall out until I turned the last page. Kate and Ainsley are women that I would love to know in real life, and I was happy to spend an evening with them.

I will say that the first chapter is very, very rough going. It is obvious from the first paragraph that Kate’s husband Nathan is about to die, because Kate is narrating their last evening together from the perspective of someone who knows what is about to happen. It was impossible not to feel for her. Kate’s profound grief made me keep looking over at my own snoring husband to make sure he was all right. But a big part of me wished that the story could have started after his death. Reading the “but I didn’t know” bits over and over was both sad and wearying. Also wearing.

if you only knew by kristan higginsAlthough there is a romantic element to this story, the romances don’t feel like point of the story, except as they symbolize both women finally able to move on. Which appropriately takes a while. The point of the story is the way that they reach towards each other in a way that will remind readers of the author’s previous book, If You Only Knew.

Kate feels both profound grief and a certain amount of anger. When Nathan died, they had known each other for less than a year, and had only been married for four months. As much as she misses him, she also misses the person she used to be before they met. She had been happy on her own, and if she hadn’t met Nathan she would have continued to be so. The difference that one year has made in her life is beyond heartbreaking.

Ainsley’s situation is a bit different. She met Eric in college, and they’ve been together for 11 years. Literally one-third of her life. She not only loves Eric, she loves his family, and she’s been dreaming of marrying him for almost a decade. He’s always been a bit of a selfish arsehole, but when he breaks up with her via his blog, he pulls out all the stops. Readers will want to shoot him. In the kneecaps, so he suffers longer.

In many ways, Ainsley has a lot more self-examination and reinventing to do, because she’s never been just her. She’s always been part of an “us”, and now that is blasted to smithereens. When she gets her own back, it is epic and awesome.

Both women do eventually find romance, and in the most unlikely places. And the way that they do, particularly the way they both approach that second chance, makes a marvelous conclusion to this story.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I am giving away a copy of On Second Thought to one lucky U.S. commenter.

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Review: The Life She Wants by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: The Life She Wants by Robyn Carr + GiveawayThe Life She Wants by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Mira on September 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

#1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr creates an emotional and uplifting ensemble of characters in this rags-to-riches-to-rags novel about women, friendship and the complex path to happiness
In the aftermath of her financier husband's suicide, Emma Shay Compton's dream life is shattered. Richard Compton stole his clients' life savings to fund a lavish life in New York City and, although she was never involved in the business, Emma bears the burden of her husband's crimes. She is left with nothing.
Only one friend stands by her, a friend she's known since high school, who encourages her to come home to Sonoma County. But starting over isn't easy, and Sonoma is full of unhappy memories, too. And people she'd rather not face, especially Riley Kerrigan.
Riley and Emma were like sisters—until Riley betrayed Emma, ending their friendship. Emma left town, planning to never look back. Now, trying to stand on her own two feet, Emma can't escape her husband's reputation and is forced to turn to the last person she thought she'd ever ask for help—her former best friend. It's an uneasy reunion as both women face the mistakes they've made over the years. Only if they find a way to forgive each other—and themselves—can each of them find the life she wants.

My Review:

The roots of this story will sound familiar to readers. If Bernie Madoff had been the kind of silver fox portrayed in Mad Men, and if he’d had a trophy wife instead of his original wife (I keep looking for a better way to put that and coming up short), you might get a story like Emma Shay Compton’s.

Her late husband seems to have been second only to Madoff in the size and chutzpah of his Ponzi scheme. And if it hadn’t been for the bursting of the real-estate bubble that leads up to the Recession, he might not have been caught.

But Emma Shay is innocent of his crimes. She was chosen to be Richard Compton’s trophy wife (by his mistress!) because she was young, beautiful, naive and vulnerable. Emma was completely cut off from any support network before she married the late and unlamented bastard.

Her job was to look pretty and ask no questions. Now that the whole rotten mess has been exposed, and over-exposed, she can look back and see all the questions that she should have asked, but didn’t. And maybe she bears a tiny amount of guilt there. But the fact is that she didn’t know and her wealthy and powerful husband deliberately kept her in the dark. And he was very, very good at deceiving people.

But now it’s all over. When his last stash was finally discovered, Richard Compton committed suicide and left his young widow to deal with the mess. Both literally and figuratively.

The bones of his estate have been picked clean, and all of his ill-gotten gains that could be found have been returned to as many of his bilked investors as possible. Emma, feeling horribly guilty leaves the marriage with not much more than she brought into it. A couple of boxes of dishes, linens and towels, just enough clothes to get by, and the $9,000 in savings she started with.

So Emma goes home. Not to her parents’ home, because they are both long dead. But to the town where she grew up. Everyone already knows her there, and the scandal, she hopes, has been long chewed over. After all, she left in scandal 16 years ago, so this isn’t new. Just bigger.

Emma goes home to face the scene of her biggest betrayal, and the mistake that set her on the course she is desperately trying to get off of. Only to discover that nothing has been forgotten, and nothing has been gotten over.

Before she can move on in the present, she has to face the past. The former best friend who betrayed their friendship by getting pregnant with Emma’s boyfriend’s baby. Emma has to face not just that betrayal, but the child that might have been hers, and everyone she left behind.

Patching up that old, deep hurt is the first step to the future, not just for Emma, but for all of them. But lancing the pain of that wound may be more agony than any of them can bear to face.

Escape Rating B+: If the Madoff scandal had a love child with Nickel and Dimed, you might get some of the struggle in this book. Emma is a mostly innocent victim in all of this, but the people who are desperate to get a piece of something back from her dead husband don’t see her that way. And the stink of scandal that follows her makes her unemployable. She isn’t getting by on minimum wage at, let’s call it Burger Thing.

Her only salvation is her old friend Riley, the girl who betrayed her so horribly way back when. They both have to eat a lot of crow to make that even possible, but it’s a serving of crow that heals them both.

Although there is a romance in The Life She Wants, the “she” in that title applies to both Emma and Riley. Emma is looking for an authentic life, after years of dreams and denial amidst the jet set high-life. Riley needs to find peace. There is no question that she betrayed Emma all those years ago – but she’s spent her life turning her anger at herself outward, and blaming everyone around her – most of all Jock, the boy they both loved.

Jock, like Emma and Riley, has grown up but can’t move on. The difference is that Jock is willing to admit his part in the whole mess. But over the years of co-parenting his and Riley’s daughter Maddie, Jock has realized that his biggest mistake was with Riley. He’s loved her all along, and keeps hoping for a second chance. Riley hasn’t forgiven him for what was admittedly a whole lot of cowardly behavior when he was all of 18, and refuses to see the person he is now.

The past is holding all of them back, but Riley most of all. When she finally admits her part of what went wrong, they can all start to heal. The happy ever afters all around are very definitely earned.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of The Life She Wants to one lucky US commenter:

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Review: Snowfall on Haven Point by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

Review: Snowfall on Haven Point by RaeAnne Thayne + GiveawaySnowfall on Haven Point by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Haven Point #5
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on September 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


There's no place like Haven Point for the holidays, where the snow conspires to bring two wary hearts together for a Christmas to remember 

It's been two rough years since Andrea Montgomery lost her husband, and all she wants is for her children to enjoy their first Christmas in Haven Point. But then Andie's friend asks a favor—to keep an eye on her brother, Sheriff Marshall Bailey, who's recovering from a hit and run. Andie will do anything for Wyn, even park her own misgivings to check on her grouchy, wounded bear of a brother. 
Marshall hates feeling defenseless and resents the protective impulses that Andie brings out in him. But when a blizzard forces them together for the holidays, something in Marshall begins to thaw. Andie's gentle nature is a salve, and her kids' excitement for the holidays makes him forget why he never wanted a family. If only he and Andie can admit what they really want—each other—their Christmas wishes might come true after all.

My Review:

riverbend road by raeanne thayneHaven Point just feels like a lovely little place, and this is a lovely little story.

For those of us who have read Riverbend Road, the romance in Snowfall on Haven Point is foreshadowed a bit. But only a bit. It’s not necessary to read the rest of the Haven Point series to enjoy Snowfall on Haven Point. But I have liked my visits to this little town so much that I’m planning to catch up with I get the chance.

As the snow is falling in little Haven Point, Idaho, most of the Bailey family is away from home. Wyn Bailey, the heroine of Riverbend Road, is in Boise finishing up her master’s degree in social work. Charlene Bailey is away on her honeymoon with her new husband Mike – who just happens to be the brother of her late husband. It’s an interesting family.

All of his family seems to be temporarily out of town when Sheriff Marshall Bailey is struck by a hit and run driver, shattering his leg and putting him on 3-weeks medical leave from his all-consuming job. When he gets home he can barely get from his couch to his bathroom on his crutches – but he claims he doesn’t need any help.

His sister Wyn, even long distance, knows him much better than that. She sends their neighbor Andie over to make sure her wounded bear of a brother has at least enough food to keep body and soul together until he can get around a bit better.

Marshall was the witness to one of the worst nights of Andie’s life, when her stalker tracked her down in Haven Point to beat her and hold a gun to her head – in front of her children. Andie is a young widow, and her late husband’s police partner raped and terrorized her until she ran away. When he found her, Marshall helped take him down.

But Marshall makes Andie nervous. Not just because he’s big and grouchy, but because he knows way too much about her and saw her at the lowest point of her life. But in that clusterfuck, Wyn Bailey took a bullet for Andie, so when Wyn calls and maneuvers Andie into checking on Marshall, Andie feels obligated to bite the bullet and do what Wyn asks.

It doesn’t remain an obligation for long.

Hobbling around painfully with a cast and crutches, Marshall has a terrible time admitting that he needs the help. Actually, he has a terrible time admitting that he needs any help any time whatsoever, so being helpless is particularly galling, even though it is temporary.

He has a hot case on his hands – his own. The hit and run accident that took him down was no accident. Someone was gunning for him. But investigating the incident is hard to do from home with no police help. And he’s suspicious that it was an inside job. A couple of his deputies are all too happy to see him out of commission, and there’s a thief in his office that he is closing in on.

But while he’s laid up, he needs help. It’s not just that he needs Andie to bring meals, although he does. But he discovers that while she’s around, along with her two adorable kids, he’s starting to think that there might be more to life than just endless hours of policing.

It’s too bad for Marshall that Andie has decided that after losing one cop husband in the line of duty, she’s not willing to risk her heart falling for another. But the heart wants what the heart wants, and their hearts are firmly set on each other.

Escape Rating B+: There’s a lot going on in this sweet romance. Andie is determined to put her own past behind her, at least up to a point. Now that her stalker is behind bars, she is determined to live her life without fear. And although she misses her late husband, it’s been two years and a lot has happened. She’s learned to stand on her own two feet and run her own life. She misses him, but the grief is no longer sharp. She’s ready to move on.

It’s ironic in this story that just as Andie is ready to put the past mostly behind her, Marshall’s past has come back to bite him in the ass. He struggles throughout the story to deal with a mistake he made almost 15 years ago, and doesn’t know how to put right. Back then, he was young, dumb and on his way to a deployment in Iraq. Now he’s older and hopefully a bit wiser. And he has a second chance.

Andie and Marshall’s relationship has a lot of push/pull, come-here/go-away to it. As it should. Marshall is a pain in the ass at the beginning. He hates being helpless, and he keeps shooting the messenger. And serious pain makes all of us a bit grouchy.

While he needs her help, and learns to grudgingly accept it, the change is the way that he slowly comes to realize that Andie is everything he wants. Not just desire, but that he cares deeply for her and her kids and misses all of them when he pushes them away. He’s ready to make a family and have something to live for besides his work, even if he’s the last person to realize it.

Andie thinks she’s let go of her past, only to finally realize that it is still holding her back. And the crisis that resolves the hit and run case comes all too close to home, but makes both of them finally reach for the future.

As I said at the beginning, this is a lovely little story set in a lovely little town. I’m looking forward to going back.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of Snowfall on Haven Point to one lucky US commenter:

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Review: Always a Cowboy by Linda Lael Miller + Giveaway

Review: Always a Cowboy by Linda Lael Miller + GiveawayAlways a Cowboy (The Carsons of Mustang Creek, #2) by Linda Lael Miller
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Carsons of Mustang Creek #2
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on August 30th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He's the middle of the three Carson brothers and is as stubborn as they come—and he won't thank a beautiful stranger for getting in his way!
Drake Carson is the quintessential cowboy. In charge of the family ranch, he knows the realities of this life, its pleasures and heartbreaks. Lately, managing the wild stallions on his property is wearing him down. When an interfering so-called expert arrives and starts offering her opinion, Drake is wary, but he can't deny the longing—and the challenge—she stirs in him.
Luce Hale is researching how wild horses interact with ranch animals—and with ranchers. The Carson matriarch invites her to stay with the family, which guarantees frequent encounters with Drake, her ruggedly handsome and decidedly unwelcoming son. Luce and Drake are at odds from the very beginning, especially when it comes to the rogue stallion who's stealing the ranch mares. But when Drake believes Luce is in danger, that changes everything—for both of them.

My Review:

once a ranchr by linda lael millerAlways a Cowboy is a lovely, quiet little story. There’s no big crisis, and thankfully no huge misunderstandammit. Just a sweet story about two people who find each other and fall in love, even though that isn’t what either of them is looking for.

In this followup to Once a Rancher, the story focuses on the second of the Carson sons. While oldest son Slater used to be a rancher and is now a documentary filmmaker, middle son Drake has always been a cowboy. Unlike his brothers, who both love the family ranch but want to do something different with their lives, running the ranch is the life that Drake has always wanted.

Even if it doesn’t leave him much time for a life of his own. Or much opportunity to find someone to spend that life with.

His mother has a plan to fix that problem.

You’d think that a handsome cowboy with a share of a successful ranch would have no problem finding a woman on his own, but Drake is too busy to go looking, and is not interested in casual, even if he had the time.

Luce Hale is anything but casual. She’s driven to make a career for herself, even if she has to drive Drake Carson crazy to do it. Because Luce is planning to write her Master’s thesis in ecology on the management of wild horse herds on working ranches, and Drake has, or is being had by, a herd that is roaming his family ranch, and seducing away some of his best (and most expensive) mares.

Luce plans to shadow Drake as much as he’ll let her, to find out how he manages and sometimes doesn’t manage, to deal with the horses.

Both Luce and Drake are being managed, just a bit, by their mothers. The older women have been best friends all their lives, and are just certain that if their two reluctant children have a chance to get together, they’ll discover that they were right for each other all along.

Providing that they don’t drive each other crazy first. And that the steady teasing by every single member of the Carson family doesn’t drive them apart.

Escape Rating B: This is a sweet romance. There is not a lot of external tension, and no craziness that artificially keeps these two apart. That’s marvelous.

The initial conflict between Drake and Luce seems realistic. He has a working ranch to manage. The wild stallion keeps breaking down fences and stealing prize mares. The stallion may be a beautiful horse who is only doing what comes naturally, but he’s costing Drake a lot of money. Drake wants to have the horse herd relocated as soon as possible. Luce wants a long chance to observe them first. And she wants a long chance to observe Drake, who is used to being alone and pretty much undisturbed. Luce is nothing but a disturbance.

It’s not that she needs to be rescued, it’s that she makes him question and think and take stock of his life. And she drives him crazy.

The other conflict is equally realistic. Drake is tied to the ranch and that is not going to change. This isn’t a question of stubborn or lack of understanding, this just is what it is. To keep the ranch in the family, one of them has to run it, and those responsibilities were divided long ago. Drake likes the life he has, he just wants someone to share it with.

Luce is still in the middle of her education. After her Master’s, she planning to go on to get a Ph.D in ecology, and then teach at a university. Those are things that she can’t do, at least not as planned, from little Mustang Creek Wyoming. For them to be together, she’s the one who will have to compromise. But can she find a way to make this work that she won’t come to regret and resent down the road?

In the middle of this sweet love story, there’s a lot about running the ranch and about the care and management of wild horses. While I don’t think it is necessary to read Once a Rancher to enjoy Always a Cowboy, if you like the family dynamic in this story, the first book is a treat. And if the parts of the story about wild horse management really get you, there’s another recent book that came at this issue from a slightly different angle, Saddle Up by Victoria Vane. It is also excellent. And it drove me crazy until I tracked it down.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of Always a Cowboy to one lucky US winner:

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Review: Riverbend Road by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

Review: Riverbend Road by RaeAnne Thayne + GiveawayRiverbend Road (Haven Point, #4) by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, library binding, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Haven Point #4
Pages: 368
Published by HQN Books on June 21st 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Return to Haven Point, where New York Times bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne proves there's no sweeter place to fall in love
Protecting the streets of Haven Point isn't just a job for police officer Wyn Bailey, it's a family tradition. But lately she's found herself wanting more, especially from her boss—and overprotective brother's best friend—sexy chief of police, Cade Emmett. The only problem is getting Cade to view her as more than just a little sister.
Cade's hands-off approach with Wyn isn't from lack of attraction. But his complicated past has forced him to conceal his desire. When Wyn is harmed in the line of duty, Cade realizes the depth of his feelings, but can he let his guard down long enough to embrace the love he secretly craves?

My Review:

This may have been my first visit to Haven Point, but it certainly won’t be my last. It seems to be a terrific little town, and I had a lovely time there.

So even though this is book 4 in the series, I really enjoyed the book, and didn’t feel like I’d missed a whole lot by not being in on the series from the very beginning. But I definitely plan to go back and catch myself up.

Riverbend Road is a little cul-de-sac in Haven Point, and three of the residents on this one street are out main characters in the story.

Wyn Bailey is the daughter of the former police chief. She’s followed the family footsteps and entered the police herself, even though it wasn’t necessarily what she thought she’d be doing. After the deaths of both her twin brother Wyatt and her dad, living out Wyatt’s dream to protect and serve seemed like the right thing to do.

She enjoys the serving part quite a lot, but the protecting isn’t quite the way she intended to spend her life. And now that she’s nearing 30, she’s starting to want a life of her own. Preferably with the current police chief, Cade Emmett. And that’s where the problem lies.

Although her parents took Cade and his brothers into their house as often as he’d let them, Wyn ccertainly doesn’t see Cade as another brother. He’s her older brother’s best friend, and she had a crush on him in high school. Not that either of them is exactly in high school any more.

And now he’s her boss. Which makes things even more difficult. Cade wants to keep their relationship above board – she’s the only female on the tiny Haven Point P.D., and she’s the best officer he has. He needs her on the force.

The problem is that he just plain needs her, and those two things can’t mix. But when Wyn nearly gets herself killed while rescuing a couple of boys from a barn fire, Cade can’t manage to put his feelings for Wyn back in the box where he’s been hiding them.

Especially since Wyn can’t stop herself from encouraging him to let those feelings out at every possible opportunity.

But it’s the newest resident to their little corner of Haven Point that brings everything to a crisis. And she does so in a way that lets both Wyn and Cade be heroes, and makes them figure out what is really important in their lives. At last.

Escape Rating A-: There’s a lot to love about this story. The romance falls into two tropes, both of which I always enjoy. First there’s the big brother’s best friend angle, and then there’s the falling for the boss/at work angle.

Growing up, Wyn and Cade each thought of each other as the proverbial forbidden fruit. He’s just enough older than Wyn that he was out of reach when she was a teen, and of course he would never chase after his best friend’s little sister. There’s always a sweetness to the forbidden nature of this particular trope that I enjoy, because the romance is a fulfillment of a fantasy that neither ever thought could come true, if they thought of it at all.

I also like the falling for the boss trope when it’s done well, and it is here. These two shouldn’t have a relationship because it will seriously mess things up at work, if it doesn’t get them both fired. But there isn’t the kind of power imbalance that can occur with this trope. Not just because Wyn has other options, but because this isn’t a case where they are both so devoted to their careers in this field that compromise means someone, and it’s usually the woman, has to give up something too dear. They are both strong protectors, but Wyn is ready for another professional chapter of her life as well as a personal one. At the same time, they both respect each other’s strengths. They’ve grown towards each other in life and in the job.

The romantic suspense subplot of this story was also nicely done. I’ll admit that I really dislike the tendency of many romantic suspense books to put the heroine in jeopardy of a psychopathic stalker or rapist. In the case of a heroine who is also a cop, it’s particularly distasteful. Instead, here it’s the neighbor Andrea Montgomery who is on the run from a rapist, and Wyn who helps her take back her life, and who rides to the rescue when things go to hell.

Not that Wyn isn’t also in enough danger to make Cade finally get his head out of his ass, but it’s the kind of danger that makes sense for her and her job.

All in all, a lovely story and a great town. I can’t wait to go back.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I am giving away a copy of Riverbend Road to one very lucky US commenter:

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Review: What We Find by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: What We Find by Robyn Carr + GiveawayWhat We Find (Sullivan's Crossing, #1) by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Sullivan's Crossing #1
Pages: 352
Published by Mira on April 5th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Join Robyn Carr, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Virgin River and Thunder Point series, as she explores the healing powers of rural Colorado in a brand-new story of fresh starts, budding relationships and one woman’s journey to finding the happiness she’s long been missing
Between the urban bustle of Denver and the high-stress environment of a career in neurosurgery, Maggie Sullivan has hit a wall. When an emergency, high-risk procedure results in the death of a teenager, Maggie finds herself in the middle of a malpractice lawsuit—and experiencing levels of anxiety she’s never faced before. It’s in this desperate moment that Maggie’s boyfriend decides he can’t handle her emotional baggage, and she’s left alone, exhausted and unsure of what her future holds. One thing is certain, though: she needs to slow down before she burns out completely, and the best place she can think to do that is Sullivan’s Crossing.
Named for Maggie’s great-grandfather, the land and charming general store at the crossroads of the Colorado and the Continental Divide trails have been passed down through the generations and now belong to Maggie’s estranged father, Sully. Though raised by her mother and stepfather after her parents divorced, Maggie has always adored Sully—despite his hands-off approach to fatherhood. When she shows up unannounced in Sullivan’s Crossing, he welcomes her with opens arms, and she relishes the opportunity to rebuild their relationship.
But when Sully has a sudden heart attack, Maggie’s world is rocked once again. Consumed with his care, she’s relieved to find that Cal Jones, a quiet and serious-looking camper, has been taking over many of Sully’s responsibilities as he recuperates. Still, Maggie is suspicious of this mysterious man’s eagerness to help—until she finds out the true reason for his deliberate isolation.
Though Cal and Maggie each struggle with loss and loneliness, the time they spend together gives Maggie hope for something brighter just on the horizon…if only they can learn to find peace and healing—and perhaps love—with each other.

My Review:

This week has been a bit symmetrical. Tuesday and Wednesday’s books (The Murder of Mary Russell and Journey to Munich) were read-alikes for each other. Now yesterday’s book, Once a Rancher, and today’s book, What We Find, are also read-alikes for each other.

So if Once a Rancher looked good to you, you’ll probably like What We Find. And vice-versa. And if What We Find looks good to you, you’ll probably really love The Wanderer, also by Robyn Carr. There are a lot of things about the setup that echo from one book (and one series opener) to another. But the people involved feel different, particularly the heroine.

Although they say you can’t go home again, when too many serious crises fall on Maggie Sullivan’s head, that’s exactly what she does. Maggie goes home to Sullivan’s Crossing, where her dad owns, operates and lives next-door to the local general store. Only to present Maggie with yet another crisis, but this time one that she can help to fix.

Maggie is a neurosurgeon in Denver, and generally a successful one. But in the last few months, her world has come crashing down around her. Her practice is closed, because her two partners were accused of fraud and malpractice. Maggie herself was hit with a separate malpractice suit over a heartbreaking trauma incident. Last but not least, 37-year-old Maggie found herself pregnant, and her long-term lover urged her to abort. He wasn’t ready or willing to be a father again, and when Maggie miscarried, he was more relieved than anything else. The jackass couldn’t deal with Maggie’s grief and stress – so he dumped her. In a phone call.

A friend told her to take a damn break already, and let herself heal. So Maggie went home to Sullivan’s Crossing. Less than two weeks later, her beloved but somewhat curmudgeonly dad had a heart attack, and Maggie was back in Denver at the hospital where she used to practice, enduring the complaints and teasing of a man who had never been sick a day in his life, and was a horrible patient to anyone who got near him. But he lived, and he healed, and Maggie took Sully back to Sullivan’s Crossing.

As Sully adjusts to being not quite as active as he used to be (he’s 70 and just survived a bypass) Maggie adjusts to being the one running the store and the Crossing, and finds herself becoming part of the little community where the Continental Divide Trail intersects several other trails just at that point where North America divides between east and west.

And Maggie finds herself falling for an enigmatic camper who pitches in everywhere around Sullivan’s Crossing while Sully recovers, but teases her unmercifully about who he really is and just why he’s hanging around a summer camping resort and obviously not working, from March until July.

As they explore each other, it turns out that Cal Jones is exactly what Maggie Sullivan needed to help her figure out where she wants to go (or stay) next in her life. And that Maggie Sullivan is the best thing that ever happened to Cal Jones.

But once they finally reveal all the truths to each other, can they find a way to move forward from a summer fling to something more?

Escape Rating B+: Anyone who enjoyed The Wanderer and Carr’s Thunder Point series will love What We Find. The stories are similar, but also very different. And while The Wanderer is Hank Cooper’s story, and we see things mostly from his perspective, What We Find is Maggie’s story, and hers is the point of view we see most and empathize with.

Also, Sully is a fantastic character in his own right. He reminds me a bit of Jackson Gibbs on NCIS. He’s the glue that holds the community together, and he loves his grown child without interfering in her life. But he provides interesting advice whenever anyone cares to listen, and creates a haven in his community. And of course there are unresolved issues in his relationship with his grown-up daughter that still fester between them, in spite of, or perhaps because of, the oh-so-obvious love.

Maggie and Cal’s romance is sweet and hot and surprises them both. Not that they are surprised when they finally fall into bed (or tent) together, but surprised that both of them discover more than just a fling. Maggie constantly expects Cal to leave, like her previous summer romances at the Crossing. Cal isn’t sure (with good reason) that once he tells Maggie the whole truth about his past, she’ll want to continue with him.

And they are both at personal crossroads, which may take them in opposite directions. Now that they are both nearing 40, neither of them is exactly sure what they want to be when they “grow up”. And there are certainly plenty of clouds hanging over both their heads, and lots of people pushing (at least pushing Maggie) to make one decision or another. As part of that pushing, it was very, very nice to see someone with an unconventional but loving and respectful relationship with a stepparent.

One of the things I enjoyed about this book is that Cal and Maggie are both firmly adults. They have lives and careers, and are at the point in their lives when they are searching for a next chapter. We don’t get enough of this kind of story.

I also loved that there was no “misunderstandammit” keeping them apart. Cal doesn’t talk about his past because he’s still dealing with the tragedy. He’s not ready to share. Maggie, likewise doesn’t bring up the miscarriage both because she’s still grieving and because her ex’s reaction made her a bit gunshy.

The way that they grow towards each other is lovely, and Cal’s continual teasing of the initially suspicious Maggie is adorable. I ended this book with a smile on my face, and can’t wait for my next visit to Sullivan’s Crossing.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Robyn and Harlequin MIRA are giving away a copy of What We Find to one lucky U.S. commenter:

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Review: The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelley Rowley + Giveaway

Review: The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelley Rowley + GiveawayThe Ramblers: A Novel by Aidan Donnelley Rowley
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: literary fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 400
Published by William Morrow on February 9th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

For fans of J. Courtney Sullivan, Meg Wolitzer, Claire Messud, and Emma Straub, a gorgeous and absorbing novel of a trio of confused souls struggling to find themselves and the way forward in their lives, set against the spectacular backdrop of contemporary New York City.
Set in the most magical parts of Manhattan—the Upper West Side, Central Park, Greenwich Village—The Ramblers explores the lives of three lost souls, bound together by friendship and family. During the course of one fateful Thanksgiving week, a time when emotions run high and being with family can be a mixed blessing, Rowley’s sharply defined characters explore the moments when decisions are deliberately made, choices accepted, and pasts reconciled.
Clio Marsh, whose bird-watching walks through Central Park are mentioned in New York Magazine, is taking her first tentative steps towards a relationship while also looking back to the secrets of her broken childhood. Her best friend, Smith Anderson, the seemingly-perfect daughter of one of New York’s wealthiest families, organizes the lives of others as her own has fallen apart. And Tate Pennington has returned to the city, heartbroken but determined to move ahead with his artistic dreams.
Rambling through the emotional chaos of their lives, this trio learns to let go of the past, to make room for the future and the uncertainty and promise that it holds. The Ramblers is a love letter to New York City—an accomplished, sumptuous novel about fate, loss, hope, birds, friendship, love, the wonders of the natural world and the mysteries of the human spirit. 

My Review:

The Ramblers is a book that you really can judge by its cover. The cover picture is intended to represent the Ramble and Lake section section of New York City’s Central Park. And if it’s half this pretty, it looks like a marvelous place to lose an afternoon. Or two. And so is this book.

The Ramblers is the interconnected story of three slightly lost souls who are making their way in the city, and dealing with the lives and especially the baggage that they brought with them. It’s also a very pretty love letter to the city of New York/

All three of our protagonists, Clio, Smith and Tate, are 30-something Yale graduates who are finally, in their vastly different ways, growing up. Each of them has issues in their past that they need to resolve before they can move on, and although those issues do not relate directly to their experiences at Yale, it is their time at Yale that ties them all together.

This is also a story about privilege; having it, getting it, keeping it, and what it costs to do any of those things.

Clio and Tate were both scholarship students who never felt like they belonged in the rarefied Ivy League school. But Clio has forged a successful career as a renowned ornithologist, and Tate created an app that is sweeping the internet for millions of dollars. At the same time, they are both still figuring out who they want to be when they grow up, and recognizing that the time to take that step is now, if they can.

Clio and Smith were best friends and roommates at Yale. They know all each other’s secrets. The two women are still roommates, but now they share an upscale apartment in Manhattan that Smith’s parents pay for. Just like they paid the start-up costs for Smith’s business. It’s their way of controlling Smith. They love her, but they want her to be who they want her to be, and Smith has finally recognized that there is a price tag attached to all their generosity – and it’s a price that Smith is no longer willing to pay.

Smith and Tate are both recovering from relationships that were so very right for them, until they ended suddenly in a blaze of doubt and recriminations. Smith suspects that her parents interfered with her engagement to a talented Pakistani neurosurgeon, and Tate discovers that his windfall made his soon-to-be-ex wife see life in a different light. Or at least see the value of their impending divorce in a different shade of light – green.

Clio has found the love of her life, but is certain that she isn’t good enough to keep him. She’s even more sure that they can’t have a future until she reveals all the secrets she’s been keeping, And she recognizes that once all the cats are out of all the bags, the debonair hotelier who loves her may decide that she is too damaged to care for – just like her mother.

Escape Rating B: For a story that circles around so many “first-world problems” it is surprisingly not self-indulgent. Or its characters are not as self-indulgent as readers might first suppose.

I think that’s a result of using Clio as the central character. While her Yale education gives her a great deal of privilege, it is privilege that she earned. Clio grew up in New Haven, the child of a woman who finally committed suicide after decades of manic-depressive swings, and a father who had to work two or three jobs just to keep ahead of his wife’s manic spending sprees and to keep the household barely afloat.

Clio spends her childhood trying to be a little adult, and grasps the normalcy she creates in her adulthood as tightly as she can. She has also preserved her safe life by making sure that she never gets emotionally involved. She’s too scared to get close enough to tell anyone about her mother, and she’s much too afraid that she might find herself caught by the same disease. She doesn’t want to tie anyone else into the life she was forced to lead.

Which makes her initial panic when Henry asks her to move in with him more understandable to readers than it does to him. Clio thought he was safe to have a fling with, and ignored the tiny little voice that told her they were both in way too deep for that. Henry is older, and has made a career of going from city to city, creating beautiful hotels, and moving on from his new hotel and whoever he romanced while he built it. When he breaks pattern, telling Clio he wants a future with her, all of her fears are exposed. Her journey is to decide that she is entitled to a real life, and to bring Henry into her world, letting the chips fall where they may.

Smith is the child of real privilege, and her story is both getting over her heartbreak at the ending of her engagement, and getting over herself and her envy of her younger sister’s upcoming wedding and Clio’s probable move in with Henry. As Smith looks at her own life and her own feelings, she realizes that the price of her privilege is too high, and that if she wants her parents’ respect, or her own, she has to make it on her own.

Tate’s situation is caught in the middle between Clio and Smith. Not literally, there is thankfully no romantic triangle here. It’s that Tate went to Yale the same way that Clio did – he earned it on his own merits. But like Smith, his long-term relationship has ended, and he’s in the throes of an unwanted divorce. Also like Smith, he is wealthy, but in Tate’s case it is earned wealth and not family money.

There’s a part of me that wants to say The Ramblers reminds me a bit of Sex and the City. That resemblance is both in the way that the story serves as a love letter to New York City, and in the strength of the friendship between Clio and Smith. They are sisters-of-the-heart, and their relationship is the best part of the story.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I am giving away a copy of THE RAMBLERS to one lucky U.S. commenter.

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Review: Anything For You by Kristan Higgins + Giveaway

Review: Anything For You by Kristan Higgins + GiveawayAnything for You (Blue Heron, #5) by Kristan Higgins
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance
Series: Blue Heron #5
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on December 29th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Before you get down on bended knee…
…you should be pretty darn sure the answer will be yes. For ten years, Connor O'Rourke has been waiting for Jessica Dunn to take their on-again, off-again relationship public, and he thinks the time has come. His restaurant is thriving, she's got her dream job at Blue Heron Vineyard—it's the perfect time to get married.
When he pops the question, however, her answer is a fond but firm no. If it ain't broke, why fix it? Jess has her hands full with her younger brother, who's now living with her full-time, and a great career after years of waitressing. What she and Connor have is perfect: friends with an excellent benefits package. Besides, with her difficult past (and reputation), she's positive married life isn't for her.
But this time, Connor says it's all or nothing. If she doesn't want to marry him, he'll find someone who does. Easier said than done, given that he's never loved anyone but her. And maybe Jessica isn't quite as sure as she thinks…

My Review:

If you think of the phrase, “anything for you” as having a similar type of resonance to Wesley’s famous “as you wish” in The Princess Bride, you’ll get an idea of the relationship between Connor O’Rourke and Jessica Dunn, with the reversal that he’s the prince and she starts the story as something less than a stableboy.

This is not a pretty story, because Jessica does not have a pretty life. It does finally have a mostly happy ending, although there are lots of times during the story where the reader rightfully wonders how these two are ever going to get there. Their romance has a lot of roadblocks in it, and while they both contribute to those roadblocks as adults, the ones they start with from childhood are difficult to get past, and with good reason.

Like so many of the stories in Higgins’ Blue Heron series, Anything for You tells a lot of its story in flashbacks. In fact, the entire first half or possibly two thirds of the book is a flashback. The story begins with Connor’s failed attempt at asking Jessica to marry him, and then goes all the way back to their occasionally intersecting childhoods. Connor’s memories of their past move closer and closer to that fateful evening, without any references to their present circumstances until after the story reaches that heartbreaking NOW. And then moves forward into a future that takes a lot of twists and turns to look brighter.

in your dreams by kristan higginsIn my review of In Your Dreams, I referred to Jack Holland’s willingness to be any woman’s date for any function where she needs an escort as him being a gentleman, and that he specifically is not the town bicycle. He helps a lot of women out of emotional jams caused by some other man – he doesn’t have sex with every, or even most of, the women he helps.

On the other hand, Jessica Dunn really was the town bicycle in high school. To the point where most people called her “Jessica Does” instead of Jessica Dunn. It sounds kind of sleazy and sordid, until we find out why. Jessica was gathering a group of strong and caring young men who would be willing to protect her younger brother Davey from bullies in exchange for sex with Jessica Does. Davey was born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and needs all the protection that Jessica can give or gather for him.

Both of their parents are alcoholics, and Jessica has been the only person really responsible for Davey since the day he was born. She was 7, and she’s been his parent and his caregiver and his protector ever since.

But in the flashbacks, we see Jessica’s relationship with Connor from the very beginning, and from its rocky start things only go downhill for a long time. Davey’s dog Chico mauls 12-year-old Connor, and Connor’s distant and stuck-up dad drags Connor to the trailer park so he can punish poor Davey by having the dog hauled away to be euthanized. Davey, who can only see the world in black and white, spends his life convinced that Connor killed his dog.

So when adult Jessica and Connor begin their on-again/off-again friends-with benefits arrangement it is with the explicit understanding that it will remain a secret so that the volatile Davey never finds out.

Because Jessica has always and will always put Davey first. Even at the cost of her own happiness. But who is she really protecting? Davey or herself?

best man by kristan higginsEscape Rating A-: Anything for You was not quite as straightforward a romance as the earlier entries in this series. Also, it isn’t necessary to read every book in the series to get what’s going on in this one, but Manningsport is a nice place to visit with interesting people. If you like small town romances, start with The Best Man (reviewed here) to get in on all the fun.

Connor’s life has been relatively easy, and he is perfectly aware of it. He’s not self-centered nor does he think he’s perfect or God’s gift to women or anything like that. He’s just a guy who knows that he has mostly been lucky. His parents were upper middle-class, and while his dad was generally a selfish and self-absorbed bastard, he made sure that his family was well provided for financially if not emotionally. If Connor hasn’t exactly forgiven his dad for leaving their mother for a much younger (and very pregnant) woman, he is also perfectly civil about the whole thing. And his much younger sister Savannah is one of the lights of Connor’s life.

But Connor has loved Jessica Dunn for 20 years, and that isn’t going to change. He has taken whatever bits of her she can manage to give him, and he’s finally realized that it isn’t enough. He’s in his early 30s now and wants to be married to the love of his life and start a family. He’s also not willing to settle for second best – meaning a woman other than Jessica.

So Connor has to somehow get past his past with Davey, who throws a head-banging temper tantrum whenever he sees Connor.

And while Davey may only have an IQ of 50, he is as good as any child at emotionally manipulating his parental figure, in this case, Jessica.

Jessica is caught between several rocks and all kinds of hard places. Growing up as the only responsible party in a house of alcoholics, Jessica has no faith in anyone but herself. Her experience is that she is the only one she can trust not to let her down. She’s also sure that with her background, Connor can’t possibly love her. She’s certain that their relationship is all about the thrill of the chase. And while she is wrong, it is so easy to understand how she would feel that way.

She can’t let herself even think about a future with Connor, or about how she really feels about him, because she is certain that happiness is not for her. And because Davey hates Connor.

The author has done an excellent job of portraying an adult child of an alcoholic. Everything that Jessica is dealing with in the present are a natural response to the unpredictable insanity of her childhood.

Connor’s solution to their many dilemmas is ingenious, and also heartwarming. He has to create a relationship with Davey on Davey’s terms. When things backfire, it is up to Connor to point out how much of Jessica’s reaction isn’t about Davey, but is about Jessica. It’s only when they work things out from there that they have a chance.

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