Review: The Best of Us by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: The Best of Us by Robyn Carr + GiveawayThe Best of Us (Sullivan's Crossing, #4) by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance
Series: Sullivan's Crossing #4
Pages: 336
Published by Mira on January 8, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In Sullivan’s Crossing, #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr has created a place where good people, powerful emotions, great humor and a healthy dose of common sense are the key ingredients to a happy life. Sullivan’s Crossing brings out the best in people. It’s a place you’ll want to visit again and again.

Dr. Leigh Culver loves practicing medicine in Timberlake, Colorado. It is a much-needed change of pace from her stressful life in Chicago. The only drawback is she misses her aunt Helen, the woman who raised her. But it’s time that Leigh has her independence, and she hopes the beauty of the Colorado wilderness will entice her aunt to visit often.

Helen Culver is an independent woman who lovingly raised her sister’s orphaned child. Now, with Leigh grown, it’s time for her to live life for herself. The retired teacher has become a successful mystery writer who loves to travel and intends to never experience winter again.

When Helen visits Leigh, she is surprised to find her niece still needs her, especially when it comes to sorting out her love life. But the biggest surprise comes when Leigh takes Helen out to Sullivan’s Crossing and Helen finds herself falling for the place and one special person. Helen and Leigh will each have to decide if they can open themselves up to love neither expected to find and seize the opportunity to live their best lives.

My Review:

The Best of Us has a lot of themes that echo back to the first book in this series, What We Find. Not that you have to have read that to enjoy this. More that the stories hit some similar beats, and that the issues that led to the situation Maggie finds herself in at the beginning of What We Find have parallels with rather different outcomes in The Best Of Us.

Also that Maggie’s father Sully, who all of the residents of the Crossing and the nearby town of Timberlake love, finally gets his own romance in addition to the central love story between the 30somethings that this series has featured so far.

Unlike the Jones siblings featured in the first three books of this series, Leigh Culver comes to Timberlake with a purpose. She has come to take over the urgent-care clinic in town. Well, that’s her job. Her personal purpose is to finally live on her own after spending the first 34 years of her life living with her Aunt Helen, the woman who raised her.

As part of that living on her own, Leigh is also in Timberlake to actually get a life – not that she would see it that way. She went through high school intending to marry the boy next door, and when he left her at the altar she threw herself into her studies, not just college but also medical school, an internship, a residency and ultimately a practice as both an ER doctor in a major Chicago hospital and a private family practice.

She’s been part of the rat race for too long, and as much as she loves her work, it hasn’t left her time for a life outside of it. So she comes to Timberlake, where she has a practice that keeps her busy but not insanely so, makes friends and has time to look around her and see what she wants to do next.

What she sees is her neighbor Rob Shanahan, a single father of two nearly grown up boys. One of whom lands in her clinic after slicing his hand open at Rob’s pub. In the process of treating Finn’s cut and Rob’s fainting spell, he manages to ask her out. She thinks he’s delirious – and he kind of was – but he’s serious about the date.

And once they’ve finally figured out that what they have is more than a fainting spell and some truly amazing chemistry, they can’t keep their hands off each other. No matter how difficult it is to find some private time between his boys and her Aunt Helen coming to Timberlake for a long visit.

Not that Helen doesn’t find plenty of ways to keep herself busy. She’s a very successful mystery writer, and the Crossing turns out to be the perfect place to write away an afternoon. That she finds herself amused and entranced by Sully is definitely a surprising but lovely added benefit.

It all seems too good to be true, until things start to go pear-shaped, at least for Rob and Leigh. Neither of them has wanted to talk about love. Rob’s wife died when the boys were babies, and he hasn’t been looking for love since then – he hasn’t had time either. Leigh has resigned herself to being alone like her Aunt. She may have gotten over loving that boy next door who abandoned her, but she’s never recovered from the betrayal.

When Leigh discovers that the birth control implant she thought still had a couple of years to run had in fact expired a couple of years before, there are suddenly a lot of decisions to make, and a lot of acknowledgements to figure out – before that hot spark gets smothered.

Escape Rating B: There were three things I really, really loved about this story, and one that personally drove me bananas – although I realize that this is one of my quirks and other people will love it.

First, I love this place. The Crossing and Timberlake have turned out to be yet another of this author’s lovely, friendly, liveable communities, filled with marvelous scenery and absolutely terrific people. I’ve sincerely enjoyed every single visit, and hope there are lots more. It’s a place that I think anyone would love to live in.

Second, I really got into the romance between Leigh and Rob. They are terrific people, and it was fun to get to know them and their families. I enjoyed the way that, while Leigh had been in town for several months, there hadn’t been a reason for them to really get to know each other until his son’s accident. And that they both discover themselves unexpectedly “all in” to a relationship that neither expected.

Their difficulties in managing to get time alone were priceless.

Third, I very much enjoyed Sully and Helen’s relationship. Falling in love, including a sexual relationship, is not a need that gets turned off at some age. These are two really interesting people who actually don’t have much in common but their joy in life. But they also have perspective and experience and each gives the other something that they lack. And they make each other laugh. The way that they tentatively reach towards romance and their clear happiness when it is reciprocated is marvelous.

That Leigh is completely thrown for a loop that her Aunt and Sully have fallen in love with each other was well done. I’ve always said that the two things that no one wants to think about are their parents having sex and their children having sex. We all know that it happens, but our minds don’t want to go there. Leigh’s reactions when forced to go there were very real, as is Helen’s joy and happiness.

However, the part of the story I wish hadn’t happened was Leigh’s unplanned pregnancy. Early in their relationship, Rob and Leigh had agreed that neither of them wanted children – or in Rob’s case more children. While the tension of how to resolve the situation once the choice had been taken from them provided realistic conflict in the story – it’s just not a plot device I personally care for.

That does not mean it wasn’t well done in this instance, because like all of the stories in this series so far, it certainly was. But that plot thread just isn’t my cup of tea.

Which does not mean that I didn’t love the rest of the story, because I certainly did. It also doesn’t mean that I won’t be thrilled to return to Sullivan’s Crossing at the next available opportunity – because I most definitely will!

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

I’m giving away a hardcover copy of The Best of Us to one lucky US commenter on this post!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Zachary’s Christmas by M.L. Buchman

Review: Zachary’s Christmas by M.L. BuchmanZachary's Christmas (Night Stalkers White House #4) by M L Buchman
Format: ebook
Source: publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance
Series: Night Stalkers White House #4
Pages: 184
Published by Buchman Bookworks on December 23, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

-a Night Stalkers White House Christmas romance- NAME: Zachary Thomas JOB: Vice President of the United States FAMILY: A distant two-star general and a self-involved Olympic swimming coach NAME: Melanie Anne Darlington JOB: She hasn't a clue FAMILY: White House Chief of Staff and a powerful Southern legacy Zack's political career thrives-his star shines brightly. The only thing missing? Someone to share it with. Anne's brother embraces the White House career he was born to do. Unfortunately, Anne's own future shines as clearly as a snow globe blizzard on a dark winter's night. This holiday season, each day opens a new window to the vista of their future in Zachary's Christmas.

My Review:

There may not be an actual half-life for reading holiday stories after the season, but for me it feels like anytime after Twelfth Night (January 5) is pushing something. Or just gives me a sense of trying to get one last lick of a candy cane that has dwindled down to nothing – at least until the next fall.

So when I received Zachary’s Christmas from the publisher over the New Year’s weekend in exchange for my usual honest review, it seemed like the time to review this was NOW, especially since this is an older holiday title (albeit one I had not read) from one of my favorite authors.

And it’s short – and this was a day when I needed a short book to review. I fell way too far down the Harry Potter fanfic rabbit hole this holiday. My bad – but it was fun.

About Zachary’s Christmas…

In the fictional universe created in the author’s absolutely awesome Night Stalkers military romance series, Peter Matthews is the current liberal president of the U.S. And yes, I wish this aspect of the series were real. I wish it very, very much.

Moving right along…

Zachary Thomas is Matthews’ Vice-President, and looks to be the next nominee for President from their party. It’s Matthews’ second term, so that talk is timely. But one of the interesting things about Zach Thomas is that he is single, never married, and has still managed to have a successful and scandal-free political career.

Into this walks Anne Darlington, whose brother happens to be the current White House Chief of Staff. Anne comes to DC in chilly December to visit her brother, because she’s at a kind of personal crossroads. She’s been the very successful manager of their family’s ranching and restaurant business back in Tennessee, but she’s discovered that it isn’t for her. She’s good at it, but she doesn’t love it. The job, that it. She loves the ranch just fine but doesn’t want to live there.

Her brother Daniel, on the other hand, lives for the ranch and can’t wait for his White House career to be over so that he can go back and run the place. But that’s his dream for later, because right now he’s doing good and important work and doesn’t want to leave it until the job is done.

(Whether helping to clean things up in Washington DC is a job that is EVER done is an entirely separate question not within the scope of either this book, this series or this review.)

Zach meets Anne in her brother’s office and the chemistry between them is instant. Not just the sexual sparks, of which there are plenty, but the intellectual challenge. They meet on multiple levels, and it’s special for both of them.

So special that Zach asks Anne out that evening to hear the holiday concert at the National Botanical Gardens. And these two people start to open up to each other, reaching out towards each other out of their separate loneliness. That type of painful loneliness that happens when you’re busy and surrounded by people all the time, but where you can’t let anyone in and no one really sees the real you.

Their whirlwind affair gives Zach all the time he needs, and it isn’t much, to figure out that Anne is the one woman for him. But between his work and his increasing happiness, he doesn’t see – and Anne doesn’t show or tell him – the problems that brought her to DC in the first place.

So while he thinks they’re on a path to happy ever after, Anne fears that she’s on a path where she becomes an adjunct of someone powerful but not a person with her own purpose – and that’s just the fate she came to DC to escape.

Whether they can find a way for both their needs to get met is anyone’s guess. But there are plenty of people pushing both idiots in the right direction.

Escape Rating B: There were lots of things that I really liked about this story, and one that felt just a bit incomplete or unfinished – hence the B rating.

The setup was a whole lot of fun. President Peter Matthews has been a tertiary character in several books in the previous series, Night Stalkers and its followup series – plural. He is the childhood friend of Emily Beale, the heroine of the first Night Stalkers book, but it is not necessary to have read any of the previous books in any of the previous series (Night Stalkers, Henderson’s Ranch, Night Stalkers White House, White House Protection Force, etc.) I’ve read most of the Night Stalkers but little of the others so far and still got right into Zachary’s Christmas. Not that this one doesn’t make me WANT to go back and read some of the others that I’ve missed!

I liked the romance between Zach and Anne. It was definitely a fast whirlwind, but it worked for this story. I also felt for Anne and just how bowled over she was by the constant presence of both the Secret Service and the Press. Her family is wealthy and powerful, so she’s used to being in public and giving speeches and having people watch her. But the DC goldfish bowl still feels intimidating to her – understandably so.

While I understood her hesitation about throwing herself to the wolves of the Press, the part of the story that felt incomplete was the depth of her self-doubt. She initially turns down Zach’s proposal because she fears being lost in his shadow. But she doesn’t ever talk to him about the issue, nor does she ever explain what brought her to DC in the first place. While I felt for her dilemma, my feeling for her had way more to do with me projecting my feelings onto her than her actually articulating them.

Also, she doubts herself constantly and continually minimizes her own capabilities and her own accomplishments. While we all have self doubt (as women we generally have buckets of it) hers don’t seem founded. They’re not rooted in anything and they are of a depth that just begs for there to have been a root cause – which just isn’t there.

But those minor reservations aside, I still had a terrific time on my visit to the Matthews’ White House, peeking in on this lovely romance. I look forward to going back for more.

Review: Not Quite Over You by Susan Mallery

Review: Not Quite Over You by Susan MalleryNot Quite Over You (Happily Inc., #4) by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Happily Inc #4
Pages: 384
Published by Hqn on October 23, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Susan Mallery, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Fool’s Gold romances, proves there’s nowhere better than Happily Inc to rekindle first love.

Silver Tesdal has a head for business and a mouth made for kissing, and banker Drew Lovato has his eye on both. But ever since he was dumb enough to let her go, she’s kept him at a distance. When the bank turns her down for a loan, Drew sees a double opportunity—he can finance her brilliant, unique idea to rock Happily Inc’s wedding industry and win back her trust.

Despite her reputation, Silver’s not as tough as she seems. Losing Drew nearly destroyed her. Still, his kisses are as tempting as his offer to invest in her business. If she can’t quite get over him, maybe she should get under him and knock him out of her system once and for all.

But her best laid plans begin to unravel as Silver finds herself falling even harder than when they were high school sweethearts. Which means that she’ll have to come clean about the secret she’s been hiding from him for years—and risk losing him forever.

My Review:

This isn’t exactly a second chance at love romance. It’s more like an “unfinished business” romance. Well, it’s also a second chance at love romance, it’s just that it feels more like they picked up where they left off because they just never got it out of their systems the first time. As the title implies, Silver and Drew never got over each other.

All the way back in high school, Silver and Drew were head over heels for each other. For three whole months. One glorious summer. The summer before Drew left for college. And when he left town, Silver let him go.

I don’t mean let him go to college, her permission was not required. I mean let him go as in broke up with him. She knew that time and distance was going to do that anyway, and that it was better to make a clean break.

When she discovered she was pregnant, that option almost went off the table. But again, Silver made the mature decision. She did go to tell him about the baby, and when his reaction was to offer to marry her, but seemingly not out of love, she handed him the paperwork for her to give the baby up for adoption. And he signed.

Twelve years later Silver is still in Happily and Drew has been back for almost a decade, an officer in his family’s bank. A bank that has just turned Silver down for a business loan to expand her AlcoHaul business.

The town of Happily is a destination wedding town, and Silver’s burgeoning business creates signature drinks for the many (many, many) themed weddings and brings her customized trailer filled with drinks and a full bar to venues all over town. Hence the catch name, AlcoHaul. Because that’s what she does, haul alcohol all over Happily.

Silver is also part of the “brain trust” that helps Pallas design and put together her “Weddings Out of the Box”. The details of how that came about are in the first book in this series, You Say It First.

Drew has seen Silver’s business plan, and he wants to help. Yes, he does have hopes of getting back together, but he’s also a savvy businessman with a heart. First, her plan is solid, and so is her business. She’s a good investment. Second, he believes the bank should be using its resources to help the town, and one way to do that is to help local businesses. He’s not a bleeding heart, he just wants the local bank to invest in the town that supports it for the betterment of both.

His family, or at least his aunt Libby, currently has a hate-on for Silver, for no reason that is ever made clear, and makes sure Silver’s loan application is turned down. It’s fairly obvious that Libby just wanted to watch Silver jump through the hoops so she could shoot her down at the end.

So Drew offers to buy a minority share of Silver’s business so that she can expand. But their unfinished business with each other makes her wary of accepting his help. It takes a few days for her to come to the conclusion that it is good business for both of them, whatever else happens.

What happens, of course, is that working together leads them right back to where they were all those years ago – but with a bit more maturity and a lot more baggage. The spark is certainly still there, and blazes back into life all too easily.

But all the factors that pushed them apart in the past are still unresolved in the present. They may be older and a bit wiser, but Silver is still from the wrong side of the tracks and Drew is the scion of one of Happily’s most prominent families. A family that has plans for him that definitely don’t include a woman who owns a bar. Or even three bars.

The first time around, Silver and Drew were too young to fight for each other. It would be easy to give up again. Neither of them has any experience fighting for what they want when it comes to matters of the heart.

They’ll have to learn this time – and fast.

Escape Rating B-: On the one hand, I liked the relationship between Silver and Drew, because they were both really neat people. Silver was right back in high school. They did need to break up – not because they didn’t love each other, but because they weren’t mature enough to deal with a long-distance relationship. Silver knew that she wanted to stay in Happily, and Drew needed to leave – at least long enough to appreciate what he’d left behind.

It was also great that they weren’t angsty about both living in town. They didn’t interact, but they didn’t seem to go out of their way to avoid each other. They’d had what they’d had, and it was over. At least it was mostly over.

Drew wants to try again – even if he isn’t quite ready to admit that to himself at the beginning – but Silver is afraid to trust him. She’s also afraid to trust herself, which is much more the crux of her journey in this story. She’s so afraid of being like her mother that she almost succeeds in turning herself off completely – and gets a bit too over the top angst when she finally realizes that Drew is already back inside her defenses. She’s afraid to fall in love again, only to eventually figure out that she never fell out of love with Drew in the first place – and to have several panic attacks about it.

The difficult part of this story for me, and the reason why it’s only a B- story, is the involvement of Drew’s family – or at least the involvement of two particular members of it. The two villains of this piece, and they definitely are villains, are Drew’s Aunt Libby and his mother Irene. The rest of his family is pretty terrific, especially his Grandpa Frank, but his mother and her sister are a pair of Cruella de Villes.

And we’re never sure why.

Libby was also the villain in the first book, You Say It First. She’s Pallas’ mother, and the woman never, ever, ever has a decent thing to say about her daughter. She spends that entire book cutting Pallas down at every single turn, and Pallas just takes it for entirely too much of the story.

Libby continues her evil ways in Not Quite Over You, blocking Silver’s loan application, undermining Drew at the bank, and generally attempting to score off against her sister Irene at every turn using Drew as a proxy.

Drew’s mother Irene is just as bad, in her own way. Irene, along with Drew’s father, left Happily to open a high-powered lobbying firm in Washington DC. She has determined what Drew’s life course will be and simply doesn’t listen to anything he says about what he wants. He wants to stay in Happily and eventually run the bank. He does not want to come to DC and join the family firm. Her inability to accept that Drew has plans of his own for his life – after all, he’s pushing 30 and his plans are quite good plans – gets to the point where she is not merely manipulative to the max, but also lying to Drew’s father and everyone else as well as using Drew’s phone to get Silver into places where she can lie to her and cut her down as well.

It’s not well-meaning parenting gone astray, it’s vicious and cruel and needs to be both explained and then resolved. She’s so evil that she, along with her sister Libby, need to get some just desserts delivered and it doesn’t happen, which left me feeling like the story isn’t done. Call it a bit of unfinished business. Hopefully both Libby and Irene get what’s coming to them in a future book in the series.

Review: The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory

Review: The Proposal by Jasmine GuilloryThe Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Wedding Date #2
Pages: 327
Published by Berkley Books on October 30, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The author of The Wedding Date serves up a novel about what happens when a public proposal doesn't turn into a happy ending, thanks to a woman who knows exactly how to make one on her own...

When someone asks you to spend your life with him, it shouldn't come as a surprise--or happen in front of 45,000 people.

When freelance writer Nikole Paterson goes to a Dodgers game with her actor boyfriend, his man bun, and his bros, the last thing she expects is a scoreboard proposal. Saying no isn't the hard part--they've only been dating for five months, and he can't even spell her name correctly. The hard part is having to face a stadium full of disappointed fans...

At the game with his sister, Carlos Ibarra comes to Nik's rescue and rushes her away from a camera crew. He's even there for her when the video goes viral and Nik's social media blows up--in a bad way. Nik knows that in the wilds of LA, a handsome doctor like Carlos can't be looking for anything serious, so she embarks on an epic rebound with him, filled with food, fun, and fantastic sex. But when their glorified hookups start breaking the rules, one of them has to be smart enough to put on the brakes...

My Review:

Like the couple in the previous book in this series, the absolutely awesome The Wedding Date, this one begins with a meet-cute, although in this case the meet starts out definitely not so cute.

Consider the opening of this story as a public service announcement. If you have never even discussed whether or not your “significant” other actually is significant, and if so how much, do not propose on the JumboTron at a major sporting event. Particularly when you can’t be bothered to get your prospective spouse’s name spelled right. Also don’t do this if you know so little about the other person that you don’t even know whether or not they’ll want to be the center of this much attention, even if the answer to your proposal might otherwise be yes.

In this case, Nikole’s about-to-be-ex is completely clueless on all counts. Or so completely self-centered that he’s only thinking about how good it looks for him (he’s an actor after all) to be on the JumboTron looking so handsome and being so romantic. When she rightfully says “No” he storms off in a temper tantrum with all of his buddies, leaving her to face the hungry sharks of the press all alone.

And that’s where Carlos Ibarra and his sister Angie step in. They’re sitting right behind the drama, and they heard it all. They also saw the paparazzi closing in on the still shell-shocked Nikole. So they elbow the press out of the way and pretend to be long-lost besties, sweeping Nikole up and getting her the hell out of Dodge. Or at least out of Dodger Stadium.

Neither Nikole nor Carlos are looking for a relationship. They’re both invested in their careers, they both have active social lives with friends, family and/or family-of-choice. But that doesn’t mean that they can manage to stop thinking about each other. And they get along so well that they are both on exactly the same page.

They both want a casual relationship with lots of laughs (and lots of great sex!) but no commitment. They both have bad experiences with commitment, and aren’t looking to repeat any of them.

But as the occasional date turns into two or three nights every week and texting all day long, it begins to look more and more like a real relationship to everyone except the two participants. Until Carlos finally figures out that love has snuck up on him after all.

Except that Nikole is having none of it, and in the ensuing fight decides that she’s having none of him anymore, either, especially after he storms out of his own house in his own temper tantrum, after saying a whole bunch of things that should have been left not just unsaid, but absolutely unthought.

The course of true love never does run smooth, but this time it’s going to take an epic breakthrough in the sour cream aisle to get the relationship back on track!

Escape Rating B: I liked The Proposal, but it just doesn’t have the sheer compulsive devourability of The Wedding Date, in spite of the epic number of scenes in Nik’s friend’s cupcakery.

In short, The Wedding Date was awesome, while The Proposal is merely good. After the first book, I was just expecting more.

Admittedly, this one does start out with quite the bang. That blindsiding JumboTron proposal scene should be a classic on multiple levels – all of them in a class on how and why not to pull such a stunt unless you are damn sure both that he or she will say yes and that they won’t change their minds about you after you make them the center of all that attention. Some people love that kind of thing, but others don’t even like to let restaurants know it’s their birthday so no one makes a fuss.

Carlos’ revelation that he loves Nik – or at least the way he went about it – should probably also be considered a PSA. If you are a morning person, do not spring this kind of surprise on your hopefully significant other the moment they wake up – especially if they are absolutely NOT a morning person. This was bound to go wrong, the only question was how badly wrong.

At the same time, one of the things that made The Wedding Date such a treat, and that also works well here, is that the problems that do arise between Nik and Carlos are not a misunderstandammit. This isn’t something that a simple conversation could have fixed. In fact, they had the simple conversation and both agreed that they were not on this page at all. Then Carlos suddenly changed the rules and Nik started floundering. She has commitment issues from prior relationships that she really needs to get over, but they had both agreed that this wasn’t going to be a relationship – until it suddenly was.

I liked both Nik and Carlos a lot, along with all of their friends and family. (Carlos is the best friend and soon-to-be best man at Drew and Alexa’s wedding, the couple from The Wedding Date). Nik’s two besties, just like Alexa’s friends in the first book are both wonderfully supportive and refreshingly blunt as required. We all need friends like them in our lives.

I think the reason why this book wasn’t as compelling a read as the first one is that except for the definitely resolved sexual tension between Carlos and Nik, there wasn’t a lot of other kinds of tension. Their road to a relationship is surprisingly smooth – at least until they figure out that they are in the relationship they both said they didn’t want. So the story doesn’t have as much drive to it as the previous book.

In the end, a sweet love story between two people who are interesting to be around and really deserve their HEA. And I am still more than curious enough to see the actual wedding between Drew and Alexa that I’m still looking forward to the final book in this trilogy, The Wedding Party. I loved The Wedding Date so much that I really want to see this series stick the dismount.

Review: Want Me Cowboy by Maisey Yates

Review: Want Me Cowboy by Maisey YatesWant Me, Cowboy (Copper Ridge: Desire, #5) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Copper Ridge: Desire #5
Pages: 217
Published by Harlequin Desire on November 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Her rancher boss is looking for the perfect wife...and she wants the job!

Poppy Sinclair kept her feelings for Isaiah Grayson secret for a decade. When her infuriatingly gorgeous Stetson-wearing boss enlists her help in finding him a convenient wife, she threatens to quit. Until Isaiah counters with an interesting proposal: Why doesn't she marry him? Can she say yes to sharing his life and his bed, but not his heart?

My Review:

As much as I usually love this author, this particular book reminded me why I generally leave the category romance reviews in the hands of my friend and (not nearly frequent enough) guest reviewer Amy Daltry. (She loved Hold Me, Cowboy, a previous book in this very series)

Because as much as I usually love this author, this particular book made me want to throw it against the wall. I don’t have this reaction often because my iPad is just too damn expensive to treat that way.

Let’s just say that Want Me Cowboy is not exactly a contemporary romance for the #MeToo era.

And that’s just for starters.

Except that, for starters, I really liked the setup of the story. I like a good friends to lovers romance. I also like a good lusting after the boss romance. And the opening of the story was hilarious – it reminded me of all those fake ads for a wife or a husband where the previous candidate had an impossible condition – or at least impossible for most respondents. You know the kind, the ones that usually end with the woman keeping her cats or the man keeping his cabin. Or in the case of this particular ad, Isaiah Grayson starts out by saying he’s keeping his beard.

And telling the assistant who has been in love with him for a decade that she’s the one who will be interviewing any prospective candidates. The possibilities for humor are endless. And I wish the story had gone there. Or pretty much anywhere else instead of where it actually went.

Not that I didn’t hope that they would get together, because I initially did. Until I didn’t.

Let me explain…

The first thing to understand about Isaiah Grayson is that he seems to be somewhere on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. Not that it has ever been officially diagnosed, but both he and his family are more than aware that Isaiah has never had any skills in processing what other people are thinking or feeling. And he uses that lack of awareness as an excuse to be an asshole.

He’s usually not mean, or at least not mean per se. But he has decided that he is usually right, and when someone tells him something that he doesn’t want to hear or that he thinks is wrong, he overrides everything they say and everything they do, leaving them no choice but to either go along or walk away – and he makes it incredibly difficult to walk away.

As he finally realizes late (too late) in the story, he did give Poppy a choice. However, he has the financial power to restrict that choice to the point where the least bad option is the one that he wants. It’s not necessarily that she wants what he has decided is best, just that all of the other choices are so horrible that it might as well be no choice at all.

Things in this story begin going pear-shaped when Poppy Sinclair finally snaps back at Isaiah about giving her the job of interviewing his wife candidates. She’s fed up with his hunt for a convenient wife who will be the equivalent of her, just at home. And with sex. Otherwise, he IS looking for her clone.

He gets the bright idea that he can have his cake and eat it too by just marrying Poppy. This could have been a great story, but the problem is the way that Isaiah goes about it. Once he’s kissed her and discovered that they have AMAZING chemistry together, he decides that no one else by Poppy will do, takes over her life and NEVER listens to any of her objections or concerns.

Including the concern she never gets a chance to raise. Their sexual relationship has the definite aura of him pushing her boundaries until she “realizes” that she really didn’t want to say no in the first place. The way this feeds into the whole narrative of “no means yes” that men fall back on when consent is forced or withdrawn made me grit my teeth.

That he, in spite of his own internal dialog about his sexual experiences, can’t be bothered to use a condom is just plain wrong. She’s a virgin, so the idea that she wasn’t remotely prepared to have sex with anyone isn’t surprising. That he doesn’t seem to even think about protecting her from either pregnancy or any consequences of his past is selfish and thoughtless, to say the least..

That she becomes pregnant from her first sexual experience is part of the story. Because it becomes yet another way that he takes her choices away from her.

You’re thinking that she can raise the child alone, that in the 21st century pregnancy does not equal a choice between marriage and eternal shame and damnation. And you’re right.

But, and in this case it is a huge gigantic butt, he has decided that marriage between them is the right thing to do. Because for him, it provides him with the perfect, stable family that he has decided that he needs.

So when Poppy tries to back out of the engagement he has pretty much coerced her into, he informs her that if she doesn’t marry him he will fight her for full custody, and that with his money and his resources, he will win. And he’s right about that. So when she won’t do what he wants, he makes all her other choices so horrible that she has no real choice.

For me the whole story was like that. He has decided what he wants, so he takes over her life. She has doubts and tries to back away, or at least to slow things down. He rides roughshod over her. Over and over again.

Her answer to his behavior is to just love him more. And to give him more. His mother convinces her that a successful marriage is one where she gives everything and eventually he will see what’s right in front of him. This sounds like the kind of advice that abused spouses receive.

Ironically, it is not the kind of marriage his parents actually have, so there’s an element of “do as I say and not as I do” involved along with the guilt trip.

He does eventually figure out just how big an asshole he’s been, and he does seem to learn just a bit of his lesson. But I’m not nearly convinced that he’s learned enough of a lesson, or grovelled nearly enough, to get past the “if you don’t marry me I’ll take your child away” threat.

Escape Rating D+: It’s been a long time since I’ve dragged out the D+ rating, and this book wasn’t nearly as much fun as the last time I did. But I did finish the damn thing, and that’s what puts it into this category. There was the germ of a good story in here, but it just derailed for me into questionably consenting assholishness.

I could go on (and on and ON) but I’ve ranted long enough.

I still love this author, and will pick up her next book that is NOT a category romance. (In fact, I already have an ARC) But if there are any future books in the Copper Ridge: Desire category series, I’ll leave them to Amy.

Review: Why Not Tonight by Susan Mallery

Review: Why Not Tonight by Susan MalleryWhy Not Tonight (Happily Inc., #3) by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Happily Inc #3
Pages: 384
Published by Hqn on September 18, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


Susan Mallery welcomes you to Happily Inc, where true love isn’t just for fairy tales…

Natalie Kaleta will do anything for the artists at her gallery, including risk life, limb and the effect of humidity on her naturally curly hair. Braving a downpour to check on reclusive Ronan Mitchell, Natalie gets stranded by a mudslide at his mountain home, where the brooding glass artist reveals his playful side, sending her inconvenient crush from under-the-radar to over-the-top.

After a secret tore apart his family and made him question his sense of self, Ronan fled his hometown for Happily Inc, but the sunny small town can’t fix his damaged heart. He won’t give in to his attraction for beautiful, perpetually cheerful Natalie. She’s untouched by darkness—or so he thinks.

Natalie knows that when a heart goes through the flame, it comes out stronger. Life may not be a fairy tale, but sometimes dreams do come true. Why not this one? Why not tonight?

My Review:

Although this story, and the entire Happily Inc. series so far, are definitely contemporary romances, this entry in particular has every bit as much to do with family as it does with romance.

Not that hero Ronan Mitchell doesn’t need his family to find his HEA. Because he’s cut himself off from his brothers and his parents, and without them he can’t seem to find the inspiration he needs – and he does need it. Ronan, just like his brothers Nick and Mathias (and their piece of work father) is an internationally acclaimed artist.

Cutting himself off from the people who care about him – and who he’s currently unwilling to admit that he cares about as well, is also cutting him off from the wellspring that lets him create.

Natalie Kaleta crashes into his solitude and changes, well, everything. For the better. Not that it doesn’t take Ronan a while, a long while, to admit it.

Natalie, the office manager of the gallery where Ronan and his two artistic brothers all display their work, is also an artist herself. And she’s one of those people who cares deeply about the people in her life.

Unlike Ronan, Natalie has no surviving family-of-birth. Her father died before she was born and her mother raised her alone. They were two against the world until her mother died of cancer. But Natalie is not alone, finding herself stranded in Happily Inc. she found herself a job that gives her time to create and created a family-of-choice that sustains her.

She envies Ronan for his close-knit family, and thinks he’s a fool and an idiot for turning his back on them. And she tells him so when she gets stuck in his mountain house during a storm.

He still has a chance to mend fences with his family, fences that he tore down. His struggle is not unreasonable, but his continuing to be a butt-head about it certainly is.

Their forced proximity during the storm gives the sparks between them a chance to rise to the surface, so even though Ronan claims not to want a relationship with anyone, and Natalie is interested in finding commitment, they make a mutual decision to have fun while whatever they have lasts.

When Natalie figures out that she wants more – Ronan does what he does best these days and retreats to his castle, pulling up the figurative drawbridge behind him.

It takes some brotherly intervention to crowbar Ronan’s head out of his ass. But when he finally does, his new perspective lets him figure out what’s been right in front of him all along.

Escape Rating B: I returned to Happily Inc, in order to be taken away to a special little town populated with quirky people, based on an equally quirky PR stunt. There was no wagon train, there were no stranded brides – at least not in the 19th century.

Natalie, however, was a stranded bride in the 21st century – one who decided to make a life for herself in this little wedding destination town. She’s found a family-of-choice and a job that lets her focus on her art.

Ronan, on the other hand, came to Happily Inc. to hide away from his family in Fools’ Gold after a family mess came to light. Ronan’s father, the famous glass artist Ceallach Mitchell, revealed that Ronan was his biological son by someone other than his wife. That means that the four brothers that Ronan believed were his full brothers are only half brothers. That the brother he thought was his fraternal twin isn’t. And that the woman he believed was his mother has been lying to him all these years.

Ronan’s response is to run, hide and brood in Happily Inc. Two of his brothers, Nick and Mathias, follow him there. Their stories are marvelously told in You Say It First (Nick) and Second Chance Girl (Mathias). (As an aside, both of those titles make complete sense in the context of their stories. this one doesn’t and it’s driving me crazy.)

When Natalie gate crashes his solitude, he finally starts to realize that he needs people. She is well aware of it, but his head is too far up his fundament to see the light – figuratively and literally.

For this reader it felt like the romance took a back seat to the family drama – and that felt right. Ronan has to figure out his place in the world again, mend his fences with his family, and most importantly learn to trust himself and others again before he can even like himself enough to love someone else. Even someone has completely awesome and totally right for him as Natalie.

It’s an important part of the story that Natalie doesn’t try to “fix” Ronan, because you can’t really fix someone else’s problems. She does provide him opportunities to fix things for himself, and she does create situations where he can work on fixing things if he wants to try, but she doesn’t mend his fences for him – and she isn’t willing to settle for someone who always has one foot out the door.

And she repeatedly calls him on his bullshit – because it needs to be called.

In the end, Why Not Tonight was a heartwarming story about family, where the romantic happily ever after was the reward for the journey and not the central point of the book. I really like these people and especially this place and can’t wait to go back with Not Quite Over You.

Review: Snowfall on Lighthouse Lane by JoAnn Ross + Giveaway

Review: Snowfall on Lighthouse Lane by JoAnn Ross + GiveawaySnowfall on Lighthouse Lane (Honeymoon Harbor, #2) by JoAnn Ross
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance
Series: Honeymoon Harbor #2
Pages: 432
Published by Hqn on October 30, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Lose yourself in the magic, charm and romance of Christmas in the Pacific Northwest as imagined in JoAnn Ross’s heartwarming Honeymoon Harbor series.

Growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, Jolene Harper is forever indebted to the mother who encouraged her to fly—all the way to sunny LA and a world away from Honeymoon Harbor. Although Jolene vowed never to look back, returning home isn’t even a question when her mom faces a cancer scare. Which means running into Aiden Mannion all over town, the first boy she ever loved—and lost—and whom she can barely look in the eye.

Aiden’s black-sheep reputation may have diminished when he joined the marines, but everything he’s endured since has left him haunted. Back in Honeymoon Harbor to heal, he’s talked into the interim role of police chief, and the irony isn’t lost on the locals, least of all Aiden. But seeing Jolene after all these years is the unexpected breath of fresh air he’s been missing. He’s never forgotten her through all his tours, but he’s not sure anymore that he’s the man she deserves.

Despite the secret they left between them all those years ago, snow is starting to fall on their picturesque little town, making anything seem possible…maybe even a second chance at first love.

My Review:

After yesterday’s book of sad I really felt the need for a happy-ever-after pick-me-up, and Snowfall on Lighthouse Lane delivered.

That I had two books in a row with “lighthouse” in the title but that they are complete opposites has turned out to be a good thing.

Snowfall on Lighthouse Lane is the second book in the author’s Honeymoon Harbor series. I haven’t read the first book (I haven’t read this author before) but I didn’t feel lost or left out. Honeymoon Harbor seems like one of those cozy small towns (like Haven Point and Sullivan’s Crossing and Icicle Falls and Thunder Point) where everyone does know everybody’s name and everybody’s business. And where a stranger in town – or a new reader – can easily pick up enough backstory to fit right in.

Not that either the hero or the heroine of this little tale need much background to get up to speed on all the town doings. Both Aiden Mannion and Jolene Harper grew up in Honeymoon Harbor. Aiden, in spite of – or perhaps because of – being the mayor’s son was the town bad boy. Jolene was the daughter of a teenage mother who worked three jobs to keep the two of their heads above water while her ne’er-do-well husband was in and out of jail.

Jolene grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, and Aiden’s antics kept him there. Of course, they fell in love in high school, but they kept their trysts a secret. He was worried about tarnishing her reputation by publicly being the girlfriend of the town bad boy, and she feared that the scion of one of the founding families wouldn’t want to be known as the boyfriend of a girl whose mother was rumored to be turning tricks.

Of course none of the rumors about Jolene or her mother were true, but that never stopped people from spreading rumors – or lies.

Aiden left town for the Marines, and then for several years in the LAPD. Jolene left town and never looked back, parlaying her mother’s talent for hair and makeup into an Oscar-nominated career in Hollywood.

Now they’re both back in town. Aiden because his cop partner was killed in an ambush, and Jolene because her mother is sailing up the river DeNial about a cancer scare. They’re both back in town to pick up the pieces of the lives they left behind.

Aiden finds himself the town’s chief of police after the old chief has a stroke. Jolene has come to make sure her mother gets the tests she needs, and to figure out where to go from here after her apartment goes up in flames and her career goes up in smoke after she signs a well-publicized #MeToo petition.

Which puts them both back in town for the Christmas holidays, ready for their own second chance at their first happily ever after. Just like the Hallmark movies that Jolene and her mother love to binge.

Escape Rating B+: Sometimes you just get the right book at the right time. This was one of those books at one of those times. I wanted a sweet story with a happy ending, and that’s what I got. And I feel so much better!

There is a lot to love about this heartwarming story – and my heart is very warm after reading it. It teeters just on the edge of being too sappy, but never quite falls over that edge. It also flirts with some of the classic romantic tropes that can easily go wrong – but thankfully never goes there, either.

Jolene’s trip to help her mother is a case in point. This isn’t a weepy tear-jerker story, so her mother Gloria has NOT been diagnosed with cancer. Instead, a recent exam found a suspicious lump in her breast, and Gloria is just refusing to get the tests to determine whether there is something to worry about.

While Gloria’s friend shouldn’t be revealing her secrets to her daughter, everyone in her mother’s salon heard her when she got the phone call – so not exactly a well-kept secret.

Not that there are many well-kept secrets in Honeymoon Harbor, except the ones that absolutely have to be.

The story here, in its ebbs and flows, is Jolene and Aiden’s journey, not to their past, but to their present – complete with a ghost of Christmas present perched on Aiden’s shoulder.

All of the loose ends of their lives, both their first teenaged love and their current adult trials are all wrapped up with a nice, neat bow at the end of the story. If you like a good happy-ever-after, this one is a treat.

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

I am giving away a copy of Snowfall on Lighthouse Lane to one lucky US commenter on this post!

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Review: The Love that Saved Him by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Love that Saved Him by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Love That Saved Him by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 219
Published by Sophie Barnes on October 2nd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

He needed escape…

Suffering from the recent loss of his wife, Pierce Jackson leaves behind his corporate job in New York City and heads to the Klondike. There he meets Sarah Palmer whose eighty-five year old gold mining grandfather wants to lease the most dangerous part of Pierce's property. The last thing Pierce wants is to fall for Sarah. But as they start working together, a bond begins to form, and Pierce must eventually ask himself if he can overcome guilt and heartache and welcome the love of another woman into his heart.

And found a new beginning instead.

Sarah has a lot more on her mind than starting a relationship with her handsome new neighbor. But as she gets to know Pierce, she begins to wonder, what if? Encouraged by her matchmaking grandfather whose biggest wish is to see her settled, Sarah finds herself swept up in the most unexpected romance. But with shocking family history unfolding and a gold-mining expedition that could go wrong in so many ways, there's a lot for Sarah and Pierce to take care of before they can find their happily ever after.

My Review:

It’s also about the love that saved her. And it got me right in the feels, on multiple levels. On all the levels. I’m still reeling.

The cover for this one just looks so adorable, but the story is much deeper than it appears. This is one of those ones where not judging the book by its cover is good. Because the cover looks fluffy, and this is not a fluffy story.

It’s an excellent story, but not a fluffy one.

Both Pierce and Sarah have suffered from terrible tragedies. At 35, Pierce lost his wife to leukemia. It was swift and sudden and awful and a year later he is still in the midst of his grief and not dealing with it well. But what he is not is also in the midst of the tatters of the life they planned together. Once the dust settled a bit on her passing, he packed himself up and moved to the Klondike, to the land she inherited from her grandfather.

Whatever starting over he was or wasn’t going to do, he planned to do it far from New York City, their apartment, their career-driven lives, and the friends she left behind. And both his and her still-grieving parents. Because so far all they were sharing was pain, and Pierce just couldn’t.

Sarah Palmer has suffered her own tragedy. At 25 she is living with her grandfather, estranged from her parents, still grieving the loss of her unborn child and reeling from the drunken brute that the baby’s father turned into.

She’s still living in the midst of all her pain, because that’s where her grandfather lives, and his support and their work together are the things that have kept her going through everything.

Sarah’s grandfather Thomas is a gold miner. So is Sarah. They still exist in the Klondike (and other places) even though the easy, close to the surface stuff was gone long ago. There are plenty of smaller veins that were inaccessible but now are thanks to modern machinery. It’s those veins that Thomas and Sarah’s company tries to explore.

But the one place that Thomas Palmer has always been dead certain held a rich vein has always been out of his reach. It’s the ridge on the property that Pierce has just moved into – and for the first time in 30 years the lease on that land is available to him.

Just in time for one last hurrah – and a chance for Pierce, Sarah and everyone else in both their families to heal what’s been broken for far longer than they ever imagined.

Escape Rating A: For a relatively short book it’s a surprisingly slow-burning romance at the beginning. But then again, once you get into the story the romance turns out to be not the half of what’s waiting to be explored. And that’s pretty awesome.

One of the things that makes this story work is the instant closeness between Pierce and the Palmers. It could have seemed much too fast, that they were all too quick to trust, but it reminded me of my own experience in Alaska. In places that are remote and have relatively small populations, those “six degrees of separation” are more like three, or maybe two. And it happens surprisingly fast – as it does in this story.

The reason this story hit me so hard is personal. I’m 20 years older than my husband, so we’ve had to have the conversation about what happens if he ends up in the situation that Pierce is in, because that is the more likely scenario – although hopefully not for a long time yet. But still, this felt so REAL to me that it made my own heart hurt in sympathy with the character.

Part of what I loved about the story was the way that both Pierce and Sarah, coming out of their very different but equally difficult wounds, managed to reach towards each other so slowly and so carefully but still find a way through – and just how much of their respective family traumas managed to get healed in their wake. In spite of the blows yet to come.

The characters of this story, especially Thomas Palmer, are right. Life is too short to not take the time to say and do the things that need to be said. And in spite of the ever increasing height of my towering TBR pile – and the number of sniffles engendered by this reading, it’s too short not to take a couple of hours and fall into this book.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Sophie Barnes and IndieSage PR are giving away a $25 Amazon Gift Card to one lucky entrant on this tour!

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Review: A Tall Dark Cowboy Christmas by Maisey Yates + Giveaway

Review: A Tall Dark Cowboy Christmas by Maisey Yates + GiveawayA Tall, Dark Cowboy Christmas (Gold Valley, #4) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Gold Valley #4
Pages: 496
Published by Hqn on September 25, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

It’s Christmas in Gold Valley, and this wounded widower is about to get another shot at love…

Grant Dodge didn’t expect to find a woman sleeping in an abandoned cabin on his family ranch. Or to find her so intriguing. Unlike every other woman in town, McKenna Tate doesn’t know Grant’s a widower. There’s no pity in the looks she gives him. McKenna wants him, and Grant has forgotten what it’s like to feel like a man. A no-strings fling for Christmas might be the kind of holiday cheer Grant needs…

With only a suitcase to her name, McKenna came to Gold Valley to confront her birth father. She didn’t plan to work at the Dodge ranch or fall for the gorgeous cowboy who keeps his heart roped off. But there’s no denying the way their broken pieces fit together. Hope brought her to Gold Valley—but will it be the gift that could finally heal Grant, and McKenna’s own wounded heart?

Also includes a bonus Gold Valley novella, Snowed in with the Cowboy!

My Review:

It’s hard to believe that anyone would actually WANT to win a gold medal in the “Life Sucks” Marathon, but when Grant Dodge and McKenna Tate meet they are both serious contenders for that “grand” prize.

Possibly it’s a grand prize in the joke sense that first prize is one week in Hell and second prize is two weeks – although the way they both have been chasing this particular goal, that might actually be the other way around.

We’ve met Grant Dodge in the previous books in the Gold Valley series as his brothers have discovered their own happy ever afters. But Grant is a special case. He already found his happy, and knew perfectly well at the time that there was no “ever after” attached. Grant is semi-famous for having married his high school sweetheart knowing that she had terminal cancer, and caring for her for the eight years she managed to survive.

But he’s also been a widower for eight years, and is more than tired of all the pitying looks he gets from everyone in town and everyone he meets. His tragedy was so touching that it became fodder for one of the morning quasi-news shows, so no one ever lets him forget.

He’s wrapped his misery around him like a well-worn but scratchy blanket and doesn’t let anyone get close – not even his family – even though they are all working on the ranch together.

While Grant should be the first place finisher in that misery marathon, McKenna Tate is still in the running. He finds McKenna camped out in one of the ranch’s few remaining dilapidated (unheated and uninsulated) remote cabins. In December. In Oregon.

He claims he doesn’t want to be bothered, but he still takes her into the ranch house, where his brother and sister-in-law promptly offer McKenna a job and a cabin. She doesn’t want to take the charity, but she NEEDS it. She’s broke and homeless and out of options.

And she needs to be in Gold Valley. Her mother gave up her parental rights back when McKenna was only two, so she was raised in, or survived, foster care. Now she’s 24 and has come to Gold Valley to discover if the man listed on her birth certificate as her father is willing to give her a hand up.

She’s afraid to acknowledge, even to herself, that what she really wants is to belong. To someone. To be part of something. To finally have a place.

But while she tries to figure out how to approach her possible father, who turns out to be “rodeo royalty”, she becomes part of the mixed family of birth and choice that centers around the Get Out of Dodge Ranch.

And just maybe, she and Grant might manage to stop racing towards that first place in the misery marathon and reach for each other instead.

Escape Rating B+: In my review of Good Time Cowboy I called Maisey Yates the cowgirl queen of angsty western romance. The story in A Tall, Dark Cowboy Christmas certainly adds more sparkle to that crown.

Both Grant and McKenna begin the story in a serious bad way. But the bad way they’ve found themselves in, and the equally bad ways that they feel about it, feel like exactly the way a person would feel under their individual circumstances. It’s not manufactured angst or self-inflicted angst. They’ve had terrible things happen to them and they feel terrible because of those things.

Grant, in particular, has been living so much on the periphery of life at the ranch that it is more than possibly to read this book without having read the other books in the series first – not that they aren’t terrific reads. But Grant has done his best to not let other people in, to the point where he only plays a very minor role in his brothers’ lives – and is only willing to let them a tiny way into his.

McKenna has certainly had a lifetime of hard knocks that led her to Gold Valley. But she also has one attribute that draws Grant in like a magnet – she doesn’t know anything about his history. She doesn’t pity him or feel sorry for him. And she doesn’t want either of those things from him. She just thinks he’s hot. And she gets him hot and bothered in a way that he’s never allowed himself to feel.

The begin what becomes their relationship by finally giving into their amazing chemistry. They both think that’s all they have. But as much as Grant tries to stick to a rule of “no talking”, they can’t. McKenna can’t stop herself from talking under any circumstances, and Grant has spent so many years locked inside his own head that once he opens up at all he can’t make himself stop.

There is so much heartbreak in this story. Both Grant and McKenna begin the story as very broken people, and it’s tough reading their emotional turmoil. Watching them slowly heal each other is lovely, especially with their acknowledgement that it’s the hurts that they’ve each suffered that has made them the people they need to be for each other.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Tall, Dark Cowboy Christmas to one lucky US/CAN commenter!

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Review: Season of Wonder by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

Review: Season of Wonder by RaeAnne Thayne + GiveawaySeason of Wonder by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance
Series: Haven Point #9
Pages: 320
Published by Hqn on September 25, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He’s giving her children a season of wonder…

Dani Capelli seized a chance to start over in a small town with her daughters. Now, facing her first Christmas in Haven Point, she wonders if leaving New York was a mistake. Dani loves working alongside veterinarian Dr. Morales, but her two children aren’t adjusting to small-town life. And then there’s Dr. Morales’s son, Ruben—Dani’s next-door neighbor. Gorgeous, muscled and dependable, the deputy sheriff is everything she secretly craves and can’t bear to risk loving…and losing.

Ruben never pictured himself falling for a big-city woman like Dani. But beneath her prickly facade, she’s caring and softhearted and she needs all the love and protection he can give. When Dani’s teenage daughter starts acting out, Ruben draws on family traditions to show the girls just how magical a Haven Point Christmas can be. But can he convince Dani that she’s found a home for the holidays—and forever—in his arms?

My Review:

It still feels too early to be reading holiday books, but here we are. And as much as I shivered at the reminders about snow and cold, Season of Wonder is a lovely little story.

It also feels like Haven Point is just down the road from Robyn Carr’s Thunder Point – even though Thunder Point is on the coast of Oregon and Haven Point is in Idaho within a couple of hours of Boise.

Let’s call them sister cities. Or at least sister villages.

Both are small towns where most of the folks are friendly and welcoming of newcomers – and where a family in need of a fresh start has an excellent chance of finding one.

Also, although both series are billed as contemporary romances, and the books in them certainly do include a romance along with its requisite HEA, the real stories often seem to be more in the line of small-town feel good cozy stories. The romance feels like the cherry on the top of the sundae, with that sundae being the newcomers making a place for themselves in a welcoming community in spite of whatever heavy baggage brought them in the first place.

And that’s the story in Season of Wonder, which is a cute holiday story and also feels like a pretty good place to begin your visit to Haven Point if you aren’t already a fan of the series.

Dani Capelli is the new vet in town. She’s got a freshly minted vet degree from Boston, a gigantic pile of student loans and two young daughters. She’s come to Haven Point in the hopes that she can start over, and that her year of interning with retiring vet Frank Morales will enable her to buy his practice when her internship is up.

Both of them want to make this work. Dr. Morales has given her a small house, rent-free, during her internship. He really wants this to work and his wife really wants him to retire. If Dani and her little family like living in Haven Point and the residents of Haven Point end up liking her and thinking she’s a good vet, it could all work for everyone.

But Dani has a past that she wants to bury, along with her late ex-husband. Tommy DeLuca died in a hail of gunfire, robbing a bank and killing two cops, back in Dani’s hometown of Queens. She divorced Tommy years ago, and hadn’t heard from him in all that time.

Which doesn’t mean that when everyone in Haven Point finds out that her ex was a criminal and a cop killer that some people won’t tar her and her daughters with the brush of his crimes. After all, she married him and she had two children with him.

People will speculate that apples don’t fall too far from their parent trees. So when her 13-year-old daughter Silver is caught spray painting her next door neighbor’s boat, she fears that her secret will come out.

After all, her neighbor is a trained investigator – he’s a member of the Haven Point County police. And he’s the son of her boss – who is the one person in town who does know the truth.

When Ruben Morales is more than willing to let Silver clean up all THREE places she tagged in return for not putting her through the system, it gives Dani and Ruben a chance to get to know each other – and to see if the chemistry between them is worth exploring.

Even though Dani is dead certain that a criminal’s ex-wife is no fit partner for a cop. She’s sure he’ll agree, just as soon as he figures out the truth.

Escape Rating B: Season of Wonder is a short and sweet holiday story, just the perfect length to kick off the holiday romance season. (Even if it feels too early to talk about Xmas yet)

But speaking of feels, it feels like the parts of this story that get the most pages are the parts about Dani and her daughters adapting to living in Haven Point – with a bit too big of a heaping helping of Dani’s generally negative self-talk.

The girls, Silver and Mia, are 13 and 6 respectively. They are also day-and-night opposites. Some of that opposition is the age difference. Silver is entering her teenage years, she has all the moody defiance that marks that period of life AND she’s been taken away from her friends and familiar surroundings and stuck in what feels like the middle of nowhere after living in Queens and Boston. That she acts out is not a big surprise – but it is a big disappointment to her stressed-out mother.

Mia is 6 and still believes in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. She’s sweet, light and funny in equal turns. She still sees the best in everyone, and in spite of her initial shyness, is generally a joyful little girl.

It’s Silver who provides most of the drama in the story, as she’s first caught tagging, and is later accused of theft. And it’s the trail of trouble that follows her, not all of it her fault, that both pushes Dani and Ruben together AND pulls them apart.

I’ll admit that I didn’t completely buy the romance. It may be that the book is too short, and there just wasn’t enough time to really make the reader feel the tension between them. A lot went on in a relatively short number of pages. (The blurbs claim 320 but this was only 2800 kindle locs, which is way less than that.)

Dani’s self-talk is very negative, and that’s what causes much of the dramatic tension between her and Ruben. She’s sure she’s a screw-up and a failure, when she most definitely is not. (And not that we don’t all talk to ourselves like that sometimes.) She’s also dead certain that her ex-husband’s terrible crimes are going to follow her and her daughters for the rest of their lives – and there is at least one douchebag in town who espouses that view. But Ruben is also correct that most people, and anyone she might possibly want to associate with AT ALL, will recognize that anything that the jerk did six years after she left him is in no way her fault.

In conclusion, Haven Point is an absolutely lovely little town, especially during the holiday season, and always willing to take a stranger into their hearts. I enjoyed the story of Dani finding her way and her HEA in her new home, and I look forward to many future visits to Haven Point.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Season of Wonder to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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